Kiss of Midnight
by Lara Adrian
(Bantam, $6.99, R) ISBN 9780-553-58937-5
Newcomer Lara Adrian delivers a fast-paced, sexy romantic suspense that introduces a new world of vampires to the already-crowded genre. Itís much to her credit that this novel stands above the rest so effortlessly. While the story is more graphic than many, if readers are willing to deal with the elevated level of gore, the payoff is a gripping, sensual love story.

Photographer Gabrielle Maxwell is celebrating her first big show with some friends. They end up at the hottest new club, La Notte, whose clientele appears to be on the darkly exotic side. No wonder - most of them are Rogue vampires, more than willing to entice and destroy any human in order to feed their insatiable Bloodlust. When Gabrielle witnesses a murder of a human by six men in an alley near the club, her first instinct is to go to the police. Unfortunately, they donít believe her story of seeing a man getting his throat torn out.

Someone is very interested in her story, however, and soon Lucan Thorne is knocking on Gabrielleís door. A vampire himself, Lucan is a member of a band of warriors whose goal is to seek out and destroy Rogues - a goal that is becoming increasingly difficult. Seems that the Rogues are experiencing a resurgence of the kind that could only be masterminded by a powerful vampire. Gabrielle witnessed a Rogue murder, and since one of the Rogues escaped before Lucan could kill him, Gabrielle is now in danger.

Lucan senses something else in Gabrielle, too. She bears a birthmark that identifies her as a Breedmate, or a human woman who is destined to bond with a vampire. Given the powerful attraction between them, Lucan fears that Gabrielleís destined mate is himself, a bond he definitely does not want. Still, he canít stay away from her, and their attraction flares into a white-hot passion.

This is definitely an action-oriented novel with some fairly complex world-building. Vampires live in safe areas known as Darkhavens, or in the case of Lucan and his band, in a compound within the city of Boston. They only emerge at night, though garlic and holy water are useless against them. Gabrielle is more tied to the vampire world than she realizes, and there is a reason that she is drawn to photographing stark industrial areas, filmed in black and white. In a clever plot point, Gabrielleís photos will help Lucan.

I appreciated that the author didnít try for the obvious ďset up an entire series of novelsĒ with Kiss of Midnight, though a series is definitely in the works. Some of Lucanís band are already bonded to breedmates. Several are not, however, and next up is the vampire warrior named Dante.

A word of caution to readers: the body count and gore factor are both fairly high in this story. Squeamish readers may find parts of the book rather disturbing. Vampires feed, and Lucan is no exception. If that doesnít bother you, the rest of the story is engrossing, and the romance between Lucan and Gabrielle is steamy, yet feels sincere. There is real depth to both of their characters, especially Lucan, who is one of the few first-generation vampires and the acknowledged leader of the warriors. The authorís take on the origins of the vampire culture may have readers scratching their heads, but itís inventive. And the ending leaves enough loose threads dangling to make readers look forward to the next novel, Kiss of Crimson, due out shortly.

Lara Adrian has a sharp, creative new voice, and given the abundance of vampire-themed romance lately, sheís a welcome addition. If you havenít picked up a paranormal romance in a while, Kiss of Midnight is an excellent bet.

--Cathy Sova

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