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by Lara Adrian

Genre: Paranormal Romance, Vampire, Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

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They had arrived in New Orleans in the dark early-morning hours. Street noise and music had echoed up from below their fourth story window until long past daybreak, creating a racket that had kept Hunter’s senses on full alert, anticipating the slightest hint of trouble.

Not that he’d had any intention of sleeping. He hardly needed rest; an hour or two at most each day. It was how he'd been trained, a discipline that kept his body ready for any situation, his mind prepared to engage with hair-trigger response.

Now, he listened to the sounds of water moving in the tub of the adjacent bathroom. He'd noticed Corinne had neglected to close the door tightly, and for the past thirty-seven minutes--the full duration of her time spent reclining naked in the tub--he'd had to purposely avoid looking at the thin wedge of golden lamplight that poured into the darkness where he sat. His resolve was tested when he heard the gurgle of water draining as she pulled the stopper. Her skin squeaked against the porcelain as she moved about in there, liquid splashes indicating she had climbed out of the tub. Through the wedge of softly lit open doorway, he caught a glimpse of Corinne's bare thigh.

A heat that had been kindling in his belly now drifted lower.

Hunter wanted to look away.

He meant to.

But then she shifted again as she dried off, and his gaze rooted on the small, rounded curve of her breast. As he watched her move in and out of his scant field of vision, arousal began to coil around him and tighten. His fangs stretched, filling his mouth. His skin felt hot and confining, drawn too tight across his chest and up along his neck. Lower still, the tightness was worsening by the second, his sex stirring, stiffening with the sudden upticking rush of blood through his veins.

Everything male in him was locked on to her in that moment, and Corinne would have to be unconscious not to feel the weight of his hungry eyes on her.

Perhaps she did sense something, after all.

She pivoted around suddenly and tried to sidestep away from the gap in the narrowly opened door. As she moved, the towel he'd been willing her to drop slipped out of her grasp. It swung down on one side, baring the column of her spine and the upper curve of her heart-shaped backside.

His breath ceased, caught in a low rasp in his lungs. Not from the feminine beauty of her body, but from the savagery that had evidently been wreaked upon it at some point.

A web of angry red scars tracked across the smooth canvas of her back, from shoulder to buttock. Hideous welts left from a lash--probably a length of chain as well, based on the ruination of her skin--left him stricken into a dull sort of wonder.

What had she been forced to endure?

Just how deeply had Dragos's evil cut her?

All the heat he'd felt just a moment before was eclipsed by the sight of those scars. He felt something elusive and unfamiliar wash over him in that instant, feelings that seemed to rise up at him from somewhere deep inside, an inaccessible place, long out of his reach. Regret for what had been done to her flooded through him, along with a dark, swelling wave of fury for the beast responsible.

He cursed, unable to keep the contempt inside him.

Corinne's head whipped around, wet black hair slapping against her bare shoulders as she hurried to cover herself with the towel. Her eyes clashed with his gaze through the slim gap of the open door.

There was challenge in her unflinching look, a rawness that made him feel as though his knowledge of her wounds was as deep a violation as the punishment itself had been to her. . . .

Deeper Than Midnight by Lara Adrian (c) 2011 by Lara Adrian LLC. All rights reserved.