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Deeper Than Midnight (Chapter Twenty-six)

"Oh, God," she whispered, more breathless pant than words. And then she had no breath or words at all.

Her orgasm flooded through her. The hot wave of bliss was made all the more intense for the fierce look of pure male satisfaction that spread over Hunter's handsome face as he rocked above her. She gasped his name, her body clinging to him, her senses lost in pleasure. He kept going, even as her climax broke and left her spiraling weightless, tingling from deep within. Hunter curled his lip back from his teeth and fangs, letting loose a throaty growl that vibrated into her marrow. His eyes searing her, his hot amber gaze possessing her, he crushed her to him and thrust with relentless vigor, pushing her to reach for another delicious wave of release … and still another.

He didn't stop, not until they were both drenched and sated, exhausted and breathless in each other's arms.

And then, when their desire reawakened to take hold of them once more, they started all over again.

Amelie, let me help you with that."

It was dark by 5 P.M., a couple of hours after Corinne and Hunter had finally come out of their shared bedroom at the safe house. If Amelie had noticed their absence for most of the day, she had been too polite to mention it.

Now, as Corinne finished setting the kitchen table, she turned to assist at the stove, where Amelie was pulling on oven mitts, about to reach in and retrieve their dinner from the broiler.

"Here," Corinne said. "Let me get that for you."

Amelie gave her a dismissive little cluck of her tongue. "Don't you worry about it, child. I know my way around this old kitchen like the back of my hand."

It seemed unnecessary to point out to Amelie that she didn't have the benefit of sight to guide her. As she had the day before, the gray-haired woman navigated her living space as though she knew every square inch of it by instinct alone. Corinne stood back as Amelie served up two beautifully browned slabs of buttery white fish crusted with a fragrant smattering of peppers and spices. The aroma wafted up from the broiler, making Corinne's stomach growl in anticipation.

Amelie took off her gloves, humming to one of the soft jazz songs that played on the stereo in the adjacent living room. Rounded hips swaying in time with the music, she reached for a spatula in the squatty earthenware jug next to the stove.

"I hope you like catfish," she said, pivoting to place the filets onto the pair of plates that waited on the countertop at her right elbow. Still humming and swaying to the high-pitched male voice pleading for someone to tell it like it is, she found her marks on the plates with hardly a falter. "I'll let you serve up some of that dirty rice and steamed vegetables, if you like. You can put the hot corn bread in that basket right over there."

"Of course," Corinne replied. She put some of each onto their plates, then carried both plates and the corn bread to the table and took her seat across from Amelie.

"Did any of those clothes I set out work for your man?" she asked.

Corinne started to correct her about Hunter being her anything, but the words took too long arriving on her tongue. Besides, after everything that had happened between them under Amelie's roof in the past roughly twenty-four hours, it would feel even more awkward for her to attempt to deny that there was something between them. "Yes, they did," she said, simply answering the question. "Thank you for letting Hunter have them."

Amelie nodded as she cut into her fish. "My son's always leaving his things here in his old room when he visits. He's a big boy, rather like your man in there. I'm glad something fit him."

"Well, we appreciate it very much," Corinne said.

She and Hunter had been able to wash out most of the bloodstains from the fatigues he'd worn to Henry Vachon's, but while the clothes were tumbling in Amelie's dryer, Hunter had been forced to borrow a sweatshirt and snap-sided track pants. To say that any of the clothes fit him was a stretch, Corinne thought, smiling to herself when she pictured him in the brightly colored sports-team shirt and shiny nylon slacks.

While she and Amelie enjoyed their dinner and the pleasant music drifting in from the other room, Hunter was in the guest bedroom talking with Gideon and using Amelie's son's computer. He'd gone back to the box truck a short while ago and brought in more of Dragos's laboratory records from the metal safe Vachon had been keeping in storage. Some of those records had been computer files, encrypted data, kept on several finger-size portable devices that Hunter was currently transferring to the Order's headquarters in Boston. Corinne prayed there would be something useful in the records. As incredible as her time alone with Hunter had been, a heaviness lurked in her heart. She'd hoped desperately that her blood would have surrendered even a small clue about her son and where she might find him. But Hunter's talent had given them nothing to go on. Nothing except his awareness of all the degradation and defilement she'd been subjected to at her captor's hands. Although he knew it all now, he didn't coddle her or make her feel somehow less a woman for the way she'd been treated while trapped inside Dragos's prison lab. She'd felt dirty, ashamed of the things they'd done to her. She'd felt herself powerless, a coward for having let them take her child away.

Once she had been freed, she'd felt immense guilt that she'd survived when so many others imprisoned and tortured alongside her had not. They'd had sons stolen from them too. Children they would have loved, if not for Dragos's evil. Right now, among the Breedmates taken in by Andreas and Claire Reichen back in New England, there were mothers who were mourning lost sons, nursing the same festering emotional wounds that she was. As Corinne quietly ate her dinner, she felt a pang of selfishness for the need that spurred her to seek her own child above the rest. Slim as her hope of finding him seemed, even if she failed completely, perhaps her personal quest would also open the chance for other newly freed captives to search for their own stolen sons.

Even as she thought it, Hunter's words of warning came back to her, dark and ominous: We were never boys, none of us…

If your son lives, he will be a Hunter, like me … fully trained … experienced in dealing death.

Your son is gone. He was gone the instant Dragos took him out of your arms. No, she told herself. There was still hope.

Hunter himself was proof of that. He had managed to break from the brutal doctrine Dragos imposed on him. He was given a chance to be something more, something better. That's all she wanted for her son. That's all any of the other Breedmates would want for their sons. Perhaps if they could save Nathan, there might be hope for more stolen lives too. Corinne held on to that hope as she finished eating the wonderful meal that Amelie had prepared.

"Everything was very good," she said, her taste buds still tingling from the peppers and spices and fresh, savory flavors. "I've never had catfish or dirty rice before. I've never had corn bread either. It's all delicious."

"Ohh, child." Amelie gave a slow shake of her head, her tone implying both shock and sympathy. "You truly have not lived, have you?"

"Maybe not." Because the woman was blind, she didn't see Corinne's wistful smile as she answered. She was glad for the privacy of her thoughts as she gathered some of the empty plates from the table. When Amelie got up to help, Corinne gently placed her hand on the woman's shoulder. "Please, sit. Let me take care of cleaning up, at least."

With a sigh that seemed equal parts resignation and contentment, Amelie sat back down in her chair at the table while Corinne cleared the rest of the dishes and flatware and started a basin full of hot, soapy water at the sink.

As she set the dishes into the suds, Corinne couldn't help feeling that the food had tasted more flavorful, the soft jazz music in the other room sounded more soothing – everything around her seemed brighter, more vivid and potent – after the pleasurable hours she'd spent in Hunter's arms. She wondered what it might be like to feel this way all the time. Was this what it was like for mated pairs within the Breed?

Was the intense warmth blooming in the center of her being simply a reaction to the physical comfort Hunter had given her, or something more?

She didn't want to let him into her heart. God help her, but for a very long time, she hadn't considered there could ever be room for anyone except the child she'd been forced to surrender. But when she thought about Hunter's kindness toward her, when she considered all that they'd been through together in the past few days, she could not deny that he meant something to her. Something much more than the warrior she'd initially distrusted – even feared – and now looked to as her closest ally.

Her unexpected friend and, now, her lover.

The formidable Breed male who had bonded himself to her inexorably, if for no other reason than she'd begged him to.

It was a sacred gift, and he'd given it to her for use as a tool in her personal quest. He'd given her the most priceless, intimate thing he had, with hardly the slightest hesitation. She felt Hunter's presence stir the air behind her now, yet the low rumble of his voice still made her pulse kick when he spoke. "All the memory card data has been sent to Gideon. I've also scanned the relevant paper files, in case any of it proves useful."

Corinne dried her hands on a towel, then pivoted to face him. "What did he think?" she asked, not at all reassured by his grim tone. He was holding back somehow, his face neutral. Unreadable. When she'd first met him, that schooled look had unnerved her, made her curious; now it simply worried her. "Did any of it mean anything to Gideon?"

"He will let us know." Hunter crossed his bulky arms across the large SAINTS lettering emblazoned on the tight black-and-gold sweatshirt. The sleeves barely reached halfway down his forearms, and now the fabric stretched even tighter across his broad shoulders. "The situation at the compound is not ideal at the moment. But Gideon has said he'll get back to us as soon as possible if his analysis yields anything promising."

"Okay," Corinne replied, telling herself it was a start. She had little left to lose when it came right down to it.

Nathan was still out of her reach, despite the blood memories Hunter had read for her. The lab records they'd found in Henry Vachon's storage unit were all they had to go on now –

those, and Gideon's considerable technological skills. She had placed her trust in Hunter, and he in turn had placed his own in the Order. Corinne had to believe that if there was a solution, she would find it so long as she had Hunter on her side.

The hard part now would be the waiting.

She blew out a small sigh. "Okay," she said again, giving a resolute nod as though to convince herself it was all going to work out in the end.

As she turned back to the sink to finish washing the dishes, Amelie piped up from her seat at the table. "Everything all right back up in Boston with my sister and her man?"

"Yes, ma'am," Hunter replied. "Savannah and Gideon are both well."

"That's good," she said. "Those two deserve their happiness more than most anyone I know. I suspect you and Corinne do too."

Mortified at the turn in the conversation, Corinne kept her head down, scrubbing at a stubborn bit of dried rice that clung to one of the plates. She tried to concentrate on the music playing quietly over the stereo – a tune she immediately recognized – casting about for anything to focus on but the gaping silence that seemed to emanate from Hunter's direction. She rinsed the suds off the plate and set it into the wire drainer on the counter, feeling her skin prickle with a current of awareness that rippled in the air behind her. It drew closer, and when she glanced to her right, she found Hunter standing beside her, a red-and-white checkered dish towel in his large hands.

Corinne couldn't take his silence, or the meaningful look he fixed on her as he stood there, letting Amelie's assumption hang between them like a question.

"It's not like that for us," she blurted. "Hunter and I, we're not …"

Amelie's answering chuckle was as warm and rich as butter. "Oh, I wouldn't be so sure about that, child. I wouldn't be so sure about that at all."

"We're not," Corinne said, infinitely quieter this time, surprised she was able to speak at all for the way Hunter watched her, standing so close she could feel the heat of his body reaching out to her as surely as she did his gaze. His golden eyes rooted on her, hot and unflinching, sweeping her back in an instant to the hours of passion they'd shared just down the hallway from this very spot.

"I know this music," he murmured, his head cocked toward the jazz song that floated in from the living room speakers but his gaze still holding her in its heated grasp.

"Ah, yes," Amelie interjected. "That's the one and only Bessie Smith."

Not that Hunter or Corinne needed the confirmation. It was the same song that had played in the jazz club that first night they'd arrived in New Orleans. Just looking at Hunter now made that moment come back to vivid life in Corinne's mind. She felt his hard body against hers as she'd danced with him, remembered so well the tender instant when he'd kissed her that first time.

"You like Bessie too?" Amelie asked, humming softly to the lyrics.

"She's my favorite," Hunter said, his voice low, mouth quirked into a sensual curve that made Corinne's pulse thump hard in her veins. He moved closer, coming around the front of her and caging her between his arms. He bent his head toward her ear and whispered for her alone,

"And this song has nothing to do with coffee grinders."

Corinne's face flamed, but it was a heat coiling lower on her anatomy that made her shudder against him as he let his mouth travel from beneath her earlobe to the sensitive hollow of her collarbone. She was vaguely aware of Amelie rising from her chair at the table. Hunter drew back only then, and Corinne took the chance to wrangle back her breath.

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