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Deeper Than Midnight (Chapter Twenty-one)

"For once, it seems luck is on our side, Lucan."

Gideon stood in the center of the cavernous bomb shelter hidden beneath Lazaro Archer's Cold War – era Darkhaven a couple hours north of Augusta, Maine. As Archer had warned, the place wasn't anywhere close to the size and complexity of the Order's compound, but Lucan had to agree with Gideon: It seemed to be the best option – the only immediate option – they had at the moment.

Nestled on a remote, two-hundred-acre plot of virgin forest that had likely seen more moose and black bear than humans in the past couple of centuries, the property was nothing if not private. The residence itself was a sprawling ten-bedroom, eight-thousand-square-foot fortress of stone and thick timber. Rugged, compared to the elegant mansion back in Boston or the sophisticated brownstone where Lazaro Archer and his family had lived before Dragos's act of mass destruction. The land surrounding it was impenetrable and forbidding, a natural perimeter wall made of soaring pines and thorn-spangled bracken.

"I wish I had more to offer you," Archer said from beside Lucan. His rugged face was limned in pale light from the fluorescent security lamp that hung overhead in the concrete tunnel leading back up to the house. "I cannot fully express how deeply I regret my family's role in Dragos's plans. That he used Kellan as an unwitting pawn – "

"Forget it," Lucan replied. "None of us would be in this situation if it weren't for Dragos. As for this holding, like Gideon says, it's an advantage we sure as hell need right now."

Archer nodded as the three of them resumed their walk up the long, underground tunnel.

"Although the house has been unoccupied all these years, a local property management company has been responsible for the maintenance and upkeep – "

"Let them know their services are no longer required," Lucan replied. "If the contract needs to be paid out, let me know and arrangements will be made to take care of any expenses or incidentals."

"Very well," Archer said. "How soon do you expect to begin the relocation?"

Lucan slanted a look at Gideon. "Can you be ready to roll out the first wave of equipment by tomorrow night?"

Gideon's eyes were sharp and determined over the rims of his light blue shades. "Layout is tight but workable. May have to go with a combo of hardwire and coax instead of wireless based on the material and thickness of the walls down here, but yeah … I can make it happen as soon as tomorrow night."

Lucan nodded. "Sounds like we're in business."

Gideon stepped over to walk on the other side of Archer. "Before we go, I'd like to take another look at the security system you have in place, Lazaro."

"Yes, of course."

Lucan's cell phone vibrated in his coat pocket as Gideon and Archer continued discussing the property's finer points. "Yeah, babe?" Lucan said as he connected to Gabrielle's call. "Is everything good back home?"

"Ah, yes and no," she answered. Even if her hesitant voice hadn't given her away, he would have known something was up. Through the blood bond he shared with his Breedmate, Lucan felt the mix of excitement and anxiety spiking in her veins like it was his own.

"What's going on?"

"It's Tess," she said. "Lucan, she's having contractions. The baby's on the way."

Hunter ditched the stolen El Camino in the swamp several miles away from Amelie Dupree's house and made the rest of the trek into New Orleans on foot. He'd found no activity at the first of Henry Vachon's residences and had gone on to stake out the other Darkhaven address Gideon had given him.

For more than an hour, his reconnaissance had netted him nothing except the knowledge that Henry Vachon enjoyed a princely lifestyle in a mansion big enough for a dozen people but inhabited by just himself and a small cadre of rank-and-file Breed guards. Hunter reduced that number by three as he stole up to the back of the house and efficiently slit the throats of the men posted at the door.

He crept inside what appeared to be an old servants' quarters, then swiftly, soundlessly, took the stairs leading up to the second floor of the estate.

A Gen One assassin waited for him at the top of the stairwell. Hunter still had the blade in his hand. He threw it, but the other male's reflexes knew the assault was coming, and quick, welltrained hands batted the dagger away. Hunter braced his hands on either side of the stairwell wall and lifted himself into a kick as his opponent launched himself toward him. They connected in midflight, coming down hard on the steps and rolling for a few before Hunter managed to get the upper hand. He had another blade sheathed on his weapons belt. He drew it and sliced in an instant, one swipe of his hand cutting cleanly across the Gen One's throat, the return sweep ripping through black nylon combat clothing, skin, muscle, and bone. The assassin went limp, bleeding out on the stairs while Hunter got back to his feet and climbed the rest of the way to the living quarters on the floor above.

He heard movement behind a closed door down the hallway. He stalked toward it and kicked the thing in, smashing it off its hinges. As the splintering wood showered down onto the richly hued rug of a sumptuous bedroom, he caught a glimpse of a retreating figure disappearing into an adjacent bathroom. Hunter followed, flashing there in less than an instant. Henry Vachon cowered on the marble floor between the gold-trimmed toilet and a deep, sunken tub. He had a cell phone in his hand, fingers typing madly over the tiny keypad. Hunter let the bloodied blade in his fist fly, taking off one of Vachon's fingers in the process. The vampire hissed in pain, eyes wild with surprise and fear. The cell phone slipped from his hand, smashing into pieces against the unforgiving polished stone floor.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Vachon demanded, his voice shrill and grating.

"What do you want from me?"

Hunter cocked his head. "I'm sure you know. I want information."

"You're a fool if you think I'll give anything to you," he shot back, cradling his ruined hand. Blood bloomed like an opening flower against his chest, staining the front of his white silk shirt and tailored gray trousers. "My loyalty won't be broken by the likes of you. I'll take it to my grave."

Hunter took a step forward, unfazed by the challenge. "I know more than a hundred ways to inflict maximum pain on a body short of killing it. A hundred more will make you wish for death. One of them is sure to loosen your tongue."

Vachon clumsily rose to his feet in the corner, his socks sponging up blood, sliding on the glasslike surface of the floor. "Is the Order worth the price you will pay for crossing Dragos?

You're putting a very large target on your back by betraying the one who created you, assassin."

Hunter shook his head. "Dragos is no creator. He is a destroyer. He is a coward and a madman, one who murders innocents and tortures helpless women and children. Dragos and all those loyal to him will soon be dead. As for you, Henry Vachon, I will take more than a little satisfaction in personally ending your worthless life."

The male's expression faltered a bit, a crease pressing into the center of his brow. "Me?

What have I done to you?"

"Not to me but to her," Hunter replied, finding it strangely difficult to keep the anger from his voice.

"The Bishop chit?" Vachon seemed genuinely taken aback, but only for a moment. His smile was perverted, a profane twist of his mouth. "Ah, yes. Been sniffing around her skirts, have you? A male would have to be blind and dumb not to crave a sample of that. Even a male like you, raised to be more machine than flesh."

Hunter felt a hot flare shoot into his bloodstream but he refused to be baited. Let Vachon think what he would about him; his opinion, like his very existence, was meaningless. "Dragos is intending a strike against the Order. You will tell me when and where and how this attack is to be carried out."

Vachon only stared at him, a disturbing glint in his dark eyes. "Have you fucked her, assassin? Or do you merely long to?"

"There was a beacon forced into the stomach of a civilian," Hunter went on, ignoring the jabs even though the idea of this offal speaking about Corinne so crudely set his jaw on edge. "If Dragos means to use this beacon to lead him to the Order's headquarters, does he intend to invade the compound or execute some manner of destruction?"

"She's a fine piece of ass, that one," Vachon purred. "Believe me, I can understand how a female like that might scramble a male's head, make him forget who – and what – he truly is. How much discipline would it take to resist crawling inside something so hot and tight and – "

"Do not speak of her," Hunter snapped, astonished by the surge of rage that was arrowing up his spine. His eyes were hot in his skull, his vision burning with amber fury. He tried to speak and was surprised to feel the full presence of his fangs, the tips like razors against his tongue. He glared with murderous rage at Henry Vachon. "You are far beneath her. Too far to even mention her name, you disgusting son of a bitch."

"Beneath her?" Hunter didn't like the amused chuckle that spilled from between Henry Vachon's thin lips. "I've been on top of her and behind her. More than once. Dragos and I both took our turns the night we grabbed her out of that club in Detroit. Spirited little hellion. She fought like a demon. Fought as hard as she could for years after he locked her up with the others, for all the good it did her."

The ugly words – the hideous truth of what he was hearing – snapped the fragile, last thread of Hunter's control. He leapt on Henry Vachon, knocking the male against the wall and cracking the polished marble with the force of their impact. He didn't realize how blind with hatred he was in that moment.

He didn't realize how lost he was to the explosion of his rage until he tasted blood on his tongue and saw that he had Vachon's neck caught between his teeth and fangs.

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