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Ashes of Midnight (Chapter Six)

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS

Lucan Thorne pressed his mouth against the warm, soft skin just behind his Breedmate's left ear. Standing with her in the living room of their private quarters within the subterranean compound that belonged to the Order, he found it hard to let Gabrielle out of his arms. Instead, he held her, willfully neglecting his duties as the leader of the band of Breed warriors for another moment to enjoy the pleasure of feeling her close. He let his tongue play over the little crimson birthmark that hid on the tender patch of creamy flesh behind her ear, the very spot his fangs had pierced a short while ago as he and Gabrielle had made love. "If you keep it up," she murmured, "we're going to be in here all night." He grunted, smiling as he continued to nuzzle her neck. "Not a half-bad idea. And you should know that keeping it up is never a problem when I'm around you."

"You're terrible, you know that?" He caught her earlobe between his teeth and gave it a little nip. "That's not what you said twenty minutes ago under the shower with me. Or before then, in our bed, when you had your long, beautiful thighs wrapped around my bare, bucking ass. Then you didn't think I was so terrible. You were too busy coming and screaming my name, telling me to never stop." He didn't even try to conceal his masculine pride. Not that he needed to, when his arousal was definitely obvious in both the emerging of his fangs and the hard rise in his dark jeans. Beneath his gray T-shirt, he could feel his dermaglyphs pulsing in response to his desire for her. "Correct me if I'm wrong, or did you say at one point that I was a god? An amazing fucking god, was, I believe, your exact opinion." "Arrogant bastard," she scoffed, but he could hear the humor in her tone. Her soft laughter melted into an inhaled, tremulous hiss as he grazed the tips of his sharp canines down along the curve of her shoulder. He splayed one hand into her thick auburn hair and she tilted her head to give him better access to her neck, her fingernails scoring into his shoulders as his free hand delved beneath her loose knit shirt and the waistband of her yoga pants. She shivered as he trailed his mouth and tongue along the delicate line of her throat, mewled a sweet little cry as his fingers dipped into the velvety cleft of her sex. She was still wet, still hot and gloriously responsive to his touch. "Lucan," she gasped. "Oh, my God…my God…" "Yeah, that's better," he growled, catching her mouth in a deep kiss as he brought her to a swift, shuddering climax. When she was recovered, Gabrielle lifted a wry but sated look at him. "Does your ego know any bounds, vampire?" He smirked, cocking a dark brow. "Probably not." With a roll of her eyes, she grabbed his hand to lead him out of their quarters. He could have stayed there all night and not tired of loving her, of pleasuring her. But nightfall belonged to the Order, and to the crucial work that demanded all hands on deck–even the females of the compound, who were proving to be invaluable partners in a battle against an evil few could imagine. An evil that seemed intent on nothing less than all-out war. At least the evil now had a name: Dragos.

In the past several months, the Order had uncovered a lot about the second-generation vampire and the operation he'd been running for decades–centuries, in fact–while hiding behind multiple aliases and shadowy, covert alliances within the general population of the Breed. But there was much they didn't know, as well. Suspicions too grim to leave unanswered. It was the Order's current mission to uncover Dragos's alliances, locate his base of operations, and cripple his efforts before he could gain any more critical ground. They'd had some recent success there, the latest being the disruption of a gathering outside Montreal, where Dragos and a number of his associates had convened this past summer. The Order had not yet been able to discover the purpose of the gathering, but the unexpected arrival of several warriors to the place where the group had been meeting had forced Dragos and his coconspirators to scatter. The disruption of that gathering had also netted the Order a very unexpected ally–two, if the Gen One assassin who'd been bred and raised to serve Dragos and had since come on board with the Order could be trusted. Lucan still wasn't entirely sold on the vampire called Hunter. The male was as cold as a machine, secretive and aloof. Not that his unusual upbringing, denied any comforts and raised in total seclusion from another living soul except for the Minion assigned at birth as his handler, could hardly be expected to produce an easygoing team player.

Hunter had given no outward cause to mistrust him, but he still seemed to Lucan a lone wolf of dubious origin, and one whose loyalty had not yet been tested. But the other new ally to come out of the developments in Montreal was an unquestionable boon to the Order. Her name was Renata, and she had come to the Order as the Breedmate of Nikolai. As Lucan and Gabrielle walked past the weapons room on their way to the tech lab at the other end of the compound's labyrinth of corridors, he saw Niko and Renata inside, competing to obliterate twin targets at the end of the range. Leave it to a gearhead like Niko to pair up with a female who knew her way around automatic weaponry. But the couple's shared interests went much deeper than metal and explosives; they were also guardians to an orphaned young Breedmate named Mira, whom they'd rescued from a dangerous situation in Montreal and taken under their wing as their own child. With Niko and Renata at the range was Tegan, one of the longest-standing members of the Order, and the warrior's Breedmate, Elise. When Tegan saw Lucan and Gabrielle walking past, he said something close to Elise's ear, kissed her, then came outside to the corridor. He gave Gabrielle a nod of greeting, but when his gem-green gaze lit back on Lucan, he was all grim business. "You talk to Gideon yet tonight?" Lucan shook his head. "We were just on our way to the tech lab now to see him. Why do I get the feeling this is not going to be a good night?" "Bad news out of Germany" Tegan said, raking a hand through his tawny hair. "No doubt you recall the explosion that took out Andreas Reichen's Darkhaven?" "Yeah." Lucan recalled, all right. The Order lost one of its best civilian allies–a true friend–the night that Reichen and his family were killed in the freak blast that leveled his estate.

The loss had hit the warriors pretty hard, and not just for the fact that Reichen had been an instrumental partner in the Order's current efforts to take out Dragos. He was a good man, an honorable male who should have lived to see the peace that his efforts with the Order were helping to ensure. Tegan's tone was as grave as his expression. "Gideon got a report out of Hamburg today. Seems another Darkhaven over there went up in flames last night. Complete annihilation." "Good lord," Gabrielle whispered, clutching Lucan's hand a bit tighter. "Were there any survivors?" "Just one," Tegan said. "An Enforcement Agent doing security detail there who managed to escape and report the attack. He died a few hours later." "You said `attack'?" Lucan frowned, not liking the sound of that at all. "What exactly do we know about this?" "Not much right now.

Gideon's still gathering intel, but the Agency is keeping a lot of it close to their chest. The Darkhaven that went down last night belonged to one of their directors. Second-generation civilian named Wilhelm Roth. Apparently, the director and his Breedmate were both out of town at the time, lucky for them." Lucan didn't know Roth, but then he and the rest of the Order weren't exactly on friendly terms with most of the Enforcement Agency, either here in the States or abroad. The Order tended to think the Agency was a lot of pompous blowhards more interested in their own personal gain than public safety, and the Agency tended to think the Order was a gang of dangerous vigilantes with no regard for the law. Partly true, Lucan had to acknowledge. Neither he nor any of his brethren had any use for the kind of circle-jerk politics and head-in-the-sand policies that were the Agency's notion of the law. As a result, they generally disregarded them in favor of actually taking action and getting shit done. If that didn't sit well with folks like Wilhelm Roth and the rest of the Enforcement Agency, they were more than welcome to kiss the Order's ass and step out of the way. "Let's see what Gideon's got," Lucan said, already heading with Gabrielle toward the tech lab down the corridor.

Tegan fell in at an easy gait beside them, and Lucan couldn't help thinking back to a time not that long ago when he and his fellow warrior–both of them Gen Ones with many centuries of life between them–had spent more time at each other's throats than walking side by side as equals. Now, as the two of them strode into the tech lab with Gabrielle, the other warriors gathered in what served as the Order's conference room all looked up from what they were doing, as if the air had somehow gotten thicker with the arrival of the two eldest, most powerful members of the group.

The three most recent additions to the Order's ranks–Kade, Brock, and Chase–were dressed in basic black patrol gear, from their lug-soled Docs and dark denim, to their black shirts, leather jackets, and arsenal of semiautomatics and blades that rode at their hips. The trio of unmated males had taken on a lot of the grunt assignments, a night of hunting trouble on Boston's back alleys topped off by hunting of a different sort at some of the city's after-hours clubs. As for the other, mated warriors, they did their share of heavy lifting for the Order, as well, but looking at them now–Rio seated beside his Breedmate, Dylan, and Dante, unable to keep from stroking the six-month swell of his Breedmate Tess's pregnant belly while he casually shot the shit with Chase and the others–it was clear that things were changing here at the compound. Evolving, Lucan thought, as Gabrielle let go of his hand to walk over and sit on the floor beside little Mira and Savannah, who was mated to the resident genius, Gideon.

Lucan's heart went a bit tight as he watched his Breedmate smile and fall into an easy chatter with the child and Savannah, who'd been passing a squeaky rubber ball between them, playing a game of keep-away with an ugly little terrier mutt that belonged to Dante and Tess. The whole scene was unnerving as hell. Somehow, in the past year and a half, the compound had begun to feel less like a military stronghold and more like a home. That gave Lucan more than a little concern. Homes could be made vulnerable, especially in times of war. He thought about the two Darkhavens in Germany that had been standing strong one day and were rubble the next. It was hard to shake the coldness that settled in his gut when he considered how easily lives–and loved ones–could cease to exist. "I can see by the look on your face that Tegan brought you up to speed on some of the news out of Hamburg," Gideon said, spinning away from his fleet of computer workstations and regarding Lucan soberly over the rims of his pale blue glasses. "Do you want to hear the really fucked up part of all this?"

"Why not," Lucan drawled. "I've been doing a little remote digging in the Agency records in Germany. Turns out they're having some problems keeping their guys alive over there." At Lucan's questioning look, Gideon went on. "Over the past several weeks, nine Enforcement Agents between the Berlin and Hamburg offices have been murdered." Tegan joined the conversation now, coming over to look at the data on Gideon's monitors. "You talking assassinations?" Lucan had been thinking the same thing, instantly wondering if the others like Hunter, trained Gen One killers who'd recently been ordered by Dragos to track down and assassinate the eldest members of the vampire race, had somehow now turned their sights on inpiduals within the Enforcement Agency. "It's not like any of the stuff we've been seeing among the civilian populations," Gideon said. "Those killings are careful–shit, they're practically works of art they're so efficient." He swung back around and typed something that brought up a morgue image of a bruised, bloodied Breed male who was missing part of his skull. "These Agency killings are brutal, very personal. One entire field unit was taken out man by man, and there've been some high-ranking agents–I'm talking director-level folks–who've been cut down, as well. Someone over there is trying to make a very loud statement. If you ask me, it reeks of payback."

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