Midnight Awakening (Chapter Eighteen)

Tegan opened the door of the stone-and- timber boathouse that hugged the shoreline of the lake and led Elise inside. She couldn't see well in the dark, but Tegan's hand was firm around hers, his steps sure where she walked gingerly over the wide plank floor in her high heels.

The space for a large boat was empty for the winter, the water partially frozen where it came into the base of the building.

There should be a loft up here, Tegan said, guiding her toward a wooden staircase.

How do you know?

This was the warden's cottage when I was here last. Guess there's not much need for gamekeepers anymore, so Reichen's had it converted to house one of his many toys.

Elise lifted the ends of her skirt and Tegan's oversized leather coat and climbed up the stairs with him. At the top of the steps he opened a door that revealed a wide post-and-beam space above. It was rustic, but welcoming. Moonlight poured in through an A-shaped window that overlooked the lake. Big leather club chairs flanked a sofa positioned for the best views of the water, and set into the eastern wall was a fireplace built out of thick stone.

Knowing Reichen, there's got to be electricity out here, Tegan said from somewhere behind her. A second later, a table lamp went on across the room, activated by his will.

Actually, if you don't mind, I think I prefer the dark. It's peaceful.

The light blinked off, replaced once more by the cool pale wash of moonglow. Elise felt Tegan's eyes on her as she walked toward the window and gazed out into the night. Her heels sank into a plush white rug–sheepskin, she realized, glancing down at the fluffy, irregular shape of the floor covering. On impulse, she kicked off the elegant sandals and let her toes burrow in the luxuriously thick pelt.

Some of her anxiety faded at once. She gave herself over to the tranquil movement of the water outside, and the quiet darkness of the loft. The stress of the reception was ebbing away, but her pulse still thrummed from Tegan's kiss. She hadn't expected him to be so tender with her, or to open up like he had and share any part of his past.

She hadn't expected his desire.

He wanted her, and she wanted him too.

The space around them practically throbbed with that awareness, the air thick with all that was unspoken between them.

This is a bad idea, Tegan murmured as he came up beside her, his low, growling voice setting off a vibration deep in her bones. You shouldn't be alone with me right now.

Elise turned to look at him and was struck to see the dim glow of amber in his eyes. It hadn't faded since their kiss outside. Nor had the heat of his body. She could feel it radiating toward her, permeating the leather of the coat that draped her.

Tegan bared his teeth and fangs in a pained- looking smile. In case you're not sure, that's your cue to make a quick retreat.

She didn't move. She had absolutely no wish to leave right now, even though she knew Tegan wouldn't be the type to allow second chances. Holding his intense gaze, she watched as he came toward her and drew the coat from her shoulders. He set it down on the chair behind her. As he straightened, he skimmed his fingers over the bare curve of her arm. His touch was searing hot and yet she trembled from it.

Desire coiled within her. She wanted him to touch her, needed it so badly it wrung a soft moan from her throat. Tegan scowled, his tawny brows lowering over the glowing embers of his eyes. He retracted his hand with a glare. No, he said thickly. No, this is a very bad idea. I'll take more from you than you're willing to give.

When he turned as if he meant to walk away, Elise moved toward him and lifted her hand to the side of his rigid jaw. Tegan, wait. I don't want you to go.

She went closer to him, until their bodies brushed together in the dark. She heard his sharp intake of breath hiss through his teeth and fangs as she rose up on her toes in front of him. She felt the rush of heat roll off every coiled muscle of his body in that instant before she pressed her lips to his. She tasted the ferocity of his hunger in the way he wrapped his arms around her and dragged her deeper into his embrace, his mouth demanding as he took her tentative kiss and turned it into something fevered and dark.

He groaned, and Elise felt the long tips of his fangs rasp against her lips as he traced his tongue along the seam of her mouth. She let him in, reveling in the erotic invasion, unable to bite back her mewled complaint when he abruptly drew back.

His chest was heaving with every rough breath he dragged into his lungs. He stared at her from under low brows, the green of his eyes swamped completely by amber light, his pupils thinned to slivers in the center of all that fiery gold. Even in the dark, shrouded by his black combat gear, she could see that he was fully aroused. She'd felt the thick ridge of his sex pressing insistently against her in that moment before he pulled away. She knew that if she peeled off his weapons and fitted black knit shirt, she'd see his Gen One dermaglyphs churning with livid color. He'd never looked more predatory than he did in that moment–a massive, powerful Breed male who could have her beneath him in an instant.

Faster than that, if he willed it.

Perhaps she should fear him, now more than ever. But it wasn't fear that was making her knees feel boneless under her. It wasn't fear sending her heart into a frantic drum in her breast.

Nor was it fear that made her fingers tremble as she slowly reached behind her to find the zipper of her confining bodice and begin to tug it down.

Before the tiny teeth had parted more than an inch, Tegan's large hand closed around hers, stilling her. He held her there, her arm gently trapped behind her as he brought his free hand up between their bodies. His fingers moved over the detail of her gown's low neckline, skimming the edge of dark silk that framed the tops of her breasts. There was a delicious possessiveness in his touch, in the way he restrained her while his other hand roamed freely over her body.

When he kissed her now, it was blatantly carnal, a deep claiming of her mouth that mimicked the hard thrust of his hips where they pressed against her. The hand at her back pulled her forward as his eyes snapped open on her stunned gaze, those twin amber coals commanding her to understand how close she was to the ledge of a very steep fall.

If she tumbled down with him now, there would be no coming back. He would take her body, and he would take her blood. There was no mistaking that feral promise in his eyes.

As if to drive home his point, Tegan smoothed the flat of his hand higher, up the slope of her throat. He bared her neck and bent down over her, dragging his tongue along the path of her carotid. His fangs were a subtle, but unmistakable, abrasion as his mouth moved to a tender spot just below her ear.

A tremor of uncertainty rippled through her at the thought of where this was heading, more swiftly than she'd been prepared for.

She really shouldn't be here.

Shouldn't be doing this…

Tegan's chuckle sounded cruel, darkly satisfied. He released her at once, practically pushing her out of his reach.

Go on, he said, his voice so deep she hardly recognized it. Get out of here before we do something we'll both regret.

She brought her hand up to the side of her neck, where she could still feel the lingering heat of his mouth. Her pulse was hammering now, so loud it was audible to her own ears. When she drew her fingers away from her neck, she saw that the tips bore trace stains of blood.

Dear God, had he been so close to biting her?

Tegan's hungry gaze tracked her every movement, and he looked savage enough to pounce if she hesitated so much as a second longer.

What are you waiting for? I said get the fuck out of here! he bellowed, the animal snarl jolting her into action.

Elise grabbed her sandals from the floor beside her and ran out of the boathouse as fast as her feet would carry her.

Tegan dropped into the nearest chair as soon as he heard the boathouse door bang shut on Elise's heels.

He was physically shaking from need of her, all of his Breed senses torqued off the charts with the depth of his hunger for the female. Jesus Christ, he'd been just a fraction of a second away from sinking his fangs into her.

That unintentional graze of her skin, which brought only the faintest taste of her blood to his tongue, had practically laid him out. He shuddered from the heather-and-roses sweetness that still lingered in his mouth. His fangs throbbed, along with another part of his anatomy, both equally ravenous. Both damning him for letting Elise get away.

The only thing that had snapped him back to his wits was her sudden flood of anxiety. Through the connection of touch, he felt the jolt of fear override her desire–and not a moment too soon. She'd been too pliant, too accepting, even when he was deliberately pushing, wanting her to understand just where he wanted to take things.

Where he still wanted to take things with her.

Yeah, straight to hell, with him leading the way.

He gripped the leather arms of the club chair, digging his fingers into the supple hide to keep from vaulting to his feet and going out after her. Which was the very thing he ached to do.

The part of him that was more savage than human railed at being forced to heel. He was a predator at heart, and he never felt it more than he did in that moment, with his vampire eyes reflecting back at him from the glass of the boathouse window, his fangs stretched long and sharp as razors.

Every dark instinct in him was tuned on one thing: Elise.

Barely a taste of her and he was on fire with the need for more. How lost would he be if he ever got the chance to fill his mouth with that lush nectar running through her tender veins? Ah, fuck. He was in seriously bad shape.

And he needed to feed.

Not for sustenance so much as distraction. Because if he didn't slake at least one of the hungers sticking its talons into him, he was going to have the luscious Elise flat on her back beneath him before the night was through.

Elise didn't stop running until she had circled the mansion and found the front entrance. She knew she should go inside. It was late and she was cold. Her bare feet were wet and freezing, her body trembling from the wintry night air. She knew how close she'd come to disaster with Tegan; she should be grateful that he gave her the opportunity to escape what could only prove to be a heartbreaking mistake in the end.

And yet…

She stood on the wide marble steps that led up to safety, and her hand refused to reach for the door. The fear she'd felt moments ago in the boathouse had muted into something else– something that still unsettled her in many ways, but the sharp edge of it was gone.

She'd felt anxious, apprehensive in those passionate few minutes with Tegan. All too aware of his hunger for her, and stunned to realize how his hunger enflamed her. Now, having fled him like a coward, she felt…empty.

Elise backed away from the elegant manor house.

This wasn't what she wanted.

As soon as her soles hit the cold grass, she lifted her damp skirt and dashed back around the corner of the mansion. She cut across the long yard and gardens, breathless as she reached the dark brick-and-timber building near the water. She threw open the door and ran up the stairs to the loft, ready to let Tegan take whatever he wanted from her.

But the boathouse was empty.

He was already gone.

Tegan hoofed it back into the city, moving with the preternatural speed that made the Breed all but invisible to human eyes. He was glad for the long run from Reichen's lakeshore Darkhaven. He was glad for the chill snap in the air that helped clear his head after the near catastrophe with Elise.

But he was glad most of all for the thick clot of humanity that was prowling the darkened streets of Lichtenberg in Berlin's depressed Eastern District. Row upon row of twenty-story concrete high-rise eyesores towered over this former East Berlin sector, which only added to the general malaise of the place. There were few tourists here at this hour of night. Only grim-faced locals hurrying from late-shift jobs or the grimy brewhauses that catered to the working-class poor–folks who weren't leaving the GDR in this lifetime, wall or no wall.

Tegan scanned his surroundings with a hunter's eye. He was hardwired to look for Rogues, but he could tell at a glance there were no suckheads in the vicinity. While Boston had been practically overrun with the Bloodlusting bastards courtesy of Marek's recent reappearance, Berlin and most other major cities had been reporting only minimal Rogue activity for years.

And damn if that didn't suck ass.

Because right now, Tegan would have welcomed a good hard fight with his enemies– several, if he had his choice about it.

He had to force his aggression to heel as he stalked down one of the desolate streets that would lead him deeper into the district. He watched for his night's prey, ignoring a pair of human women who gave him the once-over as they stumbled out of a bar and into his path. He walked around them with an annoyed snarl.

He wouldn't feed from a female.

He hadn't in all this time…not since Sorcha's death.

It was his choice, something he'd adopted as self-imposed punishment for failing the innocent girl who had been so wrong in trusting him to keep her safe from his enemies. But somewhere along the way, Tegan's aversion to drinking from females, let alone binding himself to another Breedmate, had become an act of desperation.

It had become an act of plain survival.

His hungers ran too deep. And he knew from experience how easy it was to lose control. He'd tasted Bloodlust once before, and he could never allow himself to get close to it again.

That he'd been so tempted by Elise tonight had rattled him hard. He'd never wanted to take a female–to his mouth or to his bed–in a long span of time that had somehow become centuries. He'd been alone by his own will, bonded to nothing but his mission to wipe out the Rogues.

But now…?

Fuck, he ground out savagely from between clamped teeth and fangs.

Now he was about two seconds away from hauling ass back to the Darkhaven where Elise was probably cowering in terror from what he might have done to her–to them both–if he'd given in to the impulse to drink from her.

Instead, he plowed forward, his sights locking on to a trio of skinheads in black leather and chains. The white laces on their jackboots practically glowed in the scant light shed by the intermittent streetlamps overhead. They hooted at an elderly woman in a headscarf who was coming toward them up the sidewalk. Her dark eyes dropped to avoid facing the threat, and when she started to cross the street to get out of their way, the gang of neo-Nazis loped after her, taunting her with ugly racial slurs. They shoved her into the alcove of a nearby building, and one of them made a grab for her purse. The woman screamed and held on, and suddenly she was being dragged into the adjacent alley where the situation was sure to escalate.

Tegan moved in quickly, feeling battle rage transform him.

The first skinhead didn't know what hit him until he was thrown several yards into the street. Wisely, he got up, took one look at Tegan, and started running in the opposite direction. His companions took a bit more convincing. While one pulled the old woman farther into the alley by her purse strap, the other one drew a switchblade and made a jab at Tegan.

He missed.

But then it's damn hard to hit a target that's standing in front of you one second, then suddenly behind you the next, wrenching your arm out of its socket. The skinhead howled in agony, dropping the blade as he crumbled to his knees on the pavement.

Tegan's breath rolled out of his mouth in cloudy plumes, and his hands itched to finish the asshole, but the one who really needed killing was the one pounding his fists into a defenseless old woman a few yards away.

Get the fuck out of my sight, he snarled down at the whimpering human, peeling his lips back from his fangs to make sure the kid got a good eyeful of the hell he'd be dealing with if he decided to stick around. Ah, shit! the human gasped, reading Tegan loud and clear. He scrambled to his feet and took off running, his dislocated arm dangling uselessly at his side.

Tegan wheeled around and stalked into the alleyway where the last of the skinheads had finally wrestled the purse away from the old lady. He dug through the leather bag, dumping out the scant contents. He tore out the lining and let it fall to the ground.

Where's your cash, bitch? You've got to be hiding something in here to hold on as tight as you did!

The woman crawled forward to retrieve a small framed photo from the slushy pavement. My photograph, she wailed, her German tinged with an Arabic accent. It's all I have left of my husband. You've ruined it!

The skinhead laughed. Oh, my heart is breaking for you. Nasty foreign scum.

Tegan came up on the guy like a ghost. He clamped his hand around the back of the skinhead's neck and steered him away from the woman. In his periphery, he saw her collect her meager belongings and hurry out of the alley.

Hey, ubermensch, Tegan hissed about an inch away from the human's ear. You ever get tired of terrorizing old women? Maybe you wanna hit a hospital next, eh? Bet you could really do some damage on the children's ward. Or would the cancer wing be more your speed?

Fuck you, the thug seethed back at him in English. Maybe I show you the morgue, asshole.

Tegan smiled, flashing his fangs. Funny. That's exactly where you're headed.

The human hardly had a chance to scream before Tegan tore into his throat and began to feed.