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Kiss of Midnight (Midnight Breed #1)
Author: Lara Adrian

Chapter One

PRESENT DAY

"Remarkable. Just look at the use of light and shadow..."

"You see how this image hints at the sorrow of the place, yet manages to convey a promise of hope?"

"... one of the youngest photographers to be included in the museum's new modern art collection."

Gabrielle Maxwell stood back from the group of exhibit attendees, nursing a flute of warm champagne as yet another crowd of faceless, nameless, Very Important People enthused over the two dozen black-and-white photographs displayed on the gallery walls. She glanced at the images from across the room, somewhat bemused. They were good photographs - a bit edgy, their subject matter being abandoned mills and desolate dockyards outside Boston - but she didn't quite get what everyone else was seeing in them.

Then again, she never did. Gabrielle merely took the photographs; she left their interpretation, and ultimately, their appreciation, up to others. An introvert by nature, it made her uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of this much praise and attention... but it did pay the bills. Quite nicely, at that. Tonight, it was also paying the bills for her friend Jamie, the owner of the funky little art gallery on Newbury Street, which, at ten minutes to closing, was still packed with prospective buyers.

Numb with the whole process of meeting and greeting, of smiling politely as everyone from moneyed Back Bay wives to multipierced, tattooed Goths tried to impress one another - and her - with analyses of her work, Gabrielle couldn't wait for the exhibit to end. She had been hiding in the shadows for the past hour, contemplating a stealth escape to the comfort of a warm shower and a soft pillow, both waiting at her apartment on the city's east side.

But she had promised a few of her friends - Jamie, Kendra, and Megan - that she would join them for dinner and drinks after the showing. As the last couple of stragglers made their purchases and left, Gabrielle found herself gathered up and swept into a cab before she had a chance to so much as think of begging off.

"What an awesome night!" Jamie's androgynous blond hair swung around his face as he leaned across the other two women to clutch Gabrielle's hand. "I've never had so much weekend traffic in the gallery - and tonight's sales receipts were amazing! Thank you so much for letting me host you."

Gabrielle smiled at her friend's excitement. "Of course. No need to thank me."

"You weren't too miserable, were you?"

"How could she be, with half of Boston falling at her feet?" gushed Kendra, before Gabrielle could answer for herself. "Was that the governor I saw you talking with over the canapés?"

Gabrielle nodded. "He's offered to commission some original works for his cottage on the Vineyard."

"Sweet!"

"Yeah," Gabrielle replied without much enthusiasm. She had a stack of business cards in her pocketbook - at least a year of steady work, if she wanted it - so why was she tempted to open the taxi window and scatter them all to the wind?

She let her gaze drift to the night outside the car, watching in queer detachment as lights and lives flickered past. The streets teemed with people: couples strolling hand in hand, groups of friends laughing and talking, all of them having a great time. They dined at café tables outside trendy bistros and paused to browse store window displays. Everywhere she looked, the city pulsed with color and life. Gabrielle absorbed it all with her artist's eye and, yet, felt nothing. This bustle of life - her life as well - seemed to be speeding by without her. More and more lately, she felt as if she were caught on a wheel that wouldn't stop spinning her around, trapping her in an endless cycle of passing time and little purpose.

"Is anything wrong, Gab?" Megan asked from beside her on the taxi's bench seat. "You seem quiet."

Gabrielle shrugged. "I'm sorry. I'm just... I don't know. Tired, I guess."

"Somebody get this woman a drink - stat!" Kendra, the dark-haired nurse, joked.

"Nah," Jamie countered, sly and catlike. "What our Gab really needs is a man. You're too serious, sweetie. It's not healthy to let your work consume you like you do. Have some fun! When's the last time you got laid, anyway?"

Too long ago but Gabrielle wasn't really keeping track. She'd never suffered from a shortage of dates when she wanted them, and sex - on those rare occasions she had it - wasn't something she obsessed over like some of her friends. As out of practice as she was right now in that department, she didn't think an orgasm was going to cure whatever was causing her current state of restlessness.

"Jamie is right, you know," Kendra was saying. "You need to loosen up, get a little wild."

"No time like the present," Jamie added.

"Oh, I don't think so," Gabrielle said, shaking her head. "I'm really not up for a late night, you guys. Gallery showings always take a lot out of me and I - "

"Driver?" Ignoring her, Jamie slid to the edge of the seat and rapped on the Plexiglas that separated the cabbie from his passengers. "Change of plans. We decided we're in the mood for celebrating, so ixnay on the restaurant. We wanna go where all the hot people are."

"If you like dance clubs, there's a new one just opened in the north end," the cabbie said, his spearmint chewing gum cracking as he spoke. "I been takin' fares over there all week. Fact, took two already tonight - fancy after-hours place called La Notte."

"Ooh, La No-tay," Jamie purred, tossing a playful look over his shoulder and arching an elegant brow. "Sounds perfectly wicked to me, girls. Let's go!"

The club, La Notte, was housed in a High Victorian Gothic building that had long been known as St. John's Trinity Parish church, until recent Archdiocese of Boston payouts on priest sex scandals forced the closings of dozens of such places around the city. Now, as Gabrielle and her friends made their way inside the crowded club, synthesized trance and techno music rang in the rafters, blasting out of enormous speakers that framed the DJ pit in the balcony above the altar. Strobe lights flashed against a trio of arched stained-glass windows. The pulsing beams cut through the thin cloud of smoke that hung in the air, pounding to the frenetic beat of a seemingly endless song. On the dance floor - and in nearly every square foot of La Notte's main floor and the gallery above - people moved against one another in writhing, mindless sensuality.

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