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Veil of Midnight (Chapter Thirty-two)

Nikolai smiled to himself as his diversion tactic created sudden mass confusion all over the place. The agents on watch were tearing around in utter panic, more than one taking a hit from the gunfire blasting in from all directions of the forest. Niko summoned a vine from the tangle of branches above his head in the forest and bade the snaking tendril to wrap itself around the trigger of his last absconded M16.

As the vine did its thing as the previous ones had, holding the rifle aloft and applying more and more pressure to the trigger as the coiling green runner grew thicker and more strong, Niko ran for the side entrance of the house.

It wasn't hard to find Renata. Their blood bond was a beacon for him, leading him through the back of the place to an upward flight of stairs. Renata was just coming down them, Mira held tight in her arms. She met his gaze and, for an endless instant, neither of them said a word. Nikolai wanted to tell her how sorry he was. How relieved he was that she had found the child unharmed.

He had a thousand things he wanted to say to Renata in that moment, not the least of which being that he loved her and that he always would.

"Hurry," he heard himself murmur. "You need to get out of here now."

"The gunfire is everywhere," Renata said, worry etching her features. "What's going on?"

"Just a diversion. I had to create a window of opportunity to get both of you out of here."

She looked relieved, but only for a second. "Fabien and the others…I heard men leaving out the back way a couple minutes ago."

"I'm on it," Niko said. "Now go. Don't stop for anything. Take Mira back to the vehicle. The Order should be rolling in any minute."

"Nikolai." He paused, holding Renata's steady gaze, hoping to hear forgiveness if not an affirmation that she might still love him after everything that had occurred. She held his gaze, a crease forming between her brows. "Just…be careful."

He gave her a grim nod, feeling none of his usual high from the adrenaline rush of awaiting combat. Those days seemed ages behind him, back when nothing much mattered to him except the glory of battle and the triumph of winning, however meaningless the contest.

Now everything mattered – especially where Renata was concerned. Her safety and happiness were all that mattered, even if it meant he might not be in the picture.

"Take Mira back to the vehicle," he told her again. "Keep your head down and keep yourself safe. We're gonna get you both out of here."

He waited until Renata ran out, then he bolted for the back door of the house where his enemies had fled.

The speedboat was just pulling up to the dock out back as Dragos and the others hurried down the slope to meet it. From all around them in the forest and up near the house, Fabien's Enforcement Agents scrambled like ants that had just gotten their hill stomped. Gunfire lit up the night, so haphazard it was impossible to tell which rounds came from the friendlies and which from the apparent intruders.

All Dragos knew was that he was not sticking around to let the Order or anyone else take him down.

As he and his group began to pile onto the boat, Dragos put himself in the way of Edgar Fabien.

"There's no room on board for you," he told the Montreal Darkhaven leader. "You've jeopardized enough with your idiocy. You stay here."

"But…sire, I – please, I can assure you that I will not disappoint you again."

Dragos smiled, baring the tips of his fangs. "No, you won't."

With that, he raised a 9mm pistol and fired a killing shot right between Fabien's beady eyes.

"Away!" he ordered the boat's driver, Edgar Fabien dismissed from his mind completely as the motor roared and the sleek watercraft sped out to the waiting seaplane at the far end of the lake.

He was too fucking late.

Niko took out a couple of agents on his way down to the lake, but by the time he got there, the speedboat making a bat-out- of-hell exit was little more than churning wake on the water. Nikolai fired a few shots after them, but he was only wasting rounds. Edgar Fabien's corpse lay on the wooden dock. Dragos and the others were more than halfway across the lake now.

"Goddamn it."

Fury and determination powering him, Nikolai started running along the shore, calling on the preternatural speed that all of his kind possessed when they needed it. The boat was fast, but the water was landlocked. At some point Dragos and his cronies would have to disembark and pick up another means of escape. With any luck, he could catch up to them before they totally got away.

He didn't know how far he'd run – easily a mile – when all of a sudden his chest went cold with dread.

Renata.

Something was wrong. Terribly wrong. He could feel her emotion course through him as if it were his own. She, his brave, unflappable Renata, was right now scared to death.

Ah, Christ.

If anything happened to her…

No. He couldn't even think it.

All thoughts of Dragos pushed aside, Nikolai wheeled around and kicked his feet into high gear, praying like hell he could reach her in time.

She hadn't seen the huge vampire coming at all.

One minute she was tearing through the dark woods with Mira held fast in her arms, and the next she found herself staring into the unforgiving face and merciless golden eyes of an immense Breed male whose naked torso, shoulders, and arms were camouflaged by a thick pattern of dermaglyphs.

He was Gen One; Renata knew it instinctively. Her instincts also told her that this male was more lethal than most, stone cold. A killer.

Terror rose up on her like a black tide. She knew that if she blasted him, she'd better be certain she could kill him swiftly, or else she and Mira both would be dead in that same instant. She didn't dare attempt it when Mira might be made to suffer if she failed.

Mother Mary, to have come this far – to finally have Mira ensconced in her arms, mere steps away from freedom…

"Please," Renata murmured, desperate to appeal to even his slightest inkling of mercy. "Not the child. Let her go…please." His silence was unnerving. Mira tried to lift her head from Renata's shoulder, but Renata gently eased her back down, not wishing her to be frightened by the messenger of death who'd no doubt been dispatched by Edgar Fabien or Dragos himself. "I'm going to set her down now," Renata told him, not even sure he comprehended, let alone would comply. "Just…let her go. I'm the one you want, not her. Just me."

The hawklike golden eyes followed her every movement as Renata carefully extricated Mira from her grasp and slowly placed the girl's feet on the ground. Renata put herself between the killer and the child, praying her death would be enough to satisfy him and his evil master.

"Rennie, what's going on?" Mira asked from behind her legs, her small hands gripping the pantlegs of Renata's Enforcement Agency fatigues as she peered around her. "Who is that man?"

The vampire let his stony gaze travel down to the source of that tiny voice. He stared. His shaved head cocked slowly to the side. Then he scowled.

"You," he said, in a voice so deep it rumbled all the way down to Renata's marrow. Something dark passed across his face. "Let me see her."

"No," Renata pleaded, holding Mira behind her and blocking him from her like a shield. "She's just a child. She's done nothing against you or anyone else. She's innocent."

He hit Renata with a look so fierce it nearly knocked her back on her heels. "Let. Me. See. Her. Eyes."

Before she could refuse again, before she could think of some way to grab Mira up and flee as fast and as far as they could get, Renata felt Mira take a step out from behind her.

"Mira, no – "

Too late to stop what was going to occur, Renata could only stare in dread as Mira walked right out and looked up, way up, into the hard gaze of the deadly Gen One vampire.

"You," he said again, peering hard into Mira's sweet face.

Renata could tell the moment he began to witness Mira's gift. His golden eyes went stormy, and he stared, rapt, as the child showed him events certain to come to pass. He stepped closer – too close, when his massive arms could lash out and break Mira without a hint of warning.

"Do not – " she blurted, but he was already reaching for Mira.

"It's okay, Rennie," Mira whispered, standing before him as innocent as a babe who'd wandered into the lion's den.

And that was when Renata realized something extraordinary was about to happen.

"You saved me," he whispered, his huge hands dwarfing Mira's tiny shoulders. The vampire sank down to his knees, bringing himself to her level. When he spoke, that deep, deadly voice was quiet with awe and confusion. "You saved my life. I saw it, just now in your eyes. I saw it that night too…"

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