Home > Tempted by Midnight (Midnight Breed #12.5)

Tempted by Midnight (Midnight Breed #12.5)
Author: Lara Adrian


One Thousand and One Dark Nights

Once upon a time, in the future…

I was a student fascinated with stories and learning.

I studied philosophy, poetry, history, the occult, and

the art and science of love and magic. I had a vast

library at my father’s home and collected thousands

of volumes of fantastic tales.

I learned all about ancient races and bygone

times. About myths and legends and dreams of all

people through the millennium. And the more I read

the stronger my imagination grew until I discovered

that I was able to travel into the stories... to actually

become part of them.

I wish I could say that I listened to my teacher

and respected my gift, as I ought to have. If I had, I

would not be telling you this tale now.

But I was foolhardy and confused, showing off

with bravery.

One afternoon, curious about the myth of the

Arabian Nights, I traveled back to ancient Persia to

see for myself if it was true that every day Shahryar

(Persian: شهريار, “king”) married a new virgin, and then

sent yesterday's wife to be beheaded. It was written

and I had read, that by the time he met Scheherazade,

the vizier's daughter, he’d killed one thousand


Something went wrong with my efforts. I arrived

in the midst of the story and somehow exchanged

places with Scheherazade – a phenomena that had

never occurred before and that still to this day, I

cannot explain.

Now I am trapped in that ancient past. I have

taken on Scheherazade’s life and the only way I can

protect myself and stay alive is to do what she did to

protect herself and stay alive.

Every night the King calls for me and listens as I spin tales.

And when the evening ends and dawn breaks, I stop at a

point that leaves him breathless and yearning for more.

And so the King spares my life for one more day, so that

he might hear the rest of my dark tale.

As soon as I finish a story... I begin a new

one... like the one that you, dear reader, have before

you now.


He had lived for more than a thousand years, long enough that few things still held the power to amaze him. The sea at night was one of those rare pleasures for Lazaro Archer.

Standing on the third-level bow deck of a gleaming, 279-foot private megayacht off the western coast of Italy, Lazaro braced his hands on the polished mahogany rail and indulged his senses in a brief appreciation of his moonlit surroundings.

Crisp, salty Mediterranean air filled his nostrils and tousled his jet-black hair. The late summer breeze was cool tonight, gusting rhythmically toward the Italian mainland. Dark, rippling water spread out in all directions under the milky glow of the cloud-strewn moon and blanket of stars. Far below, waves lapped fluidly, sensually, against the sides of the yacht where it floated, engines silenced as it waited at its destined location on the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Lazaro supposed the luxurious vessel he stood aboard would take the breath away from just about anyone—human or Breed. Being born the latter, and first generation Breed besides, one of the vampire nation’s eldest, most pure-blooded individuals, Lazaro had known his fair share of wealth and luxury.

He’d once had all of those things himself. Still did, if he could be bothered to care.

He left everything he once had back in Boston twenty years ago, after the most precious things in his long life had been taken from him. His blood-bonded Breedmate, his sons and their mates, a houseful of innocent children...all gone. His only surviving kin was his grandson, Kellan, who’d been with Lazaro the night the Archers’ Darkhaven home was razed to the ground in a heinous, unprovoked attack by a madman named Dragos.

Lazaro exhaled deeply, no longer feeling the raw scrape of grief whenever he thought of his slain family. The anguish had dulled over time, yet his guilt was always with him, scarred over like a physical wound. A hideous, permanent reminder of his loss.

Of his life’s greatest failure.

If his existence had any meaning now, it belonged to his work with Lucan Thorne and his fellow Breed warriors of the Order. As the commander of the Order’s operation in Rome these past two decades, Lazaro had little time for self-pity or personal indulgences. He had even less opportunity for pleasure, rare or otherwise.

Which was the way he preferred it.

He dealt in justice now.

At times, he dealt in death.

Tonight, he was representing the Order on a less official basis, on the hopes that he could facilitate a secret meeting between two of his trusted friends. One of them was Breed, a high-ranking American member of the Global Nations Council. The other, the megayacht’s owner, was human, an influential Italian businessman who also happened to be the brother of that country’s newly elected president, a politician who had won his office with tough talk against the Breed. If the meeting with Paolo Turati took place as planned tonight and was deemed a success, it would be the first step toward forging an alliance with one of the vampire nation’s most vocal detractors.

As for Byron Walsh, the Breed male had been one of Lazaro’s colleagues in the States, even before the GNC had tapped Walsh for his current diplomatic post. As leader of his own Darkhaven in Maryland, Walsh’s social circle had occasionally intersected with Lazaro’s in Boston. There had even been a time, one bitter winter, that Walsh’s family came to visit Lazaro’s at their Back Bay mansion.

A long time ago, back when Lazaro had a Darkhaven. Back when he still had a family kept safe under his protection.

It had been even longer since Lazaro Archer had played emissary for any cause. He hoped like hell this clandestine introduction wasn’t a mistake.

Seventy-odd miles behind him was the seaside town of Anzio, where Lazaro had joined Turati on his yacht a couple of hours ago. Up ahead of them, an even farther distance, the island of Sardinia glittered with light against the darkness.

A smattering of other large yachts and watercraft bobbed in the vast space between Turati’s vessel and the island, but it was the low drone of a motorboat that captured Lazaro’s full attention. The size of a small cabin cruiser, the yacht tender had departed from an idling vessel in the distance and was heading Lazaro’s way. He watched the chase boat approach from out of the inky darkness, its navigation lights dimmed as instructed, flashing three times as it crossed the water toward them.

His Breed colleague from the States did not disappoint. Byron Walsh was arriving as promised, and right on time.

Lazaro nodded, grim with relief.

He turned away from the rail and headed down to the yacht’s main deck salon where Turati waited. On Lazaro’s directions and assurances, the gray-haired billionaire had brought just two men from his usual security entourage. The yacht’s crew of fifty had been reduced to a bare dozen, just enough personnel to operate the vessel.

At Lazaro’s entrance to the lavish salon, Turati glanced up, wiry brows lifting in question. “He comes?” the old man asked in his native tongue.

Lazaro answered in Italian as well. “The boat is on the way now.” As tonight’s host did not speak English, Lazaro would personally translate for the duration of the meeting, if only to ensure that the conversation didn’t inadvertently stray into unfriendly waters.

Paolo Turati was one of a small number of humans Lazaro considered a friend. He was also one of the few humans who didn’t look upon the Breed as a race of monsters in need of collaring at best, or, at worst, wholesale extermination.

Granted, the fear wasn’t without cause. For millennia, the Breed existed in the shadows alongside their Homo sapiens neighbors. In the twenty years since Lazaro’s kind was outed to man, trust between the two races on the planet had been anything but easy.

That trust became even more complicated a couple of weeks ago, when a violent cabal calling themselves Opus Nostrum smuggled a bomb into a very important summit gathering of Breed and human dignitaries.

If tonight’s introductions went well, the Breed would gain a supportive voice and a much-needed ally in their efforts to keep the peace between man and vampire all around the world. If it went poorly, the Order’s efforts to broker peace could ignite the smoldering war that Opus Nostrum seemed to want so badly.

“I hope your friend from Maryland comes to this meeting with the same intentions as I do,” Turati said, apprehension in the flat line of his mouth, even though the old human’s eyes held Lazaro in a trusting look. “If I like what I hear tonight, I will do what I can to persuade my brother to at least entertain the idea of talks with the GNC and Lucan Thorne. After all, everyone’s goal is peace, not only for ourselves, but for our generations to follow.”

“Indeed,” Lazaro replied. His acute Breed hearing picked up the faint, approaching growl of the boat carrying Byron Walsh. “He’s arriving now. Wait here, Paolo. I’ll go down to meet him and bring him up.”

Turati frowned then shook his head. “I will join you, Lazaro. It seems only proper that I greet Councilman Walsh personally and welcome him aboard along with you. I would do no less for any invited guest.”

Lazaro inclined his head in agreement. “A fine idea.”

He waited patiently as the old man stood and smoothed his custom-tailored navy suit and creamy silk shirt. By contrast, Lazaro was dressed in what he’d come to regard as Order casual—black slacks, light-duty combat boots, and a fitted black patrol shirt.

And although he was first generation Breed and more than deadly with his bare hands alone, he carried a blade concealed in each boot and had a semiautomatic 9mm pistol strapped to his right ankle. He didn’t expect trouble from either of the two men or their few staff present at tonight’s meeting, but he’d be damned if he didn’t come prepared for it.

Together, he and Turati left the grand salon on the yacht’s second level, making their way down a polished brass stairwell that spiraled elegantly onto the lower deck. The boat carrying Walsh was coming around the stern as Lazaro and Turati arrived on the aft deck to meet it.

A suited bodyguard stood at attention on the motorboat, just outside the cabin’s hatch. He was Breed, as big and menacing as any one of Lazaro’s kind. Turati’s steps hesitated at the sight of the unsmiling guard. The two men comprising the Italian’s own security detail now stood behind their employer, pulses spiking with a tension Lazaro felt as a palpable vibration in the air.

He gave a solemn nod of greeting to Walsh’s guard, the signal as good as his word that Walsh would be safe among friends tonight. The guard turned, opened the hatch to murmur an “all clear” to the boat’s occupants.

Byron Walsh appeared in that next instant. Dressed less formally than Turati, the Breed diplomat emerged from the cabin in a crisp white shirt with rolled-back sleeves and fawn-colored slacks. Although Walsh was formidable-looking, over six feet tall and heavily muscled, like all of their kind, his relaxed attire softened his edges.

As did the smile he gave as he disembarked from his tender and stepped onto the deck of Turati’s yacht. Walsh’s friendliness seemed genuine, even if his smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. There was an undercurrent of anxiety about him, as if he hadn’t yet decided if he was stepping onto safe ground or a nest of vipers.

“Lazaro, my old friend, it’s been too long. Good to see you,” he greeted briefly, then extended his hand to the evening’s host. “Signor Turati, buona sera.”

“Paolo,” Turati offered as the two men shook hands.

“Thank you for agreeing to this meeting,” Walsh continued in English. “And please forgive the cloak-and-dagger aspect of our introduction tonight. Unfortunately, there are those who might prefer to keep our people at odds, rather than embrace the peace that you and I both hope to achieve.”

Lazaro murmured a quick translation, to which Turati smiled and replied in kind. “Paolo says he is honored to have the opportunity to talk and share ideas with you, Byron. He would like you and your men to be comfortable as his guests inside now.”

Walsh held up his hand, gesturing to wait. “A moment, if you will. We’re not all present just yet.” He pivoted to look at his pair of Breed bodyguards behind him. “Where’s Mel?”

“Right behind me a second ago,” one of his men answered.

Lazaro scowled, confused, and not a little concerned that Walsh had apparently brought a third member of his entourage when the agreement had explicitly called for balance on both sides of this informal summit. He shot a questioning glower at his friend—just as a head emerged from the cabin below.

A head covered in long, luscious waves of fiery red hair.

“I’m sorry,” the woman offered hastily as she made her way out. “I had to sit down for a second. I’m afraid I’m still trying to find my sea legs.”

She came out of the cabin completely then, and every pair of eyes on deck rooted onto her like the tide pulled toward the moon. Not even Lazaro was immune.

Christ, not even close.

“Ah. There you are, darling.” Walsh pivoted to assist her off the smaller vessel.

Darling? Lazaro vaguely recalled hearing that Byron Walsh had lost his mate in a car accident three or four years ago. Had he taken another lover so soon? Whether she was a Breedmate or human female, Lazaro couldn’t be sure.

More to the point, what the hell was Walsh thinking, showing up with her unexpectedly to a meeting of this importance? Lazaro had worked on Paolo Turati for months before the man finally agreed to open the door to talks with a member of the GNC. Walsh himself had been reluctant to trust the kin of a government leader who made no secret of his suspicion and distaste for the entire population of the Breed. Lazaro could not imagine what had possessed Walsh to treat this unofficial summit as a goddamned pleasure cruise.

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