Midnight Rising (Chapter Six)

Rio closed his hand around the female's open mouth just as the first high note of terror ripped through the room. He'd moved too quickly for her human eyes to track him, employing the same Breed ability he'd used to tail her taxi from the station and follow her up into her hotel room. She'd probably felt him move past her as he had entered ahead of her – registering him only as a sudden draft of chill air – but even now he could tell that her mind was struggling to make sense of what her eyes were seeing.

She twisted her head, attempting to break free of his unrelenting grasp. Another scream formed in the back of her throat and blasted hotly against his palm, but the effort was useless. The hard clamp of Rio's fingers snuffed out all but the barest tremor of her cries.

"Quiet." He held fast, and pinned her with a look that demanded obedience. "Not one more sound, do you understand? I'm not going to hurt you."

Even though he meant it – at least for now – he could see that she was far from convinced. She was trembling hard, her entire body taut and rigid, fear pouring off her in vibrating waves. Over the edge of his palm, her gold-flecked green eyes were huge and wild. Her fine nostrils flared with every short, panicked breath she took.

"Do as I tell you, and you won't get hurt," he said, holding that wide, wary gaze. Very slowly, he began to ease some of the pressure from her mouth. The moist heat of her lips and sawing breath seared his palm as she adjusted to the tiny bit of freedom he'd granted her. "Now, I'm going to take my hand away. I need you to stay quiet. Agreed?"

She blinked slowly. Gave him a faint, tremulous nod.

"All right." Rio began to lift his hand. "All right, that's good."

The female didn't scream.

She bit him.

No sooner had Rio relaxed his hold than he felt the sudden, blunt force of her teeth latching on to the web of flesh between his thumb and forefinger. He spat a vicious curse, more pissed off that he hadn't seen the attack coming than he was put off by the pain of her bite.

She drew back just as swiftly as she'd struck and managed to break away from him. She lunged for the locked door but didn't even make it one step. Rio tackled her from behind, his arms wrapped around her like iron bands.

"Oh, God – no!" she cried, and went down hard on her knees, too fast for him to cushion her fall.

She collapsed in a clumsy, face-first sprawl on the floor. Rio heard her breath whoosh out of her on the abrupt impact and knew her lungs had to be screaming. Not that it sapped her of her determination. Damn, she was tenacious.

She made a last-ditch, frantic scrabble on her belly, trying to drag herself over the carpeted floor to get away from him. But she stood no chance, certainly not against one of his kind.

Rio crawled up the length of her, trapping her under the weight of his body. She was panting as he flipped her over onto her back and sat himself astride her. She wriggled, still fighting him for all she was worth, but she wasn't going anywhere. Rio had her imprisoned beneath him, holding her arms tight against her sides with the strength of his muscled thighs.

She was completely at his mercy now, and from the look in her eyes as she stared up at him, she didn't expect he had much to give.

Rio could guess what he looked like – Jesus, what he smelled like too. This close, he couldn't hope that his scars were hidden behind his overlong hair. He saw her terrified gaze flick to the left side of his face, where the flames and flying shrapnel had left their mark a year ago. The tight, reddish-silver tangle of ruined skin must look especially hideous underneath all his grime. He must look like some kind of half-crazed monster…

Yeah, he did, because that's just what he was.

And he was also suddenly, acutely aware of the soft, warm woman trapped beneath him. Where he was dressed to offend, in torn clothes that were too far gone months ago to even make decent rags, she was wearing a curve-hugging, cap-sleeved tee-shirt with a pleasantly deep V-neck and light tan cargo pants that rode just below her hips. She smelled clean and fresh, infinitely female.

And she was beautiful.

Holy mother, was she ever.

He'd never seen eyes of her precise color, a rich, verdant green flecked with pale gold. A thick fringe of dark brown lashes framed those intelligent, mesmerizing eyes, which stared up at him now in such wary uncertainty. Her cheekbones were delicate and high, accentuating the graceful line of her jaw. She had the kind of beauty that made her seem both innocent and wise, but it was the shadows in her incredible eyes that intrigued Rio the most.

This woman had known disappointment and hurt in her life. Maybe even betrayal. She'd been wounded before, and now here he was adding a new brand of terror to her life experience.

Even worse, she aroused him.

Not only the knowledge that he had her caught between his thighs, but the sight of her pretty mouth, which was stained with a trace smear of his blood from when she'd bitten him. Everything male in Rio was alert with the feel of her beneath him. Everything Breed in him was tuned in to that scarlet smudge on her tempting lips…and to the thrumming tick of her pulse where it beat so quickly at the base of her creamy throat.

He wanted her.

After the months of exile in that godforsaken cave, after Eva's deception that had left him dead in so many ways, Rio looked at this woman and felt…alive.

He felt ravenous, and she likely picked up on that fact from the low growl he could do nothing to suppress. He felt his vision sharpen as his pupils began to narrow with his interest. His gums ached as his fangs began to elongate behind the tight line of his lips.

And his cock was suddenly, achingly erect. There was no hiding that fact, even as he shifted his hold on his captive.

"Please…don't do this," she said, a tear sliding down her cheekbone and into her silky red hair. "Whatever you're thinking, just…let me go. If it's money you need, take it. My purse is right over there – "

"I don't want you or your money," Rio ground out tightly. He got off her, angered with himself for the twin physical reactions he was having a hard time holding at bay. "Come on, stand up. All I want is your camera."

She slowly pulled herself to her feet. "My what?"

"The camera you had with you in the cave, and the pictures you took. I need all of it."

"You want…the pictures? I don't understand – "

"You don't need to. Just give them to me." When she didn't move to comply, Rio trained a piercing look on her. "Get them. Now."

"O-okay," she stammered, and hurried over to a large backpack that stood in the corner of the room. She dug through it and pulled out the slim digital camera.

When she started to open it up to pop out the image disk, Rio said, "I'll do that. Give it to me."

She held the camera out to him with shaking fingers. "You followed me all the way to Prague for this? What's so important about those pictures? And just how did you find me anyway?"

Rio ignored her questions. In a few minutes, none of this would matter. He'd have the images and then he'd scrub the female's memory of the entire chain of events.

"Is this all of them?" he asked her as he turned the camera on and scrolled through the contents of the disk. "Have you downloaded them to any other devices?"

"That's it," she replied quickly. "That's everything, I swear."

He reviewed the handful of shots from the cave, the ones of himself in partial transformation, and the ones that showed the Ancient's hibernation chamber and the glyphs painted in human blood on the walls. "Have you shown these to anyone?"

She swallowed, then shook her head. "I still don't understand what this is about."

"And that's how we're going to keep it," Rio said.

He walked toward her, only three steps between them. She backed away, but came up against the window on the far wall of the room. "Oh, my God. You said you weren't going to hurt me…"

"Be calm," he instructed her. "It will be over soon."

"Oh, shit." A strangled moan curled audibly in the back of her throat. "Oh, my God…you're really going to kill me…"

"No," Rio said grimly. "But I need your silence."

He reached out for her. All it would take was a brief settling of his hand on her forehead to erase her knowledge of the mountain cave and him from her mind.

But as his hand descended toward her, she drew in her breath, then let it out on a string of words that made him freeze in place where he stood.

"I'm not the only one who knows!" She panted with fear. Words tumbled out of her mouth in a rush. "Other people know where I am. They know where I've been, what I've been doing. So, whatever you think those pictures mean, killing me won't protect you because I'm not the only one who's seen them."

She lied to him. Rio's anger spiked at the deception. "You said no one else knew."

"And you said you weren't going to hurt me."

"Jesus." He saw little point in arguing with her, or in defending his intentions. "You need to tell me who you've shown the pictures to. I need names and locations."

She scoffed, too bold for her own good. "Why? So you can go after them too?"

Rio's mind switched into immediate reconnaissance mode. He threw a glance at her belongings and saw a messenger bag slung over the hotel chair. The bag looked like it probably contained a computer. He stalked over to it and withdrew a thin silver laptop.

He opened it and hit the power button, which must have given the woman an idea that she could make another break for the door. She bolted, but Rio cut her off at the pass. He stood in front of her, his back against the heavily locked panel, before she even had a chance to imagine freedom.

"Holy shit," she gasped, blinking at him in disbelief. "How did you get – ? You were all the way across the room – "

"Yes, I was. And now I'm not."

Rio stepped forward, away from the door, forcing her to retreat. She backed up as he kept advancing, obviously unsure what to make of him now.

"Sit down," he ordered her. "The sooner you cooperate, the sooner this will be over."

She took a seat on the edge of the bed, watching as he went back to her computer and fired up her Internet connection. Her e-mail was a revelation. Aside from the usual personal garbage and a recent airline ticket change, Rio found several messages in her Sent folder going out to some kind of news organization – a few of them complete with photos. He clicked one open and quickly scanned the contents.

"Ah, Christ. You've got to be kidding me," he muttered. He swung a glare at her over his shoulder. "You're a goddamn reporter?"

She didn't answer, just sat there biting her lip like she wasn't sure if a yes might get her killed faster than a no.

Rio put down the laptop and started pacing tightly.

He thought the situation had been bad before? Well, now he was faced with a nuclear-grade disaster. A reporter. A reporter with a camera and a computer and an Internet connection. No amount of mind-scrubbing was going to take care of that.

He needed an assist here, and he needed one pronto.

Rio grabbed her computer and called up the instant messaging software. He typed in a masked ID that would route to the Order's tech lab at the compound in Boston. The address was monitored 24/7 by Gideon, the warriors' resident computer genius. Rio entered a cryptic message using code that identified him, his location, and his need to contact.

The response came back from Gideon almost immediately. Whatever Rio needed, the Order would provide. Gideon was standing by for details.

"You got a cell phone?" he asked the reporter sitting mutely near him. When she shook her head, Rio snatched the desk phone and typed in the hotel's landline. "What room number is this? The number, damn it!"

"Uh, it's 310," she replied. "Why? Who are you calling? Are you going to tell me what's going on?"

"Damage control," he said, about a second before the telephone started ringing.

He picked up the receiver, knowing it was Gideon even before he heard the slight English accent on the other end. "I'm calling on a scrambled signal, Rio, so speak freely. What's up? More importantly, where the fuck have you been all this time? For crissake, it's been five months since you went off grid. You don't write, you don't call…don't you love me no more?"

God, it was good to hear a familiar voice. Rio might have smiled at the thought but things were too far south on his end. "I've got a situation here – it's not good, my friend."

Gideon's humor vanished and the warrior was all business. "Talk to me."

"I'm in Prague. There's a reporter here with me – a female. American. She's got pictures from the mountain, Gideon. Pictures of the hibernation chamber and the glyphs on the walls."

"Jesus. How did she get in there to take pictures? And when? That cave's been sealed up since you guys were there in February."

Ah, hell. No getting around it. He had to just spit the truth out. "The cave wasn't sealed. There were some delays…I didn't secure the damn thing until today. After the pictures were taken."

Gideon blew out a curse. "All right. I'm assuming you've scrubbed her, but what about the photos? Do you have them?"

"Yeah, I have them, but here's where it gets worse, Gid. She's not the only one who's seen them. They've already gone out via e-mail to the paper she works for and several other inpiduals. If I could've contained this by scrubbing her, I would have. Unfortunately, it's bigger than that, my friend."

Gideon was quiet for a long moment, no doubt calculating the endless ramifications of Rio's fuckup, even though he was too much of a diplomat to list them off. "First thing we need to do is get you out of there and somewhere secure. The woman too. Think you can hold her until I can arrange a pickup?"

"Anything you say. This is my mess, I'm sure as hell going to do whatever I need to in order to clean it up."

Rio heard the vague clatter of a keyboard in the background. "I'm contacting Andreas Reichen in Berlin." There was a few seconds' pause, then Gideon started talking on another phone line back in Boston. He came back to Rio in no time. "I've got pickup for you and transport to Reichen's Darkhaven, but it might take up to an hour for his contact to reach you."

"That's no problem."

"Confirming now," Gideon replied, deftly handling the logistics like hauling Rio's ass out of trouble was nothing but cake. "Okay, you're all set. I'll call again when the transport is in place."

"I'll be ready. Hey, Gideon…thank you."

"No problem at all. Good to have you back, Rio. We need you, man. Things don't feel right around here without you."

"I'll report in from Berlin," he said, thinking that now probably wasn't the time to tell Gideon that he wasn't coming back into the fold.

His date with death had been postponed, but as soon as he had this current situation under control, he was checking out for good.