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Taken by Midnight (Chapter Twenty-five)

There hadn't been a lot of time to prepare for the rendezvous with Mathias Rowan and his team of Enforcement Agents that night. Then again, the entire operation consisted of a tip provided by less than reliable sources and the determination–the desperate hope–of Lazaro Archer and his son that Kellan Archer had, in fact, been brought to the city construction site on the far edge of Quincy.

Neither Brock nor the rest of the Order held out the same hope that the lead would prove fruitful. If Dragos was the instigator of the abduction, and it seemed reasonable to assume as much, then the odds of finding the boy alive, let alone so quickly and neatly after he'd been taken, seemed slim at best.

But none of the warriors said so as they rolled up behind the Enforcement Agency vehicles parked off the street adjacent to the site.

Mathias Rowan was the first to step over and meet them. He cut away from the other six Agents accompanying him and strode toward the Rover as Brock killed the engine and the warriors who'd come along with him climbed out to the frozen pavement. Chase made the introductions, starting with Tegan and Kade, then Brock, who was already familiar with Agent Rowan.

Hunter was part of the Order's operation tonight, as well, but he'd jumped out of the Rover a block before their rendezvous point in order to move in stealth and run a perimeter check of the building and the surrounding area.

The building in question was a ten-story condominium, or would have been, according to the real estate sign out front, if the financing bank hadn't gone belly-up with the recent nosepe of the humans' economy. Half completed for months and showing its neglect, the brick tower was little more than a skeleton of a shelter–empty, unfinished floors and gaping windows. The place looked quiet, desolate enough to be useful as a possible holding location.

"Lazaro Archer and the boy's father are here, as well," Rowan informed the warriors. "They both insisted on coming along, although I have advised them it would be best for everyone involved if they remained in one of the Agency vehicles while we conduct the search."

Tegan inclined his head in agreement. "Your men have not gone near the building?"

"No. We arrived just a moment before you did."

"And you've seen no movement in or out of the building?" Brock asked, glancing over at the dark structure as a flurry of fine snow swirled around them.

"We haven't seen or heard anything," Rowan said. "As far as tips go, I've known a lot better than this."

"Let's go have a look," Tegan said, leading the way.

As they neared the Enforcement Agency vehicles, Brock recognized Freyne among the team of Agents with Rowan. He and two other men leaned against one of the sedans, semiauto pistols holstered and visible under their open winter coats. Brock stared the belligerent Agent down, daring any one of the bunch to make a stupid comment as they approached.

Chase was less subtle. He grinned at his adversary from a couple of nights ago. "Glad to see you back on your feet after I wiped the pavement with your ass the other night. Anytime you want to go again, you let me know."

"Go fuck yourself," Freyne sneered, looking just as ready to escalate things with his former comrade.

The exchange of venom was brief, cut short by the opening of the back door of the Agency vehicle. Lazaro Archer stepped out to the street, his harsh face hard with concern. He nodded to the warriors in solemn greeting.

"Christophe and I want to be there for the search of the building," he said, directing his request to Tegan. "You cannot expect us to stand by and wait–"

"That's exactly what I expect." Tegan's voice was firm but not without respect. "We don't know what we might find in there tonight, Lazaro. It could be nothing. But if it's not, then you need to let us handle this."

"My son and I want to help," he argued.

Tegan's jaw was set now. "Then help by letting us do our job. Stay here. We'll all know soon enough if this lead proves out. Chase, stand guard with Rowan's men until we return. Don't let them out of your sight."

Brock didn't miss the look of irritation on Harvard's face, but the former Agent fell in as he was instructed. With Freyne and the other two sentries standing by, he assisted Lazaro Archer back into the vehicle and closed the door.

He leaned against the car, arms crossed over his chest, and watched as Brock and the rest of the group moved on toward the dark building.

They approached silently, Tegan's signals to split up into two teams understood and accepted by both Brock and Kade and by Rowan and his three Agents. With the Enforcement Agency team heading around to a back stairwell, Tegan, Brock, and Kade entered through the front of the vacant shell, into what would have been a lobby.

Once inside, it became clear that the building was not entirely unoccupied. Booted footsteps shuffled on the concrete floor above their heads. From the same general area, the metal leg of a chair scraped sharply.

And then, running undercurrent of the wintry wind that howled through the open window cavities all around them, came the muffled sound of whimpering cries.

Tegan gestured toward a stairwell off the main floor. Brock and Kade followed him, all three climbing up the short flight with weapons at the ready.

As they reached the second floor, Brock's gaze was drawn to a faint light that shone from somewhere near the end of an unfinished apartment.

Tegan and Kade saw it, too.

"Humans?" Brock mouthed to his brethren, guessing it might be homeless squatters, since any of his kind could see clearly in the dark and wouldn't have the need for artificial light.

Tegan motioned for them to keep moving and investigate the source of the small glow.

They crept forward in the dark, the three of them branching off to come at the place from all sides. As they neared, Brock caught a fleeting glimpse of three large male figures in head-to-toe black, each holding a semi-automatic weapon. The masked guards loomed over a smaller figure in the center of the wall-less space.

Kellan Archer.

Holy hell, Freyne's tip had been good, after all.

The Breed youth's head hung down over his thin chest, his gingery hair matted and limp, his clothing torn from his captors' apparent rough handling. His hands were fastened behind him, his ankles and torso secured to a metal chair with a couple lengths of chain.

Being Breed, even a teenager, Kellan likely could have broken free of his restraints if he tried. But he stood little chance of escaping three of Dragos's Hunters, each of them armed to the teeth and close enough to fill him with lead.

Tegan glanced at Brock, then Kade, a silent signal for them to move in as one on his go. They had to move in quietly, get into the best position so they could each take on one of the Gen One assassins without trapping Kellan Archer in the crossfire.

But before any of them could take the first step, Brock heard the softest click of metal coming from an area deeper in the shadows of the second floor.

Mathias Rowan and his Agents were there. They saw the captured kid, as well.

And in that very next instant, one of the trigger-happy assholes from the Enforcement Agency opened fire.

The eruption of gunfire inside the building carried out to the street below.

"Holy fuck," Sterling Chase snarled, his head snapping up at the sudden blast of noise. "Jesus motherfucking Christ–they must have found the kid!"

Freyne watched the former Enforcement Agent react in a state of near panic as the gunfire continued. Chase drew his weapon and threw a wild look at the building across the construction site. Sterling Chase, the Breed male who'd had a golden career with the Agency not so long ago, but had thrown it all away to join up with the Order.

Idiot.

He could have allied himself with a much more powerful organization, as Freyne himself had done just a few months past.

"I'm going in," Chase said, cocking the black 9mm pistol and already moving away from the Agency vehicle on the street. "You and your men stay put, Freyne. Don't turn your backs from this post for so much as a goddamned second, understood?"

Freyne gave an agreeable nod, trying hard to curb his eager smile.

This was exactly the opportunity he'd wanted. In fact, he'd been counting on things playing out precisely as they were now.

"Keep the Archers secured in the vehicle," Chase called as his boots chewed up the snow-covered asphalt, taking him toward the chaos of weapons fire still ringing out in the skeletal tower up ahead. "Don't take your eyes off them, no matter what."

"You got it," Freyne muttered under his breath once the former Agent was well out of earshot.

Next to him in the street, the backseat passenger window slid down.

Christophe Archer peered out from inside the sedan, his normally proud face drawn taut with worry. "What's happening?" He flinched at the racket echoing into the darkness. "Good God–who's shooting in there? Have they found my son?"

Archer made a move as though he intended to get out of the vehicle.

Freyne stepped up, blocking the door.

"Relax," he told the nervous father. As he spoke, he smoothly drew his semiautomatic out of its holster. A barely discernible flick of his eyes commanded the other two Agents with him on the opposite side of the car to follow suit. "We've got everything under control."

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