Not bad for a night's work.


Renata turned her head to the side on her pillow and cracked one eye open, a small test to see if the reverb had finally passed. Her skull felt like it had been hollowed out and stuffed with wet cotton, but that was a major improvement over the hammer-and-anvil agony that had been her companion for the past few hours.


A tiny pinprick of daylight shone in through a small weevil hole in the pine shutter. It was morning. Outside her room, the lodge was quiet. So quiet that for a second she wondered if she'd just woken up from a horrible dream.


But in her heart, she knew it was all real. Sergei Yakut was dead, killed in a bloody assault in his own bed. All the grisly, gore-soaked images playing through her mind had actually happened. And most disturbing of all, it was Nikolai who stood accused and was arrested for the murder.


Regret over that gnawed at Renata's conscience. With the benefit of a clear head and being some hours removed from the blood and chaos of the moment, she had to wonder if she might have been too hasty to doubt him. Maybe they all had been too hasty to condemn him - Lex in particular.


Suspicion that Lex might have had some role in his father's death - as Nikolai had insisted - put a knot of unease in her stomach.


And then there was poor Mira, far too young to be exposed to so much violence and danger. A mercenary part of her wondered if they both might be better off now. Yakut's death had released Renata of his hold on her. Mira was free too. Maybe this was the chance they both needed - a chance to get somewhere far away from the lodge and its many horrors.


Oh, God. Dare she even wish it?


Renata sat up, swung her legs over the side of the bed. Hope buoyed her, swelling large in her chest.


They could leave. Without Yakut to track her down, without him alive and able to use his link to her by blood, she was finally free. She could take Mira and leave this place, once and for all.


"Mother Mary," she whispered, clasping her hands together in a desperate prayer. "Please, give us this chance. Let me have this chance - for the sake of that innocent child."


Renata leaned up near the wall she shared with Mira's bedroom. She rapped her knuckles lightly on the wood panels, waiting to hear the girl's answering knock.


Only silence.


She knocked again. "Mira, are you awake, kiddo?"


No answer at all. Only a lengthening quiet that felt like a death knell.


Renata was still wearing her clothes from last night, a sleep-wrinkled long-sleeve black T-shirt and dark denim jeans. She threw on a pair of lug-sole ankle boots and hurried out into the hallway. Mira's door was just a few steps down...and it stood ajar. "Mira?" she called, walking inside and taking a quick look around.


The bed was unmade and rumpled from where the child had been at one point during the night, but there was no sign of her. Renata pivoted and raced to the bathroom they shared at the other end of the hall.


"Mira? Are you in there, mouse?" She opened the door and found the small room empty. Where could she have gone?


Renata spun around and headed back up the paneled corridor toward the main living area of the lodge, a terrible panic beginning to rise up her throat. "Mira!"


Lex and a couple of guards were seated around the table in the great room as Renata ran in from the hallway. He spared her only the briefest glance then went back to talking with the other males.


"Where is she?" Renata demanded. "What have you done with Mira? I swear to God, Lex, if you've hurt her - "


He pinned her with a scathing look. "Where's your respect, female? I have just come back in from releasing my father's body to the sun. This is a day of mourning. I'll not hear a word of your bleating until I'm damned good and ready."


"To hell with you, and your false mourning," Renata seethed, charging toward him. It was nearly impossible to keep from hitting him with a blast of her mind's power, but the two guards who rose on either side of Lex, drawing their weapons on her, helped to keep her anger in check. "Tell me what you did, Lex. Where is she?"


"I sold her." The reply was so casual, he might have been discussing an old pair of shoes.


"You...you did what?" Renata's lungs squeezed, losing so much air she could hardly draw another breath. "You can't be serious! Sold her to who - those men who came for Nikolai?"


Lex smiled, gave her a vague shrug of admission.


"You bastard! You disgusting pig!" The total, ugly reality of all that Lex had done crashed down on her. Not only what he'd done to Mira, but to his own father, and, as she saw with awful clarity now, what he'd done to Nikolai too. "My God. Everything he said about you was the truth, wasn't it? You were the one responsible for Sergei's death, not Nikolai. It was you who brought in the Rogue. You planned the whole thing - "


"Be careful with your accusations, female." Lex's voice was a brittle snarl. "I am the one in command here now. Make no mistake, your life belongs to me. Piss me off and I can have you erased from existence as easily as I sent that warrior to his death." Oh, God...no. Shock blew through her chest in a chill ache. "He is dead?"


"He will be soon enough," Lex said. "Or wishing he was, once the good doctors in Terrabonne have their fun with him." "What are you talking about? What doctors? I thought you had him arrested."


Lex chuckled. "The warrior is on his way to a containment facility run by the Enforcement Agency. Safe to say that no one will hear from him ever again."


Contempt boiled up in Renata for all that she was hearing, and for her own role in seeing Nikolai wrongfully charged. Now both he and Mira were gone, and Lex stood there grinning with smug vanity for the deception he'd orchestrated. "You disgust me. You're a fucking monster, Lex. You are a sickening coward."


She took a step toward him and Lex gave the guards a jerk of his chin. They blocked her, two huge vampires glowering at her. Daring her to make a reckless move.


Renata eyed them, seeing in those hard gazes the years of animosity that this group of Breed males felt for her - animosity coming most intensely from Lex himself. They hated her. Hated her strength, and it was clear that any one of them would welcome the opportunity to put a bullet in her head.


"Get her out of my sight," Lex ordered. "Take the bitch to her room and lock her in for the rest of the day. She can provide our night's entertainment."


Renata didn't let the guards within arm's reach of her. As they moved to grab her, she swept them each with a sharp mental jolt. They shouted and leapt away, recoiling from the pain.


But no sooner had they dropped back did Lex spring on her, fully transformed and spitting with fury. Hard fingers curled into her shoulders. His body weight slammed her backward, up off her feet. He was furious, pushing her like she was nothing but feathers. His strength and speed propelled her with him across the floor and into the shuttered window on the far wall. Solid, unmovable logs crashed against her spine and thighs. Renata's head cracked back against the thick shutters with the impact. Her breath left her on a broken gasp. When she opened her eyes, Lex's face loomed right up against hers, his thin pupils seething outrage from within the center of his fiery amber irises. He brought one hand up and caught her jaw in a bruising grasp. Forced her head to the side. His fangs were enormous, sharp as daggers and bared dangerously near her throat.


"That was a very stupid thing to do," he growled, letting those pointed teeth graze her skin as he spoke. "I should bleed you out for that. In fact, I think I will - "


Renata summoned every ounce of power she had and turned it loose on him, blasting Lex's mind in a long, ruthless wave of anguish.


"Aaagh!" His scream rang out like a banshee's wail.


And still Renata kept blasting him. Pouring pain into his head until he released her and crumbled to the floor in a boneless sprawl.


"Se-seize her!" he sputtered to his guards, who were recovering now from the smaller strikes Renata had dealt them. One of them raised his gun on her. She blasted him, then gave the second guard another dose as well.


Damn it, she had to get out of there. Couldn't risk using any more of her power when she'd pay dearly for every strike once her reverb hit. And she wouldn't have long before the crippling wave roared up on her.


Renata spun around, broken glass crunching under her boots from last night's chaos. She felt a small breeze cutting through the locked shutters. Realization dawned: There was no window behind her, only freedom. She took hold of the sturdy wood panels and gave a hard yank. The hinges groaned but didn't quite give way.


"Kill her, you fucking imbeciles!" Lex gasped from behind her. "Shoot the bitch!"


No, Renata thought, desperate as she pulled on the stubborn wood.


She couldn't let him stop her. She had to get out of there. She had to find Mira, take her somewhere safe. She'd promised her, after all. She'd made a promise to that child and God help her, she would not fail.


With a cry, Renata put all her muscle and weight into tearing down the shutters. Finally they loosened. Adrenaline coursing through her, she ripped them free completely and threw the shutters aside.


Sunlight poured over her. Blinding, brilliant, it washed into the great room of the lodge. Lex and the other vampires shrieked, hissing as they scrambled to shield their sensitive eyes and move out of the scorching path of the light.


Renata climbed out and hit the ground running. Lex's car sat on the gravel drive, doors unlocked, keys dangling from the ignition. She hopped in, turned over the engine, and gunned it into the certain - but temporary - safety of daylight.


Chapter Fifteen


The most recent round of torture had ended a couple of hours ago, but Nikolai's body tensed in reflex when he heard the soft click of the electronic lock on the door of his room. He didn't have to guess where he was - the clinical white walls and the fleet of medical apparatus flanking his wheeled bed was clue enough to tell him that he'd been taken to one of the Enforcement Agency's containment facilities.


The industrial-grade steel restraints clamped tight at his wrists, chest, and ankles told him that his current personal accommodations were courtesy of the Rogue treatment and rehabilitation wing of the facility. Which, in case there had been any question before, meant that he was as good as dead. Like the Breed equivalent of a Roach Motel, once you strolled through these doors, you never came back.


Not that his captors intended to let him enjoy his stay for any length of time. Nikolai got the distinct impression that their patience with him was near its end. They'd beaten him nearly unconscious after the tranqs wore off, working him over to get his confession to having killed Sergei Yakut. When that didn't get them anywhere, they started in with tasers and other creative electronics, all the while keeping him drugged enough that he could feel every jolt and prod yet too sedated to fight back.


The worst of his tormentors was the Breed male coming into the room now. Niko had heard one of the Enforcement Agents call him Fabien, spoken with enough deference to indicate the vampire ranked fairly high up on the chain of command. Tall and lanky, with narrow features and small, darting eyes under his slicked-back fair hair, Fabien had a nasty sadistic streak barely hidden behind the veneer of his elegant suit and pleasant civilian demeanor. The fact that he had come in alone this time couldn't be a good sign.


"How was your rest?" he asked Niko with a polite smile. "Perhaps you're ready to chat with me now. Just the two of us this time, what do you say?"


"Fuck you," Nikolai growled through his extended fangs. "I didn't kill Yakut. I told you what happened. You arrested the wrong guy, asshole."


Fabien chuckled as he walked to the side of the bed and stared down at him. "There was no mistake, warrior. And I personally could give a damn whether or not you were the one who blew that Gen One's brains all over his walls. I have other, more important questions to ask you. Questions you will answer, if your life means anything to you at all."


That this male evidently knew he was a member of the Order put a dangerous new spin on Nikolai's incarceration. As did the evil glimmer in those shrewd raptorlike eyes.


"What exactly does the Order know about the other Gen One assassinations?"


Nikolai glared up at him, silent, jaw set tight.


"Do you really think you can do anything to stop them? Do you think the Order is so powerful that it can keep the wheel from turning when it's been in motion secretly for years already?" The Breed male's lips spread into a caricature of a smile. "We will exterminate you one by one, just as we are doing with the last remaining members of the first generation. Everything is in place, and has been for a long time. The revolution, you see, has already begun."


Rage coiled in Nikolai's gut as he realized just what he was hearing. "You son of a bitch. You're with Dragos."


"Ah...now you begin to understand," Fabien said pleasantly.


"You're a fucking traitor to your own race, that's what I understand."


The facade of civil behavior fell away like a mask. "I want you to tell me about the Order's current missions. Who are your allies? What do you know about the assassinations? What are the Order's plans where Dragos is concerned?"


Nikolai sneered. "Blow me. Tell your boss he can blow me too."


Fabien's cruel eyes narrowed. "You have tested my patience long enough."


He got up and walked to the door. A curt wave of his hand brought the guard on duty inside. "Yes, sir?" "It is time."


"Yes, sir."


The guard nodded and disappeared, only to return a moment later. He and a facility attendant wheeled in a woman strapped to a narrow bed. She'd been sedated as well, and wore only a thin, sleeveless hospital gown. Lying beside her was a tourniquet, a package of thick needles, and a coiled IV tube.

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