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Midnight Rising (Chapter Ten)

Dylan sat near the head of the four-poster bed, staring intently at the illuminated digital display on her cell phone.

Looking for service…Looking for service…

"Come on," she whispered softly under her breath as the message repeated in agonizing slow motion. "Come on, work, damn it!"

Looking for service…

No signal available.

"Shit."

She'd lied to her abductor about having a cell phone. Her razor-thin mobile had been stashed in one of the side pockets of her cargo pants all this time, not that having it was doing her much good right now.

Her expensive international service was sketchy at best. Dylan had tried dialing out for help several times in the past hour, with the same frustrating result. All she was doing by refusing to give up was wasting precious battery time. She'd lost the cell phone charger and the power converter doohickey a few days into the trip; now she only had two bars of juice left, and this current ordeal seemed far from over.

As if to punctuate that fact, the lock on the door snicked free and someone twisted the crystal knob from outside.

Dylan hurriedly powered the device down and stuffed it under the pillow behind her. She was just bringing her hand out as her posh prison door swung open.

Rio strode in carrying a wooden tray of food. The aromas of fresh sourdough bread, garlic, and roasted meat drifted in ahead of him. Dylan's mouth watered as she caught a glimpse of a thick, grilled sandwich heaping with sliced chicken, marinated red peppers and onion, cheese, and crisp green lettuce.

Oh, God, did it look wonderful.

"Here's your lunch, as promised."

She forced a careless shrug. "I told you, I'm not going to eat anything you give me."

"Suit yourself."

He set the tray down on the bed next to her. Dylan tried not to look at the scrumptious sandwich or the cup of ripe strawberries and peaches that accompanied it. There was also a bottle of mineral water on the tray and a short cocktail glass with a generous two-and-a-half-finger pour of pale amber liquid that smelled sweet and smoky, like very pricey Scottish whisky. The kind her father used to pickle himself in nightly, despite that they couldn't afford his habit.

"Is the liquor to help me wash down the sedatives you put in the food, or did you put the mickey in the drink?"

"I have no intention of drugging you, Dylan." He sounded so sincere, she almost believed him. "The drink is there to relax you, if you need it. I'm not going to force anything on you."

"Huh," she said, noticing a subtle change in his demeanor from before. He was still immense and dangerous-looking, but when he stared at her now, there was a sober, almost pained resignation about him. Like he had some unpleasant business that he needed to get out of the way.

"If you're not here to force anything on me, then why do you look like you're delivering me my last meal?"

"I came to talk to you, that's all. There are some things I need to explain to you. Things you need to know."

Well, it was about time she got some answers. "Okay. You can start by telling me when you're going to let me out of here."

"Soon," he said. "Tomorrow night we'll be leaving for the States."

"You're taking me back to America?" She knew she sounded too hopeful, especially when he was still including himself in the scenario. "Are you going to release me tomorrow? Are you letting me go home?"

He walked slowly around the foot of the bed, over to the wall with the shaded window. He leaned one shoulder against the wall, his tattooed, muscular arms crossed over his chest. For a long minute, he didn't say anything. Just stood there until Dylan wanted to scream.

"You know, I was supposed to meet someone in Prague this morning – someone who knows my boss and has probably already called him to ask about me. I'm booked on a flight back to New York this afternoon. There are people expecting me back home. You can't just pluck me off the street and think no one is going to notice I'm gone – "

"No one is expecting you now."

Dylan's heart started to thud heavily in her chest, as if her body was aware something big was coming even before her brain was fully on board with it. "What…what did you just say?"

"Your family, friends, and your place of work have all been informed that you are safe and sound, but expect to be out of contact for a while." At her certain look of confusion, he said, "They all received an e-mail from you a few minutes ago, letting them know that you were taking some extra time off to see more of Europe on your own."

Anger flared in her now, even stronger than the wariness she knew just a second before. "You contacted my boss? My mother?" The job was of little concern to her at the moment, but it was the thought of this man getting anywhere near her mom that really set Dylan off. She swung her legs off the bed and stood up, practically shaking with rage. "You bastard! You manipulative son of a bitch!"

He drew back, out of her path as she charged at him. "It was necessary, Dylan. As you said, there would have been questions. People would have been worrying about you."

"You stay the fuck away from my family – do you hear me? I don't care what you do to me, but you leave my family out of this!"

He remained calm, considerate. Maddeningly so. "Your family is safe, Dylan. And so are you. Tomorrow night, I will be taking you back to the States, to a secret location that belongs to those of my kind. I think once you're there, a lot of what you're going to hear now will be easier for you to understand."

Dylan stared at him, her mind stumbling over his odd choice of words: those of my kind.

"What the hell is going on here? I'm serious…I need to know." Ah, hell. Her voice was quaking like she was about to lose it in front of him – this stranger who had stolen her freedom and violated her privacy. She would be damned before she showed any weakness to him, no matter what she was about to hear. "Please. Tell me. Give me the truth."

"About yourself?" he asked, his deep, accented voice rolling through the syllables. "Or about the world you were born to be a part of?"

Dylan couldn't find words to speak. Instinct made her hand move up to the back of her neck, where her nape seemed to tingle with heat.

Rio nodded soberly. "It's a rare birthmark. Maybe one in half a million human females are born with it, probably less. Women bearing the mark – women like you, Dylan – are very special. It means that you are a Breedmate. Women like you have certain…gifts. Abilities that separate you from other people."

"What kind of gifts and abilities?" she asked, not even sure she wanted to have this conversation.

"Extrasensory skills, primarily. Everyone is different, with different levels of capabilities. Some can see the future or the past. Some can hold an object and read its history. Others can summon storms or command the will of living things around them. Some heal with a simple touch. Some can kill with just a thought."

"That's ridiculous," she scoffed. "Nobody has those kinds of abilities outside of tabloid magazines and science fiction."

He grunted, his mouth lifting at the corner. He was studying her too closely, trying to peel her apart with that penetrating topaz gaze. "I'm certain that you have a special skill too. What is yours, Dylan Alexander?"

"You can't be serious." She shook her head and gave a dismissive roll of her eyes.

But all the while she was thinking about the one thing that had always made her different. Her unreliable, inexplicable link to the dead. It wasn't the same thing as what he was describing, though. It was something else completely.

Wasn't it…?

"You don't have to confide in me," he said. "Just know that there is a reason you are not like other women. Maybe you feel that you don't fit in with the world at large. Many women like you are more sensitive than the rest of the human population. You see things differently, feel things differently. There is a reason for all of that, Dylan."

How could he know? How could he understand so much about her? Dylan didn't want to believe anything he was saying. She didn't want to believe that she was part of anything he was describing, yet he seemed to understand her more intimately than anyone ever had.

"Breedmates are uniquely gifted," Rio said when she could only look at him in incredulous silence. "But the most extraordinary gift possessed by each is the ability to create life with those of my kind."

Jesus. There it was again – the deliberate reference to his kind . And now he was talking about sex and breeding?

Dylan stared at him, reminded swiftly and vividly of just how easily he'd been able to pin her beneath his powerful, fully aroused body in that hotel in Prague. It didn't take much to recall the heat of all that muscle pressed against her, though why the thought should make her heart beat faster, breath come harder, she really didn't want to know.

Was he setting her up here for a repeat performance? Or did he actually think she was gullible enough to be seduced into believing any of this stuff about being different, about belonging to some mysterious other world she knew nothing about until now?

And why should she believe it? Because of that tiny birthmark on the back of her neck?

One that still felt kind of warm and electric against her palm. She brought her hand down and tucked her arms around herself.

Rio tracked her movements with his keen, too-sharp gaze. "I think you've noticed that I'm not quite like other men either. There is a reason for that as well."

A heavy silence filled the room as he seemed to take his time measuring his words.

"It's because I'm not just a man. I'm something more than that."

Dylan had to admit he was more man than any other she'd known before. His size and power alone seemed to put him in a separate class. But he was all male, that she knew by the way he looked at her, his eyes hot as they traveled over her face and down her body.

He stared at her, unblinking, heatedly intense. "I am one of the Breed, Dylan. In your lexicon, for lack of a better term, I am a vampire."

For one stunned second, she thought she had misunderstood him. Then, all the unease and tension that she had been feeling since Rio had walked into the room vanished in a great rush of relief.

"Oh, my God!" She couldn't hold back her laughter. It barked out of her almost hysterically, a flood of disbelief and amusement washing away all her anxiety in an instant. "A vampire. Really? Because, you know, that makes so much more sense than everything I was guessing you might be. Not military, not a government spy, or a terrorist operative, but a vampire!"

He wasn't laughing.

No, he simply stood there, unmoving. Watching her. Waiting until she looked up and met his unsmiling eyes.

"Oh, come on," she chided him. "You can't possibly expect me to believe that."

"I realize it must be difficult to grasp. But it's the truth. That's what you asked for, Dylan. What you've been asking for since the moment you and I first saw each other – the truth. Now you have it."

Good Lord, he seemed so serious about all of this. "What about the other people living here? And don't try to tell me that there's no one else in this huge estate because I've heard them walking the hallways, and I've heard muffled conversations. So, what about them? Are they vampires too?"

"Some," he said quietly. "The males are Breed. The females living here in this Darkhaven are human. Breedmates…like you."

Dylan recoiled internally. "Stop saying that. Stop trying to pretend that I'm a passenger on this crazy train with you. You don't know anything about me."

"I know enough." He cocked his head at her, a move that seemed almost animalistic. Unconsciously so. "The mark on you is all I need to know about you, Dylan. You are a part of this now, an inextricable part. Whether or not either of us like that fact."

"Well, I don't like it," she blurted out, getting anxious again. "I want you to let me out of this room. I want to go back to my home, back to my family and my job. I want to forget all about that fucking cave and you."

He gave a slow shake of his dark head. "It's too late for that. There's no going back, Dylan. I'm sorry."

"You're sorry," she hissed. "I'll tell you what you are. You're insane! You're sick in your goddamn head – "

With a smooth flex of muscle, he came out of his lean near the wall and within one instant he was standing in front of her. Not even a bare inch separated them. He reached out as if he was going to touch her cheek, his fingers hovering so near, yet resisting.

Dylan's heart slammed in her chest but she didn't move away. She couldn't – not when he was holding her in that smoldering, almost hypnotic, topaz gaze.

Was she breathing? God help her, she wasn't sure. She waited to feel his touch light on her skin, astonished to realize just how badly she wanted it. But on a slow growl, he let his hand fall back down to his side.

He bent his head close to her ear. His deep voice was a whisper of heat across her throat. "Eat your meal, Dylan. It would be a shame to waste good food when you know you need the nourishment."

Well, that went down about as smoothly as a glass of razor blades.

Rio locked her door, then stormed into his adjacent guest room, hands clenched at his sides. There had been a time when he would have carried out a task like this with charm and diplomacy. Hard to imagine himself in that role now. He'd been blunt and ineffective, and he couldn't blame all of that on his lingering head trauma or the hunger that was gnawing at him like wolves on carrion.

He didn't know how to handle Dylan Alexander.

He didn't know what to make of her, or what to make of his own unwilling reaction to her.

Since Eva, there hadn't been another woman to pique his interest beyond the most basic physical need. Once he'd been strong enough to leave the compound – long weeks into his recovery – Rio had satisfied his carnal itch the same way he slaked his hunger for blood. With cold, impersonal efficiency. It seemed so strange to him, a male who had unrepentantly enjoyed life's many pleasures as a vital part of living itself.

But he hadn't always been that way. It had taken him many years to rise above the dark origins of his birth and do something meaningful, to make something good of his life. He thought he had. Hell, he'd really thought he'd had it all. It vanished in an instant – one blinding, white-hot instant a summer ago, when Eva sold the Order out to their enemy.

Rio had long thought his Breedmate's betrayal had ruined him for anyone else, and a part of him had been glad to be rid of emotional entanglements and the complications that came with them.

But now there was Dylan.

And she was in that next room thinking he was a lunatic. Not that far off the mark, he admitted grimly. What would she think once she realized that what he'd told her just now was the truth?

It didn't matter.

Before long, she would know everything. A decision would be placed before her, and she would have to choose her path: a life in the sheltering arms of the Darkhavens, or a return to her old life, back among humankind.

He didn't plan on sticking around to find out which door she picked. He had his own path to walk, and this was merely a frustrating detour.

A rap on the closed door of his guest suite snapped Rio out of his grim thoughts.

"Yeah," he barked, still glaring with self-directed anger as the panel swung wide and Reichen entered.

"Everything go all right?" the Darkhaven male asked.

"Just fucking great," Rio growled, as sharp as a blade.

"What's up?"

"I'm going into the city tonight and I thought you might like to join me." He glanced meaningfully at Rio's dermaglyphs, which were flushed with deep color. "The place is decadent, but very discreet. As are the women who work there. Give any of Helene's angels an hour of your time, and I guarantee you they'll make you forget all your troubles."

Rio grunted. "Where do I sign up?"

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