Midnight Awakening (Chapter Twelve)
Tegan acknowledged the news with a vague nod. It had been a couple of hours since his encounter with Elise at the pool, and his blood was still drumming in his temples, his body still alive with a tingling sense of awareness that was frankly starting to annoy him.
At least he had an escape plan. Tomorrow night he would be on his way out of the country, putting several thousand miles between him and the woman who was driving him to a very uncharacteristic distraction. It didn't look like his mission in Berlin was going to be easy; he would probably be gone for at least a week, maybe longer. Plenty of time for him to put Elise out of his mind.
Yeah, just like he'd done so effectively in the four months since he'd first met the female.
Taking her home that night from the compound had been a mistake. Stupid impulse– something he rarely indulged in, and, on the occasions he did, generally lived to regret. The way he reacted to her earlier tonight only drove that point home like the sharp edge of a blade. He hungered for her, and he couldn't delude himself with the hope that she hadn't seen ample evidence of that fact. He hadn't been able to curb the transformation of his glyphs in her presence, let alone suppress his unwilling arousal just from being near her.
Jesus Christ, he needed to be gone, and gone soon.
Across the lab, Dante and Chase were going over tactics with Niko and the new recruits. A couple of heads lifted as Tegan strolled inside and dropped into a chair next to Gideon at the bank of computers and compound surveillance monitors.
You all right? Gideon asked, glancing at him from under an arched brow. You're throwing off heat like a radiator.
Never better. Tegan punched the speaker key on the telephone near his elbow. Let's give Reichen the flight details and see if he's been able to get anywhere with the suits in charge of the containment facility.
Tegan dialed the private line of the Berlin Darkhaven and was immediately put through to Andreas Reichen.
Everything is in order, he told the German vampire, not bothering with the pleasant hi-how-are-yas in his impatience to get the mission underway. Expected arrival at Tegel Airport is two days from now just before sunrise. Think you can get me to your place before I go crispy?
Reichen chuckled. Of course. I will have a car waiting to retrieve you. His deep, accented voice rolled through the speaker. It has been too long, Tegan. I have not forgotten my debt to you for your assistance with our little…problem over here a while ago.
Tegan remembered that time. The Berlin Darkhaven's little problem had entailed a string of Rogue attacks on its residents, several ending in grisly killings. Tegan had gone in as a one-man commando unit, tracking the Rogue cell into the thick forests of Grunewald then wiping out the Bloodlusting predators who'd been terrorizing the region. That had been, shit…almost two hundred years ago.
We'll be square if you can get me inside that Enforcement Agency facility, he told Reichen.
Ah, that is resolved, my friend. The head of security phoned only moments before you called. The Director of the Agency here in Berlin gave specific license for access to the facility. There is no issue with permitting your emissary into the facility to question Petrov Odolf.
As the words left his mouth and suspicion started to simmer in his blood, Tegan heard the soft whisk of the tech lab's glass doors as they slid open to let someone inside. He knew who that someone was, even before he saw Chase's jaw go tight across the room. Tegan pivoted around in his wheeled chair and found Elise standing there, looking guilty as sin.
What the hell have you done?
It wasn't my doing, Reichen said over the speaker. I assumed it was something you initiated…
The German leader of the Berlin Darkhaven was still talking but Tegan wasn't hearing a word. Elise walked forward, her steps a bit halting. One of the other Breedmates had given her a change of clothes. The purple knit tunic and dark blue jeans were an improvement over the havoc of the revealing swimsuit, but it still didn't totally conceal her petite, feminine lines.
Which only pissed Tegan off more. Whatever you think you're doing, forget it. I told you, I work alone.
Not this time. The arrangements are already in place with the Agency and the containment facility. They are expecting me.
This must be a fucking joke.
I'm completely serious. I'm going with you.
Tegan dismissed her with a brief look and went back to his call with Reichen. There will be no Darkhaven emissary accompanying me. Just me alone, Andreas, and we're still getting in to see that Rogue, even if we have to break into–
Tegan, I think you misunderstand. Elise's voice was unwavering behind him and dangerously bold. I wasn't asking for your permission.
He froze, stunned at the woman's nerve. I'll be in touch, he told Reichen, then severed the connection with an overzealous punch of the keypad.
I'm the one who delivered the journal to the Order, Elise said as he turned a glare on her. Without me, you wouldn't have known anything about the inpidual you mean to question. Without me, you won't be permitted to get within viewing range of him, let alone speak to him. I am going with you.
Tegan vaulted out of his chair. Elise leaped back, startled–the first show of good sense he'd seen in her since she walked into the lab. He pinned her with a narrow stare that swept with scathing, deliberate slowness from her flushing cheeks to the tips of her borrowed shoes. You're in no condition for travel. Look at you–you're weak, little more than skin and bones. We won't even talk about the fact that you can hardly be near humans without inviting vicious migraines and nosebleeds.
I will manage. He scoffed. How?
She frowned, dropping her gaze as Tegan's voice boomed around them.
What are you going to do between now and then–solicit the vein of a vampire to bolster your strength? Because that's what it would take.
Her cheeks went suddenly awash in color.
Maybe one of them will offer to service you, Tegan said, ruthless now, indicating the other warriors who were watching the exchange in tense silence.
Shit, Tegan, Gideon cautioned beside him. Lighten up, for crissake.
Tegan tuned out everything but the Darkhaven female's shocked expression. That's what it would take, Elise–Breed blood coursing through your body. Nothing less. Without it, your talent will continue to rule you, as it does now. You'll only be a liability.
He saw the outrage spark in her eyes, but it was her humiliation that struck him like a blow to the gut. It was considered crass in the extreme to speak publicly of the blood bonds between a female and her mate–even worse, to speak of it in mixed company.
To suggest that an unbonded Breedmate take a male for sustenance alone was beyond profane.
I am a widow, she said quietly. I am in mourning–
Five years, Tegan reminded her, his voice sounding tight even to his own ears. Where will you be in another five? Or ten? You're letting yourself die on your feet and you know it. Don't ask me to help you get there faster.
She stared up at him mutely, her delicate throat working as she swallowed what was likely a sob. Maybe a curse that he go straight to hell, which was probably where he was heading even before this ugly display.
You're right, Tegan, she whispered, not a trace of weakness or any hitch in her voice. You are right…and I concede that you've made your point.
With squared shoulders, she pivoted around and walked calmly out of the lab, a vision of stoic dignity. Tegan felt like an ass, watching her leave in rigid silence. After she disappeared from view, he exhaled a sharp curse.
What the fuck are you looking at? he barked to Chase, who had risen from the table he'd been seated at. The ex-Darkhaven agent had his hand curled around the butt of a handgun that was holstered across his chest. His expression was nothing short of murderous.
Screw this, Tegan growled. I'm outta here.
Not surprisingly, Chase was right on his heels. He gave Tegan's shoulder a hard shove as the two of them exited to the corridor outside the lab.
You son of a bitch. She didn't deserve that kind of treatment–least of all from someone like you.
No, she didn't. But it was necessary. There was no way in hell he was going to put himself in close quarters again with Elise, let alone make her his accomplice on this mission to Berlin. He'd needed to shut her down, and shut her down hard. So what if he'd made himself into a bigger asshole for doing it publicly. He'd only fortified what everyone already thought of him.
Tegan met Chase's furious look and affected a callous smile. You care so much about the female, Harvard? Why don't you go console her like you're burning to do. Just do us all a favor and keep her the fuck away from me.
Chase got up in his face, blue eyes flashing raw anger. You're a real dick, you know that?
Yeah? Tegan shrugged. Last time I checked, I wasn't campaigning for any Mr. Congeniality awards.
Parting his lips, Tegan hissed through his lengthening fangs as he bore down on Chase, cutting off the further round of insult. He half hoped the irate vampire would push him into a fight. Part of him craved to know Chase's feelings of torment and rage, and as torqued as he was right now, he wouldn't turn down a chance to bruise his knuckles in a little hand-to-hand.
But Dante smoothly intervened, coming out of the lab at that very second to grab Chase's arm and physically pull the warrior out of Tegan's path. Shit, Harvard. Don't go getting yourself killed now that I've almost got you trained. What a friggin' waste that would be, eh?
After a few seconds of interference, Chase simmered down, but his eyes were still hot on Tegan even as Dante tugged him up the corridor. In the lab, Gideon was back at his keyboard. Nikolai, Brock, and Kade got back to business too, all of them acting as though Tegan hadn't just come off like a heartless bastard in front of a defenseless female.
Tegan cursed low under his breath. He had to get the hell out of there, and the way things were going, tomorrow night's flight to Berlin wasn't going to be soon enough.
He had somewhere he could go–the place he always went when shit started bearing down on him. Sometimes he'd disappear there for nights on end; none of his brethren in the Order had ever been there. It was his own private hell, a forsaken, hollow place, filled with death. Right about now, it sounded like a fucking holiday.
Elise stood in the center of a large, mostly vacant chamber in the compound, feeling as if she'd had the wind knocked out of her. She was still shaking from her confrontation with Tegan, but whether it was from humiliation or anger, she wasn't sure. What he'd done to her in front of his brethren was inexcusable, incredibly cold. He had to know that what he suggested was blasphemous and profanely insulting–not just to her, but to the warriors who'd been in the room to hear it. Only the lowest females living among the Breed would engage in a blood bond without a solemn commitment and a deeply shared love.
The blood bond was the most sacred communion between a Breedmate and the male she chose as her own. The ultimate intimacy, it was very often a sexual act, and one never entered into lightly. To use a vampire's blood only to further one's longevity and strength was simply not done. Not by anyone Elise knew.
But she couldn't deny that Tegan's observations of her had been the truth.
What he'd said was cruel and crude…and utterly accurate. She was willingly wasting away, which was her prerogative as a widowed Breedmate. But she wanted to have an active part in thwarting the Rogues, and it was foolish of her to think she could do so if she continued on as she was.
Elise glanced at the barren room around her. The white, windowless walls contained no color at all–no pleasing art or photographs, like she'd seen in the rest of the compound. No sofa, no electronic equipment or computers, no books. Nothing of personal expression at all.
Near the far wall stood a tall black cabinet, and a black wooden bench beside it, underneath which was two pairs of large black leather boots, arranged with military precision. There was a large bed in the adjacent room, but even that wasn't particularly inviting. Just gunmetal gray sheets and a coal-colored blanket folded neatly at the foot of the king-sized mattress. Elise had never seen a soldiers' barracks, but she imagined they'd look like this…maybe not this cold and impersonal.
She knew where she was, of course. She'd known where she was heading when she navigated the labyrinth of corridors after removing herself from the embarrassment she'd endured in the Order's control room.
She knew what she was about to do now, but that didn't make her heart skip any less frantically when she heard Tegan's hard gait approaching from outside the open door of his private quarters.
That long-legged stride slowed, then ceased altogether as the air stirred coldly, announcing his arrival. His immense body filled the door frame, muscular arms crossed over his chest, his powerful, denim-clad thighs spread in a battle stance. He didn't speak at first, but there was no need for words when his emerald-green eyes narrowed on her, as sharp as gemstones and as cold as a glacier.
If you're looking for an apology, you can forget it.
Elise held that menacing gaze as she forced herself to approach him. I'm not here for that, she told him, surprised there was no tremor in her voice for the way her pulse was skittering in her veins. I came here to tell you that you were right back there. I do need the strength of a blood bond, but I'm not looking for a mate. I need an uncomplicated arrangement, with someone who isn't going to care what I do, or when I walk away…so I choose you.