Lindsay Tanner arrives at Purgatory, a private nightclub, to study the strange clientele who frequent it. Though she believes the people there are simply indulging in sexual fetishism, she is in for a shock when she realizes that they really are what they pretend to be: vampires. She also does what no researcher should do and becomes involved with two men, Caine and Gabriel, vampires who share an unusual bond. Both have secrets, and each seems out to destroy the other. Lindsay must find a way to bring them together and resolve her attraction to, not to mention satisfy her lust, for both of them.
“Welcome to Purgatory,” the woman said, expecting her to take one of the odd-looking concoctions. After pretending to weigh the three choices, Lindsay picked up the pink one and hoped she was correct to assume it was complimentary.
“I haven’t seen you here before,” the server said.
Lindsay assumed a haughty air. “An associate recommended this place. I’m curious to know whether it can live up to my expectations.”
“I hope so.” The woman smiled and moved on with her tray. Lindsay exhaled in relief. Another test passed. Lifting the shot glass, she sniffed at the contents. Fruity, with no hint of alcohol. A house specialty, perhaps? When she raised her eyes again, she saw that many of her fellow patrons were nursing the same drink.
It would serve as a prop, then. Another sign that she belonged. Clinging to it, she moved deeper into the room. She didn’t know where she was heading, but she kept her expression determined and her strides purposeful. As she walked, the heavy gazes of strangers slid along her body like groping hands.
One man in particular made his interest plain. Though he wasn’t holding a drink, he was leaning back against the bar, resting his well-muscled frame on his elbows. Instead of some trendy faux-medieval costume, he wore a simple outfit of tight slacks and a pale, open-collared shirt. His dark eyes blatantly scanned her up and down, then drifted upward again, his mouth half-curved in a smirk. He didn’t bother to look away when Lindsay paused and stared back at him.
Hastily she diverted her attention to a woman about her age, seated at the bar, who seemed a promising source of information.
“Good crowd tonight,” Lindsay said casually, sliding onto the vacant stool beside her. “Last time I was here, the place seemed deserted.”
The woman turned and stared as if Lindsay had spoken to her in a foreign language. Lindsay, in turn, was taken aback by the woman’s multiple nose and lip rings, dark streaks of makeup, and skin as pale and transparent as skim milk.
“Are you okay?” Lindsay asked with sudden concern. She couldn’t identify what drug the woman was under the influence of, but her vacant expression and her obvious weakness suggested something pretty strong.
Abruptly, the woman rose, abandoning her drink on the counter, and moved off into the crowd.
Lindsay got to her feet as well, preparing to follow, but the press of bodies around the bar stopped her. She didn’t need to glance back to know that the man she’d spotted earlier now stood right behind her.
“She won’t talk to you,” he purred, leaning forward until the words caressed her ear. “She didn’t come here for conversation any more than you did. This early in the evening, it’s all about competition.”
Lindsay’s mostly-exposed skin prickled as though his intensity had sparked a mild electrical current. Just then she spotted the pale woman again, passing through a doorway set into the wall just behind the bar. Several people had clustered around it, watching a few others slip through. That was where the real action took place, Lindsay suspected.
Time to start her research in earnest.
Pretending she hadn’t heard the man’s comment, she slipped through the crowd and stepped into the next room. As the door slammed shut again, she heard a few murmurs of admiration and encouragement. That struck her as odd, but she had no time to dwell on it.
If the outer room had seemed uncomfortably close to a typical city bar scene, the space Lindsay now found herself in resembled nothing she’d ever experienced before. Here, the lighting was so muted that it barely qualified as such. Thick blue smoke swirled around her, bringing with it strange smells—clove cigarettes, exotic incense, human sweat, and pheromones. Lindsay stood immobile, trying to adjust to the gloom, while silhouetted figures squeezed past her.
Just ahead, a mass of people danced in place. Despite the feverish beat thudding from a row of gigantic speakers, the dancers swiveled their hips and shoulders languidly, moving in a kind of daze. Though she’d anticipated a certain degree of lawlessness, Lindsay felt a slight shock when she realized that some of them wore nothing but a few strands of jewelry.
She stumbled ahead, avoiding the shuffling dancers, struggling to absorb every sight, smell, and sound without appearing too curious. When she got to the back of the room, however, she was unable to conceal an expression of utter astonishment.
On a platform in the corner, a naked man posed in front of a large wooden “X,” his wrists and ankles spread out and tied to its frame. Three women hovered around him, bending and bobbing their heads over various portions of his anatomy. Lindsay assumed they were putting on some kind of sex show, until she realized that each of the women held tiny daggers, which they were using to make shallow cuts on the man’s exposed flesh. With every push of the knife, he moaned and writhed in apparent enjoyment. Meanwhile, the women licked away the fresh blood as soon as it trickled from his wounds.
“Is he all right?” Lindsay hadn’t meant to speak out loud, but imagining such scenes and actually watching one proved to be two very different things. She wasn’t nearly as prepared to bridge the gap as she’d imagined.
“Perfectly.” That same silky voice rumbled against her flesh again, startling her. “He offers himself every week or so when his supply is replenished. It is completely voluntary, infinitely pleasurable to him, and much safer than it looks.”
He was standing so near to her that the thick ridge of his thigh, not to mention the bulge of his zipper, pressed against the curve of her half-covered rear end. She turned her head to find the dark-haired man from the bar. Up close, he was even more striking, with eyes so dark that the irises appeared black in the room’s strange lighting. A wave of even blacker hair swept back from his forehead, the thick, inky mane curling down behind his ears.
This time, his proximity didn’t set her on edge. Quite the reverse. The sheer power of his presence made her feel secure for the first time since she’d walked in here.
“His supply of blood, you mean,” she replied in a shaky voice.
He tilted his head in agreement.
“How much will they take?”
“Enough to slake their thirst, but not enough to harm him. I’m sure you know that a healthy individual can lose quite a bit without experiencing anything more serious than temporary weakness.”
His tone held a hint of challenge, and Lindsay’s stomach knotted. Had he seen through her ruse? If so, no wonder all her carefully cultivated bravado, so foreign to her true nature, had melted the moment she found herself confronted by his strong-jawed face and ruthless eyes.
“Of course I do,” she shot back, deciding to use the opportunity to do some research. “I just…wasn’t familiar with that technique. I mean, knives? Don’t vampires use their teeth?”
His lips parted with humor. It wasn’t exactly a smile. “Don’t worry. Before the night is over, they will.”
“On him?” She swallowed and turned back to the man on the scaffolding. His erection curved upward, swelling with each swipe of the women’s tiny blades. Lindsay had once studied the phenomenon of people who took pleasure from cutting their own skin. She’d never understood the appeal of self-mutilation, but even that seemed almost normal compared to what she was watching now.
“Doubtful. He has his role to play. But there are plenty of other willing volunteers in this room.” His brows lifted suggestively. After all, she reflected, she was passing herself off as one of those volunteers. Surely he didn’t expect her to strip down and get up on stage herself?
Just then, the crowd shifted, some spectators apparently becoming bored with the display. Lindsay found herself separated from him, borne away on a surging human tide. Her relief at escaping his inquiries proved short-lived, however. Another man immediately took his place.
Her new companion provided a stark contrast to his predecessor. His appearance alone unnerved and disgusted her. This man’s long, unkempt gray hair slithered to the shoulders of an equally ragged shirt. The pungent odor of blood and decay rose from his skin.
For the first time since entering Purgatory, Lindsay experienced a flash of genuine fear. Stubbornly, she pushed it away. She wasn’t about to be intimidated by a regular guy with a delusion—and an apparent aversion to bathing.
She gasped as the man’s rough-skinned arm slid around her and locked under her breasts. Her back collided with his bony chest at the same time his clammy fingers pushed aside her skimpy clothing and encircled the hard bud of her nipple. Icy breath fluttered over the back of her neck. Sheer revulsion paralyzed her.
“You look like a tasty morsel,” the man growled. At least she thought that was what he said. His words sounded garbled somehow, as though he were speaking an odd, backward form of English resembling Pig Latin.
“No!” she protested, struggling to liberate herself. “Let me go!”
The arm squeezed tighter, cutting off her breath. Forced into silence, panic rising, she concentrated on using her nails, heels, and shoulders to loosen his hold. Nothing had the slightest effect.
Her blows became weaker as the pressure on her lungs intensified. Then, unexpectedly, she found herself stumbling free.
As her vision swam back into focus, she found that the tall, dark-haired man in the light shirt had returned. He and her attacker were squaring off, hands and feet spread, muscles rippling with anger. Much stranger, though, was the sound they were both making…a low, feral growl, like jungle animals clashing over a fresh kill.
Lindsay’s head was spinning, thanks to her momentary loss of air, but the second voice boomed above the grinding techno beat.
“Back off. I saw her first.”
In response, the foul creature who had grabbed her hissed and bared his teeth. Lindsay went weak again at the sight of his spiky, discolored fangs.
Fake, she reassured herself, even as an icy sweat erupted down the middle of her back. There were underground dentists and body modders who would file people’s teeth to create the illusion of vampirism. Still, whatever his status as a card-carrying member of club undead, he would have bitten her, she felt sure.
The crowd of onlookers quickly transferred their attention from the man on the platform and gathered to watch the unfolding battle instead. A middle-aged woman with an elaborate glitter-laced hairstyle blocked Lindsay’s view, but she heard another round of roaring, a few more incomprehensible phrases, and the shuffling sounds of the combatants circling each other.
Lindsay managed to duck and step to her left just in time to see the man who had grabbed her go down on his knees, his wrists imprisoned in her rescuer’s stony fingers. Sputtering like a trapped beast, he thrashed his head from side to side, as unable to escape as she had been only moments ago.
“You may be older than I,” the dark-haired man asserted, “but I am stronger. Don’t cross me again, or you will be pining for the moon for another two hundred years or more.”
He pushed off hard, sending his opponent sprawling on the floor. The spectators murmured with disappointment as the lanky-haired man lurched to his feet, hid his blotchy face with his hands, and scuttled away. No one followed him, but the crowd dispersed soon after, leaving Lindsay standing alone, terrified and embarrassed in equal parts.
“You’re supposed to consent before they do such things,” the man said with disgust as he approached her. He looked down at his palms, scowled, and wiped them on the thighs of his pants. “You didn’t welcome his attentions, did you?”
“No. It all happened so fast. He just—came out of nowhere.”
“Glad to hear it. He is a creature not to be trusted.”
“I kind of got that impression.”
“He’s a product of the Middle Ages, so he hasn’t quite mastered the concept of showing respect for women. Chivalry was by no means as universal as the legends would have us believe. Then he lay imprisoned in a tomb for over two centuries, and it drove him a little mad. I almost pity him. Almost.”
Lindsay gaped at him. “How do you know that?”
“Because I helped put him there, of course.” He folded his arms and stared at her until she found herself getting lightheaded again. “This is your first time here.”
It hadn’t been a question, and she saw no point in denying it. “Yes.”
“Lindsay Tanner.” She hadn’t meant to reveal her last name, or at least not her real one. Somehow, it rose to her lips as if she had no control over her own speech. The assault must have shaken her more than she’d realized. “Uh…yours?”
“Caine Waldram.” He reached out and grasped her hand. The coldness of his skin sent a shiver up her arm and straight to her nipples. Her own face suffused with heat as the front of her skimpy outfit stretched outward to form twin points. Caine’s smile expanded along with the garment.
“An interesting name,” she said in an effort to distract him.
He shrugged. “People took Biblical names seriously when and where I was born. Either my parents had a strange sense of humor or they had a premonition about the sort of man I would become.”
“The Biblical Caine was cursed, you mean.”
“He also murdered his brother. Fortunately, I remained an only child.”
Though he was no longer touching her, she shivered again. “Well, you seem like a fine man to me. After all, you just saved me from that disgusting man…and from myself, I suppose.”
“I did what was necessary. I’ll speak to management later and get our ill-mannered friend barred.” He shrugged again, distracted. His gaze swept the room behind her. She was tempted to turn around, but resisted the urge. For some reason, she couldn’t tear her attention away from him. He captivated her in a way the objective researcher in her found unsettling.
His smoldering gaze swung around again and pinned her. Whether a trick of the lighting or not, his eyes still appeared entirely black—perhaps like those of his Old Testament namesake. “And aside from that, are you enjoying yourself tonight? Do you like Purgatory?”
No doubt he expected her to comment on the pun, so she ignored it. “It’s…interesting.”
“I can see why you would say that. You didn’t come here looking for companionship, like most everyone else. Nevertheless, you look lonely. I’m not sure you even realize it.”
In fact, Lindsay didn’t consider herself lonely, even though her determination to earn a series of academic degrees and soon, hopefully, start a career, had made her personal life unsatisfactory at times. “There’s a difference between being alone and lonely,” she protested.
“I didn’t just mean tonight.” He lifted his hand and turned it palm upward to indicate a spot across the room. This time, she pivoted on her heel and looked in the direction he indicated.
“Now there’s a man who needs companionship,” Caine went on, his arm still raised. “Gabriel Blackstone is another very old acquaintance of mine, but he happens to be one you can trust. And I know as well as I know my own name that he’s lonely. So go.”
His hand dropped to her shoulder, and he nudged her so subtly that Lindsay was moving forward before she even realized it. She didn’t need to glance back to know Caine had vanished again.
A tall blond man stood in the spot Caine had directed her toward, holding a tall metal goblet to his chest. His chin tilted up, and his gaze remained vacant, as though he were trying to lose himself in the strobe lights and music.
Even though he scared her a little, she found Caine Waldram handsome. She couldn’t deny that.
But Gabriel Blackstone was, simply, the most beautiful man she had ever seen.