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Veil of Midnight (Chapter Thirteen)

Pardonnez-moi, Monsieur Fabien. There is a telephone call for you, sir. From a Monsieur Alexei Yakut."

Edgar Fabien gave a dismissive wave to the Breed male who served as his personal secretary and continued to admire the crisp cut of his custom-tailored slacks in the wardrobe mirror. He was being fitted for a new suit, and, at the moment, nothing Alexei Yakut had to say to him was important enough to warrant an interruption.

"Tell him I'm in a meeting and cannot be disturbed."

"Begging your pardon, sir, but I have already informed him that you were unavailable. He says it's an urgent matter. One that requires your immediate personal attention."

Fabien's reflection glowered back at him from under his pale, manicured brows. He didn't attempt to hide the outward signs of his rising irritation, which showed in the amber glint of his eyes and in the sudden, churning colors of the dermaglyphs that swirled and arced over his bare chest and shoulders.

"Enough," he snapped at the expert tailor sent over from Givenchy's downtown store. The human backed off at once, collecting his pins and measuring tape and obediently slinking away at his master's command. He belonged to Fabien – one of many Minions the second-generation Breed vampire employed around the city. "Get out of here, both of you."

Fabien stepped off the wardrobe dais and stalked over to his desk phone. He waited until both servants had left the room and the door was closed behind them.

With a snarl, he picked up the receiver and punched the blinking button that would connect him to Alexei Yakut's holding call. "Yes," he hissed coldly. "What is this urgent matter of yours that simply could not wait?"

"My father is dead."

Fabien rocked back on his heels, truly taken off guard by the news. He exhaled a sigh meant to sound of boredom. "How convenient for you, Alexei. Shall I offer my congratulations along with my condolences?"

Sergei Yakut's heir apparent ignored the jab. "There was an intruder at the lodge tonight. Somehow he managed to sneak into the place. He killed my father in his bed, in cold blood. I heard the disturbance and tried to intervene, but…well. Unfortunately, I was too late to save him. I am grief-stricken, of course – "

Fabien grunted. "Of course."

" – but I knew that you would want to be notified of the crime. And I knew that you and the Enforcement Agency would want to come out here immediately to arrest my father's assailant."

Every cell in Fabien's body stilled. "What are you saying – that you have someone in custody? Who?"

A low chuckle on the other end of the line. "I see I finally have your attention, Fabien. What would yu say if I told you that I have a member of the Order subdued and waiting for you here at the lodge? I'm sure there are some individuals who would be of the mind that one less warrior around to contend with, the better."

"You're not actually trying to convince me that this warrior is responsible for killing Sergei Yakut, are you?" "I'm telling you that my father is dead and I am in command of his domain now. I'm telling you that I have a member of the Order in my keeping, and I am willing to hand him over to you. A gift, if you will."

Edgar Fabien was quiet for a long moment, considering the sizable prize Alexei Yakut was presenting him. The Order and its vigilante members had few allies within the Enforcement Agency. Fewer still within the private circle to which Fabien belonged. "And what are you expecting in return for this…gift?"

"I've already told you, when we met before. I want in. I want a piece of whatever action it is that you're dealing. A big piece, you understand?" He chuckled, so very full of himself. "You need me on your side, Fabien. I should think that's obvious to you now."

The last thing Edgar Fabien or any of his associates needed on their side was a grasping pissant like Alexei Yakut. He was a loose cannon, one that would have to be dealt with carefully. If Fabien had his druthers, he'd opt for swift extermination, but there was someone else who ultimately would need to make that call.

As for the captive member of the Order? Now, that was intriguing. That was a boon well worth considering, and the many appealing possibilities it presented made Fabien's four-hundred-year-old heart beat a little faster.

"I will have to make a few…arrangements," he said. "It may take me an hour or so to line up resources and make the drive out to the lodge to retrieve the prisoner."

"One hour," Alexei Yakut agreed eagerly. "Don't keep me waiting any longer than that."

Fabien bit back his acid reply and ended the call with a terse "I will see you then."

He sat down on the edge of his desk and looked out at the nighttime skyline twinkling in the distance beyond his Darkhaven estate. Then he walked to his safe and twisted the combination lock, turned the crank handle to open the secured storage box. Inside was a cell phone reserved for emergency calls only. He hit a programmed number and waited for the encrypted signal to connect.

When the airless voice on the other end answered, Fabien said, "We have a situation."

Heavy chains circled his bare torso, binding him to a rough-hewn wooden chair. Nikolai felt similar restraints on his hands, which were caught behind him, and his feet, which were bound at the ankles and held hard against the chair legs. He'd taken a hell of a beating, and not just from the debilitating mind blast he'd gotten courtesy of Renata. Thanks to that crippling blow, he had been in and out of consciousness for some time, struggling just to lift his eyelids even now. Of course, part of the problem there was that his face was bruised and battered, his eyes swollen, lips cracked open and bitter with the taste of his own blood. He'd been too weak to put up much of a fight when Lex and his guards had worked him over like a punching bag as they stripped him down to his skivvies and hauled him into the lodge's great room to await his fate.

Nikolai didn't know how long he'd been sitting there. Long enough that his hands felt numb from lack of circulation. Long enough to have noticed when Renata had come through the room a while ago, protectively ushering Mira away from the whole ugly scene. He had watched her from under a hank of his sweat-soaked hair, seeing the pain and tension in her face as she'd shot a baleful glance in his direction.

Her reverb was probably hitting her pretty hard by now, he guessed. Niko told himself that the twinge he felt was just another muscle screaming from abuse; he couldn't possibly be stupid enough to feel any kind of sympathy for the female's suffering. He couldn't possibly be stupid enough to care what she thought of him – that she might actually think he'd done what Lex accused him of – but damn it, he did care. His frustration at not being able to talk to Renata only amplified his physical pain and fury. Across the room from him, the four guards were examining his weapons and the handmade hollowpoint titanium rounds that were one of Nikolai's personal creations. They had all of his gear laid out on a trestle table, well out of his reach. Niko 's cell phone – his link to the Order – lay in shards on the floor. Lex had taken great pleasure in smashing it under his boot heel before he left Nikolai to the supervision of his guards.

One of the beefy Breed males said something that made the other three laugh before he pivoted around with Niko's semiauto and pointed it in his direction. Nikolai didn't flinch. In fact, he barely breathed, watching from within the puffy slit of his left eye, every muscle slumped as if he were still unconscious and unaware of his surroundings.

"Whattaya say we wake him up?" joked the guard with the gun in his hand. He swaggered toward Niko, temptingly within arm's reach, if Niko's arms hadn't been heavily secured behind him. The nose of the 9mm lowered slowly, down past his chest, then past his abdomen too. "I say we castrate this murdering piece of shit. Blow his balls off and let the Enforcement Agency take him away in pieces."

"Kiril, stop being a jackass," one of the others warned. "Lex said we couldn't touch him."

"Lex is a pussy." Polished black steel grated with a cold snick as Kiril chambered a round. "In two seconds, this warrior's going to be nothing but a pussy too."

Nikolai held himself very still as the gun pressed snugly against his groin. Part of his patience was born of genuine fear, as he was rather fond of his manly bits and had no wish to lose them. But overriding even that was the understanding that his opportunities to turn this situation in his favor were few and fleeting. He had shaken off most of the internal effects of Renata 's talent, but he couldn't be sure of his physical strength unless he tried it.

And if he tried it now and failed…well, he didn't want to contemplate the odds of walking away with his manhood intact if he tried to break out of his bonds and succeeded only in upsetting trigger-happy Kiril.

A hard palm cuffed the side of his skull. "You in there, warrior? I got something for you. Time to wake up."

Eyes closed to conceal their change from blue to amber, Nikolai let his head loll bonelessly with the blow. But inside of him, fury was beginning to kindle in his belly. He had to hold it at bay. Couldn't let Kiril or the others see the change in his dermaglyphs and risk telegraphing the fact that he was very much awake and aware and totally pissed off.

"Wake up," Kiril growled.

He started to lift Niko's chin, but then a noise outside the lodge drew his attention away. Gravel spraying and crunching underneath the tires of approaching vehicles. A fleet of them, by the sound of it.

"The Agency is here," one of the other guards announced.

Kiril backed away from Nikolai, but he took his time disarming the pistol. Outside, the vehicles were slowing down, coming to a halt. Doors opened. Boots hit the gravel drive as the Darkhavens' policing agents poured out. Nikolai counted more than half a dozen pairs of feet moving toward the lodge.

Shit.

If he didn't get himself out of this disaster pretty damn quick, he was going to wake up in the hands of the Enforcement Agency. And for a member of the Order, a group the Agency had long wished extinct, arrest by them would make Lex and his guards' treatment seem like a trip to a spa. If he fell into the Agency's hands now – particularly as an accused killer of a Gen One – Niko knew without question he was as good as dead.

Lex greeted the new arrivals like he was holding court for visiting dignitaries. "This way," he called from somewhere outside the lodge. "I have the bastard contained and waiting for you in the hall."

"He has the bastard contained," Kiril muttered sourly. "I doubt Lex could contain his own ass if he was using both hands." The other guards chuckled cautiously.

"Come on," Kiril said. "Let's get the warrior on his feet so the Agency can take him out of here."

Hope surged in Niko's chest. If they freed him of the restraints, he might have a slim chance of escaping. Very slim, considering the approaching pound of boots and firepower headed in his direction from outside the lodge, but slim was a hell of a lot better than none.

He kept up his lifeless slump in the chair, even as Kiril squatted in front of him and unlocked the chains around his ankles. Impatience gnawed at him. Nikolai's every impulse was to bring his knee up and crack the guard under the jaw.

He had to clamp his molars down onto his tongue to keep himself unmoving, breathing as shallowly as he could, waiting for the better opportunity when the guard then went around the back of him and picked up the lock binding the chains on his torso and wrists. A twist of the key. A crisp clack of carbide steel as the lock fell open.

Nikolai flexed his fingers, took a deep, unconstricted breath.

He opened his eyes. Grinned at Kiril's comrades the instant before he brought his arms up and around and grabbed onto Kiril's big head in both hands.

In fluid motion, he gave a violent twist and vaulted up off the chair. The chains fell away and Nikolai was on his feet with the loud snap of Kiril's breaking neck.

"Holy Christ!" shouted one of the remaining guards.

Someone fired a wild shot. The other two scrabbled for their weapons.

Niko yanked Kiril's gun out of its holster and returned fire, dropping one guard with a bullet to the head.

The commotion brought shouts of alarm from the hallway outside. Boots started pounding. A small army of Enforcement Agents storming in to take control of the situation.

Damn it.

Not much time left to make a break for it before he would be staring down the barrels of no less than half a dozen guns – a few seconds at most.

Nikolai hauled the dead bulk of Kiril's body around in front of him and held it there like a shield. The corpse took a couple of quick hits as Niko started moving backward, toward the window on the other side of the long room.

In the open doorway now, a crowd of black-clad Agents in SWAT gear, all of them bristling with some fairly serious-looking semiauto firepower.

"Freeze, asshole!"

Niko shot a look over his shoulder at the window a few feet behind him. It was his best, only option. Surrendering now and going out peacefully with his Agency executioners was an alternative he refused to consider.

With a roar, Niko grabbed two fistfuls of Kiril's dead-weight and swung the body into the glass. He held on as the window shattered around him, using the forward momentum of the vampire's corpse to carry him off his feet and through the makeshift hole. He heard a shouted command behind him – an order for one of the Agents to open fire.

He felt cool night air on his face, in his sweat-dampened hair.

Then, before he could so much as register the smallest taste of freedom – Pow ! Pow! Pow!

His bare back lit up as though it were on fire. His bones and muscles went limp, melting away inside him as a surge of bile and acid scorched the back of his throat. Nikolai's vision swam toward a sudden, consuming darkness. He felt the earth come up fast beneath him as he and dead Kiril tumbled out onto the ground beneath the window.

Then he felt no more.

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