Midnight Rising (Chapter Twenty-one)

He came back for her after a couple of hours and told her it was time to go. Dylan wasn't surprised that her next conscious memory was waking up in the backseat of a dark SUV as Rio brought it to a stop at the curb outside her Brooklyn apartment building. As she sat up drowsily, Rio met her gaze in the rearview mirror.

Dylan scowled at him. "You knocked me out again."

"For the last time," he said, his voice low, apologetic.

He killed the engine and opened the driver side door. He was alone up front, no sign of the two others who were supposed to be riding along. The ones who'd been ordered to take care of the other "loose ends" while Rio personally took care of her.

God, the thought of her mom coming in contact with the kind of dangerous inpiduals that Rio was apparently associated with made her shake with anxiety. Her mother was dealing with enough as it was; Dylan didn't want her anywhere near this dark new reality.

Dylan wondered how fast Rio would catch her if she tried to bolt out of the SUV. If she could get a large enough lead, she might be able to make a run for the subway station into Midtown where the hospital was. But who was she kidding? Rio had tracked her from Jicin to Prague. Finding her in Manhattan might prove a challenge for him…for all of about thirty seconds.

But damn it, she needed to see her mom. She needed to be with her, at her bedside, and see her face so she could know for certain that she was okay.

Please Lord, let her be okay.

"I thought you were going to have company for this trip," Dylan said, hoping by some miracle there had been a change of plans and Rio's friends had stayed behind. "What happened to the other guys who were supposed to come with you?"

"I dropped them off in the city. They didn't need to be here with us. They'll report back to me when they're finished."

"When they're finished terrorizing a bunch of innocent people, you mean? How do you know your vampire buddies won't decide to take a little blood donation along with the memories they're going to steal?"

"They have a specific mission, and they'll adhere to it."

She looked into the smoky topaz eyes staring back at her in the mirror. "Just like you, right?"

"Just like me." He got out of the vehicle and came to the back to grab her backpack and messenger bag from the seat beside her. "Come on, Dylan. We don't have a lot of time to wrap this up."

When she didn't move, he reached in and startled her with a gentle stroke of her cheek. "Come on. Let's get inside now. Everything's going to be all right."

She climbed out of the leather seat and walked up the concrete steps with him to her building's front door. Rio handed her the keys from out of her bag. Dylan turned the entryway lock and stepped inside the stale-smelling, robin's egg blue vestibule, feeling like she hadn't been home in ten years.

"My apartment's on the second floor," she murmured, but then Rio probably already knew that. He followed close behind her as the two of them climbed the stairs up to her hole-in-the-wall place at the back of the common hallway.

She unlocked the door and Rio walked in ahead of her, keeping her in back of him as though he were accustomed to entering dangerous places and doing it at the front of the line. He was a warrior, all right. If his cautious demeanor and immense size didn't confirm it, the big gun he was concealing in the back waistband of his black cargo pants would have done so in spades. She watched as he checked out the place, pausing next to a computer workstation that sat on a small writing desk in the corner.

"Am I going to find anything on this machine that shouldn't be there?" he asked as he turned it on and the monitor lit him up in a pale blue light.

"That computer is old. I hardly ever use it."

"You won't mind if I check," he said, not really a question when he was already bringing up files and having a look at what they contained. He wouldn't find anything but some of her earliest articles and old correspondence.

"Do you have a lot of enemies?" Dylan asked, trailing over to him.

"We have enough."

"I'm not one of them, you know." She flipped on a light, more for her benefit than his, since he obviously didn't mind the dark. "I'm not going to tell anyone about what you've told me, or what I've seen these past several days. None of it, I swear to you. And not because you're going to take those memories away from me either. I would keep your secrets safe, Rio. I just want you to know that."

"It's not that simple," he said, facing her now. "It wouldn't be safe. Not for you, or for us. Our world protects its own, but there are dangers and we can't be everywhere. Letting someone outside the vampire nation carry information about us could be catastrophic. Occasionally it is done, even though it's ill-advised. A human here or there has been trusted with the truth, but it's rare in the extreme. Personally I've never seen it work out well in the end. Someone always gets hurt."

"I can take care of myself."

He chuckled, but there was little humor in it. "I have no doubt. But this is different, Dylan. You're not just a human. You're a Breedmate, and that will always mean you're different. You can bond with a male of my kind through blood and you can live forever. Well, something close to forever."

"You mean like Tess and her mate?"

Rio nodded. "Like them, yes. But to be a part of the Breed's world, you would have to cut your ties to the human one. You'd have to leave them behind."

"I can't do that," she said, her brain automatically shutting down the idea of leaving her mom. "My family is here."

"The Breed is your family too. They would care for you as family, Dylan. You could make a very nice life for yourself in the Darkhavens."

She couldn't help but notice that he was talking about all of this from a comfortable distance, keeping himself totally out of the equation. Part of her wondered if it would be so easy to turn him down if he were asking her personally to join his world.

But he wasn't doing that at all. And Dylan's choice, easy or not, would have been the same regardless of what he was offering her.

She shook her head. "My life is here, with my mom. She's always been there for me, and I can't leave her. I wouldn't. Not now. Not ever."

And she needed to find a way to get to her soon, she thought, weathering Rio's steady, measuring gaze. She didn't want to wait until he decided to start scrubbing her memory now that she'd opted out of the vampire lottery.

"I…um…I've got to use the bathroom," she murmured. "I hope you don't think you're going to stand guard over me while I go?"

Rio's eyes narrowed slightly, but he gave a slow shake of his head. "Go on. But don't take long."

Dylan couldn't believe he was actually letting her walk into the adjacent bathroom and shut herself inside. For all his cautious recon of her apartment, he must have missed the fact that there was a small window next to the toilet.

A window that opened onto a fire escape, which led down to the street below.

Dylan turned on the faucet and ran a hard stream of cold water into the sink while she considered the insanity of what she was about to attempt. She had two-hundred-plus pounds of combat-trained, seriously armed vampire waiting for her on the other side of the door. She'd already witnessed his lightning-fast reflexes, so the odds of outrunning him were pretty much zilch. All she could hope for was a sneak escape, and that would mean getting the decrepit window open without making too much noise, then climbing down the rickety fire escape without having it crumble beneath her. If she managed to clear those sizable obstacles, all she'd have to do is start running till she hit the subway station.

Yeah, piece of cake.

She knew it was nuts, even as she hurried to the window and slid the sash lock free. The window needed a good jab to loosen the several coats of old paint that had all but sealed it shut. Dylan coughed a couple of times, loud enough to mask the noise as she knocked the window frame with the heel of her palm.

She waited a second, listening for movement in the other room. When she didn't hear any, she lifted the window and got a faceful of humid city night air.

Oh, Christ. Was she really going to do this?

She had to.

Nothing else mattered but seeing her mom.

Dylan put herself halfway out the window to make sure the way down was clear. It was. She could do this. She had to try. With a couple of good deep breaths to gird herself, Dylan tapped the flusher and then climbed out the window as the toilet whooshed into action behind her.

Her descent down the fire escape was rushed and clumsy, but in a few seconds her feet touched down on the pavement. As soon as she hit the ground, she gunned it for the subway.

Over the rush of water running in the bathroom sink, Rio had indeed heard the nearly silent slide of the window being pushed open behind that closed door. The flushing toilet didn't quite mask the metallic clank of the fire escape as Dylan carefully climbed out onto it.

She was attempting escape, just as he expected she would.

He'd seen the wheels turning in her head as he talked with her, a look of rising desperation coming into her eyes every moment she was forced to stay in the apartment with him. He'd known, even before she made the excuse of needing to use the bathroom, that she was going to try to get away from him at her first opportunity.

Rio could have stopped her. He could stop her now, as she clambered down the rickety steel ladder to the street below her apartment. But he was more curious about where she planned to run. And to whom.

He'd believed her when she said she had no intention of exposing the Breed to human news outlets. If it turned out she was lying to him, he didn't know what he would do. He didn't want to think he could be so wrong about her – told himself none of that would matter at all if he just wiped her mind clean of the knowledge.

But he'd hesitated to scrub her on the spot after she said she wouldn't leave her human world for that of the Breed. He hesitated because he realized, selfishly, that he wasn't quite ready to erase himself from her thoughts.

And now she was running off into the night, away from him.

With a headful of memories and knowledge that he damn well couldn't allow her to keep.

Rio got up from Dylan's computer desk and walked into the small bathroom. It was empty, as he knew it would be, the window yawning open onto the dark summer night outside.

He climbed out, boots hitting the fire escape for a split second before he leaped from the structure and landed on the asphalt below. Tipping his head back, he dragged the air into his lungs until he caught Dylan's scent.

Then he went after her.