Deeper than midnight, p.15
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       Deeper Than Midnight, p.15

         Part #9 of Midnight Breed series by Lara Adrian
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Page 15


  Corinne, on the other hand, had slept like the dead upon their arrival. He knew she'd been exhausted, physically drained. Her emotions had been taxed as well, although if she'd wanted to collapse in a fit of unproductive self-pity and tears, he had to give her credit there. She'd held up with remarkable strength. She'd seemed resolved since they'd left the Bishop Darkhaven. Defiant, even.

  She'd been agreeable enough when he'd told her she was under his guardianship, and there had been no irrational histrionics when he'd informed her that his mission for the Order was going to take him - both of them - right into the potential enemy territory of Henry Vachon, a known ally of her captor and tormentor. Corinne had seemed almost eager at the idea, a fact that sparked a watchful curiosity in him.

  Now he listened to the sounds of water moving in the tub of the adjacent bathroom. Corinne had gone in to freshen up shortly after noon, having slept all the way through the morning while he pored over maps of the city and outlying parishes in the lightless gloom of the hotel room's curtain-drawn living area.

  He'd noticed she had neglected to close the door tightly, and for the past thirty-seven minutes - the full duration of her time spent reclining naked in the tub - he'd had to purposely avoid looking at the thin wedge of golden lamplight that poured into the darkness where he sat. He rallied his focus to the spread-out maps he'd picked up from the hotel lobby on their arrival. They were abbreviated street listings, intended mostly for tourists whose main objectives were, apparently, finding the nearest restaurants, bars, and jazz clubs. Hunter would get further intelligence on Henry Vachon from Gideon shortly; until then, he felt it a beneficial use of his time to familiarize himself with the various streets and districts. Perform some virtual reconnaissance until sundown, when he could venture out and see Vachon's city for himself. Anything to keep his gaze from straying toward that partially open door across the room. His resolve was tested when he heard the gurgle of water draining as she pulled the stopper. Her skin squeaked against the porcelain as she moved about in there, liquid splashes indicating she had climbed out of the tub. He saw her slender arm reach out to take a thick white towel from a polished metal bar on the wall. He heard the rustle of terry cloth as she began to dry the water from her body.

  He forced his eyes back to the work that covered the coffee table in front of him. With total concentration he studied the portion of the map where they were currently staying, intent on committing the multicolored grid and its corresponding street names to memory: Their hotel was in an area called the Upper French Quarter. This part of the city encompassed numerous blocks between Iberville Street to St. Anne Street and was hemmed in on one side by a street named North Rampart and, on the other, the Mississippi -

  Through the wedge of softly lit open doorway, he caught a glimpse of Corinne's bare thigh. The towel traveled down, then her foot came up to rest on the closed lid of the toilet as she dried off the lean, slender length of her calf.

  A heat that had been kindling in his belly now drifted lower.

  Hunter wanted to look away.

  He meant to.

  But then she shifted again, and his gaze rooted on the small, rounded curve of her breast. The nipple crowning it was flushed dark rose, a tantalizing contrast to her creamy skin. He stared at that sweet pink bud peaking at the swell of her soft, pale flesh. He'd never seen a female's naked breast before. On film and television at the compound on occasion, of course, but none of those hard-looking, grossly inflated examples could compare to the delicate perfection he saw in Corinne's naked form.

  He wanted to see more of her; it shocked him how much he wanted that. As he watched her move in and out of his scant field of vision, arousal began to coil around him and tighten. His skin felt hot and confining, drawn too tight across his chest and up along his neck. Lower still, the tightness was worsening by the second, his sex stirring, stiffening with the sudden upticking rush of blood through his veins.

  He growled quietly under his breath, though whether from shock or shame, he wasn't sure. He didn't want to feel this curiosity for her, this unwelcome sexual awareness. He'd been trained - disciplined without compromise from the time he was a boy - to be above base needs or desires.

  Yet he could not wrest his attention away from Corinne Bishop now.

  Even as he shifted to alleviate the binding annoyance of his too-snug clothes, he stared, stealing another look, hoping for a longer glimpse. Wishing for a brief fumble of the large white towel so he could feast his eyes on her completely and sate the curiosity that had him leaning onto his elbow for a more advantageous field of vision.

  His temples pulsed, almost as insistently as the throb that had settled in his groin. Had he not been raised so rigidly, so ruthlessly, he might have been tempted to stroke his hand over the demanding pound of his arousal, if only to relieve the ache. Instead he fought the urge. Thinly. Everything male in him was locked on to her in that moment, and Corinne would have to be unconscious not to feel the weight of his hungry eyes on her.

  Perhaps she did sense something, after all.

  She pivoted around suddenly and tried to sidestep away from the gap in the narrowly opened door. As she moved, the towel he'd been willing her to drop slipped out of her grasp. It swung down on one side, baring the column of her spine and the upper curve of her heart-shaped backside.

  His breath ceased, caught in a low rasp in his lungs. Not from the feminine beauty of her body but from the savagery that had evidently been wreaked upon it at some point. A web of angry red scars tracked across the smooth canvas of her back, from shoulder to buttock. Hideous welts left from a lash - probably a length of chain as well, based on the ruination of her skin - left him stricken into a dull sort of wonder. What had she been forced to endure?

  Just how deeply had Dragos's evil cut her?

  All the heat he'd felt just a moment before was eclipsed by the sight of those scars. He felt something elusive and unfamiliar wash over him in that instant, feelings that seemed to rise up at him from somewhere deep inside, an inaccessible place, long out of his reach. Regret for what had been done to her flooded through him, along with a dark, swelling wave of fury for the beast responsible.

  He cursed, unable to keep the contempt inside him.

  Corinne's head whipped around, wet black hair slapping against her bare shoulders as she hurried to cover herself with the towel. Her eyes clashed with his gaze through the slim gap of the open door. There was challenge in her unflinching look, a rawness that made him feel as though his knowledge of her wounds was as deep a violation as the punishment itself had been to her. Hunter glanced away, casting his gaze back to his maps.

  He kept his eyes averted out of respect - out of sympathy he didn't even realize he was capable of until now. He listened as Corinne's bare feet padded a couple of steps across the tiles of the bathroom floor.

  The door creaked as she slowly closed it and latched it tight, blocking him out.

  Chapter Twelve

  "Yes, of course. I understand. " Victor Bishop stood near the fireplace in his study that afternoon, speaking on the Darkhaven's private line. He'd debated making the call, but only because of the potential wrath his unwelcome news might bring down upon him. In the end, he'd figured it was in his best interest to reaffirm his alliance, make certain that he raised a flag of the proper color lest he find himself under unprovoked enemy fire yet again.

  "If I can provide any further information, rest assured, I will contact you at once. " He cleared his throat, despising the fear that put a wobble of awkwardness in his voice. "And, please, ah, if you would . . . be sure he knows that I had nothing to do with any of this current turn of events. I have never betrayed his confidence. I am now, and I will remain, at his service. "

  With barely an acknowledgment, only a muttered word of good-bye, the call abruptly disconnected on the other end.

  "Damn it," Bishop snarled, taking the phone away from hi
s ear. He pivoted around, half tempted to pitch the cordless receiver into the nearest wall. He drew up short, surprised to find he was not alone.

  Regina stood behind him, silent, her red-rimmed eyes condemning.

  "I thought you were still in bed," he remarked, knowingly curt as he strode past her and carefully replaced the phone on its console at his desk. "You look tired, dear. Perhaps you should go back and rest a while longer. "

  She had taken to her bed right after Corinne and the warrior from Boston left the Darkhaven. He hadn't tried to talk to her in the hours since; he knew that his admission last night was a breach he could never mend. Not even his shared blood bond with Regina would be enough to mend what was now broken. They were linked to each other by blood and vow, but her trust, her love, would never truly be his again.

  He had to admit, part of him was relieved. The lie had been a burden for too long, far too taxing to keep the mask of bereaved, bewildered father in place when his visceral connection to Regina was always there, ready to trip him up. It felt good to have everything in the open now. Liberating despite the contempt he felt like a burning poison seeping into him. Regina's contempt, pouring out at him through her accusing stare and the frantic thud of her pulse, which reverberated within his own veins.

  "Who were you speaking to, Victor?"

  "It was no one important," he replied, dismissing her with a narrowed glare. She took a step toward him, both hands fisted down at her sides. "You're lying to me again. Or rather, still. It sickens me to think how long you've been lying to me. "

  Anger flared in him. "Go back to bed, dear. You're clearly overwrought, and I'd hate for you to say things you'll regret later. "

  "I regret everything now," she said, looking at him with a pained frown. "How could you have done the things you did, Victor? How could you live with yourself, knowing what you'd done to Corinne?"

  "What you don't seem able to grasp," he growled, "is that what I did, I did for us. For our son. Starkn would have come after Sebastian next. I wasn't about to put our boy, our flesh-andblood child, at stake - "

  Regina gaped at him as though he'd struck her. "Corinne was our child too, Victor. She and Lottie were as much our children as Sebastian. We brought them into our lives, into our hearts, just the same as if they'd been born to us. "

  "It wasn't the same to me!" he snapped, bringing his fist down on the desk. Futile rage coursed through him when he thought about his boy, the sensitive, overly contemplative youth who should have had the world in the palm of his hand. The promising son, who might have had all that and more, if not for the web of deception Bishop had so carefully spun all around them. Not carefully enough, he reflected now.

  It was that very web that had eventually found Sebastian, strangling his goodness, his future.

  "It doesn't matter," Bishop murmured to his clearly outraged Breedmate. "What's done is done. It was all for nothing, anyway. We lost Sebastian regardless of everything I did to protect him. "

  Regina's eyes held him too closely. She stared, too knowingly. "He was never quite the same after Corinne went missing," she said, more to herself than to Victor. "I remember how withdrawn Basti became just a few years later, how distant he seemed from us in those last couple of weeks . . . before his Bloodlust took over. "

  Bishop hated the reminder. He hated to recall how painful it had been to realize his only son had turned Rogue - lost to his thirst, his addiction to blood, the very thing that gave all of the Breed life and strength and power. Basti had been weak, but it had been the discovery of his father's corruption that had pushed him over the edge.

  Regina would have read his guilt now, even without their blood bond. "What happened, Victor? You betrayed Sebastian too, didn't you?"

  Bishop ground his molars together, furious that she would make him relive what had been the worst moment of his life. Second worst - there was little that could top the day Sebastian, drunk from a killing spree, took one of Victor's own guns to his head and pulled the trigger before anyone could stop him.

  "He'd figured it out, hadn't he?" she pressed. "You fooled the rest of us, but not him. He somehow uncovered the truth. "

  "Shut up," Bishop growled, his mind flooding with memories.

  Sebastian and his sense of organization and order. How proud he'd been of the mahogany gun cabinet he'd made with his own hands, a gift for his father. He'd wanted it to be a surprise, had begun transferring Victor's prized collection of antique weapons from the old cabinet to the beautiful new one, when he'd discovered the hidden panel at the bottom. All of Victor's darkest secrets were in that private cache.

  Sebastian had learned of the whore who'd been killed to look like Corinne. There were receipts from a dressmaker's shop for clothing hastily made to Victor's exacting specifications. A note from one of Victor's jeweler friends downtown, containing a sketch of a custom-made necklace ordered to match the one Corinne had worn the night of her disappearance. Foolish mementos that should have been burned along with the hope of ever seeing Corinne again.

  Sebastian had been horrified at his discovery, but he'd kept his silence. Victor had forbidden him to speak of the matter, threatened him, for crissake. He'd told Sebastian that to expose his lie would be to invite the deaths of all of them.

  The terrible secret was a burden Sebastian could not bear.

  "It was you," Regina said, her voice wooden. "You were responsible for what happened to our son. My God . . . it was you who drove him to Bloodlust, to blow his brains out in this very room. "

  Bishop's fury exploded out of him. "I said shut up!"

  Although Regina startled at the sharpness of his voice, she didn't falter. Her hands still fisted, knuckles white in her own outrage, she approached the desk where he stood. "You destroyed Sebastian's life as surely as you destroyed Corinne's, and yet that's not enough for you. You would betray her still. " She glanced at the phone now cradled in its receiver. "You have, haven't you? That call you made . . . it was to save your own neck, even if it comes at her expense. I can't live like this, not with you. You are a coward, Victor. You disgust me. "
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