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Kiss of Crimson (Chapter Twenty-eight)

Chase stepped over the body of a dead human male that lay just outside the first-floor apartment door, the television blaring from inside the living room. The old man had been mauled by Rogues, at least one of which still remained in the building. Chase climbed the stairs to Ben Sullivan's apartment in utter silence, his thighs pumping, senses tuned to his surroundings. He held the Beretta in both hands up near his right shoulder, the safety off, barrel tipped up toward the ceiling. He could have the weapon leveled and firing off titanium rounds in a fraction of a second. For the Rogue moving carelessly around in the apartment at the top of the stairs, death was imminent.

Reaching the last step, Chase paused in the hallway adjacent to the open unit door. Through the crack beside the jamb, he saw that the place had been sacked. The Rogues who'd come there were looking for something–definitely not Ben Sullivan himself, unless they expected to find him hiding in one of the dozens of drawers and file boxes that had been upended inside the apartment. He saw a flash of movement from within and drew back just as a Rogue came out of the kitchen with a butcher knife and began slicing into the cushions of the recliner, tearing the thing apart.

With the toe of his boot, Chase eased the door open wide enough for him to slip through, then he cautiously entered the unit, his 9mm trained on the Rogue from behind. The vampire's frenzied search made him oblivious to the threat creeping up on him until Chase stood not two feet away, the barrel of the gun dropped level with the center of the Rogue's head.

Chase could have fired in that instant, probably should have. All of his training and logic told him to pull the trigger and release one of those custom-made titanium rounds into the back of the Rogue's skull, but instinct made him hesitate.

In a fraction of a second, his mind took a visual inventory of the vampire before him. He noted the tall, athletic build, the civilian clothes… the shadow of youthful innocence hidden beneath the filthy sweatshirt and jeans, the greasy, unkempt hair. He was looking at a junkie, there was no doubt about that. The Rogue smelled of sour blood and sweat–hallmarks of a vampire lost to Bloodlust.

But this addict was no stranger.

"Jesus," Chase whispered, low under his breath. "Camden?"

The Rogue went utterly still at the sound of Chase's voice. His shoulders came up, shaggy head began to pivot to the side, cocked at an exaggerated angle. Through bared teeth and fangs, he grunted, sniffing at the air. His gaze wasn't totally visible, but Chase could see that his nephew's eyes were bright amber, glowing from out of his sallow face.

"Cam, it's me. It's your uncle. Put down the knife, son."

If he understood, Camden gave no indication. Nor did he let go of the huge butcher knife gripped in his hand. He started to turn around, slowly, like an animal suddenly made aware that it was cornered.

"It's all over," Chase told him. "You're safe now. I'm here to help you." Even as he said the words, Chase wondered if he truly meant them. He lowered his pistol but kept the safety off, every muscle in his arm taut, his finger hovering over the trigger. Apprehension wormed up his spine, as cold as the night breeze floating through the apartment from the open door and sliders. Chase, too, felt cornered here, uncertain of his nephew and himself.

"Camden, your mother is very worried about you. She wants you to come home. Can you do that for her, son?"

A long moment ticked off in wary silence as Chase watched his brother's only offspring pivot around to face him. Chase wasn't prepared for what he saw. He tried to keep his expression schooled, but bile rose in his throat as he took in the bloodstained, ragged appearance of the kid who not a couple of weeks ago had been joking and laughing with his friends, a golden child whose future had been so full of promise.

Chase could find no sign of that hope in the feral male looming before him now, his clothing soiled from the slaughter he'd taken part in downstairs, the knife from the kitchen gripped at the ready in his hand. His pupils were fixed and narrow, mere slivers of black in the center of his vacant amber gaze.

"Cam, please… let me know that you're in there somewhere."

Chase's palms began to sweat. His right arm started coming up of its own accord, slowly raising the weapon. The Rogue grunted, legs moving into a crouch. The feral gaze flicked from side to side, calculating, deciding. Chase didn't know if the impulse running through Camden in that moment was fight or flight. He brought the 9mm higher, and higher still, his finger trembling on the trigger.

"Ah, fuck… this is no good. No goddamn good."

With a bleak sigh, he arced the pistol's barrel straight up in the air and shot a round into the ceiling. The crack of gunfire echoed sharply, and Camden jolted into action, leaping across the room to escape. He ran past Chase toward the open sliders. Without so much as a backward glance, he vaulted over the balcony and dropped out of sight.

Chase sagged on his feet, an oppressive mixture of relief and regret pouring over him. He'd found his nephew, but he'd just let a Rogue go back onto the streets.

When he finally lifted his head and glanced to the open doorway of the apartment, he found Tegan standing there, watching him with a keen, knowing gaze. The warrior may not have seen him release the Rogue, but he knew. That flat, emotionless green stare seemed to know everything.

"I couldn't do it," Chase murmured, shaking his head as he looked down at the discharged weapon. " He's my kin, and I just… couldn't."

Tegan said nothing for a long moment, measuring him in the silence. "We have to go now," he said evenly. "The woman is in bad shape. Dante's waiting with her in the car."

Chase nodded, then followed the warrior out of the building.

His pulse still throbbing with fear and rage, Dante arranged Tess in the backseat of the Rover, her head and shoulders cradled in his arms, his jacket covering her to keep her warm. He had torn off his shirt and cut it into strips, wrapping makeshift bandages around the wound at her wrist and the more severe laceration in her neck. She lay so still against him, her weight so slight. He looked down at her face, grateful that the Rogues' attack had not gone so far as to strike her or torture her, as their diseased kind was wont to do with their prey. They hadn't raped her, and that was an enormous blessing too, given their savage, animal natures. But the Rogues had taken her blood–a great deal of it. If Dante hadn't found her when he did, they might have drained her completely.

He shuddered, cold to his bones at the thought. Seeing her lying there, her eyelids closed in unconsciousness, her skin pale and cool, Dante knew the one sure way to help her. She needed blood to replace what she had lost. Not the medical transfusions her human sisters would require, but blood given from one of the Breed.

He had already forced one half of the blood bond on her, the night he took her blood to save himself. Could he be so callous as to shackle her with the completion of that bond while she had nothing to say about it? The only other choice was to stand by and watch her die in his arms.

Unacceptable, even if she might hate him for giving her a life that would link her to him by unbreakable chains. She deserved so much more than what he had to give her.

"Damn it, Tess. I'm sorry. It's the only way."

He brought his wrist up to his mouth and scored a vertical gash with the razor edge of his long fangs. Blood swelled to the surface, running in a rivulet down his bare arm. He was vaguely aware of urgent footsteps approaching the SUV as he lifted Tess's head in preparation of feeding her.

The front doors opened and Tegan and Chase got in. Tegan glanced into the back, his gaze lighting on Tess's arm–on her limp right hand, which had slipped out from under the cover of Dante's jacket. The hand that bore the teardrop-and-crescent-moon mark. The warrior's eyes narrowed, then came up to Dante's in question as much as caution.

"She's a Breedmate."

"I know what she is," Dante told his brother-in-arms. He didn't even attempt to mask the grave concern in his voice. "Drive, Tegan. Get us to the compound as fast as you can."

As the warrior threw the Rover into gear and gunned it, Dante placed his wrist against Tess's slack lips and watched as his blood trickled into her mouth.

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