Home > A Taste of Midnight (Midnight Breed #9.5)

A Taste of Midnight (Midnight Breed #9.5)
Author: Lara Adrian

Chapter One

Christmas music swelled from the tuxedo-clad orchestra, filling the ballroom of the Edinburgh mansion where two dozen beautiful couples danced beneath garlands of crisp holly and fragrant evergreen boughs. High overhead, giant chandeliers dripping with cut crystals and glittering gold accents scattered soft light like diamonds onto the Darkhaven gathering below. It was night outside the eighteen-foot windows that ran the length of the ballro drom, daytime shutters folded back from the glass to reveal a pristine, moonlit spread of rolling Highland hills blanketed in wintry white.

The scene was as picture perfect as a page in a glossy magazine.

Elegant, urbane. Utterly enchanting.

Danika could hardly stifle the urge to scream.

She didn't belong here. Coming back to Scotland for the holidays and to this Breed social gathering tonight-both at the insistence of Conlan's well-meaning relatives-had been a mistake. Two days in Edinburgh and already she was itching to book the next flight home to her quiet life in Denmark. She'd been in her high-heeled sandals and black cocktail dress only two hours, struggling to make small talk with a hundred people she didn't know, and more than half that time she'd been eyeing the mansion's front door with a longing she could scarcely hide.

"Are you having a nice time, Danika?"

God, it was all she could do not to pivot and bolt.

Instead, she smiled politely at the young woman beside her. "Of course. The party is lovely, Emma."

"You see? I knew you'd enjoy getting out for a while," the petite redhead said. She was the Breedmate of one of Con's distant cousins, a mere child in her twenties, still fresh with the shine of unspoiled youth and glowing with the promise of the eternal bond she shared with James, the handsome Breed male at her side. His dark eyes were tender on Emma, his strong arm holding her protectively at his side. When he smiled at his pretty mate, it was impossible to miss the press of his emerging fangs behind his lip. Desire transformed his gaze too, his irises flashing with heated sparks of amber.

The couple obviously adored each other, and it was hard for Danika not to envy them their future. Hard to remember what it was like to be newly blood-bonded and so in love, looking forward to time together without end.

Danika glanced away from the pair and smoothed the scarlet silk mourning sash tied around her waist. She'd forgone the traditional white widow's gown, but even a year and a half after Conlan's death in Boston, she found it difficult to give up this last symbol of her loss. Being in Scotland-Con's homeland-only made his absence more obvious. They'd forged a history together here, in the Highlands. Centuries of time bonded as one, living a peaceful existence, until Con's sense of duty and honor took them to America some hundred years ago, where he'd pledged his sword in service as a warrior of the Order.

They'd wanted for nothing, except the child they'd finally decided to have. Their son, Connor, conceived just three months before Conlan was killed on an Order mission gone awry. She'd hated leaving the baby back at her guest cottage with Con's family tonight, even for a couple of hours. He was all she had, her only link to the life she'd shared with Conlan MacConn. Danika glanced out at the sea of strangers all around her, civilian Breed males and their mates, a hundred unfamiliar faces in an unfamiliar place. She looked at them all, never having felt so alone.

"Will you excuse me for a moment?" she asked the couple beside her. "I should call the house again, make sure everything is all right with Connor."

"But you just checked in on him five minutes ago ..."

Danika let the comment trail off behind her, already moving toward the quiet perimeter of the ballroom and fishing her phone out of her little evening clutch. The update from the guest cottage where Danika and Connor were staying was the same as it had been every other time she'd called. Everything was fine with the baby, no need for Danika to worry.

She thanked the Breedmate watching Connor and ended the call, knowing it was wrong to wish for a reason to leave the party and rush back to her child. She was supposed to be having a nice time tonight. Since she was stuck there until her companions decided to leave, maybe she should at least make an effort to enjoy herself a little.

Slipping the phone back into her purse, she began a slow circuit of the room. The red sash around her waist deflected the interest of all but the boldest of the unattached Breed males. Then again, at five foot eleven without the added height of her four-inch spike heels and possessing long blond hair, she realized she was hard to miss. She could ignore the assessing stares of the men at the gathering. It was the pitying looks of the other Breedmates that made her feel the most awkward.

Widowed after so long together? I would rather die myself than lose my mate like that.

Danika briefly closed her eyes as the thought sailed at her from across the room. She didn't know whose mind she'd tapped into, nor could she bar the intrusion. Every Breedmate was gifted with a unique extrasensory talent. Hers was the ability to read thoughts, be it Breed, Breedmate, or basic Homo sapiens. Unfortunately, since Conlan's death, that ability had become unpredictable, unmanageable. His Breed blood had kept her youthful for centuries; it had also fed her talent and kept it strong.

Several times already tonight she'd been blindsided by a sudden uninvited mental commentary. Most were mundane prattle and insipid cocktail party drivel, but some thoughts bore sharp edges that zeroed in on her like arrows.

Never would've happened if Conlan had stayed in Scotland where he belonged. Never should've taken an outlander as his mate.

Danika lifted her chin and strode deeper into the throng of Darkhaven civilians. Let them stare. Let them cast their silent blame and suspicion. Let them gape at her like the outsider she was. She had never needed anyone's approval; she sure as hell didn't need it now.

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