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Darker After Midnight (CHAPTER FORTY-ONE)

"LOST YOUR WAY, TAVIA?"

The female's expression didn't falter even for a second as Dragos stared at her. If it had, he would have commanded his Hunters to kill her on the spot. But she held his gaze without a speck of guilt or fright.

No, the look she gave him was level and unfazed. Lit with an elusive intrigue that made him want to study her some more. He could think of many amusing ways he'd like to study the beautiful Tavia Fairchild.

"My Minion said you'd gone to look for the bathroom."

"Your Minion is a bore. I got tired of waiting for you to be finished with your meeting, so I went exploring." Her mouth curved in a cool, confident smile that went straight to his cock. "Your operation here is impressive. I hope you don't mind my curiosity."

He wasn't sure if he did or not, but the way she looked at him now – part willing seductress, part leashed predator – made it easy to forgive her. Besides, he was too exultant to care if she was attempting to play him or not. Everything he'd been working toward was now falling into place.

Violently, bloodily, perfectly into place, just as he'd intended.

"How did you enjoy today's continued spectacle?" he asked, gauging her reaction with a shrewd eye.

"Incredible," she answered without inflection. But she moved closer now, her clear, crisp green gaze fixed on him with single-minded purpose. "To see that much bloodshed – " She shivered a little, and when her eyes lit on him again, they sparked with amber fire. "It does something to me, seeing that kind of power. Being near it makes me feel things I can't really explain."

His approving growl curled up the back of his throat. "It turns you on."

He understood that reaction. And it didn't surprise him to hear this female admit as much to him. She was Gen One, her predator's genes nearly pure. She was also bred of the same otherworldly line that he was, the Ancient used to create her having been the very one who sired his own Gen One father several centuries past. Tavia Fairchild shared his genetics; the idea that she might share some of his same dark instincts and hungers was a seduction he could hardly wait to explore.

"I hoped you might show me more," she said, then glanced to the four assassins who flanked him as though they were annoyances she couldn't wait to be rid of. "In private, I mean." Dragos hadn't lived to be in the neighborhood of seven hundred years old because he was a fool. Nor did he tend to let his dick make decisions for him. There was a calculating part of him that knew if he went downstairs to his control room, he'd find his Minion technician no longer breathing and a security breach detected in his computer systems.

He also knew that Tavia's captivity with Sterling Chase and the Order likely hadn't been as noncomplicit as she would like him to believe. But the Order no longer mattered to him. His plans were too far gone to be halted, and Lucan's warriors had their hands more than full with the havoc being wreaked in various parts of the world.

Tavia wanted him to think she couldn't wait for him to take her to his bed. He saw no need to disappoint. He would fuck her senseless and repeatedly – until she bled and begged for mercy – but not until after his ascent to power was assured.

He reached out to stroke her velvety cheek. "I intend to show you a great many things, Tavia. Beginning with the moment I become lord and master of every living being on this planet." He took pleasure in the flicker of uncertainty in her unblinking eyes. "We're leaving now for Washington, D.C. If you're to be my queen, I want you with me when I seize the crown."

THE SCENE IN D.C. made the attacks in Boston and New York City look like a walk in the park. Rogues flooded the downtown streets and outlying neighborhoods from all directions.

Casualties were heavy, collateral damage off the charts. To combat the onslaught of scores of ravenous vampires set loose on the densely populated urban areas, the Order had split up into three teams: two on the ground with guns and knives; another on sniper duty atop a high-rise corporate building, taking out Rogues with high-powered assault rifles while keeping an eye on the situation for the teams on foot.

Tegan, Hunter, Brock, and Kade were taking care of business in Columbia Heights when Niko radioed to Chase's team that a swarm of Rogues had just knocked over a Metrobus full of commuters.

"Down on Pennsylvania Northwest," Niko advised from his rooftop lookout perch with Renata and Rio. "Shit, there must be thirty humans on board. It's gonna get ugly fast." "Heading there now," Lucan told him, motioning to Chase, Dante, and Archer, the team already moving out.

They were at the location in a matter of minutes, but the carnage had already begun. The boxy silver, red, white, and blue bus was on its side in the street, a dozen Rogues climbing all over it, smashing out windows and grabbing for the screaming, terrified people trapped inside. More Rogues crept in from surrounding streets and alleyways, drawn to the scent of spilling blood.

Chase's own physical reaction was swift as well, nearly overwhelming. His head drummed with hunger, veins lighting up with the urge to feed, to gorge like the mad beasts clawing and tearing at the toppled bus. He pushed past his body's fevered response, leaping into the fray with the rest of his team as they charged the downed vehicle and starting kicking Rogue ass. Lucan seized the largest of the assailants and threw the suckhead down to the pavement with a roar. Two rapid gunshots and the Rogue's skull exploded, killing him even before the titanium rounds could do their damage. Lazaro Archer stormed the fallen cab of the bus at that same moment, blasting deadly fire on the pair of Rogues who were climbing in through the shattered windshield, slavering to join four others who had already managed to break inside to feed. Chase and Dante vaulted onto the back of the bus in tandem, a tag team of slashing titanium blades and fury. They mowed down three suckheads in mere seconds, then swung down into the bus to deal with the other assailants while Lucan hacked his way through the ones on top. Up front, Archer cleared away the ruins of the broken windshield and started pulling the terrified humans out to safety.

Screams and roars mixed with the staccato crack of gunfire as the battle raged. People streamed out of the bus in hysterics. It was pandemonium, blood-drenched and savage. When the dust finally settled, only four human victims lay dead inside the bus, another two dropped broken and lifeless in the street nearby. The Rogues' losses had been greater: The oozing remains of nearly a score of smoked blood addicts pooled like black oil on the pavement.

No sooner had they contained the situation than Lucan's cell phone hummed with an incoming call. The Order's leader paced away from the bloody fallout to answer. His deep voice was serious, hushed. When he slid the phone back in his coat pocket and turned to look at Chase, his stern, gore-spattered face was grave.

"What's up?" Dante asked from where he stood beside Chase. Archer drew to a pause beside the other warriors then too.

"That was Rowan." Lucan gave a sober shake of his head. "He received a text with intel for Gideon. Apparently we've got the IP address for Dragos's command center."

"Holy shit," Dante breathed. "From whom?"

Lucan's sober gaze swung to Chase and stayed there, making his heart take a swift, cold drop into his gut. "It was from Tavia. She sent it from Dragos's headquarters. He's got Tavia."

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