Taken by Midnight (Chapter Twenty-two)

Lucan and Gideon were waiting for them as soon as Brock came off the elevator with Jenna and Chase.

"Hell of a goddamned day," Lucan muttered, taking them in with a glance. "You both all right?"

Brock stole a look at Jenna, who stood calm and steady beside him.

She was a little scraped up and bruised, but thankfully she was whole.

"Could've been worse."

Lucan raked a hand through his dark hair. "Dragos is getting bolder all the time. Minions in the fucking FBI, for crissake."

"What the hell?" Chase frowned, shooting an incredulous look between Brock and Jenna. "You mean the Fed you met with today–"

"He belonged to Dragos," Brock replied. "He and another of Dragos's mind slaves grabbed her inside the building and took off with her. I pursued the vehicle but wasn't able to catch up to them until they crashed on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge."

Chase exhaled a low curse. "You two are lucky to be alive."

"Yeah," Brock agreed. "Thanks to Jenna. She took out both Minions, then saved my bacon from going crispy, as well."

"No shit?" Some of the edge left Chase's hard blue gaze as he looked at her. "Not bad for a human. I'm impressed."

She shrugged off the compliment. "I should have known something wasn't right with the agent I met with. I did know, actually. I had a certain …

sense, I guess you could say. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but all through the meeting I kept thinking something was odd about him."

"What do you mean?" Gideon asked.

She frowned, considering. "I don't know exactly. It was just something instinctual. His eyes made me uncomfortable, and I kept getting a weird feeling that he wasn't quite … normal."

"You knew he wasn't quite human," Brock suggested, as surprised as the rest of the warriors to hear her admission. "You sensed he was a Minion?"

"I suppose I did." She nodded. "But I didn't know to call him that at the time. All I knew was he made my skin crawl the longer I was near him."

Brock didn't miss the silent glance that passed between Gideon and Lucan.

Neither did Jenna. "What is it? Tell me why you're so quiet all of a sudden."

"Human beings don't have the ability to detect Minions," Brock answered. " Homo sapiens senses aren't acute enough to pick up on the difference between a mortal and someone whose will belongs to a Breed master."

She arched her brows. "You think this is also related to the implant, don't you? The alien gift that keeps on giving." She huffed out a sharp laugh.

"Just how crazy have I become, that this can all just seem par for the course now?"

Brock narrowly resisted the urge to wrap his arm around her. Instead he turned a serious look on Gideon. "Have you found anything more in the blood work results?"

"Nothing significant beyond the anomalies we've already discovered.

But I would like to run a few more samples, as well as conduct another stress test and further strength and endurance measurements."

Jenna nodded in agreement. "Whenever you're ready, I'm in. Since it appears there's no way to get rid of the damned thing, I guess I'd better start trying to understand it."

"The tests are going to have to wait a while," Lucan interjected. "I want everyone gathered in the tech lab in ten minutes. A lot of shit went down today, and I need to make sure we're all up to speed before our Darkhaven guests arrive."

The Order's leader slid an approving look toward Jenna, then Brock.

"Glad to have you back in one piece. Both of you."

Jenna murmured her thanks, but her expression was pinched with disappointment. "Unfortunately, since the meeting was a setup, we didn't come away with any information on TerraGlobal."

Lucan grunted. "Maybe not, but finding out that Dragos has Minions embedded in human government could prove to be even more valuable to us in the long run. It's sure as hell not good news, but it's something we needed to be aware of."

"He's stepping things up big-time," Gideon added. "Between this discovery today and now the kidnapping of Lazaro Archer's grandson, it's pretty clear that Dragos isn't about to give up."

"And nothing is beneath him," Brock remarked, grave with the possibilities. "That makes him more dangerous than ever. We'd better be prepared for the worst when it comes to this bastard."

Lucan nodded, his gaze sober, reflective. "For now, we'll take it one crisis at a time. Chase, come with me. I want you to ride shotgun with Tegan when he goes topside to collect the Archers. Everyone else, tech lab in ten."

Lazaro Archer was rumored to be close to a thousand years old, but like any other Breed male, outwardly the jet-haired Gen One looked to be no more than thirty. The lines around his stern mouth and the shadows under his dark blue eyes, although pronounced, were just evidence of his distress over the abduction of his young grandson. Those shrewd but weary eyes scanned the faces of everyone who was gathered in the tech lab–the warriors and their mates, and Jenna at Brock's side, as well–all of them watching and waiting as Lucan and Gabrielle escorted the Breed elder and his grim-faced son, Christophe, into the room.

Quick, courteous introductions circled the large conference table, but everyone there understood the meeting was hardly a social call. Brock couldn't remember the last time a Breed civilian was admitted into the compound. Few in the vampire nation even knew where the Order's headquarters were located, let alone stepped inside.

Neither of the Archers looked comfortable being there, either, particularly the abducted boy's father. Brock didn't miss the slightly superior tilt of the younger male's chin as he scanned the tech lab and each of the warriors seated at the table, most of whom were still dressed in night patrol gear, weapons and all. Christophe Archer seemed reluctant, if not resistant, to be offered an empty chair among the heathens of the Order.

Desperate times, Brock thought gravely, inclining his head in greeting as the second-generation Breed civilian in his long cashmere coat and impeccably tailored shirt and pants settled carefully into the seat next to him.

Lucan cleared his throat, his deep voice taking instant command of the room as he glanced at the two newcomers. "First, I want to assure you both that everyone in this room shares your concern for Kellan's safety. As I told you when we spoke earlier, Lazaro, you have the full commitment of the Order in seeing that the boy is found and brought home."

"That all sounds very reassuring," Christophe Archer said from beside Brock, a tense edge to his voice. "The Enforcement Agency has vowed the same thing, and as much as I want to believe it, the fact is we don't even know where to begin searching for my son. Can anyone tell me who would do this? What kind of gutless criminals would break in to our home while we were away and take my boy?"

After speaking again with Mathias Rowan of the Enforcement Agency, Chase had briefed them all on the troubling details of the abduction before the Archers had arrived. Three immense, heavily armed Breed males had apparently invaded the Darkhaven estate where Lazaro and Christophe Archer lived with their families. The elder Archers and their Breedmates had gone to a charity fund-raiser that evening, leaving teenage Kellan home alone.

By the sound of it, the kidnapping had been as stealthy as it was precise–all of it hinged on a very specific target. In a span of what could have only been mere minutes, the intruders entered the Darkhaven through a back window, killed two of Christophe's security personnel, then snatched the youth from his upstairs bedroom and drove away with him.

The sole witness to the abduction was a cousin, several years younger than Kellan, who'd hidden in a closet as the invasion took place.

Understandably afraid and upset, he could hardly describe the abductors, except to say that they'd been dressed from head to toe in black, with masked faces that obscured everything but their eyes. The boy had also noted that the three males each wore a strange, thick black collar around their necks.

While the Enforcement Agent hadn't fully understood the ramifications of that one crucial detail, every member of the Order did. They had suspected Dragos was at the heart of this, but hearing that a trio of his homegrown assassins–Gen Ones bred and trained to serve him, their loyalty ensured by the lethal UV collars each was forced to wear–had confirmed their suspicions were correct.

"I simply cannot comprehend this kind of madness," Christophe said, leaning his elbows on the table, his features stricken, eyes pleading. "I mean, why? Certainly our race is not so crude as the humans who would grapple and connive over money, so what could anyone possibly have to gain by stealing my only child?"

"No," Lucan replied, the word as grim as his expression. "We do not believe this has anything to do with a potential financial gain."

"Then what could they possibly want with Kellan? What can they gain by taking him away?"

Lucan glanced briefly at Lazaro Archer. "Leverage. The inpidual who ordered this abduction will, no doubt, issue a demand before too long."

"A demand for what?"

"For me," Lazaro said quietly. When his son's gaze slid to him in question, the Gen One looked at him in frank remorse. "Christophe is not aware of the conversation we had nearly a year ago, Lucan. I never told him about the warning you gave me and the other few remaining Gen Ones that someone was seeking to erase us from existence. He doesn't know about the other killings among our generation."

Christophe Archer's face went a bit pale. "Father, what are you talking about? Who is seeking to harm you?"

"His name is Dragos," Lucan replied. "The Order has been waging a private war with him for some time now. But not before he had the chance to spend several decades–centuries, in fact–building his secret empire. He has already killed several other Gen Ones in the past year alone, and that, unfortunately, is only scratching the surface of his madness. All he knows is power, and the need to claim it. He will stop at nothing to get what he wants, and no life is sacred."

"Jesus Christ. You're telling me this sick bastard is the one who took Kellan?"

Lucan nodded. "I'm sorry."

Christophe vaulted to his feet and began pacing back and forth behind the table. "We have to get him back. Damn it, we have to bring my son home, no matter what it takes."

"We are all agreed on that," Lucan said, speaking for everyone gathered in solemn silence in the tech lab. "But you have to understand that no matter how this unfolds, there will be risks–"

"Damn the risks!" Christophe shouted. "We're talking about my son, my only child. My beloved, innocent boy. Don't tell me about risks, Lucan. I will gladly trade my own life for Kellan."

"As will I," Lazaro put in soberly. "Anything for my kin."

Brock watched the emotional exchange, knowing what it felt like to be helpless in the face of such a loss. But even more than he was moved by the Archers' pain, he was struck by how raw Jenna looked beside him.

Although she held her jaw still, tension bracketed her mouth. Her lips quivered slightly, and her hazel eyes were moist with unshed tears. Whether in sympathy for what the two Breed males were going through or remembrance of her own anguish at having a loved one yanked away so abruptly, he wasn't sure. But the tenderness he saw in her touched him deeply.

Beneath the table, her hand slid over to reach for his. He gathered her slender fingers in his grasp and she glanced to him, smiling faintly as their fingers twined together in silent reassurance. Something deeper passed between them in that moment–an unspoken acknowledgment of the growing bond they shared.

He knew she was strong. He knew she was a courageous, resilient woman who had taken more than her fair share of hits in her lifetime and still came up swinging. But seeing her now, gripped in a moment of quiet vulnerability, made his heart crack just a little.

He loved that she wasn't some delicate flower that wilted under the smallest bit of heat. But he loved this glimpse of softness in her, too.

God, there was so much to love about her.

If not for the slight problem that she hadn't been born a Breedmate, Jenna Darrow was a woman he could easily envision at his side–a true partner, in life and in all things. But she was mortal, and falling for her would inevitably mean losing her. What happened in New York earlier today–seeing her in the hands of Dragos's Minions–had only driven that point home with sharper clarity.

Corinne's death had been a blow he hadn't been prepared for, but he'd managed to go on. Losing Jenna, whether to the age that would eventually take her or by any other means, had somehow become impossible even to imagine.

As he held her hand in his, he knew that he could no longer pretend that she was simply another mission, or that protecting her was merely his duty to the Order. He'd fallen too far and too fast to deny just how much she meant to him.

He was still turning that troubling realization over in his mind as Lucan rose from the table and went to stand near Christophe Archer. Lucan put his hand on the other male's shoulder, his dark brows knitted together in a solemn look. "We won't rest until we find your son and bring him home.

You have my word, and you have the word of my brethren here in this room."

At his pledge, Brock and the other warriors also rose from their seats around the table in a show of solidarity. Even Hunter, the Gen One who knew firsthand how ruthless Dragos and his assassins truly were, stood in support of their new mission.

Christophe turned a hard gaze on the Order's leader. "Thank you.

There is nothing more I can ask."

"And there is nothing I won't give," Lazaro said, joining his son and Lucan near the back of the room. "The Order has my faith and my full trust.

I cannot forgive myself for ignoring your advice a year ago, Lucan. Just look what it's costing me now." He shook his head sadly. "Perhaps I have lived too long, if an evil inpidual like Dragos can exist among us. Is this what is to become of the Breed? Making war on one another, letting greed and power corrupt us, just like humankind. Perhaps we're not so different from them, after all. For that matter, are we any different from the savage otherworlders who spawned us?"

Lucan's steel gray gaze had never looked more resolute. "I'm counting on it."

Lazaro Archer nodded. "And I am counting on you," he said, sweeping a look over each warrior and the females who now stood with them. "I am counting on all of you."