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Midnight Rising (Chapter Thirty-four)

Somewhere in Connecticut, a couple of hours into the drive from Boston to New York, Rio's chest felt like it had been yanked open by ice-cold hands. He was on speakerphone with the compound, trying to find out if Gideon had been able to uncover any intel about the dead Breedmates Dylan reported seeing at the runaway shelter. The Order had the pictures she'd sent from her cell phone, and Gideon was searching for further missing persons information from the Darkhavens and human populations.

Rio heard the other warrior talking to him now, but the words weren't penetrating his skull.

"Ah, fuck," he groaned, rubbing at the tight blast of cold that seemed to have moved into the region of his heart.

"What's going on?" Gideon asked. "Rio? You still with me?"

"Yeah. But…something's wrong."

Dylan.

Something was very wrong with Dylan. He could sense her fear, and a sorrow so profound it nearly blinded him.

Not a good thing when he was speeding along I-84 at roughly ninety miles an hour.

"I've got a bad feeling, Gideon. I have to get ahold of Dylan right now."

"Sure. Be right here when you're done."

Rio clicked off the call and dialed Dylan. It rang into voice mail. Repeatedly.

That bad feeling was getting worse by the second. She was in real danger – he knew it by the sudden frantic drum of his pulse, his blood bond with her telling him that something terrible was happening to her.

Right now, while she was easily three hours away from him.

"Goddamn it," he growled, stomping on the gas.

He speed-dialed Gideon again.

"Any luck reaching her?"

"No." A deeper chill went through him. "She's in trouble, Gid. She's in pain somewhere. Goddamn it! I should never have let her out of my sight!"

"Okay," Gideon, the calm one, said. "I'm going to run a track on the Volvo's GPS, and I'll run one on her cell phone too. We'll locate her, Rio."

He heard the keyboard clacking on the other end of the line, but the dread in his gut told him that neither device was going to bring him any closer to Dylan. And sure enough, Gideon came back a second later with bad news.

"The car's sitting on Jewel Avenue in Queens, and the cell phone tracks to a location one block away from that. There's no movement coming out of either one."

As Rio cursed, he heard Nikolai's voice in the background, barely audible over the speaker. Something about Director Starkn and one of the photographs Dylan took.

"What did he just say?" Rio demanded. "Get Niko on the line. I want to know what he just said."

Gideon's voice was hesitant…and the vivid oath he swore an instant later did nothing to reassure Rio either.

"Damn it, what did he say?"

"Niko just asked me what Starkn was doing in the background of one of Dylan's pictures…"

"Which one?" Rio asked.

"The one from that charity cruise her mother was on. The one Dylan ID'd as being the runaway shelter's founder, Gordon Fasso."

"That can't be," Rio said, even while a voice inside of him was telling him the exact opposite. "Put Niko on."

"Hey, man," Nikolai said a second later. "I'm telling you. I saw Starkn with my own eyes. I'd know him anywhere. And the dude standing in the background of this picture is Enforcement Agency Regional Director Gerard fucking Starkn."

The name sank into his brain like acid as Rio weaved around a sluggish semi-trailer and floored the gas pedal through an empty stretch of pavement.

Gerard Starkn.

What the hell kind of name was that?

Gordon Fasso.

Another odd spelling.

And then there was Dragos, and his treacherous son. Couldn't forget that bastard. He was mixed up in this somehow too, Rio was certain of it.

Could Gordon Fasso and Gerard Starkn be in collusion with Dragos's son?

Oh, Holy Mother…

Gordon Fasso. Son of Dragos.

The letters began to jumble and resequence in Rio's mind. And then he saw it, as clear as the blare of red taillights that stretched up ahead of him for about a mile solid.

"Niko," he said woodenly. "Gordon Fasso is the son of Dragos. Gordon Fasso's not a name. It's a fucking anagram. Son of Dragos."

"Ah, Christ," Nikolai replied. "And if you mix up the letters of Gerard Starkn…you get another anagram: dark stranger."

"That's who's got Dylan." Rio rolled up on the parking lot of traffic and slammed his hand down on the dashboard. "Dragos's son has Dylan, Niko."

She was alive, that much he was sure of, and it was enough to keep him from losing his mind.

But his enemy had her, and Rio had no way of telling where he might have taken her.

And even without the bottleneck that was blocking all southbound lanes of the highway, he was still some long hours away from the New York state line.

He could be losing her forever…right now.

Dylan came awake in the dark backseat of a fast moving vehicle. Her head was thick, her senses dazed. She knew this foggy feeling; she'd been tranced at some point, and was now, somehow, breaking out of it. Through the heavy psychic cloak that had been dropped over her mind, Dylan felt another force reaching out to her.

Rio.

She could feel him in her veins. She could sense him in the power of their blood connection and in her heart as well. It was Rio reaching past Fasso's trance to give her strength, urging her to hang on. To stay alive.

Oh, God.

Rio.

Find me.

The low hum of the road beneath the vehicle's spinning wheels vibrated in her ears. She tried to see where they were heading, but through the bare slit of her lids, all she saw was darkness outside the tinted windows. Treetops rushing by, black against the night sky.

Her face ached from the blow Gordon Fasso had dealt her when she'd fought against her capture. She'd tried to scream, to escape, but he and the bulky guard who accompanied him had proven too strong for her.

Fasso alone would have been far too powerful for her to fight off.

But then, he would be, since he wasn't a man at all, but a vampire.

She had the very real sense that he was not even Gordon Fasso, if that man ever existed.

The monster who had her now was also the one who killed her mother. She didn't have to see her mother's broken body to know that it was Gordon Fasso who murdered her, either by pushing her off that twelfth-floor balcony, or by scaring her so totally that she leapt to her own death to escape him.

Maybe she'd done it for Dylan, a thought that made the loss even harder for Dylan to bear.

But she could grieve for her mother another time, and she would. Right now she had to stay alert and try to find a way out of this horrific situation.

Because if her captor succeeded in bringing her to wherever he intended, Dylan knew that there would be no escaping.

All that awaited her at the end of this path was pain and death.

At some point well into Connecticut, Rio realized that no matter how fast he drove, he stood no chance of finding Dylan. Not in New York, certainly. He was still a couple of hours away, and there was no telling where she was – or even if she was in New York anymore at all.

He was losing her.

Close enough that he could feel her reaching out to him, yet too far to grab hold of her.

"Goddamn it!"

Fear permeated every cell in his body, combined with a sorrow so profound it shredded him from the inside. He was raw, bleeding…racked with futile rage.

His vision swam with the rising pound of his temples. His skull screamed as the blackout started crowding his senses.

"No," he growled, stomping on the accelerator.

He rubbed at his eyes, commanding them to stay focused. He could not let his weakness overtake him now. He could not fail Dylan – not like this.

"No, goddamn it. I have to reach her. Ah, Cristo, " he choked, a broken sob catching in his throat. "I cannot lose her."

Go to the reservoir.

Rio heard the static-filled whisper but at first it didn't register.

Croton Reservoir.

He whipped his head around to the passenger seat and caught a glimpse of dark eyes and sable hair. The image was nearly transparent, and the one face he knew better than to trust.

Eva.

He snarled and cut away from the ghostly hallucination. Until now, he'd only seen Eva in the darkness of his dreams. Her false apologies and tearful insistence that she wanted to help him had just been illusions, tricks of his cracked mind. Maybe this was too.

Dylan's life on the line. He'd be damned before he let his own madness steer him off course now.

Rio, hear me. Let me help you.

Eva's voice crackled like a weak radio signal, but her tone was unmistakably emphatic. He felt a chill on his wrist and looked down to see her spectral hand lighting there. He wanted to shake off her touch like the poison it was, refuse to let Eva betray him again. But when he glanced over at the other side of the car, the ghost of his dead enemy was weeping, her pale cheeks glistening with tears.

You haven't lost her yet, said the unmoving lips that had lied so easily to him in the past. There is still time. Croton Reservoir…

He stared as her form began to wobble and fade out. Could he believe her? Could anything Eva said be trusted, even in this form? He'd hated her for everything she'd taken from him, so how could he think for one second that he could take her at her word now?

Forgive me, she whispered.

And with one last flicker of visibility…she vanished.

"Fuck," Rio hissed.

He looked out at the endless road ahead of him. He had precious few options here. One wrong move and Dylan was as good as dead. He had to be sure. He had to make the right choice or he would never be able to live with himself if he failed her now.

With a murmured prayer, Rio hit the speed dial on his cell phone. "Gideon. I need to know where the Croton Reservoir is. Right now."

There was an answering clatter of fingers flying over a keyboard. "It's in New York…Westchester County, off Route 129. The reservoir is part of an old dam."

Rio glanced up at the Connecticut highway sign half a mile away from him. "How far is it from Waterbury?"

"Ah…looks like maybe an hour if you take I-84 west." Gideon paused. "What's going on? You got a hunch about the dam?"

"Something like that," Rio replied.

He murmured his thanks to Gideon for the info, then killed the call, hit the gas, and veered into the exit lane.

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