He'd been gone all night?

It felt as though he'd just left Pete's tavern a few minutes ago and now here he was, back again. Only now everything was different.

He was different.

He felt it in the way his body sat so straight on the leather seat, his spine erect, shoulders lifted out of their usual heavy slump. He felt empowered somehow, and knew the source of that power was sitting beside him: motionless, silent, radiating dark menace and cool, lethal control. Skeeter didn't know his name. He couldn't even recall if he'd been told. It no longer mattered.

"You will tell no one of what transpired tonight," said the airless voice from within the deep hood of a black-fur parka. "You will go home immediately and destroy all copies of the video footage of the slayings."

Skeeter nodded obediently, eager to please. "Yes, Master." He recalled thinking that when the Hummer driver first approached him about sharing some information with an interested private party, the transaction was sure to involve someone stuffing a sweet amount of cash into his pocket.

He'd been wrong about that.

And when he'd been brought out to the old mining company location to meet the so-called interested private party, he'd been wrong to guess that the tall man in the pricey suit and crisp white shirt was a man at all. He was something more than that.

Something ... other.

Skeeter had been a little afraid as he was escorted via armed guards from the vehicle and through the main building, into a secured area that looked like some kind of research facility, pimped out in shiny stainless steel exam tables and easily a few million bucks in computer equipment. It was all pretty weird, though the biggest head-scratcher had been the large vertical cylinder that seemed to be some kind of cage with thick metal chains and shackles bolted to the floor of it.

As he had tried to make sense of its purpose, the inpidual he was to meet with--the same inpidual seated beside him now--came into the room to question Skeeter about many things. He'd been asked about the cell phone video he'd taken at the Toms settlement. He'd been asked what he knew of the slayings, if he'd witnessed the creature who'd attacked the humans.

Skeeter recalled his confusion over the odd way the questions were phrased, and he worried that he had somehow walked into a situation more dangerous than it seemed. But there had been no opportunity to turn back. He'd walked into something deadly serious. He'd known that, even then. He'd been questioned about Alexandra Maguire, and what the rumors were around town about the killings. When he'd volunteered about the stranger in Harmony, the big, muscular dude with the jet black hair and wolfy eyes who showed up out of the blue just a couple of nights ago asking similar questions of the townsfolk, the air in the room had seemed to grow as thick as fog.

Skeeter recalled the dread he'd felt as the tall man in the expensive-looking suit pulled a satellite phone from a nearby table and left the room for a few minutes.

He remembered being antsy, needing to distract himself from whatever disaster might be waiting for him on the other end of that phone call. He'd asked the laboratory workers what the cage was used for, watching as three of them in white jumpsuits tested some of the fittings and clicked computer controls that operated different functions on the thing.

Skeeter had guessed out loud that it wasn't meant to hold a human. The size of the cell, as well as the size of the table inside and the heavy-duty restraints affixed to it, had seemed designed for something much size of the table inside and the heavy-duty restraints affixed to it, had seemed designed for something much larger than any man. A grizzly, maybe, Skeeter had said, to no reply from any of the workers or the armed guards.

But someone had an answer for him, impossible as it was to believe.

"It was built for one of my kind," the tall man in the expensive-looking suit had said as he'd walked back into the room.

And he had looked different to Skeeter then. Still rich and important, still the same current of lethal power about him, but his face had seemed tighter, his features drawn sharper, more pronounced. Skeeter recalled seeing a sudden spark of amber light flashing in the narrowed gaze that refused to let him squirm, even though every cell in his body was screaming for him to get the hell out of there. He recalled catching a fleeting glimpse of sharp white teeth, recalled thinking that he was only seconds away from dying ... then he felt the full body blow that knocked him completely off his feet. Skeeter could not remember much after that moment of pure terror. Everything slowed down, went black.

But he hadn't died.

He'd woken up a short while ago and all of his confusion--all of his fear--was gone. Now he belonged to the powerful inpidual seated beside him, the vampire who had made him into something more than human tonight, as well. Skeeter's loyalty was ensured by blood, his very life tied to that of his Master.

"You will report to me with any and all information you can gather," said the voice that commanded him in all things now.

"Yes, Master," Skeeter replied, and when he was given a nod to go, he climbed out of the Hummer and waited as it eased away from the side of the road and departed.

When it was gone, Skeeter walked across Pete's parking lot to the lone snowmachine that still sat parked outside. He hopped on and turned the key in the ignition. Nothing happened. He tried again with the same result, then swore roundly when he realized he'd forgotten to buy gas for the damned thing last night.

"Morning," a familiar voice greeted him as chain-encased snow tires crunched in the frozen road.

"Need a hand?"

Skeeter shook his head without looking at Zach Tucker. Of all the shitty luck, he had to run into Harmony's sole cop today.

Tucker didn't accept his refusal. The Blazer rolled up next to Skeeter's sled and idled while the trooper got out and went around back to grab a red can of gasoline out of the back of the truck.

"Late night, huh?" he asked as he walked over and unscrewed the cap on the Yamaha's fuel tank.

"Looking a bit ragged this morning, Skeeter. Must have been out partying with new friends from out of town or something. Nice Hummer, by the way."

Skeeter offered no explanation, watching the red can empty into his snowmachine.

"No charge this time," Tucker said as he finished. But when Skeeter thought the cop might simply move on, instead he got in his face with a tight whisper. "I thought I told you to lay low for a while--quit the goddamn dealing and partying until we get this thing cleaned up around here. And for the record, posting that fucking cell phone video on that death fetish website was just about the stupidest thing you could do. Now I've got those assholes in Fairbanks busting my balls about losing control of a crime scene!" Tucker was furious, and ordinarily that might make Skeeter worry. But not today.

"Do I need to remind you that our little operation stands a damn good chance of getting blown up in our faces? I've got Staties coming up here later this week to crawl all over this investigation. I won't have you giving them added reasons to stick around and see what else is going on out here. You got that?" Skeeter ignored him, moving around him to take a seat on the sled.

"Are you that fucking stupid," Tucker scoffed, "or are you just stoned?"

"I have never been clearer in my life," Skeeter replied.

"I want to know who you were partying with last night. Where did you go? Jesus Christ, were you idiot enough to tell them anything about me or our arrangement?"

"None of that is any of your concern. What you want no longer matters. I have other priorities." When Skeeter turned the engine over, Tucker's hand came down hard on his shoulder. "If you fuck with me on this, don't think I won't throw you under the bus. You'll go down faster than you can say felony possession with intent to distribute. Cross me now and I swear to God I will bury you."

Skeeter held the flinty gaze of his recent silent business partner. "That would not be wise, Officer Tucker." He saw the momentary flinch of shock in the cop's eyes and felt a small sense of triumph that he had put it there. "Thanks for the gas, though."

Skeeter gave the sled some juice and tore out of the parking lot. By the time he reached his mother's house at the end of the block, he was full of his newfound power and twitchy with the need to carry out his Master's orders. He parked the snowmachine and ran into the back door of the house, aware, but not caring, that his heavy boots clomped loudly on the old wooden floor of the hallway.

Before he was inside his apartment for even as much as a minute, his mother started moving around upstairs, her muffled complaints echoing down to him beneath her bedroom. He knew she'd be storming down to bitch at him, and could hardly say that he was disappointed when she did.

"Stanley Elmer Arnold!" she screamed, banging on his door. "Do you have any idea what time it is?

You worthless piece of shit! How dare you stay out all goddamn night, making me worry about you, only to drag your sorry ass back home at the crack of dawn and wake me out of a dead sleep! You're nothing but a loser and a--"

Skeeter was at the door and in the hallway with her, his hand clamped punishingly around her throat and cutting her off before the words had a chance to shriek out of her mouth.

"Be quiet, bitch," he told her harshly. "I'm working in here." If she'd uttered even one syllable as his hand peeled away from her, Skeeter would have killed her, right then and there. And she knew it, by God. She understood that things would be different now. Soundless, she stepped back from him, wobbling just a little in her ratty slippers and matted terry housecoat. Slowly she turned around and walked carefully back up the hallway where she'd come from. Skeeter Arnold cocked his head at her retreating bulk, then smiled as he returned to the more important tasks that awaited him in the shithole apartment he called home.

Chapter Eleven

It was strange being back in his old quarters at his father's Darkhaven, as though he'd somehow walked into a distant, remembered dream of home that no longer seemed to fit him quite the same way. True to her word, however, Kade's mother had made sure nothing was out of place since he'd left a year ago. After the long night he'd had in Harmony, he could appreciate the thick, engulfing cushion of his leather mission-style recliner, which was perfectly situated in front of the massive, river-rock fireplace that roared with freshly laid logs.

Kade leaned back and chuckled into his satellite phone as Brock caught him up on everything he was missing in Boston the past couple of nights.

"I'm telling you, man, if we aren't careful, these females around here are gonna show our asses up. The way they've been tackling daytime missions topside, they're starting to make the rest of us look bad." Since Kade had phoned in to the Order's compound headquarters a few minutes ago, Brock had been regaling him with stories about some of the other warriors' Breedmates and their current efforts to assist in what had been, until very recently, something of an all-boys club. Now Order missions had become allhands-on-deck kinds of operations--solely devoted to stopping a power-hungry Breed maniac named Dragos from unleashing his personal brand of hell on both humankind and Breed alike. Dragos's resources were as deep as his pockets and, so it happened, as black as his plans. His most heinous act had been the capture and imprisonment of an unknown number of Breedmates, whom he'd been collecting for decades and using to give birth to an army of savage assassins. With Dragos's headquarters sacked by the Order just a few weeks ago, his operation had been disrupted--disassembled and perted, the Order suspected.

Finding the captive Breedmates before he could harm any more of them was the Order's primary objective now. Because timing could mean the difference between lives lost or saved, Lucan had agreed to utilize every weapon in the Order's arsenal, which included the very special, uniquely gifted, females who'd taken some of the warriors as their mates.

There was Rio's mate, Dylan, who had the ability to see the spirits of other Breedmates who'd passed and, when she was lucky, obtain critical information from them. There was Elise, who was mated to Tegan and who had a talent for hearing corrupt, dark human intentions. She accompanied Dylan to area shelters, private homes, and flophouses, her ability helping her assess the motives of the folks they met with along private homes, and flophouses, her ability helping her assess the motives of the folks they met with along the way.

Gideon's mate, Savannah, used her tactile skill for reading the history of an object, hoping to find traceable links to some of the missing. Nikolai's mate, Renata, whose power to mind-blast even the strongest vampire made her a formidable ally on any mission, provided armed bodyguard service to the other Breedmates for their daytime missions.

Even Andreas Reichen's mate, Claire, who'd only recently recovered from her own ordeal at the hands of Dragos and his associates, was apparently getting involved in Order business. Using her gift for dreamwalking, she'd been trying to make contact with some of the known Breedmates who'd been reported missing over the years.

"You know," Brock added wryly, "when Niko recruited me for this gig a year ago, I was expecting it to be just a great excuse to kick some Rogue ass."

Kade grinned, recalling their initial patrols around Boston, which typically involved taking out the city's feral blood addicts and making things go boom. "Kind of makes you miss the simplicity of the first few months on the job, doesn't it?"

Brock grunted in agreement. Then, "Speaking of Rogues, how's it going up there in the icebox?

Been two days and counting. You got that situation swept up yet?"

"I'm following up on a few leads, but nothing solid right now. I'll probably be here another few days, maybe a week."


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