Chase had walked away from it when he'd joined up with the Order a year and a half ago, never looking back. The near-dozen kin he'd been responsible for then, the young cousins, family friends, and distant relations, had since moved on to other Darkhavens in the area. Now his former home was nothing but a vacant tomb housing the memories of his past sins and failures.

This brownstone mansion in Boston's Back Bay was the last place he wanted to be, but he could think of nowhere else that would be safe enough for Tavia and far enough off-grid for him. As far as human law enforcement knew, his sole place of residence had been the Order's mansion. They didn't know anything about him except what he'd been willing to give them. All of it amounting to little more than lies and half-truths.

Chase groaned, unwilling to drag his eyelids open as another bout of hammering crashed behind his temples. His whole body recoiled under the relentless bang! ... bang! ... bang! ... that seemed to echo from all around him and within him.

Then, the sudden crash of breaking glass.

Chase was on his feet and at the locked door of his bedroom in an instant.

He threw it open and found Tavia standing in her white hotel robe in front of the shuttered window, breath sawing as she paused to lift his heavy desk chair and slam it against the glass again. A piercingly bright nimbus of sunlight arrowed in through the splintered glass, blinding him as soon as he entered.

Chase hissed at the solar onslaught, his fangs punching out of his gums in his rage. He raised his arm to his forehead to shield his eyes and charged in to take hold of her arm before she could level another blow. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?"

"Let go of me!" She shrieked as he ripped the chair out of her hands. "I'm getting out of here!" Chase grabbed her by the arm and pulled her out of the room with him, slamming the door closed behind them. He pushed her into the adjacent study where he'd spent the night. "Are you out of your goddamn mind?"

He thrust her away from him none too gently, barely able to control the feral part of him that was snapping at its tether, looking for any reason to get loose. She was half down on the floor near the fireplace, her robe gaping enough to bare the better part of one perfect breast. Chase swore. His vision was bathed in fiery amber, his skin prickling with the churning of his livid dermaglyphs.

Normally, he would have tried to glance away, attempted to hide himself from curious human eyes, but she stared at him unblinking, unflinching, her intelligent gaze locked unerringly on his transformation from man to monster.

"What are you? What's wrong with your eyes? I saw your teeth last night in the hotel. You have - " She choked a bit on the word. "I saw your fangs. I can see them now too. So tell me the truth. What the hell are you?"

"I think you know, Tavia," he answered flatly.

"No," she said. She let out a short bark of a laugh. "No, I promise you, I don't know. I'm not even sure I want to know."

She was trembling now, legs shaking beneath her as she started to get to her feet. He cocked his head, watching her. Studying her for a reaction that would tell him more about who - and what - she was. "You're afraid."

Her face went a bit paler. "I'm terrified, you sick son of a bitch! You killed my boss. You killed several cops and federal agents - "

"I told you, the agents were mostly unharmed," he interrupted to remind her.

"I don't care what you say. I don't believe you," she replied hotly. "You're a cold-blooded psychopath. At best, that's what you are. At worst, I don't even want to think about what you might be. You're a monster!"

Chase took a step toward her, watching her chest heave beneath the loose terry-cloth robe that barely covered her the more she struggled to stay on her feet. "Now you're angry." "Stay away from me," she said as he came closer.

He looked at her exposed skin. The plunging V of her robe showed him an ample slice of the markings that covered her chest and torso. Those markings were still the same dusty mauve they'd been when he'd first spotted them last night in the hotel suite.

They couldn't be glyphs, he realized now. His own were pulsing and alive with color - a visceral reaction to his heightened emotional state - and yet hers, despite her fear and rage right now, remained static, wholly unchanging. "These markings of yours ... how the hell can you have them?"

"Haven't you ever seen burn scars?" She tugged the robe closed to hide them as color rose into her cheeks. "Not that it's any business of yours, but when I was a baby, there was an accident. I was burned all over my body."

Although the story seemed plausible, and she certainly seemed to believe it herself, Chase wasn't convinced. "I've seen burn scars before and they don't look like that."

"Well, mine do," she said. "And I think you should know that I also have a serious medical condition. I'm not well. I need my medications."

He scoffed, unmoved by the obvious line of bullshit. "You don't look sick to me."

"I'm telling you the truth," she insisted. "My meds are in my pocketbook, back at the hotel. I can't go more than eight hours without taking them. It could be deadly for me."

He took another step toward her, close enough to see the desperation in her citrusy green eyes. She glanced down toward the fireplace tools, then made a hasty grab for an iron poker. She wielded the thing like a blade in front of her, about to make a hard jab at him with it.

Chase flung the length of metal out of her hands and across the room with the power of his mind alone. Her jaw dropped, eyes going wide as the poker went airborne. It hit the hardwood floor with a jarring clatter before skidding to a stop twenty feet away.

"You're not very strong, Tavia." Chase closed in on her before she could even realize he was moving. She blinked up at him in alarm as he brought his hands down on her shoulders in a subtle but firm hold. "Not very fast either."

She struggled against him, but he held her easily. Even if her mortal brain worked to process what it was witnessing, her instincts were immediately ready to take him on. Eyes blazing, her chin hiked up in challenge. "Is that what this is about for you? You want someone to put up a fight for you before you finally kill them?"

This close, it was impossible not to notice how beautiful she was. Her caramel-brown hair fell in glossy waves that broke at her shoulders, framing high cheekbones, a gracefully curved jaw and elegant throat. Her bright green gaze, even swamped with anger and fear, radiated keen intelligence. Inky black lashes fringed those eyes, softening the sharp wit with a doelike innocence. Her mouth was generous, dusky pink, full lips made for kissing. Among other things. Chase drank her in, his earlier suspicion of her morphing into interest of another kind, no less powerful. An unbidden, unwelcome desire needled him in that moment, intensifying and darkening now that he was holding her just a breath away from his mouth.

No delicate waif, this was a lean, athletically built woman who stood only a few inches less than his six-and-a-half-foot height. She had a swimmer's body, perfectly proportioned muscle, toned and strong and agile. She seemed naturally fit, not shaped by the rigors of a personal trainer and strict diet. Each curve and angle was a flawless construction of female anatomy - scantily covered by one large scrap of draping terry cloth - and his male body responded in rising approval.

He could feel her anxiety spike as he studied her. His nostrils tingled with the scent of her fear and outrage, something more than simple Homo sapiens adrenaline shooting through her veins. Scowling, he tried to process what his senses were telling him.

He bent his head toward her, face moving in close to the side of her neck. She went utterly still as he dragged in a long breath against her skin, sniffing her hard. "You don't smell human." "Oh, God," she moaned, her voice vibrating through him. "Please don't do this."

Hunger lashed him for the mistake of getting this close to her throbbing carotid. It was far too easy to imagine penetrating the soft flesh. Drinking from her open vein.

He wondered what she would taste like. Would her blood be tangy, mundane copper, or something more exotic?

Taking her vein was probably the fastest way to determine if she was, in fact, human or something other. But he knew one sip would be too much. He needed to starve this thirst out of himself, not feed the addiction. And Tavia Fairchild was off limits completely until he got to the bottom of who, and what, she truly was.

Chase searched her gaze. "Tell me the truth, Tavia. You know you're not what you're pretending to be."

"I don't know what you're talking about," she insisted. "You're crazy."

"No," he said, giving a rough, humorless laugh. "Not quite crazy, not yet. I'm sane enough to see that you're keeping a secret. So tell me what it is. Tell me what you are. Did Dragos do this to you?"

She made another futile attempt to break out of his hold. "You're a lunatic! I've never even heard the name Dragos until you said it at the police station."

When she turned away from him, Chase reached out and lifted her face back to his. He watched, waited, expecting to see her pupils start to narrow into thin vertical slits the way his were now. But there was no change in the rounded pools of black that stared back at him. She couldn't be Breed - no matter how certain his instincts were that nothing else could explain her. Impulsively, he put his finger to her lips and forced his way into her soft, wet mouth to check her teeth for the presence of fangs. There were none, of course. Only a straight row of blunt human pearly whites.

She clamped down on his finger with them, biting him hard enough to draw blood.

She stared at the small wound, her eyes locked on to it and full of rage. Her body was shuddering now, quaking all over as though she were about to break. A droplet of Chase's blood beaded on her bottom lip.

"Christ," he murmured, recognizing only now how far he was pushing her. Some part of him felt shame for the terror he was inflicting on her, but the other part of him, the one that was still throbbing and wild with hunger, dug its claws into his backside, demanding to be let loose from its leash.

Everything Breed in Chase urged him to take this female and slake his thirst on her. Desire and suspicion and raw blood need was a dangerous combination, one he wasn't certain how long he could withstand. It rose up on him in a black wave, almost too powerful to resist. He had to put some distance between himself and this female, before the Bloodlust took hold of him completely.

With a growl, he spun Tavia around and pulled her hands behind her.

"What are you doing?" she demanded.

He didn't answer. He had no voice, now that his hunger was roaring to life again inside him. A mental command sent a braided silk drapery tie snaking into his palm from the nearby shuttered window. He secured it around her wrists, then set her down on a covered chair beside the fireplace.

"Please," she said, her tone gone from fear and outrage to one of desperate bargaining. "Please, I won't tell anyone what I've seen. I promise. Just let me go."

He crouched down in front of her, their faces level. She was shivering and shaking, a sheen of perspiration breaking out on her tense brow. Looking at her now, he had to wonder if she'd been telling him the truth about her medical condition. She looked ill and pale since she'd bitten him, on the verge of fainting.

Chase didn't feel so well himself. It was easily eight hours before nightfall. Eight hours before he could even entertain the idea of getting out of there to work off some of his aggression. Eight hours of being trapped in close quarters with a woman who tempted him on more levels than he wanted to consider.

His fingers shook with the force of his mounting blood hunger as he reached out to wipe away the scarlet stain from her lips. Her eyes implored him for mercy, but the beast raging to life inside him now had none.

He stood and strode away from her without a word.

"POLICE TODAY had no comment when asked whether the incident that occurred last night at the Hyatt Regency downtown was in any way connected to the recent killing of Senator Robert Clarence. Channel 5 has unconfirmed reports that at least one body was recovered from the scene. However, law enforcement officials are not willing to disclose any further details pending a complete invest - "

Dragos silenced the large flat-screen TV and tossed the remote behind him onto the bed. Naked, his glyph-covered skin still glistening with sweat and spilled human blood, he retrieved his pants from where they'd hit the floor a few hours ago and stepped into them.

"Get dressed," he told the pair of females who'd serviced his recent needs, basic and carnal both. The two humans were young and stupid, plucked from local stock on the mainland last night and brought the handful of miles offshore to his hidden island lair. They'd taken one look at his chauffeured car as it waited at a stoplight in their sorry little town and had climbed inside as soon as he curled his finger at them in invitation.

It would be their last mistake; as with all of his playthings, he didn't intend that either one of them would live to make it out of his lair in one piece.

Dismissing the thought of them already, he strode out of the room. Since relocating to the remote fortress off the coast of Maine more than a month ago, he'd managed to get most of his operation back online and functional. Systems had been in place on a contingency basis for years, and his Minion staff of technology and laboratory experts worked around the clock to see that everything continued to run smoothly.

He had other Minions as well, embedded around Boston and elsewhere, a veritable legion of human mind slaves whose eyes and ears - and sometimes their killing hands - were loyal solely to him. It was those Minions who'd reported last night's hotel break-in to him, hours before the newshounds at the local television station started sniffing around the incident.