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Veil of Midnight (Chapter Twenty-eight)

We're loaded up and ready to roll, Renata. Do you need more time before we head out?"

Standing in the gravel drive in front of the lodge, Renata turned as Nikolai approached her from behind. "No. I don't need any more time here. I'm ready to leave this place."

He wrapped his arms around her, cocooning her in his strength. "I just talked with Gideon. Tegan, Rio, and the others are making good progress. They should be at our rendezvous point within the hour."

"Okay. Good."

Renata leaned into his embrace, glad for his sheltering warmth…and his love. Nikolai had kept her near him in their vine haven until the sun had set, soothing her fears with his body, transporting her away from the ugly reality of what had originally brought them together – and what might lay in wait for them tonight, when they finally had the opportunity to confront Edgar Fabien. The truth was, she was worried about what they might find. Bone-deep worried, and even though Nikolai hadn't said anything to suggest that he had his doubts too, she could tell that his mind was heavy with thoughts he seemed determined to hide from her.

"You can tell me, you know." She drew out of his arms and faced him. "If you have a bad feeling about tonight…you can tell me."

Something flickered across his expression, but he didn't speak it. He shook his head. Placed a chaste kiss to her brow. "I don't know what we might be walking into with Fabien. But I can tell you that no matter what, I'm going to be right there with you, okay? We're gonna get through this."

"And once we have Fabien, we're going to go get Mira," she said, searching his eyes. "Right?"

"Yeah," he said, his unflinching, steely gaze holding her steady. "Yes, I promise. I gave you my word on that. I'm not going to let you down."

He brought her to him once more, catching her in a grasp that seemed unwilling to let go. Renata held him too, listening to the strong, rhythmic pound of his heartbeat beneath her ear…and wondering why her own pulse seemed to be clanging a warning in her veins like a death knell.

In a remote hundred-acre parcel of no-man's land a couple hours north of Montreal, the woodland evening shuddered with the buzzsaw whine of an outboard motor speeding a boat across a mostly uninhabited lake. The land and lake, like the transportation provided for Dragos to reach this place, belonged to Edgar Fabien.

Although Fabien had been a disappointment recently, Dragos supposed the Darkhaven leader deserved some measure of credit for the two-prong approach to this important gathering. While the rest of the attendees arrived last night by car, this evening a speedboat had been dispatched to carry Dragos to the site's small dock out back, after a seaplane had brought him from the city to another inland body of water also on Fabien's property. Following the setback suffered a few weeks ago during Dragos's runin with the Order, he had become far more cautious about how he traveled in the open, among other things. He'd come too far to take chances. Risked too damned much to throw it away on carelessness or the incompetence of others.

He cast a contemptuous eye toward the other passenger seated in the boat with him. The Hunter's face was impassive in the milky glow of the moon overhead, his huge body held perfectly still as the driver turned the wheel and the cigarette boat's prow cut through the water to angle toward the lone dock up ahead on the shore.

The Hunter probably knew that he was heading toward his own death. He'd failed in his mission to kill the Gen One in Montreal, and that called for steep punishment. He would be dealt with tonight, and if Dragos could use that punishment as an additional display of his power before the lieutenants who were gathered to greet him now, so much the better.

The boat's engine downshifted as they came up on the unlit, unassuming wooden dock where Edgar Fabien waited to greet them. Gas fumes rolled up off the water, nauseatingly sweet. Fabien's deep bow and fawning welcome had a similar effect.

"Sire, it is the honor of a lifetime to welcome you to my domain."

"Indeed," Dragos drawled as he stepped off the craft onto the dark wood planks of the dock. He gestured for the Hunter to follow him, and did not miss Fabien's reaction when he glimpsed the size and immensity of the Gen One serving at Dragos's command. "Is everyone assembled inside?"

"Yes, sire." Fabien came out of his bow and rushed to walk at Dragos's side. "I have good news. The warrior who escaped containment has been eliminated. Both he and the female who aided him. One of my Minions rooted the pair out, and last night I sent a team of my best agents to clean up the problem."

"You're certain the warrior is dead?"

Fabien's smug smile grated. "I would stake my own life on it. I sent trained professionals to the task. I trust their skill implicitly."

Dragos grunted, unimpressed. "What a comfort it must be to know that kind of trust in your subordinates."

Fabien's confidence faltered at the jab, and he cleared his throat awkwardly. "Sire…another moment, if you would." Dragos dismissed the Hunter from his presence with a curt wave. "Go up to the house and wait for me. Speak to no one." As the Gen One killer strode ahead, Dragos paused to turn an impatient look on Fabien.

"My lord, I'd hoped – that is, I thought a gift might be in order," he stammered. "To celebrate this important event." "A gift?" Before he could ask what Fabien thought Dragos could possibly need from him, Fabien snapped his fingers and an Enforcement Agent emerged from the shadows of the surrounding trees, guiding a young child in front of him. The girl seemed lost in the dark, her blond hair glowing like cornsilk, her tiny face dipped down. "What is the meaning of this?" "A young Breedmate, sire. My gift to you."

Dragos stared at the waif, on the whole unimpressed. Breedmates were a rare enough occurrence among human populations, that much was true, but he preferred his stock to be of fertile, childbearing age. This girl would not be ripe for several more years, which no doubt was what intrigued Fabien the most about her.

"You can keep her," Dragos said, resuming his trek toward the gathering. "Have your man drive the boat back across the lake while we're meeting. I will radio him when he is needed again."

"Go," Fabien ordered in response, then he was right back at Dragos's side, as eager as a hound begging for scraps. "Sire, about the child…really, you must see for yourself. She is gifted with an extraordinary talent that I am certain you will appreciate. She is an oracle, my lord. I've witnessed it for myself."

Against his will, curiosity pricked to attention. His steps slowed, then stopped. "Bring her."

When he pivoted around, Fabien's eager grin spread even wider. "Yes, sire."

The child was ushered to him once more, her footsteps resisting, stubborn heels digging into the old pine needles and sand that littered the small slope up from the dock. She tried to fight off the vampire guard who held her, but it was useless effort. He simply shoved her forward until she was standing directly in front of Dragos. She kept her chin wrenched down, her eyes cast to the ground at her feet.

"Lift your head," Fabien commanded her, hardly waiting for her to comply before he took her skull in both his hands and forced her to look up. "Now, open your eyes. Do it!"

Dragos didn't know quite what to expect. He wasn't at all prepared for the startling paleness of her gaze. The girl's irises were as clear as glass – flawless mirrors that instantly mesmerized him. He was vaguely aware of Fabien's hissed excitement, but all of Dragos's attention was rooted on the child and the incredible glimmer of her eyes.

And then he saw it…a flicker of movement in the placid reflection. He saw a form moving through thick shadows – a body he thought he recognized as his own. The image became clearer the longer he stared, rapt and eager to see more of the gift Fabien had described.

It was him.

It was his lair as well. Even veiled in dark mist, the images reflecting back at him were intimately familiar. He saw the subterranean laboratory, the holding cells…the UV light cage that contained his greatest weapon in the war he'd been preparing for all these many centuries. It was all there, shown to him through this Breedmate child's eyes.

But then, a moment of stunning alarm.

His pristine lab, so rigidly secured and orderly, was in ruins. The holding cells had been thrown open. And the UV light cage…it was empty.

"Impossible," he murmured, struck with a grim, furious awe.

He blinked hard, several times, wanting to dislodge the vision from his head. When he opened his eyes again, he saw something new in the child's damnable eyes…something even more unfathomable.

He saw himself, begging for his life. Weeping, broken.

Pitiful.

Defeated.

"Is this some kind of fucking joke?" His voice shook – both with anger and with something too weak for him to acknowledge. He tore his gaze away from the girl and fixed it on Fabien. "What the hell is the meaning of this?" "Your future, sire." Fabien's face had gone quite pale. His mouth worked for a moment without sound, then he finally sputtered, "The child…you see, she is an oracle. She showed me standing here, at this very gathering, presenting you with a vision of your future that pleased you immensely. When I saw that, I knew I had to save her for you, my lord. I had to offer her to you, no matter what it cost."

Dragos's blood was lava scorching his veins. He should kill the idiot here and now, just because of this insult. "You obviously misread what you saw."

"No!" Fabien cried, grabbing hold of the girl and wheeling her around. He gave her a hard shake. "Show me again! Prove to him that I am not mistaken, damn you!"

Dragos watched as still as stone while Fabien peered into her eyes. The Darkhaven leader's horrified gasp told him all he needed to know. He reeled back, as white as a sheet. As stricken as if he'd just witnessed his own murder.

"I don't understand," Fabien muttered. "It's all changed. You have to believe me, sire! I don't know how she's changed the vision, but the little witch is lying now. She has to be!"

"Get her out of my sight," Dragos growled to the Enforcement Agency guard who held her. "I'll take her with me when I leave, but until then, I don't want to see hide nor hair of her."

The guard gave a nod and removed the child, practically dragging her up to the house.

"Sire, I beg you," Fabien pleaded. "Forgive me for this…unfortunate mistake."

"I will deal with you later," Dragos said, not bothering to couch the threat that rode undercurrent of his words. He resumed his progress toward the gathering, more determined than ever to make his authority – his unmatched power – understood to all.

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