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Shades of Midnight (Chapter Twenty-five)

Okay, Alex. Now, hold on here. Slow down, all right?" Zach Tucker carefully closed the door of the shed in back of his house and looked at Alex in stunned disbelief. She couldn't really blame him. No one in their right mind would believe what she'd just told him–not unless they'd seen it with their own eyes.

"You're telling me you just found another dead body in the bush, and you think it was … a vampire attack?"

"I know it was, Zach." Her heart ached to say the words, but the image of Kade, and the image of the hunter's savaged body he'd left behind, tore at her with icy talons. "Oh, God, Zach. I know you don't believe me, but it's true."

He frowned, staring at her for a long moment. "Why don't you come inside? It's freezing out here, and you're shaking like a leaf."

Not from the cold of the outdoors, but from the confusion and horror of discovering that Kade had betrayed her. He'd sworn he was different from the monsters of her nightmares, and she had believed him. She would have believed everything he'd told her, if she hadn't seen the blood-soaked proof of his deception for herself just a short while ago.

"Come on," Zach said, wrapping his arm around her shoulders and guiding her away from the shed, toward his house. Luna got up to follow, keeping pace at Alex's heels, but before the wolf dog could make it into the house, Zach closed the door in her face. "Sit down, Alex. Let's take this slowly now, all right?

Help me make sense of what you think you saw."

Numbly complying, she sank down onto the sofa in his living room. He took a seat beside her. "I don't think I saw anything, Zach. I did see it. It's real, everything I told you. Vampires do exist."

"Listen to yourself. This isn't like you, Alex. You've been acting strangely ever since the attack on the Tomses. Ever since that guy–Kade–showed up in Harmony." Zach's eyes narrowed on her. "Has he been giving you drugs? Is that what his business is in Harmony? Because if some asshole thinks he can come into my town and start dealing–"

"No!" Alex shook her head. "God, is that what you think? That I'm telling you all of this because I'm high or something?"

"I had to ask," he said, still watching her with an intensity that unsettled her. "I'm sorry, Alex, but all of this sounds a little … well, crazy."

She exhaled a sharp breath. "I know what it sounds like. I don't want to believe it any more than you do. But it's the truth. I've known it was the truth since I was nine years old."

"What do you mean?"

"Vampires, Zach. They're real. Years ago, they killed my mom and my little brother."

"You always said it was a drunk driver."

She slowly shook her head. "It wasn't. I saw the attack with my own eyes. It was the worst thing I've ever witnessed. And I didn't need to see the attack on Pop Toms and his family to know that the same evil killed them, too. I should have said something then. Maybe I could have stopped what happened to them, or to Lanny Ham and Big Dave."

Zach's frown deepened to a questioning scowl. "You're saying it was vampires that attacked them in that cave?"

"One vampire," she corrected. "The same one that probably killed the Toms family. It's stronger than other vampires, Zach. It's one of the fathers of the entire vampire race. And it's not … from this world." Zach leaned back and barked out a loud guffaw of laughter. "Oh, Christ, Alex! What the fuck are you on right now? You look sober enough, but you must be completely stoned to sit there with a straight face and expect me to believe this shit. Alien vampires, that's what you're talking about?"

"I know it's hard to imagine something like that could exist, but I'm telling you, it does. Vampires exist, and they call themselves the Breed." She stopped short of naming Kade in their number, not quite ready to betray him, even though he seemed to have had no difficulty when it came to her. Zach stood up and threw out his hands at her. "Go home. Sleep it off."

"Listen to me," she cried, desperate that he not dismiss her as wasted or crazy. She could see that she was losing this battle, she was afraid that her failure to convince him now might cost other lives before long. "Zach, please! We have to warn people. You have to believe me."

"No, I don't, Alex." He whirled around to face her, something brutal in his expression. "I'm not even sure I can believe anything you've said today, including your claim of another dead body in the woods. I don't have time for this kind of bullshit right now, okay? I have my own problems I'm dealing with! Folks are already worked up over everything that's going on around here lately. I've got troopers arriving tomorrow, and the last thing I need is you adding to my headaches with a lot of crazy talk about bloodthirsty, killer aliens running loose in the bush!"

Alex looked away from him, unable to hold the sharp fury in his gaze. She'd never seen him so angry. So … unglued. He was in a state of near panic himself, and it didn't seem due to anything she'd told him. As she turned her head, she noticed a folded wad of cash on the coffee table and a cell phone that looked vaguely familiar. She stared at both items, a peculiar inkling of suspicion worming its way up her spine.

"Isn't that Skeeter Arnold's cell phone?"

Zach seemed caught off guard by the question. "Huh? Oh. Yeah, I confiscated it off the little bastard this morning."

He picked up the roll of twenty-dollar bills without offering an explanation and stuffed it into his pocket, his eyes on her the whole time. Alex's blood slowed in her veins, oddly chilled. "I haven't seen Skeeter around all day. When did you see him?"

Zach shrugged. "I guess it wasn't long before you got here. I figure the Staties are going to want that phone for their investigation, seeing how he used it to record that video of the Toms settlement." The explanation made sense to her.

And yet …

"How long ago was it that you saw him?"

"About an hour ago," he replied, his answer clipped. "What does it matter to you, Alex?" She knew why he sounded defensive, even without having to reach out and confirm it with her gift for pining the truth with her touch. Zach was lying to her. Skeeter was dead hours before now–dead at Kade's hands, after Skeeter had finished off Big Dave.

Why would Zach lie about seeing him?

As the question sifted through her mind, she thought about the cash Zach had tucked away, and the cell phone he couldn't have gotten when he said he had … and the fact that although most of Harmony and the communities roughly a hundred miles out knew that Skeeter had connections in bootlegging and drugdealing, Zach had never found sufficient evidence to arrest him. Maybe Zach hadn't been looking hard enough.

Or maybe Zach had no desire to remove Skeeter Arnold from his line of work.

"Oh, my God," Alex murmured. "Did you and Skeeter have some kind of arrangement, Zach?" That defensive gaze narrowed even further now. "What the hell are you talking about?" Alex stood up, feeling some of her horror from everything that had happened today begin to melt under the heat of her outrage. "You did, didn't you? All your trips to Anchorage and Fairbanks. Is that where under the heat of her outrage. "You did, didn't you? All your trips to Anchorage and Fairbanks. Is that where you picked up supplies for him? What kind of commission did you skim off the top of his drug deals, or off the backs of the Native kids who threw their lives away on the alcohol he peddled to them on the side?

Good kids, like Teddy Toms."

Zach's eyes blazed with anger, but he offered her a sympathetic look. "Is that really what you think of me? You've known me for years, Alex."

"Have I?" She shook her head. "I'm not so sure. I'm not sure of anything anymore."

"Then let me take care of you," he said, his voice gentle, but she was hardly convinced. "I'm going to get my coat, and I'm going to take you home so you can get some rest. I think you need it, Alex." He pressed his lips together and gave her a vague nod. "I'll be right back, okay?" As he walked out of the room, Alex stood there, overwhelmed with uncertainty. Everything in her life had tilted beneath her. She didn't know whom she could trust now. Not Kade.

And apparently not Zach, either.

She didn't think it would be wise to trust him at all now.

Flames and debris shot high into the darkness as the mining company exploded behind him. Kade threw a glance backward, feeling the push of the expanding heat against his face, heat that turned the snowstorm that swirled around him and the other warriors into a brief, warm spittle of rain. The warmth didn't last. Frigid cold roared back in, all of it settling in Kade's chest.

"Alex," he whispered.

He had to reach her.

Brock shot him a concerned look. "What's going on?"

Kade rubbed at the icy hurt under his breastbone. "I'm not sure. It's Alex, and whatever I'm feeling, it's not good."

Even though he could tell from his blood bond to her that she wasn't in mortal danger, every instinct within him screamed for him to go to her. But he had a duty to the Order, and a duty to the warriors he still might have failed by losing sight of the ball on this mission. Dragos's Alaskan outpost was destroyed, a few more of his assets eliminated, but the Ancient was still at large. The warriors' mission here would not be complete until that deadly otherworlder was located and contained.

"Shit," Kade hissed.

This was not good. He couldn't go another second without talking to Alex at the very least. He had to reassure himself that she was all right. And part of him just needed to hear her voice.

"Call her," Brock said. When Kade hesitated, wondering why the ice in his chest was crawling up to his throat to taste like dread, Brock gave him a stern look. "Call your female." Kade took out his cell phone and walked until he was several yards from the other warriors. He dialed Alex's number. It rang three times before she answered.

"Alex?" he said into the silence on the other end. At his back, the crackle of flames and the soft hail of falling shrapnel seemed deafening when she was so quiet. "Alex … are you there? Can you hear me?"

"What do you want?" she sounded a bit out of breath, as if she were walking somewhere at a good clip.

"What do I want," he echoed. "I … are you okay? I know you're upset. I felt it. I've been worried that something happened–"

Her scoff cut him off at the knees. "That's funny. When I saw you earlier, you didn't seem to care that I was upset."

"What?" He gave himself a mental shake, trying to make sense of what she was saying. "What's going on with you?"

"Did you want me to see you like that? Is that what you meant when you said you were afraid I might hate you one day? Because right now I don't know what to think." Her voice was tight with anger, and with hurt. "After what I saw, I don't know how I feel. Not about you or us or anything."

"Alex, I don't have any idea–"

More huffing breaths, her boots crunching in the snow. "What was all that talk about a mission with the Order? Was it all bullshit, Kade? Just a game you played to make me think you were something better than what you are?"

"Alex–"

She sucked in a sob. "My God, was everything between us just a bunch of bullshit, too?" Kade stalked farther away from the settling destruction behind him and the other warriors who had taken notice of his departure from the group. "Alex, please. Tell me what the hell is going on."

"I saw you!" she burst out sharply. "I saw you, Kade. In the woods, covered in blood, running with that pack of wolves. I saw what you did to that man."

"Ah, Christ," he muttered, comprehension dawning in a smothering wave. "Alex …"

"I saw you," she whispered now, her voice breaking. "And I know you saw me, because you looked right at me."

"Alex, it wasn't me," he said, his heart sinking. "It was my brother. My twin, Seth."

"Oh, please." She scoffed. "How convenient for you to just remember him now. Let me guess, you're Dr. Jekyll and he's Mr. Hyde."

Kade understood her doubt. He understood her anger, and her disdain of him. Her emotion swelled in his own chest, squeezing his heart as though it were caught in a vise. "Alex, you don't understand. I didn't want to tell you about Seth because I am ashamed. Of him, of what he's done. Of myself, too, and the fact that I have not put a stop to his madness before now. I didn't tell you about him because I thought you would think I was just like him." He blew out a harsh sigh. "Shit … maybe it was only a matter of time before you realized that I was like him."

She was silent for a long moment, her footsteps halted. In the background, he could hear Luna's soft whine. "I'm hanging up now, Kade."

"Wait. I need to see you. Where are you, Alex?"

"I don't …" She inhaled a deep breath, blew it out in a rush. "I don't want to see you. Not right now. Maybe not ever again."

"Alex, I can't let you do this. I want to talk to you, in person, not like this." He closed his eyes, felt some of his hope drifting away. "Tell me where you are. I can be at your house in a few minutes–"

"I'm not at home. After what I saw today, I didn't know what to do, or where to go. So I went to Zach's."

The human police officer. Ah, fuck.

Panic drilled into the center of Kade's being. "Alex, I know you're upset and confused, but do not tell him any of this–"

"Too late," she murmured. "I have to go now, Kade. Stay away from me."

"Alex, wait. Alex!" The cell phone beeped as the connection ended. She hung up on him. "Goddamn it."

He tried her back again, but there was no answer. Three rings, four … her voicemail picked up and he hung up.

Tried again. Same result.

"Shit!" Kade roared with anger, frustrated and raw with self-directed fury for what Alex had been through. Trauma he'd had a hand in, and which had likely lost him the one woman he hoped would be at his side for the rest of his life.

When he pivoted around, Tegan was standing there. "That doesn't sound good." Kade gave a vague shake of his head.

"A female, obviously," Tegan said. "The Breedmate from Harmony?" Kade held the grim gaze of the Gen One warrior. "I am bonded to her. I love her." Tegan, also a mated Breed male, grunted. "There are worse things."

"Yeah," Kade agreed. "There are worse things. She thinks I betrayed her. I didn't, but I wasn't honest with her, and I let her down. She said she never wants to see me again."

"Go on," Tegan said.

"Alex knows about the Breed," Kade said. "She knows about the Ancient, too. Shit, she knows everything. And I think she may have told it all to the state trooper stationed in Harmony." Tegan didn't blink. His stare was bleak, calculating. Ruthless. "That would be unfortunate." Kade nodded, blew out a curse. "I think it's too late to stop her. She told me she went to his house today. She's upset, and scared. I think she might have gone to the human for help."

"I see." Tegan's growl was so deep it was hardly audible. "Then it looks like we're going to Harmony now. We need to contain the situation. And if need be, we'll have to contain your female, as well."

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