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Now she might have lost Camden too.

No. She refused to think it. The pain was too great to consider that for even a second.

And maybe there was something she could do. Elise drew to a halt at the rain-spattered window. Her breath steamed the glass as she peered out, desperate to know where her son might be.

With a burst of resolve, she pivoted around and went to the closet to retrieve her coat from where it had been since several winters past. The long navy wool covered her widow's whites, falling down around her ankles. Elise put on a pair of pale leather boots and left her quarters before fear could call her back. She dashed down the stairwell to the door at street level. It took her a couple of attempts to punch in the correct security code needed to unlock the door, for she couldn't remember the last time she'd been out of the Darkhaven property. The outside world had long represented pain to her, but maybe now she could bear it.

For Camden, she could bear anything. Couldn't she?

As she pushed the door open, chilly sleet stung her cheeks, carried toward her on a rush of cool fresh air. Elise braced herself, then walked out, down the brick steps with their wrought-iron railing. On the sidewalk below, thin clusters of people passed, some huddled together, others walking alone, dark umbrellas bobbing with their hurried gaits.

For a moment--the smallest suspension of time--there was silence. But then the ability that had forever been her bane, the extraordinary skill that came in unique form to every Breedmate, pressed down upon her like a hammer.

--I should have told him about the baby--

--not like they're going to miss twenty measly bucks, after all--

--told that old woman I'd kill her fucking dog if it shit in my yard again--

--he'll never even know I was gone if I just go home and act like nothing's wrong--

Elise brought her hands up to her ears as all the ugly thoughts of the human passersby bombarded her. She couldn't blot them out. They flew at her like so many winged bats, a frenzied assault of lies, betrayals, and all manner of sin.

She couldn't take another step. She stood there getting soaked with drizzle, her body frozen on the walkway below her Darkhaven apartments, unable to will herself to move.

Camden was out there somewhere, needing her--anyone--to find him. Yet she was failing him here. She couldn't do anything but hold her head in her hands and weep.

Chapter Nineteen

Dusk came early that night, ushered in on the steady spit of a cold November rain coming down from a fog of thick black clouds. The Flats section of Boston's Southie neighborhood--probably nothing special to look at during the day, with its thickly settled collection of aluminum-sided duplexes and brick three-decker tenements--was reduced to a wet, colorless slum under the monotonous deluge.

Dante and Chase had arrived on Ben Sullivan's dilapidated block about an hour ago, right after sunset, where they still waited in one of the Order's dark-windowed SUVs. The vehicle was out of place here simply on the basis of its well-tended appearance, but it put off a distinct don't-fuck-with-me vibe, which helped keep most of the gangbangers and other street thugs from coming too close. The few who had wandered near the window to have a peek decided to move on in a hurry after getting a flash of fang through the glass from Dante.

He was twitchy for all the waiting and half-hoped one of the idiot humans would be fool enough to make a move just so he could work out some of his idle energy.

"You're sure this is the dealer's address?" Chase asked from beside him in the dark front seat.

Dante nodded, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. "Yeah. I'm sure."

He had considered paying this visit to Tess's Crimson-dealing ex-boyfriend by himself but thought he' d better bring along some backup just in case. Backup for Ben Sullivan, not himself. Dante wasn't at all sure the human would be breathing when he was finished with him if he'd come alone.

And not just because Sullivan was drug-dealing scum either. The fact that the guy knew Tess, and no doubt knew her intimately, flipped a trigger on Dante's rage. An unbidden sense of possession stole over him, a need to protect her from losers like this Ben Sullivan person.

Right. Like Dante himself was some kind of prize.

"How did you find it?" Chase's question cut into his thoughts, snapping him back to his mission. " Aside from seeing the human jackrabbit out of the club ahead of us the other night, we didn't have much to go on as far as IDing him."

Dante didn't even glance over at Chase, just lifted his shoulder in a shrug as memories of his hours with Tess swamped his senses in vivid recall. "Doesn't matter how I got it," he said after a long minute. " You Darkhaven suits have your methods; we have ours."

Just as another wave of itchy impatience flooded through him, Dante caught a glimpse of his quarry. He sat up in the driver's seat of the vehicle, glaring out into the dark. The human came around a corner, head down, face partially shielded by a gray hooded sweatshirt. His hands were thrust into the pockets of a bulky parkalike vest, and the guy was walking fast, throwing continuous looks over his shoulder as if he expected trouble on his heels. But it was him, Dante was certain.

"Here's our man now," he said as the human jogged up the concrete steps outside his flat. "Let's go, Harvard. Look alive."

They left the vehicle on alarm and followed him right into the building before the door closed behind him, both Breed males moving with the speed and agility that came naturally to those of the vampire race. By the time the human stuck his key in the lock of his third-floor apartment door and pushed it open, Dante was shoving him into the dark, tossing the guy across the spartan living room.

"Motherfu--" Sullivan came up out of his crash on one knee, then froze, his face caught in a wedge of light from the bare bulb glowing in the hall outside.

Something flashed in the human's eyes, something beneath his immediate fear. Recognition, Dante thought, figuring he probably remembered them from the club the other night. But there was anger there too. Pure male animosity. Dante could smell it seeping out of the human's pores.

He slowly got to his feet. "What the fuck's going on?" "How about you tell us," Dante said, willing a lamp to come on as he strode farther into the place. Behind him, Chase closed and locked the door. "I'm pretty sure you can guess this isn't a social call."

"What do you want?"

"We'll start with information. It'll be up to you how we go about getting it."

"What kind of information?" His gaze swung anxiously between Dante and Chase. "I don't know who you guys are, and I don't have any idea what you're talking abou--"

"Now, see," Dante said, cutting him off with a chuckle, "that kind of bullshit answer puts us off to a real bad start." As the human's right hand slid into the deep pocket of his down-filled vest, Dante smirked. "You wanna convince me you're an idiot, go ahead and pull that gun out. Just so we're clear, I really hope you do."

Ben Sullivan's face blanched as white as his apartment's unpainted walls. He pulled his hand back out, nice and slow. "How did you--"

"You expecting somebody besides us tonight?" Dante strode up to him and removed the beat-up .45-caliber pistol from his pocket without any resistance. He turned to Chase and handed him the safety-locked weapon. "Piece-of-shit-looking hardware for a piece-of-shit drug dealer, eh?"

"I just got that for protection, and I'm not a drug deal--"

"Have a seat," Dante said, and dropped the guy onto a fake-suede recliner, the room's sole piece of furniture aside from the computer workstation in the corner and the shelf of stereo equipment against the wall. To Chase, Dante said, "Give the place a good sweep, see what you can find."

"I'm not a drug dealer," Sullivan insisted as Chase moved off to begin searching. "I don't know what you think--"

"I'll tell you what I think." Dante got down in his face, feeling his anger flare in the sharpening of his eyes and the slight prick of his fangs against his tongue. "I know you're not going to sit there and deny that we saw you dealing Crimson in the back of that club three nights ago. How long have you been trafficking in that shit? Where are you getting it?"

The human glanced down, formulating his lie. Dante grabbed his chin in a bruising grip and yanked his gaze back up to him. "You don't really want to die over this, do you, asshole?"

"What can I say? You're mistaken. I don't have any idea what you're talking about."

"Maybe she can tell us something," Chase put in, coming out of the bedroom just as Dante was about to coldcock the human into a little honesty. Chase carried a framed snapshot in his hand, holding it out in front of him. It was a photo of Ben and a shorter-haired, still-stunning Tess, looking very much the happy couple as they posed outside her clinic's Grand Opening sign. "You two look cozy. I'll bet she can shed a little light on your after-hours activities."

The human shot a narrow-eyed stare at Chase. "Stay the hell away from her, or so help me, I'll--"

"Is she involved?" Dante asked, his voice a rough scrape in his throat.

The human scoffed. "You gotta ask me that? You're the one who had his tongue jammed down her throat last night in front of her apartment. Yeah, I was there. I saw you, son of a bitch." The news flash came as a surprise to Dante, but it certainly explained the man's simmering anger. Dante could feel Chase's eyes on him in question, but he kept his attention focused on Tess's jealous ex.

"I'm about out of patience with you," he snarled, then shook his head. "No, screw that. I'm totally out of patience." Drawing one of the twin curved blades out of its sheath in a split-second blur of flashing steel, he pressed the edge to Ben Sullivan's throat. He smiled thinly as the human's eyes went round with terror. "Yeah, that feels much better to me too. Now, I'm going to give your larynx a little room to breathe, and you're going to start talking. No more bullshit or stalling. Blink once if you're with me, Benny boy."

The human lowered his lids, then resumed his fearful study of Dante's blade.

"They told me not to say anything to anyone," he said, words rushing out of him.

"Who's they?"

"I don't know--whoever's been paying me to manufacture the shit."

Dante scowled. "You make Crimson yourself?"

The human attempted a nod, his movement restricted by the cold steel still hovering near his throat. "I' m a scientist--at least, I was. I used to work as a chemist for a cosmetics firm until I got fired a few years ago."

"Skip the unemployment record and tell me about Crimson."

Sullivan swallowed carefully. "I created it for the nightclub scene, just to make some extra cash. Last summer, not too long after I started dealing it, this dude approached me about stepping up production. He said he had contacts who wanted to get in with me, and they were willing to pay big for it."

"But you don't know who your business partners are?"

"No. Don't ask, don't tell. Never mattered to me, really. Whoever it is, they pay in cash, lots of it. They leave my payments in a safe-deposit box at the bank."

Dante and Chase exchanged a look, both of them knowing what the human was probably ignorant of --that he was dealing with Rogues, most likely tied in with the leader of the new faction of suckheads who, as of a few months ago, had been organizing, preparing for a war their leader intended to ignite among the vampire race. Dante and the rest of the Order had put a serious kink in those plans when they blew up the asylum headquarters, but they hadn't eliminated the threat completely. So long as the Rogues could recruit and increase their numbers--particularly with the aid of a drug like Crimson--the possibility of war was more a question of when than if.

"What's the big fucking deal anyway? Crimson's not hardcore. I've even taken it myself in my own trials. It's just a mild stimulant, not much different from X or GHB."

Standing next to Dante, Chase scoffed. "Not much different. The hell it isn't. You saw what happened the other night."

Dante pressed the blade a bit closer. "You got a front-row seat to that little freak show, didn't you?"

Sullivan's jaw clamped tight, his eyes latched on to Dante in uncertainty. "I... I'm not sure what I saw. I swear." Dante pinned him with a narrow, measuring glare. He could tell the human was anxious, but was he lying? Damn, he wished Tegan had come along. No one, human or Breed, could hide the truth from that warrior. Of course, knowing Tegan, he'd be just as liable as Dante to want to take the human out for bringing this misery to the vampire population.

"Listen." Sullivan tried to stand up but got Dante's palm in the center of his chest, planting his ass right back down on the chair. "Hear me out, please. I never wanted to hurt anyone. Things have gotten... Christ, everything's messed up now, dangerous. I'm in over my head, and I'm getting out. Tonight, in fact. I called my contact, and I'm going to meet with them to let them know I'm finished. They're coming to get me in a couple of minutes."

At the window, Chase put a finger between the aluminum miniblinds and peered out to the street below. "Dark sedan idling at the curb," he advised, then glanced at the human. "Looks like your ride's here."

"Shit." Ben Sullivan shrank back in the chair, his hands moving nervously on the ratty arms of the La-Z-Boy. He flicked a wary glance up at Dante. "I have to go. Damn it, I need my gun back."

"You're not going anywhere." Dante sheathed his malebranche blade and went over to the window. He peered out at the waiting vehicle. Although it was impossible to tell much about the driver from overhead, he was willing to bet it was either a Rogue or a Minion at the wheel, and another one sat on the passenger side. He turned back to the human. "If you get in that car, you're as good as dead. How do you get in touch with your contact--you got a number to reach him?"


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