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Midnight Awakening (Chapter Two)

The scent of blood carried on the thin, wintry breeze. It was faint, fresh, a coppery tickle in the nostrils of the vampire warrior who leaped soundlessly from the roof of one dusk-shadowed building to another. Snowflakes fell around him like floating white ash, blanketing the city that spread out beneath him some six stories down.

Tegan crouched at the ledge and surveyed the tangle of bustling streets and alleyways. As one of the Order–a small cadre of Breed vampires engaged in war against their savage brethren, the Rogues–Tegan's primary nightly objective was dealing death to his enemies. It was something he did with a cold efficiency, a skill perfected during his more than seven centuries of existence. But down to his marrow, he was Breed, and there were none among his kind who could ignore the call of newly spilled human blood.

He curled back his lips and dragged the cold air in through his teeth. His gums tingled, an ache blooming where his canines began to stretch into fangs. His vision sharpened beyond its preternatural acuity, pupils narrowing into thin vertical slits in the center of his green eyes. The urge to hunt–to feed–rose up in him swiftly. It was an automatic response that even he, with his disciplined, iron self-control, could do little to suppress.

All the worse for him, being of the first generation of vampires spawned on Earth. Gen One appetites–physical, carnal, and otherwise–burned the strongest.

Tegan crept along the edge of the building, then leaped down onto the roof of another, his eyes rooted on the movement of people below, searching for the weak member in the herd. But he didn't comb the crowds merely to satisfy his own needs: find a human with an open flesh wound, and he knew for a fact that any Rogues within a mile radius would not be far behind.

Except now that he was zeroing in on the source of the blood scent, he realized that what he smelled had an increasingly stale edge to it. It was spilled blood. Not fresh at all, but several minutes old.

Following the metallic odor, Tegan's gaze lit on a short, slight figure in a long hooded parka who was hurrying up the main thoroughfare, past the train station. There was an anxious clip to the person's gait, an obvious desire not to be noticed in the low tilt of the head as it cut away from a crowd of pedestrians and headed for an empty side street.

What the hell have you been up to? Tegan murmured under his breath as he tracked the inpidual.

Male or female, he couldn't be sure under all that dark, quilted down. Either way, the human was about to get some very unwanted company.

Tegan saw the Rogue an instant before it came out of hiding near a Dumpster several yards ahead of the human. He couldn't hear the words being said, but he could tell by the vampire's swagger and glowing amber eyes that it was taunting the person–just having a little fun before it made its move. Two more Rogues came around the corner from behind now, hemming the human in.

Damn it, Tegan growled, rubbing a hand over his jaw.

He'd never had much use for the shiny brand of honor that demanded his kind act as unsung saviors to the humans who inhabited the planet with them. Even half-human himself, as was all of the Breed, Tegan had long ago given up needing to be the hero. He'd seen too much bloodshed, too much senseless slaughter and tragic waste from both sides.

His purpose now and for the past five hundred years–since the brutal torture and death of the only woman he'd ever loved–was simple enough: take out as many Rogues as possible, or die trying. He didn't really give a shit which came first.

But there was an ancient part of him that still bristled at the thought of grossly unfair odds, like the situation taking place on the street below.

The human in the bloodstained parka was being surrounded. Like sharks moving in for a kill, the Rogues started closing ranks. The hooded head came up suddenly, pivoted around to note the threat closing in from behind. Too late, though. No human stood a chance against one Bloodlusting suckhead, let alone a pack of three.

With a curse, Tegan advanced his position and jumped to a lower rooftop above the alleyway.

Just as the Rogue in front of the human lunged into action.

Tegan heard a sharp intake of breath–a female gasp of terror–as the Rogue grabbed for its prey. It seized the front of the woman's hood and threw her down on the snow-covered pavement, letting loose a howl of savage amusement as she took the hard fall.

Jesus Christ, Tegan hissed, already drawing a large blade from the sheath at his hip.

With a running leap, he dropped down from the ledge of the building, landing smoothly on the ground in a low crouch. The two Rogues nearest him split up, one taking cover while the other shouted that they were under attack. Tegan silenced the warning in mid-sentence, slicing his length of titanium-edged steel across the suckhead's throat.

A few yards ahead of him in the alleyway, the female was on her stomach, scrabbling to get away from her assailant. She had a weapon too, Tegan was surprised to see, but the Rogue noticed it at the same time and kicked it out of her hand. The Rogue planted the heavy sole of his boot on the center of her back, pinning her to the ground with his heel jammed hard into her spine.

Tegan was on him at once. He threw the Rogue off the woman, driving the snarling vampire into the side of the brick building and holding it there with his forearm wedged under the suckhead's chin.

Get out of here! he shouted to the human as she started to drag herself up off the ground. Run!

She flung a frightened look over her shoulder–the first glimpse Tegan got of her face. His gaze locked on to a pair of huge, pale lavender eyes. The woman stared at him from over the top of a dark knit scarf that could hardly disguise the delicate beauty beneath it.

Holy shit.

He knew her.

And she wasn't just a random human female; she was a Breedmate. A young widow from one of the vampire nation's Darkhaven sanctuaries in the city. Tegan didn't know her well. He hadn't seen her for several months, not since the night he'd taken her home from the Order's compound after she'd learned her only son had gone Rogue.

It was the last he had seen of her, but it hadn't been the last time he'd thought about her.

Elise.

What the hell was she doing here?

Tegan's flat stare held Elise transfixed for a moment that seemed to stretch out endlessly. She saw a flash of recognition in the warrior's unblinking gaze, felt the cold blast of his fury emanating toward her across the distance that separated them.

Tegan, she whispered, astonished to see that it was him coming to her rescue. She'd first met the terrifying warrior around the time that her son had gone missing. Tegan had been the one to take her home from the Order's compound after she'd learned Camden had fallen in with the Rogues. He'd shown her kindness in that late night ride back to her Darkhaven home, and although she hadn't seen the warrior in the four months since, she hadn't forgotten his unexpected compassion.

But none of that was present in him now. Battle rage had fully transformed his face to that of his true nature–a Breed vampire, with gleaming fangs and fierce eyes that were no longer their usual gem-green, but swamped with bright, glowing amber that burned like twin flames in his skull.

Run! he shouted, the deep, otherworldly growl of his voice cutting through the blare of music still pouring into her head from the earbuds she wore. Get out of here–now! That brief inattention cost him. The Rogue he had pinned to the bricks in front of him twisted its big head, jaws wide, huge fangs dripping saliva. It bit down hard on Tegan's forearm, ripping into the warrior's muscled flesh. Without a sound of pain or anger, only chillingly swift efficiency, Tegan brought his other hand up and buried a blade in the Rogue's neck. The diseased vampire dropped, lifeless, its corpse sizzling from the titanium that poisoned its corrupt bloodstream.

Tegan whirled around, his breath sawing out from between his lips, clouding in the chill air. Goddamn it, woman–go! he roared, just as the remaining Rogue vaulted into a further attack on him.

Elise jolted into movement.

She sped out of the alleyway and onto another street, running as fast as her legs would carry her. The small apartment she rented wasn't far, just a few long blocks from the train station, but it seemed like miles. She was exhausted from her own ordeal that day, shaking from the violence she'd just witnessed in the alley.

She was worried for Tegan too, even though she was certain he didn't need her concern. He was a member of the Order, probably the most lethal of them all, if his reputation was anything to go by. He was a killing machine according to all who knew his name. Seeing him here in action for herself, Elise didn't doubt it for a second.

And now that she'd been discovered alone in the city, she could only hope that the warrior would take no interest in what she was doing. She couldn't allow herself to be pushed back into the Darkhavens, not even by a male as fearsome as Tegan.

Elise ran the last block to her apartment and raced up the concrete steps. The main door used to be keyed access, but someone broke the lock five weeks ago and the building super hadn't gotten around to fixing it yet. Elise pushed the door open and dashed down the first floor hallway to her unit. She unlocked the dead bolt and slipped inside, immediately flipping on all the lights.

The stereo and television went on next– tuned to nothing in particular, but both playing loudly. Elise pulled off the MP3 player and set it down on the chipped yellow kitchen counter, along with the dead Minion's cell phone. She ditched her ruined parka on the floor next to her treadmill, her stomach turning as the bare bulb hanging from the combination dining-living room ceiling washed over the dark red stains from the Minion's blood. It was on her hands too; her fingers were sticky with gore.

And her head was still pounding, the usual vicious migraine that came in the wake of any prolonged period of using her skill. It wasn't as bad right now as it would be soon. She still had time to clean up and try to get herself to bed before the worst of it hit her.

Elise dragged herself into the bathroom and turned on the shower. Her fingers were trembling as she unfastened the leather knife sheath from her thigh and placed it on the sink. The sheath was empty. She'd lost the titanium blade in the snow when the Rogue kicked it out of her grasp. She had others to replace it. A lot of the money she'd left the Darkhavens with had gone into weapons and training equipment–things she had never wanted to know anything about but now considered necessities.

Lord, how drastically her life had changed in just four months.

She could never go back to what she was. In her heart, she knew there could be no going back now. The person she had been all the time she'd lived under the protection of the Breed was gone now–dead, like her beloved mate and her son. The pain of those losses had been a furnace that devoured her old life, reduced it to cinder. She was what was left–the phoenix that rose out of the ash.

Elise glanced up into the fogging mirror and met her own haunted gaze in the glass. Blood smeared her cheek and chin, grime smudged her brow, all of it like warpaint. There was a feral glint in the weary eyes staring back at her.

God, she was tired…so tired. But so long as she could stand, she could fight. So long as her heart still ached for vengeance, she would use the psychic gift that had for so long been her greatest weakness. She would endure any hardship, face any risk. She would sell her everlasting soul if she must. Whatever it took to have justice.

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