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Deeper Than Midnight (Chapter Twelve)

"Yes, of course. I understand." Victor Bishop stood near the fireplace in his study that afternoon, speaking on the Darkhaven's private line. He'd debated making the call, but only because of the potential wrath his unwelcome news might bring down upon him. In the end, he'd figured it was in his best interest to reaffirm his alliance, make certain that he raised a flag of the proper color lest he find himself under unprovoked enemy fire yet again.

"If I can provide any further information, rest assured, I will contact you at once." He cleared his throat, despising the fear that put a wobble of awkwardness in his voice. "And, please, ah, if you would … be sure he knows that I had nothing to do with any of this current turn of events. I have never betrayed his confidence. I am now, and I will remain, at his service."

With barely an acknowledgment, only a muttered word of good-bye, the call abruptly disconnected on the other end.

"Damn it," Bishop snarled, taking the phone away from his ear. He pivoted around, half tempted to pitch the cordless receiver into the nearest wall. He drew up short, surprised to find he was not alone.

Regina stood behind him, silent, her red-rimmed eyes condemning.

"I thought you were still in bed," he remarked, knowingly curt as he strode past her and carefully replaced the phone on its console at his desk. "You look tired, dear. Perhaps you should go back and rest a while longer."

She had taken to her bed right after Corinne and the warrior from Boston left the Darkhaven. He hadn't tried to talk to her in the hours since; he knew that his admission last night was a breach he could never mend. Not even his shared blood bond with Regina would be enough to mend what was now broken. They were linked to each other by blood and vow, but her trust, her love, would never truly be his again.

He had to admit, part of him was relieved. The lie had been a burden for too long, far too taxing to keep the mask of bereaved, bewildered father in place when his visceral connection to Regina was always there, ready to trip him up. It felt good to have everything in the open now. Liberating despite the contempt he felt like a burning poison seeping into him. Regina's contempt, pouring out at him through her accusing stare and the frantic thud of her pulse, which reverberated within his own veins.

"Who were you speaking to, Victor?"

"It was no one important," he replied, dismissing her with a narrowed glare. She took a step toward him, both hands fisted down at her sides. "You're lying to me again. Or rather, still. It sickens me to think how long you've been lying to me."

Anger flared in him. "Go back to bed, dear. You're clearly overwrought, and I'd hate for you to say things you'll regret later."

"I regret everything now," she said, looking at him with a pained frown. "How could you have done the things you did, Victor? How could you live with yourself, knowing what you'd done to Corinne?"

"What you don't seem able to grasp," he growled, "is that what I did, I did for us. For our son. Starkn would have come after Sebastian next. I wasn't about to put our boy, our flesh-andblood child, at stake – "

Regina gaped at him as though he'd struck her. "Corinne was our child too, Victor. She and Lottie were as much our children as Sebastian. We brought them into our lives, into our hearts, just the same as if they'd been born to us."

"It wasn't the same to me!" he snapped, bringing his fist down on the desk. Futile rage coursed through him when he thought about his boy, the sensitive, overly contemplative youth who should have had the world in the palm of his hand. The promising son, who might have had all that and more, if not for the web of deception Bishop had so carefully spun all around them. Not carefully enough, he reflected now.

It was that very web that had eventually found Sebastian, strangling his goodness, his future.

"It doesn't matter," Bishop murmured to his clearly outraged Breedmate. "What's done is done. It was all for nothing, anyway. We lost Sebastian regardless of everything I did to protect him."

Regina's eyes held him too closely. She stared, too knowingly. "He was never quite the same after Corinne went missing," she said, more to herself than to Victor. "I remember how withdrawn Basti became just a few years later, how distant he seemed from us in those last couple of weeks … before his Bloodlust took over."

Bishop hated the reminder. He hated to recall how painful it had been to realize his only son had turned Rogue – lost to his thirst, his addiction to blood, the very thing that gave all of the Breed life and strength and power. Basti had been weak, but it had been the discovery of his father's corruption that had pushed him over the edge.

Regina would have read his guilt now, even without their blood bond. "What happened, Victor? You betrayed Sebastian too, didn't you?"

Bishop ground his molars together, furious that she would make him relive what had been the worst moment of his life. Second worst – there was little that could top the day Sebastian, drunk from a killing spree, took one of Victor's own guns to his head and pulled the trigger before anyone could stop him.

"He'd figured it out, hadn't he?" she pressed. "You fooled the rest of us, but not him. He somehow uncovered the truth."

"Shut up," Bishop growled, his mind flooding with memories.

Sebastian and his sense of organization and order. How proud he'd been of the mahogany gun cabinet he'd made with his own hands, a gift for his father. He'd wanted it to be a surprise, had begun transferring Victor's prized collection of antique weapons from the old cabinet to the beautiful new one, when he'd discovered the hidden panel at the bottom. All of Victor's darkest secrets were in that private cache.

Sebastian had learned of the whore who'd been killed to look like Corinne. There were receipts from a dressmaker's shop for clothing hastily made to Victor's exacting specifications. A note from one of Victor's jeweler friends downtown, containing a sketch of a custom-made necklace ordered to match the one Corinne had worn the night of her disappearance. Foolish mementos that should have been burned along with the hope of ever seeing Corinne again.

Sebastian had been horrified at his discovery, but he'd kept his silence. Victor had forbidden him to speak of the matter, threatened him, for crissake. He'd told Sebastian that to expose his lie would be to invite the deaths of all of them.

The terrible secret was a burden Sebastian could not bear.

"It was you," Regina said, her voice wooden. "You were responsible for what happened to our son. My God … it was you who drove him to Bloodlust, to blow his brains out in this very room."

Bishop's fury exploded out of him. "I said shut up!"

Although Regina startled at the sharpness of his voice, she didn't falter. Her hands still fisted, knuckles white in her own outrage, she approached the desk where he stood. "You destroyed Sebastian's life as surely as you destroyed Corinne's, and yet that's not enough for you. You would betray her still." She glanced at the phone now cradled in its receiver. "You have, haven't you? That call you made … it was to save your own neck, even if it comes at her expense. I can't live like this, not with you. You are a coward, Victor. You disgust me."

He struck her, reaching across the desk to cuff her with a closed hand, hard across the face.

She dropped to the floor from the force of the blow. He came around and glared down at her, seething with anger now, his fangs filling his mouth. She didn't cower. Lifting her head, she stared him narrowly in the eyes, not even flinching at the sight of his transformed irises, which bathed her face in an amber glow. Her tongue went to the corner of her mouth, testing the small gash that bled a scarlet trickle onto her chin.

"Do you have any idea what was done to her all these years?" she challenged him sourly.

"She was raped, Victor. Beaten and tortured. Experimented upon like some kind of animal. She had a baby in that prison. That's right, Corinne has a son of her own. They took him away from her. She actually thought you might help her find him, bring him back to her. All she wanted was for us to be a family again, including her and her child."

Bishop listened, but he remained unmoved. Not even Regina's tears, now streaming down her cheeks, had any effect. He was in too deep and for much too long. Rather than wasting time feeling pity or remorse for things he couldn't change, he was already calculating ways to twist this situation so that he might curry the favor of Gerard Starkn – or Dragos, whatever the powerful male had taken to calling himself now.

Offering neither a word nor a hand, he watched Regina come up to her feet. She despised him; he could feel it seething in her blood.

"I want you to leave, Victor. Tonight, I want you gone from this Darkhaven."

It was such a ridiculous demand, he laughed out loud. "You expect me to walk away from my own home?"

"That's right," she replied, steady as he'd ever seen her. "Because if you don't, I will expose your corruption to the entire Breed nation. You, Gerard Starkn, Henry Vachon … all of you."

Defiant, she turned on her heel and headed for the open doorway of the study. He didn't let her reach it.

In a second – less than that – he flashed from where he'd been standing in the center of the room to directly in front of her, blocking her path into the foyer beyond. He grabbed her fiercely by the upper arms, then spoke through gritted teeth. "You will do no such thing. You, my dear, will mind your fucking tongue. You will mind your mate, if you know what's good for you."

Her eyes went a bit wider, and he saw her throat move as she swallowed. Before she spoke, he had mistaken it for fear. "Or what?" she asked, much too bold for his liking. "What will you do, Victor, kill me?"

Although it was rare enough to be virtually unheard of, particularly in these modern, civilized times, he wouldn't be the first Breed male to lose control of the more savage side of his nature and kill his mate.

As he looked at Regina, he realized how much easier it would be for him without her now. His sins would die with her. And if Corinne, wherever she ended up, should ever think to stand in his way, it would be nothing at all to pluck her from this world like a burr trapped under his saddle. She was nothing to him now, even less than she had been the night Gerard Starkn had stolen her away.

Bishop's grip on his Breedmate tightened, almost of its own accord. She frowned, pain pinching her pretty face. "You're hurting me," she complained, casting a nervous glance over the top of his shoulder as though searching for help.

He was sick with anger now, and cold with the realization that as much as her trust in him had been shattered, so too was his faith in her. "Threatening me was a very stupid thing to do, Regina. I might have been able to excuse your contempt of me, but as you've so helpfully pointed out, you have become a threat to my way of living. You are a risk I cannot afford – "

The sudden click of a gun being chambered took him aback. But no more so than the feel of cold metal coming to rest against his right temple.

"You need to take your hands off her, sir. Now."

Mason.

Without looking, he knew the low, steady voice of one of his longest-serving guards. And he had seen the male in action more than once, enough to understand that he was caught in a very unpleasant predicament. Righteous to a fault, Mason would not back down from a fight unless he was no longer breathing. All the more so when he was coming to the defense of lovely Regina, whom Bishop had long suspected secretly meant more to Mason than simply the lady of the Darkhaven. Mason would protect her to his death, Bishop had no doubt. Which meant he was going to have to bloody his hands with the lives of both of them before this day was out.

No matter, Bishop thought, devoid of mercy.

He was ready to do whatever he must to put his life – his future – on a less complicated course.

"I said let her go." Mason pushed the cold nose of his pistol a bit more insistently against Bishop's temple.

Bishop released Regina from his hold, complying with the tightly issued order, but only long enough to let the guard believe the situation was under control. As soon as he sensed Mason's trigger finger relax, Bishop railed on him with fangs bared. Regina screamed as he knocked the weapon out of the other male's grasp. She took off running from the study as the gun clattered out to the foyer floor. Bishop lunged for his guard. They were an equal match, Bishop having the advantage of his fierce determination, his fury like a madness pounding in his blood and brain. With an unhinged roar, he grabbed Mason by the chest and flung him with all his might against the far wall of the study. He didn't give the guard so much as a second to react. Leaping at him, he crushed the heel of his Italian loafer into Mason's groin. The vampire bellowed in agony, his eyes burning like coals, fangs tearing out of his gums. Bishop chuckled. He couldn't help himself from taking some enjoyment in the pain he was causing the other male. He would kill Mason slowly before strangling Regina with his bare hands.

As the thought danced through his mind, he caught a rush of movement in the foyer. Regina had come back, hadn't gone very far at all. She had Mason's gun in her hands. Bishop swung a hard look on her – just in time to hear the metallic pop of the hammer as she squeezed the trigger. The bullet discharged, sailed toward him on a small cloud of smoke. He jerked out of its path at the very last moment. Behind him, the curtained French door exploded with a crash of breaking glass. Afternoon sunlight poured in through the hole in the thick curtains, bringing with it the chill December breeze.

Bishop snorted, about to ridicule his Breedmate's shaky hands and lousy aim. But then she fired again. She fired at him again and again and again, and this time there was no chance to evade the hail of bullets. She fired until the gun had been emptied into him. He staggered back on his heels, looking down at the field of scarlet that seeped out of his chest. He couldn't stop the bleeding, could only stare in baffled astonishment at the hellish damage. He felt his heart labor to keep its rhythm, each breath a raw scrape of talons in his chest. His legs grew weak beneath him.

And now Mason was on his feet, standing before him, animosity rolling off his big body like a dark thundercloud.

Bishop knew this was his end.

The bullets alone might not kill him, but they had sapped him of much-needed strength. His lungs were punctured, his heart as well. But he clung fast to his fury – the only thing he had left in this, his final moment.

With a roar that seemed to shred him from deep inside, Victor Bishop began to lunge for his Breedmate.

Mason's unyielding hands stopped him. Took hold of him and lifted him off the floor. And then he was flying, pitching backward, into the tall French doors that opened out onto the lawn of his Darkhaven estate. His body crashed through the curtains and glass, coming to rest broken and bleeding on the frozen ground outside.

He stared up into the sky above him, unable to move. Unable to save himself from the excruciatingly slow death that awaited him as he peered up in wonder at the glorious, merciless light of day.

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