Shades of Midnight (Chapter Twenty-six)

Come on, Luna. Let's go."

Alex sat on her snowmachine outside Zach's house and waited for Luna to get situated in front of her on the sled. With her cell phone turned off after the repeated calls from Kade, Alex pocketed it and could only sit there for a moment in the snow-flurried darkness, willing herself to simply breathe in and out.

She couldn't talk to him anymore. Not now. Her heart felt weak, and even as she'd been telling him to stay away from her, there was a part of her that wanted to let him back in, even though everything around her was in turmoil. Perhaps because of that fact, she still wanted the comfort of Kade's strength around her. She still wanted his love.

But she didn't know if she could trust her feelings right now. Nothing seemed clear. Since meeting Kade, gone was her comfortable black-or-white, good-or-bad world. He had changed everything. He'd opened her eyes, and she could never go back to living as she had been.

She was changed forever, most significantly because no matter how much she wanted to fear him, to hate him for what he was, her heart refused to let him go.

Alex started up her snowmachine. She just needed to get away from everyone so that she had some room to think, and clear her head. She needed safe haven, and could think of only one place to find it now-Jenna's cabin. In all the upheaval of the past few hours, her plans to check in on her friend had been derailed. If there was one person she could trust right now, Alex knew it was Jenna.

Behind her, the door to Zach's house banged shut.

"Hey, where are you going?" he called to her, coming down across the yard at a brisk clip. "I said I wanted to take you home, make sure you got there safely. I don't think you're in any condition–"

"I don't want your help, Zach." Alex turned a hard look on him, disgusted to think she had ever considered him a friend. Worse, that she'd once allowed herself to be intimate with him. If Kade was dangerous because of the Breed blood that flowed in his veins, then Zach was a far more insidious threat for the way he was willing to use innocent people–to corrupt them and ruin lives–for the benefit of his own personal gain. "How much money did you and Skeeter make together over the years? How little value do you place on the people you've been sworn to protect and serve, when you're willing to sell them out like you have?"

Zach glared. "You don't know what you're saying, Alex. You're delusional."

"Am I?"

"Yes, you are." He stepped nearer. "I'm concerned you are a danger to yourself."

"You mean a danger to your livelihood, don't you?"

He chuckled, but there was no humor in it. "As an officer of the law, I cannot in good conscience let you leave my custody like this, Alex. Now, step off the sled."

She shook her head and gave the engine some gas. "Fuck you." Before she could take off, Zach's hand went around her wrist. He jerked her arm tight, nearly unbalancing her. Alex glanced down in alarm to see that he had drawn his pistol from the holster belted around his waist.

She gasped in stunned terror, at the very same instant that Luna swiveled her big head around and clamped her jaws onto the arm that held Alex.

Zach hollered a pained cry. His bruising grasp fell away, and Alex, wrapping one arm around her beloved Luna to hold her steady in front of her on the sled, gave the snow-machine a thrust of power that sent it leaping into a fast escape.

She sped through the swirling curtain of snowfall, not daring to look back. Not even when she heard Zach shout her name, followed by the buzzing whine of another snowmachine as he came after her.

The woman lay prone on the floor of the cabin, unmoving, except for the relaxed rise and fall of her breathing. She was tranced, unaware of the small incision he'd made in her nape a short while ago. That careful incision now trickled a thin stream of blood as he crouched beside her and brought the edges of her delicate human skin together. He bent over her and licked away the coppery rivulet, then pressed his tongue against the wound and sealed the flesh closed.

His own body was mended, as well. The ultraviolet burns were cooled, his skin no longer festering with blisters and ripe with pain. The gunshot wounds in his thigh and abdomen were knitted tight with new, regenerated flesh. And the thirst that had been his fevered companion since his escape from captivity had, at last, subsided.

Now that his mind was clear, he had the opportunity to reflect, to consider what lay ahead of him. More running. More hiding, struggling to stay one step ahead of the progeny that sought to either capture or destroy him. More of the same existence he had known since he and his brethren had taken their first step in this inhospitable human world.

He would survive.

But to what end?

While his instinct assured him he was far from defeated, his logic calculated that there was no way for him to ever win. There was no end in sight, only more of the same.

He and the other seven conquerors who crash-landed here so long ago should have been kings among the lesser, human life-forms that inhabited this planet. They might have been kings, if not for the uprising of their half-human sons. If not for the war that had left only him, his survival dependent on the treachery of the son who had secreted him away in a mountain cave.

He shouldn't have been surprised that treachery awaited him once he'd been awakened. After his period of hibernation, he had expected the world to be different, laid out like a bounty for him to feast upon. Instead he'd been shackled and starved, weakened by chemicals and technology he'd imagined would have been far out of the grasp of the crude humanity that existed when he last knew it. Earth had advanced. It was nothing remotely close to the world he had left behind, but enough so that life here for him would forever be a trial. An endless monotony of days and nights, pursuit and retreat. He wasn't sure he had the will or the desire.

The woman lying before him was caught in a similar snare. He had witnessed her despair, and he had tasted her defeat in each pulse of her heartbeat as he had taken his nourishment from her. He tasted her loneliness, her hopelessness, and it plucked at something deep inside him.

She, too, was a warrior. He saw it in the few, scattered images in frames within her domicile. This woman in a human warrior's uniform, carrying weapons and a look of determination in her eyes. That look was not gone, even when she'd been weakened from blood loss and terrified. She was still strong, still a warrior in her heart, but she no longer saw it in herself.

She, too, was lost … alone.

But where she had been prepared to give up in those moments before he intruded on her plans, his advanced genetic makeup would permit no such surrender. He was born a conqueror, born for war. He was the ultimate predator. Whether he desired it or not, his body would resist death to its final gasp … no matter how long it took to get there.

And he was also driven to see his enemies defeated, by whatever means required. It was that drive that compelled him to take the measure he had a few moments ago with this woman lying unconscious, and wholly unaware, on the floor of the cabin.

Now he moved back from her in grim consideration. Idly, he brought his left forearm up to his mouth and sealed the small cut he'd made there. His tongue swept over the faint indentation in the muscle beneath his skin as the wound closed up and vanished, as if the incision were never there. As he got up and stalked to the other side of the room, he heard the approaching roar of gas-powered engines not far from the cabin.

Had they found him so soon?

Whether his pursuers were human or Breed, he couldn't be sure.

But as he tested the newly regenerated sinew and skin of his arms, he smiled grimly, satisfied that he was prepared to meet any incoming threat.