Darker After Midnight (CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN)

TAVIA WAS STILL SHAKING as she made her way across town late that afternoon. Everywhere people were talking about the atrocities taking place in Europe. Countries overseas were calling for emergency assistance and disaster relief, desperately pleading for the governments of the United States and other nations to provide immediate military support.

It was horrific and surreal, the shape of the world after just a few hours of unprovoked carnage and bloodshed.

And Tavia was certain that Dragos was at the center of it all.

She'd seen more than one photograph and news video that had captured the feral, bloodstained faces of some of the attackers. The vampires, as the whole of mankind now knew them to be.

They were Rogues, all of them.

For what hadn't been the first time since the word of the attacks, she thought back to what Chase had said about the rehabilitation facilities controlled by the Enforcement Agency. He'd mentioned how widespread the violence would be, how total the carnage, should blood- addicted Rogues suddenly break loose on the human world.

And now Dragos had instigated that very nightmare overseas, Tavia was sure of it.

He had to be stopped. Before he had the chance to wreak any more terror or to put the planet's inhabitants in any more danger.

If only she could find a way to get close to him, she would find a way to kill him.

The seeds of a plan to do just that had been forming in her mind for the past few hours.

She hurried into the Back Bay residential area on foot, sundown having just kissed the city in cool shadows. A light snow fell, muting some of the din from the traffic-clogged streets and anxious, chattering pedestrians on the sidewalks and alleyways.

Tavia saw the familiar brownstone mansion up ahead on the other side of the street. She waited for a mass transit bus to pass, then stepped into the one-way street to cross.

As the great belch of noxious exhaust and steam cleared away, she found herself staring into the face of a monster.

The Rogue stood on the twilit curb, dressed in a tattered, bloodstained institutional jumpsuit.

He cocked his head as he stared at her, his face and neck slick with gore from a fresh kill.

Tavia's fangs throbbed at the scent of wet red cells, but the spike of adrenaline running through her had nothing to do with hunger. Fear needled her veins, racing up her spine.

Oh, God.

The carnage was about to happen here too.

With an animal sniffle and a low grunt, the Rogue stepped off the curb toward her. Tavia ducked out of his path and ran for the nearest alley. She looked back, making certain he followed.

The knot of dread that formed in her stomach when she saw him loping after her with fangs bared was as cold as ice and put a chill in her blood. She ran deeper into the alley, reaching for the weapon concealed in the back waistband of her jeans.

The Rogue's footsteps were heavy, crunching on the ice that crusted the old pavement.

Tavia slipped behind the corner wall of a brownstone and waited the few seconds before the lumbering bulk of the vampire appeared. Then she struck – silently and swiftly.

The blade stabbed into the Rogue's chest, stopping him dead in his tracks. He grunted something unintelligible, his hands coming up to the wound that was blossoming over his heart. Already the titanium was doing its business on the Rogue's bloodstream. Racing through the diseased veins and arteries like poison, just as Chase said it would.

It was thanks to that advice that Tavia had paid a visit to an area pawnshop earlier that day, spending half her remaining cash on the blade. So worth it, she thought, watching the Rogue drop to his knees as the metal made quick work of him.

Used titanium hunting knife: sixty-three dollars.

Value: priceless.

She didn't wait to watch the Rogue's body disintegrate into a heap of sizzling goo, then ash. Instead she cleaned the blade and stowed it, then ran for Chase's Darkhaven.

As she reached the front door of the empty brownstone estate, a soul-rending scream went up in another part of the neighborhood.

More Rogues on the prowl.

More human deaths taking place even now.

Night was coming, and the terror it was bringing had already arrived.

THE WORLD WAS ABLAZE and bleeding in the dark.

Chase eyed the terror-torn landscape from the backseat of the Order's speeding black Rover. Dante and Renata sat beside him in silence. Rio was grim-faced in the jump seat in back, Lucan stoic, jaw clenched, where he rode shotgun next to Nikolai up front.

They had miles of travel behind them, five-plus hours of drive time packed into barely three at Niko's breakneck speed. Brock followed fast in the second vehicle, carrying the rest of the Order's mission crew toward Boston. Even Lazaro Archer had strapped on arms and combat gear to accompany the warriors into the night's battle.

God knew they were going to need all the help they could get.

By Mathias Rowan's account, the Rogue population let loose from rehab facilities along the eastern seaboard alone numbered close to a hundred. It would take weeks to contain them all, possibly longer. And that didn't factor in the scores of others likely released in other parts of North America tonight.

The odds against the Order's success were staggering. Eventually, they would have to split up, tackle the problem from multiple directions.

But Boston was the immediate concern. It was there that Dragos had seemed to deliver the hardest hit, no doubt to flaunt his power in the warriors' faces, unleashing unholy hell in the Order's home turf.

The closer they got to the city, the worse the chaos became.

Scattered house fires shot bright orange flames skyward on both sides of the highway. Traffic was crazed in both directions as panicked drivers fought their way in and out of the various city arteries. Sirens blared from everywhere. And in the neighborhoods and surface streets, packs of humans rushed on foot in a blind confusion, eyes wild, faces contorted in terror, fleeing a danger they would never outrun.

Everywhere Chase looked, the scene was utter, bloody madness.

"Cristo," Rio hissed in the tomblike quiet of the Rover. In his peripheral vision, Chase saw the formidable Spanish warrior cross himself and lift a religious pendant on a thin chain around his neck, pressing the small medallion to his lips in silent prayer.

The Boston skyline loomed just ahead now, black smoke rising from smoldering buildings and the crumpled wreckage of cars left abandoned in the streets by their fleeing drivers. Screams rent the air, adding to the cacophony of violence that hung over the entire city.

Chase's thoughts went to Tavia. She hadn't left his mind for a moment in the time since he'd set out with the Order for Boston. He knew she was near, somewhere in the city. He could feel her in his blood. His veins still tingled with the pang of fear he'd picked up from her not long after the Order had set out for Boston. The jolt had been visceral but brief, and long diminished. The knowledge that she was safe now – that she was alive and unharmed – was a reassurance he clung to as the rest of the world was dissolving into bloodshed and ruin before him.

Still, the urge to wrench open the vehicle door and run to her was strong. Overwhelming. But his duty was with the Order right now, more than ever. So long as he knew she was breathing, he could do what he had to tonight.

Tavia was a strong, capable woman. She had been even before the astonishing revelation of her Breed lineage. She was smart and levelheaded. He knew that. He took comfort in the fact that his beloved – his mate, if he should ever prove worthy of the honor – was the most extraordinary female he would ever know.

But she was also courageous and determined. Two things that put a knot of worry in his chest when he considered what she might do if the violence Dragos had unleashed here tonight were to find its way to her. He prayed she'd lie low until he and the Order could clamp a lid on this hellish situation and he could break away to find her.

From the passenger seat up front, Lucan radioed the others in the second vehicle. "Tegan, take your team into the North End. Start your sweep there. The rest of us will begin in Southie, drive the Rogues together from both ends and take out as many as possible."

"On it" came the warrior's grim reply.

Behind them, the Rover's headlights veered away as Brock gunned the SUV through an obstacle course of clogged and chaotic traffic.

"Lock and load, everyone," Lucan said, casting a grave look at the rest of them. "It's gonna be a long, bloody night."