Page 33


"I'm a warrior. This is war, Tess. Things have only gotten worse now that the Rogues have Crimson on their side."


"Crimson? What's that?"


"The drug Ben Sullivan has been peddling around town the past few months. It increases the desire for blood, reduces inhibition. It creates these killers."


"What about Ben? Does he know this? Is that why you went to his apartment the other night?"


Dante nodded. "He says he was hired to make the drug by an anonymous corporation this past summer. We suspect that corporation was likely a front for the Rogues."


"Where is Ben now?"


"I don't know, but I intend to find out."


A coldness edged Dante's voice as he said it, and Tess couldn't help feeling a note of worry for Ben. " The men who--the Rogues--who attacked me had been searching his apartment." "Yes. They might have been looking for him, but we're not sure."


"I think I may know something about what they wanted."


Dante fixed her with a frown. "How so?"


"Where's my jacket?" Tess glanced around the bedroom but didn't see any of her clothes. She was wearing just a bra and panties under the sheets that draped her. "I found something at the clinic the other day. A computer flash drive. Ben hid it in one of my exam rooms."


"What was on it?"


"I don't know. I haven't tried to open it yet. It's in my jacket pocket--"


"Shit." Dante leaped to his feet. "I'll be back in a few minutes. Will you be all right here alone?"


Tess nodded, still trying to come to grips with everything that was happening, all the incredible, disturbing things she was learning about the world she thought she knew. "Dante?"


"Yeah?"


"Thank you... for saving my life."


Something dark flashed in his whiskey-colored eyes, softening his harshly handsome features. He came back to her on the bed and tunneled his fingers through the hair at her nape, tipping her face up to his. His kiss was sweet, almost reverent. "Sit tight, angel. I'll be right back."


Elise put her hand against the smooth wall of the corridor and tried to catch her breath. Her other hand was pressed to her stomach, her fingers splayed across the wide red sash of her widow's garb. A heaving roll of nausea weakened her legs, and for a moment she thought she might throw up where she stood. Wherever that might be.


She had fled the compound's tech lab in a state of complete revulsion, appalled by what she had been shown. Now, after running blindly down one length of hallway, then another, she really had no idea where she'd ended up. She only knew that she needed to get away.


She couldn't run far enough away from what she had just seen.


Sterling had warned her that the Order's satellite surveillance images of Camden were graphic, disturbing. Elise had been prepared, she'd thought, but seeing her son and several other Rogues engaged in the wholesale slaughter of a human being had been beyond even her worst imaginings. It was a nightmare that she knew would haunt her for the rest of her living days.


Her spine leaning against the corridor wall, Elise let herself sink slowly to the floor. She couldn't hold back the tears or the ragged sobs that grated in her throat. Guilt was at the root of her anguish, the regret that she hadn't been more careful with Camden. That she had taken for granted that he was too good at heart, too strong, for something so heinous to befall him.


Her son could not be the Bloodlusting monster she saw on that computer screen. He had to be in there somewhere, still retrievable. Still salvagable. Still Camden, her golden, cherished child.


"You all right?" Startled by the deep male voice, Elise flinched, her teary gaze flicking upward. Gem-green eyes stared back at her from within a reckless fall of tawny hair. It was one of the two warriors who'd come to the Darkhaven for Sterling earlier that evening--the coldly imposing one who had caught Elise and held her back when she tried to rush to Sterling's defense.


"Are you hurt?" he asked when she could only look up at him from her humiliating collapse on the corridor floor.


He strode toward her, his expression flat, unreadable. He was half undressed, wearing loose jeans that sagged down indecently on his lean hips and a white shirt that was completely unbuttoned, baring his muscular chest and torso. An astonishing display of dermaglyphs covered him from groin to shoulder, the density and intricacy of the markings leaving no doubt whatsoever that this warrior was first-generation Breed. Which meant he was among the most aggressive and powerful of the vampire race. Gen Ones were few in number; Elise, for her many decades of living in the Darkhavens, had never even seen one before.


"I'm Tegan," he said, and held out his hand to help her up.


The contact seemed too forward to her, even though she could hardly pretend that this male's huge hands hadn't been clamped down on her shoulders and her waist just a few hours before. She'd felt the lingering heat of his touch for a long time after he'd let her go, the outline of his strong fingers seeming burned into her flesh.


She got to her feet on her own power and brushed awkwardly at her wet cheeks. "I am Elise," she said, giving him a polite bow of her head. "I am Sterling's sister by marriage."


"Are you recently widowed?" he asked, his head cocking to the side as that penetrating gaze of his drank in every inch of her.


Elise fidgeted with the long scarlet sash at her waist. "I lost my mate five years ago."


"You still mourn."


"I still love him."


"I'm sorry," he said, his tone level, his face placid. "And I'm sorry about your son too."


Elise looked down, not ready to hear sympathy for Camden when she was still clinging to hope that he might return to her.


"It's not your fault. You didn't drive him to this, and you couldn't have stopped him."


"What?" she murmured, astonished that Tegan could know anything about her guilt, her secret shame. A few Gen Ones were gifted in mind reading, but she hadn't felt him probing her thoughts, and only the weakest humans were penetrable without some notice of psychic invasion. "How could you possibly--"


The answer came to her at once, the explanation for the strange buzzing of her senses when he'd touched her earlier that night, the lingering heat his fingers had left on her skin. He had pined her emotions in that instant. He had stripped her bare without her will.


"I'm sorry," he said. "It's not something I can control."


Elise blinked away her discomfiture. She knew what it was like to be cursed with such an ability. Her own psychic skill had made her a prisoner to the Darkhavens, unable to bear the bombardment of negative human thoughts that assailed her whenever she was among their kind.


But sharing a similar affliction with this warrior didn't make her any more comfortable in his presence. And worry over Camden--the raw misery she felt when she thought about what he was doing out there, swept up in the violence of the Rogues--made her anxious to be alone.


"I should go," she said, more to herself than to Tegan. "I need to... I have to get out of here. I can't be here right now."


"Do you want to go home?"


She shrugged, then shook her head, uncertain what she needed. "Anywhere," she whispered. "I just need to go."


Closer now, moving without even the slightest stir of the air around him, Tegan said, "I'll take you."


"Oh, no, I didn't mean--"


She shot a glance back down the corridor, in the direction she'd come from, thinking that she probably should try to find Sterling. A bigger part of her was thinking that she wasn't at all sure she should be in this warrior's company now, let alone considering going off with him somewhere unescorted.


"You afraid I'm going to bite you, Elise?" he asked, his lazy, sensual mouth quirking at one corner, the first indication she'd seen in him that he actually might feel any emotion at all.


"It's late," she pointed out, casting about for a polite excuse to deny him. "It must be getting close to dawn. I wouldn't ask you to risk exposure--"


"So I'll drive fast." Now he smiled, a full-on grin that said he knew full well she was trying to dodge him and he wasn't about to permit it. "Come on. Let's get the hell out of here for a while."


God help her, but when he held his hand out to her, Elise hesitated only for a second before she took it.


Chapter Thirty-two


Dante was gone longer than a few minutes, and the waiting made Tess anxious. She had so many questions, so much to sort out in her mind. And despite the internal, enlivened buzzing of her body, on the outside she felt strung out, antsy.


A hot shower in Dante's spacious bathroom helped wash away some of that feeling, and so did the fresh change of clothes that he had left for her in the bedroom. With Harvard watching from his curled-up position on the bed, Tess put on the tan cords and brown knit shirt, then sat down to slip on her shoes. Scuff marks and small splatters of blood were vivid reminders of the attack she'd suffered. An attack, Dante would have her believe, perpetrated by inhuman creatures with a thirst--an addiction--to blood.


Vampires.


There had to be a more logical explanation, something grounded in fact, not folklore. Tess knew it was impossible, yet she knew what she had experienced. She knew what she had seen, when her first assailant leaped off Ben's apartment balcony on foot and dropped to the ground, as fluid as a cat. She knew what she had felt, when that man and another who joined him hauled her off the sidewalk and into the old shed. They had bitten her, like rabid animals. They had punctured her skin with huge fangs and drawn her blood into their mouths, feeding off her like something out of a horror movie.


Like the vampires Dante had proclaimed them to be.


At least she was safe now, wherever Dante had brought her. She looked around the large bedroom with its simple, understated furnishings. The furniture was masculine, with clean lines and dark finishes. The only indulgence was the bed. The king-size four-poster dominated the room, its glossy black silk sheets as soft and sleek as a raven's wing.


Tess found similar tasteful appointments in the adjacent living room. Dante's quarters felt comfortable and unfussy, like the man himself. The whole place seemed homey, but it didn't feel like a house. There were no windows on any of the walls, just expensive-looking contemporary art and framed photography. He had mentioned this place was a compound, and now Tess wondered precisely where she was.


She walked out of the living room to a tiled foyer. Curious, she opened the door and peered out onto a corridor of glossy white marble. Tess looked up the long hallway, then down the other side. It was empty, just a curving tunnel of polished stone. On the floor, inlaid into the snowy marble, was a series of symbols--interlocking geometric arcs and swirls rendered in obsidian. They were unusual and intriguing, some of them forming similar patterns to the beautiful multihued tattoos Dante sported on his torso and arms.


Tess bent down to get a closer look. She was so involved in studying the symbols that she didn't realize Harvard was near until the terrier slipped past her and started trotting off down the corridor.


"Harvard, get back here!" she called after him, but the dog kept running, disappearing around a bend in the curved hallway.


Damn it.


Tess stood up, shot a glance up and down the vacant corridor, then went after him. The pursuit led her down one long stretch of corridor, then another. Every time she got close to catching the errant terrier, he dodged capture, trotting through the endless maze of hallway as if they were playing a game.


"Harvard, you little shit, stop right now!" she whispered sharply and to no avail.


She was impatient now and uncertain if she should be traipsing around the place alone. Even though she couldn't see them, she was sure security cameras were clocking her every move from within the opaque glass orbs that were installed every few feet in the corridor ceiling.


There were no signs anywhere to indicate her location or to note where any of the labyrinthine corridors led. Wherever it was that Dante called home, it was rigged up like some high-tech government agency. Which only gave more credibility to his outrageous claims of an underworld war and the existence of dangerous creatures of the night. Tess followed the dog around a sharp right turn that opened onto another wing of the compound. Finally, Harvard's run was thwarted. A pair of swinging doors blocked his path at the end of the hall, the small square windows at eye level cloudy with frosted glass.


Tess approached cautiously, not wanting to frighten the dog out of her reach but also unsure what might be on the other side of those doors. It was quiet here, nothing but endless white marble everywhere she looked. There was a vaguely antiseptic smell in the air. From somewhere not far, her ears picked up the faint electronic beep of medical equipment and some other rhythmic, metallic clank that she could not place.


Was this some kind of medical wing? It felt sterile enough, but there were no outward indications of patients inside, no staff rushing about. No one at all, from what she could tell.


"Come here, you little beast," she muttered, bending down to retrieve Harvard from where he'd stalled out near the doors.


Holding him close to her chest in one arm, Tess slowly pushed open one of the doors a crack and peeked inside. Only dim light shone beyond the doors, a soothing semidarkness. There was a row of closed doors on both sides of the interior hallway. She slipped through the swinging doors and walked a few paces inside.


Right away she found the source of the beeping: A digital panel was mounted to a wall on her left, its array of monitoring lights dark except for a handful in a grid on the lower portion of the board. It appeared to be some kind of EKG monitor, although it was nothing like any she'd seen before. And coming from the farthest room in the hallway was the repetitive clank and thunk of something heavy.

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