Brock caught Kellan by the arm and wheeled him around in the opposite direction, shielding him from the carnage with his body.
"I want to see my grandfather!" the boy cried. "I want to see my family!"
"Soon," Brock said. "Just be strong right now, my man. You're gonna be with your family very soon. We've got to take care of some things first, all right?"
Kellan's struggles lessened, but he kept trying to get another look around Brock. Kept trying to see what it was they were hiding from him inside the shot-up sedan on the street.
"Come and wait over here with me," Kade said as he moved in and corralled the youth, draping his arm around the thin shoulders as he guided the boy farther up the curb, away from the bloodshed at the other end of the street.
After Kellan was safely out of earshot, Mathias Rowan muttered a quiet curse. "I had no idea that Freyne or the others with him were corrupt, I swear it. My God, I can't believe what happened here tonight. All of my men, Christophe Archer ... all dead." He grabbed for his cell phone. "I have to call this in."
Before he could touch the first key, Tegan clamped his hand around the Agent's wrist and gave a sober shake of his head. "I need you to keep this as quiet as you can. Can you delay your report while the Order looks deeper into the abduction and the ambush?"
Rowan inclined his head in agreement. "I can delay it for a few hours, but anything more could prove difficult. Some of these Agents had families.
There will be questions."
"Understood," Tegan replied. His grasp on the Agent's wrist didn't let up, and Brock knew the Gen One's talent for reading a person with a touch would tell him if Rowan was truly an ally to the Order or not. After a moment, Tegan gave a faint nod. "I know you've been Chase's contact on the inside of the Agency for a while now, Mathias. The Order greatly appreciates your help. But no one is to be trusted now, not even your best Agents."
Mathias Rowan inclined his head in agreement, his gaze solemn as he took in the destruction then glanced back to Tegan and Brock. "If this is an example of what Dragos is capable of, then he is my enemy, too. Tell me what the Order needs, and I will do whatever I can to help you bring this son of a bitch down."
"Right now, we need time and silence," Tegan replied. "I don't believe Dragos is finished with Lazaro Archer and his family, so their protection is paramount. I'm sure Lucan will agree that the rescue tonight seemed too easy, despite the casualties. Something doesn't sit right about any of this."
Brock nodded, having had the same feeling when they'd discovered Kellan's captors were Minions and not the trio of Gen One assassins who'd been witnessed abducting the boy. "The kidnapping was a ruse. Dragos has something more up his sleeve."
Tegan's look was grim. "That's what my gut is telling me, too."
"I pray you're both wrong," Rowan said, his sober gaze drifting over to the sedan where Lazaro Archer still held his dead son. "These past few hours have been bloody enough."
"We should vacate the building and the street and clear out of here,"
Tegan said. "It's too risky to let either of the Archers stay out in the open any longer."
"I'll get started on the evidence cleanup," Brock offered.
As soon as he turned to walk toward the apartment building, Rowan was right beside him. "Let me help you, please."
They strode across the construction site, but hadn't even gotten halfway there when Rowan's cell phone trilled with an incoming call. He held it out in front of him, as though to ask Tegan's permission to take the call. The Gen One warrior nodded.
Rowan put the phone to his ear, and Brock watched in a state of mounting alarm as the Enforcement Agent's face blanched. "There must be some mistake," he murmured. "The whole Darkhaven ... Good Christ."
Brock motioned to Tegan, feeling ice begin to settle in his gut as Rowan said a few more words of disbelief, then woodenly disconnected the call.
"What's going on?" Tegan demanded, having jogged over on Brock's signal. "What the hell just happened?"
"Lazaro Archer's Darkhaven," Rowan murmured. "It burned to the ground tonight. There was an apparent gas leak and a massive explosion.
There were no survivors."
No one said a word for a very long while. A light flurry of snow swirled under the wintry starlight, the only movement in a night gone suddenly cold and dark as a grave.
And then, across the way, young Kellan Archer buried his face in his hands and began to cry. Great, racking sobs of raw anguish. The boy knew what he'd lost tonight. He felt it. And when he glanced up with tear-filled eyes that flashed with furious amber sparks, Brock saw the rage that was already smoldering in the young male's heart.
As of tonight, the boy he'd been was gone. Like his grandfather, who sat several yards away, covered in his own son's blood, Kellan Archer would never forget--or forgive--the death and sorrow dealt so treacherously tonight.
"Let's get this place swept and get the fuck out of here," Tegan said finally. "I'll put the boy and his grandfather in the Rover. They are now under the protection of the Order."
Lazaro Archer stoically refused the Order's offer to take him past the remains of his Darkhaven for a final good-bye. He'd had no wish to see the rubble of his life, which had claimed nearly a dozen innocent people, including his beloved Breedmate of several long centuries. Although the official report out of the Enforcement Agency had attributed the blaze to a gas leak, everyone in the Order--and Lazaro himself--understood the incident for what it truly was. A wholesale slaughter, carried out at Dragos's command.
Archer's grief had to be profound, but by the time he arrived at the compound he was the picture of emotional control. Showered now, his gore-caked clothing thrown away and replaced by a set of fresh black fatigues from the Order's supply room, Lazaro Archer seemed transformed, a darker, more formidable version of the civilian Breed elder who'd stood in the tech lab just a night before, desperate to find his grandson. Somber, subdued, he appeared determined to rally his entire focus around the health and welfare of his grandson and sole surviving heir.
"Kellan says he doesn't remember much about the abduction itself,"
Lazaro murmured as he and Lucan observed the boy through the window in his infirmary recovery room. The youth was cleaned up and resting, at the moment being kept company by little Mira, who'd taken it upon herself to read to him at his bedside. "He says he woke up in that rat-infested building, freezing cold, held at gunpoint. The beatings didn't start until he was conscious. He said the bastards told him they wanted him to scream and suffer."
Lucan's jaw tensed as he listened to the abuse the youth had been subjected to. "He's safe now, Lazaro. You both are. The Order will see to that."
The other Gen One nodded. "I appreciate all you're doing for us. Like most civilians, I know the Order values its privacy, particularly when it comes to your headquarters. I realize it cannot be easy for you to permit outsiders into the compound."
Lucan raised a brow in acknowledgment. He could think of only a few rare instances, beginning with Sterling Chase and Tegan's mate, Elise, more than a year ago, followed most recently by Jenna Darrow. For more than a century before them, there had been no exceptions.
As much as Lucan disliked having his hand forced, he wasn't such a coldly rigid leader that he would turn his back on someone in need. A long time ago, perhaps--before he'd met and fallen in love with Gabrielle. Before he'd come to know what it was like to have family and a heart that beat out of devotion to another.
He put his hand on the Gen One's broad shoulder. "You needed a safe house, you and the boy both. You'll find no more secure shelter than this compound."
As for any concerns Lucan might have had about entrusting the compound's location to Archer or his young grandson, Tegan had assured him that both males were free of duplicity. Not that Lucan had suspected either one of being anything less than honorable.
Still, he was careful not to place his trust blindly. He had to be careful.
Every time he looked around lately, he felt the weight of so many lives resting on his shoulders. It was a responsibility he took seriously, all too aware that if Dragos wanted to strike at the heart of the Order, he would do so at this very location.
It was a thought he didn't like to dwell on but one he couldn't afford to ignore.
He didn't think he could bear it if the Order--his family--was dealt a blow as staggering as the one that had come down on Lazaro Archer tonight.
All the Gen One civilian had left after a thousand years of living was the battered young boy in the infirmary bed and the bullet-ravaged body of the son that Tegan and the rest of tonight's team had brought back with them to the compound.
Lucan cleared his throat. "If you would like to hold funeral rites for Christophe in the morning, we will make the necessary preparations."
Lazaro gave a somber nod. "Thank you. For everything, Lucan."
"Accommodations here at the compound are limited, but we can rearrange a few things to make space for you and Kellan in one of the bunk rooms. You're welcome to stay for as long as needed."
Archer held up his hand in polite dismissal. "That's more than generous; however, I have personal holdings elsewhere. There are other places that my grandson and I can go."
"Yes," Lucan replied, "but until we can be certain that you and Kellan are not in imminent danger from Dragos, I'm not comfortable releasing you from the Order's protection."
"Dragos," Archer said, his face hardening with restrained fury. "I recall that name from the Old Times. Dragos and his progeny were forever corrupt. Devious, conniving. Morally decayed. Good Christ, I'd thought the entire line had died out long ago."
Lucan grunted. "A second-generation son remains, hidden for decades behind multiple aliases but not dead. Not yet. And there is more, Lazaro.
Things you don't know. Things the civilian population would not wish to know about Dragos and his machinations."
Grim, ageless eyes held his stare. "Tell me. I want to understand. I need to understand."
"Come," Lucan said. "Let's walk."
He guided Archer away from his grandson's infirmary room and along the quiet corridor outside. The two Gen Ones strode in silence for a short distance while Lucan considered where to start with the facts they knew about Dragos. At the beginning, he finally decided.
"The seeds of this war with Dragos were sown centuries ago," he said, as he and Archer progressed up the white marble hallway. "You must remember the violence of those times, Lazaro. You lived through it the same as I did, when the Ancients ran unchecked, driven by their thirst for blood and the thrill of the hunt. They were our fathers, but they had to be stopped."
Archer nodded gravely. "I do remember how it was then. As a boy, I can't tell you how often I witnessed my own sire's savagery. It seemed to escalate over time, growing more feral and uncontrolled, particularly after he'd return from the gatherings."
Lucan cocked his head. "The gatherings?"
"Yes," Archer replied. "I don't know where he and the other Ancients met, but he would be gone for weeks or months at a time. I always knew when he was back in the area because then the killings in the human villages around us would begin again. I was relieved when he finally left for good."
Lucan frowned. "My father never mentioned gatherings, but I know he roamed for long periods. I know he hunted. When he killed my mother in a fit of Bloodlust, I knew it was time to put an end to all of the savagery."
"I remember hearing what happened to your mother," Archer replied.
"And I remember your call to arms to all Gen One sons to band with you in war against our alien fathers. I didn't think it possible that you would succeed."
"Not many did," Lucan recalled, but he wasn't bitter, not then or now.
"Eight of us went up against the handful of surviving Ancients. We thought we'd killed the last of them, but we had traitors in our ranks--my brother, Marek, as it turned out, and the Gen One father of Dragos, as well. They plotted in secret and built a hidden mountain crypt to house the last of the Ancients. They'd claimed he was dead but kept him protected in hibernation for centuries. He was later removed from the crypt, and survived under Dragos's control until only recently. Dragos kept him drugged and starved in a private laboratory. We don't know the extent of Dragos's madness, but we are sure of one thing: Over some decades, he's used the Ancient to breed a small army of Gen Ones. These offspring now serve Dragos as his personal, homegrown assassins."
"Good God," Archer murmured, visibly stricken. "I can hardly believe all of this is true."
Lucan might have felt the same at one point, but he had lived it. He thought back on everything that had occurred in the past year plus. All the betrayals and revelations, the explosive secrets and unexpected tragedies that had stabbed deep into the fabric of the Order and its members.
And the fight wasn't over. Not even close.
"So far, Dragos has managed to elude us, but we're getting closer to him every day. We've driven him to ground by destroying what was likely his primary location. He lost another key piece when the Ancient escaped some of his men in Alaska. We tracked the creature down and took him out.
But a lot of the damage has already been done," Lucan added. "We don't know how many Gen One assassins Dragos managed to create or where they might be. We intend to find them, however. And we have one working with us now. He joined the Order not long ago, after freeing himself from Dragos's bonds."
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