Page 31

"Come on, angel. Drink for me." He stroked her cool cheek, brushed a tangle of her honey-blond hair from her forehead. "Please live, Tess... drink, and live."

A throat cleared awkwardly from the area near the bedroom doorjamb. "I'm sorry, the uh... the door was open."

Chase. Just fucking great. Dante couldn't think of anyone he'd like to see less right now. He was too entrenched in what he was doing--in what he was feeling--to deal with another interruption, particularly one coming from the Darkhaven agent. He'd hoped the bastard was already long gone from the compound, back to where he came from--preferably with one of Lucan's size-fourteens planted all the way up his ass. Then again, maybe Lucan was saving the privilege for Dante instead.

"Get out," he growled.

"Is she drinking at all?"

Dante scoffed, low under his breath. "What part of `get out' did you fail to understand, Harvard? I don't need an audience right now, and I sure as hell don't need any more of your bullshit."

He pressed his wrist to Tess's lips again, parting them with the fingers of his free hand in the hopes that she might take some of his blood by mild force. It wasn't happening. Dante's eyes stung as he stared down at her. He felt wetness streaking his cheeks. Tasted the salt of tears gathering at the corner of his mouth.

"Shit," he muttered, wiping his face into his shoulder in a strange mix of confusion and despair.

He heard footsteps coming up near the bed. Felt the air around him stir as Chase reached out his hand. "It might work better if you tilt her head, like th--"

"Don't... touch her." The words came out in a voice Dante hardly recognized as his own, it was so full of venom and deadly warning. He swiveled his head around and met the agent's eyes, his vision burning and sharp, his fangs having stretched long in an instant.

The protective urge boiling through him was fierce, utterly lethal, and Chase evidently understood at once. He backed off, hands raised in front of him. "I'm sorry. I meant no harm. I only wanted to help, Dante. And to apologize."

"Don't bother." He turned back to Tess, miserable with worry and craving solitude. "I don't need anything from you, Harvard. Except your absence."

A long silence answered, and for a moment Dante wondered if the agent had actually slunk away as he hoped. No such luck.

"I understand how you feel, Dante."

"Do you." "I think so, yes. Now I think I understand a lot of things that I didn't before."

"Well, good for you. Fucking brilliant of you, former Agent Chase. Write it up in one of your pointless reports and maybe your buddies in the Darkhavens will pin a goddamn medal of commendation on you. Harvard finally clues in on something."

The vampire chuckled wryly, without rancor. "I've fucked up, I know. I've lied to you and to the others, and I've jeopardized this mission because of personal, selfish motives. It was wrong, what I did. And I want you to know--especially you, Dante--that I'm sorry."

Dante's pulse was hammering with fury, and with fear for Tess's condition as well, but he did not lash out at Chase as impulse made him want to do. He heard the contrition in the male's voice. And he heard humility, something generally on short order with Dante himself. Until now. Until Tess.

"Why are you telling me this?"

"Honestly? Because I see how much you care about this woman. You care, and you're scared shitless about it. You're afraid you're going to lose her, and right now you'll do anything to hold on to her."

"I'd kill for her," Dante said quietly. "I would die for her."

"Yes. I know you would. Maybe you can see how easy it would be to lie, cheat, or even give up your life's purpose to help her--to do anything, risk anything, if it would mean protecting her from any more hurt."

Frowning with new comprehension and suddenly unable to despise the agent any longer, Dante turned to look at Chase. "You said you had no female in your life, no family or obligations beyond your brother' s widow... "

Chase smiled vaguely. Etched in misery and longing, the vampire's face said it all. "Her name is Elise. She was there tonight, when you and Tegan came to pick me up at my home."

He should have known. He did know, on some level, Dante acknowledged now. Chase's reaction when the woman came outside had been virulent, unhinged. It was only when he saw her potentially in harm's way that he lost his usual cool. He'd looked like he'd wanted to tear Tegan's head off for touching the female, a possessiveness that went beyond simple defense of one's kin.

And by the look on Chase's face, he was alone in his affection.

"Anyway," the agent said abruptly. "I just... wanted you to know that I'm sorry for everything. I want to help you and the rest of the Order in any way I can, so if there is anything you need, you know where I am."

"Chase," Dante said as the male turned to leave the room. "Apology accepted, man. And for what it's worth, I'm sorry too. I haven't been fair to you either. Despite our differences, know that I respect you. The Agency lost a good one the day they cut you loose."

Chase's smile was crooked as he acknowledged the praise with a short nod.

Dante cleared his throat. "And about that offer of help... "

"Name it."

"Tess was walking a dog when the Rogues attacked her tonight. Ugly little mutt, not good for much more than a foot-warmer, but it's special to her. Actually, it was a gift from me, more or less. Anyway, the dog was running loose on its leash when I saw it a block or so away from Ben Sullivan's place."

"You want me to go retrieve a wayward canine, is that where this is heading?"

"Well, you did say anything, didn't you?"

"So I did." Chase chuckled. "All right. I will."

Dante dug the keys to his Porsche out of his pocket and tossed them to the other vampire. As Chase turned to be on his way again, Dante added, "The little beast answers to the name Harvard, by the way."

"Harvard," Chase drawled, shaking his head and throwing a smirk in Dante's direction. "I don't suppose that's a coincidence."

Dante shrugged. "Good to see that Ivy League pedigree of yours comes in handy for something."

"Jesus Christ, warrior. You really were busting my ass since the minute I came on board, weren't you? "

"Hey, by all comparisons, I was kind. Do yourself a favor and don't look too closely at Niko's shooting targets, unless you're very secure about your manhood."

"Assholes," Chase muttered, but there was only humor in his tone. "Sit tight, and I'll be back in a few with your mutt. Anything else you're gonna hit me up for now that I opened my big yap about wanting to get square with you?"

"Actually, there might be something else," Dante replied, his thoughts going sober when he considered Tess and any kind of future that might be deserving of her. "But we can talk about that when you get back, yeah?"

Chase nodded, catching on to the turn in mood. "Yeah. Sure we can."

Chapter Thirty

When Chase strode out of Dante's living quarters into the hallway, Gideon was waiting there.

"How's it going in there?" the warrior asked.

"She's still unconscious, but I think she's in good hands. Dante is determined that she'll be all right, and once that warrior gets an idea in his head, there isn't much that's going to stand in his way."

"True enough," Gideon chuckled. He was holding a portable video device, which he now turned on. " Listen, I tapped into some Rogue activity on satellite surveillance earlier tonight. More than one of the subjects appear to be Darkhaven civilians. You got a minute to take a look, maybe provide some ID for us?"

"Of course."

Chase glanced down at the small screen of the hand-held as Gideon called up the images and fast-forwarded to a specific frame. The night-vision footage, zoomed in on a decrepit building in one of the city's industrial slums, showed four inpiduals exiting from a back door. By the gait and size of them, Chase could tell they were vampires. But the human they were stalking had no idea.

The recorded feed played on, and Chase watched, repulsed, as the four Darkhaven youths closed in on their prey. They attacked swiftly and savagely, like the Bloodlusting predators they were. Gang-style attacks on humans were unheard of among the Breed; only vampires turned Rogue hunted and killed like this.

"Can you tighten up this frame?" he asked Gideon, not really wanting to see more of the carnage but unable to look away.

"Think you recognize any of them?"

"Yes," Chase said, his gut convulsing as the focus closed in on Camden's disheveled, feral appearance. The second sighting of the youth in the past few hours, and irrefutable evidence that he was beyond retrieving. "They're all from the Boston Darkhaven. I can give you their names, if you like. That one there is called Camden. He is my brother's son."

"Fuck," Gideon whispered. "One of these Rogues is your nephew?"

"He started using Crimson and went missing nearly two weeks ago. He is the real reason I came to the Order for help. I wanted to locate him and bring him back before this happened."

The other warrior's face was grave. "You know that all of the inpiduals on this satellite feed are Rogues. They're addicts now, Chase. Lost causes--"

"I know. I saw Camden earlier tonight, when Dante, Tegan, and I were at Ben Sullivan's place. As soon as I looked into his eyes, I understood what he was. This only confirms it."

Gideon was quiet for a long moment as he clicked off the device. "Our policy on Rogues is pretty plain. It has to be. I'm sorry, Chase, but if we run across any of these inpiduals in our patrols, there is only one course of action."

Chase nodded. He knew that the Order's stance when it came to dealing with Rogues was unwavering, and after riding shotgun with Dante for the past few nights, he knew it had to be that way. Camden was gone, and now it was only a matter of time before the Bloodlusting shell that was left of his nephew met a violent end, either in combat with the warriors or through his own reckless actions.

"I have to go topside and do something for Dante," Chase said. "But I'll be back within the hour, and I can give you whatever info you need to help get these Rogues off the streets."

"Thanks." Gideon clapped him on the shoulder. "Look, I'm sorry, man. I wish things could be different. We've all lost loved ones to this goddamn war. It never gets any easier."

"Right. I'll catch you later," Chase said, then he strode away, heading for the elevator that would take him to the Order's fleet garage on ground level. As he rode up, he thought about Elise. He'd come clean to Dante and the others about Camden, but he was still keeping the truth from Elise. She needed to know. She needed to be prepared for what had happened to her son and to understand what it meant. Chase wouldn't be bringing Cam home now. No one could. The truth was going to kill Elise, but she deserved to have it.

Chase stepped off the elevator and reached into his coat pocket to withdraw his cell phone. As he walked toward Dante's coupe, he hit the speed dial for his home. Elise picked up on the second ring, her voice anxious, hopeful.

"Hello? Sterling, are you all right? Have you found him?"

Chase stopped walking, cursing inwardly. For a long second he could not speak. He didn't know how to phrase what he had to say. "I, uh... Yes, Elise, Camden has been sighted tonight."

"Oh, my God." She let out a sob, then hesitated. "Sterling, is he... Please, tell me he's alive."

Shit. He hadn't expected to do this over the phone. He thought he'd call her and let her know that he' d be there to explain everything later on, but Elise's maternal worry knew no patience. She was desperate for answers, and Chase could not keep them from her any longer.

"Ah, hell, Elise. It's not good news." In the heavy, utter silence that held on the other end of the line, Chase launched into the facts. "Cam was spotted tonight, running with a group of Rogues. I saw him myself, at the apartment of the human who's been dealing Crimson. He's in bad shape, Elise. He's... Christ, there's just no easy way to tell you this. He's turned, Elise. It's too late. Camden has gone Rogue. "

"No," she said finally. "No, I don't believe you. You're mistaken."

"It's no mistake. God, I wish it was, but I saw him with my own eyes, and I've seen surveillance footage of him collected by the warriors as well. He and a group of other Darkhaven youths--all Rogues now--were caught on satellite, attacking a human in full public view."

"I need to see it."

"No, trust me, you don't--"

"Sterling, listen to me. Camden is my son. He's all I have left. If he's done these things, as you say--if he's become such an animal and you have some proof of this--I have a right to see it for myself."

Chase drummed his fingers on the roof of the black Porsche, knowing that none of the warriors was going to appreciate him bringing a civilian into the compound.

"Sterling, are you there?"

"Yeah. I'm still here."

"If you care the least bit for me or for your brother's memory, then please, let me see my son."

"Okay," he said, relenting at last and consoling himself with the idea that if he granted her this dubious request, he would at least be present to catch Elise when she fell. "I have some business topside, but I'll swing by the Darkhaven in about an hour to pick you up."


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