Shades of Midnight (Chapter Twenty-two)

Resisting the pull of wakefulness that would draw her out of a deep, sensual, very enjoyable dream, Alex sighed languorously and shifted on her bed. Aside from the black velvet sleep that caressed her now, she needed only one more thing to make her state of warm, lazy bliss complete. She sent her arm out in a slow sweep of the mattress, searching for Kade's warmth.

He wasn't there.

Had he left without telling her?

Wide awake now, she came up onto her elbows and stared at the empty darkness of her bedroom. She flicked on the nightstand lamp, huffing out a disappointed groan that he was gone. But then, up the hallway, she heard the squeak of the faucet as the shower turned off.

A moment later, Kade came strolling in, naked except for her pink bath towel, which was knotted loosely around his trim hips.

"You're awake," he said, raking his fingers through the damp ebony spikes of his hair.

"You're leaving already?"

He sat down on the edge of the bed. Beads of water glistened on his shoulders and chest, a few of them sliding down his smooth skin and glyphs in thin rivulets. He looked and smelled delicious, and Alex had the strongest urge to lick him dry.

He smiled as if he sensed the lusty direction of her thoughts. "I have to go. My brothers-in-arms from Boston will be flying into Fairbanks in a couple of hours. We'll be rendezvousing at an old truck stop from Boston will be flying into Fairbanks in a couple of hours. We'll be rendezvousing at an old truck stop midway between there and the mining company. We can't risk giving Dragos or his men the chance to know we're on to them, so we're going to hit the mine without delay."

He spoke so casually about the danger that awaited him and his friends. All Alex could think of was the very real possibility that he might be hurt. Or worse, something she didn't even want to imagine. Just the thought of Kade walking into that mine–potentially into the hands of Dragos, or an even larger evil, should they cross paths with the creature they suspected had been transported to the area–made Alex quake inside with a raw, marrow-deep dread. "I don't want you to go. I'm afraid if you do, I might never see you again."

"Don't worry," he said, and something dark, something ironic, traveled over his handsome face. "You aren't going to get rid of me that easily, Alex. Not now."

He placed his palm along her cheek, then leaned down and kissed her, his mouth so tender on hers it opened up an ache in the center of her chest.

She ached in a number of places, all the right places.

By the time his lips left hers, each of her pulse points were lit up as though they'd been touched by lightning. Lower still, a heavy throb in her core sent heat pooling between her legs. After the hours of passion they'd enjoyed, she still burned for him as though she'd had only the smallest taste. She sighed with the remembered pleasure of all they'd done together. "Last night was …"

"Yeah. It was." He smiled, but there was a hesitation in his voice. Something haunted about his eyes. He caressed her bare shoulder, then let his fingers travel up along the side of her neck, the only part of her that felt more alive and heated than the slick cleft of her thighs. Alex nestled into his feather-light strokes, shivering with a growing hunger for him as he ran his thumb across the vein that fluttered more frantically in response to his touch.

"You bit me," she whispered, feeling an odd thrill just to say the words. He inclined his head in a grim nod. "I did. I shouldn't have. I didn't have the right to take that from you."

Did he mean her blood? "It's all right, Kade."

"No," he said gravely. "It's not all right. You deserve more than that."

"I … liked it," she told him, meaning it with a sincerity that shocked even her. "What you did, it felt good. It still does. Everywhere you touched me last night feels very good." He exhaled slowly, his breath hot as it fanned her brow. He hadn't stopped petting her throat. She could have enjoyed his soothing touch for hours more.

"What I did last night has changed everything, Alex. I drank from you. I bonded myself to you, and I can't take it back. Not even if you hate me for it."

She tilted her head up and kissed the stern line of his mouth. "Why would I hate you?" He stared at her for the longest time, as though weighing the impact of what he wanted to tell her. "I drank from you, Alex, knowing full well that you are a Breedmate. Knowing that once your blood was in my body, there would be no going back. I'm connected to you now, and it's unbreakable. It's forever. I knew what it meant, but I just … wanted you so badly, I couldn't stop. I should have, but I didn't." Alex listened, seeing the torment in his eyes. She could see the regret, too, and it twisted her heart like a vise.

"Last night, you couldn't stop," she said, needing to understand, even if it would kill to hear it. "But now, you wish you could take it back. Because you feel differently … about me?" His head came up sharply, his dark brows lowered over his eyes. "No. Jesus … no, Alex. What I feel for you–" The words broke off, seemed to catch in his throat. "What I feel for you is stronger than anything I've ever felt before. It's love, Alex, and it was there before last night. It would be with me even if I hadn't taken your blood."

She didn't realize she'd been holding her breath until it whooshed out of her on a sigh. "Oh, Kade." He blew out a dry curse as he caressed her. "I don't know how I let this happen. I sure as hell never expected to find what I have with you. Not now, when everything else around me couldn't be more messed up."

"Then we'll sort it out," she said, wrapping her arms around his neck. "We can sort everything out, together. Because I've fallen in love with you, too."

He cursed again, but this time it was with reverence, a whispered oath as he gathered her close and pulled her into a deliriously passionate kiss. Alex felt his muscles flex and twitch under her fingertips. She felt the tremor of need that racked him as he eased her onto her back and he crawled over her. The pink towel fell away and Alex drank in the magnificent sight of his body, the thick jut of his arousal, all of that towel fell away and Alex drank in the magnificent sight of his body, the thick jut of his arousal, all of that power poised to enter her.

His gaze was fierce, pale silver flashing with amber fire. "Ah, God … Alexandra. I need to hear it now. Tell me you are mine."

"Yes," she said, then cried the word again as he thrust deep and ushered her toward the crest of a swift, hot wave of release.

He had stayed in bed with Alex for nearly another hour, much longer than he had intended, but even at that, it had been damn near impossible to find the ambition to leave. Which meant he'd had to haul some serious ass in order to reach the rendezvous point in time to meet the arriving warriors. He'd made it-barely–and had just gotten off his snowmachine to wait for them when the roar of their engines came ripping out of the darkness.

The four vampires were outfitted like him in black winter gear and visored black helmets. As Breed, none of them needed the aid of their sled's headlight to guide them. Their huge forms, each of them bristling with weapons, spilled from the shadows of the night as they flew into the vacant, run-down truck stop. The whine of their snowmachines filled the air, heavy tractor chains throwing off' plumes of gray exhaust and chewed-up snow behind them.

The Order's answer to the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Kade thought with a wry grin as he watched the group of warriors skid to a halt in front of him.

Brock was the first off his sled. He cut the power and swung his leg over the seat, sweeping up his helmet's visor as he strode over and greeted Kade with a broad smile and a hard right cuff to the shoulder.

"You just wouldn't be happy until I had to drag my ass up here to this godforsaken icebox, that it? Gotta tell you, I'm feelin' some hate here, my man. Or I would be, if I could actually feel anything other than Arctic cold gnawing at my vitals."

Kade grinned at the warrior who had become his closest friend. "Good to see you, too." Directly behind Brock was another of the Order's newer recruits, the ex-Enforcement Agent Sterling Chase–or Harvard, as he was also known, on account of his highbrow civilian education and the stuffy demeanor he'd sported in the beginning of his involvement with the warriors. That cool air of superiority was still there, but sharpened to an icy edge in the year since he'd joined the Order. Chase was deadly, and took something of an unhealthy satisfaction in his work. In fact, Kade was shocked as hell to see the male, considering it had only been a couple of weeks since a street battle in Boston had left him grounded with a nasty gunshot wound to the chest. Looking at him now, Kade couldn't help seeing a bit of Seth's unapologetic arrogance in the male's chilling blue eyes as he pulled off his helmet and bared his brush-cut blond head to the elements. His lean face was almost gaunt and there was a glint of emptiness in the warrior's eyes. An apathy that Kade felt as though he were only truly noticing for the first time.

"Got satellite imagery of the mining company location," Chase said without greeting, pulling a small laptop out of his gear and firing it up as the others gathered around them. "It's fresh intel. Gideon procured the images right before we left the compound."

"Good," Kade replied. "You feeling all right, Harvard?" He glanced up, his expression was unreadable, bleak. "Never better." As Kade considered the warrior, the two others in the unit came over, both of them immense, both ruthlessly efficient weapons in the Order's deadly arsenal. They were both also first-generation Breed, although Tegan was centuries older than the male called simply Hunter. Where Tegan had been one of the Order's founding members along with its Gen One leader, Lucan, Hunter had come on board only a few months ago, an unlikely ally, given that he was a product of Dragos's genetic experimentation labs. Bred off the last surviving Ancient–the very creature potentially at large in Alaska right now–and one of the many unknown, captive Breedmates whom Dragos had been collecting for decades as part of his grasp for power, Hunter was likely no older than forty or fifty years. But during that short span of life, he'd known only discipline and solitary purpose.

He'd been raised an assassin, an emotionless Hunter, given no name other than that of his function-his sole worth–to Dragos, the one who made him. Behind the glossy visor of his helmet, Hunter remained his usual close-lipped, automaton self as he and Tegan approached the rest of the group. As for Tegan, he'd never been Mr. Congeniality. It wasn't that long ago, little more than a year, that Tegan's involvement in the Order looked dubious at best. But he had proven himself in the end, and earned the love of a good woman besides. Now, as Lucan's second in command, the formidable warrior put all of his merciless, lethal intensity into every mission for the Order. His bright green gaze was piercing as he stripped off his helmet and gave Kade a curt nod of greeting. "Nice work, turning up the lead on Coldstream Mining. Gideon tracked it back to an outfit calling themselves TerraGlobal Partners. It's a dummy corporation, a front with about ten layers of bullshit entities behind it."

"Let me guess," Kade said dryly. "All roads will eventually lead to Dragos." Tegan nodded. "Dante, Rio, and Niko are running with the data, pursuing every bread crumb we can find, no matter how small or spread out. Meanwhile, Lucan and Gideon are holding down the fort in Boston. Had to practically tie Lucan down to keep him from coming with us on this one, but we can't leave the compound unprotected when we still don't have a direct bead on Dragos himself. Too much precious cargo at home."

Kade nodded, hearing the grim concern in the other male's voice when he spoke about his Breedmate, Elise, and the other warriors' mates who called the Order's headquarters their home. Kade understood that feeling now.

When he thought of Alex, and the fact that he had to leave her at her house in Harmony while he was on this mission …

When he thought there was a chance, if things should go terribly wrong and he couldn't return to her, that she might fall prey to the Ancient or to any other danger, and he wouldn't be there to keep her safe … Holy hell.

Each thought was worse than the other, an awful spiral that he had to mentally shake himself out of to catch up to what Tegan was saying.

"Based on what we've seen from Dragos already, we have to assume the mine has some kind of selfdestruct mechanism in place. If we can't find the nerve center of the lair, we're going to have to detonate the place ourselves."

Brock grunted. "Which is why I'm packing enough C-4 to blow a meteor-size crater into the side of that mountain. Gotta tell you, I'll be glad to unload this shit."

Tegan gave him a wry nod, then set about giving instructions for the raid on the mine. The warriors had already discussed the plan of attack in Boston; now it was just a matter of carrying out the mission.

"Too bad Andreas Reichen isn't here to add some fire to this party," Chase added, referring to the most recent addition to the Order's ranks, the former Darkhaven leader from Germany. "Little bit of pyrokinesis would go a long way tonight."

"Yeah, it would," Tegan replied. "But his talent is still too raw. Until he gets it under control, we're better to keep him working diplomatic relations for the Order."

"Diplomatic relations." Brock chuckled, a deep, amused rumble in his chest. "God knows not a one of us standing here now is suited for that kind of work."

"Damn straight," Tegan agreed, smiling with cold menace. "So, let's stop the yammering and go kick some ass."

As the group broke and prepared to move out, Brock lagged behind the others and gave Kade a questioning look. "What's going on with you? I've gone on too many patrols with you not to notice that you've got something heavy weighing on your mind, my man."

"Nah." Kade shook his head. "It's nothing. I'm good. Let's roll." Brock's dark eyes narrowed. He took a sideways step and blocked Kade's path, keeping his voice too low for the others to hear. "Now, see, that's the kind of lame-ass thing you say to someone who hasn't watched your back as often as you've watched theirs. So, let me ask it again. What the fuck happened since you got here?"

Kade stared at his comrade and friend–the warrior who was as close as a brother to him. Closer, even, than his own identical twin. The twin Kade no longer knew, and had lost as his kin a long time ago. It shamed him to think of Seth now, let alone try to explain what he'd discovered about him in the time that he'd been back in Alaska.

He would have to tell the Order all of it at some point–he knew that. He would have to tell Alex about Seth eventually, as well. But there were other things weighing just as heavily on him, not the least of which being the fact that in the midst of all the madness and strife since he'd left Boston, he had somehow dropped his guard and let himself fall in love.

"The woman," he said lamely. "Alexandra Maguire …"

"You mean the Breedmate," Brock corrected, having no doubt heard something about her from one of Kade's calls into the compound. "Did something happen to the female?"

"Yeah, you could say that." Kade exhaled a short breath, wry and hedging. "Alex has become important to me. Really important."

As Brock stared at him, the other warriors were getting on their sleds and juicing up their engines. The roar of machinery rumbled all around them, everyone waiting to get moving. Brock gaped a minute longer, then let out a whoop of laughter. "Naah! Oh, hell no. Not you, too?" Kade grinned, gave him a helpless shrug. "I love her, man. And she says she loves me, believe it or not."

"Un-fucking-believable," Brock said, still chuckling and shaking his head. "This is becoming a goddamn epidemic lately."

"Then you'd better watch your step, too."

"Shit," he replied, letting the word hiss out of him on a slow exhalation. "Now who am I going to hang with after patrols–Harvard? Thanks a lot, man. I'll bet Hunter over there would be a barrel of laughs, too."

From across the way, Tegan tipped up the visor on his helmet and shot them a summoning look.

"Let's do this."

Brock waved his acknowledgment, then turned back to Kade. "Ball-busting aside, man, I look forward to meeting your woman. But first, let's go kick some Dragos ass." Kade chuckled as he walked over to his snowmachine and prepared to ride out with his brethren, but his light mood was mostly a mask for the unpleasant reality that was settling heavier and heavier on his shoulders. Because assuming he survived the raid on the mine tonight, he would have the unpleasant task of dealing with Seth soon afterward.

He meant to start a life together with Alex, if she would have him, but he couldn't do that without taking care of the business he should have addressed before he ever left Alaska in the first place. Seth was sliding toward Bloodlust, if he wasn't there already. His madness had to be stopped. And Kade was the only one who could do it.