Deeper Than Midnight (Chapter Twenty-eight)
He didn't know precisely how he'd ended up lurking in the shadows across the street from the young politician's house. Like the Bloodlust that was nipping at his heels, Chase's innate curiosity would not leave him alone, despite the fact that he had no real reason to give a shit about the swanky party evidently taking place later that night.
Apparently, it was the social event of the season, based on the parade of caterers and linen rentals alone. A twelve-piece string and horn ensemble had been unloading their equipment through the back of the house when Chase arrived. The twenty-plus uniformed cops and grimfaced Secret Service detail on post at strategic locations all over the grounds had taken everything up a notch.
Chase eyed the men in their brush-cuts and black suits. Bobby Clarence was a political star on the rise, but the government-issued protection wasn't there because of him. They were too numerous and too obvious to be assigned to anything less than a top D.C. official. Chase's memory prickled with a bit of worthless campaign trivia he'd been unable to avoid hearing more than once during the human's run for his seat in the Senate. He'd been endorsed by none other than the vice president, who'd waxed rhapsodic about the brilliant university student who had impressed his toughest professor with a combination of integrity and good old Yankee sensibility. And now that Chase was thinking about it, a grave suspicion began to settle over him. Dragos hadn't hidden the fact from his followers that he had some interest in Senator Clarence, but what if he had his eye on someone already in a position of even greater power?
"Jesus Christ," Chase muttered, low under his breath. What if some of those cops shuffling around the grounds of the estate were Minions that belonged to Dragos? What was to stop Dragos from using this kind of gathering to further his own schemes?
Chase's old instincts fired up with a warning he couldn't ignore. Something bad was going down at this party tonight; he could feel it in his bones. The senator or his VIP guest –
good God, maybe both of them – were in danger here. Chase would bet his life on it, not that it was worth much these days.
With dread raking him even deeper than his blood thirst, Chase called on his Breed genetics to carry him onto the grounds and past the cops and Secret Service detail posted outside. He was just a cold breeze, an eddy of snowflakes dancing in his wake, as he slipped inside the house through the back door to the kitchen.
No sooner had he gone inside than two more black suits came around the corner. Chase ducked into the walk-in pantry, going utterly silent, utterly still, as the pair of Secret Service men walked right past the very spot where he would have been standing. One of them gave the all-clear for the second floor over his Bluetooth comm device, then launched into a discussion with his companion about last night's college football game. Chase let out his breath as the armed men exited the house to join up with the detail in the yard. He started to head for the pantry door but stopped abruptly when it swung inward, almost crashing into him.
"Did you check for the red wine in here, Joe?" A young woman entered the pantry, her head turned over her shoulder as she spoke to someone outside the large pantry. She wore a longsleeved, high-collared gown of crushed burgundy velvet that clung like a lover to her tall, athletic frame. A mane of wavy, caramel-brown hair swished about her shoulders as she pivoted around and stepped inside. "Ah! Here it is – two more cases of Pinot Noir, just where I thought they'd be."
Chase struggled to keep the shadows gathered around him as the striking female walked right up in front of him and motioned for a swarthy man in penguin tails and a bowtie to bring his wheeled hand truck into the room.
It seemed to take forever for the human to hump it over and load up the boxes of expensive French red wine. Not that Chase minded completely. Hard as it was to maintain the illusion his talent generated, he didn't think he'd tire very quickly of looking at the self-assured, all-business woman in the oh-baby dress.
Finally, the last case hit the hand truck, bottles clanking inside. "Will there be anything else, Ms. Fairchild?"
She checked her watch. "I'll let you know, Joe. Thank you," she replied crisply. She followed behind him as he wheeled his load out the door, her shapely backside looking much too hot to belong to someone who threw off that much chill. "If any of the other servers need me, I'll be reviewing the music selection one last time with the orchestra. Tell everyone to look sharp. The senator's guests will be arriving in precisely one hour."
"Yes, Ms. Fairchild," murmured Joe the hand-truck driver as the pantry door swung closed on her tall heels.
Chase released the shadows from around him as soon as he was alone. His breath rushed rapidly in and out of his lungs, his body feeling as though he'd just made a coast-to-coast sprint. His hands were shaking, his veins cramping with the need for more fuel. Damn. He was practically spent, and the party hadn't even started yet.
He pushed the door open a crack and peered outside. When he was certain there'd be no more surprises, he ducked out and used the last of his current reserves to speed up the stairs. He found an empty bedroom on the security-cleared second floor, where he intended to wait until the senator's holiday guests arrived.
* * *
Gideon's email had been waiting for them when they'd returned to the house a short time later. Hunter had made the call back to Boston with Corinne seated next to him at the computer and had listened with a mix of dread and grim acceptance when Gideon had informed him that the partial numerical sequence from Corinne's blood memories had come back with interesting results.
There had been two solid hits in the encrypted data files recovered from the memory cards Hunter had uploaded to the compound. The bad news was, one of them was attached to a record with zero activity recorded on it for more than five years. The good news? The second hit was from an active file.
After a bit of hacking, Gideon had discovered what appeared to be some manner of coordinates associated to the record. Using satellite confirmation, he'd triangulated a GPS signal receiving from a small town in west-central Georgia, about sixty miles outside of Atlanta. Gideon's mouth had been processing as fast as his mind when he'd relayed the intel to Hunter about an hour ago. He seemed to think that with a few more hours of exploration, the data recovered from Henry Vachon's storage unit could yield something even bigger. As intriguing as the prospect of a future blow against Dragos's operation was, Hunter's mind was on more immediate matters.
Corinne had been quiet, contemplative, since they'd said their quick good-byes to Amelie Dupree and set out together in the box truck for the long drive ahead. They had been on the road for several hours now, heading through Alabama toward Interstate 85. Hunter guessed he could get them as far as the North Carolina border before sunrise would force him to seek shelter away from the wheel and the broad plate of glass that spanned the width of the truck's cab. Add another sixteen hours, and he'd have Corinne safe and sound back at Reichen's Darkhaven in Rhode Island.
Of course, she didn't know that.
He'd left out that particular detail of his plans, thinking it would be better to talk to her privately, once they were on the road and alone together. Now, however, he was finding it difficult to muster the words.
Knowing he would disappoint her, likely wound her with the truth, seemed even harder after the compassion she'd shown him earlier that evening. His head was still reeling from the discovery of the laboratory ledger and all that it contained. He'd felt off balance, then and now, knocked from his axis.
That is, until he remembered the centering feel of Corinne's arms wrapped around him. As though sensing his inner struggle now, she lifted her head from the printed Google maps in her lap and glanced over at him. "Is everything all right?"
His confirming nod felt weak to him, transparent. "You've hardly spoken since we left New Orleans. If there is anything you need – "
"No," she said, shaking her head. "If I'm not very talkative, it's just that I'm nervous. I'm scared, I guess. I can't believe we're actually on our way to find him. At last, I am on my way to find Nathan."
She spoke her son's name with reverence and so much hope it tore at him. Hunter was learning to feel many things where Corinne was concerned, but the acid burn of guilt at his deceiving her was a pain almost too much to bear. He cleared his throat and forced himself to spit out the truth. "We can't be sure how good the chances are that your son is actually at the cell Gideon located outside Atlanta. But you and I are heading farther north than that, Corinne. I'm taking you back to Rhode Island, to Andreas and Claire's Darkhaven."
"What are you talking about?" He saw her mouth go slack in his periphery. "What do you mean, we're not going to Atlanta?"
"It would not be a safe situation for you, so once you're secured with Andreas and Claire, I will return alone to investigate. It will be better this way, for everyone concerned."
His veins, courtesy of his blood connection to her now, prickled with the sudden spike of her outrage. "When were you planning to tell me this – before or after you dropped me on the Darkhaven's doorstep?"
"I'm sorry," he said, meaning it completely. "I realize this is not your choice, but aside from ensuring your safety, I also want to spare you any worry or disappointment."
"It's him at that location, Hunter," she implored. "I can feel it in my bones. Nathan is there."
Hunter glanced from the highway stretching out before him, to the beautiful, protective mother who likely would throw herself in front of a hail of wild gunfire, if she thought it would save her son. The thought made him pause, stricken to consider it. "The facts we have to go on are few, Corinne. Logically, for all we know, this intel may lead to another one of Dragos's assassins. Not to your son."
She pivoted on the long bench seat, turning the full force of her anger on him. "By the same logic, for all we know, it is my son."
"All the more reason I don't want you there, Corinne." He blew a low sigh at the glass of the windshield. "If it is him, then it cannot end well."
"How do you know that?" she charged hotly. "You can't possibly be sure of that – "
Another look at her, realizing what he was about to say might destroy everything they'd shared in their short time together. "I do know, Corinne. I have seen how your reunion with your son will play out. The little girl, back at the Order's headquarters – "
"Mira?" She seemed stunned, confused. A frown settled between her fine black brows.
"What does she have to do with anything?"
"There was a vision," he replied. "A vision concerning you and the boy … and me."
"What?" Corinne stared at him as if he'd just punched her in the stomach. Although she was clearly taken aback, there was an edge of grim understanding in her soft, level voice. "Tell me what's going on, Hunter. Did Mira see something since we've been gone from the compound?"
"No. It was months ago," he admitted. "Long before I met you."
When he glanced at her now, she looked ill to him. A paleness came over her face in the dim light of the truck's dashboard. The accusation in her eyes sliced at him like a blade. "What are you saying? What do you know about Nathan? Do you know whether or not we'll find him?
Did Mira predict how this will end tonight?"
Hunter's answering silence seemed more than she could bear. "Stop this vehicle," she demanded. "Stop it right now."
He eased off the northbound, three-lane highway, gravel crunching under the tires as he slowed on the shoulder of the straightaway. He put the truck into park and turned to face Corinne beside him. She wouldn't look at him. He didn't need to see her eyes to know that they would be filled with hurt – with disbelief and confusion.
"You've had knowledge of my son all this time – even before you took me home to Detroit?"
"I didn't know the vision concerned your child, Corinne. When I first saw the premonition in Mira's eyes, I didn't even know who you were. None of it had any meaning to me at the time."
Corinne stared at him now, her eyes bleak. "What exactly did you see, Hunter?"
"You," he said. "I saw you, weeping, pleading with me to spare a life that meant everything to you. You begged me to stay my hand."
She swallowed hard, her throat clicking softly as the buzz of speeding vehicles rushed past on the road beside them. "And what did you do … in this vision?"
The words came slowly, bitterly. As awful on his tongue as their truth would feel in his hands. "I did what had to be done. You had asked the impossible."
She sucked in a sharp breath and scrambled for the door handle. Hunter could have stopped her. He could have frozen the locks with a thought and kept her trapped inside with him. But her sorrow raked him. He leapt out after her, right behind her as she staggered out onto the moonlit, grassy shoulder.
"Corinne, please try to understand."
She was furious and wounded, shaking all over. "You lied to me!" The roar of the passing traffic grew as she railed at him, her talent gathering the sound waves and stirring them like a tempest. "You knew this … all this time we've spent together, and you withheld this from me?
How could you?"
"I didn't know who you were trying to protect. I didn't know when the prophesied events were supposed to occur. It could have been years in the future. It could have meant anything. Before I said anything to you, I needed to understand what I saw."
A semi barreled through in the fast lane, and the sound of it shook the ground as Corinne listened to him try to explain something that felt indefensible to him now.
"The pieces didn't fall into place until you told me about your son."
She closed her eyes for a moment, glancing up at the stars before turning a wet gaze on him. "And then, after all that occurred between us – after we made love, after you drank from me – you still didn't tell me what you knew?"
"Then," he said, "I cared too much to hurt you with the truth."
She shook her head slowly, then with more vigor. "I trusted you! You were the only one I felt I could trust. To think I was actually foolish enough to let myself fall in love with you!"
More violent noise rose with the force of her heightened outrage. Over their heads, a tall streetlamp popped, showering sparks from high above them. Hunter swept her out of the path of the falling embers, holding her against him despite her tears and struggles. He pressed a kiss to her brow. Forced her to look at him, into his eyes and see another truth he'd been holding from her. "I love you too, Corinne."
"No," she whispered. "I don't think you possibly can."
He caught her chin and lifted her face back up toward his. He kissed her parted, protesting lips. "I love you. Believe me when I say you are the only woman I want to love. I want your happiness. It means everything to me."
"Then you can't push me aside if there's a chance my child is only a few hours away from where we're standing now."
Hunter frowned, knowing he was losing this battle. Perhaps the first contest he'd ever surrendered.
As gently as he could, he reminded her, "Mira's visions are never wrong. If you come with me, and we do find your son, will you be able to forgive me?"
"If you truly love me, as I love you, then that should be strong enough to change the vision." She was calming now, and with her calm came the quieting of her talent. The busy road resumed its background whoosh and hum. Behind them on the shoulder, the box truck's engine idled with a rapid tick. She reached out to him tentatively, placing her palm over the center of his chest where his heart thudded heavily. "Maybe our love can break the vision."
"Maybe," he said, wishing he could believe it.
What he did believe was the fact that if he sent her away now, she would hate him regardless of what he found at the end of the GPS signal in Georgia. To send her away now would be to crush her hope and betray her trust once more.