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Midnight Awakening (Chapter Twenty-six)

Tegan crouched low on a rooftop, his eyes trained on a light-filled, curtainless window in the building next to him. The Minion had been on his cell phone for the past fifteen minutes. Judging from the speed his lips were moving and the look of worry on his distorted face, it appeared he was in the process of trying to talk his way out of some pretty serious shit. No doubt his Master was on the other end of the line, getting the unhappy news that his orders hadn't been executed quite as planned.

Tegan's mouth quirked as he watched the Minion squirm and pace his filthy, rathole apartment. The human's neck was bound with thick gauze, a spot of blood coming through the white bandage where Elise had stuck the bastard. His bare chest was similarly doctored up and from the way he was clutching at his ribs as he spoke, Tegan guessed he was probably sporting a perforated lung as well.

Next to him, on a coffee table cluttered with porn magazines and empty beer bottles, was a blood-soaked shirt and open boxes of medical supplies. More cotton gauze, white surgical tape, even a used roll of suture filament and a bent sewing needle. Evidently he'd been busy with a little do-it-yourself first aid after he fled Irina Odolf 's place that day.

Wasted effort, Tegan thought with grim satisfaction as the Minion abruptly ended his call and threw the cell phone down onto the table.

He disappeared into another room, then came out a second later, gingerly shrugging into a flannel shirt. He buttoned up, shoved the phone into the pocket of his jeans, then grabbed his coat and headed for the door.

Tegan was already on the pavement below by the time the Minion exited his building. He stepped into the human's path and shoved the guy back with a sharp mental command.

What the hell! The Minion's look of annoyance quickly bled into one of alarm when Tegan flashed him his fangs. Oh, shit!

He pivoted to run back into the building, but Tegan blocked him faster than the human's eyes could follow. He reached out and grabbed the Minion by the throat, closing his fingers around the thick neck.

Aagh! the Minion cried, struggling and wheezing against the sudden choke hold.

Yeah, that probably hurts, Tegan said coolly. He squeezed harder, increasing pressure to allow only the smallest bit of air to pass into the Minion's lungs. Had a little trouble in town today, did you?

Let…go…

Tegan's touch told him of the Minion's recollection of what happened at Irina Odolf 's place. He read the Minion's anger, his surprise at Elise's retaliation, his disgusting intent to make her suffer for it deeply, had she not been able to get away from him.

Who sent you after her? Tegan demanded, all but certain on his own, but needing to hear it. Who's your Master, you sick fuck?

Piss off, vampire, the Minion gasped, but inside he was panicking and in a great deal of pain. His mind surrendered the name to Tegan's touch, even though his tongue refused to speak it.

Marek.

It came as little surprise to Tegan that Lucan's brother owned this one. He wouldn't doubt that the powerful vampire had a far-reaching network of human mind slaves at his disposal. God knew he'd had many long years to covertly lay the groundwork for whatever dark plan the deceptive son of a bitch was working on.

But it wasn't anger at Marek that tightened Tegan's grip on the Minion's injured throat, as much as he wanted to tell himself he was just crippling one more leg of his enemy's army. What filled Tegan's mind as he choked the life out of the sorry excuse for a man was the cold knowledge that the human had put his hands on Elise.

For the fact that the Minion had enjoyed hurting her, Tegan intended to take his sweet time ending the bastard.

Was the lamb not to your liking?

Elise snapped back to attention and met Reichen's gaze across the intimate restaurant table. No, it's delicious. Everything was just incredible, Andreas. You really didn't have to do this.

He made a casually dismissive gesture with his hand, but his smile was full of pride. What kind of host would I be to let you go all day without a proper meal? It seemed only fitting that I treat you to one of the city's finest dinners.

They were seated together in a top-floor restaurant in one of Berlin's most exclusive hotels. After learning Elise hadn't eaten for several hours, Reichen had insisted they detour there after they'd left Helene's club.

He wasn't having anything, of course. Those of the Breed could only consume prepared food in the smallest quantities–a practice reserved for rare moments when a vampire found it necessary in order to pretend to be human.

Elise had hardly eaten either, despite the fact that the food and wine in front of her was nothing short of amazing. As hungry as she was, she had little appetite. She could hardly think of eating when Tegan was out there somewhere, fighting her battles.

Outside the window at her left, the nighttime city twinkled with life below. She looked out, letting her gaze wander over the tangle of milling pedestrians, rushing traffic, and the illuminated beauty of Brandenburg Gate.

None of the humans out there had the first clue about the war that was rising within the Breed. Few in the Darkhavens knew either. Those who were in a position to know of Rogue conflicts chose to turn a blind eye, trusting politics and protocol to keep things in their proper place. Everyone went about their lives, oblivious, comfortably ignorant, while Tegan and the other members of the Order dirtied their hands and risked their lives to maintain the fragile peace within the Breed and its dependent link to humankind.

She had been one of those sheltered many. When she looked across the table at handsome, sophisticated Reichen, she was reminded how easy her life had been before. She had lived in the cushioned lap of wealth and privilege as Quentin Chase's mate. A part of her realized how easy it would be to return to that kind of existence, to pretend she'd never seen the terrible things she'd witnessed outside the Darkhavens these past several months, or done the terrible things she'd convinced herself she had to do in vengeance for Camden's death.

A cowardly part of her wondered if it might not be too late to go back to her old life and forget she'd ever met the warrior called Tegan.

The answer came in the quickening of her pulse, a stirring that flared at just the thought of him.

Her blood would never forget him, no matter how far she ran. And neither would her heart.

Would you prefer to try another dish? Reichen asked, leaning over the table to touch her hand. I can call the waiter over if you– No. No, there's no need for that, she assured him, feeling rude and unappreciative of his kindness. Tegan probably didn't need her concern. He certainly wouldn't want it. She couldn't turn off her feelings for him, but that didn't mean she had to let them consume her. Thank you for bringing me here, Andreas. I can't remember the last time I had such wonderful food and wine. Quentin and I enjoyed nice dinners together, but since his death, I guess I never really saw any reason to go to the effort.

Reichen gave her a mock scowl, as if he'd never heard a more preposterous thing. There is always a reason to enjoy all of life's pleasures, Elise. I personally do not believe in deprivation. Not in any shape or form.

Elise smiled, knowing he was deliberately putting on the charm now. With that kind of life philosophy, I'm betting that you have broken a lot of hearts in your time.

Only a few, he admitted, grinning.

He lounged back in his seat, one arm slung over the back of the chair, his aristocratic profile etched in light by the warm glow of the candle flickering on the table. With his dark hair slipping loose of its queue, his tailored white shirt unbuttoned one more notch than was decent, Andreas Reichen had the look of an indulgent king surveying his subjects from atop his tower keep.

But there was a restless undercurrent to his practiced air of nonchalance, perhaps a trace of boredom. There was a cynical wisdom in his eyes that indicated for all his easy charm, the male had seen more darkness than he would ever let on.

Elise wondered if, despite his privilege and his obviously libertine ways, Andreas Reichen might have a bit of the warrior in him as well. What about Helene? Elise couldn't resist asking about the stunning female who wasn't a Breedmate, yet seemed to know a great deal about the vampire nation due to her apparent relationship with Reichen. Have you and she…known each other for a long time?

A few years. Helene is a friend. She is my blood Host on occasion, and we enjoy each other's company, but it's primarily a physical arrangement.

You're not in love with her?

He chuckled. Helene would probably say that I love no one more than myself. Not altogether untrue, I suppose. I've just never met a woman who tempted me to want anything permanent. Then again, who would be mad enough to put up with me? he asked, turning a dazzling smile on her that would have made any other woman leap up to volunteer for the task.

Elise took a sip of her wine. I think you are a very dangerous man, Andreas Reichen. A woman would be well advised to guard her heart around you.

He arched a brow at her, looking rakish and serious at the same time. I would never want to break your heart, Elise.

Ah, she said, tilting her glass at him in mock salute. And now you have just further proved my point.

Tegan arrived back at Reichen's estate in a foul mood. The Minion who would have killed Elise was dead, and that was good enough news. But as he'd squeezed the last breath out of the human, Tegan had come away with two critical pieces of information.

The first, that Marek had given kill orders on Elise to several of his Minion contacts in and around Berlin. Which meant Tegan needed to get her the hell out of the city as soon as possible.

He was already putting that plan into motion. He'd just hung up with Gideon, who was going to see that the Order's private jet was fueled and cleared for departure out of Tegel Airport in one hour.

The second thing he came away with tonight was that no matter how much he wanted to deny it, Elise mattered to him. She mattered in a way he could hardly fathom. He cared for her like his own kin–more than that, in fact–a truth that had been driven home pretty clearly when she'd come back after the Minion attack covered in blood. He respected her, not only for her courage, but for her strength. She was an extraordinary woman, far better than he could ever hope to deserve.

He wouldn't even try to pretend that he could resist her. Walking with her into Helene's club had nearly wrung him out. All he'd been able to think of was what he wanted to do with Elise. He'd caught her uncomfortable glance as they strolled through the place, and he hadn't missed the fact that her breathing had kicked into a rapid beat, her pulse drumming loud enough for him to feel it as a vibration in his own body.

She couldn't have known how badly he'd wanted to pull her into one of Aphrodite's plush alcoves, strip her naked, and drive himself deep inside her soft, moist heat. Just thinking about it now gave him a massive hard-on.

And then there was the matter of their blood bond. That was easily the worst of it. As offended as he should be by the whole idea, he found himself looking forward to the next time Elise would take his vein to her mouth. He actually liked knowing that it was his blood making her strong, helping her cope with the psychic gift that had been slowly destroying her before.

His blood that would keep her alive close to forever if they completed their bond. All he'd have to do is drink from her, and they would be linked to each other inextricably.

Yeah, that was exactly what he wanted.

And what the fuck, he might as well admit it–to himself, at least.

He loved her.

Which brought him back to his current state of aggravation. He entered the Darkhaven, which was quiet except for the handful of residents who hadn't gone out for the night. Tegan stood outside Elise's guest room and knocked on the closed door. No response. He tried again, feeling like an idiot as one of the younger females approached from up the hallway.

Good evening, the woman said, smiling pleasantly.

Tegan nodded curtly and waited until she sauntered down the stairs to the main level of the mansion. He knocked one last time, then opened the door and went inside the empty room.

Where the hell was she? And where was Reichen? Why wouldn't they have returned by now?

A tremor of dread snaked up Tegan's spine.

Ah, Christ. If anything had happened to her…

He stalked to the pair of French doors that opened onto a small balcony overlooking the estate's front grounds, intending what, he didn't know. The blast of cold air braced him as he stepped outside and listened to the surrounding night.

If one of Marek's human assassins had managed to find Elise while he was away– Just then, Reichen's sleek black Rolls- Royce limo came gently up the drive, making an elegant sweep as it came to rest outside the mansion's main entrance.

Relief washed over Tegan as the driver came around and opened the rear passenger door. He helped Elise out, Reichen exiting directly behind her.

Thank you again for dinner, Elise said as Reichen strolled in front of her and offered his hand to help her up the mansion's steps.

It was my great pleasure. Truly.

Something primitive and possessively male rose to attention at the intimate tone Reichen was using on Elise.

Perhaps I could entice you to extend your stay in Berlin, said the Darkhaven lord as he inched closer to her, his large frame towering over Elise and obscuring her from Tegan's view. I would very much like to get to know you better, Elise.

Tegan could hardly contain his growl as Reichen reached out to touch her, then leaned down to deliver what was unmistakably a more than friendly kiss.

She didn't draw back. She didn't slap him or run away in outrage.

And why should she?

Tegan hadn't given her any reason not to consider other males. No, he'd practically shoved her into Reichen's arms. He should be relieved that she might look elsewhere for a mate. He sure as hell was no prize.

Elise deserved far better than him–or Reichen, for that matter. And Tegan was going to tell her as much, damn it.

His foul mood heading farther south every second she remained out there with the Darkhaven male, Tegan stalked back into her room to wait for her.

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