"It was a mistake," she murmured. "I'm not going to make it worse by imagining it was anything more than that. All I can do is make a point of not repeating it."

She sounded so sure of herself, she thought for certain Alex would believe her. But when she glanced over at her friend--her best friend, who'd stood beside her through all of her life's triumphs and tragedies--Alex's eyes were gentle with understanding.

"Come on, Jen. Let's finish up these dishes, then we'll go see how Dylan and the others are making out on their investigations."

"We've been sitting here for twenty-five minutes, my man. I don't think your guy is gonna show." Brock turned a look on Chase from the driver's seat of the parked Rover. "How long are we supposed to wait on this asshole?"

Chase stared out at the vacant, snow-covered lot in Dorchester, where their rendezvous with one of his former Enforcement Agency contacts was supposed to have taken place. "Something must have come up. Mathias Rowan is a good man. He never leaves me hanging out to dry. Let's give him another few minutes."

Brock exhaled an impatient grunt and turned up the SUV's heat. He hadn't been excited about partnering with Chase on the night's patrol, but he was even less excited that their work in the city included the prospect of meeting up with a member of the Breed nation's de facto law enforcement organization. The Agency and the Order had a long-held, mutual distrust of each other, both sides in disagreement about the way crime and punishment should work among the Breed.

If the Enforcement Agency had been effective at one time, Brock personally couldn't vouch for it. The organization had long ago become more political than anything else, generally favoring ass-kissing and lip service as a means of handling problems--two things that happened to be missing from the Order's playbook.

"Man, I hate winter," Brock muttered as the flurry of new-falling snow began to come down in earnest. A gust of icy wind buffeted the side of the vehicle, howling like a banshee across the empty lot.

Truth be told, a lot of his foul mood had to do with the way he'd screwed things up with Jenna. He couldn't help wondering how she was doing, what she was thinking. Whether she despised him, which was certainly her right. He was anxious for the night's mission to be over so he could head back to the compound and see for himself that Jenna was okay.

"Your man Rowan better not be dicking us around," he grumbled. "I don't sit in the damn cold freezing my ass off for just anybody--least of all a self-righteous Agency blowhard."

Chase slid him a meaningful look. "Whether you care to believe it or not, there are a few good inpiduals in the Enforcement Agency. Mathias Rowan is one of them. He's been my eyes and ears on the inside for months now. If we want a fighting chance at routing out Dragos's possible allies in the Agency, we need Rowan on our side."

Brock gave a grim nod and settled back to continue their wait. Chase was probably right about his old ally. Few in the Enforcement Agency would want to admit there were cracks in their foundation--cracks that had permitted a cancer like Dragos to operate inside the Agency in secret for decades. Dragos had hidden behind an assumed name, accumulating power and intel, recruiting an untold number of like-minded followers willing to kill for him--to die for him, if duty demanded it. Dragos had climbed as high as the director level in the Agency before the Order had unmasked him several months ago and driven him to ground.

Although Dragos was gone from the Agency, the Order was certain he hadn't severed all of his ties. There would be those who still agreed with his dangerous plans. Those who were still allied with him in silent conspiracy, hiding within layer upon layer of bureaucratic bullshit that prevented Brock and the other warriors from going in with guns blazing to flush them out.

One of Chase's main objectives in the months since Dragos turned tail and ran was to start peeling back those layers in the Agency. To get closer to Dragos, the Order would need to get close to his lieutenants without tripping any alarms. One careless move could drive Dragos even deeper into hiding.

The operation was covert in the extreme, made all the more delicate seeing how the Order's best hope of success lay in the hair-trigger, volatile hands of Sterling Chase and his trust in an old friend who was only as loyal as Chase promised him to be.

On the passenger-side dashboard, Chase's cell phone began to vibrate.

"That'll be Rowan," he said, grabbing the phone and answering the call.

"Yeah. We're waiting. Where are you?"

Brock stared out at the swirling snow through the windshield, listening to Chase's side of a conversation that didn't sound like good news.

"Ah, fuck--anyone dead?" Chase went quiet for a second, then hissed something nasty. At Brock's questioning look, he explained, "Got detoured by another call. Darkhaven kid let things get out of hand at a party. There was a fight, then a feeding on the street outside. One human is dead, another ran off on foot, bleeding bad."

"Jesus," Brock muttered.

The dead human and a feeding taking place on a public street was bad enough. The bigger trouble was the escaped witness. It wasn't hard to imagine the hysteria that a savaged human could cause, running around screaming the word "vampire." To say nothing of what that same bleeding human could incite among Brock's own kind.

The scent of fresh, spilling red cells would be a beacon to every Breed in a two-mile radius. And God forbid there were any Rogues left in the city.

One whiff of an open wound would be enough to send the blood-addicted dregs of the Breed population into a feeding frenzy.

Chase's jaw was taut as he went back to Mathias Rowan on the cell.

"Tell me your guys have the runner contained." From the harsh grate of the curse that followed, Brock was guessing the answer to that was no.

"Goddamn it, Mathias. You know as well as I do that we've got to get that human off the street. If it takes the entire Boston pision to track him down, then you do it. Who's down there with you from the Agency?"

Brock watched and listened as the conversation continued, observing a side of Sterling Chase he hardly recognized. The former Agent was cool and commanding, logical and precise. The unpredictable hothead that Brock had grown accustomed to as a member of the Order seemed to take a backseat to the crisp, capable leader sitting beside him in the Rover now.

He'd heard that Chase had been a golden boy with the Agency before he'd joined the Order, though you couldn't have proved that by Brock in the year that he'd been working alongside him. Now he felt a kindling new respect for the former Agent, as well as a gnawing curiosity about the other, darker side of him, which never seemed far from the surface.

"Where are you at, Mathias?" Chase motioned to Brock to put the vehicle in gear as he spoke to his Agency contact. "Tell you what, you let me worry about whether the Order needs to get involved in this. I'm not asking permission, and you and I never had this conversation, got it? Save it for when I get there. We're already heading your way."

Brock turned the Rover onto the street and followed Chase's directions as he cut off Mathias Rowan's audible protests, then stuffed the cell phone back into his coat pocket. They sped deeper into the city, toward the industrial wharfs, where a lot of the younger crowd--humans and Breed alike--met for late-night raves and private, after-hours parties.

It wasn't hard to find the scene of the killing. Two unmarked black sedans were parked at a dockside warehouse. Several Breed males in dark coats and suits stood around a large object lying unmoving in the filthy snow of the lot adjacent to the building.

"That's them," Chase said. "I recognize most of these men from the Agency."

Brock swung the Rover into the area, eyeing the group as all heads pivoted toward the approaching vehicle. "Yeah, that's them, all right.

Useless and confused," Brock drawled, assessing the Agents with a glance.

"Which one's Rowan?"

He needn't have asked. No sooner had he said it than one of the group broke away from the others, stalking over at a brisk clip to meet Brock and Chase as they got out of the vehicle. Agent Mathias Rowan was as tall and broad as any one of the warriors, his thick shoulders bulky mounds underneath the heavy fall of his tailored dark wool coat. Light green eyes flashed with intelligence and annoyance as he approached, skin stretching tight across his high cheekbones.

"Understand you Agency boys are having a little trouble tonight,"

Chase said, pitching his voice loud enough for the rest of the gathered Agents to hear him as well as Rowan. "Thought you might need some help out here."

"Are you fucking nuts?" Rowan growled, low under his breath, for Chase alone. "You've got to know any one of these Agents would just as soon tear your limbs off than have you walking into the middle of their investigation."

"Yeah?" Chase replied, mouth quirked into a cocky grin. "Been a slow night for me so far. Might be interesting to let them try."

"Chase, damn it." Rowan kept his voice low. "I told you not to come."

Chase grunted. "There was a time when I was giving the orders around here and you were the one following them, Mathias."

"Not anymore." Rowan frowned, but there was no animosity in his expression. "We've got three Agents in pursuit of the runner; they'll get him.

The building has been cleared of all humans, and any potential witnesses to the incident have been scrubbed of all memory of the entire night. It's handled."

"Well, well ... Sterling fucking Chase." The snarled greeting carried on the wintry breeze, across the snow-tossed industrial lot from where a couple of the other men had broken from the pack to amble over.

Chase glanced out, eyes narrowing on the big male in front. "Freyne,"

he growled, spitting the name like he couldn't stand the taste of it. "I should have known that asshole would be here."

"You're interfering in official Agency business," Agent Rowan said, louder now, intending to be heard by all. He shot Chase a cautioning look, but spoke with the kind of uptight arrogance that seemed to be as standard issue in the Enforcement Agency as their GQ suits and polished shoes. "This incident doesn't concern the Order. It's a Darkhaven matter, and we've got the situation under control."

Grinning dangerously at the two approaching newcomers, Chase stepped around his friend with little more than a sidelong glance. Brock followed him, muscles twitching in readiness for battle as he registered the air of menace rolling off the pair of Agents who'd come to confront them.

"Jesus Christ, it is you," said the one called Freyne, his lips curled back in a sneer. "Figured we'd seen the last of you after you popped your Rogue nephew last year."

Brock tensed, caught off guard by the comment and its deliberate cruelty. Outrage spiked in him, yet Chase appeared unsurprised by the heartless reminder. He ignored the jibe, an effort that must have taken incredible control based on the steely clench of his jaw as he brushed past his former colleagues on his way to the scene of the killing.

Brock kept pace with Chase's long strides, cutting through the eddying flurries of snow, past the tinted window of an idling sedan where the Darkhaven kid who'd let his hunger rule him waited inside. Brock felt the weight of the Breed youth's eyes on him as he and Chase passed the car, their images--two heavily armed males in black fatigues and long leather coats, unmistakably members of the Order--reflected in the glass.

On the ground near the building, the snow was stained deep red where the struggle had occurred. The lifeless corpse of the slain human had now been zipped into a body bag and was being loaded into another Agency vehicle parked nearby. The blood was dead and of no temptation or use, but the coppery tang was still strong in the chill air, making Brock's gums tingle with the emergence of his fangs.

Behind them, footsteps crunched in the snow and gravel. Freyne cleared his throat, apparently unable to let things lie. "You know, Chase, I'll be straight with you. No one could blame you for putting the kid down."

"Agent Freyne," Mathias Rowan said, a warning that went unheeded.

"It's not like he didn't have it coming, right, Chase? I mean, shit. The kid was Rogue, and there's only one good way to deal with that. Same way you deal with a rabid dog."

As determined as the other Agent was to taunt, Chase seemed equally determined to tune him out. "Over there," he said to Brock, pointing to indicate a trail of heavy spatters tracking away from the scene.

Brock nodded. He'd already spotted the path the runner took. And as much as he personally wanted to leap on Agent Freyne and take the smug bastard down a peg or ten, if Chase was able to ignore him, Brock would do his best to do the same. "Looks like our live one ran off toward the docks."

"Yeah," Chase agreed. "Judging by the amount of blood he's spilling, he's too weak to get far. Fatigue will take him down in under a mile."

Brock looked back at Chase. "So, if the area's been swept and no one has found him yet--"

"He's got to be hiding somewhere not far from here," Chase said, finishing the thought.

They were about to head out in pursuit when Freyne's chuckle sounded from behind them. "Putting a bullet in the kid's brain was an act of mercy if you ask me. But you have to wonder if his mother felt the same way ... seeing how you killed her son right in front of her."

Chase froze at that. Brock glanced at him, saw a muscle ticking dangerously fast in his rigid jaw.

While the rest of the small group moved out of the immediate area, Mathias Rowan stepped in front of his Agent, fury vibrating off every inch of him. "Damn it, Freyne, I said shut the fuck up and that's an order!"


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