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Midnight Rising (Chapter Thirty-five)

Rio drove like a bat out of hell.

He put all his mental energy into reaching out for Dylan, trying to let her know that he was coming for her. That he would find her, or die trying.

He sped along Route 129, hoping he was getting close. He could feel it in his blood that he wasn't far from Dylan now. Their bond was calling to him, urging him on with a certainty that it wouldn't be long before he found her.

And then –

As a dark sedan came flying up the road from the opposite direction, Rio's veins lit up like firecrackers.

Madre de Dios.

Dylan was in that car.

With a hard crank of the wheel, he threw his vehicle into a sideways skid, blocking the road and ready to fight to the death for Dylan. The oncoming sedan's brakes squealed, tires smoking on the pavement. It lurched to a stop, then the driver – a human, by the look of the big man at the wheel – made a sharp right and gunned it up a dark, tree-lined service road.

With a curse, Rio threw his car into gear and went after them.

Up ahead, the sedan crashed through a temporary barricade in the road, then made a hard stop. Two people climbed out of the backseat – Dylan and the vampire who held her. The bastard had a gun jammed under her chin as he hauled her up the quiet road into the dark.

Rio braked to a stop and leapt out of the driver's seat, his own gun pulled from its holster and leveled at her captor's head. But he couldn't shoot. The chance of hitting Dylan was too great. More than he was willing to risk.

Not that he had much time to consider it.

The huge guard who'd been at the wheel of the sedan came around the car and started firing at Rio. A bullet ripped into his shoulder, searing hot pain. He kept shooting at Rio, trying to drive him back with a relentless hail of gunfire.

Rio dodged the attack and vaulted across the distance using all the Breed power at his command. He fell upon the human – a Minion, he realized as he stared down into the dead eyes. Rio grabbed him by the throat and then put his other hand on the bastard's forehead. He sent all his fury into his fingertips, draining the life out of the Minion with that brief, simple touch.

He left the corpse in the middle of the road and took off on foot to find Dylan.

Dylan stumbled alongside her captor, the hard cold press of a gun's muzzle jammed under her chin. She could hardly see where he was taking her, but somewhere, not very distant, rushing water roared like thunder.

And then gunfire.

"No!" she screamed, hearing the sharp blasts behind her in the dark. She felt a jab of pain and knew that Rio had been hit. But he was still breathing. Thank God, he was still alive. Still reaching out to her through the heat that coursed through her blood.

A cruel yank of her head brought Dylan back around. The vampire who held her forced her to run with him, up the narrow pavement and closer to the source of the falling water.

Before she knew it, they were heading onto a tall bridge. On one side, a reservoir spread out for what looked like miles, the dark water sparkling in the moonlight. And on the other side, a sheer drop from what looked like about two hundred feet.

The spillway below was white with the rush of water cascading over the graduated incline and the huge rocks that spread down into the churning river at its base. Dylan stared over the tall metal rail of the bridge, seeing a certain death in all that furious water.

"Dragos."

Rio's voice cut through the darkness on the entrance of the bridge.

"Let her go."

Dylan's captor jerked her to a halt on the bridge. He swung her around, the gun still biting into her jaw. His chuckle vibrated against her, low and malicious.

"Let her go? I don't think so. Come and get her." Rio took a step toward them and that cold nose of the gun at Dylan's throat stuck even deeper. "Put down your weapon, warrior. She will die right here."

Rio glared, amber flashing in his eyes. "I said let her go, damn it."

"Put the gun down," her assailant said. "Do it now. Or would you prefer to see me tear out her throat?"

Rio's gaze went to Dylan's. His jaw was tight, his tension visible even in the darkness. With a hissed oath, he slowly put his weapon on the ground and stood back up. "Okay," he said carefully. "Now let's finish this, you and I. Leave her out of it, Dragos. Or should I call you Gerard Starkn? Gordon Fasso, maybe?"

The vampire chuckled, clearly amused. "My little ruse has come to an end, has it? No matter. You're about fifty years too late. I've been busy. What my father started by hiding the Ancient, I am finishing. While the Order has been chasing its ass, taking out Rogues like they were actually making a difference in the world, I've been sowing the seeds of the future. A great many seeds. Today you call me Dragos; soon the world will call me Master."

Rio inched forward and Dylan's captor turned the gun from its aim on her to Rio instead. Dylan felt the flex of the vampire's muscles as he prepared to squeeze the trigger and she took the only chance she had. With a sharp jut of her hand, she knocked his arm and the bullet shot off into the trees.

She didn't see the blow coming.

Her captor drew his other arm back and let his fist fly, connecting with the side of her head. She went careening, crashing hard onto the pavement.

"No!" Rio shouted.

With a speed and agility that still shocked her, he leapt into the air. Dragos returned the challenge, and with an otherworldly roar, the two powerful Breed males smashed into each other and locked into a fierce hand-to-hand combat.

Rio latched on to Dragos's maniacal spawn in pure rage, the two of them thrashing in midair, each fighting for the chance to kill the other. With a bellow, the vampire spun Rio around and drove him into the metal rail of the bridge. Rio roared, flipping Dragos off him and sending the bastard into the opposite side of the narrow road atop the bridge.

He didn't know how long the battle raged. Neither was willing to stop until the other was dead. Both vampires were fully transformed now, their fangs huge, the night lit up by the blare of two sets of amber eyes.

Somehow Dragos got loose and jumped up onto the railing. Rio followed him, finally driving the bastard down on one knee. Dragos wobbled, nearly losing his balance over the roar of the spillway below. Then he lunged, barreling headfirst into Rio's midsection.

Rio felt his feet slip on the rail. He pitched sharply, then fell.

"Rio!" Dylan screamed from above on the bridge. "Oh, my God! No!"

Not even a half-second later, Dragos made the same error. But like Rio, he also managed to grab hold of the metal superstructure before the plunge took him down onto the rocks and rushing water.

The fight continued below the bridge, both of them clutching the beams with one hand while they punched and struck each other from their suspension above the wicked drop. Rio's shoulder was burning from the bullet he took earlier. The pain was bringing on a blackout, but he shook it off, focusing all his rage – all his pain, and the fear he'd felt at the thought of losing Dylan – on the task of ending the Dragos line here and now.

And he could feel Dylan giving him strength as well.

She was in his mind and in his blood, in his very heart and soul, lending him her own tenacious determination. He absorbed all of it, using what his bond to Dylan gave him, as he went for another hard strike at Dragos. They continued pounding each other, roaring with the fury of battle.

Until a gunshot ripped out over their heads.

They both looked up and there was Dylan, one of the pistols gripped in her hands. She brought the muzzle down and aimed it at Dragos.

"This is for my mother, you son of a bitch."

She fired, but Dragos was Breed, and he was faster than she anticipated. He swung away at the last second, getting a better grip farther down the rail. She followed, keeping him trained in her sights. When she went to fire again, one of his hands shot up through the slats and locked on to her ankle.

She fell backward, hitting the bridge hard. Rio heard the breath whoosh out of her lungs, then watched in horror as she was suddenly dragged toward the railing by Dragos's strong grasp on her leg.

In an instant, Rio flung himself up over the rail and onto the road above. He grabbed Dylan's arm in one hand, the dropped pistol in his other.

"Let her go," he commanded Dragos and brought the gun level with the vampire's head. It was hard to kill one of the Breed, but a bullet to the brain was generally sufficient.

"You think this is over, warrior?" Dragos taunted, fangs flashing. "This is only the beginning."

With that he let go of Dylan and dropped, fast as a stone, into the roiling water below. The spillway ate him up, and the river beneath it was pitch dark, impossible to see.

Dragos was gone.

Rio turned to Dylan and gathered her into his arms. He held her close, so relieved that he was able to feel her warmth against him. He kissed her and smoothed away the blood and grit from her face.

"It's over," he whispered, kissing her again. He stared down at the black water below the bridge, but saw no sign of Dragos in the speeding current. "You're safe with me, Dylan. It's all over now."

She nodded and wrapped her arms around him. "Take me home, Rio."

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