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Veil of Midnight (Chapter Fourteen)

Lex stood with Edgar Fabien under the eaves of the main lodge, watching as the Enforcement Agents shoved the warrior's body into the back of an unmarked black van.

"How long will the sedatives hold him?" Lex asked, disappointed to have learned that the weapon Fabien had ordered to open fire on Nikolai contained tranquilizer darts instead of bullets.

"I don't expect the prisoner will wake up until long after he is securely housed at the Terrabonne containment facility." Lex glanced over at the Darkhaven leader. "A containment facility? I thought those places were used for processing and rehabilitating blood addicts – some kind of Enforcement Agency holding tank for Rogue vampires."

Fabien's smile was tight. "No need to trouble yourself with the details, Alexei. You did the right thing in contacting me about the warrior. Obviously, an individual as dangerous as he has proven to be warrants special consideration. I will personally see to it that he is handled in the proper manner. I'm sure you have enough on your mind during this time of unimaginable, tragic loss." Lex grunted. "There is still the matter of our…agreement."

"Yes," Fabien replied, letting the word trail out slowly between his thin lips. "You've surprised me, Alexei, I must admit that. There are some introductions I would like to make on your behalf. Very important introductions. Naturally this will require the utmost discretion."

"Yes, of course." Lex could hardly contain his eagerness, his greed to know more – to know everything there was to know – right here and now. "Who do I need to meet? I can be at your place first thing tomorrow night – "

Fabien's condescending chuckle grated. "No, no. I'm not talking about anything as public as that. This would require a special meeting. A secret meeting, with a few of my associates. Our associates," he amended with a conspiratorial look. A private audience with Edgar Fabien and his peers. Lex was practically salivating at the very idea. "Where? And when?" "Three nights from now. I will send my car to pick you up and bring you to the location as my personal guest."

"I look forward to it," Lex said.

He offered his hand to the Darkhaven male – his powerful new ally – but Fabien's gaze had strayed past Lex's shoulder to the broken window of the lodge's great room. Those shrewd eyes narrowed, and Fabien's head cocked to the side.

"You have a child out here?" he asked, something dark gleaming in his raptorlike gaze.

Lex turned, just in time to see Mira attempting to duck out of sight, her short black veil swinging with the quick movement. "The brat served my father, or so he liked to think," he said dismissively. "Ignore her. She is nothing."

Fabien's pale brows rose slightly. "Is she a Breedmate?"

"Yes," Lex said. "An orphan my father picked up some months ago."

Fabien made a low noise in the back of his throat, somewhere between a grunt and a purr. "What is the girl's talent?" Now it was Fabien who seemed unable to hide his avid interest. He was still watching the open window, craning his neck and searching as though willing Mira to appear there again.

Lex considered that eager look for a moment, then said, "Would you like to see what she can do?"

Fabien's glittering gaze was answer enough. Lex led the way back into the lodge and found Mira creeping down the hallway toward her bedroom. He went up and grabbed her by the arm, wheeling her around to face the Darkhaven leader. She whimpered a little at his rough handling, but Lex ignored the brat's complaining. He pulled off her veil and pushed her in front of Edgar Fabien. "Open your eyes," he demanded. When she didn't immediately comply, Lex persuaded her with a rap of his knuckles against the back of her small blond head. "Open them, Mira."

He knew she had because in the next moment, Edgar Fabien's expression went from one of moderate inquisitiveness to outright wonder and amazement. He stared, transfixed, his jaw slack.

Then he smiled. A broad, awestruck grin. "My God," he breathed, unable to tear his gaze away from Mira's witchy eyes. "What do you see?" Lex asked.

It took Fabien some time before he answered. "Is it…could this possibly be my future I am looking at? My destiny?" Lex pulled Mira away from him now, not missing Fabien's reflexive grab at the girl, as though he wasn't quite ready to release her yet. "Mira's eyes do indeed reflect future events," he said, placing the short veil back over her head. "She is quite a remarkable child."

"A minute ago you said she was nothing," Fabien reminded him. Narrowed, assessing eyes traveled over the girl. "What would you be willing to take for her?"

Lex saw Mira's head snap in his direction, but his attention was fixed solidly on the transaction suddenly laid out in front of him. "Two million," he said, tossing the figure out casually, as if it were a trivial sum. "Two million dollars and she is yours." "Done," Fabien said. "Phone my secretary with a bank account number and the funds will be there within the hour."

Mira reached out and grabbed Lex's arm. "But I don't want to go anywhere with him. I don't want to leave Rennie – "

"There, there, now, sweetheart," Fabien cooed. He stroked his palm over the top of her head. "Go to sleep, child. No more fussing. Sleep now."

Mira fell back, caught in the vampire's trance. Fabien snatched her into his arms and cradled her like a baby. "A pleasure doing business with you, Alexei."

Lex nodded. "And with you," he replied, following the Darkhaven leader out of the lodge and waiting as he and the girl disappeared into a dark sedan that idled in the drive.

As the fleet of vehicles rolled out, Lex considered the evening's surprising turn of events. His father was dead. Lex was free from blame and poised to take control of all that he had deserved for so long. He would soon be ushered into Edgar Fabien's elite circle of power, and he was suddenly two million dollars wealthier.

Not bad for a night's work.

Renata turned her head to the side on her pillow and cracked one eye open, a small test to see if the reverb had finally passed. Her skull felt like it had been hollowed out and stuffed with wet cotton, but that was a major improvement over the hammer-and-anvil agony that had been her companion for the past few hours.

A tiny pinprick of daylight shone in through a small weevil hole in the pine shutter. It was morning. Outside her room, the lodge was quiet. So quiet that for a second she wondered if she'd just woken up from a horrible dream.

But in her heart, she knew it was all real. Sergei Yakut was dead, killed in a bloody assault in his own bed. All the grisly, gore-soaked images playing through her mind had actually happened. And most disturbing of all, it was Nikolai who stood accused and was arrested for the murder.

Regret over that gnawed at Renata's conscience. With the benefit of a clear head and being some hours removed from the blood and chaos of the moment, she had to wonder if she might have been too hasty to doubt him. Maybe they all had been too hasty to condemn him – Lex in particular.

Suspicion that Lex might have had some role in his father's death – as Nikolai had insisted – put a knot of unease in her stomach.

And then there was poor Mira, far too young to be exposed to so much violence and danger. A mercenary part of her wondered if they both might be better off now. Yakut's death had released Renata of his hold on her. Mira was free too. Maybe this was the chance they both needed – a chance to get somewhere far away from the lodge and its many horrors.

Oh, God. Dare she even wish it?

Renata sat up, swung her legs over the side of the bed. Hope buoyed her, swelling large in her chest.

They could leave. Without Yakut to track her down, without him alive and able to use his link to her by blood, she was finally free. She could take Mira and leave this place, once and for all.

"Mother Mary," she whispered, clasping her hands together in a desperate prayer. "Please, give us this chance. Let me have this chance – for the sake of that innocent child."

Renata leaned up near the wall she shared with Mira's bedroom. She rapped her knuckles lightly on the wood panels, waiting to hear the girl's answering knock.

Only silence.

She knocked again. "Mira, are you awake, kiddo?"

No answer at all. Only a lengthening quiet that felt like a death knell.

Renata was still wearing her clothes from last night, a sleep-wrinkled long-sleeve black T-shirt and dark denim jeans. She threw on a pair of lug-sole ankle boots and hurried out into the hallway. Mira's door was just a few steps down…and it stood ajar. "Mira?" she called, walking inside and taking a quick look around.

The bed was unmade and rumpled from where the child had been at one point during the night, but there was no sign of her. Renata pivoted and raced to the bathroom they shared at the other end of the hall.

"Mira? Are you in there, mouse?" She opened the door and found the small room empty. Where could she have gone?

Renata spun around and headed back up the paneled corridor toward the main living area of the lodge, a terrible panic beginning to rise up her throat. "Mira!"

Lex and a couple of guards were seated around the table in the great room as Renata ran in from the hallway. He spared her only the briefest glance then went back to talking with the other males.

"Where is she?" Renata demanded. "What have you done with Mira? I swear to God, Lex, if you've hurt her – "

He pinned her with a scathing look. "Where's your respect, female? I have just come back in from releasing my father's body to the sun. This is a day of mourning. I'll not hear a word of your bleating until I'm damned good and ready."

"To hell with you, and your false mourning," Renata seethed, charging toward him. It was nearly impossible to keep from hitting him with a blast of her mind's power, but the two guards who rose on either side of Lex, drawing their weapons on her, helped to keep her anger in check. "Tell me what you did, Lex. Where is she?"

"I sold her." The reply was so casual, he might have been discussing an old pair of shoes.

"You…you did what?" Renata's lungs squeezed, losing so much air she could hardly draw another breath. "You can't be serious! Sold her to who – those men who came for Nikolai?"

Lex smiled, gave her a vague shrug of admission.

"You bastard! You disgusting pig!" The total, ugly reality of all that Lex had done crashed down on her. Not only what he'd done to Mira, but to his own father, and, as she saw with awful clarity now, what he'd done to Nikolai too. "My God. Everything he said about you was the truth, wasn't it? You were the one responsible for Sergei's death, not Nikolai. It was you who brought in the Rogue. You planned the whole thing – "

"Be careful with your accusations, female." Lex's voice was a brittle snarl. "I am the one in command here now. Make no mistake, your life belongs to me. Piss me off and I can have you erased from existence as easily as I sent that warrior to his death." Oh, God…no. Shock blew through her chest in a chill ache. "He is dead?"

"He will be soon enough," Lex said. "Or wishing he was, once the good doctors in Terrabonne have their fun with him." "What are you talking about? What doctors? I thought you had him arrested."

Lex chuckled. "The warrior is on his way to a containment facility run by the Enforcement Agency. Safe to say that no one will hear from him ever again."

Contempt boiled up in Renata for all that she was hearing, and for her own role in seeing Nikolai wrongfully charged. Now both he and Mira were gone, and Lex stood there grinning with smug vanity for the deception he'd orchestrated. "You disgust me. You're a fucking monster, Lex. You are a sickening coward."

She took a step toward him and Lex gave the guards a jerk of his chin. They blocked her, two huge vampires glowering at her. Daring her to make a reckless move.

Renata eyed them, seeing in those hard gazes the years of animosity that this group of Breed males felt for her – animosity coming most intensely from Lex himself. They hated her. Hated her strength, and it was clear that any one of them would welcome the opportunity to put a bullet in her head.

"Get her out of my sight," Lex ordered. "Take the bitch to her room and lock her in for the rest of the day. She can provide our night's entertainment."

Renata didn't let the guards within arm's reach of her. As they moved to grab her, she swept them each with a sharp mental jolt. They shouted and leapt away, recoiling from the pain.

But no sooner had they dropped back did Lex spring on her, fully transformed and spitting with fury. Hard fingers curled into her shoulders. His body weight slammed her backward, up off her feet. He was furious, pushing her like she was nothing but feathers. His strength and speed propelled her with him across the floor and into the shuttered window on the far wall. Solid, unmovable logs crashed against her spine and thighs. Renata's head cracked back against the thick shutters with the impact. Her breath left her on a broken gasp. When she opened her eyes, Lex's face loomed right up against hers, his thin pupils seething outrage from within the center of his fiery amber irises. He brought one hand up and caught her jaw in a bruising grasp. Forced her head to the side. His fangs were enormous, sharp as daggers and bared dangerously near her throat.

"That was a very stupid thing to do," he growled, letting those pointed teeth graze her skin as he spoke. "I should bleed you out for that. In fact, I think I will – "

Renata summoned every ounce of power she had and turned it loose on him, blasting Lex's mind in a long, ruthless wave of anguish.

"Aaagh!" His scream rang out like a banshee's wail.

And still Renata kept blasting him. Pouring pain into his head until he released her and crumbled to the floor in a boneless sprawl.

"Se-seize her!" he sputtered to his guards, who were recovering now from the smaller strikes Renata had dealt them. One of them raised his gun on her. She blasted him, then gave the second guard another dose as well.

Damn it, she had to get out of there. Couldn't risk using any more of her power when she'd pay dearly for every strike once her reverb hit. And she wouldn't have long before the crippling wave roared up on her.

Renata spun around, broken glass crunching under her boots from last night's chaos. She felt a small breeze cutting through the locked shutters. Realization dawned: There was no window behind her, only freedom. She took hold of the sturdy wood panels and gave a hard yank. The hinges groaned but didn't quite give way.

"Kill her, you fucking imbeciles!" Lex gasped from behind her. "Shoot the bitch!"

No, Renata thought, desperate as she pulled on the stubborn wood.

She couldn't let him stop her. She had to get out of there. She had to find Mira, take her somewhere safe. She'd promised her, after all. She'd made a promise to that child and God help her, she would not fail.

With a cry, Renata put all her muscle and weight into tearing down the shutters. Finally they loosened. Adrenaline coursing through her, she ripped them free completely and threw the shutters aside.

Sunlight poured over her. Blinding, brilliant, it washed into the great room of the lodge. Lex and the other vampires shrieked, hissing as they scrambled to shield their sensitive eyes and move out of the scorching path of the light.

Renata climbed out and hit the ground running. Lex's car sat on the gravel drive, doors unlocked, keys dangling from the ignition. She hopped in, turned over the engine, and gunned it into the certain – but temporary – safety of daylight.

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