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Midnight Awakening (Chapter Twenty-two)

Elise closed the door of her guest room behind her and sagged against the carved oak panel.

She felt like an utter fool.

Bad enough she'd thrown herself at Tegan like some kind of wanton idiot, but she had to top it off by offering her blood to him. Blood that he rejected.

Of course, it didn't surprise her that he had refused. To drink from her would irrevocably complete their blasphemy of a blood bond, a fact that Elise had been willing to accept in those heated moments of passion in his bed. At least Tegan had the good sense–the levelheaded self-control–to avoid that kind of disaster.

His obvious horror at the idea of bonding himself to her, even without any of the vows that true mated couples shared, had come to Elise as no surprise at all.

But God, it hurt.

Especially when her veins were alive with the powerful roar of his blood within her, and her body was still thrumming and boneless from the intensity of his lovemaking.

She was a na?ve fool, because some hopeful part of her had actually thought they shared something more than just an unwanted, yet undeniable, physical attraction. When Tegan touched her tonight–when he kissed her so hungrily, then scored his own wrist to let her drink from him–she really believed that she meant something more to him than mere conquest. She had thought he might truly care for her.

Worse than that, she'd hoped he did.

After five years of being alone, thinking she could never feel anything for another male, she had finally allowed her heart to open.

To a warrior, she thought grimly. There was no small amount of irony in the idea that she would let herself fall for one of the dark, dangerous members of the Order–especially after being taught all her life that they were heartless savages, never to be trusted.

And for her to care anything for Tegan, likely the coldest of them all…

Well, that went beyond foolish.

She'd been asking for this kind of hurt from that very first night all those months ago, when she let him drive her home from the compound. Tonight he'd done her a favor–spared her from making an enormous mistake she could never call back.

She should be grateful for that small mercy, particularly in a man who claimed to possess none at all.

Tegan was a heartbreak she didn't need.

Yet as she crossed the room to the adjoining bath and turned on the water in the shower, she couldn't help reliving the moments she had spent with him in his bed. She stripped off her clothes and stepped under the warm spray, feeling his hands on her, their bodies melded together, burning with pleasure.

She ached for him, even now. Would be drawn to him always, the pull of his blood within her binding her to him with unseen chains.

But as much as she wanted to blame her feelings for Tegan on the unfortunate fact that she'd drunk from him–twice now–she knew that the problem went even deeper than that.

Yes, God help her. It was far, far worse than that.

She was falling in love with him.

Perhaps she already had.

Tegan spent a good long time under a punishing ice-cold shower, and still his body was inflamed with thoughts of Elise. His skin was tight all over, dermaglyphs pulsing under the chilly pummel of the water. He braced his fists on the marbled tile wall in front of him, struggling against the urge that compelled him to stalk Elise into her guest room and finish what they'd started.

Christ, did he ever want to finish it.

His vision was still sharp from the dual hungers that both centered on one woman alone, his fangs throbbing, the long points not yet receded. He dropped his head with a deep, ragged sigh. This need for Elise was only getting worse, becoming a fever in his veins.

How long before his control snapped its flimsy tether and he sealed their sham of a blood bond? And if he allowed himself to have a taste of something as sweet as Elise, how could he be sure his thirst wouldn't rise up to rule him again?

It was that much harder to resist, knowing that Elise would so willingly offer herself to him, even without the promises of love and devotion that any male would be privileged to give her. She had been ready to let him take so much for so little in return. It humbled him. It shamed him, because he had been so damn close to taking her pretty wrist in his teeth…

With a roar, Tegan hauled his arm back and let his fist fly at the unyielding marble tile of the shower. The smooth polished square shattered on impact, breaking apart and crumbling down around his bare feet. Pain splintered into his hand and wrist, but he soaked it all in with relish, watching as droplets of his blood swirled down the shower drain.

No. Damn it, no.

He was stronger than this animal need he felt for Elise. He could resist it. He had to.

He'd only really known Elise for a handful of days and she was somehow under his skin, had somehow managed to break down some of the protective walls it had taken him several lifetimes to construct. He could not permit things to escalate between them.

And he wouldn't.

Even if he had to spend every spare moment out of her sight for the rest of their short stay in Berlin.

Tegan lifted his head and cut the water off with a curt flick of his mind. He stepped out of the shower and wrapped one of the thick black towels around his hips. As he entered his suite, he saw the message light blinking on his cell phone. He dialed in, hoping like hell he was going to hear orders from the compound that he was needed in Boston and had to return there without delay.

No such luck. Not that he should expect good fortune to provide him with any kind of assist. Fate had turned its back on him a long time ago.

Gideon's message played on speaker, grim and concise: he'd gotten word that there was an inquiry made on the Order's flight logs out of Logan airport. There was no mistaking that Marek was involved, probably soon to be in Berlin himself or, at the very least, tapping local contacts or sending out feelers to determine how much the Order knew, and what they intended to do with the knowledge.

Shit.

Now more than ever, Tegan was certain they were onto something big with Petrov Odolf and the journal Elise had intercepted from Marek's courier. He didn't need any more excuse than that to quickly towel off and get dressed for a few hours' patrol of the city. With weapons strapped to his hips, thigh, and ankle, he grabbed his coat and headed down the estate's main staircase.

Reichen was just strolling out of a mahogany-paneled study with a young Darkhaven couple as Tegan neared the foyer. The youthful male was blushing fiercely under a floppy lock of strawberry-blond hair, murmuring his thanks to Reichen for some favor recently granted, while his pretty redheaded Breedmate was beaming, her hands placed lovingly atop a very prominent pregnant belly.

Congratulations to you both, Reichen said in German. I look forward to welcoming your fine, strong son once he arrives.

Thank you for agreeing to be godfather, said the young woman. You honor us well.

She went up on her toes to place a kiss on Reichen's cheek, then took her mate's hand and the two of them hurried off, gazing at each other as if the world outside them didn't exist.

Ah, love, Reichen said, glancing over at Tegan with a broad grin once the happy pair had departed. May it never sling its barbed coils around either of us, eh?

Tegan gave him a wry look, but at the moment he was fully in agreement with the cynical sentiment. He came off the last step and saw Reichen's gaze travel to the hand that rested on the butt of a loaded, holstered Beretta. Raw scrapes and traces of blood marred Tegan's knuckles from where his fist had chewed up the marble of the shower.

The German arched a dark brow.

Had a little incident upstairs, Tegan said. I'll pay you back for the damage.

Reichen dismissed the offer with a cut of his hand. I would be insulted if you tried. By my account, I am the one still in debt to you.

Forget it, Tegan said, only slightly less uncomfortable with the gratitude than he was itchy to be out of the house where Elise was likely hating him now. I need to go check things out in the city. We've had word of some activity coming out of Boston, which probably means trouble on the way over here.

Reichen's expression sobered. I've heard there have been increased Rogue problems in your city. Is it true that there were dozens of them housed at the location the Order destroyed last summer?

We didn't stop to count, but yeah. It was a large lair.

The Darkhaven male swore softly. Breed vampires gone Rogue aren't exactly social creatures. To have so many in one place is troubling to say the least. You don't suppose they were attempting to organize?

It's possible, Tegan said, knowing full well that was exactly what Marek was orchestrating. That is, before the Order had rolled out a C-4 welcome mat at the abandoned asylum where the bulk of Marek's suckhead army had been headquartered. Tegan. Reichen cleared his throat. If you–or the Order–need anything at all from me, you have only to ask. I hope you know that. I would require no explanations whatsoever, and I assure you the Order would have my complete cooperation. And my trust.

Tegan saw frank honesty in the Darkhaven male's eyes, and a keen intelligence that seemed to say that for all his reckless charm and bravado, Andreas Reichen was not one to make frivolous gestures of alliance. If he offered his friendship, he offered his honor too.

Consider my resources your own, Reichen added, lowering his voice to a confidential, deadly serious level. Men, money, arms, subterfuge, or intelligence…you name it. Whatever tools I have in my reach are available to you and the rest of the warriors.

Tegan nodded his thanks. You have to know, aligning yourself with the Order isn't going to make you very popular among your Darkhaven peers, Reichen.

Perhaps not. But then who can stand the self-righteous bastards, anyway? The German clapped Tegan on the shoulder. Let me take you into town to meet someone. If you need information about any shady dealings, or movement taking place in Berlin's underbelly, then you really must talk to Helene.

The female you were with earlier tonight?

Yes. She is a dear friend…with certain other benefits. Reichen grinned. She's human, not Breedmate, in case you wondered.

Tegan had been wondering, in fact. He hadn't missed the healing bite mark on the woman's throat as Reichen had kissed her good- bye at the curb, but he hadn't detected any kind of blood scent on her. Nothing beyond the bland, coppery tang of basic Homo sapiens red cells.

And it hadn't appeared that Reichen had scrubbed the woman's mind after feeding from her either.

She knows about you–about the Breed?

Reichen nodded. She can be trusted, I assure you. I've known her for many years, and we are business partners in her club as well. She has never betrayed my trust. She won't betray yours either.

Reichen smoothed his hair back at his temples, then gestured for the mansion's front door. Come. Let me make some introductions for you.

A short while later, Tegan found himself seated in a plush red velvet booth inside a high-end brothel called Aphrodite. The place was swank and expensive, an adult playground filled with beautiful women, sumptuous furnishings, and a host of assorted pleasures to be had at a price firmly negotiated up front. Tegan watched with mild disinterest as more than one small orgy was under way in full public view.

The clientele at the club was almost exclusively human, with the exception of Reichen, who was evidently no stranger to the establishment. He sat across from Tegan in the large booth, his fingers toying idly along the shapely arm of Aphrodite's proprieter, the stunning Helene. More than one of her girls had come around to have a look at Tegan. He'd been offered drinks, food, company, and quite a few temptations not found on the club's general menu.

As the last beautiful prostitute sashayed away from them on her teetering high heels, Helene shot him a slight frown. If you have specific personal tastes, I'm sure I can make arrangements to accommodate you.

Tegan shifted on the soft velvet seat. His personal tastes had narrowed down to one female alone, and she was back at Reichen's estate, probably wishing she'd never met him. I appreciate the offer, he told Helene, but I didn't come here to get laid.

We were hoping you might be willing to help keep us informed of any…unusual activity taking place in the city, Reichen added. It would require your total confidence, of course.

Naturally, she said, nodding in shrewd agreement. Are we talking about keeping an eye on unusual human activity or something else?

Both, Tegan said. Since Reichen had obviously made her aware of the vampire nation and trusted her to keep the secret, Tegan didn't see any point in mincing words. We've been seeing an increase in our Rogue population back in the States. We think we know where it's coming from, but there's a good chance some of those problems may come to roost here in Berlin. If you hear anything out of the ordinary at all, you need to make us aware.

The human female inclined her chin. You have my word.

She held out her hand to Tegan and he took the opportunity to read the woman's emotions. His touch told him instantly that there was nothing dishonest in her intent. She meant what she'd said, and her word was good.

Tegan released her and leaned back as one of her employees came up to the table. One of my clients has had too much to drink, the young woman complained. He's getting loud and unruly. Helene's smile was serene, but her eyes were as sharp as laser beams locking on to a target. Will you excuse me? Duty calls.

She got up from the booth and smoothly motioned for one of the many bouncers to accompany her. When she had gone, Reichen lifted a brow at Tegan. She's charming, don't you think?

Tegan grunted. She has her appeal, I suppose.

Reichen narrowed his gaze on him now. I'm curious. Is celibacy something all of the Order adheres to?

The question drew Tegan's head up sharply. What the hell are you talking about?

I've just watched you turn away about a dozen flawless women who would have prostrated themselves at your feet for the chance to please you. No man has that kind of control. Unless– The Darkhaven male chuckled. Unless the rumors circulating at the reception the other night are actually true. Is there something going on between you and the lovely Elise Chase? Something beyond the business that brought both of you to my city?

There's nothing going on between us. Or at least there shouldn't be. And wouldn't be, after the way things had gone tonight. I have no claim on the female whatsoever.

Ah. I was out of line. Forgive me for suggesting, Reichen said, obviously taking the hint from Tegan's clipped tone that the matter was not open for discussion.

Tegan rose to his feet. I'm out of here.

He was suddenly itching to be outdoors on patrol, away from the open carnality of the club. And he didn't trust himself to return to the estate with Reichen when all that would do was put him back in close proximity with Elise. Don't wait up, he growled, then stalked out of the place and into the night outside.

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