Michelle Rowen

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Nightshade

Nightshade

(Nightshade #1)

February 2011

Berkley Sensation
ISBN-10: 0425239829
ISBN-13: 978-0425239827

DESIRE IS IN THE BLOOD

Jillian Conrad never believed in vampires. But she’s just become a living, breathing weapon against them. Attacked by a desperate scientist, she is injected with a serum that was supposed to act as a deadly poison to vampires. And when the scientist is gunned down in front of her, his secrets die with him.

Declan Reyes was only half-vampire, but he hates them with all his heart. He knows that the poison in Jillian’s veins could finally destroy the undead kingdom. Also, the serum has had an unintended effect, making her blood irresistible to all vampires—including Declan, whose bloodthirsty traits are driven into a frenzy by her.

Driven by duty to protect her and by instinct to crave her, Declan takes Jillian into his shadowy world of blood and battle. But he soon realizes his increasing need for her may be a different kind of hunger…

“Rowen’s characteristic wit, infused with a dark edge. A great read!” –Kelley Armstrong, New York Times Bestselling Author

“I stop everything to read a Michelle Rowen book!” –Larissa Ione, New York Times Bestselling Author

“Rowen takes us on a high-octane thrill ride to a fresh, new, dark, and sexy world. Nightshade is an amazing roller-coaster of a read.” –Eve Silver, National Bestselling Author of Sins of the Heart

Order from:

AmazonBarnes & NobleChapters | Indiebound | Penguin.com

Audiobook also available from:

Tantor.com Audible.com


C h a p t e r    1

Life as I knew it ended at half past eleven on a Tuesday morning.

There were currently thirty minutes left.

“What’s your poison?” I asked my friend and co-worker Stacy on my way out of the office on a coffee break.

She looked up at me from a spreadsheet on her computer screen, her eyes practically crossed from crunching numbers all morning. “You’re a serious lifesaver, Jill, you know that?”

“Well aware.” I grinned at her, then shifted my purse to my other shoulder and took the five-dollar-bill she thrust at me.

“I’ll take a latte, extra foam. And one of those white chocolate chunk cookies. My stomach’s growling happily just thinking about it.”

Stacy didn’t normally go for the cookie action. “No diet today?”

“Fuck diets.”

“Can I quote you?”

She laughed. “I’ll have it printed it on a T-shirt. Hey, Steve! Jill’s headed to the coffee shop. You want anything?”

I groaned inwardly. I hadn’t wanted to make a big production out of it since I hated making change. Unlike Stacy, math was not my friend.

By the time I finally made it out of the office I had a yellow sticky note clenched in my fist scrawled with four different coffee orders.

Twenty minutes left.

The line-up at Starbucks was, as usual, ridiculous. I waited. I ordered. I waited some more. I juggled my wallet and my purse along with the bag of pastries and take-out tray of steaming caffeine and finally left the shop, passing an electronics store on my way back. It had a bunch of televisions in the window set to CNN. Some plane crash in Europe was blazing. No survivors. I shivered, despite the heat of the day and continued walking.

Five minutes left.

I returned to my office building, which not only housed Lambert Capital, the investment and financial analysis company where I currently temped, but also a small pharmaceutical research company, a marketing firm, and a modeling agency.

“Hold the elevator,” I called out as I crossed the lobby. My heels clicked against the shiny black marble floor. Despite my request, the elevator was not held. The doors closed when I was only a couple of steps away from it, a look of bemusement on the sole occupant’s face who hadn’t done me the honor of waiting.

One minute left.

I nudged the up button with my elbow and waited, watching as the number above the doors stopped at the tenth floor, ISB Pharmaceuticals, paused for what felt like an eternity, and then slowly descended back to the lobby. The other elevator seemed eternally stuck at the fifteenth. Another bank of elevators were located around the corner, but I chose to stay where I was and try my best to be patient.

Finally, the doors slid open to reveal a man who wore a white lab coat and a security badge that bore his name: Carl Anderson. His eyes were shifty and there was a noticeable sheen of sweat on his brow. My gaze dropped to his right hand in which he tightly held a syringe—the sharp needle uncapped.

That was a safety hazard I wasn’t getting anywhere near. What the hell was he thinking, carrying something like that around?

Glaring at him, I waited for him to get out of the elevator so I could get on, but he didn’t budge an inch.

Behind thick glasses, his eyes were steadily widening with what looked like fear, and totally focused on something behind me. Curious about what would earn this dramatic reaction, I turned to see another man enter the lobby. He was tall, had a black patch over his left eye, and wasn’t smiling. Aside from that, I noticed the gun he held. The big gun. The one he now had trained on the man in the elevator.

“Leaving so soon, Anderson? Why am I not surprised?” the man with the gun growled. “No more fucking games. Give it to me right now. ”

I gasped as Carl Anderson clamped his arm around my neck. The tray of coffees went flying as I clawed at him, but my struggling did nothing. I couldn’t even scream; he held me so tightly that it cut off my breath.

“Why are you here?” Anderson demanded. “I was supposed to be the one to make contact.”

The gunman’s icy gaze never wavered. “Let go of the woman.”

My eyes watered. I couldn’t breathe. My larynx was being crushed.

“But she’s the only thing standing between me and your direct orders right now, isn’t she?”

“And why would you think I care if you grab some random hostage?” the gunman growled.

Random hostage?

Panic swelled further inside of me. I scanned the lobby to see that this altercation hadn’t gone unnoticed. Several people with shocked looks on their faces had cell phones pressed to their ears. Were they calling 911? Where was security? No guards approached with guns drawn.

Fear coursed through me, closing my throat. My hands, which gripped Anderson’s arm, were shaking.

“We can talk about this,” Anderson said.

“It’s too late for negotiations. There’s more at risk than the life of one civilian.”

“I thought we were supposed to be working together.”

“Sure. Until you decided to sell elsewhere. Hand over the formula.”

“I destroyed the rest.” Anderson’s voice trembled. “One prototype is all that’s left.”

“That was a mistake.” The gunman’s tone was flat.

“It was a mistake creating it in the first place. It’s dangerous.”

“Isn’t that the whole point?”

“You’d defend something that would just as easily kill you, Declan? Even though you can walk in the sunlight, you’re not much better than the other bloodsuckers.” The man who held me prone sounded disgusted. And scared shitless—almost as scared as I felt.

Bloodsuckers? What the hell was he talking about? How did I get in the middle of this? I’d only gone out for coffee—coffee that was now splattered all over the clean lobby floor. It was just a normal workday—a normal Tuesday.

More people had gathered around us, moving backward toward the walls and door, away from this unexpected stand-off, hands held to their mouths in shock at what they were witnessing. I spotted someone from the office to my left rounding the corner where the other elevators were located—it was Stacy with an armful of file folders, her eyes wide as saucers as she saw me. She took a step closer, mouthing my name.

No, please don’t come any closer, I thought frantically. Don’t get hurt.

Where the hell was security?

I shrieked when I felt a painful jab at my throat.

“Don’t do that,” the man with the gun, Declan, snapped.

“You know what will happen if I inject her with this, don’t you?” Anderson’s voice held an edge of something—panic, fear, desperation. I didn’t have to be the helpless hostage in this situation to realize that was a really bad mix.

He had the syringe up against my throat, the sharp tip of the needle stabbing deep into my flesh. I stopped struggling and tried not to move, tried not to breathe. My vision blurred with tears as I waited for the man with the gun to do something to save me. He was my only hope.

“I don’t give a shit about her,” my only hope said evenly. “All I care about is that formula. Now hand it over and maybe you get to live.”

The gunman’s face was oddly emotionless considering this situation. He wore black jeans and a black T-shirt, which bared thick, sinewy biceps. His face didn’t have an ounce of humanity to it. Around the black eye patch, scar tissue branched out like a spider web up over his forehead and down his left cheek, all the way to his neck. He was as scary-looking as he was ugly.

“I knew they’d send you to retrieve this, Declan.” Anderson’s mouth was so close to my ear that I could feel his hot breath. His shaky voice held a mocking edge. “Who better for this job?”

“I’ll give you five seconds to release the woman and hand over that syringe with its contents intact,” Declan said. “Or I’ll kill both of you where you stand. Five . . . four . . .”

“Think about this, will you?” Anderson dug the needle further into my flesh, prompting another wheeze of a shriek from me. “You need to open your fucking eyes and see the truth before it’s too late. I’m trying to stop this the only way I can. It’s wrong. All of it’s wrong. You’re just as brainwashed as the rest of them, aren’t you?”

With his chest pressed against my back, I could feel his erratic heartbeat. He feared for his life. A mental flash of memories of my family, my friends, sped past my eyes. I didn’t want to die—no, please, not like this.

“Three . . . two . . .” Declan continued, undeterred. The laser sighter from his gun fixed on my chest.

Several onlookers ran for the glass doors, and screams sounded out.

“You want the abomination I created that goddamned much?” Anderson yelled. “Here! You can have it!”

A second later, I felt a burning pain, hot as fire, as he injected me with the syringe’s contents. It was a worse pain than the stabbing itself. Then he raggedly ripped the needle out and pushed me away hard enough that I went sprawling to the floor. I clamped my hand against the side of my neck and started to scream.

The sound of a gunshot, even louder than my screams, pierced my eardrums. I turned to look at the man who’d just injected me. He now lay sprawled out on the marble floor, his eyes open and glassy. There was a large hole in Anderson’s forehead, red and wet and sickening. He had a gun in his left hand, which he must have pulled from his lab coat when he let go of me. The empty syringe lay next to him.

Declan went directly to him, gun still trained on the dead man for another moment before he tucked it away, squatted, and then silently and methodically began going through the pockets of the white coat.

My entire body shook, but otherwise I was frozen in place. There were more screams now from the others who’d witnessed the shooting as they scattered in all directions.

Declan swore under his breath and then turned to look directly at me for the very first time. The iris of his right eye was pale gray and soulless, and the look he gave me froze my insides.

My throat felt like it had been slit wide open, but I was still breathing. Still thinking. A quick, erratic scan of the lobby showed where I’d dropped my purse and the coffees and pastries six feet to my right. Most of the people in the lobby were now running for the doors to escape to the street outside. A security alarm finally began to wail, adding to the chaos.

“You—” Declan rose fluidly to his feet. He was easily a full foot taller than my five-four. “—come here.”

Like hell I would.

The elevator to the left of me opened and a man pushing an empty mail cart got off. The murderer’s attention went to it. I took it as the only chance I might ever get. I scrambled to my feet and ran.

“Jill!” I heard Stacy yell, but it didn’t slow me down. I had to get away, far away from the office. My mind had switched into survival mode. Stacy couldn’t get anywhere near me right now; it would only put her in danger, too.

I left my purse behind—the contents of my life scattered on the smooth, cold floor next to the spilled coffee and spreading pool of blood. I pushed through the front doors, fully expecting Declan to shoot me in my back. But he didn’t.

Yanking my hand from my wounded neck, I saw that it was covered in blood. My stomach lurched and I almost vomited. What was in that syringe? It burned like lava sliding through my veins.

I was badly hurt. Jesus, I’d been stabbed in the throat with a needle by a stranger. If I wasn’t in such pain, I’d think I was having a nightmare.

This was a nightmare—a waking one.

A look behind me confirmed that Declan, whoever the hell he was, had exited the office building. He scanned one side of the street before honing in on me.

I clutched at a few people’s arms as I stumbled past them. They recoiled from me, faceless strangers who weren’t willing to help a woman with a bleeding neck wound.

My heart slammed against my rib cage as I tried to run, but I couldn’t manage more than a stagger. I wanted to pass out. The world was blurry and shifting around me.

The burning pain slowly began to spread from my neck down to my chest and along my arms and legs. I could feel it like a living thing, burrowing deeper and deeper inside me.

Only a few seconds later, I felt Declan’s hand clamp around my upper arm. He nearly pulled me off my feet as he dragged me around the corner and into an alley.

“Let go of me,” I snarled, attempting to hit him. He effortlessly grabbed my other arm. I blinked against my tears.

“Stay still.”

“Go to hell.” The next moment, the pain cut off any further words as I convulsed. Only his tight grip kept me from crumpling to the ground. He pushed me up against the wall and held my head firmly in place as he looked into my eyes. His scars were even uglier up close. A shudder of revulsion rippled through me at being this close to him.

He wrenched my head to the left and roughly pulled my long blond hair aside to inspect the neck wound. His expression never wavered. There was no pity or anger or disdain in his gaze—nothing but emptiness in his single gray eye as he looked me over.

Holding me with one hand tightly around my throat so I could barely breathe, he held a cell phone to his ear.

“It’s me,” he said. “There’s been a complication.”

A pause.

“Anderson administered the prototype to a civilian before he tried to shoot me and escape. I killed him.” Another pause. “It’s a woman. Should I kill her, too?”

I tried to fight against the chokehold he had me in, but it didn’t help. He sounded so blasé, so emotionless, as if he was discussing bringing home a pizza after work rather than seeking permission for my murder.

His one-eyed gaze narrowed. While talking on the phone he hadn’t looked anywhere but my face. “I know I was followed here. I don’t have long.” Then finally, “Understood.”

He ended the call.

Finally he loosened his hold on me enough that I could try to speak in pained gasps. “What . . . are you going . . . to do with me?”

“That’s not up to me.” Declan iron grip on me went a little more lax as he tucked the phone back into the pocket of his black jeans. It was enough to let me sink my teeth into his arm. He pushed me back so hard I whacked my head against the wall and fell to the ground. I’d managed to draw blood on his forearm, which was already riddled with other scars.

I scrambled up to my feet, adrenaline coursing through my body. I was ready to do whatever I had to in order to fight for my life, but another curtain of agony descended over me.

“What’s happening to me?” I managed to say through clenched teeth. “What the hell was in that syringe?”

Declan grabbed me by the front of my shirt and brought me very close to his scarred face. “Poison.”

My eyes widened. “Oh my God. What kind of poison?”

“The kind that will kill you,” he said simply. “Which is why you have to come with me.”

I shook my head erratically. “I have to get to a hospital.”

“No.” He grabbed me tighter. “Death now or death later. That’s your only choice.”

It was a choice I didn’t want to make. It was one I wouldn’t have to make. More pain erupted inside of me and the world went totally and completely black.

C h a p t e r    2

I wasn’t sure how long I was unconscious. The good news — if I was forced to find some — was that aside from a brain that felt as if it was made from three-day-old oatmeal, the worst of the pain had subsided. However, I could actually feel my veins now — the length and width of them throbbing just underneath my skin.

The poison was mercilessly working its way through me.

Poison. But if I’d really been injected with poison, why wasn’t I dead yet?

And where the hell was I?

I heard a noise, a steady hum against my ear. I was laying somewhere slightly soft, but without a lot of give. And I was moving. Well, I wasn’t moving, but I was in something that was moving.

A car.

I opened up my eyes just a fraction, careful not to betray the fact that I’d woken up.

Yes. I was in a car — the back seat of a car, to be precise. As I raised my gaze just a little, I saw that Declan was behind the steering wheel.

No radio. There was only the sound of the road beneath the tires. The level of heat I felt told me that this was a car that didn’t have any air conditioning.

So he’d dragged me out of that alley unconscious, thrown me in a car, and started driving. Had no one even tried to stop him?

Jesus, he’d taken me out of downtown San Diego, not the middle of nowhere.

I didn’t have much experience with life and death situations before, other than dealing with the deaths of my parents five years ago. Other than that tragedy, everything in my life had mostly gone according to plan, or, more accurately, lack of plan. Life just was.

Get up in the morning, go to work, try to get along with everyone. Go home or go out for dinner with a friend. Go to bed. Dream about a more interesting life filled with adventure, then wake up, shower, and do it all over again. Mundane and predictable, sure. But at least I never questioned whether I’d live to see another sunrise.

I was questioning it now.

I heard once that your life basically consisted of about seven major moments — moments when you made a decision that changed the trajectory of your existence. Perhaps a loss of a loved one. Or a traumatic event than pushed you onto another unexpected path. And usually, these moments were never anything you recognized as life-changing at the time. Sure, when you looked back you could pinpoint it and realize that, yeah, that’s where things changed forever. The choice of a certain college. Saying yes to a job in another city. Going out on a date with the right guy — or the wrong guy. Deciding to jaywalk and not looking both ways.

Smash. For better or for worse, your life was different from that point forward.

For me, as I lay motionless on the backseat of Declan’s car, I knew my life had changed. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

“If you’re smart,” Declan said without turning around. “You won’t give me any more trouble.”

Any more trouble?

I didn’t answer. I squeezed my eyes shut again and tried not to move.

“I know you’re awake.” His deep voice had a rough-edge quality to it, like he smoked a couple cases of cigarettes every day even though I couldn’t smell any tobacco. “Your breathing pattern changed.”

Even if we were going fast, maybe I could jump out of the car. I’d stand a better chance hitting the pavement at eighty miles an hour than being in here with him. At the moment, I didn’t have much to lose. Except maybe time.

Before I could scramble to unlock the door, Declan reached back to grab the front of my shirt. He pulled me like a rag doll between the seats, twisting my legs into painful, unnatural angles, and slammed me down next to him.

All without taking his eye off the road.

“Behave,” he said evenly. “Or I promise you’ll spend the rest of this trip unconscious.”

“Don’t touch me.” I slapped at his hand, not that it did much good. He finally removed it and placed it back on the steering wheel.

He didn’t say anything else. He didn’t ask me if I was okay, what my name was, or what I was doing in that lobby. Wrong place and wrong time didn’t even begin to cover it.

Stacy saw what happened. Was she okay? I wished I knew for sure.

“You can’t do this,” I said.

He didn’t reply. It was as if I was suddenly invisible.

“Where are you taking me?” My throat felt raw and damaged.

“Be quiet.”

“You can’t just kidnap me. I’m hurt. I need help.” I touched my neck again and winced. I expected to feel a gash, an open wound, but luckily there didn’t seem to be anything that bad. The blood had mostly dried. It did feel tender and bruised, all up and down the right side of my throat, though. I didn’t need a mirror to tell me that.

My purse was gone so I didn’t have my cell phone. No ID. No money. Nothing.

Declan kept his eye on the road as though he was competing in a staring contest with it. I turned to look out the window and saw another car passing us. I pounded on the window and tried to get the other driver’s attention, then attempted to roll down the window when the man didn’t even glance in my direction.

I stopped when I felt Declan’s hand clamp down on my arm.

“Do you have a death wish?” he snapped. “You’re trying my patience. Just sit there and be quiet, or else.”

“I need to go to a hospital. You said there was poison in that syringe. I can feel it inside me.”

That earned me a momentary glance. “You can feel it? How does it feel?”

“It hurts like hell.”

“I would imagine it does.”

“The pain made me pass out.”

“No, you passed out because you were hyperventilating.”

I tried to breathe normally, but it was a struggle. Despite everything, this freak of nature hadn’t been excessively violent toward me yet. Not compared to what he’d done to that Anderson guy, anyway. Did I think he wouldn’t hurt me? Kill me? Not for a moment. I wasn’t stupid. But maybe he could be reasoned with.

“My name’s Jillian,” I said. “Jillian Conrad. My friends call me Jill.”

Taking it to a friendly introduction level might make all the difference. Make him see that I wasn’t just a random hostage. I was a normal person with a normal life and I didn’t deserve any of this.

His lips thinned. “Jillian?”

I nodded eagerly. “Yes.”

“Shut the fuck up, Jillian.”

I winced. Okay, that didn’t work so well.

His jaw tightened. Again his attention was anywhere but on me. Which was fine. I didn’t need a full-on look at that ugly, scarred face of his again. I was petrified enough to begin with. All I had to do was hold it together and wait for my first opportunity to get away from him.

Damn it. What did they say? Never get in a car with somebody like this. It wasn’t just a warning to little kids about strangers and candy. It was for anyone. As soon as the bad guy got you in their car, they had you under their control. He could be taking me anywhere.

“Should I kill her?”

He was an admitted killer. A sociopath. I’d never met a murderer before, never wanted to, outside of movies or the nightly news.

This was insane. Why me?

Maybe he’d been lying. Maybe it wasn’t poison. To me, poison was cyanide. Something that would kill you in seconds. I wasn’t dead. I was still breathing.

“Your name’s Declan.” It wasn’t a question. I had a feeling he wouldn’t confirm or deny it, so I wasn’t surprised when his mouth remained closed. “Okay, Declan, we can figure this out.”

“We can, can we?”

“Sure. But you really need to tell me what’s going on.”

“I’m driving.”

“I see that.” I swallowed and realized that I had my arms crossed so tightly, my fingernails digging into my skin so deeply that it hurt. “Do you have a Kleenex?”

“For what?”

“My neck. I’m still bleeding a little, I think.”

“No shit. Yeah, you should mop yourself up so it’s not a distraction for me any longer.”

Funny, he didn’t seem the least bit distracted to me.

He didn’t say or do anything for a moment. Then his right hand darted out so quickly that I jumped and pressed myself up against the door. But he wasn’t reaching for me, he was reaching for the glove compartment. He popped it open and dug inside, pulling out a travel-sized container of tissues. He tossed it in the general direction of my lap. I pulled one out and dabbed gingerly at my neck.

Okay, so despite his looks and previous actions he wasn’t a complete heathen. He provided tissues when I asked for them. That was…mildly encouraging.

Yes, I was reaching. I knew it.

“You knew that guy? That…Anderson guy?”

He sighed. “You’re not going to shut up are you?”

“Maybe talking is what I do instead of freaking out.”

The line of his jaw tightened. “What do I have to do to make you close your mouth apart from my making you?”

“Let me out of this car.”

“Any other options?”

I bit my bottom lip. “Answer my questions.”

“And you’ll be quiet for the rest of the drive?”

That all depended on where this monster was thinking about taking me. However, I didn’t say that out loud.

“Yes.” I used a fresh tissue to wipe at my face, under my damp eyes. Half the mascara I’d applied that morning came off in a black smear.

“I’d never met him personally before. But I knew who he was. A chemist. He specialized in the development of serums and toxins.”

“You killed him.” Bile rose in my throat at the memory of glassy eyes, a bloody wound, and a growing pool of blood.

“You’re observant.” Sarcasm. “He pulled a gun on me. I reacted.”

“You could have just wounded him.”

“I don’t shoot to wound. I shoot to kill. Makes it harder for anything to go wrong.”

That meant this wasn’t the first time. Declan did this sort of thing frequently. Racking up a body count wherever he went. Then again, by the looks of him — scars, eye patch, and all — I never would have pegged him for a nice family man. I suppose the title of assassin suited him just fine.

“Should have wounded him,” Declan continued under his breath. “I fucked up. He kept that formula in his head and I had to go and shoot it off. Doesn’t matter. It’s done. Can’t go back. But that leaves me with fewer options now.”

Seemed as if he was talking more to himself than to me.

I touched my neck again and pressed lightly on the injection point. It made me feel weak all over when I thought about what had happened. “He said he destroyed the rest.”

“Only one sample left — the prototype. And you got it. Which is the only reason you’re here right now.”

“That’s why you kidnapped me. Because of what’s inside me?”

“Yes.”

“It’s important, isn’t it?”

“Vital,” he said simply.

I was important because of what was currently moving through my veins. The deadly poison was ironically my ticket to getting out of this nightmare alive.

“So you’re not going to kill me?”

“Not at the moment.”

“But you were ready to kill me in the alley. You would have done it if you were told to, right?”

He eyed me sideways. “You ask too many questions. Are you some sort of reporter?”

“No. I’m…I’m a temp. I do office work. Whatever’s needed for however long they need me.”

“And you get in trouble for talking too much, I’m guessing.”

“Among many other things. Actually, my last job review said I was hard to manage.” I was pressed firmly against the door, as far away from Declan as I could possibly sit without riding on the outside of the car. My ankle felt twisted from when this monster had lurched me into the front seat. I noticed a small tear in the knee of my black pants.
“What were you told to do with me?”

“Exactly what I’m doing. I collected the formula and I’m returning it to where I was supposed to take it in the first place.”

“And where’s that?”

“To see someone.”

“Who?” I pressed. I wasn’t feeling much braver, but the more I talked the better I felt. It kept my mind from wandering off in silence and imagining of all sorts of horrific outcomes.

“My father. He helped to order the development of the formula in the first place. Back when it was in a glass vial, not in a living, breathing human being.”

Why would his father be developing a formula like this? Who the hell was he? Dr. Evil?

“How long will I be a living, breathing human being with this poison in me?” I asked quietly.

“I don’t know.” Flat. Matter of fact. No sugar-coating the details.

“No estimate? Weeks? Days?” I swallowed. “Hours?”

“I said I don’t know.”

“Okay. But what do –”

There was a sound then. A beeping — three clear tones that made me jump, betraying my frayed nerves. Declan reached to his left wrist and pushed a button on his watch.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“A timer.”

“For what?”

That pale gray eye moved to me to show his bland disinterest in my endless string of questions. “I need to do something. It’ll only take a minute. If you budge an inch from that seat you won’t like the results. Consider that a firm warning.”

He pulled off to the side of the road, shifted into park, and got something out of his pocket — a black pouch that he unzipped. I tensed when I saw it held another syringe. It was more of a pen needle than the one Anderson had.

“Relax,” he said. “This isn’t for you.”

As he fiddled with a small glass vial, one of a half dozen that sat in the padded container about the size of his palm, I considered making an escape attempt.

Another glance at Declan showed that he was injecting himself in his stomach. He’d pulled up the edge of his black shirt to expose a flat, muscled abdomen that bore a thick diagonal scar bisecting his navel.

My God. What had this horrible man been through to scar his entire body so badly? The thought turned my stomach.

“What is that?” I asked, referring to the needle. Quite honestly, I didn’t normally ask this many questions. I could see how it could be annoying to the askee, but at the moment I didn’t exactly give a shit.

“My serum.”

He continued to answer my questions, albeit vague and abruptly. At least it was better than the silence from before. I felt somewhat assured that he wouldn’t be putting a bullet into me. At least, not yet. He needed me. Or rather, he needed the poison inside of me. Maybe his father could draw it out and help me. Give me a transfusion. Otherwise, why bother at all with this field trip to who knows where?

“Are you a diabetic?” I had a friend who injected regularly and had a similar pouch that she kept her insulin in. However, she’d taken it when she checked her blood sugar levels before meals, not when an alarm went off.

“No.”

“Then what’s that for?”

“It helps me control my hunger.”

“You’re on a diet?”

“You could say that.”

What kind of diet would a hard-muscled assassin be on? Maybe it was steroids to help him pop some biceps like vintage Arnold. He wasn’t that bulky, though. He didn’t look like he was a competitive weightlifter. No, Declan’s fat-free body was meant for stealth work — sneaking up behind a victim and slitting his or her throat, then dragging the corpse away to hide it.

My hand automatically went to my neck as if to protect it from an invisible blade.

“Look, Declan…we can work this out between us. Come to some sort of a deal for you to let me go.”

“There is no deal. You’re carrying something I need. End of story. Consider yourself a reluctant courier.”

I turned that over in my already crowded brain. “Can your father — whoever he is — help to get this poison out of me?”

“That would be the ideal solution to this unfortunate situation, wouldn’t it?”

Why couldn’t he just answer yes or no? I forced myself to look at him. At this angle I only saw the strap of his eye patch. The damage was on the left side of his face. His right side was mostly unmarked. My gaze moved to his hands on the steering wheel. The imprint of my teeth was still on his already scarred left forearm, although it didn’t look as bad as I thought it would. However, it still looked as if it had been painful.

It gave me a momentary swell of confidence. Good. Bastard deserved it.

He tucked his serum container away.

“I need to call my coworkers,” I said. “And my roommate. They’re going to be worried. There were witnesses and security cameras.”

“I don’t care about any of that.”

“If I can call them, let them know I’m okay –”

“You’re not okay.” He shifted back into drive and the tires screeched as he pulled back onto the road. “Far from it. That poison’s going to kill you. It’s only a matter of time. What part of that don’t you understand?”