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Midnight Awakening (Chapter Seven)

He had pissed her off, probably hurt her, and even though an apology perched at the tip of his tongue most of the day, Tegan held it back. He had nothing to be sorry about, after all. He didn't owe the female anything, least of all explanations or excuses for why he came off like the callous bastard everyone knew him to be.

And he wasn't about to give so much as a second's consideration to her request that he help her bring her psychic gift to heel. She'd surprised him with the suggestion. The idea that any female, particularly a sheltered Darkhaven widow like her, would think to put herself in his care for any reason was beyond his comprehension. As if he could be trusted for something like that.

Yeah. Not fucking likely.

Elise made it easy for him to avoid the issue. In the hours since he'd shut her down, she hadn't uttered another word to him. She busied herself around the apartment, making up the futon, washing the breakfast dishes, dusting the bookshelves, going thirty minutes on the treadmill, and generally keeping as far away from him as seemed possible in the cramped quarters. He'd heard her in the shower a while ago and had allowed himself a few minutes' sleep where he sat on the floor, but the water was off now and he was awake, listening to Elise getting dressed behind the closed door. She came out in blue jeans and a hooded Harvard sweatshirt that fell halfway down her thighs. Her short blond hair was towel-dried and as shiny as gold, setting off the pale lavender of her eyes.

Eyes that slid to him in a chilly glare as she went to the closet in the hallway and pulled a white down vest off a hanger. She bent into the closet and took out a pair of tan suede boots.

What are you doing? Tegan asked her as she silently suited up for the outdoors.

I have to go out. She closed the closet door and zipped up the thick vest. You probably noticed my refrigerator is practically empty. I'm hungry. I need to eat, and I need to pick up a few things.

Tegan stood up, aware that he was scowling. The trance won't hold if you leave, you know.

Then I'll just have to try to manage without it.

Elise coolly walked over to the counter and picked up the MP3 player that lay there. She tucked the slim black case into the front pocket of her jeans, then threaded the earbuds under her sweatshirt and let them dangle down the front of her chest. She didn't pick up the blade that had been left on the counter from her Minion hunting of the night before, and Tegan didn't detect that she had any other weapons on her person either.

She wouldn't look at him as she pulled the hood of her sweatshirt up over her head. I don't know how long I'll be. If you leave before I get back, I'd appreciate it if you locked up. I have my keys.

Damn it. She might be hungry like she said, but he could tell by the rigid line of her spine that the female had a point to prove here.

Elise, he said, moving toward her as she reached for the apartment door. If he wanted to stop her, all it would take was a thought. He knew it, and by the look on her face as she turned to look at him now, so did she. I know you're angry about what I said earlier, but it's the truth. You're in no shape to go on like this.

When he took another step, concluding he might as well tell her that he'd decided to turn her over to the Darkhaven for her own safety, she closed her hand around the doorknob and sharply twisted it open.

She couldn't have chosen a more effective weapon against him.

Bright afternoon sunlight streamed in from the vestibule and hall, driving Tegan back with a hiss. He leaped out of the path of the searing daylight, and from under the shielding arm he held up over his eyes, he watched as Elise's pointed stare held him and she calmly strode out, closing the door behind her.

Elise took her time walking to the corner market and shopping for a few basic groceries. With a small bag of items in hand, she strolled up the sidewalk, away from her neighborhood block. The chill air was bracing against her cheeks, but she needed the cold to help clear her head.

Tegan had been right about his trance wearing off once she was gone from her apartment. Beneath the audial grate of electric guitars and screaming rock lyrics pouring into her ears from Camden's iPod, she could feel the hum of voices, the acid growl of human corruption and abuse that was her constant companion since she'd embarked on this dark journey beyond the sanctuary of the Darkhavens.

She had to admit, Tegan's psychic intervention had been a welcome gift. Even though he'd infuriated her–insulted her–the hours she'd spent cocooned within the trance he'd put her under had been so very needed. The break had given her a chance to think, to focus, and in her mind's calm, under the spray of a long, hot shower, she remembered a specific detail about the Minion she'd hunted yesterday.

He had been attempting to pick up an overnight package for the one he called Master. The Minion–Raines, she thought he'd said his name was–had been quite outraged to learn that the delivery had not arrived as expected. What could be so important to him? More to the point, what could be so important to the vampire who'd made the Minion?

Elise intended to find out.

She'd been itching to leave her apartment since the moment she recalled the intriguing detail, but a rather immense, rather arrogant Breed warrior stood in her way. As Tegan didn't think she had anything to contribute in the fight against the Rogues, Elise saw no reason to bother him with her information until she was certain what it might mean.

It took several minutes to reach the FedEx store near the train station. Elise loitered outside for a while, formulating a loose plan and waiting for the handful of customers inside to complete their transactions and leave. As the last one came toward the exit, Elise tugged her earbuds free and walked up to the counter. The clerk on duty was the same kid who had been working yesterday. He nodded a vague greeting at her as she approached, but thankfully he didn't seem to recognize her.

Can I help you?

Elise took a deep, calming breath, fighting hard to work through the cacophony that was building in her mind now that her crutch of blaring music was gone. She wouldn't have long before she was overwhelmed.

I need to pick up a package, please. It was due here yesterday but got delayed because of the storm.

Name?

Um, Raines, she replied, and attempted a smile.

The young man glanced up at her as he typed something on the computer. Yeah, it's in. Can I see some ID?

Excuse me?

Driver's license, credit card…gotta have signature and ID for the pickup.

I don't have any of those things. Not with me, I mean.

The clerk shook his head. Can't release without some form of ID. Sorry. It's policy and I can't afford to lose this job. No matter how bad it sucks.

Please, Elise said. This is very important. My…husband was here yesterday to pick it up, and he was very upset that it was delayed.

She weathered the clerk's answering rush of animosity toward the Minion. He was thinking of baseball bats, dark alleys, and broken bones. No offense, lady, but your husband is a dick.

Elise knew she looked anxious, but it would only serve her all the better at this moment. He's not going to be happy with me if I come home without that shipment today. Really, I must have it.

Not without ID. The kid looked at her for a long moment, then ran his palm over his chin and the little triangular growth of whiskers below his lower lip. Course if I happen to leave it on the counter and go back for a smoke break, there's a good chance that box might sprout legs and walk off while I'm gone. Shit does go missing from time to time…

Elise held the kid's cagey stare. You would do that?

Not for nothing, I won't. He glanced at the earbuds dangling from the collar of her sweatshirt. That the new model? The one with video?

Oh, this isn't…

Elise started to shake her head in refusal, ready to tell the clerk that the device belonged to her son and it wasn't hers to give away. Besides, she needed it, she thought desperately, even while reason told her she had the means to buy a hundred new ones. But this one was Camden's. Her only tangible link to him now, through the music he'd been listening to in the days–the hours, in fact– before he left home for the very last time.

Hey, whatever, the clerk said, shrugging now and pulling the box back off the counter. I shouldn't be messing around anyway–

Okay, Elise blurted before she could change her mind. Yes, okay. It's yours. You can have it.

She pulled the wires out from under her sweatshirt, then wound them around the iPod and set the sleek black case down in front of the clerk. It took her a while to remove her hand from the top of the device. When she did, it was with a wince of deep regret.

And rigid resolve.

I'll take the package now.

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