Midnight Awakening (Chapter Fourteen)

The wait until the following evening seemed unending to Elise. She'd gotten dressed and crept out of Tegan's quarters in absolute shame immediately after he left her there, somehow managing to find her way to the room Gabrielle had prepared for her elsewhere in the compound without being seen. Once inside the comfortable suite, she had holed up like a hermit, feigning a headache so that she could take her meals in privacy and not have to face scrutiny from the other women–or, God forbid, any of the warriors–for anything they may know about what had transpired between Tegan and her.

Not that Tegan would have spoken of what they'd done.

She had most certainly disgusted him, if not by her use of him as her blood Host, then most definitely by her humiliatingly base reaction during the event. She could hardly stand to think on it now, and she didn't suppose an apology to Tegan would be enough to excuse her behavior.

Supposing he would even give her a chance to attempt one.

In the nearly twenty hours that he'd been gone, it didn't appear that anyone had heard from him at all. He hadn't said where he was going–just put on his clothes and a pair of black combat boots, then left Elise alone in his quarters like he couldn't bear to be near her for another second. Understandable, of course. She had embarrassed them both.

Part of her considered abandoning the idea of going with him to Berlin–to save what was left of her pride, if nothing else. But she had already taken things this far, and it was a little late to turn back now.

She could feel Tegan's blood inside her, the low hum of power that beat in her temples and in each of her pulse points. Five years without Breed blood in her body had sapped her of more than she realized, but drinking from Tegan was a revelation. She felt him flowing through her muscles, bones, and cells, giving her a vitality she had almost forgotten was possible. Even her senses were tuning up, becoming more acute, just after that one taste from the warrior's Gen One veins.

And because of that blood connection to him, she felt the precise moment when Tegan entered the compound. He was there, somewhere, his arrival like a light blinking on in a shadowed corner of her mind.

This was the connection she could never break with him now–this bone-deep awareness of him. She would always be drawn to Tegan, conscious of him on an elemental level, until the day that one or the other of them died.

God, what had she done? Elise paced the living room of her guest quarters, anxious now that the time was coming that she would be leaving with Tegan for Berlin. Maybe she should venture out into the compound to find him and make sure that he didn't intend to depart without her. Maybe she should wait for him to come to her?

She heaved a sigh and started for the door–

At the very second a knock sounded on the other side.

It wasn't Tegan; her senses told her that much. Elise opened the door and was stunned to find a familiar face outside.

Oh. She glanced down, surprised and shamed. Hello, Sterling.

She couldn't look at him now, especially when he was standing there with genuine concern in his eyes.

I heard you weren't feeling well. Savannah said you've been in here alone all day, so I…I wanted to check and make sure you're all right.

Elise nodded. I'm fine. Just a headache. To be honest, I needed some time alone.

Of course. Sterling's voice was schooled, almost awkwardly so. He let a long moment pass before he spoke again. I cannot believe what he did to you in the lab, why he felt the need to say what he did–

No, don't. Don't feel sorry for me. There is no need, Sterling.

He exhaled sharply, anger radiating from his stiff stance in the doorway. Tegan was way out of line. He had no right to speak to you like that. I don't expect him to have honor enough to apologize for what he subjected you to, so I've come to do it for him.

You don't have to, she said, looking up into those familiar, flinty blue eyes. Yes, I do, he insisted. And not just for Tegan's behavior, but for my own as well. Ah, Christ, Elise. What happened to Camden that night outside the Darkhaven…I'm so sorry. I'm so damned sorry for everything that happened. If I could have traded places with him–if it could have been me who'd gone Rogue…me in front of that gun when the trigger was pulled…

I know. She reached out to her brother-in- law, and gently squeezed his muscled forearm. I'm sorry too.

He gave her a grim look, tried to dismiss her regret with a stiff shake of his head.

But she couldn't let the rest go unsaid now.

Yes, hear me out, please. I blamed you for Camden's death, Sterling, and that was wrong of me. You did everything you could to save him. I know what it cost you. I am the one owing an apology. You felt responsible for him…for me…and I let you shoulder that burden when I shouldn't have. It wasn't fair to you.

Something tender moved across his features. You were never a burden.

Not yours, certainly, she said, as gentle as she could be. It was wrong of me that I never pointed that fact out to you. I should have made sure you understood how I felt.

He went rigid at the words, his jaw going tight.

Sterling, I never meant to hurt you, or to make you think we might in any way, at any time–

You were never anything but proper, Elise.

His clipped, careful tone was brittle to her ears. But I still hurt you. He slowly shook his head. All of my decisions have been my own. You've done nothing to regret.

Don't be so certain of that, she murmured, thinking on all her past mistakes, not the least of which would probably prove to be the blasphemy of a blood bond she'd instigated with Tegan.

She felt the warrior's presence getting stronger within her, and knew that wherever he was in the compound now, he was coming closer. She could feel him in the warmth skating along her limbs, and in the prickle of the fine hairs at the back of her neck.

I appreciate your concern, Sterling, truly. But everything is fine. I'm fine.

His light brown brows were knit together in a scowl. You don't look fine. You look flushed. You have goose bumps on your arms.

It's nothing.

He stared at her face, which was probably pink with color from both the recent nourishment of Tegan's blood and the sudden flood of embarrassment that Sterling would soon guess the cause of her discomfort for himself.

That dawning came over him instantly. It was evident in the fall of his expression, then the glowering rage that filled his eyes with indigo fire.

"What did he do to you?"

Nothing, she said, awash in humiliation but through no fault of Tegan's.

You drank from him.

It was an accusation that Elise could not deny. It's nothing. Don't worry about me–

Did he belittle you into thinking you had to do this? Did he…seduce you into drinking from him? Sterling hissed an oath, his fangs emerging in his rage. I'll fucking kill him. If he forced you, I swear to you, that bastard will pay–

Tegan didn't force me to do anything. I went to him. It was my choice. I asked him to let me use him. It was my doing, Sterling. Not any of his.

You went to him? He looked at her as if she'd slapped him. You drank from him by choice. Jesus, Elise…why?

Because I made a promise to Camden that I'd do whatever I could to make sure no one else was hurt by the Rogues or those who serve them. I made a vow, but I can't live up to it if my body isn't strong. Tegan was right. I needed Breed blood, and he gave it to me.

Sterling raked his hand through his hair, then over his face. When he reached out to take hold of her shoulders, his eyes were wild with pain, his fingers gripping her hard.

You didn't have to demean yourself with a stranger, Elise. Goddamn it, you could have come to me. You should have come to me!

She jumped at the harsh spike in his voice, and at the ferocity of his handsome face. When she tried to slip out of his strong grasp, he only held tighter.

I would have taken care of you. I would have treated you right. Don't you know that?

Sterling, please let go of me. You're hurting me.

"I'd do as the lady asks, Harvard."

The cool command issued from just a few feet away in the corridor. Tegan stood there, garbed in a graphite-colored sweater and black pants. His arms were crossed, one thick shoulder leaning against the white marble wall.

Everything about his stance said he couldn't be bothered with the little conflict playing out between Elise and her deceased mate's brother, but Tegan's eyes told a different story. His stare was locked on Sterling, unblinking. Threatening in its steady hold on the other male.

Elise brought her hands up to touch the ones still gripping her like a vise. Sterling, please…

He looked at her, stricken, and let go at once. I'm sorry. Now I'm the one who's overstepped my bounds. This won't happen again, I promise you.

Damn right it won't, Tegan said, his tone oddly protective even though he hadn't moved from his position across the corridor. As Sterling backed off, clearly distressed by his uncharacteristic display, Tegan finally glanced away from him to look at Elise. The plane is ready. Are you coming or not?

Elise swallowed, and gave a wobbly nod of her head. I am.

Awkwardly, she inched away from Sterling. She felt his eyes on her as she slipped out into the hallway. The weight of her brother-in-law's sullen stare remained with her as she fell in beside Tegan and walked the length of the corridor at his side.

Chase stood in the hallway long after Elise and Tegan disappeared from view. He couldn't pretend he was surprised that Elise rejected him. That hurt had been a long time coming, and one he knew he'd brought upon himself.

She had never been his, no matter how he had wished things to be different. She had belonged to his brother. In her heart she probably still did, even though she'd finally traded her mourning widow's whites for street clothes.

And now a part of her belonged irrevocably to Tegan. That was the truth that stunned him most. Tegan, the deadliest of the Order, the coldest. The one with the least regard for life–his own, or anyone else's.

Yet in her need, Elise had turned to him.

Had Tegan bedded her in the process? Chase refused to consider that likelihood, although it would be virtually unheard of for a Breed vampire to put a female to his vein and not be overcome with the sexual impulse to take her body in return. Tegan wasn't one to brag about his conquests–in all the months Chase had been among the Order, he'd never once heard a single boast of any kind from the warrior–but the many nights Tegan spent unaccounted for outside the compound left little doubt that the warrior had his own private itches to scratch. A sheltered female like Elise was probably no more than a moment's amusement to an icy inpidual like Tegan.

Goddamn it, Chase muttered, pounding the corridor wall with his fist. It was a futile exercise that only brought him more pain. But right now, he welcomed the hurt. He wanted to bleed. So much the better if he could take out a few Rogues in the process.

He stalked up the hallway and found Dante hanging outside the tech lab with Niko, Brock, and Kade. All of them were armed like Chase, suited up for the night's patrol topside.

Dante gave him a cautious nod of greeting as he approached, his whiskey-colored eyes narrowing thoughtfully. They're gone, he said, as if Chase ought to be relieved to hear it. You okay, Harvard?

Do I look like I need a fucking group hug? he snapped. I'll be a hell of a lot better once my feet are on pavement and my hand's stained with Rogue blood. Anyone game to smoke some suckheads tonight, or would you all rather stand around here thinking about it?

He didn't wait for an answer, just headed off for the compound's elevator with dark, deadly purpose, the other warriors falling in behind him.