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Midnight Awakening (Chapter Nine)

As the last few minutes of day passed into dusk, Tegan gathered up the book and his weapons, then reached for his dark coat. Elise had spent the past hour or more–since the moment she'd handed the FedEx package over to him–watching him pore intensely over every page of the text while she worked up the nerve to ask him again about helping her become more involved in the war against the Rogues. Now, as he shrugged into the black leather trench coat, she sensed it was her final chance.

Tegan…I hope the book proves useful.

It will. Striking green eyes flicked to her, but she could see that his mind was churning on the new information in his hands. He blinked and it was as if he had dismissed her entirely now, was itching to get away from her. You have the Order's gratitude for this.

What about yours?

Mine? When he paused, scowling, Elise said, It's not so much to ask, is it? You're the only one who can help me deal with this…flaw of mine. Teach me how to mute it, how not to feel. I can be an asset to you and to the Order. I want to help.

His answering look scathed her with its sharp edge. I work alone. And you don't know what you're asking for. Besides, we've already covered this ground.

I can learn. I want to learn. Please, Tegan. I need to learn.

And you think I'm the one to help you?

I think you're my only hope.

He scoffed at that, shaking his head. When he moved away from her, Elise marched toward him, undaunted, as if she could physically keep him from leaving. She caught herself a mere hairbreadth from contact, and let her hand fall to her side. Don't you think I'd go to someone else–anyone else–if I could?

He was silent for a moment, considering, she hoped. But then he exhaled a curse and reached for the door. I gave you my answer.

And I gave you that journal. That's worth something, isn't it?

He barked out a cutting laugh and whirled back on her. You seem to think we're negotiating here. We are not.

If that book contains insight into current dealings with the Rogues, I'm sure the Darkhavens would be just as interested in it as you are. All it would take is a single call to any of my husband's Enforcement Agency connections and I could have the Order's compound swamped with agents within the hour.

It was true. Quentin's rank within the Agency had been at the highest level, and as his widow, Elise's own political status was considerable. She personally knew a great deal of influential Darkhaven inpiduals. Quentin's name alone would open ten times as many doors if she felt the need to use it.

Tegan didn't need her to explain that fact. Anger flared in his normally icy gaze, the first hint of emotion she'd seen in him.

Now you're threatening me. His brittle chuckle put a knot of fear in her throat. Female, I give you fair warning: you are playing with fire.

Elise's skin went tight with anxiety, but she couldn't back down. For too long, she had been kept in a neat little box, coddled and protected. And if it meant stoking the temper of a warrior–even a lethal Gen One like Tegan–in order to help her break out of that box, then she would simply have to brave it and pray she would come out the other side in one piece.

Whether you approve or not, I am part of this war. I didn't go looking for it; the Rogues brought it to my door when Camden died. All I'm asking is that you show me how to be more effective. I should think the Order would welcome any allies they can get.

This isn't about the Order and you know it. This is about revenge, an eye for an eye. Your emotions have been on a hard boil ever since you watched your Rogue son get smoked in front of your eyes.

Tegan's harsh words cut into her like glass, the reality of what he said like acid poured into the wounds.

It's about justice, she told him sharply. I need to make this right! Damn it, Tegan, do I have to beg you?

She shouldn't have touched him. She'd been so desperate to make her point that before she could stop herself, she had reached out and put her hand on his arm. Tegan's hard muscles flexed beneath her fingertips, going as tense as the expression on his unreadable face.

He didn't snatch his arm away from her touch, but his cold green eyes flicked past her to the stereo that was playing in the background. It went silent on his mental command. In the resulting quiet, the dark stirrings of Elise's psychic talent began to wake.

Voices swelled in her mind, and from the piercing glint of Tegan's gaze, which fixed on her now in stony, watchful purpose, she knew that he was reading every nuance of her distress. He was absorbing it, she realized, feeling him siphon in her reaction through the point where their skin touched.

Elise fought the awful storm that battered her mind, but the voices were growing louder. She nearly staggered from the obscenity and corruption that filled her head.

Tegan merely watched her as he might study an insect under glass.

Damn him, but he was enjoying this, driving home his point with each passing second of emotional assault that she tried to endure. As their eyes locked, Elise began to understand that he was somehow controlling the painful barrage that was beating at her skull. He was amplifying the input in much the same way that he was able to mute the music and television.

My God, she gasped. You are so cruel.

He didn't even try to deny it. Expressionless, maddeningly stoic, he broke contact with her and stood in silent contemplation as she backed away from him, more wounded than she cared to let him see.

Lesson number one, he murmured coldly. Don't count on me for anything. I will only let you down. He was a prick and a bastard, but it would have been less than honest of him to let Elise think any differently. Leaving her looking at him from across the small apartment, her gaze stung and despising, Tegan headed out into the hallway to make his escape.

Maybe he should feel guilty for treating her so roughly but he frankly didn't need the hassle. And she was far better off looking to someone else for whatever she needed. He hoped to hell she would.

With the book held against him under his coat, Tegan's pace was brisk as he walked out into the dark night. Curiosity made him cut along a side street, then up onto the one that would take him past the FedEx store. Elise's description of the Minion and all that had transpired there had been informative, but part of him wondered if he'd find out anything more if he went by and questioned the clerk himself.

Not a hundred feet from the place, he realized he wasn't the only one interested in checking things out, and he'd gotten there too late.

Tegan smelled fresh spilled blood. A lot of it. The store was dark inside, but Tegan could see the motionless body of a clerk lying behind the counter. The Rogues had already been there. On a closed-circuit monitor in the corner, a single frame from a video feed was frozen onscreen. It was a blurry but recognizable shot of Elise, caught in mid-motion, the package in her hands.

Damn it.

And right about now, the Rogues who'd been there were no doubt scouring the area looking for her.

Tegan turned around and hauled ass back to her apartment building, using all the preternatural speed at his disposal. He banged on her door, cursing the blare of music likely drowning him out.

Elise! Open the door.

He was just about to throw the locks and barge inside when he heard her on the other side. She opened the door only a crack, glaring at him. Before she could tell him to fuck off like he deserved, he pushed her back inside with the bulk of his body and slammed the door shut.

Get your coat and boots. Now.

What?

Do it!

She flinched at his barked command, but she held her ground. If you think I'm going to let you send me back–

Rogues, Elise. He saw no reason to pretty the situation up for her. They just killed the clerk at the FedEx store. Now they're looking for you. We don't have much time. Get your things.

She blanched white at the news, but blinked at him like she didn't quite trust him–which made good sense, since he'd given her no reason to think she could. Especially after what he did to her not a few minutes ago.

I have to get you out of here, he told her when she hesitated another second. Now.

She nodded, grave acceptance in the pale amethyst of her eyes. Okay.

It took her no time to grab a wool coat and shove her feet into a pair of boots. On her way to the door with him, she suddenly doubled back. Wait. I'm going to need a weapon.

Tegan took two strides in and caught her by the wrist. I'll protect you. Come on.

They hurried out of the apartment–only to find a Rogue peering through the glass of the building entrance, its feral eyes glowing amber as it locked on to them in the narrow hallway. It curled back bloodstained lips and snarled something over its thick shoulder, no doubt calling in reinforcements from the street.

Oh, my God, Elise gasped. Tegan–

Get back inside. He pushed the book he was carrying into her hands and shoved her back toward her apartment. Stay in there until I come for you. Bolt the door.

She obeyed him at once, her footsteps retreating fast, the door shutting tight as the Rogue outside shouldered his way into the building. Another followed, both suckheads leering psychotically through their elongated fangs, both big vampires armed for bear.

They started coming for him, and Tegan went on the offensive, springing from his stance near Elise's door. He plowed into the one in front, driving that Rogue into the one behind him. The Rogue who would have been at the bottom of the pile feinted left at the last second, dodging the fall as Tegan took his companion down in a killing grip.

The commotion brought one of the building's residents into the hallway, but the human took one look at the confrontation and wisely decided to butt out. Oh, shit! he squeaked, then immediately spun back into his unit, slammed the door, and threw all the locks.

Totally unfazed, Tegan pounced fast and hard on the Rogue he held on the floor, ripping one of his blades across the suckhead's throat. It roared and sputtered under the swift poison of the dagger's titanium edge, oozing gore as its body began a rapid meltdown.

Your turn, Tegan told the other one as it attempted to scramble out of the way.

The vampire threw its arm out, swiping at Tegan with its blade, but it was a careless move, even for a Rogue. When it had the chance to come at him, it hesitated, started inching to the side, drawing things out. Distracting him, Tegan realized in that next instant, when he heard the sudden crash of breaking glass coming from Elise's apartment.

Son of a bitch, he growled as the female's scream shot through the walls.

The Rogue chose that second to fly at him, but Tegan was ready for the attack. He leaped out of the suckhead's path, landing in a low crouch behind it and coming up fast with his blade. He skewered the bastard in a split-second's move and was gunning for Elise's door before the dead bulk of the Rogue hit the floor.

Using mental will and brute force, Tegan smashed the apartment door off its hinges and stormed inside. Elise was on the floor, facedown, her spine trapped beneath the heavy boot of the Rogue who'd come in through the window. She held the journal tight to her chest, protecting it with her body.

Jesus Christ.

She'd been cut somehow in the struggle; a gash on her upper arm was bright red, slick with fresh blood. And the scent and sight of it had sent her Rogue attacker into a slavering fit of Bloodlust. Instead of going for the book, which the trio had no doubt been dispatched to do, the Rogue on Elise seemed rooted on just one thing–slaking its unquenchable thirst.

Tegan! she cried as her stricken gaze lit on him. She started scrambling to push the journal out from under her now, like she meant to pass it to him even though her life was hanging in the balance. Don't let them have it. Take the book, Tegan!

Fuck that, he thought, his temples pounding with the need to spill more Rogue blood. He went after the suckhead on Elise, knocking the Rogue off with a fierce strike of his mind. Without touching the bastard, using only his will and a flaring, savage anger, Tegan threw the Rogue against the far wall and held him there, two-hundred-and-fifty pounds of thrashing, feral vampire suspended three feet off the ground.

He saw the hunger in the Rogue's eyes, those slitted pupils fixed on Elise, even though Tegan was tightening his mental hold around the suckhead's throat, killing him by degrees. The long fangs were dripping saliva, the mind inside the huge skull no longer capable of any thought besides feeding the thirst. Tegan despised this element of his kind–knew it better than most, enough to know that extermination was the only solution for vampires lost to the disease.

But it wasn't duty or cool logic that made him draw his blade and drive it into the Rogue's heart. It was the heather-and-roses scent of Elise's spilled blood, the bitter tang of her fear, which clung to the air like a mist. This bastard had injured her, an innocent female, and that was something Tegan could not abide.

He let the dead Rogue crumble to the floor, instantly forgotten.

Are you all right? he asked Elise, turning to see her coming to her feet behind him.

She nodded. I'm okay.

Then let's get out of here.

As they hit the street, Tegan flipped his cell phone open and speed-dialed the compound. I need pickup, he told Gideon when the warrior came on the line. Send it fast.

There was a fractional hesitation, no doubt because Tegan, ever the loner, never called for backup. You hit? Nah, I'm good. But I'm not alone. He glanced at Elise's wound and ground out a curse. I'm with a female from the Darkhaven. She's bleeding, and I just smoked three Rogues downtown. Got a feeling there's going to be more real quick.

And if so, he and Elise might be able to shake their pursuers temporarily, but so long as they were leaving a blood scent trail, the Rogues would track them like hounds.

Ah, shit, Gideon breathed, understanding that fact the same as Tegan did. Where are you at right now?

Still running, Elise hurrying alongside him, Tegan gave his location and the direction he was heading.

Yep, I got ya right here, Gideon said over a clacking rush in the background as he typed something on a keyboard at the compound. Tracking GPS on the others now to see who's closest…Okay, looks like Dante and Chase are on patrol just north of you about fifteen minutes out.

Tell them they'd better get here in five. And, Gideon?

Yeah.

Let them know that the injured female who's with me…let them know it's Elise.

Fuck, T. You serious? Gideon's voice dropped low, incredulous. What the hell are you doing with that female?

Tegan heard the edge of wary suspicion in the vampire's tone, but he ignored it. Just tell Dante to haul ass.

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