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A Mate for Lazarus

By´╝ÜCharlene Hartnady

Chapter 1

The reception area was decorated in crisp modern finishes. Stainless steel banisters, gleaming marble floors and white leather sofas. The artwork was contemporary and bright. Each piece cost more than what she could earn in a year. Much more.

This was it. The next level. She had five minutes to make her pitch and she best not blow it. Alexandra tried not to fidget as the magnitude of this opportunity sank in. Her palms felt sweaty. Damn, her armpits didn’t feel too much better. She suddenly felt like she was suffocating in her gray pinstriped pantsuit. The urge to take off her jacket increased despite the perfect temperature control in the building.

There was a soft ringing tone and the personal assistant answered, her manicured nails clicked against the telephone as she picked it up. Her gaze flew to Alex and she nodded. “Yes, sir.” She put down the receiver.

“Mr. Armstrong will see you now.” She licked her bright red lips. “Are you sure I can’t bring you anything during your meeting? A coffee or a juice maybe?”

Alex stood, she swiped a hand down her pants and adjusted her jacket. “No, thank you.” Her stomach lurched at the thought of anything going into it. This included beverages.

The PA nodded once before turning back to the computer screen in front of her. “Go on in,” she muttered, almost to herself.

Alex made her way down the hall. It was long and just as beautifully decorated as the rest of the building. The door was closed. Alex swallowed hard, she lifted her chin and sucked in a deep breath. She had worked hard over the last few years in order to get where she was today. Senior journalist before the age of thirty was no mean feat. So what if Sweetwater Press was a small local paper. She’d fought hard, she’d gotten ahead and was ready for the big leagues now. She could do this.

She opened the door and walked in. James Armstrong was standing with his back to her, admiring the view. It was a sight to behold. New York City in all her glory. One of these days she was going to have her own office like this one, maybe the view wouldn’t be quite as sweet but it would be pretty darn close if she had anything to say about it.

James turned and smiled. He was still a handsome man despite the fact that he was pushing sixty. His hair was gray at the temples, the only wrinkles were around his eyes. “Little Alexandra Stone. Look at you. All grown up I see.” He moved towards her while holding his arms open.


“Hi, Uncle James.” Even though they weren’t related, she had always called him that growing up so the words just seemed to fall from her tongue. She inwardly cringed. This wasn’t supposed to be a reunion  , this was supposed to be a business meeting.

His arms closed around her and he even rubbed her back. “You look the spitting image of your mother.” He said as he pulled away. “Thankfully, since your father had an ugly mug of note.” Despite his smile, his eyes clouded. She felt a jolt of pain as she remembered her father, taken too soon. He never got to see her go to college or get her first job. He wouldn’t get to see her name up in lights either.

James’ eyes hardened up. “You’ve come to see me about a piece…”

She sucked in a breath, ready to confirm when he put his hand up to stop her.

“I agreed to see you because I’m a firm believer that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. We go way back, Alex. I loved your father like a brother.”


That’s not how she wanted this to go down. She needed to be awarded this on her own merit.

“Don’t look so upset.” James smiled. “You have a few minutes of my time to pitch but that’s where the favor ends. Your father was a brilliant journalist. I want you to prove my apple theory right.”

“I appreciate your time.” She forced herself to keep her hands by her sides and to stay composed.

James gestured for her to take a seat. “So…” He paused. “What is this big story idea that you so desperately needed to see me about?”

“I’ve been accepted into The Program. I’ll get all the inside details. This will be the scoop of the century. In return, you allow me to write the piece myself and I want a front-page slot.”

His eyes widened. “Not asking for much are you? What the hell is The Program anyway?”

It was her turn to widen her own eyes. She quickly schooled her emotions though. There was no way in hell that James Armstrong was unaware of The Program. She played along though for the time being and even made a little gasping noise. “Please don’t tell me that you don’t know?” She didn’t wait for him to reply. “You are aware that we have non-humans living in Sweetwater, right?”

He nodded, his eyes and attention on her. She noticed a glint in their depths.

“Well, they started a dating program for the sole purpose of pairing human women with vampires so that they may reproduce over time. The vampires stated that most of their own women are unable to birth live young and therefore are technically infertile.” She licked her lips. “Their numbers are in decline and they have taken drastic measures to counter that fact.”

“I’m sure any one of the women within the program would be willing to give their story for a whack-load of cash. I could have any one of my headlining, proven journalists tackle the story. What makes you so special?” He cocked his head.

Arrogant bastard.

That wasn’t entirely true, as executive editor it was his job to ask such questions.

“This program has various stages and although you’ll certainly be able to interview the women as they fall out of each stage. You must realize that you would be fighting against hordes of paparazzi from every rag in town, in order to get the inside scoop. You and every other publication worth its salt will broadcast similar information and all at the same time. What you need is an exclusive. Information from behind the walls as the first heat of The Program enters its final stages.”

He sucked in a deep breath. “You do realize that every woman that sets foot on vampire territory is expected to sign a nondisclosure agreement? All we have is speculation as to what is going on inside their territory and this is going to remain the case since women exiting the program are not permitted to speak with the media. You will be no different.”

Double damn.

This wasn’t something she hadn’t considered. “To hell with the clause. I don’t care. They can sue me. It’s not like they’ll get much out of me anyways. Do you want the story or not?”

James shook his head. “Legal would never allow it and you know it. Your career would be over before it ever really began. Aside from hefty fines, you could end up going to jail.” His eyes softened and he touched her arm. “I strongly advise you against doing something crazy like this. As much as I would love the story.” He sighed heavily. “An insider’s account of The Program…” He mumbled to himself, shaking his head. He looked pained. “It would be front page news for sure. Forget about it though, kid.”

Not a chance.

Alexandra Stone did not know the meaning of the word defeat. It wasn’t going to happen. Not on her watch anyway.

“Besides, I thought you said you got yourself into that program.” He narrowed his eyes. “My sources have confirmed that the program is already underway, it started a good couple of days ago.”

So he was testing her when he pretended not to know anything about The Program. She pondered that when his words finally registered and she felt the bottom fall out from under her. “What?”

“I would double-check whether that acceptance letter of yours is legit.” He folded his arms. “You missed the bus on this one.”

“The letter is definitely legit,” she shot back, while quickly opening the folder in her hand. “Here it is. Black-and-white. They say that I will be contacted shortly for further information. No one contacted me.”

“Maybe you should give them a call…that is if you still seriously plan on entering.” He smiled.

“Of course I do.” There had to be some sort of misunderstanding. “Your source is wrong.”

He shook his head. “I seriously doubt it. Although, why you still plan on pursuing this is beyond me. You’re going to land yourself in a ton of hot water, and don’t say I didn’t warn you when it happens.”

“Maybe I want to snag myself one of those hot vampires.” As in, not so much.

He laughed. “This I have to see. Makes me want to be a fly on the wall. Now that would be some story.”

She lifted her chin and looked him straight in the eyes. “I’m going to get that story…wait and see.”

“Just make sure, whatever you do, that it’s aboveboard. Better yet, forget about The Program. A contract working for us just became available. I’ll pull some strings and get you in. The pay will be less than what you make now but it’s an opportunity.”

This was exactly what Alex didn’t want. To be handed a position simply because she knew the executive editor. “Thanks for the heads up. I’ll apply but only on the condition that you don’t put a good word in for me.”

He shook his head. “You do realize that in life it’s very often who you know, not what you know? Your father was a fantastic journalist, one of the best. There is no doubt in my mind that given the opportunity and the right leadership, you could be just as good.”