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Ashes of Midnight (Chapter Fourteen)

Claire felt a bit queasy from the flight as she and Andreas stepped off the Order's private jet in Boston later that night. It had been a long trip, mostly because of the chasm of uncomfortable silence that seemed to have opened up between Andreas and her. Fortunately her lack of sleep after the dreamwalking disaster with him had made her plenty tired on the flight from Denmark to the States. She slept most of the way but he had seemed much too edgy for rest. Even now, as he guided her across the private hangar toward a sleek black Land Rover that pulled up to greet them, Andreas practically vibrated with broody, dangerous energy.

"Tegan and Elise," he told her as a big tawny-haired Breed male and his petite blond mate climbed out of the vehicle. At the sight of them, Andreas's demeanor changed from the maddening aloofness he'd been subjecting her to on the flight, to one of warm familiarity. "My friends," he said, stepping forward to greet the golden, beautiful couple. In one of his brief moments of conversation on the flight, Andreas had mentioned that Elise had been mated to a director of the Enforcement Agency here in Boston. She'd lost him a few years past to an altercation with a Rogue while on the job, and had lost her only son more recently than that.

Claire wasn't privy to the details of how Elise had found happiness again with Tegan, but it was obvious from the glow of peace they both radiated as they approached that the two of them were deeply in love. Claire hung back as Andreas took the female's hand to his lips and brushed her fingers with a chaste but friendly kiss. She had no right to feel the least bit possessive of him, but the pang stabbed her a little as the pretty Breedmate took Andreas into a welcoming hug. Elise's mate looked nearly as affected as Claire felt. The tall, muscular Breed warrior had a hard-edged look about him, from the wild tousle of his golden hair, to the glittering gem-green eyes that watched over his woman with a combination of pride and purely masculine protectiveness. Andreas had said Tegan was Gen One Breed, and seeing him up close, Claire would have guessed it on her own.

His studied stillness called to mind the mien of a big cat; all those muscles might seem coiled and at ease, but it would take only a fraction of a second for him to spring into deadly action if he felt his world or the mate he openly adored were threatened in any way. "Hello, Claire. I'm Elise," Tegan's Breedmate said, releasing Andreas to come over and greet her with equal kindness. While the two males shook hands, Claire found herself engulfed in a quick, welcoming hug. Elise stepped back, her pale lavender eyes bright with intellect and warmth, her chin-length light blond bob framing her delicate face. "It's very nice to meet you. Even though our paths never crossed in the Agency, I am familiar with some of your philanthropic work in Hamburg. You've really done a lot for the Darkhaven communities over there."

Claire shrugged faintly uncomfortable with the praise, given the purpose of her emergency arrival in the States with Andreas. And although the two males spoke in low voices, she heard Tegan's murmured condolences on the deaths of Andreas's kin and the destruction of his Darkhaven. "I recall one of your young nephews and his shy Breedmate who'd been with child when I last saw you in Berlin a year ago," Tegan added, his brows furrowed over those fierce green eyes. Andreas gave him a sober nod. "They asked me to be godfather while you were there, I believe." "Yes," the warrior replied, a faint smile in remembrance before his expression darkened with sympathy. "We were all stunned to hear what happened. The attack won't go unmet, not if the Order has anything to say about it." Tegan sent the briefest look in Claire's direction, unspoken acknowledgment of her mate's hand in the tragedy that Andreas alone had managed to survive. Her sense of guilt and awkwardness increased, as did the tense knot in her belly. Her nerves were stretched peculiarly taut, putting an anxious flutter in her chest. Andreas put his hand on Tegan's shoulder as they continued their quiet conversation. "I want your word on something, my friend. If it turns out that Dragos is even remotely connected to what happened to my Darkhaven, I'll do whatever I can to help you get the bastard and shut him down. But Roth is mine alone. Can you give me that much?" The warrior inclined his head in a slow nod.

"I know the kind of hatred you're feeling. I've been there myself. I'm the last one to tell you how to deal with your own demons, but just be careful, yeah? Plenty of bastards out there deserve a good killing, but vengeance will consume you if you don't control it." It may be too late for that advice, Claire thought, watching Andreas's rigid stance and haunted, hardened gaze as the four of them made their way toward the waiting SUV His need to avenge his family and his human lover only seemed to be growing stronger, more volatile, for the fact that the justice he craved had yet to be realized. After the horrors he showed her in his dream, there was a part of her that understood his rage, even shared it. But from what she'd seen of him these past couple of days, she worried that his own life might mean nothing to him.

Would he hold anything sacred if he finally got his chance to destroy the one who'd hurt him? Wilhelm. Just thinking about him turned her stomach with contempt. Claire couldn't cling to any reasonable hope that Andreas's accusations against Wilhelm had no basis. But what terrified her the most was that her involvement with Andreas now could bring no good–not to either of them. Her affection for him was something he didn't seem to want or need. He had a single purpose in living now, and she knew him well enough to understand that if it came down to a choice between his own life and getting the justice he felt he needed, he would spend his last breath seeing that purpose through to the end. The idea of Andreas dying–again, after the miracle of his resurrection and return to her life–was something Claire would be unable to bear.

The thought nearly staggered her as she neared the vehicle and felt the cool night air coming in from the city beyond. The feeling of unease dogged her now, and there was a mounting jangle swelling in her veins. A waking sense of a presence she hadn't quite recognized until now, when it was clanging in her cells like an alarm. Wilhelm was near. Oh, God. How had she missed that? She'd been so wrapped up in Andreas and his friends, in her own confusion of emotions, that she hadn't picked up on her body's signals that her blood-bonded mate was somewhere in the area. Somewhere in the city of Boston, she was certain of it. What was he doing here? "Claire, are you okay?" Elise placed her hand on her arm in concern. "What is it?" She shook her head, more fervently when Andreas paused with Tegan and turned a questioning, suspicious look on her.

"I feel a little light-headed," she said, casting for a reasonable excuse that didn't involve telling Andreas that the enemy he intended to kill–who would be equally determined to kill him, as well–was probably only a few miles away from where he stood. Andreas couldn't know that Wilhelm was so close now. She couldn't let him know that, she thought, a sudden dread crawling into her throat. "What's wrong?" Andreas's deep voice soaked into her, but it wasn't enough to calm the alarm that was rising inside her now. "Nothing's wrong," she said, lying only because the truth would send him storming straight into death's hands. "I'm fine. I haven't flown in a while, so it's probably just a bit of air sickness. I'll be okay. I need a moment to let it pass, that's all. Is there a restroom somewhere?"

"Over there," Elise said, gesturing toward the annex terminal nearby. "I'll take you–" "No," Claire blurted. "I can find it on my own. Please … wait here. I'll be back in a couple of minutes." All that kept her from running was Andreas's dubious look. He knew she was distressed; the blood bond that linked him to her now would tell him that easily enough. But it was her other bond–the one that would shackle her to Wilhelm Roth for as long as he lived–that sent her fleeing in a state of near panic. She flew into the restroom, breathless and trembling. If she felt in her blood that Wilhelm was near, then he had to know that she was in the city now, too.

The odds of him coming to look for her were too awful to consider. Conversely if Andreas were to force her to help him find Wilhelm through her blood bond? She would never forgive herself, or him. And there was a larger, more troubling question, as well. What if Wilhelm Roth truly was involved in something bigger than she'd ever guessed–something related to Dragos? How could Andreas stand up to Wilhelm's death squads and the greater evil of someone not even the Order had been able to defeat thus far? Oh, God. She couldn't let Andreas know that Wilhelm was in the area. As much as he wanted his revenge, Claire wanted him alive even more. She could not be a party to his destruction, which was exactly what she was right now, so long as she remained in his company. She had to get out of Boston. She had to get far away from Andreas… before the bond she shared with Wilhelm Roth betrayed her and led him directly to his death.

"You sure that's what you saw? Because this is some serious shit, and I need to be absolutely clear." Lucan stopped his pacing of the tech lab to look at Kade and Brock, who'd just come in from patrol with one hell of a report. "There's no doubt in either of your minds that it was Hunter." "Yeah," Kade said, raking his fingers through the thicket of his spiky black hair. His dark-lashed, quicksilver eyes held Lucan's gaze. "It was him. Hard to mistake those glyphs, and it's not as if we run into Gen Ones every night on patrol." Lucan grunted. "And he saw you both–he recognized you, too?" "Son of a bitch looked right at us before he disappeared into the city,"

Brock replied. The black warrior bared his teeth in a scarcely contained snarl. "It was like he wanted us to see him. Like he wanted us to see what he had done." While Lucan absorbed that bit of happy news, the tech lab's doors whisked open and Chase came stalking into the room. He smelled of gunpowder, adrenaline, and the metallic odor of coagulating human blood. At the interruption, Gideon turned away from his computers as a screen full of hacked data scrolled behind him. "Jesus, Harvard. What the hell happened to you?" The ex-agent dropped into a slouch in the nearest chair and swept off his black knit skullcap to toss it on the conference table in front of him. "I just spent the last hour disposing of a dead gangbanger over on the north side of town. Someone tore the bastard's throat out and practically drained him.

Left him lying where he dropped, right out in the open for anyone to find the body." Lucan caught Kade's sidelong glance. The description of the injuries and the brazen manner of the attack was too damned similar to be coincidence. "You see any trace of the vampire who did it?" Chase looked up and hesitated, as though he wasn't sure he ought to speak his suspicions aloud. "I saw someone in the area, but he took off before I got a close enough look to positively ID him." "Yeah, well, we sure as shit got close enough," Kade interjected. Chase's steely blue eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?" "After you left the club tonight, Brock and I ran across the same kind of thing in Dorchester. Human with a serious case of shredded larynx, trailing blood for about two blocks and left for dead in a public area. When we tracked the victim, his killer was still hanging close. Big bastard with Gen One glyphs and a shaved head." "Ah, fuck," Chase said on a slow exhale. "So, it really was Hunter. I saw him, too, but my gut was telling me not to condemn him until I got a better look. Damn, I know the guy doesn't have a lot of social skills, given his background, but this shit is psychotic." "Guess we don't have to ask him what he likes to do in his spare time,"

Gideon put in dryly. Lucan shot his fellow warriors a dark look. "If anyone sees him or hears from him, I wanna know ASAP. And if any of you witness another human slaying like the ones tonight and our boy is in the vicinity and refuses to come in peacefully you've got my permission to take the bastard out." "Shit, Lucan. You serious?" Gideon gave a shake of his head. "There's a little girl living here at the compound who's going to have her heart torn up if anything happens to Hunter. He might not be winning any personality contests, but Mira adores him. Odd as this is going to sound, I think the feeling is mutual. You've seen how careful he is with that kid. He knows that if it wasn't for Mira pleading for his life after the raid on Dragos's gathering, Niko would have put a bullet in his skull.

Hunter would do anything for that kid." "That doesn't diminish the fact of what he is," Lucan reminded Gideon and the others. "I want to believe he's on our side as much as anyone else–hell, the way things are going lately, we need him on our side. But let's not forget that until three months ago he was just another weapon in Dragos's arsenal. A stone-cold, deadly weapon." Gideon gave an accepting nod. "Maybe Tegan ought to have a talk with him, see what kind of a reading he gets off soldier-boy now," he said, referring to Tegan's ability to discern someone's emotions with a touch. An ability that had given Hunter a green light when he'd pledged his arm in service to the Order the past summer in Montreal. "Tegan's running a pickup at the airport," Lucan said. "Anyone know when Hunter was due back from his patrols tonight?" At the round of shrugs that circled the room, Lucan blew out a sigh. "We've got enough on our plates right now without dealing with shit like this. I want it contained, and I want Hunter pulled in ASAP so we can get some fucking answers." Kade, Brock, and Chase all murmured their agreement, then headed out of the tech lab together. When they were gone, Lucan turned his attention back to Gideon. "If you've got any good news out of those missing persons' reports that Dylan and Savannah have been working on with the area Darkhavens, I'll be glad to hear it." From the look that Gideon gave him, Lucan got the feeling his night was going to go from grim to worse.

Reichen sat in the Rover with Tegan and Elise, growing more anxious by the minute. Claire had been gone for a while now. Seventeen minutes and counting. She'd all but run away immediately after he and Tegan had been discussing what to do about Wilhelm Roth. It had been callous of him to speak so insensitively while she was present; he realized that now. Regardless of the hatred he felt for Roth, the male was still Claire's mate of many years, and that did count for something. He owed her an apology, which he would give her as soon as she came back to the vehicle. He'd sensed Claire's quiet discomfiture during the flight, too, and knew he was also to blame for that. He felt like an ass after what happened when she'd walked into his dream at Danika's place. The sex, while incredible, hadn't been planned. He had wanted her so badly, and once she was standing there in front of him–her dream self or not–he'd been incapable of pushing her away. It was the other part of the dream that he regretted. Equally impossible to curb, he'd had no intention of bringing Claire into the center of the carnage at his Darkhaven.

Nor had he meant to expose her to the other bit of nightmarish truth that had haunted him for a long time, and always would. No one needed to witness that kind of horror, least of all her. She wasn't to blame for any of it, but that hadn't stopped his mind from projecting her into the carnage and, worse, into the role of Helene. His guilt over everything that had happened to his kin and to Helene was still a raw ache in his soul. And yes, perhaps in some paranoid corner of his heart he worried that, like Helene, Claire could be used against him–that her blood bond might betray him in some way to Roth. There was little more Roth could do to hurt him; he'd already taken everything Reichen had. But he could hurt Claire. Reichen had endured and survived more than he'd thought himself capable of. If any harm were to come to Claire, especially because of her unwilling involvement in his search for vengeance, he knew without a doubt that it would send him over the edge. It would kill him, no question. "She's been gone too long," he murmured, an odd sense of emptiness beginning to expand in his chest. "Something's not right." Elise pivoted to face him from the front passenger seat.

"It has been a while. I'll go make sure she's okay." Tegan's Breedmate got out of the SUV and headed for the terminal where Claire had gone. She came back out not even a minute later, a look of concern tightening her mouth as she hurried back to the car. "She's not in the bathroom. I checked all the stalls and the area just outside in the terminal. She's not there." "Damn. Get in, babe," Tegan told Elise. "She can't be far. We'll drive until we find her." "No." Reichen opened the back door and climbed out. "I'll take care of this. I think I know where she might have gone." He grasped for the blood bond that had told him she was moving farther away from him, focusing his senses on her like a beacon.

The bond would lead him to her, but even without it, he had a feeling he knew where Claire would run to if she was feeling overwhelmed and confused. Tegan put his window down and fixed his intense emerald stare on him. "You sure you don't need a hand?" Reichen shook his head. "Go on without me. I have to go after her." Tegan gave him a nod, then reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a cell phone. "Take this. The last two speed dials will connect you to the compound." "Thanks," Reichen said. "I'll be in touch as soon as I can."

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