Shades of Midnight (Chapter Seven)

Kade waited out the short few hours of daylight in the cabin at the Toms settlement. As soon as it was safe for him and his solar-sensitive Breed skin to venture outside, he took off on foot once more, this time heading for the ten-thousand-acre plot of land his family owned north of Fairbanks. He wondered how he would be greeted in his father's Darkhaven compound–he, the prodigal, the unapologetic black sheep, who'd left a year ago without excuse or explanation, and never looked back. He felt some guilt for that, but didn't figure anyone would believe him if he said it. He wondered if Seth would be at the compound when he arrived, and, if so, what his brother would say about the killings that had brought Kade home from Boston to investigate on behalf of the Order. But more than any of that, Kade wondered what it was that Alexandra Maguire was hiding. Kade had enough personal experience with keeping secrets to guess that the attractive female bush pilot wasn't being entirely honest about what she knew of the recent deaths–not with the townsfolk or local law enforcement, nor with him earlier today. Possibly not even with herself. He could have pushed her for the truth when he'd met her at the Toms settlement, but Alex didn't seem the type to be forced into doing anything she didn't want to do. Kade would need to win her trust in order to win the information he needed from her.

He might even have to seduce it out of her, an idea he considered with far too much interest. Yeah. Tough job, getting close to Alexandra Maguire. Every mission should demand that onerous a task. Thoughts of how he would play things with her the next time he saw her made the hours and miles fall away behind him. In no time, he had reached the huge tract of forested, virgin wilderness that had been in his family's possession for centuries. The familiar smell of the woods and the earth that lay dormant beneath the snow put a tightness in his chest. For so long, this expanse of land had been his home, his kingdom and domain.

How many times had he and Seth run wild and whooping through this very forest, brothers-in-arms, young lords of the chase? Too many to recall.

But Kade remembered the night that the idyll of their shared childhood had ended. He still felt the weight of that moment in the cold hand of dread that clamped down on the back of his neck as he approached the sprawling compound of hand-hewn log buildings that comprised his father's Darkhaven. Unlike most Breed civilian communities, this Darkhaven had no perimeter fence or closed-circuit security cameras. There were no guards posted along the way, either. Then again, this far out in the bush, there was no need. The land itself acted as sentry to the many residences and the people living within them. Harsh, remote, expansive.

If the predators on four legs didn't dissuade any unwanted human visitors from stumbling onto the property, Kade's father and the roughly twenty other Breed males living inside the Darkhaven would be happy to take care of them.

Kade trudged through the snowy path that led up to the large main house. He knocked on the doorjamb, uncomfortable entering the place unannounced.

His father's younger brother came to the door and opened it. "What are you doing standing out there in the snow, Seth …?"

"Uncle Maksim," Kade said, tipping his head in greeting when recognition lit up the other male's face. "How are you, Max?"

The Breed male was nearly three hundred years old but, like all of their kind, looked to be in the prime of life with his unlined face and thick brown hair. "I am well," he replied. "This is certainly a welcome surprise, Kade. Your father will be so pleased that you are home." Kade resisted the urge to chuckle at that sentiment, but only because he knew his uncle meant it as kindness. "Is he here?"

Maksim nodded. "In his study. My God, it's a relief to see you again and to know that you are alive and well. You'd been away so long without contact, I'm afraid many of us had assumed the worst about you."

"Yeah," Kade said, knowingly wry. "I get that a lot. Will you tell my father I'm here?" His uncle clapped him lightly on the shoulder. "I'll do better than that. Come with me. I'll take you to him myself."

Kade followed the big male through the massive residence to the private study that overlooked the broad western range of the property. Maksim rapped his knuckles on the door, then squeezed the latch and pushed it open.

"Kir. Look who's returned home, my brother."

Kade's father turned away from an open program on his computer, rotating in his large leather chair to face them. Kade watched the stern expression darken from one of surprise and relief, to one of confusion and not-too-mild disappointment when he realized it was the prodigal son who waited at the threshold, not the favored one. The scowl deepened. "Kade."

"Father," he replied, knowing there would be no emotional embraces or warm welcomes as his father got up from his seat and strode around to the front of his long desk. He spared only the barest glance at his brother who stood behind Kade near the door. "Leave us, Maksim."

Kade felt rather than saw his uncle's silent, obedient retreat from the room. He watched his father instead, seeing the harsh disapproval in the dark gaze that pinned him across the distance of the private study. Kade set down his duffel of belongings and weaponry and awaited his father's displeasure.

"You failed to mention you intended to come home when we spoke a couple days ago." When Kade offered no excuse, his father exhaled sharply. "Then again, that's hardly surprising. You didn't bother to say much before you left us a year ago, either. Just walked away with no thought to responsibility or to your much before you left us a year ago, either. Just walked away with no thought to responsibility or to your family."

"It was time for me to go," Kade replied after a long moment. "There were things I needed to do." His father's scoff sounded brittle with animosity. "I hope it was worth it. You broke your mother's heart, you realize that, don't you? Until you called out of the blue the other day, she was certain you'd gone off and gotten yourself killed by joining up with those warrior vigilantes back in Boston. And although Seth would be the last person to speak poorly of you, I can tell you that your leaving broke his heart, too. Your brother has changed since you've been away."

And of course, the blame for that and everything else sat squarely on Kade's shoulders. He shook his head, knowing that it was no use trying to defend himself or the Order. Lucan and the other warriors didn't need his father's support or approval. For that matter, neither did he.

He'd survived without that for a long damned time already, and he had since given up needing to prove himself to the man.

"So, Seth is still away on business for you?"

His father met the question with a narrow look. "He's due back soon. I presume he will also feed while he's gone, which is likely the reason for his delay."

"What about Patrice?"

"They are not yet mated," came his father's clipped reply. Kade grunted in acknowledgment, and wished he could feel more surprise to hear this news. For half a dozen years, it had been accepted that Seth and Patrice, one of the Breedmates who lived in the family Darkhaven since she was a child, would eventually become a blood-bonded pair. At that time, Patrice had chosen him above all the other males in the region, and to his parents' delight, Seth had agreed to make the female his mate. Problem was, he seemed to find one good excuse after another to put her off. Without a Breedmate to fulfill a vampire's need for blood, he was forced to feed off the mortal population for sustenance instead. Most Breed males welcomed the unbreakable, eternal bond that would release them from the slavery of their bloodthirst and provide a steady, loving source of strength and passion for the whole of a male's life.

But there were some who preferred to remain unattached, hunting where they willed, relishing the constant chase and conquest of new human prey.

Kade himself was in no rush to lock himself down with a Breedmate of his own, another point of contention with his father and mother, who had been blood-bonded and happily mated for more than a century. Instead they'd pinned their hopes on Seth. He'd been the studious one, the cerebral one, who it was assumed would one day take the reins as the leader of the family Darkhaven or form his own. Kade had always been the raucous opposite of his brother. It was that reckless streak that had likely condemned him in his father's eyes, while Seth's careful outward control had given him seemingly limitless freedoms.

"Well," his father said after a prolonged silence. "Since you've come to your senses and returned home now, I trust this means you're ready to try to be part of the family once more. As it seems you've come back with barely more than the clothes on your back, I'll make arrangements to transfer some funds into your old account."

"I didn't come here for a handout," Kade bit off, his anger spiking at the assumption. "And as for staying, it's not in my plan–"

"Where is my son?" Kade's words were cut short by a petite cyclone who threw open the doors of the study and breezed inside. "It really is you! Oh, Kade!"

She pulled Kade into a fierce embrace, her body vibrating with emotion. His mother was just as beautiful and vibrant as ever–more so, her glow enhanced by the large, expectant swell of her belly beneath the loose-fitting, winter-white sweater and pants she wore. Ebony-haired with pale silver eyes that matched both his and Seth's, Kade's mother, Victoria, was a breathtaking woman. Like her mate, she, too, appeared no more than thirty years old, her aging halted by the blood bond she shared with Kir.

"Oh, my darling boy. I've been so worried about you! Thank God you've come back–and will you look at me, just in time." She smiled, positively beaming. "You'll have two new brothers in less than a month. Identical twins again, just like you and Seth."

Although she seemed delighted by the prospect, Kade felt a sick twist in his gut. The talent that he and Seth shared, the ability to communicate with and command predator animals, was a unique skill passed down to them genetically from their Breedmate mother, in the same way that Seth and he shared Victoria's smooth golden skin, dark hair, and exotic eyes. But unlike her, in Kade and Seth, with their father's Breed blood running hot through their veins, the talent had a dark side. He hated to think that the pattern might repeat itself in another set of brothers.

"You look well, Mother. I'm glad to see you so happy."

"I'm even happier now that you're here. You'll see I've kept your quarters just as you left them. Not a day passed when I didn't hope and pray that I would have both of my beloved sons safe and sound, living under our roof again as a family."

She threw her arms around him once more, and Kade felt all the worse for what he had to say. "I … I don't know how long I'll be staying. I didn't come back to live here, Mother. I'm here on business for the Order."

She drew back, her expression falling. "You won't stay?"

"Only until my mission is complete. Then I have to return to Boston. I'm sorry if you thought–"

"You can't go," she murmured, tears welling in her eyes. "You belong here, Kade. This is your home. We are your family. You have a life here–"

He gently shook his head. "My life is with the Order now. They need me, and I have important things to do. Mother, I am sorry to disappoint you."

She sobbed behind her hand, and took a few steps back on her heels. She wobbled unsteadily with the sudden movement, and Kade's father was right at her side, wrapping her protectively under his arm. He spoke softly to her, tenderly, private words that seemed to soothe her somewhat. But her tears and sobs did not stop completely.

Kade's father escorted her carefully to the door, pausing only to lift his head and level a hard look on his son. Their gazes met and clashed, neither one of them willing to back down. "You and I are not finished here, Kade. I will expect you to wait for me until I finish looking after your mother." He waited as ordered, but only for a minute. Time away had made him forget what it had been like to be in this place. He couldn't live under his father's roof any more than he could live under Seth's shadow. It killed him to cause his mother distress, but if he'd needed a reminder that he didn't belong here, he'd gotten it as clearly as possible in the look his father gave him as he was walking out the door.

"Shit," Kade hissed, as he grabbed his duffel bag and exited the study. He walked outside, thinking the frigid air would help clear his head. Instead his gaze was snagged by the sight of his brother's cabin. He knew he shouldn't go inside–he had no right, actually–but the need for answers was more powerful than any sense of guilt at invading Seth's privacy. Kade opened the door and walked inside.

He wasn't sure what he'd expected. Some sense of chaos or the scattered clutter of a troubled mind?

But Seth's quarters were as neat as ever, not a single thing out of place. All of his furnishings and belongings were orderly and precisely arranged. There was a philosophy book on the reading table beside the sofa, a collection of classical music on rotation in the stereo CD player. On Seth's computer workstation, a file folder containing spreadsheet printouts he was obviously working on for their father lay neatly closed underneath a crystal paperweight.

Seth, the perfect son.

Except, the more Kade looked around, the more the cabin seemed staged rather than lived in. Things were too neat. Too carefully arranged, as though put there on the chance that someone might be poking about, searching for something amiss. Or for some overt sign of deception, just as Kade was doing now. But Kade knew his brother better than anyone else. He was a part of Seth, unlike anyone else could be because of the inextricable bond they'd been born with as identical twins. From the time they were boys they'd been two parts of one whole, inseparable, with an unspoken mutual understanding of each other. Kade had believed that he and Seth were alike in every way … until the first time he saw his brother command a wolf pack to pursue and slaughter a grizzly.

They were just boys then, fourteen years old and eager to test the boundaries of both their strength and their preternatural abilities. Seth was showing off, bragging about how he'd befriended an area wolf pack and could command the minds of more than one animal at a time. Kade had never done that–he hadn't even realized he could–which made Seth all too willing to demonstrate.

He'd summoned the pack with a howl, and before Kade realized what was happening, he and Seth were running with the wolves in search of prey. They came across a grizzly bear catching salmon in a river. Seth told the pack to take the bear down. To Kade's astonishment, they obeyed. But even more stunning-infinitely more abhorrent–was the sight of Seth participating in the slaughter. It was a bloody, prolonged battle … and Seth had reveled in it. Slick with the animal's blood and gore, he'd called Kade to join in, but Kade had been appalled. He'd vomited in the weeds, never feeling so sick with misery in all his life.

Seth had teased him privately for weeks afterward. He'd goaded Kade, acting as the devil on his shoulder, challenging him to test the limits of his talent to determine which of them was the more powerful twin. Kade had stupidly given in. Pride had made him a fool, and so he'd picked up the gauntlet Seth had thrown.

He'd honed his ability until it came as naturally to him as breathing. He'd learned to love the feel of the untamed wild on his skin, drenching his senses, caught between his teeth and fangs. He'd become so adept, so addicted to the power of his talent, it was soon nearly impossible to hold it under rein. Seth had been furious that Kade's ability had exceeded his own. He was jealous and insecure, a dangerous combination. He'd suddenly found something more to prove to Kade, and his violent inclinations took on a more disturbing focus.

At some point, Seth had quietly advanced his dark talent toward other prey. He and his pack had killed a human.

It happened just months before Kade was recruited by the Order. Repulsed, furious, he'd intended to drag Seth in front of their father and the rest of the Darkhaven and expose his inexcusable breach of Breed law. But Seth had pleaded with him. He'd sworn up and down that it had all been a terrible mistake–a game somehow gotten completely out of hand. He had begged Kade not to turn him in. He'd promised that the killing had been accidental, and that it would never happen again.

Kade had doubted him even then. He should have exposed Seth's secret. But Seth was his beloved brother–the other half of him. Kade knew what the news of Seth's crime would do to his parents, particularly his mother. So Kade had kept the secret, even though holding it had been eating away at him constantly every moment since.

He'd protected Seth from the truth and sheltered his parents from the pain of it, and when the call came from Nikolai in Boston that the Order needed new recruits, Kade jumped on the chance to join. Now the slayings of the Toms family had brought it all back. He hoped like hell his brother wasn't capable of killing an entire family in cold blood, but he feared Seth's promise a year ago was proving too hard for him to keep.

With that fear heavy on his mind, Kade started to walk toward the door. He didn't realize until he was halfway there that he was walking on the thick pelt of a grizzly. The skin covered the living room floor, and although the bear Seth and his wolves had killed all those years ago was long lost to time and the elements, the frozen snarl of this dead bear's head gave Kade pause. He walked back and knelt down near the open jaw of the animal.

"Ah, Christ. Let me be wrong," he whispered as he carefully stuck his hand into the sharp-toothed maw.

He reached back as far as he could and swore tightly as his fingers brushed the soft cloth and loose bulk of a hidden pouch at the back of the grizzly's throat.

Kade withdrew the small drawstring bag, hearing a metallic jingle as it came to rest in his palm. He loosened the strings and poured out the contents. Several gold rings slid into his hand, along with a braided leather bracelet with a bear tooth dangling from it and small locks of clipped hair collected from a variety of human heads. Dried blood caked some of the items.

There could be no mistaking them for anything but what they were … Souvenirs that Seth had apparently been collecting. A killer's hidden cache of mementos, taken from his victims.

"You son of a bitch," Kade ground out harshly. "You sick, fucking son of a bitch." Anger and grief collided in the pit of his stomach. He didn't want to believe what he was seeing. He wanted to make excuses, grasp for any possible explanation except the one that was clanging around like a warning bell in his skull.

His brother was a killer.

Had he attacked the Toms family so heinously, too?

Something deep inside Kade just could not reconcile the wholesale slaughter of an entire family. Despite the dread that was sitting like ice in his gut, he needed more answers before he was willing to convict Seth of being that kind of monster. He needed proof. Hell, he needed to look his brother in the face and demand the truth from him, once and for all.

And if it turned out that Seth was guilty, then Kade was prepared to do what needed to be done. What by rights he should have done when he'd first seen evidence of Seth's apparent disregard for human life.

He would hunt his goddamn brother down and he would kill him.