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    Finally, I grasped Jackson’s hand and shook it. “Charmed, I’m sure. So what’s going on? Or would you like to continue talking about what a great lay I am?”

    Jackson grinned. “Nice.”

    Declan’s expression tensed. “I wish you hadn’t overheard that.”

    “Doesn’t matter.”

    For an emotion-free dhampyr, he now looked a little bit embarrassed.

    “Declan’s filled me in on the Nightshade formula in your blood.” Jackson eyed me. “How do you feel?”

    I paused for a moment, deciding how much I wanted to share with this stranger, then figured what the hell. “I’ve felt better. But I haven’t had any side effects for a few days.”

    “What kind of side effects were you getting before?” He leaned against the wall next to the open motel door. I hadn’t yet stepped outside. I glanced around to make sure nobody but the three of us was within hearing distance.

    “After I was first injected, I got nausea from hell. And lots of pain. Those side effects have leveled off, but this poison will kill me unless I find a way to get it out.”

    “Damn.” He watched me, his brow creased. “Then lucky for you I’m here. I’ve been looking into things, and I know where you need to go.”

    “Where?” I failed to keep the naked eagerness out of my voice.

    “The parachemist who created the Nightshade formula in the first place—everyone thought he worked alone, but they were wrong.”

    Declan crossed his arms. “He didn’t?”

    Jackson shook his head. “He had a partner a couple years ago, Dr. Victor Reynolds. He works out of a covert research facility on the edge of the city. He wants to meet you—both of you—to see if he can do anything to fix this.” His previously amused expression faded, and I was surprised to see concern now etched there. “Look, I don’t know you, Jill, but I can see that you’ve been through a lot of bad shit. You’re not a part of this world. You shouldn’t have been dragged into it.”

    “You’re right, she shouldn’t have,” Declan said, and we shared a look. I’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time and come between him, his gun, and a man who’d used me as a hostage before injecting me with Nightshade—the only sample of it there was.

    Only a week ago I didn’t know vampires were real. That there was a branch of science that specialized in the paranormal. That a formula could be developed that would make my scent irresistible to vampires, but one taste would turn them into fire and ash. I’d fallen head first down the rabbit hole, and I’d been looking for a way out ever since. Looked like Jackson just might have a map for me.

    While I could never forget everything I’d seen and experienced, I was ready for this roller-coaster ride to be over once and for all.

    “When can I meet Dr. Reynolds?” I asked.

    Jackson looked at each of us in turn. “How does now sound?”

    WE DROVE WITH Jackson forty minutes across Los Angeles to what looked like a small, run-down warehouse on the edge of the city. Declan parked about two hundred yards away from it, shielding the car behind a Dumpster.

    “You’re sure this is the right place?” I asked as I stepped out of the passenger side of the car and warily eyed the unfamiliar location.

    Jackson slammed the rear car door behind him. “Yeah. It’s a secret research facility. Emphasis on the secret part, which is why it doesn’t look like much from up here. It’s all underground. The place goes twenty stories down.”

    “What kind of research do they do here?” Declan asked.

    “What kind do you think?”

    Declan looked at the building. “They keep vampires here?”

    Jackson nodded. “Locked up in the basement. If you’re doing research, you gotta have some guinea pigs at the ready. A few days starved off blood and they make for better test subjects; their vampiric traits can’t be hidden anymore. Saving mankind from the monsters is hard work.” He grinned. “Come on. I promise nobody’s going to get bit.”

    Funny guy. All his flippant comment did was give me second thoughts about this. A shiver went down my arms, and my stomach began to churn. I had to remember that guys like Jackson were used to this sort of thing and could find the humor where I didn’t. Still, things felt off. I didn’t like the prospect of being anywhere where I knew vampires were hanging around, even if it was against their will.

    However, my motivation for getting rid of the Nightshade was strong. I really wanted to live, so I summoned all the courage I could and followed him.

    We walked around to the front of the building, and Jackson pushed open the large front door. There was a security camera mounted up to the left on a ledge to keep an eye on visitors.

    I grabbed Declan’s arm before he went inside. “Can I talk to you?”

    He flicked a glance at Jackson. “Give us a minute.”

    “I’ll wait inside.” Jackson entered the warehouse and closed the door behind him.

    Declan turned to me. “What is it?”

    “You sure you trust this guy?”

    “Yes. I’ve known him ten years—we trained together. He’s always known I’m a dhampyr and he never held it against me like some of the others did. He’s a good guy.”

    I could tell that he meant every word.

    I was quiet for a moment. “You know, he kind of reminds me of somebody.”

    “Who?”

    I raised an eyebrow. “You.”

    Declan snorted humorlessly “You mean, if I wasn’t all scarred up and pumped full of drugs that make me into a robot.”

    I frowned. “Declan—”

    “It’s true, Jill. And I know it. Talking to him earlier—what you overheard. He knows me. He knows that you and I can’t . . .” His jaw tensed. “Not anymore.”

    Declan and I had sex once when he’d briefly gone off his emotion-and-desire-repressing serum for the first time in his adult life. He’d never been with anyone before me, but he’d been a very quick learner.

    I pressed my hands against the hard planes of his chest and looked up at him. “I am willing to give it a shot. You never know what might happen with a little experimentation.”

    He searched my face. “You’re looking for a miracle.”

    I nodded. “Every damn day, actually.”

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