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Darker After Midnight (CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT)

THE TERROR CONTINUED until dawn.

Tavia hadn't slept at all. Probably no one in the city had. Probably no one across the entire bleeding nation had found a minute's rest so long as the screams and violence played out in what seemed an endless, hopeless night.

It wasn't until daybreak pushed the attacking Rogues to ground that the terror had paused. With morning came the cries of the grief-stricken and the lost – the war zone aftermath of an assault few human minds could fathom.

And it wasn't over yet.

When the sun set again, a fresh wave of carnage would come.

Tavia knew it with a dread in her marrow as she opened the front door of Chase's Darkhaven and stepped outside into the daylight. Her plan to seek out Dragos had solidified overnight. She'd taken the necessary steps, devised the method she would use to put herself in his presence and, with opportunity and any luck at all, kill the son of a bitch.

The scene outside the brownstone mansion as Tavia walked briskly was nothing short of Armageddon. Vacated cars lay scattered everywhere, headlights flashing, alarms bleating in a discordant symphony with the musical rings of what seemed to be a thousand unanswered cell phones. Smoke and ash billowed from the smoldering shells of looted storefronts and residences that had been smashed open during the worst of the attacks. Huge pools of blood soaked the snow-filled neighborhood yards and empty sidewalks.

The city was a ghost town. No one risked being out, except for Tavia and the grim-faced emergency workers patrolling the shambled streets, or the medical examiner's office personnel who soberly covered and collected the many dead.

Tavia hurried to her destination, head down, eyes stinging from the barrage of so much ugliness and destruction. She went across town, back to the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department, the same police station where she'd been just a week earlier. It seemed as though a decade had passed since she'd been summoned to identify the unnamed shooter from Senator Clarence's holiday party. Her world couldn't have rotated any farther on its axis than it had in the handful of days that followed.

Reality had shifted, and now that same alleged madman was the person she loved more than any other. The one she didn't want to live without. And she was determined to reunite with him, once she did her part to destroy their shared enemy.

"Miss Fairchild – Tavia?" Detective Avery's voice carried across the bustling station a moment after she'd entered. She glanced up and saw him hurrying toward her, his middle-age face drawn and haggard. He looked her over with obvious concern. "My God, are you all right?"

She was, but the bruises and lacerations on her face and body would have indicated otherwise. Which had been the entire point, after all. In addition to her assortment of self- inflicted injuries, her jeans and long-sleeved black sweater were torn and ragged. Her grimy leather flats were soaked with blood, the latter effect coming courtesy of her trek into the station. "Come with me. I'll find someone to look after your wounds," the kind detective said, obviously taking her silence for shock. He led her deeper into the station, through the throngs of anxious officers coming in and out of the place in a collective daze.

"At least you're alive. Thank God for that," he went on, taking her over to an empty chair in a vacant office. His hands were shaking as he lifted the receiver of the black desk phone and dialed a number. He swore and slammed the thing back into its cradle. "Busy signal. Lines could be down. The whole damn city is falling apart out there. I can't even comprehend what's going on these past several hours. I mean, none of this can really be happening …"

Tavia felt sorry for the horror of what this man and the rest of his kind were suffering. But she had no words of sympathy to offer. Nothing was adequate anyway. Her mind focused wholly on her purpose in being at the station, she scanned the dozens of faces passing through.

She found one she was looking for: Cold, dead eyes met her narrowed gaze across the sea of churning bodies.

The Minion knew her on sight, recognized what she was.

"I'll be right back," Tavia murmured to the detective. "I need a drink of water."

Avery didn't protest or get up to follow her, already pulled in another direction as a uniformed officer swept in to relay more grim news from the trenches. Tavia beelined it for the Minion, breezing her way past the humans until she was standing right in front of Dragos's mind slave. "I need to see your Master."

His mouth twisted. "I don't take orders from anyone but him."

"I've just come from the Order's compound," she pressed. "I think Dragos will be very interested to hear what I have to tell him."

The Minion in uniform stared for a long moment, considering. "Follow me."

She went with him, out a back door and into the parking lot. The Minion dialed a number, let it ring once, then disconnected. A second later, the cell phone chirped with an incoming call. Tavia could barely contain her contempt as Dragos's voice came over the line, demanding to know why he was being disturbed. The Minion informed him that Tavia was there, then received clipped instructions to search her for weapons.

He pocketed the phone with Dragos still on the line and started patting her down. He found the titanium blade right away, pulled it from behind her with a smug sneer and shoved it beneath the leather belt of his cop's uniform. His hands were rough on her, skimming both legs and thighs before climbing up her torso. He lingered a bit too long around her breasts, and Tavia growled her disapproval, showing him a bit of fang in the process.

The Minion backed off and put his cell phone up to his mouth. "She's clean. What would you like me to do with her, Master?"

Dragos's voice was menacing, edged with an intrigue that made her skin crawl. "Hold the female there. Await my further instructions."

"THE NUMBER of confirmed dead worldwide is in the thousands."

Lucan nodded as Mathias Rowan delivered the sober news that morning at his Darkhaven.

The Order had finally sought shelter there after the long night of combat. Not even Dragos's evil could trump the rising sun. With daybreak, all of the Breed – warrior, civilian, and Rogue alike – were forced to look for cover.

In the background, Tegan, Chase, and the rest of the warriors were flipping through television coverage of the attacks and their aftermath. It seemed impossible, not only the accounts of widespread slaughter and destruction over the past eighteen hours but the open talk by human law enforcement and government officials about the indisputable existence of vampires.

And mankind had, understandably, deemed them their enemies.

Savage.

Monstrous.

A deadly scourge that required a focused and swift extermination.

Lucan saw Mira's vision in the graphic video coverage and photographs being broadcast all over the world. He'd lived it last night, when his boots had been soggy with spilled blood, the bodies of dead humans and slain Rogues spread out as far as his eyes could see. He tasted it now, in the bitter tang of regret on his tongue, regret that he hadn't put a stop to Dragos before he'd unleashed such hell. Regret for the fact that the nightmare had only just begun.

Europe was bracing for nightfall again, calling in military forces to help secure the largest cities in case of another attack. Everyone was praying it wouldn't come, but Lucan and the rest of the Order knew it would. Although none of the warriors or Mathias Rowan had said as much, they had to be wondering, as he was, how they would be able to combat another attack of the magnitude seen yesterday.

They were roughly a dozen gathered here against hundreds loose on two continents. Twenty against hundreds, if they counted Rowan and the handful of Agents he'd vouched for, good men who'd immediately pledged themselves to the cause. A scant few more overseas, headed up by Reichen. But the Order and their new allies couldn't be everywhere at once. They would need ten times their current number to eradicate the freed Rogues before they took more innocent lives.

Before the humans decided to go on the offense.

"Are the curfews in place?" Lucan asked. With the humans in a state of terror and suspicion, no Breed male would be permitted to feed while the Rogues still posed a threat. To mankind right now, there was no distinction between a law-abiding Breed civilian and a Rogue. For the safety of all the Breed, Lucan had demanded that Darkhavens comply with a nighttime lockdown until further notice.

Rowan gave him a dubious look. "We're doing our best to get the word out, but it's a slow process with most of the Agency infrastructure shut down since the first attacks."

"Keep on it," Lucan told him. "We've got our hands full enough without having to worry about civilians getting caught in the crossfire."

As for the Enforcement Agency, it had virtually disintegrated overnight. Communications had gone dark. Dragos's hidden network of followers – including two known Agency directors, one in Seattle, another in Europe – had come out from the shadows to openly proclaim their allegiance to him and his goals. Countless other Agency personnel had defected too, either to place their bets on Dragos or to withdraw from service altogether and focus on seeing their families through this dark time.

Lucan's heart was several hours north, with Gabrielle. He worried for her and the rest of the Breedmates and the children, alone with Gideon through all of this unrest and chaos. He had no doubt that Gideon would keep them safe, but it killed Lucan to be away from his mate when her deep anxiety rode him like spurs. All of the warriors were sober today, contemplative.

Especially Chase.

Lucan felt for him probably the most right now. The warrior stood alone at the back of the room, stoic and controlled, a marked change from the male who'd been so volatile in recent months. Reckless and insubordinate. A liability to his patrol partners and himself.

There was little left of that Chase in the cool, capable warrior who'd fought side by side with him last night, despite all the blood that was spilled. It had been a testing, taxing night for all of them, but Chase in particular. Yet he'd stood strong. He hadn't broken. Nor would he, Lucan guessed, meeting the warrior's clear, focused gaze across the room now.

Chase's eyes were steady, filled with a steely determination.

A single-minded, unflinching purpose that gave Lucan a glimpse of the leader Sterling Chase had been born to be. The leader he could be again one day in the future, if any of them survived to see that future arrive.

Lucan inclined his head, an approving nod that said more than he could have managed with any amount of words.

Chase nodded back, sober, understanding.

Lucan was proud to have Harvard on the Order's side again. Proud to be able to call Sterling Chase his brother and his friend.

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