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Midnight Rising (Chapter Twenty-six)

If he'd been worried about making more mistakes, particularly where Dylan was concerned, Rio had to admit he'd just crossed one gaping point of no return.

Taking her vein like he had was bad enough; Breed males with even the smallest scrap of honor would never feed from a Breedmate simply for their own gain. That quenching taste of Dylan's blood had pulled him through what would have been hours of anguish, and a blackout that would have left him vulnerable to discovery by humans, other vampires…shit. Vulnerable on more levels than he cared to examine.

But whether he'd needed it or not, it had been wrong to take Dylan's blood. Even though she'd given it to him freely, she hardly understood what she was doing – binding herself to him, and for what? Charity. Maybe even pity.

It burned him to think he'd been too weak to turn her away. He'd wanted what she was offering – all of it. And it was a little too late to call his actions back. What he'd done here was irrevocable. He knew it, and maybe instinctively she did too, since she'd become so quiet as she rested in his arms.

Rio was linked to her now, by a bond that could not be undone. With her blood swimming through his body, into his cells, Dylan was a part of him. Until death took one of them, Rio would sense her presence, her emotional state – the very essence of her – no matter how distant their separate futures might take them.

As he stroked the impossibly soft curve of her bare shoulder as she lay in his arms, he had to wonder if the blood bond was somewhat incidental to the profound attraction he was feeling for this woman. He'd felt a connection building with her from the very beginning, ever since she wandered into that cave and he heard her voice in the dark.

Making love with Dylan tonight had been perhaps as big a mistake as drinking from her: now that he'd tasted her passion, he only wanted more. He was selfish and greedy, and he'd already proven to himself that he couldn't count on honor to keep his wants at bay.

He focused instead on her – shallow breaths, careful silence…a heaviness within her that had nothing to do with the myriad mistakes that had transpired between them.

She was mourning privately.

"How bad off is she…your mother?"

Dylan swallowed, her hair sifting over his chest as she gave a vague shake of her head. "It's not good. She keeps getting weaker." Dylan's voice trailed off. "I don't know how much longer she can fight it. To tell you the truth, I don't know how much longer she will try."

"I'm sorry," Rio said, caressing her back and knowing that he could only offer feeble words.

He didn't want Dylan to hurt, and he knew that she was weathering a deep pain. It didn't take a blood bond to tell him that. And he was ten kinds of bastard for doing what he did with her here tonight.

"We can't stay here," he said, not meaning it to come out like a snarl. "We need to get moving."

He shifted beneath her uncomfortably, groaning when he only succeeded in making their position even more awkward. He muttered a curse in Spanish.

"Are you okay?" Dylan asked. She lifted her head and looked up at him, frowning with concern. "Is the pain coming back now? How do you feel?"

Frustration rose up in his throat on a scoff, but he bit it back. Instead reached out to stroke her cheek. "Have you always tried to take care of everyone around you before yourself?"

Her frown deepened. "I don't need taking care of. I haven't needed that in a very long time."

"How long, Dylan?"

"Ever."

As she said it, her chin went up a bit, and Rio found it easy to picture Dylan as a freckle-faced little girl stubbornly refusing any and all help, regardless of how badly she might need it. As a woman, she was much the same. Defiant, proud. So afraid to be hurt.

He knew that kind of fear personally as well. He'd walked a similar path from the time he was a child. It was a lonely one; he'd almost not survived it himself. But Dylan was stronger than him in so many ways. He was only now coming to realize just how strong she really was.

And how alone as well.

He recalled that she had passingly mentioned having brothers – a pair of them, both named for rock stars – but he'd never heard her speak of her father. In fact, the only family she seemed to have in her life at all was the woman currently residing in the cancer wing of the hospital down the street. The family she was likely going to lose before long.

"Has it been just the two of you for a while now?" he asked.

She nodded. "My dad left when I was twelve – abandoned us, actually. They porced soon afterward, and Mom never remarried. Not for lack of interest." Dylan laughed, but it was a sad kind of humor. "My mom has always been a bit of a free spirit, always falling in love with a new man and swearing to me that she's finally found The One. I think she's in love with the state of being in love. Right now, she's crushing on the man who owns the runaway center where she works. God, for her to have so much love left to give even when the cancer is taking so much away from her…"

Rio smoothed his fingers down Dylan's arm as she fought the sudden hitch in her voice. "What about your father? Have you been in touch with him about what's going on?"

She scoffed sharply. "He wouldn't care, even if I knew where he was and he was sober enough to listen to me. His family was only of value to him when we were bailing him out of trouble or helping him score more booze and drugs."

"Sounds like a real bastard," Rio said, anger for Dylan's hurt spiking in his belly. "Too bad he's gone. I wish I could meet the son of a bitch."

"You want to hear why he left?"

He petted her hair, watching the candlelight play over the burnished waves. "Only if you want to tell me."

"It was my 'gift' as you called it. My weird ability to see the dead." Dylan idly traced one of his glyphs as she spoke, remembering what had to be unpleasant times. "When I was little, elementary school age and before, my parents never paid much attention to the fact that I occasionally would talk to invisible people. It's not that unusual for kids to have imaginary friends, so I guess they ignored it. Plus, with all the arguing and problems in our house, it wasn't like they heard a lot of what I was saying anyway. Well, not until a few years later, that is. In one of his rare sober moments, my father ran across my diary. I'd been writing about seeing these dead women from time to time, and hearing them speak to me. I was trying to understand why it was happening to me – what it meant, you know? – but he saw it as an opportunity to cash in on me."

"Jesus." Rio was despising the man more and more.

"Cash in on you how?"

"He could never hold a job for long, and he was always looking for ways to make a fast buck. He thought if he charged people to come and speak with me – people who'd lost loved ones and were hoping to connect with them somehow – he could just sit back and count the cash as it poured in." She shook her head slowly. "I tried to tell him that's not how my visions worked. I couldn't bring them up on command. I never knew when I'd see them, and even when they appeared, it wasn't like I could carry on a conversation with them. The dead women I see speak to me, tell me things they want me to hear, or want me to act on, but that's it. There's no chatting about who's hanging out with them on the Other Side, or any of the other parlor game type of stuff you see on TV. But my father wouldn't listen. He demanded I figure out how to use my skill…and so, for a while, I tried to fake it. It didn't last long. One of the families he tried to swindle pressed charges, and my father split. That was the last we ever saw or heard from him."

Good riddance, Rio thought savagely, but he could understand how that kind of abandonment must have hurt the child Dylan was.

"What about your brothers?" he asked. "Weren't they old enough to step in and do something about your father?"

"By that time, both of them were gone." Dylan's voice sounded very quiet, more pained than at any time when she'd been reliving her father's betrayal. "I was only seven when Morrison died in a car accident. He'd just gotten his license that week, just turned sixteen. My father took him out to celebrate. He got Morrie drunk, and evidently my father was in even worse shape, so he gave the keys to Morrie to drive them home. He missed a turn and ran the car into a telephone pole. My father walked away with a concussion and a broken collarbone, but Morrie…he never came out of his coma. He died three days later."

Rio couldn't contain the growl that boiled up from his throat. The urge to kill, to avenge and protect this woman in his arms was savage, a seething fire in his veins. "I really need to find this so-called man and give him a taste of true pain," he muttered. "Tell me your other brother beat your father to within an inch of his useless life."

"No," Dylan said. "Lennon was older than Morrie by a year and a half, but where Morrie was loud and outgoing, Len was quiet and reserved. I remember the look on his face when Mom came home and told us Morrie had died and our father would be spending a couple days in jail once he got out of the hospital. Len just…dissolved. I saw something in him die that day too. He walked out of the house and straight into a military recruiter's office. He couldn't wait to get away…from us, from all of it. He never looked back. Some friends of his said he'd been shipped out to Beirut, but I don't know for sure. He never wrote or called. He just…disappeared. I just hope he's happy, wherever his life took him. He deserves that."

"You deserve it too, Dylan. Jesus, you and your mother both deserve more than what life has given you so far."

She lifted her head and pivoted to face him, her eyes glistening and moist. Rio cupped her beautiful face and brought her to him, kissing her with only the lightest brush of his lips across hers. She wrapped her arms around him, and as he held her there, he wondered if maybe there was a way that he could give Dylan some hope…some piece of happiness for her and the mother she loved so dearly.

He thought of Tess – Dante's Breedmate – and the incredible skill she had to heal with her touch. Tess had helped Rio mend from some of his injuries, and more than once he'd witnessed firsthand how she could take away battle wounds and knit broken bones back together again.

She'd said the ability had diminished now that she was pregnant, but what if there was a chance…even a slim one?

As his mind started chugging away on the possibilities, his cell phone went off. He grabbed it from out of the pocket of his discarded jacket and flipped it open.

"Shit. It's Niko." He hit the talk button. "Yeah."

"Where the fuck are you, man?"

He glanced at Dylan, looking so delectably naked in the soft glow of the candles. "I'm in the city – Midtown. I'm with Dylan."

"Midtown with Dylan," Niko repeated, a sardonic edge to his voice. "I guess that explains why the Rover's sitting at the curb and there's no one here at her place. You two decide to take in a show or something? What the hell's going on with you and that female, amigo?"

Rio didn't feel like explaining at the moment. "Everything's cool here. Did you and Kade run into any problems?"

"Nope. Located all four inpiduals and did a gentle little soft-shoe on their memories from the cave." He chuckled. "Okay, maybe we weren't so gentle on that asshole she works for at the paper. Guy was a first-class dick. The only one left to do is the female's mother. Tried her home address and the shelter where she works, but no luck either place. You got any idea where she is?"

"Ah…yeah," Rio said. "Don't worry about it, though. It's under control. I'm going to handle that situation myself."

There was a beat of silence on the other end. "Okay. While you're, ah, handling the situation, you want Kade and I to run the Rover out and pick you up? Time's gonna be getting tight soon if we want to make it back to Boston before the sun comes up."

"Yeah, I need pickup," Rio said. He rattled off the cross-streets of the hospital complex. "See you in twenty."

"Hey, amigo?"

"Yeah?"

"Are we picking you up solo, or should we expect company for the ride back?"

Rio glanced at Dylan, watching as she began putting her clothes back on. He didn't want to say good-bye to her, but bringing her back to the compound with him didn't seem like the kindest thing for him to do either. He'd already dragged her far enough into his problems tonight, first by drinking from her, then by seducing her. If he brought her back with him now, what might he be tempted to do for an encore?

But yet there was a part of him that wanted to hold her close, despite the knowledge that she could – and should – do better than him. He had so little to offer Dylan, yet that didn't keep him from wishing he could give her the world.

"Just call me when you get here," he told Niko. "I'll be waiting for you."

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