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Midnight Rising (Chapter Twenty-seven)

Dylan finished getting dressed while Rio made his plans with Nikolai on the phone. He was going back to Boston tonight. From the sound of it, he'd be taking off as soon as the other warriors came to get him. Twenty minutes, he'd said. Not long at all.

And no mention whatsoever of where that left the two of them now.

Dylan tried not to let that sting, but it did. She wanted some indication that what happened between them tonight had meant something to him too. But he was silent behind her in the little back room of the church as he snapped his cell phone closed and started putting his clothes on.

"Are Nancy and the others all right?"

"Yes," he said from somewhere behind her. "They're all fine. Niko and Kade didn't harm them, and the process of erasing their memories is painless."

"That's good." She leaned over the two half-melted candles and blew them out. In the darkness, she found the courage to ask him the question that had been hanging between them all night. "So, what now, Rio? When are you going to scrub my memory?"

She didn't hear him move, but she felt the stir in the air as he drew up to her back and his strong, warm hands came to rest softly on her shoulders. "I don't want to do that, Dylan. For your sake – maybe for my own too – I should erase myself from your memory, but I don't want that. I don't think I could."

Dylan shut her eyes, holding the tender words close. "Then…where do we go from here?"

Slowly, he turned her around to face him. He kissed her sweetly, then rested his forehead against hers. "I don't know. I only know that I'm not ready to say good-bye to you right now."

"Your friends are going to be here soon."

"Yes."

"Don't go with them."

He tilted his chin down and pressed his lips to the top of her head. "I have to."

In her heart, even before he said it, Dylan knew he had to go back. His world was with the Order. And regardless of the birthmark that granted her a special place among the Breed, Dylan had to remain with her mom.

She burrowed her cheek into Rio's chest, listening to the solid beat of his heart. She wasn't sure she could let go of him, now that she had her arms wrapped around him. "Will you come with me, back to the hospital? I want to check in on her one more time tonight."

"Of course," Rio said, disengaging from her and taking her hand in his.

They left their makeshift haven in the empty church and walked hand in hand back to the hospital complex. Visiting hours had ended some time ago, but the guard at the front desk seemed used to making exceptions for family members heading up to the cancer ward. He waved Dylan and Rio through, and they took the elevator up to the tenth floor.

Rio waited outside the room as Dylan put her gloves on and opened the door. Her mother was asleep, so Dylan took a seat in the chair beside the bed and just sat there quietly watching her breathe.

There was so much she wanted to tell her – not the least of which being the fact that she had met an extraordinary man. She wanted to tell her mother that she was falling in love. That she was excited and scared and filled with a desperate kind of hope for all that might await in her future with the man standing right outside the hospital room.

She wanted her mom to know that she was falling head over heels in love with Eleuterio de la Noche Atanacio…a man like no other she'd ever known before.

But Dylan couldn't say any of those things. They were secrets she had to keep, for now, certainly. Maybe forever.

She reached out and stroked her mom's hair, carefully pulled the thin blanket up under her delicate chin. How she wished her mother could have known one true, profound love in her lifetime. It seemed so unfair that she'd made so many bad choices, loved too many bad men, when she deserved someone decent and kind.

"Oh, Mommy," Dylan whispered quietly. "This is so damn unfair."

Tears welled up and flooded over. Maybe she'd saved a lifetime of crying in preparation of this moment, but there was no stopping them now. Dylan wiped at her tears but they kept coming, too many for her to sweep away with her latex-covered hands. She got up and went around to grab a tissue from the box on her mother's wheeled bed tray. As she dabbed at her eyes, she noticed a ribboned package sitting on a table at the other side of the small room. She walked over and saw that it was chocolates. The box was unopened, and from the look of it, expensive. Curious, Dylan picked up the tiny white card tucked under the silk grosgrain bow.

It read: To Sharon. Come back to me soon. Yours, G. F.

Dylan mulled over the initials and realized it had to be the runaway shelter's owner, Mr. Fasso. Gordon, her mother had called him. He must have come to visit her sometime after Dylan had left. And the message on the card sounded a bit more intimate than your basic boss-to-employee, get-well sentiment…

Good Lord, could this actually be something more than one of her mom's many disastrous infatuations?

Dylan didn't know whether to laugh or cry even harder at the idea that her mother might have found someone decent. Granted, she didn't know Gordon Fasso outside his general reputation as a wealthy, charitable, somewhat eccentric, businessman. But as far as her mother's taste in men ran, Dylan figured she could – and had – done a lot worse.

She can't hear me.

Dylan froze at the sudden sound of a female voice in the room.

It wasn't her mother's.

It wasn't an earthly voice at all, she realized in the split second before she processed the static-filled whisper and then turned around to face the spirit of a young woman.

I tried to tell her, but she can't hear me…can you…hear me?

The ghost's lips didn't move, but Dylan heard her speak as clearly as any other specter her Breedmate gift had allowed her to see. She held the sorrowful gaze of a dead girl who looked to be less than twenty years old.

A distant familiarity sparked as Dylan took in the goth clothing and the pair of black braids that hung over the girl's shoulders. She'd seen her before at the shelter. The girl had been one of her mother's favorites – Toni. The runaway who'd no-showed at the job Dylan's mom had gotten for her. Sharon had been so disappointed when she told Dylan about losing Toni to the streets. Now, here that poor lost child was, reaching out at last, but from the grave and truly too far gone for anyone to help her.

So, why was she trying to communicate with Dylan?

In the past, she might have tried to ignore the apparition, or deny her ability to see it, but not now. Dylan nodded when the ghost asked again if she was being heard.

Too late for me, said the unmoving lips. But not for them. They need you.

"Need me for what?" Dylan asked quietly, knowing her own voice never carried into the afterlife. "Who needs me?"

There are more of us…your sisters.

The young woman tilted her head, exposing the underside of her chin. Riding on the slender line of her ethereal skin was the birthmark Dylan knew well.

"You're a Breedmate," she gasped.

Holy shit.

Had they all been Breedmates? All the ghosts she'd ever seen were exclusively female, always young, seemingly healthy-looking women. Had they all been born with the same teardrop-and-crescent-moon stamp that she had?

Too late for me, the ghost of Toni said.

Her form was beginning to break up, fading in and out like a weak hologram. She was becoming transparent, little more than a detached crackle of electricity in the air. Her voice was less than a whisper now, growing weaker as Toni's image dissolved to nothingness.

But Dylan heard what she said, and it chilled her.

Don't let him kill any more of us…

Dylan's face was ashen as she came out of her mother's room.

"What happened? Is she okay?" Rio asked, his heart knotting at the thought of Dylan possibly facing her mother's passing all alone. "Did anything – "

Dylan shook her head. "No, my mom's fine. She's asleep. But there was…Oh, God, Rio." She lowered her voice and pulled him to a private corner of the hallway. "I just saw the ghost of a Breedmate."

"Where?"

"In the room with my mom. The girl was a runaway from the shelter, one my mom was very close to until she went missing recently. Her name was Toni, and she – " Dylan broke off, wrapping her arms around herself. "Rio, she just told me she was murdered, and that she's not alone. She said there are more like her. She showed me her Breedmate mark and then she told me not to let any more of 'my sisters' be killed too."

Holy…hell.

Dread coiled in Rio's gut as Dylan relayed the unearthly message of warning. Instantly he thought of Dragos's corrupt son, and the very real possibility that the bastard had unleashed the Ancient from its crypt, just as the Order feared. He could be breeding the creature right now, creating multiple new Gen One vampires on multiple females.

For crissake, Dragos's son could be harvesting Breedmates from the four corners of the world for that very purpose.

"She said 'don't let him kill any more of us ,' like I was in danger as well."

Rio's skin went tight with foreboding. "You're sure this is what you saw – what you heard?"

"Yes."

"Show me." He took a step toward the room. "I need to see this for myself. Is it still in there?"

Dylan shook her head. "No, she's gone now. The apparitions are like mist…they don't stay visible for very long."

"Did you ask her where the others might be, or who it was that killed her?"

"It doesn't work that way, unfortunately. They can speak, but I don't think they can hear me wherever they are. I've tried, but that never works." Dylan stared at him for a long moment. "Rio, I think every one of these visitations I've had – from the very first, when I was just a kid – has been the spirit of a dead Breedmate. I always thought it was odd that I only saw females, young females, who should have been in prime health. When I saw the birthmark under Toni's chin, it all clicked into place in my mind. Rio, I get it now – I feel it. They've all been Breedmates."

Rio ran a hand over his scalp, letting a sharp oath hiss through his teeth. "I need to call Boston and fill them in on this."

Dylan nodded, still staring up into his eyes. When she spoke, her voice was a little shaky. "Rio, I'm scared."

He pulled her close, knowing what it cost her to admit that, even to him. "Don't be. I'll keep you safe. But I can't leave you here tonight, Dylan. I'm taking you back with me to the compound."

She frowned. "But my mom – "

"If I can help her too, I will," he said, putting it all out there for her now. "But first I need to know that you'll be safe."

Dylan's eyes pleaded with him, then, at last, she gave a small nod of her head. "All right, Rio. I'll go back with you."

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