"And me?" Tavia asked now. "I don't understand what any of this has to do with me." "Don't you?" Chase paused, letting her sharp mind consider the possibilities.
"Dragos created me," she said after a moment. "I was one of his genetic experiments."
Chase's answering nod was grim. "There's no other way to explain the fact that you exist, Tavia. You're obviously Breed, but you're female - something we've never seen. And you can walk in daylight without burning. That's been an impossibility for our kind too. Until now. Until you."
"So, if I was fathered by a creature in Dragos's laboratory, what about my mother?"
"A Breedmate, I'm sure," Chase said. "Dragos kept dozens imprisoned in his labs over decades of time. If I'm right, you probably have a small red birthmark somewhere on your body. It would be in the shape of a teardrop and crescent moon."
Tavia stared at him in stunned silence. "On my lower back. I've always believed it was just part of my scars. Nothing I believed before was true, was it? It was all lies." She backed away, clutching her arms over her midsection as though she might be sick. She wheeled a stricken look on him, her green eyes throwing off amber sparks. "Why would he do this to me? What could Dragos possibly stand to gain by creating me like some kind of Frankenstein's monster?" "You're not a monster," Chase assured her.
"I'm a fucking abomination!" she cried. The glyphs peeking over the edge of her high- collared sweater were alive with color and churning from one dark hue to another in her mounting distress. The sharp points of her fangs were just visible beneath the dusky edge of her upper lip.
She was so beautiful like this, he could hardly think straight. But she didn't see that. With a rough snarl, she tugged at the long sleeves of her top, exposing her forearms. Then she began rubbing at the dermaglyphs that tracked up her arms, scrubbing her palms over them in a ruthless frenzy, as though she wanted to scrape them off her skin.
Chase stilled her hands, taking them in his. "You're not a monster, Tavia. What you are is a miracle."
He reached up between them and smoothed some of her loose hair away from her flushed face. The urge to kiss her was nearly overwhelming, but he held back, unwilling to take advantage of her distress and confusion. Too bad he didn't have the same restraint earlier that day.
As much as it shamed him to think about the feel of her strong, lithe body wrapped around him, he couldn't deny that if she let him kiss her now, they'd end up naked all over again. And now that he was thinking about getting Tavia naked, his own body started to react in obvious interest.
He stroked the velvety slope of her cheek. Through emerging fangs, he said, "Jesus Christ ... you are the most incredible thing I've ever seen. Possibly the only one of your kind." "No." She gave a vague shake of her head but didn't pull away from his touch. "I'm not the only one. There are more like me."
Chase's hand paused where it rested against her beautiful face. "There are others? You're sure?"
"I heard Dr. Lewis say so. When Aunt Sarah told him I hadn't had my medication for a couple of days, he seemed alarmed. He said the others had never gone without treatment as long as me without severe reactions."
Holy hell. Chase's veins went cold with astonishment. "What else did he say? Did he mention how many there were? Where they might be?"
Tavia shook her head. "He tried to deny it when I asked him about it."
"Do you know where his office is?"
"Of course. I've been going there for exams and special medical trials since I was a child. He has a private clinic and treatment facility on an old farm property in Sherborn, southwest of Boston."
"That's where he keeps his patient records?"
"As far as I know, everything is kept on-site at the clinic."
While Chase was doing a mental calculation of how fast he could get to the rural farmland clinic, a knock sounded on the Darkhaven's front door. "It's okay," Chase told her. "I'm expecting someone."
He went to the foyer and opened the door for Mathias Rowan. "Sorry to keep you waiting, Chase. Things at the Agency have never been worse. I've got my hands full dealing with Agency traitors and a mass human slaughter that took place at the Chinatown sip-and-strip the other night. I came as soon as I could." As they made their way through the entry hall toward the study, Rowan looked around at the empty Darkhaven and exhaled a low breath. "Crissakes, I never thought you'd return to this place. Especially after what happened with Camden."
"Neither did I." Chase paused in front of his old Agency colleague. "And know that I wouldn't have called you for help unless I had no other choice. I hate dragging you into this shit - "
Rowan put his hand on Chase's shoulder. "In case you hadn't noticed, I'm already in it. You're in trouble, I know that. Hell, everyone in a hundred-mile radius knows that, human and Breed alike. You can't turn on the television without seeing your face on every news channel in the country. The dead last place you ought to be right now is Boston, my friend."
Chase nodded. "Yeah. But I need your help with something, Mathias. It's urgent, and it's important."
"I figured it had to be something big if you were calling me. What can I do?"
Chase stepped aside and let Rowan continue on into the study where Tavia stood. Her eyes lit on the Breed male, her thin pupils unwavering in the center of her amber-bright irises. The glyphs on her bared forearms were still alive with changing colors.
Mathias Rowan lost his normally polished demeanor and gaped outright at her. "What the ..." "Tavia Fairchild," Chase said. "Meet my old friend Mathias Rowan."
"Hello," she said, the tips of her fangs glinting bright as diamonds in her mouth. "Is she - " Rowan began, then stopped short. He peered at her in disbelief, then shot a questioning look back at Chase. "She can't be ..."
"She is," Chase said. "And I need you to look after her for me. Get her to the Order as soon as possible. She needs protection from Dragos."
"My God," Rowan gasped. He strode toward her cautiously, scrutinizing her as he might some new wonder of the world. Which wasn't far off the mark. "Remarkable. But ... how can this be?"
"I'll explain it later." Chase checked his weapons belt and grabbed more rounds from the box sitting on the fireplace mantel of the study. "Just get her out of Boston. Take her personally to Lucan. He'll know what to do."
Rowan opened his mouth, but before he could protest or ask more questions, Tavia piped in. "I'm not going anywhere with anyone."
"You are," Chase replied. "It's not safe for you now. Dragos will know his Minions are dead, and he'll come for you. Believe me when I tell you that nothing could be worse for you than falling into his hands."
That stubborn chin went up a notch. "I'll take my chances. But I'm not going anywhere until I know more about who I really am and what's going on."
"And I'll help you with that, if I can. You said your doctor's office is in Sherborn? That's where he keeps your patient records and all the others he's been treating under Dragos's command?"
"Yes, but the clinic property is gated. It's staffed around the clock with an armed security detail."
"Hold on here," Rowan interjected. "Let's slow down. Tell me what this is about, Chase. If this has something to do with Dragos, we should bring the Order in sooner rather than later." "There's no time for that. Hell, it's probably too late to get much intel as it is. Dragos might have the place on lockdown already."
Rowan cursed darkly. "All the more reason to have Lucan and the Order here too. I'm going to call them - "
"Do whatever you have to," Chase replied, finding it hard to curb the bitterness from his voice, knowing Rowan had open access to the Order while he didn't even know where they'd gone. "I'm not going to wait around cooling my heels. I'm heading out to that goddamn clinic now."
Tavia was at his side before he took the first step. It was still a bit unnerving for a female to move with the same speed and agility as any other Breed. "I'm going with you," she said. "This is my life we're talking about. I'm not going to stand back and let anyone control me. Not ever again. Besides, I'm the only one of us familiar with the clinic and its records. You need me." As much as he wanted to deny her, Chase could see that arguing would be pointless. It would only waste precious time - something they didn't have, if they stood even the slightest chance of collecting any information of value from the dead doctor's clinic.
Tavia Fairchild might be untrained and untried, but in her blood and bones she was Breed - physically strong and powerful in her own right. She was also female, and Chase could see from her determined expression that she would not take his no for any kind of answer.
"All right, then," he said. "What are we waiting for? Let's go."
DR. LEWIS'S PRIVATE CLINIC was nestled on a pastoral stretch of land that had once been a colonial farm in the rural town of Sherborn. Partway down the moonlit, one-lane track leading to the medical facility and clinic grounds stood a guard shack and automated arm that served as a gate.
The modern enhancements had always struck Tavia as sorely out of place beside the property's stout, rambling stone walls and rolling meadows. But Dr. Lewis had been meticulous about his special patients' privacy and security, which made it all the more peculiar when Tavia, Chase, and Mathias Rowan drove up to the darkened guard shack and found it empty. "Something's not right," she said from the backseat of their dark SUV. "There's always security personnel on duty here, no matter what hour. Dr. Lewis had someone posted at the gate around the clock."
Chase glanced out the passenger window at the darkened landscape, then gave a grim look to his friend seated behind the wheel. "Dragos knows this facility has been compromised." Rowan nodded, equally grave. "It could be a trap. Might not be worth the risk to go any farther."
"We have to." Tavia sat forward, her hands gripping the side of Chase's black leather seat. She wasn't about to come all this way only to turn around without trying. "My life is inside that clinic. This could be the only chance I have to learn who, and what, I really am. If there are others like me, they deserve the truth too."
She watched a tendon tick in Chase's rigid jaw. He said nothing, but she could see his doubt in the dark blue of his gaze as he looked at her. She could feel it, a cold indecision running through her own veins. "I need to know what he did to me and why. I need to know the whole truth, something I haven't had even once in my life. I can't let you deny me that. Not after everything I've been through already."
Chase's answering nod was a long time coming, just a faint tilt of his chin in Rowan's direction. On his cue, the vehicle swerved off the pavement and onto the snowy grounds, engine roaring as Rowan gunned the big SUV up and over the little stacked stone wall, sending the old rocks tumbling beneath the crush of the vehicle's large wheels. With a jostling bump and heave, they plowed through the fallen stones and rolled on toward the clinic building several hundred feet ahead.
Chase jumped out before they stopped. Moving almost faster than Tavia could track him, he ran to the building, breaking a reception area window and climbing inside ahead of them. It struck her, how easily he assumed the role of leader. It seemed to come naturally to him, leaping to the front lines, clearing the way for others to follow him. She caught a glimpse of something golden in him in that moment, something shining and heroic beneath the rough surface of the dangerous man he was now.
"We're clear," he said, reappearing in the open space as Tavia and Rowan ran up to meet him. He knocked aside some of the jagged shards of glass with his boot and offered Tavia his hand. "Watch your step."
She climbed inside the dark office and stood next to Chase, Rowan following right behind. The clinic looked different to her now, unlit and empty. No longer the place she came for healing, but a nest of deception. Its comfortably appointed waiting room, with its soft club chairs and pleasant watercolor paintings framed on the walls, now felt as falsely welcoming as a tranquil lagoon infested with piranhas.
"This way," she said, heading around the partitioned wall that separated the waiting room from the receptionist desk on the other side.
"Where are all the patient files?" Mathias Rowan asked, as he and Chase followed her into the area. Frowning, he quickly scanned their surroundings. "Every medical clinic I've ever seen has reams of paper records on hand."
Tavia shook her head. "Not Dr. Lewis. He is - he was - maniacal when it came to patient security. Everything in here is computerized and password-protected."
Rowan pulled one of his pistols out of the holster under his black parka. "If you two have things under control in here, I'm going to have a look around the rest of this place."
Chase nodded to his friend as Rowan ducked out to the hallway, but his eyes never left Tavia. He watched as she fired up one of the desktop computers and took a seat in the wheeled chair behind the workstation. When a password prompt appeared, she entered a complicated string of letters and numbers on the keyboard. The machine accepted the code, then resumed its start-up process.
When she glanced over at him, Chase was staring at her with a questioning look on his face. She gave him a mild shrug. "I was here a few months ago during a power outage. When the staff rebooted the computer, I couldn't help noticing what she typed in for the password."