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Midnight Awakening (Chapter Twenty-five)

The rest of that day passed in a blur of tactics and information gathering. At sundown, Reichen had sent a couple of his associates out to Irina Odolf 's residence. The report had come back that the Minion was gone, evidently on his own motor, even though Elise had certainly slowed the bastard down based on the amount of blood he'd left at the scene.

Armed with her description of him, Reichen was already in town looking for possible leads. Tegan hoped like hell they located the Minion son of a bitch because he was looking forward to finishing what Elise had started.

As for her, as much as Tegan might have liked to have kept Elise in his arms–or, better still, naked in his bed–he knew it was a path that would only lead him deeper into complicated territory. Instead, he had turned his attention to the journal they'd intercepted from Marek, and the stash of letters Elise had recovered from Petrov Odolf 's belongings.

Both contained instances of the same peculiar phrases:

castle and croft shall come

together under the crescent moon

to the borderlands east turn

your eye

at the cross lies truth

It was a riddle of some sort, but what it meant–if it meant anything at all–remained to be seen.

Petrov Odolf didn't seem to understand it either, despite the fact that his Breedmate said he'd been scribbling those very words compulsively in the time leading up to his turning Rogue. Like his brother before him had as well.

And like who it was that once owned the old journal with Dragos's dermaglyphic symbol scribbled onto its pages.

Now Tegan stood across the containment cell from Petrov Odolf, eyeing the restrained Rogue with precious little patience. He and Elise had been at the facility for the past hour, getting exactly nowhere in their continued round of questioning with Odolf.

His medication had been reduced, so at least the Rogue was conscious, but he was far from lucid. Strapped into a free-standing, vertical steel- mesh body cage, his muscular arms bound down at his sides, feet shackled together, Petrov Odolf looked every bit the dangerous beast he was. His big head sagged down on his chest, glowing amber eyes shifting back and forth across the cell without focus. He snorted and grunted through his elongated fangs, then began another round of futile struggle against his restraints.

Tell us what it means, Tegan said, talking over the racket of clanging metal and mindless animal snuffling. Why were you and your brother both writing these phrases?

Odolf didn't answer, just kept fighting his bonds.

Castle and croft shall come together under the crescent moon,' Tegan recited. To the borderlands east turn your eye.' Is this a location? What does it mean to you, Odolf? What did it mean to your brother? Does the name Dragos mean anything to you?

The Rogue shook and strained until his face looked like it was going to explode. He tossed his head back and forth, snarling furiously. Tegan blew out a frustrated sigh and turned to face Elise. This is a fucking waste of time. He's not going to be any use to us.

Let me try, she said.

When she moved forward, Tegan didn't miss the fact that Odolf 's feral gaze tracked her across the room. The Rogue's nostrils flared as his blood-addicted body worked to get her scent.

Don't go near him, Tegan warned her, regretting the fact that he'd promised Elise he wouldn't use his weapons on the Rogue except as a last resort. His first line of attack was an emergency syringe of sedative given to him by Director Kuhn. That's far enough, Elise.

She paused several feet away from the Rogue. When she spoke, her voice was soft with patience and compassion.

Hello, Petrov. My name is Elise.

Elliptical pupils narrowed even farther in the center of Odolf 's amber eyes. He was still panting from exertion, but some of his struggling eased as his focus locked on to Elise.

I met Irina. She's very nice. And she loves you very much. She told me how much you mean to her, Petrov.

Odolf went still in his tight cage. Elise took a step closer. Tegan growled a warning, and although she stopped, she didn't acknowledge his concern.

Irina's worried about you.

Not safe, Odolf murmured, almost imperceptibly.

What's not safe? Elise asked gently. Is Irina not safe?

Nobody's safe. The big head shook back and forth as if caught in a seizure. When it passed, Odolf peeled his lips back off his huge fangs and dragged in a deep breath of air. At the cross lies truth, he muttered on the exhale. Turn your eye…turn your eye.

What does it mean, Petrov? Elise read the entire passage back to him. Can you explain it to us? Where did you hear this? Did you read it somewhere?

Castle and croft shall come together,' he repeated. To the borderlands east, turn your eye…'

Elise moved forward another half-pace. We're trying to understand, Petrov. Tell us what you know. It could be very important.

He grunted, his head going back on his shoulders, tendons stretching tight in his neck. Castle and croft shall come together under the crescent moon…To the borderlands east turn your eye…At the cross lies truth.'

Petrov, please, Elise said. We need you to help us. Why isn't it safe? Why do you think nobody is safe?

But the Rogue wasn't hearing her now. With his eyes squeezed shut, head tipped back, he whispered the nonsensical phrases over and over again, a rapid, breathless stream of insanity.

Elise glanced back at Tegan. Maybe you're right. Maybe this is a waste of time.

He was about to agree when Odolf suddenly began to snicker. His mouth spread wide, he dropped his head down and started whispering in a voice so small Tegan could barely hear it. He caught bits and pieces of the riddle, then Odolf blinked and it was as if a crystal clarity settled in his mind.

In a completely rational, coherent voice, he said: That's where he's hiding.

Tegan's blood ran cold. What did you say? That's where who's hiding–Marek? Hiding away. Odolf chuckled, already slipping back into his madness. Hiding, hiding…at the cross lies truth.'

Once again, Tegan considered the glyph they'd found in the journal. The Breed line it belonged to was long extinct. But then again, maybe Marek wasn't the only one to come back from what had been merely a presumed death. Is this about Dragos? Is he alive?

Odolf shook his head, eyes falling serenely closed. He launched into another chorus of the riddle, murmuring it in a maddening, singsong voice.

Goddamn it! Tegan growled, stalking right up next to the cage. Is Dragos in hiding somewhere? Are he and Marek allied in some way? Have they been plotting something together?

Odolf kept chanting, unresponsive now. Not even when Tegan grabbed hold of the metal box he was in and gave it a hard shake did Odolf show any indication of awareness. The Rogue had mentally checked out.

Shit. Tegan raked a hand through his hair. In his coat pocket, his cell phone vibrated with an incoming call. He flipped it open and barked into the receiver: Yeah.

Any progress? It was Reichen.

Not much.

Behind him in the cage, Petrov Odolf was snapping at the air, growling and cursing. No point in lingering any longer. Tegan gestured for Elise to follow him out of the Rogue's holding cell and into the adjacent observation room.

We're just wrapping up, he told Reichen. Did you get anything on the Minion?

Yes, we have something. I'm at Aphrodite with Helene. She's seen the man in here before once or twice. Had some trouble with him, in fact. Reichen cleared his throat, hesitating. He, ah, apparently works for a blood club here in the city, Tegan. Probably supplies women for it.

Jesus. He looked at Elise, his veins going tight at the thought of her being anywhere near trafficking scum like that. Blood clubs among the Breed, while illegal, had once been the preferred entertainment of a certain class of vampire. They catered to the bored and affluent, and those with appetites that tended to run toward the cruel. Any idea where I might find this place?

Naturally, to avoid unwanted attention, the clubs seldom meet in the same location. Helene has already put out feelers for you. She'll probably have something back within the hour.

I'm on the way now.

What's going on? Elise asked as he snapped the cell phone closed and slid it back into his coat.

I have to meet one of Reichen's contacts in the city. She has some intel on the Minion who attacked you today.

Elise's fine brow arched. She?

Helene, Tegan said. She's a human friend of Reichen's. You saw her last night when we picked him up outside her club, Aphrodite.

Elise's look said she remembered very well the half-naked woman who walked Reichen to the curb. All right, then, she said with a quick nod. Let's go talk to her.

Tegan reached out to catch her arm as she started to walk out to the corridor. I'm not taking you to Helene's club, Elise. I could drop you back at the Darkhaven–

Why? Elise shrugged, unconcerned. I'm not afraid to go to a nightclub.

Raw images of what Tegan had seen at Aphrodite the night before came back to him in vivid detail. It's, uh, not that kind of club. You wouldn't be comfortable there. Trust me.

Her eyes widened in understanding. Are you telling me it's a brothel?

He didn't answer right away, not that she needed him to spell anything out for her. He watched her absorb the idea, her brow creasing in a slight frown. Have you been there?

Tegan lifted his shoulder slightly, wondering why the hell he felt bad about admitting it. Reichen took me there to meet Helene last night.

Last night, she said, her pale purple eyes narrowing on him. Last night, you went out to a brothel…after we…oh. Okay. I see.

It's not what you think, Elise.

He had the sudden absurd impulse to assure her that nothing had happened while he was at Aphrodite, but Elise didn't seem interested in hearing any excuses. With brisk movements, she put on her coat and started buttoning it up.

I think I'm ready to go now, Tegan.

He fell in step beside her as she headed up the corridor. I shouldn't be long with Reichen. Once I finish up, I'll come back to the Darkhaven and we can try to make sense out of what little we got from Odolf tonight.

Elise turned a level look on him. We can talk about that on the way to Aphrodite, she said. I'm going with you.

He met her unwavering stare and exhaled a defeated chuckle. Suit yourself then. But don't say I didn't warn you.

Despite living a sheltered existence in the Darkhavens, Elise had never considered herself a prude. But walking with Tegan into the private back entrance of Aphrodite gave her an instant education in eroticism.

They were let in by a huge, muscle-bound man in a dark, tailored suit. He wore a wireless communication device on his ear, with a small microphone that extended near his goatee-rimmed mouth. He spoke into the mic, presumably advising his employer that her guests had arrived, as he escorted Tegan and Elise through the main floor of the club.

Festooned in bright carnival colors, with polished brass fixtures and sumptuously appointed furnishings, the lounge and bar area was a visual feast. Beautiful nude women reclined on animal- print sofas, some of them entertaining a male client or two in full view of all. Still others performed together, kissing and caressing one another as men wearing silk robes or sauna towels watched with rapt, heated stares.

On another cushioned nest near the bar, a man was being serviced by four women at once. Elise could hardly keep from gaping at the erotic tangle of tanned arms and legs. Even over the soft, pumping beat of the music pouring in through the overhead speakers, she could hear the slap of skin meeting skin, and the pleasured moans and hoarse shouts of release coming from practically every corner of the lounge.

Surrounded by so much humankind, Elise weathered the low drone of her talent, which stirred to life as soon as they entered the club. Fortunately, most of the input hitting her was of a lustful nature, some of it graphically so, but nothing disturbing enough to cause true pain.

She remembered Tegan's coaching and reached with her mind for one of the least offensive voices that was filling her head. She brought it forward, using it to damper the others as she made her way through the place.

When she braved a glance at Tegan, she found him staring at her. If he noticed any of the public couplings taking place all around them, he didn't seem fazed in the least. No, he seemed to be more interested in measuring her reaction. His gaze was hard, penetrating. His jaw seemed clamped tight enough to shatter his teeth.

The intensity of his look made her too warm inside. Elise blinked, glancing away. But glancing away from him meant seeing more of the club. More raw, pulsing sexuality, which only made her all the more aware of Tegan and the very vivid knowledge of how good their bodies felt together.

She couldn't have been more relieved when their escort paused in front of an elevator bank and led them inside a waiting car.

They rode up to the fourth floor. The elevator opened into a glass-walled suite outfitted as both office and bedroom. Reichen stood up to greet them, rising from an elegant sprawl on the luxurious round bed. His white dress shirt was unbuttoned and hanging loose, his finely cut gray trousers showcasing his trim waist and smooth, muscular chest. The vampire's dermaglyphs swirled over his pecs in winglike flourishes, drawing the eye to the masculine beauty of his form.

He seemed accustomed to being admired and merely smiled as Elise and Tegan strode into the room.

I didn't realize you would be accompanying Tegan here, he said, gallantly taking Elise's hand. I hope you aren't too shocked.

Not at all, she said, hoping her discomfiture didn't show. Reichen brought her in front of the tall brunette Elise had seen him with the other night. The woman wore a simple yet sophisticated ivory sweater and pants outfit that looked like it belonged in a boardroom more than a brothel. Tonight her long raven-dark hair was swept up in a loose chignon, secured with a pair of gleaming, tortoiseshell chopsticks.

She was the picture of professionalism, a curious contrast to the live video feeds playing on flat-screen monitors mounted behind her on the wall of the office. While images of people on the main floor of the club writhed and bucked on- screen, the woman merely smiled pleasantly as Reichen and Elise paused in front of her.

This is Helene, Reichen said. She owns the club, and she is also a trusted friend of mine.

Hello, Elise said, offering her hand. A pleasure to meet you.

Likewise, came the accented purr in reply. Elise's fingers were gripped in a firm yet feminine hold that echoed the confidence gleaming in Helene's dark eyes. That self-assured gaze slid in Tegan's direction and politely feigned unfamiliarity, a gesture that seemed for Elise's benefit. Hello and welcome to Aphrodite. Both of you.

Good to see you again, Helene, Tegan said, his tone cutting through all pretense. Reichen tells me you have some intel.

Yes, I do.

The woman picked up on Tegan's all- business tone and reached for a laptop computer that sat on her desk. She opened it and typed something on the keyboard. Behind her, one of the wall-mounted video screens went black, then came back on with a freeze-framed surveillance image of a man seated at the club's bar downstairs. The scar down the Minion's face identified him instantly.

That's him, Elise said. She could still feel his punishing hands on her, could still hear his ugly thoughts ringing in her ears.

He came here only a few times. He was a prick, very nasty to the girls. I banned him a couple of months ago. It wasn't until later that I heard rumors of his involvement in the blood clubs. Helene glanced over at Elise. You were lucky today. I'm glad you gave him some pain.

Elise didn't feel any pride in what she'd done. But more than that, she inwardly shuddered at the mention of blood clubs. They were all but unheard of in Boston for many decades, due mostly to the Enforcement Agency's crackdown on the illegal operations. Quentin had especially despised them as little better than organized sport where humans were the captive playthings of twisted members of the Breed. To think that she and Irina had been in arm's reach of one of the suppliers for that kind of activity put a chill in her marrow.

Tegan's hard gaze on her now told her that he didn't like the idea any more than she did. Do you have any leads on the area's clubs? Anything on this guy's associates, or someone who might know his name or where to find him?

Helene nodded and typed something else into the laptop. I have cultivated a few close friends among the police. Not surprisingly, this Minion is no stranger to the law. She walked over to a laser printer behind her desk and retrieved a sheet of paper as it came out of the machine. I was able to get his most recent arrest record, which contains his name and last known address.

Beautiful and resourceful, Reichen said approvingly as Helene passed the report to Tegan. Elise watched Tegan drink in every detail of the report, his eyes narrowed, calculating. He glanced over at Reichen. Will you see Elise back to the Darkhaven?

Of course. It will be my pleasure.

What are you going to do, Tegan? Even as she asked the question, she knew his intentions. He was going out to kill the Minion who'd attacked her. She could see the warrior side of him locking in to place, its sights fixed on the target with deadly focus. Tegan, just…be careful.

He met her gaze for a long moment, then looked again to Reichen. Get her out of here. I'll meet you back at the Darkhaven when it's finished.

Elise wanted to throw her arms around him, but Tegan was already stalking toward the elevator, a solitary warrior with a single purpose. This was who he was, who he would always be.

She closed her eyes as he stepped inside the waiting car and the polished brass doors closed behind him. Her senses tracked him as he descended, her blood link to him warm and alive in her veins. It was the only part of him she could truly hold on to; she wasn't sure he would ever let her close enough to have anything more.

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