"Tell me what has happened to my son."

Kade had never heard his father's voice shake, not even at Kir's worst. The tremor in that deep baritone now was like a knife to Kade's gut.

"Father ... I am sorry."

Kir thundered down the steps and into the snow. He stopped in front of Kade and Alex, reached out with a shaking hand to lift the blanket that covered Seth's face.

"Ah, Christ. No." The words choked in the back of his throat, raw with anguish. He looked once more, longer now, as though forcing himself to take full measure of the Rogue's face that had been hidden beneath the shroud. "I prayed this wouldn't happen again. Goddamn it, not to one of my sons."

"Kir!" Kade glanced up as his pregnant mother strayed out to the porch, her silk nightgown engulfed by the large parka she'd apparently grabbed and thrown on inside the house. Her steps faltered as she saw Kade standing there in the snow, his arms filled with an unmistakable bulk. "Oh, my God. Oh, no. Oh, dear lord, no! Please tell me that's not--"

"Stay back," Kade's father barked. Then he gentled his voice to a heartbreaking softness. "Victoria, I beg you ... don't come any closer. Please, my love, go back inside. Do as I say. You don't need to see this." With a sob, she inched back toward the door, aided by Maksim, who'd just come outside in that moment, as well. Max took her arm to steady her as he brought his brother's mate back into the Darkhaven.

"Give him to me," Kade's father said once the doors had closed and both Max and Victoria were back inside. "Let me have my dead son."

Kade released Seth to him, and watched as his father carried the body, barefoot through the ankledeep snow, toward the Darkhaven's chapel that stood near the center of the compound. There, as was custom, Seth's corpse would be prepared for the funeral rites to be carried out at the next sunrise. Kade felt Alex's arms come around him in a warm embrace, but it did little to ease the cold regret that gnawed at him like a vulture on carrion.

In just a couple more hours, nothing but a pile of sun-scorched ash would remain of his brother--or of Kade's place among his kin.

Back in Harmony, the warriors were hauling ass to clean up the situation with the locals, which had begun some time ago with the task of disappearing several dead bodies from cold storage at the airstrip and at the town's tiny clinic.

"One nice thing about all this snow and wilderness out here is there's a lot of goddamn snow and wilderness out here," Tegan remarked dryly as Chase and Hunter met up with him at their waiting snowmachines on a game trail several long miles into the bush.

They'd sledded out of Harmony with the Toms family, Big Dave, and Lanny Ham in tow, carrying all of the Ancient's recent victims to a cavern in the area mountains. A few strategically fired gunshots had collapsed the ice and rock at the cavern's mouth, sealing it off and ensuring that the dead would not be found until sometime well into the next ice age.

"Any word from Gideon about Phase Two of this operation?" Tegan asked Chase, who'd been charged with coordinating the in-town portion of their task list for the day

"Everything's in place," Chase said. "Gideon has spoken with one Sidney Charles, Harmony's acting mayor, informing Mr. Charles that the unit dispatched from the Alaska State Trooper pision in Fairbanks should be arriving within the hour to address the townspeople as a group and collect statements."

"And I take it the good mayor was agreeable to that?"

Chase nodded. "He told Gideon he would personally see to it that every citizen was in attendance. They're gathering at Harmony's church to wait for us as we speak."

Tegan chuckled low under his breath. "So, where does that leave things? Breaking and entering, evidence tampering, compromising a crime scene, impersonating police officers, scrubbing roughly a hundred human minds in one fell swoop and getting it done before first light ..." Chase grinned. "All in a day's work."

Kade wasn't sure he would be welcomed in the Darkhaven chapel where all of the compound's residents had gathered to say their good-byes to Seth in the remaining minutes before daybreak. He had intended to sit the damned ritual out completely, pacing his quarters in front of Alex like a caged animal as the hour crept closer and closer to noon, when the winter sun would finally make its brief appearance. Finally, he couldn't stand it anymore.

"I have to be there," he blurted, stopping in front of Alex where she sat on the sofa in his cabin's living room. "Whether they think I belong with them now or not, I need to be there. For Seth. And for myself, too. Goddamn it, they all need to hear what I have to say."

He stormed out of the cabin and headed across the frozen grounds. The faintly blue-tinged snow, lighted by the approaching sunrise, crunched under his boots with each long stride that carried him toward the chapel.

The windows of the small log building were already shuttered tight in anticipation of daybreak. As Kade drew nearer, he heard the soft murmur of voices lowered in private prayer, mingled with the intermittent sounds of the grieving inside.

Even before he reached for the latch of the door, he could smell the paraffin odor of the eight candles that would be burning at the altar, and the fragrant scent of the perfumed oil that anointed Seth's body in preparation for the infinity rites about to take place.

Eight ounces of oil to bless and cleanse him. Eight layers of pristine white silk to shroud him until his body would be surrendered to the sun. Eight minutes of scorching ultraviolet exposure for the one who would be chosen from among the living to attend Seth in private for the final moments of the funeral ceremony.

"Fuck," Kade whispered, paused at the chapel doors as the reality of it all settled on him. His brother was dead.

His family was in mourning.

And Kade felt more than partly to blame for all of it.

He opened the chapel door and stepped inside. Nearly every head swung in his direction, some looking on him in pity, others staring at him like the stranger he had become in the year he'd been gone with the Order.

Everyone gathered in the chapel was dressed in ceremonial attire--females draped in black hooded gowns, males in belted long black robes. He found his parents in the front row of pews, standing with Maksim and Patrice, all of them garbed in black, their faces pale with shock, eyes rimmed in red, moist with grief. Had Seth been mated to Patrice, as his widow, she would have been gowned in hooded scarlet to signify their blood bond. His body, cocooned in white silk on the altar, would have borne a single crimson kiss where his Breedmate would have scored her own lips then pressed her mouth to his in one final goodbye. As Kade considered the solemn traditions of his kind, he couldn't help thinking of Alex. He couldn't keep from flashing forward to a future where he was the one laid out on the funeral altar, his face transformed as Seth's was, frozen by Bloodlust under the shroud of white silk. Would Alex love him then?

Could he really ask her to love him now, after everything she knew about him? After everything she had seen and heard in the past several hours, could he ever expect to have her trust or affection ever again?

For that matter, what about the people gathered in this chapel? Would his kin at this Darkhaven have anything but scorn for him, once he'd said his piece?

Kade didn't know. At the moment, he didn't damn well care. He strode to the center aisle, knowing how out of place he must look in his combat-worn, bloodstained black fatigues, guns and blades bristling from the belt around his hips while his lug-soled boots echoed hollowly over the polished wood path toward the altar.

His father's gaze narrowed darkly as Kade began to walk toward the front of the chapel. As he passed the rows of filled pews, he heard the quiet murmurs of prayers and softly whispered praises for his brother.

"Always such a charming boy, wasn't he?" someone reflected in a barely audible voice. "How tragic that something like this could have happened to him."

that something like this could have happened to him."

"Seth was the studious and responsible one," another detached whisper recalled. "He might have made a fine Darkhaven leader himself one day."

"Poor Kir and Victoria, they must be heartbroken," remarked yet another grief-choked resident, voice lowered so that Kade could hardly hear as he passed. "Would anyone have imagined that Seth could turn Rogue? What a waste, and what a disappointment for his family."

"Kir has refused to speak of it" came a hushed reply. "I understand he is so ashamed, he would let no one near the body after Kade brought Seth home."

"That's right," someone else chimed in confidentially. "It's only because Victoria insisted that Kir even permitted a gathering for the funeral rites. It's as though he wanted to simply sweep Seth away like he never existed."

Kade ignored the quiet wave of whispered speculation behind him as he made his way to the altar at the front of the chapel. His father's shame and disapproval didn't surprise him. The fiercely disciplined, rigidly perfect Kir would never tolerate a Rogue in the family, let alone willingly deign to admit that his favored son had fallen to Bloodlust.

Kade was ashamed, too, not so much for his brother's weaknesses and unforgivable misdeeds but for his own failure to help Seth turn his life around before it was too late.

"This moment belongs to my brother," he said, addressing the assembled group of his relatives and the other residents of the Darkhaven. "I have no wish to take even a second of this time away from Seth, but there are things you all should know. Things all of you need to understand before you condemn him for what became of him in the end."

"Sit down, Kade." His father's voice was low and level, but his eyes crackled with command. "This is neither the time nor the place."

Kade nodded. "I know. I should have come forward a hell of a lot sooner. Maybe if I'd said something earlier, my brother would've had a chance. Maybe he wouldn't be dead." His father rose, coming up off his seat on the bench. "Nothing you say here will change a goddamn thing. So hold your tongue, boy. Let it be."

"I can't," Kade said. "I've carried Seth's secret for too long. I've been carrying my own secrets, too. It's long past time I let them go."

Kade's mother blinked back a fresh rush of tears, one slender hand cradling the swell of her stomach, where another pair of twin boys was growing inside her. "What are you talking about? What secrets, Kade?

Please ... I want to know."

He looked past the disapproving glare of his father, to the plea that swam in his gentle mother's moist eyes. Maybe what he said in this room, before all of these witnesses, would someday help the new pair of brothers who would soon be born with the same talent--the same seductive, wild calling--that he and Seth possessed. For that reason alone, he had to speak.

And then, there was Alex.

Kade's gaze strayed to the back of the crowded chapel, where she had entered in silence and now stood near the closed doors, her steady gaze as tender as it was strong. She nodded faintly, the only approval that truly mattered in this room.

"My brother was not well," he told the quiet gathering. "From the time we were boys, we both struggled with the ability we inherited at birth. Maybe in someone else, like you, Mother," he said, glancing at her as he spoke about the unique gift she also possessed, "the talent might have been a strength. For Seth and me, it became a curse. It was too much power for boys who were stupid with arrogance and too naive to understand the consequences. We abused the talent we inherited from you. At first, we treated it like a game, running with a pack of wolves in the woods, hunting with them ... killing with them. We let the wildness rule us. At some point, I realized Seth could not stop."

"Oh, my son," she gasped. "I am so sorry. I had no idea--"

"I know that," he said, interrupting her before she could assume any more blame that wasn't hers.

"No one had any idea. It was wrong for Seth and me to conceal the truth. I made it worse when I left Alaska last year."

Kir's scowl deepened. "Worse, how?"

"Seth had killed a human." Kade ignored the horrified gasp that traveled the congregation, his eyes rooted on his father. "He'd killed, and I knew he had. He promised me it was a mistake he would never repeat. I didn't believe him. I wanted to, but I knew my brother too well. I should have done something then.

I should have found a way to ensure he wouldn't do it again. Instead, I left." Silence fell over the room as Kade spoke. It stretched endlessly, a cold, sodden weight that bore down on his shoulders as he weathered his father's unreadable gaze. Kade's mother rushed to fill the terrible quiet.

"You had to leave, Kade. The Order needed your help in Boston. You had important work to do there--"

"No," Kade said, shaking his head in slow denial. "I was glad to join the Order, but that's not why I left. Not really. I left Alaska because I feared that if I stayed, I would become like Seth. To save myself, I abandoned my brother--abandoned all of you--and I ran to Boston for my own selfish reasons. There was no honor in what I did."

He glanced to the back of the chapel as he said it, meeting Alex's gaze. She was listening without judgment, the only pair of eyes in the room that wasn't fixed on him in contempt or stunned disbelief.

"What Seth did was wrong," Kade continued. "He was sick, maybe beyond help, even before his weakness turned him Rogue. But despite all that, he died with honor. Because of Seth's sacrifice a few hours ago, I am alive. More important, there is a beautiful, extraordinary woman standing at the back of this room who's also alive because of Seth's actions in the final moments of his life." As a whole, the group turned to look on Alex. She didn't flinch at the sudden attention, nor at the whispers of speculation and curiosity that traveled the chapel on Kade's announcement.


***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com