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Deeper Than Midnight (Chapter Thirty)

It was after four in the morning when they arrived at the location Gideon had directed them to in rural west-central Georgia. Corinne was exhausted, fatigued from the long drive and the emotionally charged confrontation she'd had with Hunter several hours ago. But more than either of those things, it was the thought of actually being there – a few hundred yards from the old, riverside log cabin where Nathan might be living – that had all of her nerve endings hyperalert and jangling.

If she'd been nervous before, anxious for the moment she hoped she'd soon be looking at her son and promising him the life she wanted so badly to give him, now she dreaded it just as equally. Mira's vision had changed everything. Hunter's self-described role in that vision had left her doubting everything she'd been so certain of before.

Everything, except Hunter's love for her.

It was the only thing she could cling to, perhaps foolishly, as he turned off the truck's ignition and they sat in the darkened vehicle, watching the dimly lit cabin through the five acres of woods that surrounded it.

"You swear you're coming right back?" she asked him. He'd brought her with him to the location, but he'd adamantly drawn the line at allowing her to accompany him inside the house itself. "Please, be careful."

He nodded, even as he strapped on a pair of blades to the holster that rode his thigh over the top of his black fatigues. The long-sleeved shirt she'd washed and dried at Amelie's for him completed his transformation back to the warrior who'd escorted her from Boston to Detroit not so very long ago.

But now Hunter was anything but stoic or unreadable. His golden eyes caressed her with tenderness at the same time his strong hand reached out to draw her close for his kiss. "I love you," he told her fiercely. "I do not want you to worry."

She nodded once. "I love you too."

"Stay in the truck. Keep yourself out of sight until I return." He kissed her again, harder this time. "I won't be long."

He didn't give her any time to argue or stall him. He slipped out of the cab and vanished into the surrounding darkness.

Corinne sat there, waiting and alone, instantly regretting that she'd let him talk her into remaining behind. What if he ran into problems? What if he was discovered before he was able to determine if Nathan was living in the house at all? How long should she be expected to wait before –

A crack of gunfire rent the silence of the night.

Corinne jolted. The sudden explosion of bright orange went up near the front of the cabin as the noise ricocheted off the trees like a thunderclap.

"Oh, my God. Hunter …"

Before she could stop herself, she was climbing out of the truck, running toward the cabin up ahead. She had no plan once she got there, except to search for some reassurance that Hunter was unharmed. Invincible as he seemed, he held her heart in his hands, and there was nothing that could have stopped her from going after him now.

She smelled the tang of spent gunpowder as she neared the front porch of the cabin. A dead man sprawled there, a long rifle smoking from its barrel where it lay across his chest. His face was frozen in a rictus of startled alarm, his neck snapped efficiently to the side. Hunter.

He'd been through here.

He was somewhere inside the cabin.

Corinne crept inside carefully. Immediately, she heard the sounds of a struggle taking place beneath her. The basement. She found the stairwell door leading toward the disturbance below, and in the instant she debated the idiocy of going down there, the painted wood panel appeared to spontaneously explode from within.

The force of it knocked her back against the wall behind her. When she opened her eyes after the shock, she found herself staring into a gaze that matched her own – greenish blue irises ringed by dark lashes and catlike, almond-shaped lids. The eyes looked back at her from out of the face of a boy. A lean, muscular boy about five foot seven, his lovely face still round at the jaw with the last traces of childhood.

But he was no boy, she realized. He was dressed in gray drawstring sweatpants and a white tank top, despite the night's chill. His head was shaved bald, his skin covered in dermaglyphs. A terrible-looking, thick black collar circled his neck.

"Nathan," she gasped.

The instant turned into a moment as he cocked his head at her, no expression on his face. No recognition at all.

And the brief hesitation cost him, because now Hunter was in the room with them as well. He'd moved faster than Corinne could follow, seeming to materialize out of thin air as he came up behind Nathan.

The boy's senses were as quick as his reflexes. He faced off against Hunter. Then, moving with the same impossible speed as the larger male, Nathan put his hand out and Corinne saw that he'd removed a long, thin iron from the set of fireplace tools near the potbellied stove several feet away.

Instead of using the iron as a weapon, the boy cracked it into the metal exhaust pipe of the stove.

The answering clang reverberated through the whole cabin. Then it began to rise, to expand. She felt Nathan's power – her own power, passed down to her child through his birth – as he warped the sound waves with his mind and sent them higher, coaxing them toward a deafening racket.

She'd had no doubt this boy was hers, but now, the rush of relief and rejoice poured over her. This was her son. This was her Nathan.

And this boy – this dangerous young Breed male – was gathering his psychic power, pushing the full force of it on Hunter now, attempting to drive his opponent to his knees. Hunter's jaw was held tight, tendons standing out like cables in his neck and cheeks as the aural onslaught intensified.

"Nathan, stop!" Corinne shouted, but her voice was lost under the piercing shriek of her son's talent. She tried to douse it with her own ability, but his command of the gift was too powerful. She couldn't silence it.

Amid the cacophony he'd created, he launched himself at Hunter, murder gleaming darkly in his merciless eyes. He swung the fireplace iron at him in a rapid series of blows, any one of which might have cracked open Hunter's skull had he not moved to deflect it. And that's all he was doing, Corinne realized. Hunter delivered no strikes of his own, though he could have taken down the smaller male in an instant. Could have killed him at any moment, if that had been his intent.

But Hunter only defended, like a seasoned alpha lion patiently batting away the scrappy cub who sought to test his mettle. This was far more dangerous than play; Corinne knew better than to think it anything less. Hunter knew it too, and yet despite the aggression being dealt to him, he made no move to inflict harm.

In that moment, Corinne had never loved him more.

Nathan kept coming at him, relentless and calculating, just as his training had conditioned him to be. Corinne reached once more for a grasp on the din he'd conjured. She gathered her mind around it, tried to bunch the noise into a kinetic tool of her own. She caught a glimpse of Nathan landing a blow of the long iron against Hunter's shoulder. Oh, God. She would die if either one of them failed to walk away from this. Focus.

She willed herself to concentrate on the noise she was shaping, pulling it slowly away from Nathan's control while his efforts were trained on killing Hunter. Corinne drew the din into a power of her own.

She gathered and shaped it … then heaved its psychic bulk at her son. His head came up sharply. He threw a glower on her, confusion and surprise flickering behind the grim purpose in his gaze. She could read the question in his teenage eyes. Who are you?

But he didn't care.

He shoved back at her even harder, blasting her with the full force of his power. Corinne cried out and gripped the splitting sides of her head. Her eardrums were screaming, feeling as though they were shredding. She went down on her knees, driven to the floor by the intensity of the pain.

At the same moment, she heard Hunter's roar. Saw his face twist in fury as she dropped. Glimpsed a flash of movement as Hunter drew his fist back, then sent it flying in Nathan's direction.

No, her heart cried. No!

"No!" she shouted, and realized the agonizing racket had abruptly ceased. Hunter was at her side. "Are you hurt? Corinne, please, speak to me."

"Where's Nathan?" she murmured. She blinked up at Hunter, terrified of what she might see in his face. But there was only warmth there, concern focused wholly on her.

"He will be all right." Hunter moved aside so she could peer around him to where her son lay on the floor as though sleeping. "I struck him, but he's unconscious, that's all. Come with me now. I will take him out of here."

"Mira, don't wander too far with the dogs. Stay where Niko and I can see you."

"Okay, Rennie!" Mira called back through the darkness of the courtyard gardens behind the Order's mansion. Her boots crunching in the snow as she walked, she glanced over at Kellan Archer and rolled her eyes. "They think I'm still a kid."

His olive-colored parka swished as he shrugged his shoulders. "You are a kid."

She stopped walking and put her mittened hands on her hips, frowning up at him. "In case you didn't know, Kellan Archer, I'm eight and a half years old."

His mouth lifted up at the corner, as if she'd said something funny. It was about the closest thing she'd seen to a smile from him, so even though she didn't get the joke, she fell in alongside him as he kept walking. They followed the trail the dogs had left in the snowy yard when they'd run off after the stick Kellan had thrown to them. Mira hurried to keep up with him, feeling a bit like the little terrier, Harvard, trailing after the larger wolf dog, Luna. It was hard for Mira's short legs to keep up with Kellan's long strides, but she took two steps to every one of his, refusing to let herself fall behind.

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