hallucinations grew so strong that she had a hard time discerning reality, she had to be hospitalized. And from there, she went downhill. We watched, numb, as the illness took her mind and she turned into an insane, brittle husk of the vibrant woman she once had been. My poor, distraught father kept vigil at her bedside, holding her hand even as she slipped away.

How could you die from simply not being able to sleep? The doctors explained that there was something in my mother’s genetic makeup that wouldn’t allow her to get restful sleep, and it slowly took a toll on her mind. By the end, she was mad with exhaustion, and half the time she didn’t recognize me or my father.

It was devastating.

Then the doctors insisted on testing me, since I shared the same DNA. They were interested for scientific reasons, of course. I was interested because I wanted to know if I was going to end up with the same death sentence.

I wasn’t prepared to find out the truth: I was a carrier for the same disease. It might hit me but it might not, the doctors reassured me. Most people didn’t see an onset of it until they hit their forties, and by the time I hit that age, surely they’d have a cure for it. They patted me and reassured me, and in turn, I patted and reassured my father, who was still reeling from the loss of my mother. Plenty of time yet before his only child might be affected. And there was always a chance that the disease would never kick in.

But I knew my fate as soon as I heard the verdict. I knew that slow, tortured death would eventually come for me.

So I lived with the specter of my death looming over my mind, hovering like a silent reminder that my days were numbered. It colored everything I did. If you knew you were only going to live until forty or so, it’d affect your life, too. I’d always been a fairly withdrawn, silent teenager, but after my mother’s death and my diagnosis I withdrew even more. Lost touch with all my friends after graduation and remained solitary all through college.

I saw how much grief my father went through, and I vowed not to let that happen to another person I loved. Caring for someone and getting close to them only brought pain in the end. Much better to go through life alone and isolated so you didn’t shatter someone else when you left.

So I didn’t date. I got good at deflecting men’s attention. I avoided places where men might hang out trolling for women—bars, clubs, singles groups. What was the point? I was going to die horribly in the prime of my life. Every time I met a man I was interested in, I kept seeing my father’s face at my mother’s bedside. Did I want to do that to someone else?

No, I did not.

So I’d politely turn down any invitation to dinner or a movie. And if I felt lonely, well, there was always my father’s company. Dad and I grew even closer after Mom’s death, going out to dinner, to movies, to museum openings together. We went on vacation to England and toured castles. I went to poker night with him and his friends. Everything was just fine.

Until my lonely, still-young-at-fifty father met Posey.

I hated Posey.

Okay. Hate’s a pretty strong word. I had an intense dislike for Posey. She was the epitome of Southern gentility. She had big blond hair that she wore in an enormous teased pouf of curls. She wore pink. Lots of pink. She sold Avon and wore high heels with her capris. She coordinated her purse with her earrings. And she talked. Loudly. And she flirted heavily with my father.

And he fell for her. The next thing I knew, my dad was dating. Well, good for him. He was so tired of being lonely. And even though I wasn’t a fan of pink, loud Posey, my father adored her and he wasn’t sad anymore.

That was good. I was busy with my new job at Midnight Liaisons, since my bachelor’s in French language wasn’t doing much for me, so I was glad that Dad had someone to spend time with. It was when they went on vacation to Vegas that I started to feel left out. And when they went to Hawaii together. And then took a cross- country trip. They were having a blast just being together, and I began to feel even more isolated and lonely. Maybe at twenty-eight, I was letting life get away from me. Maybe I should have been dating, too.

But then I started having trouble sleeping. At first I thought it was stress. After a week, though, I knew. My mother’s first symptom had been insomnia, and I was a carrier.

I was dying.

I tried to deny it at first. I saw doctors and had them prescribe sleeping pills. I kept my problems from my coworkers and my dad, sure that it was controllable. I did everything I could to “fix” my sleeping problems. I bought new pillows, and then a new bed. I went to meditation therapy. Hypnosis. Acupuncture. Had sleep tests done.

But nothing worked. My brain wouldn’t shut down. Wouldn’t go to sleep. The fatal familial insomnia had kicked in.

I panicked at first. I didn’t want to die. Especially not as a faceless, dateless, twenty-eight-year-old who hadn’t lived enough. I thought I was prepared for the inevitable, only to find out that I was in no way ready for this. It took only a day or so before the realization kicked in—I could use the agency to help my situation.

Sara unknowingly provided the inspiration. I was at my desk, desperately trying to hold myself together by working extra hours. I was setting up a client with a were-jaguar, and Sara was sitting across from me. Suddenly she laughed and instant-messaged me with a dating profile. Check it out.

I pulled the link up on my computer: Joshua Russell. Handsome as hell, and judging from his picture, he knew it. “What am I looking for?”

“His dating list. Look at how long that is! You’d think people would see through his flirting, but he gets away with murder.”

I clicked on his history, and sure enough, it seemed like Josh had dated just about every shifter in our database. “He’s probably riddled with every disease known to mankind,” I commented dryly. “They’re welcome to him.”

Sara snorted. “Man, you’re hard on men. And of course he’s not diseased, silly. He’s a shifter.”

She emphasized the last word like it should mean something to me. “And so . . . ?”

“And so shifters don’t get diseases. They have crazy immune systems that keep things running like a race car.”

And . . . just like that, I had an idea.

I was going to get a shifter to turn me. Maybe a vampire. I wasn’t picky.

I was not going to die young. Not if I could help it.

Chapter Three

Of course, first I had to find someone to turn me. Not as easy as one might think.

I drummed my pencil on my desk now, looking down at my list. No shifters, if Beau’s new rule was ironclad. But there were still vampires. They didn’t necessarily follow the same laws that shifters did. They had their own set of rules, and even Alliance vampires didn’t necessarily follow the same playbook that the shifters did.

And some of the vampires were quite good-looking. I thought of one that had come into the agency recently. He’d been handsome, with sad eyes and crazy hair, but very attractive. Young, too.

“Hey, Ryder,” I called across the small office. “Who was the vampire with the sexy, frothy hair? Your client?”

“Valjean,” she replied, not looking up from her computer.

Ah, that was him. I entered his name into the database. IN A RELATIONSHIP, the screen said. Tabarnak. Damn, that was fast. All the good ones got snatched early. So much for the hot new vampire.

I chewed on my lip, then changed my search criteria to “vampire only” and studied the profiles it brought up.

Maybe I needed someone that was a bit more desperate to date. I wasn’t good at flirting, and I had no amazing bed-play to entice a man. I was great at jigsaw puzzles and bingo, but again, not the way to get a man. But if a guy was desperate, he wouldn’t mind, would he? I pulled out my compact and studied my face, wondering

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