Deeper Than Midnight (Chapter Thirty-three)
"My friend is gone. He's been gone for longer than I want to admit," Dante said, his voice tight and controlled. Lethal, when it lacked the warrior's usual bravado. "Right now, I'm talking to the blood addict glaring up at me with bared fangs and amber-soaked eyes. He's the one who'll be eating these titanium blades if he thinks I'm wrong about him walking the thin line toward Bloodlust."
He didn't ease off with the nasty curved daggers, not even when Chase slowly retreated, letting his spine settle back onto the mattress of the infirmary bed. The sharp edges followed him down, dangerously close, testing Chase's nerve.
He didn't dare escalate the situation.
Although he wasn't yet Rogue, Dante was right. Chase could feel Bloodlust nipping at his heels. And he couldn't be sure that the titanium wouldn't act like poison to his blood. He glowered up at Dante but made no move to try him.
"That's the first smart move you've made in a long time, Harvard."
Chase said nothing, waiting to breathe until the razor-sharp claws fell away from his throat and the warrior who had recently been his tightest companion left him alone once more in the room.
The long hours of daylight dragged by in excruciating slowness. Corinne felt each minute pass as though every one carved away a small piece of her heart along with it. Nathan was gone.
After the years of hoping for the chance to see him again, after the endless prayers for a miracle that might – somehow – grant her the ability to escape her imprisonment to reunite with her child and be the family she dreamed they could be … he was gone. Slipped through her fingers, not due to any prophesied end but by his own choice. The fact that he was alive and missing hurt only slightly less than the idea that she might have lost him to the vision Hunter had described. Nathan was gone, and in the wake of that fact, Corinne was bereft.
She sat with Hunter in the back of the box truck, both of them waiting for sundown and another chance for Hunter to search for Nathan. He'd gone after him in the minutes after Nathan had fled, but Hunter's search of the area had been fruitless, dawn driving him back to the truck empty-handed.
In the time since, they had moved several miles from the log cabin homestead that had served as Nathan's cell. Hunter felt the risk of discovery by Dragos's operatives was too great to remain there any longer than they had. Corinne had reluctantly agreed. Now all she could do was wonder where her son had run off to and pray his conditioning as one of Dragos's unquestioning soldiers didn't make him return to the very evil Corinne had wanted to deliver him from. That is, if the sun that blazed outside the truck didn't take him first.
"If you were him," she said to Hunter, "where would you go?"
Hunter reached over and took her hand in a gentle grasp, tracing the pad of his thumb over her Breedmate mark. "He is a survivor, Corinne. That's what his training has taught him to be. He is highly intelligent, and he is, I am sure, extremely familiar with his surroundings. I found a number of caves in the area when I searched for him. By now he could be hiding in any one of them." He considered for a moment, then added, "Without the collar to restrict his movement to the area immediately surrounding the cabin, there's also a chance he could be anywhere."
She nodded, appreciating that Hunter didn't feel the need to cushion her from the truth. There would be no more secrets between them anymore, no matter how small. It was something they'd promised each other as they'd made the journey to the isolated cabin in the Georgia woodlands last night, after Hunter's disclosure of Mira's vision had nearly rent them apart. Corinne exhaled a shaky sigh. "At least we were able to change the outcome of the vision. If nothing else, at least we know now that not everything Mira sees must come true."
Hunter shook his head. "There was no altering of what I saw in Mira's eyes. The vision she showed me played out exactly as she predicted. It was my interpretation that was wrong."
"What do you mean?"
"Everything you said in those last few moments was part of it, Corinne. You asked me to spare him. You pleaded for me to let him go. All your words, just as you said them, were part of Mira's precognition." He brought her fingers up to his mouth and pressed a gentle kiss to them.
"When I raised my hand and prepared to bring it down on him, you physically tried to stop me. And I let my hand drop anyway. I had to – it was the only way."
"I don't understand," she murmured. "You didn't kill Nathan. The vision was wrong."
"No," he said. "The blow I delivered should have killed him – it would have, if his collar had not been disabled. That was the thing I didn't know, the thing the vision had not revealed to me. I didn't realize until the moment it was happening that the strike I made against your son was meant to save his life, not take it away."
"Thank God," Corinne whispered, curling herself into the shelter of his embrace. "But Nathan is gone anyway. I've lost him, just the same."
"We will find him," Hunter said, his deep voice rumbling from all around her, low and soothing, as strong as his protective arms. "I give you my vow on this, Corinne. No matter how long it takes, or how far I must go to see it through. I will do this … I do it for you. Everything for you."
She turned her head to gaze up at him, moved by his promise.
"I love you," he told her. "My life now and for the rest of my years is committed to your happiness."
"Oh, Hunter," she sighed, emotion catching in her throat. "I love you so much. You've already shown me happiness I didn't think possible for a very long time."
He bent and dropped a kiss on her brow. "And I have never known any of the things you've made me feel in our brief time together. You have made me want to experience everything in life. I want to experience it all with you at my side … as my mate, if you deem me worthy."
"I don't want to live a day without you either," she confessed. "You are a part of me now."
"I want that," he said, catching her lips in a sensual, passionate joining of their mouths. When he drew back a moment later, his eyes were glowing bright as coals. His fangs gleamed, the sharp points extending even farther as he gazed at her. "I can't help but desire you. I want to taste you again. This feeling I have for you is more than intense," he said roughly. "It is a possessive thing, greedy. I look at you, Corinne Bishop, and all I can think is that you are mine. "
"I am yours," she confirmed, stroking the proud jaw and muscled cheek of the male she wanted beside her eternally. "I am yours alone, Hunter. Yours forever."
With a growl, he pulled her into another, deeper kiss. "I want you to belong to me," he murmured against her mouth. "I want to know my blood lives inside you, as a part of you."
"Yes," she gasped, thrilling to the idea of binding herself to him now and for always. Their eyes locked together, he raised his wrist to his mouth and sank his long fangs into the flesh. He brought it to her, the most precious gift he could give her. Corinne put her lips to his opened vein and drew the first taste of him into her mouth.
His blood hit her tongue like wildfire.
Thick and strong and roaring with power, it was the very essence of all Hunter was. And now that vitality was feeding her, enriching her cells, filling her senses … weaving into every fiber of her being. She felt the bond take hold, a radiant, glorious connection. She grabbed on to it and let it wrap around her, reveling in the total saturation of joy that engulfed her as she continued to drink from Hunter.
His blood obliterated the horror of all she'd been through. The torture was swept away, the degradation lifted, all of it scattering like dust under the power of the bond that was now growing, intensifying between them.
As she drew from Hunter's vein, she watched her magnificent mate's eyes blaze with passion and possession … with a love so intense it stole her breath. She was on fire for him now, her own need amplified by the intoxicating power of his blood.
She could hardly stand the wait as he carefully withdrew his wrist and sealed the wounds closed with his tongue. She was trembling as he undressed her, his own clothes gone in the next instant.
He covered her with his body and made love to her, sweetly, thoroughly … an ecstasy that burned as brightly as their love.
And while this moment of commitment and completion filled her beyond measure, there was still a corner of her heart that she knew would ache as long as her son was gone. But Hunter's promise to stand by her until they found him gave her faith. Perhaps he wasn't lost to her forever. Not yet.
With Hunter's love, and the blood bond that flowed through her, stronger than any storm, everything seemed possible.
A heavy rain had swept into the area by the time dusk finally settled. Hunter shrugged into his leather trench coat, preparing to head back out to search for Nathan one last time before pushing on to New England. Based on his quick check-in with the Order a short while ago, things were going from bad to worse at the compound. As much as he hated to leave without Corinne's son, Hunter also could not ignore his duty to his fellow warriors. More than even that, he needed to ensure that Corinne was somewhere safe and protected while he carried out all of his duties, not left to wait for him in the back of an unsecured delivery truck.
"I will be fine," she told him, reading his concern with an ease that should have unsettled him.
It didn't unsettle, however. It was reassuring how well she'd come to know him. Incredible how visceral their bond was now, solidified by their mingling blood. He caressed her beautiful, brave face. "I'll be gone only for a couple of hours. I can cover the entire area near the river and the state park around it in that time."
"Thank you," she said, turning a kiss into his palm. "Whatever happens – whether you find him out there tonight or not, just know that I'm grateful you're willing to try."
"Nathan is your family. That means he's my family too."
She gave a wobbly nod as he gathered her close. As Hunter gazed into her trusting eyes, he knew a deep wish to build a larger family with her – to give her more sons to love, once Nathan was safe.
Together they walked to the doors of the truck. Hunter opened them into the hiss of the steadily pouring rain.
Nathan stood outside in the deluge.
He was drenched, barefoot and half dressed in just the gray sweatpants he'd been wearing when he'd bolted earlier that day. Water sluiced off his shaved head and down the lean muscled plates of his dermaglyph- covered chest. His hands hung loosely at his sides, fingers dripping water into the mud beneath his feet.
Corinne went very quiet next to Hunter, as though not trusting her own eyes and afraid the boy was just an illusion that could shatter if she so much as breathed. Nathan stared at them. "I don't have anywhere to go."
"Yes, you do," Hunter replied.
He held out his hand.
It took a long moment before the boy made any move whatsoever. Then, with a faint nod, he reached up and clasped Hunter's hand, stepping up into the truck. Beside him now, Hunter heard Corinne's lungs expel a soft, shaky sigh. Her pulse was pounding, beating as hard as a drum, her blood racing so hard he could feel her excitement – her hope – in his own veins. But she held herself back, doing everything in her power to resist throwing her arms around her child in relief and elation.
She stood unmoving, waiting, watching her beloved son slowly make his way over to her first.
"Is everything you said true?" he asked her.
She nodded, tears overflowing her eyes. "Everything."
Hunter removed his coat and draped it over the boy's soaked shoulders. Nathan glanced over at him, still not entirely certain of them. "If I go with you, where will you take me?"
"Home," Hunter answered.
He glanced at Corinne then, understanding in just that moment how powerful the word truly was.
It struck him with the same staggering force as a weapon hammered out of steel, as unbreakable as a diamond, as steady as a mountain.
It was something neither he nor this lethal teenage assassin had ever known. Something they both had found in the beautiful woman who had somehow, miraculously, opened her gentle, stalwart heart to both of them.
Hunter put his arm around her slender shoulders, gazing at her with all the love that was overflowing in his own heart. He leaned in close to her and whispered for her ears alone: "Thank you for bringing me home."