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Home > Midnight Rising (Midnight Breed #4)

Midnight Rising (Midnight Breed #4)
Author: Lara Adrian

Chapter One

The woman looked completely out of place in her pristine white blouse and tailored ivory pants. Long, coffee-dark hair cascaded over her shoulders in thick waves, not a single strand disturbed by the moist haze that hung in the air of the forest. She was wearing tall elegant heels, which hadn't seemed to keep her from climbing up a wooded path that had the other hikers around her huffing in the humid July heat.

At the crest of the steep incline, she waited in the shade of a bulky, moss-covered rock formation, unblinking as half a dozen tourists passed her by, some of them snapping pictures of the overlook beyond. They didn't notice her. But then, most people couldn't see the dead.

Dylan Alexander didn't want to see her either.

She hadn't encountered a dead woman since she was twelve years old. That she would see one now, twenty years later and in the middle of the Czech Republic, was more than a little startling. She tried to ignore the apparition, but as Dylan and her three traveling companions made their way up the path, the woman's dark eyes found her and rooted on her.

You see me.

Dylan pretended not to hear the static-filled whisper that came from the ghost's unmoving lips. She didn't want to acknowledge the connection. She'd gone so long without one of these weird encounters that she'd all but forgotten what it was like.

Dylan had never understood her strange ability to see the dead. She'd never been able to trust it or control it. She could stand in the middle of a cemetery and see nothing, then suddenly find herself up close and personal with one of the departed, as she was here in the mountains about an hour outside Prague.

The ghosts were always female. Generally youthful-looking and vibrant, like the one who stared at her now with an unmistakable desperation in her exotic, deep brown gaze.

You must hear me.

The statement was tinged with a rich, Hispanic accent, the tone pleading.

"Hey, Dylan. Come here and let me get a picture of you next to this rock."

The sound of a true, earthly voice jolted Dylan's attention away from the beautiful dead woman standing in the nearby arch of weathered sandstone. Janet, a friend of Dylan's mother, Sharon, dug into her backpack and pulled out a camera. The summer tour to Europe was Sharon's idea; it would have been her last great adventure, but the cancer came back in March and the final round of chemotherapy several weeks ago had left her too weak to travel. More recently, Sharon had been in and out of the hospital with pneumonia, and at her insistence Dylan had taken the trip in her place.

"Gotcha," Janet said, clicking off a shot of Dylan and the towering pillars of rock in the wooded valley below. "Your mom sure would love this place, honey. Isn't it breathtaking?"

Dylan nodded. "We'll e-mail her the pictures tonight when we get back to the hotel."

She led her group away from the rock, eager to leave the whispering, otherworldly presence behind. They walked down a sloping ridge, into a stand of thin-trunked pines growing in tight formation. Russet leaves and conifer needles from seasons past crushed on the damp path underfoot. It had rained that morning, topped off with a sweltering heat that kept many of the area's tourists away.

The forest was quiet, peaceful...except for the awareness of ghostly eyes following Dylan's every step deeper into the woods.

"I'm so glad your boss let you have the time off to come with us," added one of the women from behind her on the path. "I know how hard you work at the paper, making up all those stories - "

"She doesn't make them up, Marie," Janet chided gently. "There's got to be some truth in Dylan's articles or they couldn't print them. Isn't that right, honey?"

Dylan scoffed. "Well, considering that our front page usually runs at least one alien abduction or demonic possession account, we don't tend to let facts get in the way of a good story. We publish entertainment pieces, not hard-hitting journalism."

"Your mom says you're going to be a famous reporter one day," Marie said. "A budding Woodward or Bernstein, that's what she says."

"That's right," Janet put in. "You know, she showed me an article you wrote during your first newspaper job fresh out of college - you were covering some nasty murder case upstate. You remember, don't you, honey?"

"Yeah," Dylan said, navigating them toward another massive cluster of soaring sandstone towers that rose out of the trees. "I remember. But that was a long time ago."

"Well, no matter what you do, I know that your mom is very proud of you," Marie said. "You've brought a lot of joy into her life."

Dylan nodded, struggling to find her voice. "Thanks."

Both Janet and Marie worked with her mother at the runaway center in Brooklyn. Nancy, the other member of their travel group, had been Sharon's best friend since high school. All three of the women had become like extended family to Dylan in the past few months. Three extra pairs of comforting arms, which she was really going to need if she ever lost her mom.

In her heart, Dylan knew it was more a matter of when than if.

For so long, it had been just the two of them. Her father had been absent since Dylan was a kid, not that he'd been much of a father when he was present. Her two older brothers were gone too, one of them dead in a car accident, the other having cut all family ties when he joined the service years ago. Dylan and her mom had been left to pick up the pieces, and so they had, each there to lift the other one up when she was down, or to celebrate even the smallest triumphs.

Dylan couldn't bear to think of how empty her life would be without her mom.

Nancy came up and gave Dylan a warm, if sad, smile. "It means the world to Sharon that you would experience the trip for her. You're living it for her, you know?"

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