Midnight Awakening (Chapter Six)

Elise woke up slowly, feeling as though her consciousness had been transported somewhere far away and tranquil, only to be returned to her body like a feather carried gently on the breeze. Maybe it was a dream. A long, sweet dream…a peace she hadn't known for months. She stretched a little on the futon, her bare legs rasping against the terry-cloth of her bathrobe and the soft crush of a blanket that covered her from chin to toe. She snuggled deeper into the pleasant warmth, sighing, and the sound of her own breath startled her.

No noise.

No blaring music or chattering television, even though she couldn't sleep–could hardly function–without them.

Her eyes snapped open and she waited for the psychic assault to hit her. But there was only silence. Dear Lord. Seconds passed, then a full minute or more…and there was only blessed, wondrous silence.

Sleep well?

The deep male voice carried from across the studio apartment somewhere. She smelled toast browning, and the buttery scent of eggs sizzling in a fry pan. Tegan was standing in her meager kitchen, apparently cooking breakfast. Which only made the surrealism of the morning that much more complete.

What happened? Her voice was a soft croak in her throat. She cleared it and tried again. What are you doing here?

Oh, God. He didn't have to answer because she remembered as soon as the words left her lips. She recalled the migraine that had laid her low, and the unexpected return of Tegan some hours after he'd found her following her run-in with the Rogues. He'd come back and broken into her apartment for some reason. Had muted the cushioning noise that she needed so badly.

Elise remembered waking in agony. In a flood of humiliation, she remembered collapsing in a blind hysteria near the window, trying to fix the soundproofing–which was all neatly back in place now, she noticed.

And she also remembered the sensation of being soothed into a calming state of numbness…

By Tegan? Holding her robe in place, Elise moved aside the blanket and carefully eased herself into a sitting position on the futon. She still didn't trust her surroundings, certain the blast of mental anguish was going to hit her at any moment.

What did you do to me last night?

You needed help, so I helped you.

He made it sound like an accusation as he leaned back against the counter near the stove, watching her with a look of cool detachment. He was dressed in night battle clothes: a black knit tee- shirt and black fatigues; his leather gun holster and belt of terrible-looking blades lay on the counter across from him.

Elise met the sharp, measuring gaze that was fixed on her from across the room. You knocked me out somehow?

Just a mild trance so you could sleep.

She clutched the lapels of her bathrobe in her fist, suddenly very aware of the fact that she didn't have anything on beneath the loose drape of the terry-cloth. And last night, this warrior had put her in a forced doze, leaving her totally at his mercy? A tremor of alarm ran through her at the thought.

Tegan must have read the look in her eyes because he scoffed a bit, low under his breath. So, you Darkhaven folks see the Order not only as cold-blooded killers but rapists as well? Or is that distinction reserved primarily for me alone?

You've never hurt me, Elise said, feeling bad that she'd let her ingrained biases doubt him. If you wanted to do anything harmful to me, I think you would have by now.

He smirked. Such a ringing declaration of faith. I suppose I should be flattered.

And I really should be thanking you, Tegan. You helped me twice last night. And I never thanked you for your kindness a few months ago either, when you gave me a ride home from the Order's compound.

Forget it, he said, shrugging one broad shoulder as if the topic were closed before she'd even had a chance to crack it open.

That November evening was never far from Elise's mind. After viewing Camden on video surveillance captured by the Order, Elise had dissolved in one of the compound's many corridors. Bereft, in shock and denial, it had been Tegan who'd found her. Incredibly, it had been Tegan who took her out of the compound and drove her to her Darkhaven home in the waning hours before dawn.

She had embarrassed herself with tears that wouldn't end, but he'd let her spill them all. He'd let her weep, and even more astonishingly, he'd let her crumble against him, holding her through her grief in silence. With his strong arms wrapped around her, he held her together when she felt like she was being torn into pieces by her anguish.

He couldn't have known he'd been her rock that night. Maybe it had meant nothing to him, but she would never forget his unexpected tenderness. When she'd finally found the strength to remove herself from the car, Tegan had merely watched her go, then drove away from the curb and out of her life…until last night in that alleyway when he'd saved her from the Rogues.

The trance I put you in last night is still active, Tegan said, evidently deciding to change the subject. That's why your talent is muted now. The block will hold so long as I'm here to keep it in place.

He crossed his arms over his chest, drawing her eye down to the elaborate pattern of dermaglyphs that tracked up his forearms and disappeared under the short sleeves of his shirt. Where glyphs served as emotional barometers on members of the Breed, Tegan's were only a shade darker than his golden skin tone at the moment, giving away nothing of the warrior's mood.

Elise had seen his impressive Breed skin markings once before, when she'd first spoken with him at the Order's compound a few months ago. She didn't want to stare, but it was hard not to marvel at the swirling arcs and elegant, interlocking geometric designs that distinguished Tegan as one of the oldest of the race. He was of the Breed's first generation; if the depth of his powers didn't out him as such, the prevalence and complexity of his glyphs certainly did.

But the fact that he was Gen One also made him most vulnerable to things like sunlight, which, at the current hour of morning, was a very real concern.

It's past nine A.M., she said, in case he hadn't noticed. You stayed here all night.

Tegan merely turned away to spoon up a plateful of scrambled eggs. He turned off the electric burner, then popped the toaster and added the slice of bread to the plate. Come over here and eat while it's warm.

Elise didn't realize how hungry she was until she reached the counter and took her first bite of food. There was nothing she could do to hold back her little moan of pleasure as she chewed. Oh, this is wonderful.

That's because you're starving.

Tegan went to the mini refrigerator and came back with a protein shake in a plastic bottle. Aside from the eggs, yogurt, and a couple of apples, there wasn't much more to be found in there. She'd been living on meager sustenance, not because of the cost, but because it was hard to think about eating when her migraines were so severe. Which was a daily occurrence since she'd left the Darkhaven–worse each day she ventured out among humankind to hunt Minions.

You're not going to last, you know. Not like this. Tegan placed the shake down in front of her, then went back to his post against the opposite counter. I know what it's doing to you, living here among the humans. I know how hard the psychic input hits you, Elise. You have no control over it, and that's a dangerous thing. It can destroy you. I felt what it does to you, when I pulled you up off the floor a few hours ago.

She recalled her initial encounters with Tegan, how his touch had made her feel somehow exposed to him. The first time she experienced the warrior's touch had been when he and Dante had shown up at the Darkhaven looking for her brother- in-law. The warriors had confronted Sterling in front of the residence, and when Elise ran out at the commotion, it was Tegan who grabbed her and held her away from the fray.

Now, after last night, he understood the flaw that had kept her prisoner in the Darkhavens all her life. Judging from the dispassionate look he trained on her, she wondered if he intended to see her put back in that cage again.

Your body is weakening from the strain you're putting it through, Elise. You're not equipped to handle what you're doing.

She shook the plastic bottle he'd given her, then cracked the seal. I'm coping well enough.

Yeah, I see that. He shot a meaningful glance at all of the soundproofing she'd tacked onto the walls in an effort to damper her ability. Looked to me like you were coping real well last night.

You didn't have to help me. I know, he said, no expression in his tone or in his face.

Why did you? How come you came back here?

He lifted one thick shoulder in a shrug. I thought you might like to know that the Order took out the Crimson lab. The lab, the manufacturing supplies, the inpiduals running the facility…all of it is ash now.

Oh, thank God.

Relief washed over her like a balm. Elise closed her eyes, feeling hot tears well up behind her lids. At least the insidious drug that stole Camden couldn't harm any other woman's son now. It took her a moment to compose herself enough to look at Tegan again, and when she did, she found that gem-green gaze fixed hard on her.

She wiped at the tears that streaked her cheeks, embarrassed that the warrior should see her break down. I'm sorry. I don't mean to be so emotional. There's just this…hole…in my heart, ever since Quentin died. Then, when I lost my son… She trailed off, unable to describe how empty she felt. I just…ache.

It will pass. His voice was crisp and flat, like a slap to the face.

How can you say that?

Because it's true. Grief is a useless emotion. The sooner you figure that out, the better off you'll be.

Elise gaped at him, appalled. What about love?

What about it?

Haven't you ever lost someone you loved? Or do males like you, who live for killing and destruction, even know what it is to love?

He didn't so much as blink at her angry outburst, just held her in a steady, unflappable stare that made her want to launch across the counter and strike him.

Finish your breakfast, he told her with aggravating civility. You should rest while you can. As soon as the sun sets, I'm out of here, and you'll be back to your own defenses. Such as they are.

He walked over to the long black trench coat that was draped neatly over the treadmill and coolly fished out his cell phone. As he began to dial, Elise had the sudden absurd urge to pick up the plate in front of her and hurl it at him, just to get some kind of reaction out of the stony warrior.

But while she listened to him call in to the Order's compound, that deep voice of his so matter-of-fact and unreadable, Elise realized that she didn't so much dislike him as she envied him. How did he manage to keep himself so cold and disengaged? His psychic gift was not so different from her own. Last night, he had experienced her torment through his touch but it hadn't laid him low like it did to her. How was it he could withstand the pain?

Perhaps it was his Gen One strength that made him so impenetrable, so totally aloof. But perhaps it was training. If it was something he'd learned, then it could be taught.

Show me how you do it, Elise said as he ended his call and flipped the phone shut.

Show you what?

You say I need to learn some control over my mind's powers, so show me what I need to do. Teach me. I want to be like you.

No, you don't.

She walked around the edge of the counter to where he stood. Tegan, show me. I can be an asset to you and to the Order. I want to help. I need to help, do you understand? Forget it. He started to stalk away from her.

Why, because I'm female?

In a move so fast it stole her breath, Tegan wheeled around on her and pinned her with his fierce predator's eyes. Because you're motivated by pain, and that's a fatal weakness right out of the gate. You're too raw. You're too swamped in your own self-pity to be of use to anyone.

Fire flashed in his gaze, then banked as quickly as it had risen. Elise swallowed hard as she registered his cutting words. The assessment stung, but it was true. She blinked slowly, then gave an admitting nod of her head.

The best place for you is in the Darkhavens, Elise. Out here, like you are, you're a liability–to yourself especially. I'm not saying it to be cruel.

No, of course you aren't, she agreed softly. Because even cruelty would imply some kind of feeling, wouldn't it?

She didn't say another word. Didn't so much as look at him as she retrieved her plate from the counter and walked it to the sink.

What do you mean, it's gone? The leader of the Rogues sat forward in his leather chair, planting his elbows on the surface of a large mahogany desk and steepling his fingers as the voice of a nervous Minion cracked over the speaker phone.

The call came in to the firehouse late last night, sire. There was an explosion. Whole friggin' warehouse went up like a Roman candle. No saving it, according to the guys who responded to the call. Initial reports say there appears to have been a gas leak– With a snarl, Marek jabbed the End button, cutting off his human servant's useless report.

There was no way in hell the Crimson lab was destroyed by chance or faulty utilities. This bit of infuriating news had the Order written all over it. The only thing that surprised him was that it had taken this long for his brother Lucan and the warriors who fought alongside him to make their move on the place. But then, Marek had been keeping them busy fighting Rogues in the streets since last summer.

Which was exactly where he wanted the Order's focus to remain.

Hold them off with one hand so the other could do the real work unnoticed and undisturbed.

It was the reason he'd come to Boston in the first place. The reason this particular city was experiencing an increased Rogue problem. All just part of his plan to create havoc while he pursued a bigger prize. If he could take out the warriors in the process, so much the better, but keeping them distracted would serve him just as well. Once his true goal was achieved, even the Order would be powerless against him.

And as much as the loss of the Crimson lab infuriated him, the even greater irritation was the fact that one of his other Minions had failed to report in as instructed. Marek was waiting on information–vital information–and his patience was thin even in the best of situations.

It didn't bode well that his Minion was late. The human he'd recruited for this particular job was volatile and arrogant, but he was also reliable. All Minions were. Drained to within a bare inch of life, the human mind slaves were under the complete control of the vampire who made them. Only the most powerful among the vampire race could create Minions, and Breed law had long prohibited the practice as barbaric.

Marek scoffed with contempt at the self- imposed, bureaucratic castration of his kind.

Just one more example of why the vampire realm was overdue for change. They needed strong new leadership to usher in a new age.

The new age that would belong to him.