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Midnight Rising (Chapter Fourteen)

It felt goddamn strange to be in the compound again. But as strange as it was, Rio found it even more surreal to be entering his private apartments within the Order's subterranean headquarters just outside Boston proper.

Dante and Chase had gone off to the tech lab as soon as they arrived, leaving Rio to contend with Dylan on his own. He supposed the warriors were also giving him a chance to reacquaint himself privately with his old life – the one Eva had stolen from him a year ago with her betrayal. He hadn't been in his quarters at the compound for a long time, but the place looked exactly as he remembered it. Exactly as he'd left it, following the warehouse explosion that had sent him into the compound's infirmary for several months of hard recuperation.

The apartments he'd once shared with Eva were like a time capsule. Everything was frozen in its place from that hellish night, when he and his brethren had gone topside to take out a lair of Rogue vampires only to walk headlong into a deadly ambush.

An ambush orchestrated by the female who'd been his Breedmate.

And it was here in the compound, after Eva's deception had been uncovered and Rio denounced her, that she put a blade to her own throat.

She killed herself over his bed in the infirmary, but it was here in their living quarters where Rio felt her presence the most. Eva's personal touches were everywhere, from the flamboyant artwork he'd reluctantly agreed to let her hang on the walls, to the large mirrors positioned near the walk-in closet and across the room from the foot of the huge bed.

Rio carried Dylan past the elegant sitting room and through the curtained French doors that led to the bedroom suite. He caught his reflection in the glass as he brought her over to the four-poster bed and carefully placed her on the dark plum bedding.

He cringed at the swarthy, ruined face of the stranger peering back at him. Even dressed in the fine clothes Reichen had given him, he still looked like a monster – all the more so when he saw the limp beauty asleep in his arms and totally at his mercy.

He was a monster, and he couldn't lay the blame for that solely at Eva's feet. He'd been born a beast and a killer; now he just happened to look the part as well.

Dylan stirred a bit as he settled her on the mattress and tucked one of the plump pillows under her head.

"Wake now," he said, brushing his palm lightly over her brow. "You have rested long enough, Dylan. You may wake up now."

He didn't need to stroke her cheek in order to lift the trance. He didn't need to let his fingertips linger on the velvety skin with its charming spray of diminutive, peachy freckles. He didn't need to play his touch along the delicate line of her jaw…but he couldn't resist taking his time.

Her eyelids fluttered open. The dark brown fringe of lashes lifted, and Rio was caught in the golden-green light of her gaze. Belatedly, he let his hand fall away from her face, but he could see that she knew he'd taken the liberty. She didn't flinch from him, just drew in a soft breath through her parted lips.

"I'm scared," she whispered, her voice small and thready from the long sleep he'd put her in. She wasn't aware of the trance or the travel. To her human mind, she was still in Reichen's Darkhaven, her consciousness put on pause in the moments before she and Rio left for Boston. "I'm afraid of where you're taking me…"

"You're already here," Rio told her. "We just arrived."

A look of panic bled into her eyes. "Where – "

"I've brought you to the Order's compound. You're in my quarters, and you're safe here."

She glanced around her, quickly taking in her surroundings. "You live here?"

"I used to." He stood up and backed away from the bed. "Make yourself comfortable. If you need anything at all, just ask. I'll see that you get it."

"How about a ride to my place in New York?" she said, her systems clearly coming back online now. "Or a GPS map of where you're currently holding me, and I'll find my own way home?"

Rio crossed his arms over his chest. "This is your home for now, Dylan. Because you are a Breedmate, you will be treated with all the respect due you. You'll have food and comfort, whatever you need. You won't be locked inside these apartments, but I assure you there is nowhere for you to run even if you tried. The compound is completely secure. My brethren and I will not harm you, but if you attempt to leave these quarters, we'll know before you take the first step into the corridor. If you try to escape, I will find you, Dylan."

She was quiet for a long second, watching him speak, measuring his words. "And then what will you do to me, hold me down and take a bite out of my throat?"

Cristo.

Rio felt all the blood drain from his head at the very thought. He knew she expected the act to be one of violence, but to him the image of pressing Dylan down beneath him as he pierced her tender skin with his fangs was one of total sensuality.

Arousal spiraled through him in a hot coil, all of it pooling in his groin.

He could still feel the silky warmth of her skin in his fingertips, and now another part of him craved to know her. He turned away, angered at his body's swift, urgent reaction to her.

"When I was in Jicin, I heard about a man who was attacked by a demon. An old farmer witnessed it, said this demon came down off a nearby mountain to feed. To drink human blood."

Rio stood there, staring at the door in front of him while Dylan spoke. He knew the night she referred to, remembered it clearly because it was the last time he'd allowed himself to feed. He'd gone more than two weeks without nourishment when he prowled onto a humble farm outside the forest at the base of the mountains.

He'd been starving and it had made him careless. An old man came upon him – saw the attack, saw Rio holding the human throat in his teeth. It was a reckless slip, and the interruption was likely the only thing that saved Rio's prey from an out of control feeding that might have meant his death. He stopped hunting that very night, afraid of what he might become.

"It was just an exaggeration, right?" Dylan's voice got a little quieter during his answering silence. "You didn't really do that. Did you, Rio?"

"Make yourself comfortable," he growled. As he started to leave, he grabbed her messenger bag that contained her laptop computer and digital camera. "I have things I need to do."

He didn't wait for her to protest or say anything more, just knew he had to get the hell out of there. A few brisk strides carried him to the open French doors and the living room beyond.

"Rosario…?"

He stopped walking at the sound of her voice behind him. Scowling, he pivoted his head to look back at her. She had lifted up on the bed at some point, now bracing herself on her elbows.

God, she looked deliciously disheveled like that, beautifully drowsy. It didn't take much to imagine this was how Dylan might look after a night of rousing sex. The fact that she was lying against the plum-colored silk of his bed only made the image all the more erotic.

"What?" His voice was a thick scrape of sound in his throat.

"Your name," she said, like he should know what she meant. She tilted her head as she studied him from across the room. "You told me that Rio is only part of your name, so I just wondered what it's short for. Is it Rosario?"

"No."

"Then, what is it?" When he didn't answer right away, her light brown brows knit together in impatience. "After everything else you've told me these past couple of days, what can it hurt to tell me the name you were born with?"

He scoffed inwardly, recalling all the things he'd been called since his birth. None of them were kind. "Why is it important to you to know?"

She shook her head, gave a mild lift of her slender shoulder. "It's not important. I guess I'm just curious to know more about you. Who you really are."

"You know enough," he said. A ripe curse slipped off his tongue. "Trust me, Dylan Alexander. You don't want to know anything more about me than you already do."

He was wrong about that, Dylan thought, watching Rio stalk away from her and out of the spacious suite. He closed the door behind him, leaving her alone in the softly lit apartment.

She pivoted off the side of the big bed. Her legs were wobbly, like she hadn't used them for several hours. Like she'd been out cold for the better part of the night. If what he'd said was true – that they'd left Berlin and arrived in the States – then she figured she was missing about nine hours of conscious memory.

Could that really be possible?

Had he truly put her into some kind of trance this whole time?

She'd been stunned to feel his fingers caressing her face as she woke up. His touch had felt so soothing, so protective and warm. But it had been fleeting too, gone as soon as he realized she'd become aware of it.

She didn't want to feel any warmth from Rio, nor toward him, but she could hardly deny that there was something electric in the way he looked at her. There was something unmistakably seductive in the way he touched her. She wanted to know more about him – needed to know more. After all, as his captive it would be in her best interest to learn everything she could about the man who held her. As a journalist hoping to break a big story, it was her duty to gather even the smallest fact and chase it down to its bare truth.

But it was her interest as a woman that bothered Dylan the most.

It was that very personal desire to know more about the kind of man Rio was that sent her gaze roaming around the bedroom. The decor was lush and sultry, an explosion of jewel-tone colors, from the plum silk bedding to the gold-hued paint on the walls. A collection of abstract paintings, so bright they hurt Dylan's eyes, crowded one entire wall of the bedroom suite. Another wall sported a giant, ornately framed mirror…strategically placed to reflect the big four-poster bed and whatever might be going on atop it.

"Subtle," Dylan murmured, rolling her eyes as she wandered over to a double set of doors on another side of the room. She drew them open and felt her jaw go slack as she looked in on a walk-in closet that had more square footage than her studio apartment in Brooklyn. "My. God."

She went inside, vaguely aware of even more mirrors in here – and why wouldn't you want to admire yourself from every angle when you had half of Neiman Marcus to choose from?

She was tempted to nose around in what had to be many thousands of dollars worth of designer clothes and shoes, but a bleak thought registered at once: only about a quarter of the closet contained men's clothing. The rest belonged to a woman – a petite woman, with obviously very expensive taste.

These might be Rio's quarters, but he sure as hell didn't live here alone.

Oh, shit. Was he married?

Dylan backed out of the walk-in and closed the doors, wishing she hadn't looked in the first place. She drifted into the living area of the apartment, seeing a woman's touch everywhere now. Nothing remotely close to her own style, but then what did she know about quality interior design? Her best piece of furniture was a Crate and Barrel sleeper sofa she got secondhand.

Dylan let her hand trail over the back of a carved walnut, claw-footed chair as she took in the garishly elegant furnishings of the place. She wandered over to a gold velvet sofa, and paused as her gaze caught on a small assortment of framed photographs on the table behind it.

The first thing she saw was a picture of Rio. He was seated in the open passenger side of a vintage cherry red Thunderbird convertible that had been parked on a moonlit stretch of beach. Dressed in an open black silk button-down and black trousers, he lounged in a lazy sprawl, as much in the car as out of it. His thighs were parted in a casual vee, his bare toes dug into the fine white sand. His dark topaz gaze gleamed with private wisdom, and his smoky smile made him seem equal parts danger and decadent fun.

Good Lord, he was handsome.

To be fair, he was about a hundred miles ahead of handsome.

The photo didn't seem very old. There were no scars riddling the left side of his face, so the injury he sustained must have been fairly recent. Whatever happened had robbed him of his classic, impossibly good looks, but it was the anger he carried inside him that seemed the bigger tragedy. Dylan looked at the picture of Rio in happier times and she had to wonder how he'd fallen as far as he apparently had in the time since.

She glanced to another picture, this one an antique. It was a sepia-toned studio image of a dark-haired woman with a Gibson Girl updo and a high-necked, frothy lace Victorian dress. Dylan bent down to get a better look, wondering if the exotic beauty with the coy smile might be Rio's grandmother. The dark eyes stared directly into the camera lens, a look of pure seduction. She was gorgeous and sensual, despite the prim fashion of her time.

And her face…it seemed strangely familiar.

"Oh, my God."

Disbelief, as well as an overriding sense of wonder, swamped Dylan as her gaze traveled to another photograph on the sofa table. This one was full-color, obviously taken within the past decade or less…and it featured the same woman from the antique picture. This later one was a nighttime shot of a woman standing on a stone bridge in the middle of a city park, laughing as her long black hair blew playfully around her head. She seemed so happy, but Dylan saw a sadness in her dark eyes – pained secrets hiding in the deep brown gaze that was fixed so tightly on whoever it was that took the photo.

And she recognized that face for certain, she realized now, though not merely from the impossible time range of photographs displayed on Rio's sofa table.

This was the same face she'd seen on the mountain in Jicin…the face of a dead woman.

The beautiful ghost who led Dylan to the cave where she found Rio was his wife.

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