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Veil of Midnight (Chapter Fifteen)

The most recent round of torture had ended a couple of hours ago, but Nikolai's body tensed in reflex when he heard the soft click of the electronic lock on the door of his room. He didn't have to guess where he was – the clinical white walls and the fleet of medical apparatus flanking his wheeled bed was clue enough to tell him that he'd been taken to one of the Enforcement Agency's containment facilities.

The industrial-grade steel restraints clamped tight at his wrists, chest, and ankles told him that his current personal accommodations were courtesy of the Rogue treatment and rehabilitation wing of the facility. Which, in case there had been any question before, meant that he was as good as dead. Like the Breed equivalent of a Roach Motel, once you strolled through these doors, you never came back.

Not that his captors intended to let him enjoy his stay for any length of time. Nikolai got the distinct impression that their patience with him was near its end. They'd beaten him nearly unconscious after the tranqs wore off, working him over to get his confession to having killed Sergei Yakut. When that didn't get them anywhere, they started in with tasers and other creative electronics, all the while keeping him drugged enough that he could feel every jolt and prod yet too sedated to fight back.

The worst of his tormentors was the Breed male coming into the room now. Niko had heard one of the Enforcement Agents call him Fabien, spoken with enough deference to indicate the vampire ranked fairly high up on the chain of command. Tall and lanky, with narrow features and small, darting eyes under his slicked-back fair hair, Fabien had a nasty sadistic streak barely hidden behind the veneer of his elegant suit and pleasant civilian demeanor. The fact that he had come in alone this time couldn't be a good sign.

"How was your rest?" he asked Niko with a polite smile. "Perhaps you're ready to chat with me now. Just the two of us this time, what do you say?"

"Fuck you," Nikolai growled through his extended fangs. "I didn't kill Yakut. I told you what happened. You arrested the wrong guy, asshole."

Fabien chuckled as he walked to the side of the bed and stared down at him. "There was no mistake, warrior. And I personally could give a damn whether or not you were the one who blew that Gen One's brains all over his walls. I have other, more important questions to ask you. Questions you will answer, if your life means anything to you at all."

That this male evidently knew he was a member of the Order put a dangerous new spin on Nikolai's incarceration. As did the evil glimmer in those shrewd raptorlike eyes.

"What exactly does the Order know about the other Gen One assassinations?"

Nikolai glared up at him, silent, jaw set tight.

"Do you really think you can do anything to stop them? Do you think the Order is so powerful that it can keep the wheel from turning when it's been in motion secretly for years already?" The Breed male's lips spread into a caricature of a smile. "We will exterminate you one by one, just as we are doing with the last remaining members of the first generation. Everything is in place, and has been for a long time. The revolution, you see, has already begun."

Rage coiled in Nikolai's gut as he realized just what he was hearing. "You son of a bitch. You're with Dragos."

"Ah…now you begin to understand," Fabien said pleasantly.

"You're a fucking traitor to your own race, that's what I understand."

The facade of civil behavior fell away like a mask. "I want you to tell me about the Order's current missions. Who are your allies? What do you know about the assassinations? What are the Order's plans where Dragos is concerned?"

Nikolai sneered. "Blow me. Tell your boss he can blow me too."

Fabien's cruel eyes narrowed. "You have tested my patience long enough."

He got up and walked to the door. A curt wave of his hand brought the guard on duty inside. "Yes, sir?" "It is time."

"Yes, sir."

The guard nodded and disappeared, only to return a moment later. He and a facility attendant wheeled in a woman strapped to a narrow bed. She'd been sedated as well, and wore only a thin, sleeveless hospital gown. Lying beside her was a tourniquet, a package of thick needles, and a coiled IV tube.

What the hell was this about?

But he knew. He knew as soon as the attendant lifted the human's limp arm and fixed the tourniquet around the area of her brachial artery. The needle and siphoning tube were next.

Nikolai tried to ignore the clinical process taking place beside him, but even the subtlest scent of blood made his senses fire up like holiday lights. Saliva surged into his mouth. His fangs stretched longer in anticipation of feeding.

He didn't want to hunger – not like this, not when he was certain Fabien intended to use it against him now. He tried to ignore his thirst but it was already rising, responding to the visceral urge to feed.

Fabien and the other two vampires in the room were not immune either. The attendant worked expediently, the guard keeping his distance near the door while Fabien watched the blood Host being readied for the feeding. Once everything was in place, Fabien dismissed the attendant and sent the guard back to his post outside.

"Hungry, are we?" he asked Niko when the others had gone. He held the feeding tube in one hand, the fingers of his other hand poised on the valve that would begin the flow of blood from the woman's arm. "You know, this is the only way to feed a Rogue vampire in containment. Blood intake must be closely monitored, controlled by trained attendants. Too little and he starves; too much and his addiction becomes stronger. Bloodlust is a terrible thing, don't you agree?"

Niko snarled, wanting so badly to leap up off the bed and strangle Fabien. He struggled to do just that, but it was a futile effort. The combination of sedatives and steel restraints held him down. "I'll kill you," he muttered, breathless from exertion. "I promise you, I will fucking kill you."

"No," Fabien said. "It is you who's going to die. Unless you start talking now, I'm going to put this tube down your throat and open the valve. I won't shut it off until you indicate that you're ready to cooperate."

Jesus Christ. He was threatening to overdose him. No Breed vampire could handle that much blood at once. It would mean almost certain Bloodlust. He would turn Rogue, a one-way ticket to misery, madness, and death.

"Would you like to talk now, or shall we begin?"

He wasn't idiot enough to think Fabien or his cronies would release him, even if he did cough up details about the Order's tactics and current missions. Hell, he could have a rock-solid guarantee of walking away free, but he'd be damned if he'd betray his brethren just to save his own neck.

So, this was it, then. He'd often wondered how he would check out. Figured he'd go down in a blaze of glory, a hail of bullets and shrapnel, hopefully taking a dozen suckheads with him. He never guessed it would be something as pitiful as this. The only honor in it was the fact that he would die keeping the Order's secrets.

"Are you ready to tell me what I want to know?" Fabien asked.

"Fuck off," Niko ground out, more pissed than ever. "You and Dragos both can go straight to hell."

Fabien's gaze sparked with rage. He forced Nikolai's mouth open and shoved the feeding tube deep into his throat. His esophagus constricted, but even his gag reflex was weak due to the sedatives coursing through his body.

There was a soft click as the valve on the human's arm was opened.

Blood gushed into the back of Nikolai's mouth. He choked on it, tried to close his throat and refuse it, but there was too much – an endless flow that pumped swiftly from the blood Host's tapped artery.

Niko had no choice but to swallow.

He gulped down the first mouthful. Then another.

And still more.

Andreas Reichen was in his Darkhaven office reviewing accounts and downloading the morning's e-mail when he noticed the message waiting in his in-box from Helene. The subject was a simple handful of words that made his pulse kick with interest: found a name for you.

He clicked open the e-mail and read her brief note.

After some determined investigative work, Helene had gotten the name of the vampire her missing club girl had been seeing recently.

Wilhelm Roth.

Reichen read it twice, every molecule in his bloodstream growing colder as the name sank into his brain.

Helene's e-mail indicated that she was still digging for more information and would report back as soon as she had anything further.

Jesus.

She couldn't know the true nature of the viper she'd uncovered, but Reichen knew plenty.

Wilhelm Roth, the leader of the Hamburg Darkhaven and one of the most powerful individuals in Breed society. Wilhelm Roth, a gangster of the first degree, and someone whom Reichen knew very well, or had at one time.

Wilhelm Roth, who was mated to a former lover of Reichen's – the woman who'd taken a piece of Reichen's heart when she left him to be with the wealthy, second-generation Breed male who could give her all the things Reichen could not.

If Helene's vanished employee had been associated with Roth, it was certain the girl was dead by now. And Helene…good Christ. She was already too close to the bastard just by having learned his name. If she got any closer by continuing to look for information on him…

Reichen picked up the phone and dialed her cell. No answer. He tried her flat in the city, cursing when the call went into voicemail. It was much too early for her to be at the club, but he dialed it anyway, damning the daylight that kept him trapped in his Darkhaven and unable to drive over to speak with her in person.

When all his options failed, Reichen fired back a response via e-mail.

Do nothing more where Roth is concerned. He is dangerous. Contact me as soon as you receive this message. Helene, please…be careful.

A medical equipment truck came to a halt at the gated entrance of an unassuming, two-story brick building some forty-five minutes outside the heart of Montreal. The driver leaned out his window and typed a short sequence into an electronic keypad located on the security kiosk outside. After a moment or two, the gate opened and the truck rolled inside.

It must be delivery day; this was the second supply vehicle Renata had observed entering or leaving the nondescript location since she'd arrived a short time ago. She had spent most of the day in the city, hiding out in Lex's car while she recovered from the worst of her reverb from the morning. Now it was late afternoon. She wouldn't have long – just a few short hours before dusk fell and the night grew thick with predators. Not long at all before she became the hunted.

She had to make the most of that time, which is why she found herself staked out down the road from the isolated, camera- monitored gate of a peculiar building in the town of Terrabonne. It had no windows, no signage out front. Although she couldn't be certain, her gut instinct was telling her that the squat slab of concrete and brick at the end of a private access road was the place Lex had mentioned – the containment facility where Nikolai had been taken.

She prayed it was, because at the moment, the warrior was the only thing close to an ally she had, and if she wanted to find Mira – if she stood any chance of retrieving the child from the vampire who had her now – she knew that she couldn't do it alone. But that meant finding Nikolai first, and praying she found him alive.

And if he was dead? Or if he was alive but refused to help her? Or decided to kill her outright for her role in his wrongful arrest?

Well, Renata didn't want to consider where any of those potentials would leave her. Worse, where they would leave an innocent child who depended on Renata to keep her safe.

So, she waited and she watched, calculating a way past the security gate. Another supply truck rolled up to the entrance. It came to a stop and Renata seized the opportunity.

Jumping out of Lex's car and running low to the ground, she raced up along the back of the vehicle. While the driver punched in his access code, she hopped up on the rear bumper. The trailer doors were locked, but she slipped her fingers around the handles and held on as the gate clattered open and the truck lurched through.

The driver swung around to the back of the building, following a stretch of asphalt that led to a pair of shipping and receiving bays. Renata climbed up to the roof of the trailer and hung on tight as the truck turned around and began to back into an empty dock. As it neared the building, a motion sensor clicked and the receiving door lifted. There was no one waiting as daylight filled the hangarlike opening, but then if the place was held by the Breed, anyone manning this area would be turning crispy after just a few minutes on the job.

Once the truck backed inside completely, the big door started to descend. There was a second of darkness between the closing of the bay and the electronic flutter of the overhead fluorescent lights coming on. Renata scrambled down and leapt off the rear bumper just as the driver got out of the truck. And now, coming out of a steel door on the other side of the space, was a muscular man in a dark military-style uniform.

The same kind of uniform as the ones worn by the Enforcement Agents Lex had called to arrest Nikolai last night. Complete with a semiautomatic pistol holstered at his hip.

"Hey, how's it going?" the driver called out to the guard.

Renata crept around the side of the truck before the vampire or the human could spot her. She waited, listening to the jangle of the lock being freed. When the guard got closer, she sent him a little hello of her own, a mental jolt that made him rock back on his heels. Another small blast had him staggering. He clutched his temples in his hands and gasped a vivid curse.

The human driver turned to look after him. "Whoa. You okay there, buddy?"

The brief inattention was all the opportunity Renata needed. She dashed silently across the wide bay and slipped inside the access door the guard had left unsecured.

She ducked past an empty office containing a workstation with monitors displaying the gated entrance. Beyond that, a narrow hallway offered two possibilities: a bend that appeared to lead toward the front of the building or, farther down the hall, a stairwell to the second floor.

Renata opted for the stairs. She hurried toward them, past the spoke that branched off to the side. Another guard was in that stretch of hallway.

Damn it.

He saw her rush by. His boots thundered closer.

"Stop!" he shouted, coming around the corner of the corridor. "This is a restricted area – "

Renata pivoted and took him down with a hard mental blast. As he writhed on the floor, she gunned it into the stairwell and raced up the flight to the floor above.

For what wasn't the first time, she berated herself for having left the lodge without any weapons. She couldn't keep burning off her power before she even knew if Nikolai was here. She was only operating near half strength as it was; to fully recover from unloading on Lex that morning, she probably needed to shore up for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, not an option.

She peered through the reinforced glass of the stairwell door, taking in the clinical layout of the place. A handful of Breed males in white lab coats strolled past on their way to one of the many rooms that branched off the main corridor. Too many for her to take on by herself, even if she was running on all cylinders.

And then there was the small matter of the armed Enforcement Agent posted at the far end of the hallway.

Renata leaned against the interior wall of the stairwell, tipping her head back and quietly exhaling a curse. She'd made it in this far, but what the hell made her think she could penetrate a secured facility like this and actually survive?

Desperation was the answer to that question. A determination that refused to accept that this might be as far as she could go. She had no choice but forward. Into the fire, if that's what it took.

Fire, she thought, her gaze turning back to the corridor outside the stairwell. Mounted on the wall across from her was a red emergency alarm.

Maybe there was a chance, after all…

Renata crept out of the stairwell and pulled the lever down. A pulsing bell split the air, sending the place into instant chaos. She slipped into the nearest patient's room and watched as attendants and clinicians raced around in confusion. When it seemed they were all occupied with the false emergency, Renata stepped out into the empty corridor to begin her room-to-room search for Nikolai.

It wasn't difficult to decide where he might be. Only one room had an armed Enforcement Agent assigned to it. That guard was still there, manning his post despite the alarm that had sent the rest of the floor's attendants scattering.

Renata glanced at the gun riding the guard's hip and hoped like hell she wasn't making a huge mistake.

"Hey," she said, approaching him at an easy gait. She smiled brightly despite the fact that in that same instant he was scowling and reaching for his weapon. "Can't you hear that alarm? Time for you to take a break."

She hit him with a sudden, sizable blast. As the big male crumbled to the floor, she ran to peer inside the room behind him. A blond vampire lay strapped to a bed, naked, convulsing and straining against the metal bonds that held him down. The Breed skin markings that swirled and arced over his chest and down his thick biceps and thighs were livid with pulsating color, seeming almost alive the way the saturations mutated from shades of crimson and deep purple to darkest black. His face was hardly human, completely transformed by the presence of his fangs and the glowing coals of his eyes.

Could it be Nikolai? At first, Renata wasn't sure. But then he lifted his head and those feral amber eyes locked on to her. She saw a flash of recognition in them, and a misery that was palpable even from a distance.

Her heart twisted, burning with regret.

Good Lord, what had they done to him?

Renata grabbed the bulk of the unconscious guard and dragged him with her into the room. Nikolai bucked on the bed, snarling incomprehensibly, words that sounded close to madness.

"Nikolai," she said, going to his bedside. "Can you hear me? It's me, Renata. I'm going to take you out of here."

If he understood, she couldn't be certain. He growled and fought his bonds, fingers flexing and fisting, every muscle taut. Renata bent down to strip a set of keys from the guard's belt. She took his pistol too, and swore when she realized it was merely a tranq gun loaded with less than half a dozen rounds.

"I guess beggars can't be choosy," she muttered, stuffing the weapon into the waistband of her jeans.

She went back to Nikolai and started unlocking his restraints. When she freed his hand, she was stunned to feel it clamp down around her own.

"Leave," he snarled viciously.

"Yeah, that's what we're working on here," Renata replied. "Let go so I can unlock the rest of these damned things." He sucked in a breath, a low hiss that made the hairs at her nape prickle to attention. "You…leave…not me."

"What?" Frowning, she pulled her hand free and leaned over him to loosen the other restraint. "Don't try to talk. We don't have much time."

He gripped her so hard she thought her wrist would snap. "Leave. Me. Here."

"I can't do that. I need your help."

Those wild amber eyes seemed to stare right through her, hot and deadly. But his punishing grasp eased. He fell back onto the bed as another convulsion racked him.

"Almost done," Renata assured him, working quickly to unlock the last of his bonds. "Come on. I'll help you up."

She had to pull him to his feet, and even then he didn't seem steady enough to stay upright, let alone make the hard dash their escape was going to call for. Renata gave him her shoulder. "Lean, Nikolai," she ordered him. "I'll do most of the work. Now let's get the hell out of here."

He growled something indecipherable as she wedged herself under his bulk and started walking. Renata rushed for the stairwell. The steps were difficult for Nikolai, but they managed to make it down them all with only a few falters.

"Stay here," she told him when they reached the bottom.

She sat him down on the last step and dashed out to clear their path to the shipping and receiving bay. The office at the end of the hall was still empty. Beyond the access door, however, the driver was still talking with the guard on duty, both of them anxious due to the bleat of fire alarms pealing all around them.

Renata strolled out with the tranquilizer gun drawn. The vampire saw her coming. Faster than she could react, he had drawn his pistol and fired off a shot. Renata hit him with a mental blast, but not before she felt a ripping heat slam into her left shoulder. She smelled blood, felt the hot trickle of it leaking down her arm.

Damn it – she was hit.

Okay, now she was really pissed off. Renata blasted the vampire again and he staggered to one knee, dropping his weapon. The human driver screamed and dove behind the truck for cover as Renata strode forward and shot the vampire with two tranq rounds. He went down with barely a whimper. Renata walked around to find the driver cowering by the wheel.

"Oh, Jesus!" he cried as she came to stand before him. He put his hands up, face slack with fear. "Oh, Jesus! Please don't kill me!"

"I won't," Renata answered, then shot him in the thigh with the tranq.

With both males down, she ran back to get Nikolai. Ignoring the screaming pain in her shoulder, she hurried him into the receiving bay and shoved him into the back of the supply truck where he'd be safe from daylight outside.

"Find something to hold onto," she told him. "Things are going to get bumpy now."

She didn't give him a chance to say anything. Working quickly, she slammed the doors and threw the latch, sealing him inside. Then she jumped into the idling cab and threw the vehicle into gear.

As she crashed the truck through the receiving bay's door and sped up the drive toward escape, she had to wonder if she'd just saved Nikolai's life or condemned them both.

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