As abhorrent as the outlawed practice of blood clubs was among Breed society, attempting to kill a first-generation vampire was an even bigger offense. Nikolai couldn't raise a hand against the bastard, no matter how badly he wanted to.

And Yakut knew as much. He wiped his mouth with the hem of his dark tunic, dabbing at Renata's sweet-scented blood.

"Hunting is in our nature, boy." Yakut's voice was deadly calm, utterly confident, as he strode toward Nikolai. "You are young, born of weaker stock than some of us. Maybe your blood is so diluted with humanity, you simply cannot understand the need in its purest form. Maybe if you had a taste of the hunt, you'd be less sanctimonious of those of us who prefer to live as we were meant to be."

Niko gave a slow shake of his head. "Blood clubs aren't about hunting. They're about slaughter. You can shovel your bullshit however deep you want it, but in the end, it's still bullshit. You're an animal. What you really need is a muzzle and a choke collar. Someone needs to shut you down."

"And you think that you or the Order is up for that task?"

"Do you think we're not?" Niko challenged, some reckless part of him hoping the Gen One would give him a reason to draw his weapons. He didn't expect he'd walk away from a confrontation with the elder vampire, but he sure as hell wouldn't go down without a damned vicious fight.

Instead, Yakut backed off, amber eyes blazing, their elliptical pupils tiny slivers of black. His bearded chin came up, head cocked severely to the side. His lips parted with his savage, fang-baring grin. Like this, it wasn't hard at all to see the alien part of him - the part that made him and all the rest of the Breed what they were: blood-drinking predators not quite belonging to this mortal, Earth-born world.

"I told you once that you were not welcome in my domain, warrior. I have no use for you, or for your proposed alliance with the Order. My patience is at its end, and so is your stay here."

"Yeah," Niko agreed. "I'm fucking gone from this place, and gladly. But don't think this is the last you'll hear from me." He couldn't help glancing over at Renata as he said it. As contemptuous as he found Yakut to be, he couldn't muster the same kind of fury for her. He waited for her to tell him that she didn't know about the crimes taking place on this patch of blood- soaked land. He wanted her to say that - to say anything to convince him that she wasn't actually a knowing party to Yakut's sick practices.

She merely stared back at him, her arms crossed over her chest. One hand reached up to idly finger the healing wound on her neck, but she remained silent.

Watching as Nikolai stalked out of the open door and past Yakut's befuddled guards.

"Return the warrior's personal effects and see that he leaves the property without incident," Yakut instructed the pair of armed men outside his private chamber.

When the two set off to carry out the command, Renata started to follow after them. Some unbalanced part of her hoped she might be able to catch up to Nikolai privately and...

And what?

Explain the truth of how things were for her here? Try to justify the choices she'd been forced to make? To what end?

Nikolai was leaving. He would never have to return to this place, while she would be here to her dying breath. What good would it do to explain any of this to him, a stranger who probably wouldn't understand, let alone care?

And still, Renata's feet kept moving.

She didn't even get as far as the door. Yakut's hand clamped down on her wrist, holding her back.

"Not you, Renata. You stay."

She glanced at him with a look she hoped was devoid of the queasiness she was trying so hard to tamp down. "I thought we had finished here. I thought maybe I should go along with the others, just to make sure the warrior doesn't decide to do anything stupid on his way off the property."

"You will stay." Yakut's smile chilled her to the bone. "Tread carefully, Renata. I wouldn't want you doing anything stupid either."

She swallowed the sudden lump of cold unease in her throat. "I'm sorry?"

"You will be," he answered, his grip tightening on her arm. "Your emotions betray you, beauty. I can feel the rise in your heart rate, the spike of adrenaline that's running through your veins even now. I felt the change in you from the moment the warrior entered the room. I felt it earlier as well. Care to tell me where you were tonight?"

"Training," she replied, quickly but firmly. Giving him no reason to doubt her, since it was essentially the truth. "Before you sent Lex to call for me, I was outside, running through my training exercises in the old kennel. It was a taxing workout. If you felt anything from me, that's all it was."

A long silence stretched, and still that hard grip stayed latched onto her wrist. "You know how much I value loyalty, don't you, Renata?"

She managed a brief nod.

"I value it as much as you value the life of that child sleeping in the other room," he said coldly. "I think it would destroy you if she should end up in the boneyard."

Renata's blood seemed to freeze in her veins at the threat. She stared up into the evil eyes of a monster - one who grinned at her now with sick pleasure.

"Like I said, dear Renata. Tread very carefully."

Chapter Nine

The city of Montreal, named for the broad mount that afforded such a royal view of the Saint Lawrence River and the valley below, glittered like a bowl of gemstones under the crescent sliver of the moon. Elegant skyscrapers. Gothic church spires. Verdant parkways, and, in the distance, a shimmering ribbon of water that nestled the city in its protective embrace. It truly was a spectacular view.

No wonder the leader of the Montreal Darkhaven chose to settle his community near the summit of Mount Royal.

Standing on the baroque-style limestone balcony off the mansion's second-floor drawing room made the old hunting lodge outside the city seem a thousand miles away. A thousand years away from this polite, civilized manner of living. Which, of course, it was.

The wait to meet with Edgar Fabien, the Breed male who oversaw the Montreal vampire population, seemed to take forever. Fabien was well known around the city and rumored to be very well connected, both within the Darkhavens and their policing arm known as the Enforcement Agency. He was the natural choice for a delicate situation like this.

Still, it was a gamble that the Darkhaven leader would be willing to cooperate. This unannounced late-night visit had been a spontaneous thing, and a very risky one at that.

Just by coming here, he was declaring himself an enemy of Sergei Yakut.

But he'd seen enough.

Endured enough.

The prince was sick and tired of licking his father's boots. It was time for the tyrant king to fall. Lex turned at the sound of footsteps approaching from within the drawing room. Fabien was a slim male, tall and meticulously dressed, as if he'd been born in his tailored suit and shiny leather loafers. His ash-blond hair was slicked back from his face with some kind of perfumed oil, and when he smiled at Lex in greeting, his thin lips and narrow birdlike facial features became even more severe.

"Alexei Yakut," he said, coming out onto the balcony and offering Lex his hand. No fewer than three rings sparkled on his long fingers, gold and diamonds to rival the glitter of the city outside. "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting so long. I'm afraid we're not accustomed to receiving unannounced guests here at my personal residence."

Lex gave him a tight nod and took his hand out of Fabien's grasp. The Darkhaven leader's private home wasn't exactly going to turn up in any Montreal tour guides, but a few questions posed to the right people in town had led Lex there without too much trouble.

"Come in, please," the Darkhaven male said, motioning for Lex to follow him back into the house. Fabien settled himself onto a fancy settee, leaving room for Lex on the other side. "I must admit, I was surprised when my secretary told me who had come to see me. A shame we've not had the opportunity to meet until now."

Lex took a seat beside the Darkhaven male, unable to keep his eyes from traveling over the endless luxury of his surroundings. "But you know who I am?" he asked Fabien cautiously. "Do you also know the Gen One who is my father, Sergei Yakut?"

Fabien gave a mild nod. "Only by name, alas. I am remiss in not having made formal introductions when you folks first arrived in my city. However, your father's bodyguards made it clear when my emissary inquired about a meeting that your father was something of a recluse. I understand he enjoys a quiet, rural life outside the city, communing with nature or some such." Over the steeple of his bejeweled fingers, Fabien's smile did not quite reach his eyes. "I suppose there is something to be said for living with that kind of...simplicity."

Lex grunted. "My father chooses such a life because he believes himself above the law."

"Excuse me?"

"That's why I'm here," Lex said. "I have information. Critical information that needs to be acted on quickly. Covertly."

Edgar Fabien leaned back against the cushions of the settee. "Has something...happened out at the lodge?"

"It's been happening for a long time," Lex admitted, feeling a queer sense of freedom as the words spilled out of his mouth.

He told Fabien everything about his father's illegal activities, from the blood club and the boneyard full of his victims' remains, to the keeping and frequent killing of his human Minions. Lex explained, not quite truthfully, how it had been eating him up to keep this secret for so long and how it was his own sense of morality - his sense of honor and respect for Breed law - that compelled him to seek out Fabien's help in putting a stop to Sergei Yakut's private reign of terror.

It was excitement - thrill at the depth of his courage - that put a quiver in Lex's voice, but if Fabien took it for regret, so much the better.

Fabien listened, his expression carefully schooled, sober. "You understand, I'm sure, that this is no small matter. What you've described is...problematic. Disturbingly so. But there will be certain factors that will come into play on this type of investigation. Your father is Gen One. There will be questions for him to answer, protocols that will need to be observed - "

"Investigation? Protocol?" Lex scoffed. He shot to his feet, awash in both fear and fury. "That could take days or even weeks. A fucking month!"

Fabien nodded apologetically. "It could, yes."

"There's no time for that now! Don't you get it? I am handing my father to you on a platter - all the evidence you would need for an immediate arrest is right there on his property. For fuck's sake, I am risking my goddamn life just by standing here!" "I am sorry." The Darkhaven leader held up his hands. "If it's any comfort to you, we would be more than willing to offer you protection. The Agency could remove you once the investigation begins, take you someplace safe - "

Lex's sharp bark of laughter cut him off. "Send me into exile? I'll be dead long before then. Besides, I'm not interested in going into hiding like a whipped dog. I want what I deserve. I want what I am due, after all these years of waiting for handouts from that bastard." It was impossible to mask his true feelings now. Lex's rage was on a full boil. "You want to know what I really want from Sergei Yakut? His death."

Fabien's gaze narrowed shrewdly. "That's very dangerous talk."

"I'm not the only one to think it," Lex replied. "In fact, someone even had the balls enough to attempt it just last week." Narrower and narrower went those cunning little eyes. "What do you mean?"

"He was attacked. An assailant stole into the lodge and tried to sever his head with a length of wire, but in the end he failed. Of all the damned luck," Lex added under his breath. "The Order feels it's the work of a professional."

"The Order," Fabien repeated airlessly. "How are they involved in any of what you've described?"

"They sent a warrior here tonight to meet with my father. Apparently they are trying to warn the Gen Ones about the recent slayings among the population."

Fabien's mouth worked for a second without forming words, as if he wasn't sure what question to tackle first. He cleared his throat. "There is a warrior here in Montreal? And what is this about recent slayings? Whatever are you talking about?" "Five dead Gen Ones, between North America and Europe," Lex said, recalling what Nikolai had told him. "Some one seems hell-bent on picking off the whole remaining first generation, one by one."

"My word." Fabien's face was the picture of astonishment, but something about him was bothering Lex.

"You didn't know anything about the killings?"

Fabien rose slowly, shook his head. "I am stunned, I assure you. I had no idea. What a terrible thing." "Maybe. Maybe not," Lex remarked.

As he stared at the Darkhaven leader, Lex noticed a sudden stillness coming over the vampire - so still he had to wonder if Fabien was actually breathing. There was a subdued but rising panic in his raptorlike eyes. Edgar Fabien held his body in check with rigid precision, but from the look in his shifting gaze, he looked as though he wanted to bolt from the room.

How intriguing.

"You know, I would have expected you to be better informed, Fabien. Your reputation around the city paints you as quite the player. With all your Enforcement Agency friends, are you trying to tell me that none of them clued you in? Maybe they don't trust you, eh? Maybe they have good cause."

Now Fabien met Lex's gaze. Amber sparks flashed in his irises, a telltale sign of a pricked nerve. "Just what kind of game are you trying to play here?"


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