He leaned against the car, arms crossed over his chest, and watched as Brock and the rest of the group moved on toward the dark building.

They approached silently, Tegan's signals to split up into two teams understood and accepted by both Brock and Kade and by Rowan and his three Agents. With the Enforcement Agency team heading around to a back stairwell, Tegan, Brock, and Kade entered through the front of the vacant shell, into what would have been a lobby.

Once inside, it became clear that the building was not entirely unoccupied. Booted footsteps shuffled on the concrete floor above their heads. From the same general area, the metal leg of a chair scraped sharply.

And then, running undercurrent of the wintry wind that howled through the open window cavities all around them, came the muffled sound of whimpering cries.

Tegan gestured toward a stairwell off the main floor. Brock and Kade followed him, all three climbing up the short flight with weapons at the ready.

As they reached the second floor, Brock's gaze was drawn to a faint light that shone from somewhere near the end of an unfinished apartment.

Tegan and Kade saw it, too.

"Humans?" Brock mouthed to his brethren, guessing it might be homeless squatters, since any of his kind could see clearly in the dark and wouldn't have the need for artificial light.

Tegan motioned for them to keep moving and investigate the source of the small glow.

They crept forward in the dark, the three of them branching off to come at the place from all sides. As they neared, Brock caught a fleeting glimpse of three large male figures in head-to-toe black, each holding a semi-automatic weapon. The masked guards loomed over a smaller figure in the center of the wall-less space.

Kellan Archer.

Holy hell, Freyne's tip had been good, after all.

The Breed youth's head hung down over his thin chest, his gingery hair matted and limp, his clothing torn from his captors' apparent rough handling. His hands were fastened behind him, his ankles and torso secured to a metal chair with a couple lengths of chain.

Being Breed, even a teenager, Kellan likely could have broken free of his restraints if he tried. But he stood little chance of escaping three of Dragos's Hunters, each of them armed to the teeth and close enough to fill him with lead.

Tegan glanced at Brock, then Kade, a silent signal for them to move in as one on his go. They had to move in quietly, get into the best position so they could each take on one of the Gen One assassins without trapping Kellan Archer in the crossfire.

But before any of them could take the first step, Brock heard the softest click of metal coming from an area deeper in the shadows of the second floor.

Mathias Rowan and his Agents were there. They saw the captured kid, as well.

And in that very next instant, one of the trigger-happy assholes from the Enforcement Agency opened fire.

The eruption of gunfire inside the building carried out to the street below.

"Holy fuck," Sterling Chase snarled, his head snapping up at the sudden blast of noise. "Jesus motherfucking Christ--they must have found the kid!"

Freyne watched the former Enforcement Agent react in a state of near panic as the gunfire continued. Chase drew his weapon and threw a wild look at the building across the construction site. Sterling Chase, the Breed male who'd had a golden career with the Agency not so long ago, but had thrown it all away to join up with the Order.


He could have allied himself with a much more powerful organization, as Freyne himself had done just a few months past.

"I'm going in," Chase said, cocking the black 9mm pistol and already moving away from the Agency vehicle on the street. "You and your men stay put, Freyne. Don't turn your backs from this post for so much as a goddamned second, understood?"

Freyne gave an agreeable nod, trying hard to curb his eager smile.

This was exactly the opportunity he'd wanted. In fact, he'd been counting on things playing out precisely as they were now.

"Keep the Archers secured in the vehicle," Chase called as his boots chewed up the snow-covered asphalt, taking him toward the chaos of weapons fire still ringing out in the skeletal tower up ahead. "Don't take your eyes off them, no matter what."

"You got it," Freyne muttered under his breath once the former Agent was well out of earshot.

Next to him in the street, the backseat passenger window slid down.

Christophe Archer peered out from inside the sedan, his normally proud face drawn taut with worry. "What's happening?" He flinched at the racket echoing into the darkness. "Good God--who's shooting in there? Have they found my son?"

Archer made a move as though he intended to get out of the vehicle.

Freyne stepped up, blocking the door.

"Relax," he told the nervous father. As he spoke, he smoothly drew his semiautomatic out of its holster. A barely discernible flick of his eyes commanded the other two Agents with him on the opposite side of the car to follow suit. "We've got everything under control."

Chapter Twenty-six

The entire second floor of the gutted apartment building was a chaos of flying bullets and coarse shouts from both the Order and Mathias Rowan and his men. The three immense guards in the room with Kellan Archer returned fire, shooting wildly into the shadows, taking out two of Rowan's Agents within moments of the surprise confrontation.

The third went down with a howl of pain, his kneecap shot out from beneath him just before another round silenced him for good. The relentless fire continued, Brock narrowly dodging a bullet that whisked past his head.

In the confusion and scuffle, the fat pillar candle being used for light in the room with Kellan was kicked over. It rolled underfoot of his captors, its small flame fizzling out on the floor and plunging the place into darkness.

The slim light extinguished, Brock hardly noticed its absence, nor did any of his companions. Dragos's men, however, seemed momentarily disoriented in the dark.

Brock took out one of them with a dead-aim shot to the head. Tegan nailed another not even a second later. While the last remaining assassin showered the air with round after round from his automatic rifle, Brock moved in from the side. He ped low, scrambling for the chair where Kellan Archer sat, now frantically struggling to break loose of his restraints.

The warriors and Rowan closed in on the third black-clad assassin, every weapon trained on him in tandem. There was a frenzied hail of gunfire as the target was swiftly obliterated and fell to the floor in a savaged, bloodied heap.

Brock grabbed Kellan Archer's narrow shoulders, calming the boy's terrified screams. "It's okay, kid. You're safe now."

The sudden, unexpected whiff of hemoglobin from somewhere nearby took him aback.

What the fuck?

His fangs tore from his gums, instinctive physiological response, as his Breed senses detected the presence of fresh-spilling blood. He threw an abrupt look at Tegan and the others and saw that they, too, had picked up on the scent of coppery red cells.

"Humans," Tegan muttered, his transformed amber eyes narrowed on the three dead guards lying in bloodied pools on the floor nearby.

"No collars," Brock added, realizing only now that below their black head coverings, Kellan's captors did not wear the UV-rigged obedience devices of Dragos's true Hunters. "Holy shit. These aren't the Gen One assassins who abducted the boy."

Kade and Mathias Rowan both came over at the same time. They stooped down to remove the masks of the felled men. Kade lifted the closed eyelids of one of them and hissed a curse. "They're Minions."

"Minions meant to make us think they were Gen One assassins,"

Brock added, removing the last of Kellan Archer's restraints and helping him to his feet. "This was some kind of setup."

"Yeah," Kade said. "But for what purpose?"

"Jesus Christ." Chase stood behind the group, having just arrived that very moment. His eyes threw off a blaze of amber, pupils narrowed down to thin, feral-looking slits, his fangs huge behind the curl of his upper lip. He stared, attention rooted to the bleeding humans. "What the hell happened in here?"

Tegan rounded on him. "Where are the Archers?"

"They're outside," he replied, his voice gravelly. It seemed to take some effort for him to wrench his focus back to Tegan. "I left them back there with Freyne and his men when I heard the gunfire up here."

A look of sudden dread washed over Tegan's normally impassive face.

"Holy fuck, Harvard. I told you not to let them out of your sight."

Hunter made no sound at all as he returned from his perimeter check of the construction site. He raced back, having heard the racket of weapons fire pouring out of the apartment building, but at the moment he was more interested in the single gunshot that rang out near the Enforcement Agency vehicles in the street.

Through the snow flurries that swirled through the dark night air, he spotted the agent called Freyne holding a smoking pistol in front of the open backseat window of the Agency's black sedan. In that same instant, Freyne's companions opened fire on the car, as well, shooting from all sides.

Hunter sprang into a vaulting leap, traveling the several yards that separated him from the scene in barely the blink of an eye. He came down on Freyne. As he took the vampire to the ground, he glimpsed the gore of an exploded skull fouling the interior of the sedan. The stench of gunpowder and death filled the air as the other two Agents continued their assault on the vehicle's occupants.

Freyne roared beneath Hunter, flailing, trying to throw him off.

Hunter clasped his hands on either side of the vampire's head and gave a sharp, efficient twist. The struggle ceased. Freyne dropped lifeless to the curb, his sightless eyes staring at an unnatural angle over his shoulder.

At the same moment, a rumble shook the car. A howl vibrated the ground, and then the door on the other side blew off its hinges. It sailed several feet before crashing down on the pavement.

Lazaro Archer erupted from within, his coat and face splattered with blood and bits of bone and brain matter.

He launched himself at one of the traitorous Enforcement Agents, catching the other male's throat under the sharp daggers of his enormous fangs. As the pair flew to the ground in a deadly embrace, Hunter jumped over the hood of the sedan and grabbed the last of the assailants, disabling the Agent as easily as he had Freyne.

He cast an apathetic eye on Lazaro Archer and the Breed male whose throat now gaped open, spurting blood from a vicious, lethal bite. Archer wasn't finished, even though the Agent pinned beneath him was surely as good as dead. He was savage in his fury, lost to a pain on which Hunter--

raised devoid of emotional attachments--could only speculate.

Hunter stood and glanced into the vehicle, where Lazaro's son lay slumped and lifeless on the floor of the backseat, killed by the bullet Freyne had fired point blank into the side of his head.

Tegan's dread inside the building hadn't been misplaced. In fact, what awaited the group as they rushed outside with young Kellan Archer was even worse than they could have imagined.

Death was ripe in the street where the Enforcement Agency vehicles were parked. One of them--the one that had held Lazaro and Christophe Archer--was riddled with bullet holes and shattered windows. On closer look, Brock could see that the opposite side of the sedan was torn wide open, the entire backseat door ripped off its hinges.

There had been an ambush of the car's occupants, a cowardly attack from outside the vehicle. No question who had perpetrated it ... nor how it had ended. Freyne and the other two Agents lay broken and blood-soaked, lifeless on the pavement. Hunter stood over them, impassive, his keen golden eyes scanning the surrounding area for new trouble and ready to take on any threat single-handed.

And seated just inside the sedan, his head and torso bent over a lifeless form sprawled across his lap, was Lazaro Archer. Even at this distance, Brock could see blood and bits of tissue flecked on the Breed elder's dark coat and caught in his hair. The huge Gen One was weeping quietly, grief-stricken over the loss of his son.

"Jesus," Chase whispered from next to Brock. "Oh, Jesus Christ ...


"Freyne," Brock snarled. "That bastard must have been working with Dragos."

Chase shook his head, scrubbed a hand over the top of his scalp in obvious misery. When he spoke, his voice was airless, flat with shock. "I shouldn't have left them with him. I heard the gunfire inside the building, and I thought ... ah, fuck. It doesn't matter what I thought. Goddamn it, I should have known Freyne was not to be trusted."

Probably so, Brock thought, though neither he nor the rest of the group voiced any blame aloud. Chase's anguish was written all over his face.

He didn't need anyone else to tear into him over the lapse in judgment that had cost Christophe Archer his life tonight. The typically cocky Harvard seemed to pale a bit, disappearing into himself as he wheeled away from the carnage and walked deeper into the shadows of the vacant construction lot.

As for Brock and the others, a grave silence had settled over the living in the face of so much bloodshed and death. Lazaro Archer's grandson had been rescued from his captors, but the price had been steep. Lazaro's son lay horribly slain in his arms just a few yards away.

While the group absorbed the weight of the night's grim turn of events, young Kellan Archer suddenly roused from his own state of shock.

He came around from behind Brock, apparently just then noticing Lazaro seated in the sedan up ahead.

"Grandfather!" he shouted, tears choking his youthful voice. He pulled out of Brock's grasp. Then, limping, he started to break into a weak run.

"Grandfather! Is Papa with you, too?"

"Hold the boy," Hunter called out evenly. "Do not let him near."


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