Chase's expression clouded again, shadows filling his eyes. "They lived under my care for a while. My father had been killed on patrol before Quent died, so that left me as the leader of my kin's Darkhaven. Elise and Cam moved in to my Back Bay brownstone immediately after Quent's death. To be honest, I thought I could just step in and pick up the pieces Quent's death had left behind. I thought maybe I could finally know what it was like to be him - just once. But I could still feel the chill of his shadow, even after he was gone."

"What about Elise?" Tavia asked, wishing she could deny the twinge of dread that was needling her already, expecting to hear that he might still feel something for the woman beyond familial bonds. "How was it for you, suddenly having her in your house, under your protection?" "It was like living with two ghosts - my brother's and hers. She withdrew from everyone after Quent died. No one but Camden mattered to her." His exhaled sigh was deep, edged with a thick kind of remorse. "None of us could've known that soon he would be dead too, gone Rogue himself and shot to death in front of her like a rabid dog."

Tavia's hand came up to her mouth. She could feel the grief tearing through him like a fresh wound. "My God, Chase. That's awful."

"Yeah," he said, nodding in sober agreement. His silence stretched, cold and heavy. "She may never forgive me for pulling that trigger."

Tavia couldn't help it - she gaped at him, stricken speechless at his confession. But before she could ask him what could have brought him to do such a terrible thing, the sound of muffled voices carried up from the floor below.

Male voices, deep and rolling, filling the mansion's foyer. A female was down there too. Tavia heard Mathias Rowan greet them all like old friends.

"What's going on? Who is that downstairs?"

Beside her on the bed, Chase had gone tense and still. "The Order has arrived."

CHASE CLOSED Tavia's bedroom door behind him without making a sound. He'd gotten dressed as soon as he heard the warriors' voices, reassuring Tavia there was no cause for alarm and that she should wait upstairs until he or Rowan came to fetch her.

To his amazement, she didn't try to debate it with him. No doubt she had enough on her mind already, after he'd unloaded his whole inglorious past on her. Or most of it, that is. He hadn't gone so far as to divulge the worst of his shame. If he could help it, she'd never know how dubious his honor truly was.

Not that he let that stand in the way of seducing her here tonight, despite his good intentions. He knew too well where good intentions usually led him, but damn if he could describe making love to Tavia as anything close to hell.

His pulse simmered at the thought of her, and it didn't help matters that he could still smell her on his skin and taste her on his tongue. He could still feel the heat of her body clenched around him. His cock responded with an eager twinge, already on notice and up to a repeat performance.

Maybe this was hell after all.

Chase tugged his dark shirt over the growing bulge in his black jeans and headed out to face his former brothers in arms. Downstairs in the Darkhaven's foyer entryway, Tegan's voice rumbled with its typical menacing cool.

"Appreciate the call, Mathias, and the interception of both the female and Chase. Wish we'd gotten here sooner to provide some backup tonight. I would've liked to get a look at those clinic records myself."

"That's right." Nikolai was down there with Tegan too. Chase knew the Siberian-born vampire by his quicksilver chuckle and his airless, icy growl. "Personally, I would've liked nothing more than to help you smoke a couple of brain-rotted Minions and one of Dragos's Terminator freaks of nature."

Chase walked the length of the second-floor hallway and paused at the top of the stairs. Down below, Niko had cocked a sidelong grin at the third warrior accompanying them on this retrieval mission to Boston. "No offense intended by the freak-of-nature crack, Hunter."

The former assassin didn't even blink. "None taken."

Standing with Rowan and the three members of the Order was Niko's Breedmate, Renata. The dark-haired beauty in head-to-toe black leather glanced up as Chase arrived. Pale jade-green eyes skewered him. "Guys," she murmured, alerting them to his presence with a subtle lift of her chin.

Chase started down the stairs without any acknowledgment.

Tegan was first to break the tense silence. "Speak of the devil. Gotta say, I'm surprised to find you waiting here for us, Harvard. Figured you for a quick cut and run. That's more your style these days."

Chase smirked, gave a sardonic grunt. "Now that you mention it, I was actually just on my way out."

He took a few more steps toward the crowded foyer and the Darkhaven door that stood just behind Tegan and the others. Only a few scant yards to freedom. Yet his gait slowed until he was practically standing still.

As much as he wanted to avoid this clash with Tegan, Niko, and the others, he could hardly stand the idea of abandoning Tavia without a word of explanation. Especially now. It would have been easier before, if he'd gone like he'd intended earlier tonight. Before he'd ended up back in her arms. Back inside her sweet, wet heat.

Who was he kidding?

Nothing about walking away from that female would be easy, now or before.

What would Tavia's reaction be when she found out these three warriors and the take-no- prisoners female who could debilitate even the most powerful of the Breed with a single zap of her mind-blasting power were there to take her into Order custody?

He should have explained a few things to her, but he'd been too busy undressing her and making sure her exquisite body would never forget him. Yeah, he should've done a lot of things differently where Tavia was concerned. Losing even more freedom, even more sense of control wasn't going to sit well with her. She was going to be pissed off and confused - pretty much status quo since she'd had the misfortune of crossing paths with him.

As for Chase, facing the disapproving gazes of his brethren was bad enough. He didn't want to see disappointment in Tavia's eyes too.

He took another step down and felt the tension in the warriors below ratchet up a notch. "Where the fuck do you think you're going?" Tegan asked, that deep voice even more lethal in its calm.

The feral part of Chase flared in response to the recognized threat. His blood scraped through his veins, raw and cold. "Don't let me interrupt important Order business," he snarled, more venom in his tone than he'd intended. But it was the affliction speaking for him now, sparking hot like a match to dry tinder and itching for a fight. One he didn't want to start with any of these people.

He'd left the Order on bad enough terms; it would kill him to bring any more disgrace or disappointment to the one group of individuals who'd ever truly known him and appreciated him. And the thought of raising a fist or weapon to any one of them now was enough to make him recoil with shame.

Hands clenched at his sides, he stepped off the last stair. "I've overstayed my welcome already. I'm outta here."

"I don't think so, Harvard." Tegan moved into his path. "You've made yourself Public Enemy Number One with the humans. Lucan wants you off the streets."

"So, what, then? You're here to conduct some kind of intervention?" Chase scoffed, aggression seething in him now. "Well, you can fucking spare me. I didn't ask for it." "No, you didn't." The huge warrior glowered, tawny head tilted down like a bull preparing for the charge. His eyes pierced Chase, merciless in their assessment. There was never any hiding when it came to the Order's second-longest-standing member. Even less of a chance for Chase, when all it would take was one touch of Tegan's emotion-reading hands for him to understand just how close Chase teetered at the edge of disaster. "Maybe you're not comprehending what I'm trying to tell you, Harvard. You're coming back with us. You and the female both."

The feral part of Chase bristled, pulling his lips back from his teeth and fangs in a sneer. "Last I knew, Lucan and the rest of you had written me off. Didn't need to be any clearer to me that I wasn't welcome anymore."

Ever the peacemaker, Rowan cleared his throat. "Chase, for God's sake. Dial it down." Tegan shrugged off the plea, unfazed by the threat of confrontation. "You can either come freely, or we're prepared to take you by force."

When Chase barked out a caustic, humorless laugh, Renata moved in between Tegan and Niko, as graceful as she was dangerous. "I'd listen to him if I were you. We have our orders." "Is that right," he challenged, bearing down on her with a look that had shriveled more than one Agency squad of fully armed Breed males into a knot of anxious, perspiring little girls. But not Renata. Nikolai's Breedmate braced her long legs in a battle-ready stance and stared him right back. Which only pissed him off more. "If you hit me with that mind-zapping talent of yours, better make damn sure you kill me fast. Or you won't even see me coming back at you." Niko's growl was as deadly as Chase had ever heard it. The warrior took a hard step forward, his palm curled around the grip of a nasty-looking semiauto that was holstered under his arm. Chase knew the weapon would be loaded with an arsenal of Rogue-killing titanium hollowpoints - Niko's handcrafted specialty.

The way his blood was raking him now, cold and acidic, Chase had little doubt that one round would probably be enough to smoke him on the spot. God help him, he was half tempted to test the idea right then and there.

Instead, with a curse, he started to lift his hands in a show of surrender.

He barely twitched before he felt the sudden jolt of lightning entering his skull. Renata. She'd opened up on him before he even knew what hit him. It was brief and only a warning shot; he knew that. Otherwise he wouldn't have wits enough to question it. But holy hell, did it feel like death. Chase let out a strangled roar as the psychic energy ricocheted in his skull and sent him down on one knee.

None of them could have, she moved so fast and so stealthily. Materializing as though out of nowhere, she leapt over the second-floor rail of the hallway and dropped, catlike, to the tiled foyer below.

One second Chase was stooped brokenly on the floor. The next, he was pushed behind her sleek form, watching through pain-squeezed eyes as she faced off alone against three heavily armed, lethal Breed warriors and a Breedmate who could just as easily turn her staggering power away from Chase and blast it full force onto Tavia.

If she took a bullet or a jolt of Renata's fury because of him - "Don't hurt her!" he roared, the words tearing out of his throat, wild and otherworldly. Commanding all his strength to push past the pain of Renata's mental blast, he scrambled to his feet and took his place at Tavia's side. "Don't any of you fucking hurt her!"

But none of them made an untoward move.

They wouldn't have, he realized only then. They hadn't come here to hurt anyone, not even him, except he'd forced their hand. They all stared, Mathias Rowan included, gaping wide-eyed and slack-jawed at Tavia Fairchild in all her transformed magnificence.

Crouched low, her long, jeans-clad legs were bent, bare feet ready to spring. Her loose hair swung around her shoulders like a caramel-colored mane, untamed waves barely concealing the amber blaze of her eyes. She hissed, lips peeled back to expose the twin fangs that gleamed as bright as diamonds and sharp as daggers. Between the deep V of her black sweater, her dermaglyphs were alive with furious color, churning like a tempest written on her smooth, pale skin.

There could be no mistaking what this female was: dangerous, stealthy, utterly lethal Gen One Breed.

And hotter than hell itself.

The three warriors from the Order seemed to shake themselves back to their senses all at once. They spoke in nearly perfect unison, Tegan, Niko, then Hunter, one after the other. "Holy - "

Renata was still staring, vaguely shaking her head in disbelief. Her fine jet brows lifted then and a smile began to twist the curve of her broad mouth. The sight of her relaxation - the wry humor in her shrewd gaze - diffused the tension in the room by huge degrees. She glanced from Tavia to Chase, then back again to Tavia in utter amazement. "Now, that's what I call making an entrance."

DRAGOS STROLLED into the video conference with his lieutenants more than forty-five minutes late.

His lack of punctuality accomplished a couple of things: First, it never hurt to remind his underlings that they served at his whim and convenience; more important was the fact that his tardiness gave each of the four remaining members of his original circle ample time to reflect on their slightest missteps and fret over whether one of their heads had landed on his chopping block.

That particular concern carried even more weight, considering the fact that each of his lieutenants on-screen was attended by one of Dragos's personally selected Hunters. If the lieutenants gave him reason to doubt, it would take less than a second for any one of the Gen One killers standing at their sides to dispatch the problem permanently.

But no one's head was in jeopardy here tonight.

Dragos's rage was centered wholly on the Order. It was because of them that he'd met one setback after another. Because of them that his operation was splintered and limping now, all his good work and promising experiments halted or destroyed. Because of them that he'd been forced to accelerate his plans where humankind was concerned.

Instead of waiting until he had all of his Minion players in position around the world - an objective that would only get more difficult with Lucan and his warriors breathing down his neck, driving him to ground at every opportunity - Dragos had decided the time for waiting was over.