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Midnight Awakening (Chapter Five)

This is it. Hang a left up here at the stop sign, Nikolai said from the backseat of the Order's black SUV. He was busy reloading the weapons that he and the two new warrior recruits accompanying him tonight had put to good use on the city's east side. The custom rounds he'd made were his favorite Rogue-blasting numbers–kick- ass hollowpoints filled with powdered titanium. One taste of that metal meant certain death to the blood-addicted members of the vampire race. Niko slapped the clip into the tricked-out Beretta 92FS he'd converted to full auto, then shoved the weapon into its holster under his coat.

Park behind that piece of shit pickup truck, he told the warrior doing the driving. This part of Revere was tight with houses and run-down businesses, thick clusters of humanity clinging to the outskirts of Boston and a briny stretch of the Chelsea River. We'll hoof it the rest of the way. Go in nice and quiet so we can get a good look around.

You got it. Brock, a towering nightmare of a fighter recruited out of Detroit, was as smooth behind the wheel as he was with the ladies. He swept the vehicle over to the side of the snowy curb and killed the engine.

Next to Brock in the front seat, Niko's other trainee pivoted around and held out his hand for the refreshed weapon. Kade's wolflike silver eyes were still glowing from the night's earlier action, his black hair spiky and wet with melted snow. Think we're gonna find something out here?

Niko grinned. I sure as hell hope so. He handed pistols and fresh clips to both of them, then pulled a couple of silencers out of the leather duffel bag at his feet and slapped them into the warriors' palms. When Brock arched a brow on his dark forehead, Niko said, I'm all for cooking a bunch of Rogues with some 9mm high-test, but there's no need to wake the neighbors.

Nah, Kade added, flashing the tips of his pearly white fangs, that would be just plain rude.

Nikolai grabbed the rest of his gear and zipped the duffel shut. Let's go sniff around for some Crimson.

They climbed out of the Range Rover and skirted the residential area on foot, all three of them keeping to the shadows as they navigated back to the old warehouse lot where Niko's tip had led them.

The building looked like shit from the outside–a 1970s industrial eyesore of concrete, wood, and glass. Steel posts from what had once been part of a chain-link fence poked out of the perimeter lot at various angles, not a single one of them straight, not that it mattered. The place had a derelict, keep-out quality about it, even amid the snowglobe flurries that were filling the night sky.

Niko and the guys stepped onto the loose gravel of the empty lot, their boot heels cushioned by the fresh fall of snow. As they neared the building, Niko spotted a dark ash trail on the ground. The large, irregular shape was still visible, still smoldering and hissing as the delicate white flakes fell on it and melted on contact. He gestured to the pile of disintegrating remains as Brock and Kade came closer.

Someone smoked a Rogue, he told them, his voice low as a whisper. Still fresh too.

Gideon hadn't mentioned sending in backup, so they'd be wise to be cautious of what else they might find. Rogues were basically savages, and it wasn't unheard of that they took one another out over turf or petty disagreements. It was all good as far as the Order was concerned; saved the warriors time and effort when the Bloodlusting bastards lost their cool and offed their own.

Another suckhead had taken a lethal hit of titanium near the entrance of the building. A large padlock lay in the cellular goo, and Brock motioned toward the battered steel door. It was slightly ajar, just a thin wedge of darkness behind it.

Kade shot Niko a look of question, waiting for the signal to act.

Nikolai shook his head, uncertain.

Something wasn't right here.

He heard a faint rumble from somewhere deep inside the place, a rumble he felt as a slight vibration in the soles of his feet. On the night's soft chill, he caught a whiff of something sweetly cloying, chemical. It was…kerosene?

The rumble got deeper, stronger. Like gathering thunder.

What the fuck is that? Kade hissed.

Niko smelled the tang of hot metal–

Oh, shit. He glanced at the other two warriors. Go! Move it! Go, go, go!

They all sprang into a dead run, hauling ass across the lot as the rumble became a roar. There was a deep percussion–sharp, violent–as the explosion erupted from within the bowels of the old building. Glass blew out from the top floor windows, shooting flames and thick black smoke in its wake.

And as the three of them watched in awe, the front door of the place banged open, tearing clean off its hinges. Not by the force of the blast, but by the will of a single inpidual.

Rolling orange fire silhouetted him from behind, backlighting the warrior's broad shoulders and casual, long-legged stride. As he strolled away from the inferno, the ends of his loose black coat winged out behind him like a cape befitting the prince of darkness himself.

Holy hell, Brock murmured. Tegan.

Niko shook his head, chuckling at the blatant awe in the newbies' faces. Not that it wasn't deserved. They didn't come much more impressive than Tegan, and this display was going to go down as legend, he was sure. Behind him now, the warehouse was engulfed in flames, throwing off heat like hell's own furnace. It was incredible, really, a thing of roaring, violent beauty. By the blas? flatness of Tegan's expression as he approached, he might as well have just come back from taking a piss.

Everything good in there, T? Niko quipped. You need backup or anything? Bag of marshmallows to roast over that little campfire you just started?

It's handled.

No shit, Niko replied, he and the other two warriors watching sparks erupt from the burning warehouse, a plume of fire reaching high into the night sky.

Tegan strode past them as cool as could be, giving neither excuse nor explanation. But then it was always that way with him. He was the ghost you never saw coming, death breathing down your neck before you even realized you were in the crosshairs.

He was never less than thorough in combat, but the annihilation he'd delivered to the Crimson lab was beyond anything Niko had ever seen the warrior do before. Based on the intel he had on this place, it was probably manned by half a dozen Rogues–all of them dead at Tegan's hand and a building that would be nothing but smoldering rubble in a couple of hours. If Niko didn't know better, he'd be tempted to call it personal. Glad we could be of assistance to you, man, Niko called after him, exhaling a wry curse.

Damn, that dude is cold, Brock remarked as Tegan disappeared into the darkness and the scattering flurry of snow.

He's ice, Niko said, glad as hell that the Gen One warrior was on their side. Come on, let's roll before the place starts swarming with humans.

Tegan walked back into the city alone, the scream of sirens wailing in the distance behind him. He didn't have to turn around to know that a fiery glow lit the night down near the Chelsea. He smirked into the darkness. No matter how much water the Revere FD threw on the old warehouse, there would be no saving it. Tegan had made sure there would be nothing left once the smoke finally cleared. He'd wanted the place torched, with a ferocity he hadn't felt in years.

Shit, it had been more than years since he'd known the kind of savagery that ran through his veins tonight. Centuries was more like it.

And the kicker was, it had felt damned good.

Tegan flexed his hands in the wintry bite of the evening air. He was still able to feel the pain he'd delivered on the Rogues tonight–the delicious horror that swamped the hearts of each one he had killed in the Crimson lab. He'd indulged in their anguish as the titanium sped through their blood, cooking them from the inside out.

Where he'd long ago learned to disengage his own emotions, the psychic power he possessed was beyond his control. Like all of the Breed, he had, in addition to the vampiric traits of his father, certain unique extrasensory abilities passed down from the human female who bore him. For Tegan, he had only to brush against another inpidual–be it human or vampire–and he knew what they were feeling. Touch someone, and he absorbed the emotions into himself, feeding from the connection like a leech to an open wound.

The gift had been both weapon and curse to him throughout his life; now it was his private vice. He used it as infrequently as possible, but when he did, it was with deliberate, sadistic relish. Better that he siphon enjoyment out of others' pain and fear than let his own feelings rise up to rule him as they had before.

But tonight he'd felt the kindling of some inner satisfaction as he dealt death to the Rogues and the couple of Minions who'd evidently been recruited to continue the manufacture of Crimson. And after none of them were left breathing, the concrete floor of the old warehouse running red with blood and stinking with the cellular meltdown of the Rogues he'd offed with blades and bullets, Tegan had needed something more.

For reasons he had no interest in examining even now, he had stood in the center of the carnage he'd wrought, wanting nothing less than complete obliteration.

Fire and cinder, smoldering rubble. He had wanted the Crimson lab erased from existence, nothing but a scar of black ash on the empty lot where it stood.

And whether he wanted to acknowledge it or not, he knew that his want for destruction had more than a passing connection to Elise. It had been her face he'd seen in his mind as he lit the place up. It had been the thought of her grief that made him savor each of the Rogue deaths he delivered tonight.

Shoving his hands into the pockets of his coat, Tegan headed against the wind and cut down a South End side alley. He wasn't sure where he was going, although he supposed he should have known. He recognized Elise's shitty neighborhood even before he turned onto the street that would eventually dump him onto her block.

Tegan still couldn't fathom her living in such squalid conditions. As the widow of a high- ranking Breed government official, Elise had to be more than financially set. She could have lived in any of the Darkhavens, wanting for nothing, whether or not she chose to take a new mate. That she had chosen to leave her old life to exist topside among basic humankind was surprising. She'd seemed so sheltered and fragile when he met her some four months ago. He couldn't have been more shocked to find her earlier tonight, awash in Minion blood and armed like one of the Order.

But for all her defiance and resolve, Tegan had not missed Elise's weariness. She'd appeared bone-tired and exhausted, in a way that seemed to go deeper than just plain fatigue. He supposed that was why he found himself outside her apartment again now.

He wasn't about to go to the front door. It was late, she was probably asleep, and so long as it was dark outside, his priority one was the Order.

When he rightly should have kept on walking, Tegan instead slipped between Elise's building and the one next to it, heading around to the back. The interior of her first-floor unit appeared dark as pitch from outside, but the acoustic foam covering the windows would have blocked out nearly any light. Even with the soundproofing in place, Tegan could hear the heavy bass of her stereo and the competing chatter of the TV. He ran a hand through his snow-dampened hair, then pivoted around and paced three long strides into the strip of backyard behind the place.

Forget about her and just walk away. Yeah, that was damn well what he should do, all right. Put the heartbroken, beautiful female with the apparent death wish out of his head and walk the fuck away.

Except…

He crept closer to the building, scowling at the blocked glass of the windows. He didn't hear anything other than music and television noise, but that was the thing that pricked his warrior's senses onto alert.

That, and the faint tickle of a blood scent coming from within the apartment. Elise's blood. His nose registered a subtle heather-and-roses sweetness that could only be the Breedmate inside. She was bleeding–perhaps not a lot by the trace scent of it, but it was impossible to tell much with brick and glass and three-inch-thick foam in the way.

Tegan opened the sash lock on the window with his mind–the second time he'd perpetrated a B&E on her place in one night–and lifted the heavy pane from outside. There was no screen, and it took all of a second to push away the acoustic panel and peer inside.

There were no lights on, but his vision was even sharper in the dark. Elise was there, on the futon, curled up in a tight, fetal ball, and still wearing the white terry robe from her shower several hours ago. Her arms were wrapped around her head in a protective cage, the short crown of silky blond hair mashed and spiked in complete disarray from her sleep.

She didn't even stir as Tegan hoisted himself over the windowsill and swung himself inside, although he moved in silence and the audio racket in her place was deafening. Tegan willed the stereo and television to mute–and that's when she suddenly shot straight up, not quite awake but jolted into a semiconscious panic.

It's okay, Elise. You're all right.

She didn't seem to hear him. Her lavender eyes were wide, but out of focus, and not just from the lack of light in the apartment. She moaned as if in pain and flopped off the futon in a clumsy sprawl, her hands casting about frantically for the remote near her feet. She grappled for the device and began pushing the buttons in a frenzy. Come on, turn on, damn it, turn on!

Elise. Tegan walked over to her and knelt down beside her. He scented more blood on her and when he lifted her chin with the edge of his hand, he saw that her nose was bleeding. Scarlet droplets stained the bright white lapel of her bathrobe, some fresh, and some from an earlier bleed. Jesus…

Turn it on! she howled, then she glanced over and saw the open window, the loose acoustic foam hanging askew. Oh, God. Who moved that panel? Who would do something like that!

She pushed herself to her feet and hurried over to repair the breach, slamming the window closed and throwing the lock. Her hands moved restlessly over the soundproofing as she tried to wedge the material back into place over the glass.

"Elise."

No response, just a deepening sense of anxiety radiating out from her petite form under the white terry robe. With a keening moan, Elise gripped her temples in both hands and slowly sank to the floor below the window, as if her legs just gave out beneath her. Huddled tight on her folded knees, she leaned forward, rocking herself back and forth.

Make it stop, she whispered brokenly. Please…just…make it stop. Tegan approached her slowly, not wanting to upset her any further. With a curse, he crouched down, and carefully put his hand on the delicate arch of her spine. Fingers spanned wide, his senses open to the connection, Elise's pain shot into him like an electrical current.

He felt the splintering agony of the migraine that gripped her, felt the hard thud of her heartbeat ringing in his ears as if it were his own. He tasted acid on his tongue, his teeth aching from the force with which she clenched her jaw to combat the torment that was riding her.

And he heard the voices.

Nasty, corrosive, terrible voices that were traveling on the air around them, silent to all but the psychically sensitive Breedmate crumpled before him on the floor.

In his mind–through the connection he held with Elise–Tegan registered the belittling argument of a couple down the hall. Across the way, a man was lusting for his own daughter. In the apartment above Elise's, a junkie was shooting a month's worth of child support into her vein while her hungry baby wailed, utterly ignored, in the other room.

Every negative, destructive human thought and experience within a radius Tegan could only guess at seemed to home in on Elise's mind, pecking away at her like vultures on carrion.

It was hell on Earth, and Elise was living it every waking moment. Maybe even while she was asleep. Now he understood the foam panels and the audio racket. She'd been trying to drown out the input with other noise–the stereo, television, and even the MP3 player that lay in a tangle of wires on the kitchen counter.

She was deluding herself if she thought she could cope like this in the human world. To say nothing of the insanity of her intent to pursue vengeance on the Rogues and their Minions.

Please, she murmured, her soft voice vibrating against his open palm, I need it to stop now.

Tegan broke the contact and expelled a curse through gritted teeth.

This was no good. He couldn't leave her like this. He should turn her over to the Darkhavens. Maybe he would. But right now she needed relief from the pain she was feeling. Even he wasn't cold enough to sit back and watch her suffer.

It's okay, he said. Relax now, Elise. You're okay.

He gathered her up into his arms and carried her back to the futon. She was so light, too light, he thought. Elise was a petite woman, but she felt as weightless as a child against his chest. When was the last time she'd fed? Holding her this close, Tegan couldn't help noticing the sharp angle of her cheekbones, the frailty of her jawline.

She needed blood. A good dose of Breed red cells would give her strength and quiet some of her psychic pain, though far be it from Tegan to volunteer. Elise was a Breedmate, one of those rare human females born genetically compatible with members of the vampire race. Feeding her from his vein would revitalize her in many ways, but putting his blood into her body would also create an unbreakable bond between them. That kind of link was reserved for mated pairs, the most sacred of Breed vows. Only death could break a blood bond, so there were few among the race who approached it lightly, or out of charity.

Elise was widowed, and the several years she'd obviously gone without a male's blood–not to mention the damage she was inflicting on herself every day she lived among humankind–were starting to take a heavy toll on her. Tegan carefully laid her down on the bulky futon mattress.

He was slow and easy as he stretched out her lean legs and arranged her in what he hoped was a comfortable sleeping position. The terry- cloth robe she had on gaped from thigh to sternum, the belt at her waist having come undone and hanging loosely. He had to work to pull the ends of the sash out from under her, all the while trying his damnedest not to notice the wedge of creamy white skin that was exposed to him in the process. It was impossible to pretend he was blind to the feminine curves, or to the buoyant swell of her small, perfect breasts. But it was the sudden flash of a gorgeous thigh that sucked most of the air out of Tegan's lungs.

There, on the inner side of her right leg, was the tiny teardrop-and-crescent-moon birthmark that all Breedmates bore somewhere on their bodies. Elise's rested at the most tempting part of her thigh, just beneath the downy triangle of her sex.

Ah, fuck. Tegan reeled back, saliva surging into his mouth at the instant, swelling urge to taste that sweet spot.

Off limits, man, he told himself harshly. And way the hell out of your league.

His movements were quick now, his breath sawing past the tips of his emerging fangs as he tugged the ends of her robe around the nakedness of her body. Her nose had begun to bleed again from her migraine. The trickle of bright scarlet smudged the soft white skin of her cheek. He dabbed away the blood with the hem of his black tee-shirt, trying to ignore the sweet fragrance that called to everything in him that was Breed. Her fluttering pulse was like a drumbeat in his ears, the rapid little ticking of her carotid drawing his eyes to the graceful line of her neck.

Damn, he thought, mentally wrenching his gaze away. His own appetite sharpened just to be near her. He hungered now, fiercely, even though it hadn't been that long since his last hunt. Not that the street-weary, foul humans he took his nourishment from could compare to the tender beauty spread out before him now.

Elise winced behind her closed eyelids, moaning softly, still in pain. She was so vulnerable right now, so defenseless against the psychic anguish.

And at the moment, he was all she had.

Tegan reached out to her and smoothed his fingers over her cool, damp forehead. He gently pressed his palm over her closed eyes.

Sleep, he told her, putting her in a light trance.

When her breathing slowed to something close to normal, and the tension eased out of her body, Tegan sat back and watched her slide into a calm, restful slumber.

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