"I hear one of the warriors is in police custody. Did they really arrest Sterling Chase?" Dragos nodded. The warrior's apparent voluntary surrender was the one detail he hadn't arranged or foreseen in this entire offensive strike against the Order. He still wasn't quite sure what to make of that, but he'd sent his newest Minion servants to look in on the situation at the jail downtown. In fact, he should be hearing from the senator with a full report anytime now. "Word on the street says Chase is nearly Rogue," Pike said. "Doesn't surprise me to hear that, I suppose. After the way he came in here looking for you last week with that other warrior - the reports I saw about how many Agents he injured and the way he fought like a rabid dog -

doesn't sound like he's got far to fall before Bloodlust claims him for good. Hard to believe he's the same Sterling Chase of just a few years ago. Back then, it was accepted fact that he was headed straight for the top ranks of the Agency."

Dragos exhaled a sigh, instantly bored with Agent Pike's pointless meander down memory lane. "Let the son of a bitch go Rogue or die in human custody - I could give a flying fuck. One less warrior to contend with is all that matters to me."

"Of course, sir," Pike responded crisply. "I couldn't agree more."

Dragos dismissed the fawning obeisance with a curt wave. "I need a table, Pike." As he spoke, he reached out to pet the silky blond hair of one of his female companions. Not to neglect the redhead, he turned to her and stroked the long, slender column of her throat. "I'll take that one, near the stage."

It was the best in the house, a large half-moon leather banquette and table, centrally located, with a view both of the dancers onstage and the rest of the club. And it was also currently occupied by no fewer than eight Breed males, most of them of equal or higher rank than Deputy Director Arno Pike.

Although his lieutenant hardly looked comfortable with the command, he jogged off to do Dragos's bidding. There were a few turned heads from the Agents at the table, a couple of affronted stares and disgruntled scowls, but Pike cleared the men out, then hurried back to see Dragos to his seat.

Dragos prowled through the Agency club like he owned it.

Hell, it wouldn't be long before he did, in fact, own this club, the city, and everyone in it - Breed and human alike.

He wouldn't be satisfied until the whole goddamn world was kneeling at his feet. Soon, he assured himself. His plan had been long in the making - several centuries of laying the foundation and setting each building block into its proper place. It was all coming together now, and not even the Order would be able to interfere with his goals.

He slid onto the sumptuous leather seat at his newly acquired table, the pretty redhead on one side of him, the wide-eyed blonde on the other. "Join us, Pike. Everyone here has already seen that your allegiance is to me. Besides, there's no need to pretend anymore. The game has changed as of this morning. Now I make the rules."

As Pike settled in next to the blonde, Dragos turned an appreciative eye on the other woman. The skin of her throat and generously exposed cleavage was as pale as cream, almost translucent. Fine blue veins ticked near her collarbone, tempting his fangs from his gums. The sharp canines swelled in his mouth. He descended on her in a single, punching strike - too swiftly for her to do anything more than gasp as he pierced her carotid and drew a long, hard swallow from the pulsing wound.

After a couple of greedy pulls, he pivoted to sample her friend on the other side of him. He was even less gentle with her, digging his fingers into her arms when she whimpered, trying to squirm out of his hold as he bit her. He could have calmed her with a light trance, a consideration most of his kind offered freely to their blood Hosts. But where was the fun in that? Dragos fed openly from both women, his eyes on Arno Pike, who was fighting like hell to keep the savage part of himself in check amid so much fresh, flowing blood. His eyes glowed as bright as embers, pupils narrowed to thin vertical slits. Even though his lips were clamped tightly closed, Dragos knew Pike's mouth would be full with the extended length of his fangs. Dragos laughed. He reached over and grabbed a fistful of the male's Enforcement Agency standard issue black suit and white shirt, hauling him closer. "Why do you deny yourself? What are you afraid of - the Order?" He shook his head. "This is what we've been working toward. This freedom. It is the birthright of all the Breed."

Pike released a gust of air from his lungs. With the exhalation, his lips curled away from his teeth and fangs, baring them on a hungered growl as the scent of fresh blood wreathed the banquette. Pike swiveled his amber gaze onto the blonde, who now drooped in the booth between them, narcotics and blood loss leaving her dazed and unaware of what was happening. "Take her," Dragos told his lieutenant. "She's yours."

With a snarl, Pike swung the woman onto the table and tore her dress open down the front. He fell upon her like an animal, feeding in a public spectacle that drew every pair of Breed eyes in the place.

Dragos watched with voyeuristic pleasure, not only for the unleashed, frenzied lust of his lieutenant but for the avid interest of the other males who slowly closed in from all sides, fangs gleaming, amber stares smoldering, in the relentless pound of the strobe lights ricocheting out from the stage.

How good it felt to know this sense of relaxation, of pure, predatory power. It had been too long since he'd been able to move about in public this freely, without the Order forever breathing down his neck, disrupting him at nearly every turn. He was finished running from Lucan Thorne and his warriors. The blow he delivered to them today should have been signal enough of that. Now it was their turn to go to ground. Their turn to wonder where he might strike next, and how deeply.

Right now, he was in charge.

He owned this moment and everything that would take place within it.

And he wasn't satisfied, not yet.

He sent the redhead up on the table with a command whispered into her ear. She disrobed as he'd instructed her, gyrating in time to the hard bass thumping from the club's sound system and trailing her slender fingers through the twin rivulets of blood that streaked down from the open bite wound in her neck.

The ranks tightened, sharks gathering for the kill. Only a few seconds passed before the first vampire broke from the crowd to leap up onto the table with her.

As he took her throat in his teeth, Dragos nodded his approval. "Drink," he said, then stood to address the crowd. "Take as much as you want, all of you! There are no laws here tonight. No one to stop us from being what we truly are."

With an assenting roar, another male vaulted up onto the table to drink from the redhead's wrist. Then another, fastening his mouth around her other one.

In a far corner of the club, a woman's scream ripped loose then fell abruptly silent as someone else took his fill in the shadows. More and more feedings began, punctuated here and there by the shrieked alarm of the humans who were being savaged by the suddenly ravenous pack of thirsting Breed vampires.

Dragos observed it all with the satisfaction of a barbarian king at home in his arena. The coppery fragrance of spilling human blood rose up from everywhere, turning the club into an orgy of sex and savagery and unchecked madness.

Dragos savored the raw, violent energy vibrating all around him. This was power. This was freedom, at last.

And in this moment - this perfect, terrible moment - not even the Order could take it from him.

Let them learn what he'd done here and seethe that they hadn't been there to stop him. Let them tear apart the Enforcement Agency in a furious quest to find his secret allies. They could dismantle the entire organization for all he cared. His operation would only benefit from any distraction on the Order's part. And soon enough, nothing they did would matter anymore. He would own them, the same way he would own the rest of the peasants of this insignificant, unsuspecting world.

With triumph surging through his veins, Dragos threw his head back and roared like the beast he'd been born to be.


"DO YOU THINK they killed him?"

"Hmm?" Senator Clarence grunted from his seat beside Tavia in the back of the FBI's fast- moving black Suburban. He hadn't spoken for most of the drive out of the city, except to insist that he and the federal agents personally ensured she'd make it home safely. Now he glanced over at her, his expression oddly bland, considering what had happened back at the police station.

Maybe it was shock. God knew, she was still in a state of disbelief herself. "There was so much gunfire as they took us out of that room ... I just wondered if you think the police shot and killed that man."

"I wouldn't be surprised if they did." The senator gave a casual shrug. "I wouldn't care either. Nor should you, Tavia. There's no room in our world for someone like him. If it had been up to me, I would have pumped the bastard's brain full of lead myself."

The coldness of the remark disturbed her. She had known Bobby Clarence for nearly three years, first as an intern for him when he was assistant district attorney, then as his personal assistant from the time he decided to run for a seat in the Senate. She knew he drew a hard line when it came to national security and fighting terrorism; he'd built his entire campaign on his commitment to that platform. But she'd never heard him speak so callously about the life - or the presumed death - of another person.

Tavia turned away, watching the snowy landscape zoom past the dark-tinted window as the vehicle raced north along the highway, leaving the city proper miles behind them. "Who is Dragos?"

Because he was so quiet, at first she thought the senator hadn't heard her. But when she glanced back at him once more, he was staring right at her. Right through her, it seemed. A strange prickle edged its way up the back of her neck, there and gone, as her boss's handsome face relaxed into a look of mild confusion. "I don't know what you mean, Tavia. Should I know the name?"

"He seemed to think you did - that man back at the station." She searched the senator's face for some sign of recognition but saw none there. "Before you came into the room, he told me you were in danger from someone called Dragos. He said we both could be in danger. He wanted to warn you - "

Senator Clarence's eyes narrowed. "He said all of this to you? You spoke to this man? When?"

"I didn't speak to him. Not exactly." She was still trying to make sense of everything that had occurred tonight. "He saw me through the window in the viewing room. He started talking, saying a lot of strange things."

The senator slowly shook his head. "Paranoid, crazy things from the sound of it, Tavia." "Yes, except he didn't seem crazy to me. He seemed disturbed and volatile, but not crazy." She stared at her boss, watching as he rubbed idly at his wrist - the same wrist that had been crushed in the punishing hold of the man who'd broken free of his handcuffs and breached a supposedly secure witness room before half a dozen police officers and federal agents could contain the situation. All so he could get his hands on Senator Clarence. "When he saw you, he said he was already too late. He said this person, Dragos, owned you. What did he mean by that? Why did he think you know this person, or where to find him?"

A tendon ticked in the lean, chiseled jaw. "I'm sure I don't know, Tavia. Politicians make a lot of enemies - some of them harmless crackpots, others destructive sociopaths who crave attention and think that violence and terror are the best ways to get it. Who knows what sins this lunatic thinks I'm guilty of. All I know is, he came to my house to commit murder, and when he failed in that, he and his militant pals decided to blow up a government building and take several innocent lives in the process. The only clear danger any of us seemed to be in tonight was coming from him and him alone."

Tavia acknowledged those sober facts with a grim nod. She couldn't argue with any of it, and she didn't know why she felt compelled to dissect and examine any of what she had heard in the police station viewing room. She didn't know why she couldn't get the man and every bizarre word he said out of her mind.

And his eyes ...

She could still see their steely blue color, and the intensity with which he held her in his unflinching - undeniably sane - stare.

She could still feel the peculiar heat that seemed to radiate out from those stormy irises in that instant when their gazes clashed and held, mere seconds before the Tasers' probes bit into him and the bullets began to fly.

She was so deep in her thoughts, she jumped a little when the senator lightly smacked his palm against his knee. "Ah, damn. I knew I was forgetting something."

"What is it?" she asked, turning to look at him as the SUV exited the highway to begin the couple-mile stretch of rural blacktop that would lead to her house.

He gave her a sheepish look, the one he usually reserved for those times when he was about to ask her to work the entire weekend or help him find a last-minute gift for some society function hostess whom it was crucial he impress. "Tomorrow morning is the charity breakfast for the children's hospital."

Tavia nodded. "Eight o'clock at Copley Place. I sent your dry cleaning to your house and emailed your speech to both your mobile and your home computer before I left the office for the police station tonight."

She'd covered all the bases for him, as usual, but he didn't look satisfied. He winced a bit. "I was thinking of making some changes to the speech. Actually I was hoping you might help me rewrite it completely. With everything that's been going on lately, I haven't had a chance to talk to you about it. I'm sorry, Tavia. And I know you're probably exhausted, but can you spare me an hour or so tonight yet? We can work at my house, since we're halfway to Marblehead already - "


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