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Darker After Midnight (CHAPTER THIRTY)

THE DREAM ROARED UP on Jenna from out of nowhere.

Asleep in Brock's arms, she'd been in and out of awareness, drifting from one fragile dreamscape to another.

Then came the blanket of dark gray fog. It swept her away without warning, taking her far from her conscious mind, into that of another being.

The Ancient.

The alien part of her that was merging with her humanity, strengthening the part of her that had once been mortal. Creating something … other.

It was this part of her that commanded her mind's eye now, as the thick fog carried her deeper into the realm of his memories. She rode it into the twilit shade of a dense primeval forest surrounded by jagged pinnacles of soaring sandstone rock. In the distance, great fires burned, choking the landscape with smoke and swirling ash.

She ran toward it, metal armor strapped to her glyph-covered chest and thighs, jangling with every long stride of her bare, blood-spattered feet. Clutched in her hand was a long sword, a crude implement of mankind's world, with its hammered iron blade and leather-wrapped hilt. But it would suffice. It had bitten off more than one enemy's head tonight.

In a few moments, it would feed again.

Loose earth crunched beneath her feet as she ran toward the smoke of a burning encampment. Some of her brethren were there already, locked in combat with the legion they'd been hunting across continents and many long centuries.

Jenna's unearthly battle cry shook the spindly pines and basalt towers as she charged forward, through the curtain of thick black smoke and the bloodied carnage scattered on the ground.

In response, the massive silhouette of an enemy warrior came out of a crouch over one of the fallen. He pivoted to face her as she cleaved her sword in a powerful, killing arc. Long blond hair, gathered in thin braids that were stiff with drying blood and sweat, swung away from his face as he wheeled around to meet the threat she brought.

He wore no plates of armor over his bare chest, only hammered metal cuffs on his muscled forearms. Loose white sentry's pants were filthy with blood and gore and dirt, hanging in ragged tatters above his sandaled feet.

Jenna's inelegant blade descended on him, a blow he blocked with a swift, double-fisted twist of his polished spear. The weapons sparked off each other, the sword shrieking a metallic protest as the staff deflected its path and sent it sweeping downward.

Jenna felt her mouth move, the voice that wasn't hers speaking words in a long-dead language that didn't belong to the Ancient either. "Your queen cannot hide forever, Atlantean."

"No," the warrior replied, fierce eyes narrowed with fury. "But she doesn't need forever. She need only outlive you and your savage kind. And she will."

He brought up the long staff and, in the glow of flames licking skyward all around them, firelight glinted off the symbol that adorned the spear's hilt and the shining metal cuffs on his arms: It was a crescent moon, poised to catch the falling teardrop that hovered above its cradle. The same symbol that every Breedmate bore as a birthmark somewhere on her body. Jenna had no time to process the uncanny revelation or the stunning implications of what it could mean.

Her arm came up, sword raised high.

She swung, using all of the preternatural power at her command. Her enemy dodged. A mere fraction too late.

The iron blade cleaved into flesh and bone and sinew, a punishing hit to his shoulder. Blood surged like a fountain from where the sentry's arm dangled uselessly at his side, all but severed. In the cradle of his palm, a bright light began to glow in the shape of the same symbol he wore on his weaponry and armor. He was injured and weakened now, but it would take more than a lost limb to end the warrior's immortal existence.

Jenna breathed in the scent of spilling enemy lifeblood and felt the rush of a savage exhilaration race through her.

She roared with it, victorious. Conquering.

Unstoppable.

She hauled back on the blade again and let it swing, burying it deep in her enemy's neck. Light erupted as his head broke away from his body. The glare of it was blinding, as pure and milky white as the full moon hanging in the night sky.

The beam flared brighter, impossibly so … and then it was gone.

An immortal flame snuffed forever by the sword she held in her alien hand.

"Jenna!" The deep voice called to her through the billowing soot and the clash of weapons not far from where she stood. Strong hands took hold of her, shook her hard. "Jenna, can you hear me? Jenna, damn it, wake up!"

She came out of the dream gasping, clutching onto Brock, who was now sitting up on the bed beside her. His eyes were wide and worried. His big hands roamed over her face, brushing aside the strands of hair that clung to her damp brow.

She stared at him, trying to make sense of what she'd just witnessed. In the end all she could manage was a trembling couple of words. "Holy shit."

LUCAN PACED the confines of his bedroom, edgy and restless, despite the physical satisfaction of his body. It was early morning outside the temporary compound's sheltering walls and shuttered windows. Christmas, for fuck's sake.

He didn't feel like celebrating. He felt like strapping on weapons and combat gear and taking this damned war straight into Dragos's face. He wanted it ended, preferably with Dragos under his boot heel, bleeding and broken, begging for mercy he would never receive. He wanted that with a ferocity he could barely contain.

All the more so when he considered the promise he'd given Gabrielle in the hours they'd lain together, making love in the bed where she slept now, as sweet and lovely as a dream. At the next crescent moon cycle, Lucan would give her a son.

As much as he'd been fighting the idea, there was a part of him that had wanted it as much as she did. Maybe more. For nine long centuries, he'd walked alone by his own choosing. He'd had his warrior brethren, but family – a Breedmate and children – was nothing he'd ever craved. Until an auburn-haired beauty with melting brown eyes and the fearless heart of a lioness had strode into his world and laid all his intentions to waste in an instant.

He'd never imagined he could love so fully, so completely. His dread of an unknown future was hardly a match for his devotion to the incredible female who'd taken him as her mate. And as Tegan said, knowing the world they were fighting for belonged to their sons only made his determination burn all the brighter to see it thrive in peace.

Lucan walked back to the bed and leaned over to press a gentle kiss to her cheek. The brief brush of his lips made her stir, then smile, still caught in a light slumber. "Good morning," he murmured softly. "Sleep, love. I didn't mean to wake you. I'm heading down to the tech lab for a while to review some of the intel that came in from New Orleans."

"It's a holiday," she reminded him, her voice thick and drowsy. Far too inviting, as she stretched with feline grace and rolled onto her back to face him. "Come back to bed?"

God, he was tempted. "I'll only be a couple of hours. I want to put in some time while the rest of the house is asleep. You rest, and I'll come back before too long."

Her answering moan was languid and breathless. It made him want to crawl under the covers and make her do it again. Preferably as she climaxed against his mouth.

He stepped away from the bed and pulled on a fresh black T-shirt and fatigues. Gabrielle was already fast asleep once more, her breath puffing softly between her parted lips. He smiled, content simply to look at her.

Christ, he had it bad for her.

And he wouldn't want it any other way.

He was still smiling like a love-struck fool as he walked out to the corridor and silently closed the bedroom door behind him. Another door opened down the way and Mira came sneaking out on her toes, her pink nightgown swishing around her ankles as she hurried up the hall.

Her flaxen hair was a wild tangle on her bed-rumpled head, her eyes half-closed and bleary with sleep. She ran headlong, practically blind with purpose as she crashed right into him. "Oh!" she gasped as he caught her in both hands and kept her from bouncing off her feet. "I thought I heard Santa out here."

"Not Santa." Lucan chuckled and stooped down to her level. "Just … me …"

As he brushed the tousled mop of hair from her face, Mira's eyes met his. He'd been expecting to see the opaque violet of her custom-made contact lenses. Lenses that had been specially crafted to mute the young Breedmate's talent for prognostication. Instead, Lucan found himself staring into the clear, mirrorlike pools of the child seer's powerful gaze.

A vision slammed into his brain like a bullet.

Blood-soaked.

Horrific.

"Oh, no!" Mira cried. She realized her mistake at once, bringing her hands up to shield him from the power of her eyes. "My lenses. I forgot to put them in. Lucan, I'm sorry!"

"Shh," Lucan soothed as she burst into tears. He pulled her close, offering a comforting embrace as the little girl sobbed with remorse. "It's all right, Mira. You did nothing wrong." She drew back, careful now to hold her arm up over her eyes. "What did you see, Lucan? Was it something bad?"

"No," he lied. "It was nothing. Don't you worry, everything's all right."

But even as he spoke, a pit of black, yawning dread cracked wide open inside him.

Mira's gift had just shown him a glimpse of a future more bleak than anything he'd imagined in the worst of his countless nightmare scenarios.

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