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Midnight Awakening (Chapter Four)

Tegan threw the last of Elise's hunting souvenirs into an isolated stretch of the Charles River and watched as the dark water rippled out and the cell phone vanished into the drink. Like all the rest that he and the other warriors had confiscated on their patrols, the encrypted cell phones would be of no use to the Order. And he sure as hell wasn't about to leave them with Elise, GPS chips disabled or not.

Christ, he could not believe what the woman had been up to. Even more incredible was the fact that she'd been carrying out her lunatic vendetta for what had to be weeks, maybe even months. Obviously her brother-by-marriage had no idea, or the by-the-book ex?Darkhaven Enforcement Agent would have put a swift stop to it. Everyone in the Order knew that Sterling Chase had once had feelings for his brother's widow– probably still did. Not that it was any of Tegan's business. Nor was Elise's apparent death wish.

Shoving his hands into the pockets of his unbuttoned coat, Tegan stalked back to the street, his breath rolling between his lips in a cloud of misting steam. It was snowing again in Boston. A blustery curtain of fine white flakes fell onto a city already frozen from weeks of an unusually frigid winter. Tegan knew it had to be pushing single digits with the windchill, but he didn't feel the cold. He could hardly remember the last time he'd felt discomfort of any kind. Longer still, the last time he'd felt pleasure.

Hell, when was the last time he'd felt anything at all?

He remembered pain.

He remembered loss, the anger that had once consumed him…long, long ago.

He remembered Sorcha and how much he'd loved her. How sweetly innocent she was and how completely she had trusted him to keep her safe and protected.

God, how he'd failed her. He would never forget what had been done to her, how savagely she'd been abused. To survive the blow of her death, he had learned to detach from his grief, from his raw fury. But he could never forget. Would never forgive.

More than five hundred years of slaying Rogues, and he wasn't even close to calling things square.

He'd seen some of that same grief and fury in Elise's eyes tonight. Something she cherished had been taken from her, and she wanted justice. What she would get was death. If her dealings with the Rogues and their human mind slaves didn't kill her, the weakness of her body surely would. She had tried to hide her fatigue from him, but Tegan hadn't missed it. The weariness he saw in her went deeper than mere physical need, although he could tell from a glance at her gaunt frame that she'd been neglecting herself since she'd left the Darkhaven–maybe longer than that. And what was the deal with all that acoustical foam nailed to the walls of her place?

Shit. Whatever.

It really was none of his concern, he reminded himself as he hoofed it toward the secret compound that housed the Order, just outside the city. The brick-and-limestone mansion and its multi-acred estate were surrounded by tall, high- voltage fencing and a massive iron gate rigged with cameras and laser-tripped, motion-sensor alarms. Not that anyone had ever come close to breaking in.

Very few of the entire Breed population knew the precise location, and those who did were well aware the property was held by the Order and were wise enough to stay away unless expressly invited. As for humankind, fourteen thousand volts of electricity was enough to discourage the curious from getting too close; those of the stupider variety woke up parboiled from a taste of the juice or nursing a killer hangover from a thorough mind scrub delivered by the warriors–neither one of those options being particularly pleasant. But they were effective.

Tegan keyed his access code into the concealed security panel near the gate, then slipped inside as the heavy iron parted to let him in.

Once admitted, he veered off the long, paved drive and let the wooded grounds envelop him. Up ahead some few hundred feet, he could see the faint glow of the mansion's lights through the thick cover of snow-dusted pines. Even though the Order's true headquarters were housed in a subterranean compound beneath the Gothic manse, it wasn't unusual to find one or more of the warriors and their mates using the house in the evenings for dinners or entertaining.

But whoever was there tonight wasn't enjoying any kind of pleasant recreation.

As Tegan neared the building, he heard a fierce animal roar, followed by the crash of shattering glass.

What the–

Another loud crash sounded, more violent than the first, coming from the mansion's opulent foyer. Like something–or somebody–big was tearing the place apart. Tegan leaped up the marble steps to the front door and threw open the aged slab of black-lacquered wood, a blade gripped hard in his hand. As he stepped inside, his boots crunched in a chaos of broken porcelain and glass.

Jesus, he muttered, taking in the source of the destruction.

One of the warriors stood at an antique sideboard in the center of the tiled entryway, his scarred olive-dark hands braced on the carved edges of the piece as if that was all that kept him upright. He was soaking wet and naked from the waist up, wearing only loose-fitting gray cotton sweats that looked like they'd been yanked on just seconds before. His dark head hung low, long espresso-brown waves sleek with water and drooping over his face. The dermaglyphs that tracked up his bare chest and over his shoulders were livid with color, the intricate pattern of Breed skin markings pulsing with furious life.

Tegan brought his weapon down, the blade concealed by his hand until he'd sheathed it again. How we doing, Rio?

The warrior grunted low in the back of his throat, less acknowledgment than aftershock of his rage. Water sluiced off him to pool around his bare feet and the scattered shards of a priceless Limoges bowl he'd swept off the sideboard. Polished glass littered the surface of the mahogany cabinet; above, the wall mirror and its ornate gilt frame were smashed to bits by the bloodied knuckles of Rio's right hand.

Doing some late-night home improvements, my man? Tegan walked closer to him, keeping his eyes trained on the tight coil of the warrior's bulk. For what it's worth, I never had any use for that froufrou French shit either.

Rio exhaled a rough, shuddering breath, then swiveled his head to look at Tegan. Topaz eyes still held a trace of glowing amber; the light from them sliced through the dark fall of his hair, throwing off the heat of a lingering madness. The bone-white glint of fangs shone behind the vampire's parted lips as he dragged in air through his teeth.

Tegan knew it wasn't Bloodlust that called up the warrior's savage side. It was fury. And remorse. The gunmetal tang of it filled the air, pouring off Rio in heated waves. I might have killed her, he rasped in a voice that was sharp gravel and anguish, not the Spaniard's usual rolling baritone. Had to get out of there, pronto. Something inside me just fucking…snapped. He sucked in air around a feral-sounding snarl. Shit, Tegan…I wanted to– needed to–hurt somebody.

Someone else might have known a current of alarm at those words, but Tegan absorbed them with calm observation, narrowing his eyes on the burn-scarred, shrapnel-ruined left side of Rio's face that wasn't quite concealed by the wet spikes of his hair. There wasn't much left of the handsome, sophisticated male who'd once been the most laid- back member of the Order, always quick with a joke or an easy smile. The explosion he'd survived last summer had taken most of his looks; the revelation that his own Breedmate, Eva, had betrayed him into the deadly ambush had taken away everything else.

Madre de Dios, Rio whispered roughly. No one should be near me. I'm losing my goddamn mind! What if I…Cristo, what if I did something to her? Tegan, what if I hurt her?

Alarm tripped Tegan's senses. The warrior wasn't talking about Eva. She'd died by her own hand the day her treachery had been discovered. The only other female who had any regular contact with Rio now was Tess, Dante's Breedmate. Since her arrival at the compound a few months ago, Tess had been working with Rio, using her healing touch to mend what she could of his broken body and trying to help him rehabilitate from both the physical and the mental wreckage left in the wake of his ordeal.

Ah, fuck.

If the warrior had harmed her, accidentally or not, there would be some serious hell to pay. Dante loved his woman with an intensity that had surprised everyone at the compound. Once the reckless bad boy, Dante was wrapped around Tess's slender finger and didn't care who knew it. He'd kill Rio with his bare hands if anything happened to his mate.

Tegan hissed a curse. What did you do, Rio? Where is Tess now?

Rio gave a miserable shake of his head and gestured vaguely toward the back wing of the sprawling mansion. Tegan was about to take off in that direction when urgent footsteps sounded on the long corridor that led from the general area of the estate's indoor pool. The soft smack of a light, barefoot gait drew nearer, followed by a female's voice raised in concern.

Rio? Rio, where are y–

Tess rounded the corner in a squeaking skid, wearing black workout pants over a wet baby- blue tank swimsuit. The look was pure sports therapy business, but any male with eyes in his head and red blood in his veins would be crazy not to notice how beautifully she filled out all that nylon and Lycra. Her honey-brown hair was swept back in a long ponytail, the ends damp and curling from the pool. Peach-polished toenails stopped dead at the edge of the field of broken porcelain in the foyer.

Oh, my God. Rio…are you all right?

He's okay, Tegan told her flatly. What about you?

Tess's hand went up reflexively to her neck, but she nodded her head. I'm fine. Rio, look at me, please. It's okay. You can see that I'm perfectly fine.

But something had gone down a few minutes ago; that much was obvious. What happened? We had some setbacks in today's session, nothing major.

Tell him what I did to you, Rio muttered. Tell him how I blacked out in the pool and came to only to find my hands wrapped around your throat.

Jesus. Tegan scowled, and now that Tess moved her fingers away from her neck he could see the fading outline of a bruising grip. You sure you're all right?

She nodded. He didn't mean it, and he let go the instant he realized what he was doing. I'm fine, really. He will be too. You know that, right, Rio?

Tess cautiously stepped forward, avoiding the shards at her feet yet keeping a healthy distance from Tegan like he was more of a threat to her general safety than the feral wreck that was Rio.

Tegan wasn't offended. He preferred his solitary existence and worked hard to maintain it. He watched Tess move slowly toward Rio's stiff stance at the sideboard.

She gently placed her hand on the warrior's scarred shoulder. Tomorrow will be better, I'm sure. Every day there are small improvements.

I'm not getting better, Rio muttered, in what could have sounded like self-pity but seemed more a bleak understanding. He shook off Tess's touch with a snarl. I should be put down. It would be a blessing…to everyone, especially me. I am useless. This body–my mind–it's all fucking useless!

Rio slammed his fist down on the sideboard, rattling the broken mirror glass and putting a tremor in the two-hundred-year-old mahogany beneath it.

Tess flinched, but there was an unwavering resolve in her blue-green eyes. You are not useless. Healing takes time, that's all. You can't give up.

Rio growled something nasty under his breath, his hooded eyes throwing off amber light in warning. But not even a half-mad vampire's ferocious bluster was going to dissuade Tess from helping him if she could. No doubt she'd seen this sort of snarling behavior before from Rio–and possibly even her own mate–and hadn't run away in terror.

Tegan watched Tess stand firm, calm, steady, tenacious. It wasn't hard to imagine why Dante adored her so much. But Tegan could see that Rio was in a particularly unstable, volatile state. He may not mean anyone harm–least of all, Tess, whose extraordinary healing skills had nursed him out of near psychosis–but rage and anguish made for one powerful emotional cocktail. Tegan knew that fact firsthand; he'd lived it once, long ago. Add to that the lingering aftereffects of a traumatic brain injury like Rio had suffered, and the warrior was a lit powder keg just waiting to go off.

Let me, Tegan said when Tess started to move toward Rio again. I'll take him down to the compound. I'm heading below anyway.

She gave him a wary smile. Okay, thanks.

Tegan approached Rio with deliberate movements and carefully guided him away from the female and out of the field of debris around their feet. The big male's steps were heavy, lacking the grace that used to come so naturally to him. Rio leaned heavily on Tegan's shoulder and arm, his bare chest heaving with every deep breath he hauled into his lungs.

That's it, nice and easy, Tegan coached him. We good now, amigo?

The dark head bobbed awkwardly. Tegan glanced to Tess as she knelt down and began collecting the shattered glass and porcelain from the foyer tiles. Have you seen Chase around tonight?

Not for a while, she said. He and Dante are still out on patrol.

Tegan smirked. Four months ago, the two males had been ready to tear out each other's throats. They'd been tossed together by Lucan as unwilling partners when Darkhaven agent Sterling Chase showed up at the compound with info about a dangerous club drug called Crimson and to solicit help from the Order in getting the shit off the streets. Now he and Dante were almost inseparable in the field, had been ever since Chase left the Darkhavens and came on board officially as a member of the Order. The pair of them are a regular Mutt and Jeff, eh?

Tess's eyes held a trace of humor as she looked up from the mess in front of her. More like Larry and Curly, if you ask me.

Tegan exhaled a wry laugh as he steered Rio into the hallway. He brought him to the mansion's elevator, walked him inside, then pushed the code to begin the journey down to the underground headquarters of the Order.

After dropping Rio off in the warrior's compound apartments, Tegan headed back to the tech lab to check in. Gideon was at his post, as usual, the blond vampire rolling back and forth on a wheeled office chair, working his magic on no less than four computers at the same time. A wireless cell phone headset curled around his ear and he was giving a string of coordinates over the small mic that arced toward his cheek.

The consummate multitasker, Gideon looked up as Tegan entered the lab, gestured him over, and brought up a set of satellite stills on one of the monitors. Niko's got a possible lead on that Crimson lab, he informed Tegan, then went back to his conversation as his fingers flew over the keyboard of another machine. Right. I'm running a check right now.

Tegan stared at the images Gideon had called up on the screen. Some were known Rogue lairs–most of them former lairs, due to the efforts of the Order–and others showed Rogues and Minions coming and going from various locations in and around the city. One face caught Tegan's eye more than the rest. It was the human Crimson dealer, Ben Sullivan.

Although Dante had taken the bastard out last November, the whereabouts of his manufacturing lab were yet unknown. Problems with the drug had simmered down in the months since the Order got involved, but so long as the Rogues possessed the means to manufacture more of the shit, the threat of a resurgence in Crimson use among the Breed still existed.

Hold up. I'm getting a match on a location out in Revere, Gideon was saying now. Yeah, whaddaya know, I think it's a legit lead. You guys wanna do a drive-by down by the Chelsea River, see what you find?

Tegan zeroed in on the photo of Ben Sullivan's grinning, busted-up face. The human had killed a lot of young vampires with his drug, including Camden Chase, Elise's teenage son. If not for Crimson, that kid would never have turned Rogue and had to be put down. And a gently bred female like Elise wouldn't be holed up in that slum apartment downtown, out of her head with grief and anger, and hell-bent on some maternal brand of vengeance that was probably going to get her killed too. A weight settled on Tegan as he considered all the bloodshed, the centuries he and the others like him had been fighting this battle against the savage side of the Breed. There were peaks and lulls, of course, times of relative peace, but the unrest was always there, burrowed deep within the race. Festering and corrupting.

It's fucking never going to end, is it?

Sorry?

Tegan didn't realize he'd spoken until he glanced over and saw Gideon looking at him over the rims of his pale blue shades. Tegan shook his head. Nothing.

He stalked away from the computers, his thoughts gone dark and churning as Gideon swung back to his monitors and sent his fingers clacking over a keyboard. Another satellite image filled the screen, this one showing an old industrial lot not far from the riverfront.

Tegan knew the location. He didn't need anything more.

Yeah, Niko, Gideon said into the mouthpiece. Right. Sounds good. If things look hot over there, yell for backup. Dante and Chase are less than an hour away and Tegan's right…here…

But Tegan wasn't there anymore.

He was stalking purposefully up the corridor outside the tech lab now, where he heard Gideon's voice trail off as the lab's glass door hissed shut.

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