Nikolai didn't know how long he'd been sitting there. Long enough that his hands felt numb from lack of circulation. Long enough to have noticed when Renata had come through the room a while ago, protectively ushering Mira away from the whole ugly scene. He had watched her from under a hank of his sweat-soaked hair, seeing the pain and tension in her face as she'd shot a baleful glance in his direction.

Her reverb was probably hitting her pretty hard by now, he guessed. Niko told himself that the twinge he felt was just another muscle screaming from abuse; he couldn't possibly be stupid enough to feel any kind of sympathy for the female's suffering. He couldn't possibly be stupid enough to care what she thought of him - that she might actually think he'd done what Lex accused him of - but damn it, he did care. His frustration at not being able to talk to Renata only amplified his physical pain and fury. Across the room from him, the four guards were examining his weapons and the handmade hollowpoint titanium rounds that were one of Nikolai's personal creations. They had all of his gear laid out on a trestle table, well out of his reach. Niko 's cell phone - his link to the Order - lay in shards on the floor. Lex had taken great pleasure in smashing it under his boot heel before he left Nikolai to the supervision of his guards.

One of the beefy Breed males said something that made the other three laugh before he pivoted around with Niko's semiauto and pointed it in his direction. Nikolai didn't flinch. In fact, he barely breathed, watching from within the puffy slit of his left eye, every muscle slumped as if he were still unconscious and unaware of his surroundings.

"Whattaya say we wake him up?" joked the guard with the gun in his hand. He swaggered toward Niko, temptingly within arm's reach, if Niko's arms hadn't been heavily secured behind him. The nose of the 9mm lowered slowly, down past his chest, then past his abdomen too. "I say we castrate this murdering piece of shit. Blow his balls off and let the Enforcement Agency take him away in pieces."

"Kiril, stop being a jackass," one of the others warned. "Lex said we couldn't touch him."

"Lex is a pussy." Polished black steel grated with a cold snick as Kiril chambered a round. "In two seconds, this warrior's going to be nothing but a pussy too."

Nikolai held himself very still as the gun pressed snugly against his groin. Part of his patience was born of genuine fear, as he was rather fond of his manly bits and had no wish to lose them. But overriding even that was the understanding that his opportunities to turn this situation in his favor were few and fleeting. He had shaken off most of the internal effects of Renata 's talent, but he couldn't be sure of his physical strength unless he tried it.

And if he tried it now and failed...well, he didn't want to contemplate the odds of walking away with his manhood intact if he tried to break out of his bonds and succeeded only in upsetting trigger-happy Kiril.

A hard palm cuffed the side of his skull. "You in there, warrior? I got something for you. Time to wake up."

Eyes closed to conceal their change from blue to amber, Nikolai let his head loll bonelessly with the blow. But inside of him, fury was beginning to kindle in his belly. He had to hold it at bay. Couldn't let Kiril or the others see the change in his dermaglyphs and risk telegraphing the fact that he was very much awake and aware and totally pissed off.

"Wake up," Kiril growled.

He started to lift Niko's chin, but then a noise outside the lodge drew his attention away. Gravel spraying and crunching underneath the tires of approaching vehicles. A fleet of them, by the sound of it.

"The Agency is here," one of the other guards announced.

Kiril backed away from Nikolai, but he took his time disarming the pistol. Outside, the vehicles were slowing down, coming to a halt. Doors opened. Boots hit the gravel drive as the Darkhavens' policing agents poured out. Nikolai counted more than half a dozen pairs of feet moving toward the lodge.


If he didn't get himself out of this disaster pretty damn quick, he was going to wake up in the hands of the Enforcement Agency. And for a member of the Order, a group the Agency had long wished extinct, arrest by them would make Lex and his guards' treatment seem like a trip to a spa. If he fell into the Agency's hands now - particularly as an accused killer of a Gen One - Niko knew without question he was as good as dead.

Lex greeted the new arrivals like he was holding court for visiting dignitaries. "This way," he called from somewhere outside the lodge. "I have the bastard contained and waiting for you in the hall."

"He has the bastard contained," Kiril muttered sourly. "I doubt Lex could contain his own ass if he was using both hands." The other guards chuckled cautiously.

"Come on," Kiril said. "Let's get the warrior on his feet so the Agency can take him out of here."

Hope surged in Niko's chest. If they freed him of the restraints, he might have a slim chance of escaping. Very slim, considering the approaching pound of boots and firepower headed in his direction from outside the lodge, but slim was a hell of a lot better than none.

He kept up his lifeless slump in the chair, even as Kiril squatted in front of him and unlocked the chains around his ankles. Impatience gnawed at him. Nikolai's every impulse was to bring his knee up and crack the guard under the jaw.

He had to clamp his molars down onto his tongue to keep himself unmoving, breathing as shallowly as he could, waiting for the better opportunity when the guard then went around the back of him and picked up the lock binding the chains on his torso and wrists. A twist of the key. A crisp clack of carbide steel as the lock fell open.

Nikolai flexed his fingers, took a deep, unconstricted breath.

He opened his eyes. Grinned at Kiril's comrades the instant before he brought his arms up and around and grabbed onto Kiril's big head in both hands.

In fluid motion, he gave a violent twist and vaulted up off the chair. The chains fell away and Nikolai was on his feet with the loud snap of Kiril's breaking neck.

"Holy Christ!" shouted one of the remaining guards.

Someone fired a wild shot. The other two scrabbled for their weapons.

Niko yanked Kiril's gun out of its holster and returned fire, dropping one guard with a bullet to the head.

The commotion brought shouts of alarm from the hallway outside. Boots started pounding. A small army of Enforcement Agents storming in to take control of the situation.

Damn it.

Not much time left to make a break for it before he would be staring down the barrels of no less than half a dozen guns - a few seconds at most.

Nikolai hauled the dead bulk of Kiril's body around in front of him and held it there like a shield. The corpse took a couple of quick hits as Niko started moving backward, toward the window on the other side of the long room.

In the open doorway now, a crowd of black-clad Agents in SWAT gear, all of them bristling with some fairly serious-looking semiauto firepower.

"Freeze, asshole!"

Niko shot a look over his shoulder at the window a few feet behind him. It was his best, only option. Surrendering now and going out peacefully with his Agency executioners was an alternative he refused to consider.

With a roar, Niko grabbed two fistfuls of Kiril's dead-weight and swung the body into the glass. He held on as the window shattered around him, using the forward momentum of the vampire's corpse to carry him off his feet and through the makeshift hole. He heard a shouted command behind him - an order for one of the Agents to open fire.

He felt cool night air on his face, in his sweat-dampened hair.

Then, before he could so much as register the smallest taste of freedom - Pow ! Pow! Pow!

His bare back lit up as though it were on fire. His bones and muscles went limp, melting away inside him as a surge of bile and acid scorched the back of his throat. Nikolai's vision swam toward a sudden, consuming darkness. He felt the earth come up fast beneath him as he and dead Kiril tumbled out onto the ground beneath the window.

Then he felt no more.

Chapter Fourteen

Lex stood with Edgar Fabien under the eaves of the main lodge, watching as the Enforcement Agents shoved the warrior's body into the back of an unmarked black van.

"How long will the sedatives hold him?" Lex asked, disappointed to have learned that the weapon Fabien had ordered to open fire on Nikolai contained tranquilizer darts instead of bullets.

"I don't expect the prisoner will wake up until long after he is securely housed at the Terrabonne containment facility." Lex glanced over at the Darkhaven leader. "A containment facility? I thought those places were used for processing and rehabilitating blood addicts - some kind of Enforcement Agency holding tank for Rogue vampires."

Fabien's smile was tight. "No need to trouble yourself with the details, Alexei. You did the right thing in contacting me about the warrior. Obviously, an individual as dangerous as he has proven to be warrants special consideration. I will personally see to it that he is handled in the proper manner. I'm sure you have enough on your mind during this time of unimaginable, tragic loss." Lex grunted. "There is still the matter of our...agreement."

"Yes," Fabien replied, letting the word trail out slowly between his thin lips. "You've surprised me, Alexei, I must admit that. There are some introductions I would like to make on your behalf. Very important introductions. Naturally this will require the utmost discretion."

"Yes, of course." Lex could hardly contain his eagerness, his greed to know more - to know everything there was to know - right here and now. "Who do I need to meet? I can be at your place first thing tomorrow night - "

Fabien's condescending chuckle grated. "No, no. I'm not talking about anything as public as that. This would require a special meeting. A secret meeting, with a few of my associates. Our associates," he amended with a conspiratorial look. A private audience with Edgar Fabien and his peers. Lex was practically salivating at the very idea. "Where? And when?" "Three nights from now. I will send my car to pick you up and bring you to the location as my personal guest."

"I look forward to it," Lex said.

He offered his hand to the Darkhaven male - his powerful new ally - but Fabien's gaze had strayed past Lex's shoulder to the broken window of the lodge's great room. Those shrewd eyes narrowed, and Fabien's head cocked to the side.

"You have a child out here?" he asked, something dark gleaming in his raptorlike gaze.

Lex turned, just in time to see Mira attempting to duck out of sight, her short black veil swinging with the quick movement. "The brat served my father, or so he liked to think," he said dismissively. "Ignore her. She is nothing."

Fabien's pale brows rose slightly. "Is she a Breedmate?"

"Yes," Lex said. "An orphan my father picked up some months ago."

Fabien made a low noise in the back of his throat, somewhere between a grunt and a purr. "What is the girl's talent?" Now it was Fabien who seemed unable to hide his avid interest. He was still watching the open window, craning his neck and searching as though willing Mira to appear there again.

Lex considered that eager look for a moment, then said, "Would you like to see what she can do?"

Fabien's glittering gaze was answer enough. Lex led the way back into the lodge and found Mira creeping down the hallway toward her bedroom. He went up and grabbed her by the arm, wheeling her around to face the Darkhaven leader. She whimpered a little at his rough handling, but Lex ignored the brat's complaining. He pulled off her veil and pushed her in front of Edgar Fabien. "Open your eyes," he demanded. When she didn't immediately comply, Lex persuaded her with a rap of his knuckles against the back of her small blond head. "Open them, Mira."

He knew she had because in the next moment, Edgar Fabien's expression went from one of moderate inquisitiveness to outright wonder and amazement. He stared, transfixed, his jaw slack.

Then he smiled. A broad, awestruck grin. "My God," he breathed, unable to tear his gaze away from Mira's witchy eyes. "What do you see?" Lex asked.

It took Fabien some time before he answered. "Is it...could this possibly be my future I am looking at? My destiny?" Lex pulled Mira away from him now, not missing Fabien's reflexive grab at the girl, as though he wasn't quite ready to release her yet. "Mira's eyes do indeed reflect future events," he said, placing the short veil back over her head. "She is quite a remarkable child."

"A minute ago you said she was nothing," Fabien reminded him. Narrowed, assessing eyes traveled over the girl. "What would you be willing to take for her?"

Lex saw Mira's head snap in his direction, but his attention was fixed solidly on the transaction suddenly laid out in front of him. "Two million," he said, tossing the figure out casually, as if it were a trivial sum. "Two million dollars and she is yours." "Done," Fabien said. "Phone my secretary with a bank account number and the funds will be there within the hour."

Mira reached out and grabbed Lex's arm. "But I don't want to go anywhere with him. I don't want to leave Rennie - "

"There, there, now, sweetheart," Fabien cooed. He stroked his palm over the top of her head. "Go to sleep, child. No more fussing. Sleep now."

Mira fell back, caught in the vampire's trance. Fabien snatched her into his arms and cradled her like a baby. "A pleasure doing business with you, Alexei."

Lex nodded. "And with you," he replied, following the Darkhaven leader out of the lodge and waiting as he and the girl disappeared into a dark sedan that idled in the drive.

As the fleet of vehicles rolled out, Lex considered the evening's surprising turn of events. His father was dead. Lex was free from blame and poised to take control of all that he had deserved for so long. He would soon be ushered into Edgar Fabien's elite circle of power, and he was suddenly two million dollars wealthier.


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