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Midnight Awakening (Chapter Twenty)

Elise found the Breedmate just a short way down the corridor. The woman was seated on a cushioned bench, her face pressed into her hands. She was weeping quietly, but her contained sobs shook her entire body.

I'm very sorry, Elise murmured, unsure if she should intrude on such a private moment, yet too moved by what she had seen to simply let the Breedmate suffer alone. She fished a small package of tissues out of her bag and held them out as she walked closer to the female. Would you like these?

Red-rimmed light brown eyes lifted to meet Elise's gaze. Yes, thank you. I always think I'll be strong for him, but it's so hard. It never gets easier, seeing him like he is.

Of course, Elise said, taking a seat beside her. I'm Elise, by the way.

Irina, she answered softly. Petrov is my mate.

Yes, I know. The facility director told us.

She glanced down as she took out one of the folded tissues. You're from America?

Boston.

So far away. Director Kuhn informed me that some people were coming to see my mate, but he couldn't tell me why. What is it that you want with Petrov?

We just need to ask him some questions, Irina. That's all.

There was a worried glint in the female's sidelong look. That male you're with–he's not Darkhaven Breed. No. Tegan is one of the Order. He's a warrior.

A warrior? Irina went visibly rigid, her brow creasing. But Petrov has hurt no one. He is a good man. He has done nothing wrong–

It's all right, Elise assured her, placing her hand over the anxious woman's trembling fingers. Tegan is not here to harm him, I promise you. Only to talk to him.

About what?

We need some information about your mate's family line. We need to talk to him, and see if he recognizes a particular dermaglyphic symbol.

Irina sighed and gave a small shake of her head. He hardly recognizes me anymore. I don't think he will be much help to you.

Elise smiled, sympathetic. We have to try. It's very important.

You give me your word that no harm will come to him?

Yes. I give you my word, Irina.

The Breedmate stared at Elise for a long moment, those warm brown eyes searching, pining the truth. Yes, she said at last. I believe you. I trust what you are telling me.

Elise squeezed the woman's hand. How long have you and Petrov been blood-bonded?

It will be fifty-seven years this summer. There was pride in the statement, and love. But sadness crept into her voice as she went on. He has been in this…this place…for the last three of those years.

I'm very sorry, Elise said.

I thought he would be stronger than the weakness that plagued his father and his brothers– I thought my love might be enough, you know? But he was haunted by demons I never understood. Three years ago, in the weeks before I lost him to his disease, he was a different man.

How so? Elise asked the question carefully, not wanting to pry into what had been such a painful time for the woman.

He changed in so many ways after his older brother went Rogue and died. I think maybe Petrov knew the day was coming that he would fall too. It was as if a terrible burden had been heaped upon him. He withdrew from everything–from me as well. He became secretive, writing for hours in his study, only to burn his papers to a cinder. I managed to retrieve a page, but it was filled with nonsense, just a lot of crazed ramblings that he couldn't–or wouldn't–explain to me. She shrugged, her head hung low. Petrov started going on feeding binges late at night, while I slept. He went quite mad in time. He attacked me one night in a fit of Bloodlust, and I realized it was time for us to part.

It must have been so difficult for you, Irina.

Yes, she whispered. Bloodlust is a terribly seductive thing. I know Petrov will never come home. They rarely do come home from this place. But still, I hope.

The Breedmate waved her hand as a fresh round of tears welled in her eyes. Listen to me going on like this. I need to change out of this awful feeding garment and get myself home. Thank you for talking to me. And thank you for these, she said, pulling out another tissue and dabbing her moist eyes.

You're very welcome.

Elise stood with Irina, and gave her a brief hug as the other woman gathered herself to leave. Once she was gone, Elise walked back up the corridor to Petrov Odolf 's containment cell. Tegan was just coming out, and he didn't look pleased. Director Kuhn was right behind him, sputtering something about ensuring the patient's comfort and perfectly acceptable doses.

What's going on?

Tegan raked a hand over his scalp. Odolf is so medicated he's practically catatonic. We won't get anything out of him in this condition.

Additional sedatives are always required for a feeding procedure, for the safety of the patient and his blood Host, Kuhn declared, indignant.

And the other half a dozen drugs you've pumped into him? Tegan challenged.

Just our normal protocol for making certain our patients are comfortable at all times.

You weren't able to talk to him at all? Elise asked, ignoring Kuhn's bluster to focus on Tegan.

A minute after I got in there, he was barely conscious. We've got shit so far.

Then we'll come back tomorrow. Elise turned to the facility head. I'm sure Director Kuhn can see to it that he's more lucid when we return. Won't you, Director?

To reduce a patient's medication is an enormous risk. We won't be responsible for any harm that comes to either of you if that is your request.

Elise glanced to Tegan, who gave her a nod of agreement. That's fine. Expect us tomorrow evening at this time, and have Petrov Odolf awake and clearheaded when we arrive.

Kuhn's mouth went tight, but he inclined his head in compliance. As you wish, madam.

Although Tegan was quiet, she felt his eyes on her the entire time as they left the treatment center and were escorted back out to where Reichen's car and driver waited. Whatever had passed between them last night in the boathouse, and the heavy awareness that had remained in the hours since, was still present now. Just being near him, her body thrummed with a disquieting heat.

She knew part of it was the link she shared with him through his blood, but there was another part of her that responded to him as well. It was that latter part–the elemental, feminine stirring– that troubled her the most, because after the way he'd left her last night, it seemed that she was alone in her desire.

Tegan was stoic and silent with her, stepping aside as Reichen's driver opened the back door of the Rolls-Royce to her as they approached the car. She glanced into the vehicle as she began to climb inside and was surprised to find it empty.

Where is Andreas?

The driver gave a polite little bow of his bald head. With regrets, madam, he was called away briefly to attend a personal matter in the city. He asked that I contact him once you and the gentleman had completed your meeting here. We'll go retrieve him now.

Oh. All right, Klaus. Thank you.

Elise slid into the private passenger area of the luxurious sedan limousine. Tegan followed, seating himself across from her, one muscled arm slung over the back of the sumptuous leather bench seat. His thighs were spread indecently wide as he slouched back and stared at her under a hank of his thick tawny hair. He was considering her in that maddening silence of his, those bright green eyes fixed on her for so long she could hardly bear the weight of his unreadable scrutiny.

The few minutes it took to reach the center of Berlin felt like an hour. And even worse, the farther they drove into the heart of all that humanity, Elise's temples began to pound with the incoming chatter of hundreds of dark thoughts and ugly voices hissing their corrupt impulses into her ears. She turned her face toward the tinted glass of the car window, feeling the crush of her psychic gift squeezing all the air out of the vehicle.

Lord, just let the drive be over soon. All she wanted was to crawl into bed and put the past few nights behind her.

…handled it well.

Tegan's deep voice roused her out of her mounting panic. She'd been so distracted, she hadn't realized he'd finally started speaking to her. I'm sorry?

Back there at the containment facility. You were good, the way you handled Kuhn…and all the rest of it. I'm impressed.

The praise warmed her, mostly because she knew how rare it was, coming from Tegan. He wasn't the type to coddle, or to dole out kind words unless he meant them. I wish we'd had better luck with Odolf.

We'll get what we need from him tomorrow.

I hope so.

Idly, she rubbed at her throbbing temple, a move Tegan followed with his eyes. Are you all right?

Fine, she said, wincing a bit as the car stopped at a traffic light in the center of a crowded intersection downtown. Pedestrians crossed in front of them, a thick knot of people whose thoughts rattled Elise's head like a long roll of thunder. I'll be fine once we're out of the city.

Tegan stared at her.

You need more blood, he said, not sounding very happy about the idea. After so long without, feeding just one time isn't going to hold you. I'm okay, she insisted, wishing it were true. I'm not going to take anything more from you, Tegan.

I wasn't offering.

Humiliation flooded her at his grim statement of fact. You weren't offering that first time either, were you? I forced your hand that night at the compound, Tegan. I'm sorry.

Forget it. I'll live.

Well, he certainly closed the door on that subject. Actually, he seemed preoccupied and edgy, even more than usual. Elise had seen how appalled Tegan had been by the containment facility's practices.

She'd also seen the way he'd looked at Petrov Odolf, restrained and feverish from the Bloodlust that had robbed him of his sanity and, probably, his soul. Tegan, who was normally so detached and unmovable, had felt a degree of sympathy for the Rogue being held in that cell. Incredibly, it had seemed as though Tegan might even relate to the vampire's pitiful condition.

Elise could hardly imagine that, seeing how rigidly the warrior clung to his self-control. Or maybe he held on so tightly because he knew what it was like to lose his grasp…

She might have pondered that in more depth, but a fresh wave of nausea assailed her as another large group of people filed past the car while it waited for the light.

In a fluid move, Tegan came over onto the seat next to her. Come here. I'll trance you.

No. She drew away from him, not wanting any of his pity. No, I need to deal with this myself. It's my problem, like you've said. I want to manage it on my own.

Thankfully the vehicle was moving again, turning a corner onto a side street off the exclusive main thoroughfare with its bright boutique lights and milling crowds. It was better here, but still a struggle to hold it together under the constant battering of her mind. Her mind was like a broken radio receiver, intercepting only the worst feeds, bombarding her with countless inputs until the cacophony seemed to consume her.

Find one that you can focus on, Tegan said from beside her. His breath was warm, his fingers tender but commanding as he took hold of her hand. His thumb swept over her skin, gentling her. Grounding her. All you need is one, Elise. One voice that you can deal with on its own. Separate it from the others. Let the rest go. Let them fall away.

His deep voice was almost hypnotic, coaching her further into the pain of her gift so that she could learn to harness it. With eyes closed, she followed his direction, sifting through the terrible din to find something she could grasp ahold of. Slowly, bit by bit, she peeled away the worst of the voices in her mind until she heard one that hurt the least.

Focus on the one, Tegan murmured, still holding her hand, still guiding her with his words and the protective warmth of his touch. Pull one voice closer, even as the others begin to drift around you. They can't touch you. You're stronger than your gift, Elise. Your power is in you, in your own will.

She felt everything he was saying. She knew it was true. With his fingers wrapped around hers, his voice a low purr near her ear, she believed that she was strong. She believed that she could do this…

Feel your strength, Elise, Tegan coached her. There is no panic here, only calm. Your gift does not own you…you are in control. And so she was, she realized only now– knowing that what Tegan was showing her was just a glimmer of the control she was capable of. He was opening a door in her subconscious, and wherever it was that her Breedmate gift originated within her, Tegan was guiding her inside that place, letting her see the power of her own potential.

It was a revelation. Her temples still pounded from the onslaught of psychic pain, but it was a dull, manageable throb now that she was focusing, honing her skill. She wanted to keep working it, to keep pushing herself, but the exercise was also exhausting. The one voice she clung to began to slip out of her grasp, blending back into the din.

Outside her body and her mind, she felt the car slow to a stop. Footsteps approached, two pairs of them, joined by the efficient shuffle of the driver's quick gait as he ran around the vehicle to get the door.

As soon as it opened, Tegan's touch was gone.

Elise blinked, lifting her gaze to find Reichen outside the car, giving a beautiful raven- haired woman a brief kiss on the mouth. She was wrapped in a silvery fur coat–and from what Elise could tell, little else beneath it. On the side of her graceful throat was a pink bloom of color, only a fading rosebud mark to indicate the place where Reichen had no doubt fed from her just a short while ago.

A pleasure as always, my darling Helene, he said as the two of them parted. You spoil me so well.

Evidently the Darkhaven male's personal business was of a very personal nature.

The woman's glossy mouth curved into a catlike smile at his charm. She didn't wait at the car for him to leave, but pivoted on staggeringly tall silver stiletto heels and sauntered back into a red, unmarked door of the building where Reichen's car sat idling.

My thanks for the curb service, the German said as he crawled into the limousine and took a seat opposite Tegan and Elise. Not to imply I don't enjoy your company, but I rather hoped you might be longer at your appointment. You finished quickly.

Tegan smirked. So did you, from the looks of it.

Reichen chuckled, unabashed as he lounged back in the seat and the car took off. He smelled like expensive perfume, blood, and sex. Not that he cared, Elise thought as she considered him. His broad, sated grin said he couldn't be in a happier, more familiar state.

Andreas Reichen was a very attractive male, mysterious and sophisticated, but even his smoldering sensuality paled next to Tegan's raw appeal. Elise practically burned from the heat of Tegan's thigh where it pressed unassumingly against hers. His head was tilted down, eyes hooded beneath the thick fringe of his eyelashes.

He kept his arms crossed over his chest now, and she missed the warm feel of his touch. She craved it, especially as the limousine navigated through the busy city streets and her Breedmate gift continued to buffet her senses. Instead she tried to use the brief lesson he'd given her, taking what he'd shown her and wielding it against the crush of her psychic pain.

More than anything, she wanted to grab Tegan's hand again and feel his calming strength.

But he only put a measure of distance between them. He moved away from her on the seat, a subtle shift of his thigh that left a gap of space in its place. When they arrived a short while later at the lakeshore Darkhaven, Tegan leaped out of the car almost as soon as Klaus slowed to a stop on the front driveway.

I have to report in to the compound, he said, keeping his gaze averted. He stalked off before either Elise or Reichen could get out of the car.

All business, that one, Reichen remarked with a shake of his head. May I get you something to eat in the house, Elise? You must be hungry.

She was famished, actually, having last eaten around noon. That would be lovely, thank you.

Elise let Reichen help her out of the vehicle, and took his proffered arm as they walked up to the main entrance of the estate. But all the while, her thoughts were fixed on Tegan, and on quelling the strong–evidently onesided–desire he stirred in her.

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