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She thought she'd escaped the abyss, but accepting Ryder into her life had forced her

to once again confront the darkness within her. She loved him, but the happiness hed given her was tinged with sadness as she thought of all shed lose if she committed to him and his undead worldfamily, friends, marriagebabies. She honestly didnt know if she could give it all up. The young mother Diana saw earlier with her baby reminded her of her friend Meghan. The cute, young cheerleader had been consumed by self-pity, rage, and loss after Blake turned her. She had lived for only one thing: to rip out Blake's throat for stealing her humanity. With Dianas dangerous past and inner demons, that could be her fate, too. The thought sent a shiver down her spine. Still, Blake and Meghan had eventually gotten their happily-ever-after and were now newlyweds. Newlywed vampires. She ground out a laugh and poured herself another drink. She didn't dare hope for such a happy future for herself. There was too much unrest within her soul that she feared her new demon would embrace. That it would take her over, and bring death and destruction to those she loved. And she feared that Ryder would endlessly blame himself for turning her and awakening those darkest parts of her. Not a good basis for a forever kind of relationship. She raised her glass and offered up an imaginary toast as Ryder stepped through the balcony doors onto the patio. He stood rigidly, mired in murky shadow. He was dressed all in black, melding into the night. Behind him, the reflection of the neon Silvercup Studios sign across the East River framed him in crimson. Midnight and blood, the vampires milieu. The world of her future? He strode to her and tipped her face up, but even with her enhanced vision, his features were all shadowed planes and angles. Do you think that's wise? He inclined his head in the direction of the bourbon bottle. Unlike you, I know my limits. Ryder frowned. Clearly you don't, judging from what's left in that bottle. I don't need you telling me what to do, she shot back, hating his protectiveness. Hating more that he was right. She'd almost emptied the bottle. Moonlight flashed off his fangs as they burst forth and he growled out a warning. Seems to me you do, darlin'. I'm so not afraid of you. She rose on tiptoe to stare into his neon-green vampire gaze. Maybe you should be, darlin, he said, a world of danger in those words, but not enough to dissuade

her from challenging him. "You shouldnt have followed me tonight. For good measure, she jabbed her index finger into his chest feeling the need to hurt as she was hurting. He snagged her finger mid-poke. I had to give your boss a piece of my mind. She ground her teeth. God damn it, Ryder. You have no right to interfere in my career. Which is exactly what I told him. So I guess you want a piece of me for doing that, too. A hint of his native Louisiana rested in his tones. That little drawl never failed to stir her, awakening a wave of heat deep between her legs. She fought the desire because it weakened her anger. Damn right, I do. I don't need you being all stalkery and watching over me. I can take care of myself. He loomed over her. Really? I guess you're feelin all Buffy tonight? Enough to kick your ass. Apparently you're forgetting what happened last time you thought you could take me down? The deep, rich tone reverberated inside her in a way that had her clenching her legs. Sweet Lord did she ever remember. And so did her body. Her nipples tightened and dampness moistened her cleft. I can see you do. He stepped forward until they were barely an inch apart, his voice pitched low with the growly hint of vampire again. As she met his gaze, a tease of neon cautioned that the demon scented the rise of her desire and wanted a taste of it. Inside her, the darkness that loved that side of him, loved the danger of the beast, throbbed in anticipation. She tilted her chin defiantly and pushed him away with a rough shove. I think you need a reminder of what I am. He placed his hand at her waist, his touch possessive. Bending from his greater height, he whispered in her ear, Id love to take you up on that offer.