Deeper than midnight, p.4
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       Deeper Than Midnight, p.4
 

         Part #9 of Midnight Breed series by Lara Adrian
Page 4

 

  "I understand from Claire and Andreas that you haven't been in touch with anyone back home," Gabrielle said gently, breaking into her thoughts. "They have no idea that you're even alive?"

  "No," Corinne replied.

  "Wouldn't you like to call them? I'm sure they would want to know that you're here, that you're safe and sound and coming home to them soon. "

  She shook her head. "It's been so long. I remember our old telephone exchange, but I wouldn't even know how to reach them . . . "

  "That's not a problem, you know. " Gabrielle gestured toward a flat white box that rested on the nearby desk in the library. "It wouldn't take more than a minute or two to find them on the computer. You could call them right now. If you'd like, you could even talk to them on video. "

  "Thank you, but no. " The terms and concepts were all new to Corinne, almost as overwhelming as the idea of speaking to either of her parents without being there in person to touch them, to feel their arms wrapped around her once again. "It's just that I . . . I wouldn't know what to say to them after all this time. I wouldn't know how to tell them . . . "

  Gabrielle gave an understanding nod. "You need to be there in person to do this. "

  "Yes. I just need to go home. "

  "Of course," Gabrielle said. "Don't worry. We'll make sure you get there as soon as possible. "

  They both looked up when a quiet knock sounded on the doorjamb from the corridor outside the library. A pretty blonde with pale lavender eyes opened the door from the hallway and peeked into the room.

  "Am I interrupting?"

  "No, Elise. Come in. " Gabrielle stood up and motioned the other woman inside. "Corinne and I were just chatting while we waited for word from Brock and Jenna. "

  Elise stepped inside and gave Corinne a warm smile. "I thought I'd come down and sit with you both for a while until everyone comes in from patrols. "

  Corinne had been introduced to some of the Order's women when she'd arrived earlier that evening. Elise's mate, she recalled, was a warrior named Tegan. She'd been told that he and most of the other members of the Order were out on missions elsewhere in the city, all of them focused on the single goal of hunting down Dragos and all those loyal to him. The thought gave her a great deal of reassurance. Surely with an extraordinary group like this determined to catch him, Dragos stood no chance of escape.

  And yet he had.

  Time and again, as Corinne understood it, he'd managed to stay one step ahead of the Order. They were a powerful force, but Corinne knew firsthand that Dragos was not without his own power. He had his own soldiers, his own terrible tactics.

  And he was mad - dangerously so. Corinne knew this firsthand as well, and the awful memories of that knowledge swelled up on her like a wave of darkness now, before she could stop them. She staggered under the weight of her remembered torture as she rose from the sofa to stand beside Gabrielle and Elise. The anxiety came up fast this time, faster than it had a short while ago. When Gabrielle had left her alone in the library, Corinne had somehow managed to wrest herself back under control.

  But not this time.

  The floor-to-ceiling bookcases wobbled in her mind's eye as the walls of the library seemed to squeeze in, collapsing inward from all sides. On the wall across from her, a large tapestry, stitched to depict a glowering dark knight on a black charger, now seemed to twist and distort, the man's handsome features and his beautiful horse both mutating into something demonic and mocking.

  She closed her eyes, but darkness didn't make things any better. Suddenly she was back in Dragos's prison cells. Back in the lightless pit, naked and shivering. Alone in a dank void, waiting for death. Praying for it, as her only means of escape from the horror. Corinne sucked in a mouthful of air but felt only the smallest gasp of oxygen feed her lungs as the space around her condensed toward nothingness.

  "Corinne?" Gabrielle and Elise both said her name at the same time. Both women reached out to hold her up, keep her steady.

  Corinne heard herself gasp for breath. "Need out . . . have to get out of this cell - "

  "Can you walk?" Elise asked her, her voice urgent but in control. "Hold on to us, Corinne. You're going to be okay. "

  She managed a nod as they helped her out to the corridor. Cool white marble spread out in both directions. The passageway was wide and endless, instantly soothing. She let the gleam of pale, pristine walls fill her vision as she took a deep breath and felt some of the constriction in her lungs begin to ease.

  Yes, thank God.

  Already it was better.

  Gabrielle reached out to smooth some of Corinne's dark hair from her eyes. "Are you all right now?"

  Corinne nodded, still breathing hard but feeling the worst of her anxiety fade away.

  "Sometimes I just . . . sometimes I feel like I'm still in there. Still locked in that awful place," she whispered. "I'm sorry. I'm so embarrassed. "

  "Don't be. " Gabrielle's smile was sympathetic without being pitying. "You don't have to be sorry or embarrassed. Not among friends. "

  "Come on," Elise said. "We'll take you up to the mansion. We can have a little stroll around the grounds outside until you feel better. "

  As the compound's garage elevator came to a cushioned stop belowground, Hunter glanced at his wounded patrol partner in silent assessment.

  Head hung low on his shoulders, matted golden-brown hair drooping over his brow, Sterling Chase leaned against the opposite wall of the car, his breath sawing through his teeth. His black fatigues were torn and blood-soaked, lacerations and swelling contusions making a battered mess of his face. His nose was surely broken, his upper lip split open and bleeding onto his chin. More than likely, his jaw had been fractured as well.

  The warrior's injuries from the brawl in the city were numerous, but nothing that wouldn't heal with time and a few decent feedings.

  Not that Chase seemed at all concerned about his condition.

  The elevator doors whispered open and he swaggered out to the corridor ahead of Hunter, arrogance in every stride.

  Lucan blocked his path just a few steps out. Put his palm in the center of Chase's chest to stop him physically when the other male appeared disinclined to pause. "Have a good time in Chinatown tonight?"

  Chase grunted, his split lip tearing wider as he gave Lucan a dark smirk. "I gather Mathias Rowan has been in contact with you. "

  "That's right. More than I can say for either one of you," Lucan replied tersely, his furious gaze traveling briefly from Chase's battle-worn appearance to Hunter, whose fatigues were stained with their own share of spilled Enforcement Agent blood. "Rowan told me all about the shit that went down. He says he's got multiple dead and wounded and every Agent he's spoken to has put the blame for the unprovoked assault squarely on you, Chase. "

  He scoffed in response. "Unprovoked, my ass. Every one of the Agents in that place was looking for a reason to piss me off. "

  "And you couldn't wait to oblige them, that it?" At Chase's answering glower, Lucan shook his head. "What you are is reckless, my man. This shit tonight is just one more mess you've left for someone else to deal with. It's getting to be a pattern with you lately, and I don't like it. Not one fucking bit. "

  "You sent me out to do a job," Chase shot back darkly. "Sometimes things get messy. "

  Lucan's eyes narrowed, anger radiating off his body now, a palpable heat that Hunter could feel from where he stood just a few steps away with Gideon. "I'm not sure you know what your job is anymore, Chase. If you did, you wouldn't be coming back here empty-handed, reeking of spilled blood and attitude. Far as I'm concerned, you failed out there tonight. How much intel did you gather on Freyne? Are we even one fucking scintilla closer to getting a lock on Dragos or any of his possible other associates?"

  "Perhaps we are," Hunter interjected.

  Now Lucan swung his scowl on him. "Explain. "

  "An Agent named Murdock,"
Hunter replied. "He approached Chase and me when we arrived at the club. We had words, but he wasn't forthcoming with any useful information. Once the fight broke out, he appeared notably anxious. I saw him make a phone call to someone before he escaped amid the chaos. "

  "This is a lead?" Chase muttered dismissively. "Of course Murdock would run. I know this guy. He's a coward who'd rather put a knife in your back than face a fight head-on. "

  Hunter ignored his patrol partner's commentary as he held the keen stare of the Order's leader. "Murdock took off for the alley out back of the place. A car was already coming around to pick him up. The driver was a Gen One assassin. "

  "Good Christ," Gideon remarked from beside Hunter, shoving his hand through the short blond spikes of his hair.

  Lucan's face hardened, while Chase had gone utterly silent where he stood, listening as intently as the others now.

  "I pursued the vehicle on foot," Hunter continued. "The assassin was neutralized. "

  He reached around to the back waistband of his fatigues and pulled out the detonated collar he'd removed from his kill. Gideon took the ring of charred black polymer out of his hand.

  "One more to add to your collection, eh? You're racking up quite a score lately. Good work. "

  Hunter merely blinked at the unnecessary praise.

  "What about Murdock?" Lucan asked.

  "Gone," Hunter replied. "He fled the scene while I was disabling the driver. By then it was a choice of either tracking him down or going back inside the club to retrieve my patrol partner. "

  The decision to aid his fellow warrior had given him more than a moment's pause at the time. Logic and training as one of Dragos's soldiers demanded he carry out his missions as a single entity: efficient, impersonal, and utterly independent. Murdock was a quantified target. Interrogating him would surely provide valuable intel; his capture was imperative to the success of the night's patrol. To Hunter, apprehending the escaped Agent had seemed a logical enough objective.

  But the Order operated under a different tenet, one he had pledged to follow when he'd joined them, no matter how it contrasted to the world he had once known. The warriors had a code among themselves for every mission, an understanding that if a team went out together, they came back together, and no man was ever left behind.

  Not even if it meant forfeiting an enemy asset.

  "I know Murdock," Chase said, lifting the back of his hand to his chin to wipe away some of the blood that slicked his skin. "I know where he lives, I know the places he's likely to hang out. It won't take me long to find him - "

  "You're not doing shit," Lucan interrupted. "I'm pulling you off this mission. Until I say otherwise, any and all Agency contact goes through me. Gideon can dig up everything we need on Murdock's properties and personal habits. If you feel you've got anything more useful to add, turn it over to Gideon. I'll decide how and when - and I'll decide who - is best to go after this asshole Murdock. "

  "Whatever. " Chase's blue eyes glittered darkly under his lowered brows. He started to walk away.

  Lucan's head pivoted only slightly, his voice as low as distant thunder. "I didn't say we were finished. "

  Chase scoffed. "Sounds to me like you've got it all under control, so what do you need me for?"

  "That's something I've been asking myself all night," Lucan replied evenly. "What the fuck do I need you for?"

  Chase muttered something low and surly under his breath in response. He took another step and suddenly Lucan was right in front of him, having moved so quickly it had been hard for even Hunter to track him. He shoved Chase with a hard dose of Gen One strength, a frontal blow that sent the other warrior flying into the corridor wall.

  Chase righted himself with a hissed curse. Eyes flashing like bright coals, he charged forward with a fang-bearing snarl.

  This time it was Hunter who moved the fastest.

  Intercepting the threat to the Order's leader - his leader - he placed himself between the two vampires, his hand clamped around Chase's throat.

  "Stand down, warrior," he advised his brother-in-arms.

  It was the only warning Hunter would allow. If Chase so much as flinched with further aggression, Hunter would have little choice but to crush the fight out of him. Teeth and fangs clamped together, lips peeled back from his gums, Chase held his stare in a thick, answering silence. Hunter felt a shift of movement in the space of the corridor behind him. He heard a feminine gasp - just the softest pull of air through parted lips. Chase's gaze drifted in that direction and some of the taut fury left him at once. As he relaxed, Hunter let go of him and stepped back from the confrontation.

  "What's going on out here, Lucan?"

  Hunter turned along with the other males in the corridor and found himself facing Lucan's mate, Gabrielle, standing behind them with two other females. Hunter knew the fine-boned blonde with the pale lavender eyes. It was she - Tegan's mate, Elise - who'd gasped, her hand still lifted toward her mouth.

  "I'm out of here," Chase muttered, notably subdued as he brushed past Hunter and the others and stalked off down the corridor toward his quarters.

  Hunter hardly noticed the warrior's departure.

  His attention was riveted on the third female who stood in the passageway now. Petite and fair-skinned behind the curtain of long ebony hair that partially hid her face from his view, she held him utterly transfixed in that moment. He couldn't look away from the large greenish blue eyes that tapered delicately at their outer corners. At a loss to categorize their specific color, he didn't try, instead attempting to determine why he found her presence so arresting.
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