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Midnight Awakening (Chapter Nineteen)

Tegan managed to avoid her the entire next day. Elise didn't know where he'd gone the night before, or where he spent the hours before dusk, when the time of their appointment at the Enforcement Agency's containment facility drew near. He didn't speak to her–hardly did so much as look at her–the whole forty-five minutes in the car as Reichen's driver took the three of them south of the city to the location where the Odolf Rogue was housed.

The entrance was gated and manned by an automated security system. There was no sign to indicate what lay on the other side of the tall, solid iron gates, but it was clear from the high-voltage, fortresslike perimeter wall that whatever was held inside was meant to stay there. As the car approached, Elise saw a thin red stream of light sweep through the vehicle from one of the mounted electronic devices that flanked the entrance. A moment later, the wall of iron parted in front of them.

Reichen's driver eased the car inside, only to pause before another set of tall gates. A quartet of armed Breed guards approached from either side of the vehicle and opened the doors. Elise didn't miss Tegan's deep-throated growl as they all climbed out, practically held at gunpoint.

Another Breed male came forward now, having come out of a windowless door built into the interior gate of the complex. He looked serious and distinguished in his dark gray suit and black turtleneck, his reddish brown beard trimmed into a precise goatee. Madam Chase, he said, greeting her with a curt nod. Welcome. I am Heinrich Kuhn, director of this facility. If you are ready, we will escort you inside now. He looked to the two males with her, barely affording Tegan a glance. Your, er…companions may await you here, if you please.

Absolutely not. Tegan's deep voice, the first he'd spoken since leaving Reichen's estate, sliced through the air like a sword. Ignoring the sudden clack of shifting metal as the guards raised their weapons on him, he stepped toward Elise, placing himself between the facility head and her in an unmistakably protective stance. She's not going in there alone.

It will be perfectly safe, the director said, pointedly addressing Elise rather than Tegan, as if the warrior did not warrant a direct explanation. The patient will be restrained, of course, and he has also been sedated for his feeding, which should be finished any moment now. There will be no danger from him, I can assure–

I don't care if you have that suckhead bricked up behind ten feet of solid stone, Tegan snarled, his green eyes flashing. She doesn't go inside that Rogue holding tank without me.

Two of the guards flicked nervous glances at the director, as if they waited for his order to move in yet dreaded the idea of tangling with the Gen One warrior with a widely accepted lethal reputation.

And well they should hesitate. Elise had no doubt that if things escalated here, it was going to take a lot more than a Darkhaven-trained security detail to handle Tegan. Andreas Reichen seemed to understand that too, and the German evidently found the idea mildly amusing, smiling as he stood back and watched the suited civilian squirm. Madam, if you please, said the director in a patently false diplomatic tone. Facility visitations are rarely granted to anyone due to the stress it tends to cause the residents in treatment. At the pleasure of the Enforcement Agency's Chief Director, we have made an exception for you with this interview, but I am loath to think what the mere sight of a warrior inside the clinic could do to my patient's progress. You must be aware that his kind revels in agitating the afflicted among our race. We practice mercy here, not malice.

Tegan scoffed. I'm going in with her. It wasn't a question.

Even though he kept his narrowed gaze trained on the containment facility director, Elise knew that Tegan had already sized up the four guards and dismissed them as any kind of true threat. Underneath the long coat he wore, the warrior was also armed with a nasty-looking handgun and several deadly blades sheathed across his torso and at his hip. He made no move to reach for any of his weapons, but Elise knew from seeing him in action that it would take less than a second for him to turn the contained stretch of pavement into a blood-soaked graveyard.

I would like Tegan to accompany me inside, she said, taking control of the situation. She saw Tegan's eyes slide her way for an instant, before he turned his icy stare back on the director.

Madam, I really don't think–

Tegan comes with me. Elise removed her jacket and draped it over her arm. She smiled politely, but her gaze was as unwavering as her tone. I'm afraid I must insist, Director Kuhn.

Elise's handling of the self-important facility director was impressive. She knew Darkhaven and Enforcement Agency protocol and understood just how far she could bend both. Her station as Quentin Chase's widow brought her a lot of pull, which she didn't hesitate to put to use.

The fact that she'd sided with Tegan when she could have just as well left him to fight his way inside to interrogate the Odolf Rogue–and would have been within her rights to do just that, after how things ended between them last night– impressed him even more. Elise was cool under pressure, a consummate lady and a levelheaded tactician.

She was, he had to admit if only to himself, a damn valuable asset.

The fact that he could hardly take his eyes off her in the sexy, all-business navy trousers and crisp white blouse she wore only amplified his appreciation of her. The evidence of that rousing appreciation was a hard, heavy presence behind the zipper of his black fatigues as he left Reichen to wait behind with the driver and followed the graceful sway of Elise's hips through the second set of gates, toward the containment facility ahead.

Tegan ignored the gaping of the clinic employees he passed. He vaguely registered the hasty scrambling of civilian feet all around him– both the ones getting the hell out of his way and those few daring souls who came out from behind their monitoring stations or meeting-room doors to have a look at the dark, dangerous stranger stalking through their midst.

The facility director led Tegan and Elise deeper into the place, through one after another set of secured doors. Finally, they turned down a long concrete hallway and stopped in front of a heavy steel door marked Treatment Center. The director punched a code into a wall-mounted keypad, then put his face in front of a scanner and waited as a light took a quick read of his retinas. This way, he said, sniffing almost imperceptibly down the length of his nose as he held the door open for Elise and Tegan to enter yet another hallway.

The space inside was dimly lit and quiet except for intermittent moans and feral-sounding growls not quite masked by the soft classical music piped in through overhead speakers. Closed doors lined either side of the hallway, some with small windows that looked in over the room's occupant. A few of the rooms were empty, but others held Rogues in various stages of consciousness, all of them strapped into full body restraints. Heavy steel bars equipped with electronic locks held the doors closed, sealing the patients inside their rooms.

Tegan glanced into one of the windows as he passed, taking in the pathetic sight of a drooling, blood-addicted Breed vampire, its limp body stuffed into a soiled white jumpsuit, head shaved bald and still sporting tiny contact pads from a recent bout of electroshock therapy. The Rogue's fiery amber eyes were at half-mast, rolled back into its skull from whatever sedative it had been given.

So, this is the Darkhavens' version of Betty Ford, eh? Tegan gave a humorless chuckle. And you people have the balls to say the Order has no mercy.

Elise shot him a quelling look, but Kuhn ignored the jab completely. He walked them toward the last of the holding cells, pausing to enter an access code. As the admittance light blinked green above the door, the director said, Since the feeding is still under way, we will have to wait in the observation room until they finish. It should only be another few minutes.

Tegan followed Elise inside the vestibule, and was there to hold her steady as she physically recoiled the instant she got her first glimpse of the procedure taking place on the other side of the shaded one-way glass.

Good Lord, she gasped, one hand coming up to her mouth.

In the adjacent room, the Rogue named Petrov Odolf was strapped down on a custom- rigged examination table like a specimen under a scope. He was naked except for the multiple sets of thick metal clamps that held him at each limb, around the torso and neck, and across the width of his brow. His shaved head was wrapped in a leather-and-wire-mesh mask that held his jaw and massive fangs stationary for the tube that was running fresh blood into his mouth from the Host who had the unpleasant task of feeding him. The Rogue had pissed himself at some point during the procedure, leaving a puddle of urine beneath the table that only added to the degradation of the whole thing.

And then there was the woman.

Tegan exhaled a ripe curse as his gaze followed the blood-filled tube running from the Rogue's mouth to the inner forearm of a young woman lying on another exam table a few feet away from him. Garbed in a white clinic jumpsuit without sleeves, she lay very still on her back, calmly in fact, but her freckled cheeks were stained with tears.

You sent a female in there with that beast?

She's his Breedmate, Kuhn replied. They'd been together for many years before he succumbed to Bloodlust and turned Rogue. She's been coming in every week to feed him, and to take her own nourishment from him as well. She must keep her own health and longevity in order to continue to care for him. Truly, he's lucky to have her devotion. Most of our other patients have no Breedmate to look after them, so they must be fed from human donors.

Elise inched closer to the glass now, obviously as transfixed by what she was seeing as she was repulsed. How do you find those other donors, Director Kuhn?

He shrugged when she glanced back at him over her shoulder. We never have to look far. University students willing to join medical studies for a little money, prostitutes, the homeless…drug addicts, if we're desperate.

Well, shit, Tegan drawled, full of sarcasm. This is a real class operation you got here.

No harm done to anyone, generally speaking, Kuhn said with an annoyed smile. The procedures are very closely monitored and none of our recruited Hosts maintain a single memory afterward. We simply return them to their lives with a little cash in their pocket that they wouldn't have had otherwise. A little time spent here is the best thing to happen to some of the unfortunates we collect as donors.

Tegan was ready to spit a cutting remark at the pompous Darkhaven male, but it had been less than twenty-four hours since he himself had been hunting for blood on Berlin's darkened streets. He'd killed, even though he could justify it with the knowledge that there was one less human criminal around to violate a defenseless woman. But that didn't make him a saint by any stretch. At heart, all of the Breed were self-serving, ruthless predators. Some just attempted to hide the fact behind sterile white walls and a fleet of clinical equipment.

There now, the facility director announced when a small beep sounded on the console near the viewing window. The feeding procedure is complete. As soon as the patient is alone and resting, we can go in.

They waited as Odolf was disconnected from his feeding tube. The vampire fought the removal, his insatiable blood addiction making him snap and growl behind the wire-mesh face mask as the attendants cut off his supply. He struggled against his body restraints, but the effort was sluggish and ineffective, no doubt from the sedatives Kuhn had mentioned earlier.

The Rogue's dermaglyphs were still seething from deep purples to red to black, the colors of ferocious hunger traveling along the pattern of markings that ran up his bare chest and over his shoulders.

His huge fangs flashed bone white with his sudden roar of protest. His pupils were fixed into vertical slits, the irises throwing off a blast of amber light every time he tried to raise his big head up off the table. Even though he was drugged, the taste of blood had inflamed him to the point of madness–as it did all Rogues.

Tegan ought to know. He'd lived a similar thirsting, angry as hell himself. He hadn't progressed as far Rogue as this male, thankfully, but he'd come damn close. Seeing this blood- addicted male up close was a strong reminder of what those dark months Tegan had fought to shake off his own weakness had been like.

As Petrov Odolf rattled his bonds in futility, his Breedmate got up off the table beside him and cautiously approached where he lay. She kept her hands at her sides, even though it was clear from the anguish in her eyes that she longed to touch her mate. She said something too quiet to be heard over the cell's audio monitors, then she turned away and walked toward the door of the observation room, wiping tears from her freckled cheeks. Kuhn opened the door for her, and she seemed startled to see that she'd had an audience. Her face flamed red, and her downcast gaze said it was in shame. Pardon me, she murmured, trying to make a beeline for the outside hallway.

Are you all right? Elise asked gently.

The Breedmate gave a wobbly nod. A sob hitched in her throat, broken and raw. Will you excuse me, please?

This way, Director Kuhn said as the Rogue's female slipped out of their company and headed down the corridor. I can permit you no more than ten minutes with him, Madam Chase. And I must reiterate that I think it best if the warrior–

Actually, Elise said, her voice full of confident authority, I would like Tegan to conduct the interview without me.

Wha–Without you? Kuhn's brows crashed together furiously. That was not the term of our arrangement at all.

It is now. I'm not about to let that poor woman leave here in such a state of distress, she said, then glanced at Tegan. Tegan will speak with Petrov Odolf. I trust him in this, Director Kuhn, and you can too.

She didn't wait to hear the facility head sputter his disagreement, just strode out of the observation room and went after Odolf 's distraught Breedmate like a guided missile in a designer suit and stilettos.

Tegan was tempted to smile, but instead he turned a flat gaze on Kuhn.

After you, he said, daring the director to try to keep him out of that containment cell.

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