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Veil of Midnight (Chapter Thirty)

The house was under heavily armed, guarded watch on all sides. Impossible to breach without being noticed by at least one of the Enforcement Agents staked out like the vampire equivalent of an antiterrorist SWAT team. Every one of them carried a shoot-first-ask-questions-later attitude, from their dark-visored black helmets and combat gear, to the bone-shredding automatic rifles they held at the ready.

Thanks to the agents who'd raided Jack's place the other night, Renata and Nikolai had come away with transportation, uniforms, and weapons. She didn't think she would be lucky enough to fake her way into the building, but on first glance, garbed as they were, the agents on watch might think her one of their own.

She put on the helmet she'd taken with her from the SUV and dropped the tinted visor. Adopting as much of a soldier's swagger as she could manage, Renata stepped out of the woods and approached the vampire guarding the west side of the house. The agent spotted her immediately. "Henri? What the fuck are you doing out there?"

Renata shrugged, lifted her good arm in a hell if I know gesture. She couldn't risk speaking to him – no more than she could risk using her gun to mow this obstacle down. If she let off a bunch of rounds, she would have the whole security detail on her ass. No, she had to keep her cool and just continue walking toward him with the hope that he wouldn't open fire out of raised suspicion alone.

"What's the matter with you, idiot?"

Renata shrugged again. Getting closer.

Her fingers itched to let her blades fly – he made an easy target standing as still as a stump – but the slightest whiff of spilled blood would call every vampire in the vicinity to attention. Renata knew she had to get close enough to reach him with her mind. Her only option was to hit him with a swift, solid blast.

"You fucking ingrate, Henri, get back to your post," the agent growled. He reached for a small communication device clipped to his belt. "I'm calling Fabien to report you. If you want to piss him off, go ahead, but I don't want any part of – " Using all the power at her command, Renata unleashed a savage bolt of energy from her mind and sent it crashing into the vampire standing before her. His words choked off with a grunt and he went down like a stone. She kept blasting him until he was silent. When she was certain he was dead, she bent down and liberated him of both his weapon and his comm device.

Renata opened the side entrance door a bare sliver and did a quick glance of the area just inside. It was clear. She slipped inside, heart hammering in her chest, breath steaming against the closed visor of her helmet.

For all her fury at Nikolai for not telling her that Mira was here with Fabien, now she knew only gratitude that the Order had visual proof of the child's location. It was too late to second-guess how she'd left things with Nikolai. Too late to worry that maybe she should have waited for him and his brothers-in-arms to be there to back her up. Part of her knew that she'd been unfair, but she'd gone too far to take it back.

She'd made an impulsive, emotional decision based on wounded feelings. It was a decision that might cost her the friendship she had with Nikolai – maybe even his love – but as much as she regretted that already, she couldn't undo it now. Nikolai might never forgive her for jeopardizing his mission; she would understand if he couldn't.

Now she could only pray that Mira didn't end up paying the price.

Niko roused to the nagging buzz of a cell phone going off next to his head. He was on the ground next to the vehicle. No idea how long he'd been there. The cell phone vibrated again, jiggling in the grass and old leaves that littered the forest floor. It took nearly all his effort to move his hand up to grab the damned thing. Clumsily he flipped it open. Tried to say something, but only managed a dry croak.

"Yeah," he said once more, forcing his limbs to drag himself up off the ground into a seated slump against the front wheel of the SUV.

"Niko?" Rio's voice came through the receiver, heavy with concern. "You sound like shit, amigo. Talk to me. What's going on?"

"Renata," he said, holding his banging head in his hands. "Pissed off…" Rio cursed. "Yeah, I gathered that. My fault, man. I didn't realize she wasn't clued in about the girl being moved last night – " "She's gone," Niko said. When he thought of that, all his senses started coming back online like a switch on a backup generator had been thrown inside him. "Ah, fuck, Rio…I pissed her off and now she's gone in after Mira on her own." "Madre de Dios."

On the other end of the line, he heard Rio give Tegan and the others a quick rundown of the situation. "That's not the worst, my man," Nikolai added, ignoring the shooting pain in his head as he got up from the ground and made a staggering run for the back of the SUV. "This gathering of Fabien's? It's bigger than we realized…Dragos is up here too." "Are you sure about that?"

"I saw the bastard with my own eyes. He's here." Nikolai was grabbing automatic weapons out of the back as fast as his sluggish arms could move. He draped his body with the rifles, stuffed a pistol in the back of his stolen Enforcement Agency uniform and another one in an ankle holster. "The house is surrounded by guards, so when you get here, come in on foot and split up." "Niko, what are you doing?"

He didn't reply to that; didn't think his old friend was going to like his answer. Instead, he pulled extra magazines and clips from the vehicle and loaded up with as much ammo as he could carry. "You've got two men at the halfway point on the drive and three at the front of the place. Take them out first and you'll have the cleanest way in."

"Nikolai." Rio's voice was low with warning. "Amigo, whatever you're thinking right now…don't."

"She's in there, Rio. Inside with Dragos and Fabien, and God knows who else…and she's alone. I'm going in after her." Rio bit out something nasty in Spanish. "Stay put. We're not even ten minutes away from you and we're hauling ass, my man."

Niko closed up the back of the SUV. "I'm gonna rig some kind of perimeter diversion – "

"Goddamn it, Nikolai, if this female wants to kill herself, it's not your problem. We'll help her however we can, but – "

"She's my mate, Rio." Nikolai blew out a ripe curse. "We're blood-bonded…and I love her. I love her more than life itself."

The warrior's answering sigh sounded heavy with understanding, and defeat. "I suppose there's no point in telling you that you're defying Lucan's direct orders if you go in there right now. If Dragos is on site, that makes this shit even more critical and you know it. We need you to stay put and wait for backup."

"Can't do that," Nikolai replied.

He closed the phone and tossed it into the open driver's-side window. Then he headed out to go find his woman.

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