Renata flew out of the kitchen with her pistol drawn. Her battle senses had gone as taut as piano wire at the low, distant crack of gunshots - and the inhuman howl that followed - coming from elsewhere in the lodge.

Music was still blaring in the great room. Lex's visitors were no longer clothed and raucous from the continued free-flowing drugs and alcohol. The women were all over the guards and one another as well, and from the rapt look in the Breed males ' hungering eyes, they wouldn't have noticed if a bomb went off in the other room.

"Idiots," Renata accused under her breath. "Didn't any of you hear that?"

Lex looked up, concern darkening his expression, but she wasn't really waiting for an answer from him. She ran toward the hallway and Yakut's private chambers. The hall was dark, the air thick. Everything too silent back here. Too still.

Death hung like a shroud, almost choking her as she neared the open door of the vampire's quarters.

Sergei Yakut was no longer alive; Renata felt that truth in her bones. Gunpowder, blood, and an overwhelming, sickly sweet scent of rot and decay warned her that she was about to walk into something awful. Though nothing could have truly prepared her for what she saw as she pivoted around the doorjamb, gun raised and gripped in both hands. Ready to kill whoever stood in its path.

The sight of so much death, so much blood and gore, took her aback. It was everywhere: the bed, the floor, the walls. And it was on Sergei Yakut's apparent killer too.

Nikolai stood in the center of the carnage, his face and dark shirt splattered scarlet. In his hand was a large semiautomatic pistol, the nose of the blunt black barrel still smoking from its recent discharge.

"You?" The word slipped past her lips, shock and disbelief like a ball of ice in her gut. She glanced at Yakut's body - his obliterated remains - sprawled across the bed on top of a lifeless female. "My God," she whispered, stunned to see him here at the lodge again, but even more shocked by the rest of what she was seeing. " killed him."

"No." The warrior shook his head somberly. "Not me, Renata. There was a Rogue in here with Yakut." He indicated a large mass of smoldering cinders on the floor - the source of the offending stench. "I killed the Rogue, but I was too late to save Yakut. I'm sorry - "

"Put down your weapon," she told him, uninterested in apologies. She didn't need them. Renata felt some pity for Yakut's violent end, a sense of stunned incredulity that he was actually dead. But no sorrow. None of that absolved Nikolai of his apparent guilt. She steadied her aim on him and cautiously stepped farther into the room. "Put your gun down. Now."

He kept his grip firm on the 9mm pistol. "I can't do that, Renata. I won't, not so long as Lex is still breathing."

She frowned, confused. "What about Lex?"

"This murder was his doing, not mine. He brought the Rogue here. He brought the women to distract Yakut and the guards, so the Rogue could get close enough to kill."

Renata listened but kept her gun locked on target. Lex was a snake, sure, but a murderer? Would he actually take steps to kill his own father?

Just then, Lex and the other guards approached from up the hall.

"What's going on? Is something wrong in - "

Lex fell silent as he reached the open doorway to his father's chambers. In her peripheral vision Renata saw him look from Yakut's body on the bed to Nikolai. He staggered back a half-pace, not so much as breathing. Then he exploded, total rage. "You son of a bitch! You goddamned murdering son of a bitch!"

Lex lunged, but it was a halfhearted attempt, one he abandoned completely as Nikolai's pistol swung in his direction. The warrior didn't flinch, not his gaze nor a single muscle. He was utterly calm as he stared at Lex down the barrel of his weapon, even while Renata's gun and those of the other guards were trained on him. "I saw you in the city tonight, Lex. I was there. The crackhouse. The bait you laid out to attract Rogue vampires. The suckhead you brought back with you here tonight...I saw it all." Lex scoffed. "Fuck you and your lies! You saw no such thing."

"What did you have to promise that Rogue in exchange for your father's head? Money doesn't matter to blood addicts, so whose life did you offer up as the price - Renata's? Maybe that tender little child instead?"

Renata's chest went tight at the thought. She dared a quick glance at Lex and found him sneering coldly at the warrior, giving a slow shake of his head.

"You'd say anything right now to save your own neck. It won't work. Not when you yourself threatened my father's life not even twenty-four hours ago." Lex turned to look at Renata. "You heard him say as much, didn't you?"

Reluctantly she nodded, recalling how Nikolai had given Sergei Yakut a very public warning that someone needed to shut him down.

Now Nikolai was back and Yakut was dead.

Mother Mary, she thought, glancing once more to the lifeless body of the vampire who'd kept her practically a prisoner for the past two years. He was dead.

"My father wasn't in any kind of danger at all until the Order came into the picture," Lex was saying. "One failed attempt on his life, now this...this bloodbath. You were the one who lay in wait to make your move. You and the Rogue you brought with you tonight, waiting for the chance to strike. I can only guess that you came here looking to kill my father from the start."

"No," Nikolai said, a flash of amber lighting his wintry blue eyes. "The one who needs killing is you, Lex."

In a split-second reaction, just as she saw the tendons in his arm flex as his finger began to depress the trigger of his gun, Renata hit Nikolai with a hard mental blast. As little affection as she felt for Alexei, she could not stand more death tonight. Nikolai roared, spine arching, face contorting with pain.

More effective than bullets, the blast took him down to his knees in an instant. The other guards stormed into the room and grabbed his gun and the rest of his weapons. The barrels of four pistols were trained on the warrior's head, awaiting kill orders. One of the guards cocked the hammer back, eager for more bloodshed even though the room was ripe with death already.

"Stand down," Renata told them. She looked to Lex, whose face was tight with anger, his eyes avid and glittering, his sharp fangs visible between his parted lips. "Tell them to stand down, Lex. Killing him now will do nothing but make all of us murderers in cold blood too."

Incredibly, it was Nikolai who began to chuckle. He lifted his head, an obvious effort while the blast still held him down. "He has to kill me, Renata, because he can't risk a witness. Isn't that right, Lex? Can't have somebody walking around who knows your dirty secret."

Lex drew his own pistol now and strolled right up to Nikolai to put the nose of the gun up against the warrior's forehead. He snarled, his arm quivering with the ferocity of his rage.

Renata went stock-still, horrified that he might actually pull the trigger. She was torn, part of her wanting to believe what Nikolai had said - that he was innocent - and afraid to believe him. What he said about Lex simply could not be true.

"Lex," she said, the only sound in the room. " not do this."

She was less than a breath away from hitting him with some of what she gave Nikolai when the gun slowly lowered.

Lex growled, finally easing off. "I wish a slower death on this bastard than I am capable of giving him. Take him to the main hall and restrain him," he told the guards. "Then someone get in here and look after my father's body. One of you scrub those females in the other room and dump them off the property. I want this bloody mess cleaned up immediately."

Lex turned a dark look on Renata as the guards began dragging Nikolai out of the room. "If he tries anything at all, unleash all you've got and lay the son of a bitch flat."

Chapter Thirteen

Pardonnez-moi, Monsieur Fabien. There is a telephone call for you, sir. From a Monsieur Alexei Yakut."

Edgar Fabien gave a dismissive wave to the Breed male who served as his personal secretary and continued to admire the crisp cut of his custom-tailored slacks in the wardrobe mirror. He was being fitted for a new suit, and, at the moment, nothing Alexei Yakut had to say to him was important enough to warrant an interruption.

"Tell him I'm in a meeting and cannot be disturbed."

"Begging your pardon, sir, but I have already informed him that you were unavailable. He says it's an urgent matter. One that requires your immediate personal attention."

Fabien's reflection glowered back at him from under his pale, manicured brows. He didn't attempt to hide the outward signs of his rising irritation, which showed in the amber glint of his eyes and in the sudden, churning colors of the dermaglyphs that swirled and arced over his bare chest and shoulders.

"Enough," he snapped at the expert tailor sent over from Givenchy's downtown store. The human backed off at once, collecting his pins and measuring tape and obediently slinking away at his master's command. He belonged to Fabien - one of many Minions the second-generation Breed vampire employed around the city. "Get out of here, both of you."

Fabien stepped off the wardrobe dais and stalked over to his desk phone. He waited until both servants had left the room and the door was closed behind them.

With a snarl, he picked up the receiver and punched the blinking button that would connect him to Alexei Yakut's holding call. "Yes," he hissed coldly. "What is this urgent matter of yours that simply could not wait?"

"My father is dead."

Fabien rocked back on his heels, truly taken off guard by the news. He exhaled a sigh meant to sound of boredom. "How convenient for you, Alexei. Shall I offer my congratulations along with my condolences?"

Sergei Yakut's heir apparent ignored the jab. "There was an intruder at the lodge tonight. Somehow he managed to sneak into the place. He killed my father in his bed, in cold blood. I heard the disturbance and tried to intervene, but...well. Unfortunately, I was too late to save him. I am grief-stricken, of course - "

Fabien grunted. "Of course."

" - but I knew that you would want to be notified of the crime. And I knew that you and the Enforcement Agency would want to come out here immediately to arrest my father's assailant."

Every cell in Fabien's body stilled. "What are you saying - that you have someone in custody? Who?"

A low chuckle on the other end of the line. "I see I finally have your attention, Fabien. What would yu say if I told you that I have a member of the Order subdued and waiting for you here at the lodge? I'm sure there are some individuals who would be of the mind that one less warrior around to contend with, the better."

"You're not actually trying to convince me that this warrior is responsible for killing Sergei Yakut, are you?" "I'm telling you that my father is dead and I am in command of his domain now. I'm telling you that I have a member of the Order in my keeping, and I am willing to hand him over to you. A gift, if you will."

Edgar Fabien was quiet for a long moment, considering the sizable prize Alexei Yakut was presenting him. The Order and its vigilante members had few allies within the Enforcement Agency. Fewer still within the private circle to which Fabien belonged. "And what are you expecting in return for"

"I've already told you, when we met before. I want in. I want a piece of whatever action it is that you're dealing. A big piece, you understand?" He chuckled, so very full of himself. "You need me on your side, Fabien. I should think that's obvious to you now."

The last thing Edgar Fabien or any of his associates needed on their side was a grasping pissant like Alexei Yakut. He was a loose cannon, one that would have to be dealt with carefully. If Fabien had his druthers, he'd opt for swift extermination, but there was someone else who ultimately would need to make that call.

As for the captive member of the Order? Now, that was intriguing. That was a boon well worth considering, and the many appealing possibilities it presented made Fabien's four-hundred-year-old heart beat a little faster.

"I will have to make a few...arrangements," he said. "It may take me an hour or so to line up resources and make the drive out to the lodge to retrieve the prisoner."

"One hour," Alexei Yakut agreed eagerly. "Don't keep me waiting any longer than that."

Fabien bit back his acid reply and ended the call with a terse "I will see you then."

He sat down on the edge of his desk and looked out at the nighttime skyline twinkling in the distance beyond his Darkhaven estate. Then he walked to his safe and twisted the combination lock, turned the crank handle to open the secured storage box. Inside was a cell phone reserved for emergency calls only. He hit a programmed number and waited for the encrypted signal to connect.

When the airless voice on the other end answered, Fabien said, "We have a situation."

Heavy chains circled his bare torso, binding him to a rough-hewn wooden chair. Nikolai felt similar restraints on his hands, which were caught behind him, and his feet, which were bound at the ankles and held hard against the chair legs. He'd taken a hell of a beating, and not just from the debilitating mind blast he'd gotten courtesy of Renata. Thanks to that crippling blow, he had been in and out of consciousness for some time, struggling just to lift his eyelids even now. Of course, part of the problem there was that his face was bruised and battered, his eyes swollen, lips cracked open and bitter with the taste of his own blood. He'd been too weak to put up much of a fight when Lex and his guards had worked him over like a punching bag as they stripped him down to his skivvies and hauled him into the lodge's great room to await his fate.


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