She stared at him, trying to make sense of what she'd just witnessed. In the end all she could manage was a trembling couple of words. "Holy shit."

LUCAN PACED the confines of his bedroom, edgy and restless, despite the physical satisfaction of his body. It was early morning outside the temporary compound's sheltering walls and shuttered windows. Christmas, for fuck's sake.

He didn't feel like celebrating. He felt like strapping on weapons and combat gear and taking this damned war straight into Dragos's face. He wanted it ended, preferably with Dragos under his boot heel, bleeding and broken, begging for mercy he would never receive. He wanted that with a ferocity he could barely contain.

All the more so when he considered the promise he'd given Gabrielle in the hours they'd lain together, making love in the bed where she slept now, as sweet and lovely as a dream. At the next crescent moon cycle, Lucan would give her a son.

As much as he'd been fighting the idea, there was a part of him that had wanted it as much as she did. Maybe more. For nine long centuries, he'd walked alone by his own choosing. He'd had his warrior brethren, but family - a Breedmate and children - was nothing he'd ever craved. Until an auburn-haired beauty with melting brown eyes and the fearless heart of a lioness had strode into his world and laid all his intentions to waste in an instant.

He'd never imagined he could love so fully, so completely. His dread of an unknown future was hardly a match for his devotion to the incredible female who'd taken him as her mate. And as Tegan said, knowing the world they were fighting for belonged to their sons only made his determination burn all the brighter to see it thrive in peace.

Lucan walked back to the bed and leaned over to press a gentle kiss to her cheek. The brief brush of his lips made her stir, then smile, still caught in a light slumber. "Good morning," he murmured softly. "Sleep, love. I didn't mean to wake you. I'm heading down to the tech lab for a while to review some of the intel that came in from New Orleans."

"It's a holiday," she reminded him, her voice thick and drowsy. Far too inviting, as she stretched with feline grace and rolled onto her back to face him. "Come back to bed?"

God, he was tempted. "I'll only be a couple of hours. I want to put in some time while the rest of the house is asleep. You rest, and I'll come back before too long."

Her answering moan was languid and breathless. It made him want to crawl under the covers and make her do it again. Preferably as she climaxed against his mouth.

He stepped away from the bed and pulled on a fresh black T-shirt and fatigues. Gabrielle was already fast asleep once more, her breath puffing softly between her parted lips. He smiled, content simply to look at her.

Christ, he had it bad for her.

And he wouldn't want it any other way.

He was still smiling like a love-struck fool as he walked out to the corridor and silently closed the bedroom door behind him. Another door opened down the way and Mira came sneaking out on her toes, her pink nightgown swishing around her ankles as she hurried up the hall.

Her flaxen hair was a wild tangle on her bed-rumpled head, her eyes half-closed and bleary with sleep. She ran headlong, practically blind with purpose as she crashed right into him. "Oh!" she gasped as he caught her in both hands and kept her from bouncing off her feet. "I thought I heard Santa out here."

"Not Santa." Lucan chuckled and stooped down to her level. "Just ... me ..."

As he brushed the tousled mop of hair from her face, Mira's eyes met his. He'd been expecting to see the opaque violet of her custom-made contact lenses. Lenses that had been specially crafted to mute the young Breedmate's talent for prognostication. Instead, Lucan found himself staring into the clear, mirrorlike pools of the child seer's powerful gaze.

A vision slammed into his brain like a bullet.

"Oh, no!" Mira cried. She realized her mistake at once, bringing her hands up to shield him from the power of her eyes. "My lenses. I forgot to put them in. Lucan, I'm sorry!"

"Shh," Lucan soothed as she burst into tears. He pulled her close, offering a comforting embrace as the little girl sobbed with remorse. "It's all right, Mira. You did nothing wrong." She drew back, careful now to hold her arm up over her eyes. "What did you see, Lucan? Was it something bad?"

"No," he lied. "It was nothing. Don't you worry, everything's all right."

But even as he spoke, a pit of black, yawning dread cracked wide open inside him.

Mira's gift had just shown him a glimpse of a future more bleak than anything he'd imagined in the worst of his countless nightmare scenarios.

"ONE MORE VIAL and that should do it, Tavia," Gideon said from the other side of his makeshift tech lab. "How you hanging in over there, Harvard?"

Chase grunted his response, all he was capable of as he watched the other warrior withdraw the last of half a dozen blood samples he'd collected from Tavia's arm. Chase felt like a pussy having to sit clear across the room during the clinical procedure, trying his damnedest not to let the sight of those filling vials awaken his feral side. His fangs had erupted from his gums at the first pinprick that scored her skin, his hunger worsening to a fevered throb at the trace exotic scent of her blood.

Hard as it was for him to be there when his body was taut and on edge with thirst, sitting it out in the hallway while Tavia was run through a variety of exams and tissue samplings was out of the question.

Fortunately, Gideon kept everything quick and efficient.

"All set," he announced a moment later.

Chase stalked over as the blond warrior took away the containers of blood and DNA swabs to prepare them for testing. "You okay?" he asked Tavia, thoughts for his own well-being eclipsed by concern for her.

"Piece of cake," she said, rolling her long sleeve down over her glyph-covered forearm. "I spent the first twenty-seven years of my life in and out of private clinics and medical trials. I'm used to being poked."

Chase's grin was filled with another sort of hunger now. "I don't want you getting used to anyone poking you, unless that someone is me."

It was a possessive thing to say, and even though he had no right to think it let alone let the words roll off his tongue, he couldn't apologize for it. The past hours he'd spent with Tavia - baring his soul to her, laughing with her, making love to her, then making love some more - had set a hook in him so deep, he wondered if he'd ever be able to shake it loose.

Not that he wanted to.

And that was the hell of it, right there.

He craved this woman, cared for her more than he had anyone or anything in all his life before her. Some desperate, hopeful part of him wondered if the hole she filled in his heart might someday grow to fill the other, more ravenous one that threatened to consume him.

"Okay, kids," Gideon announced as he came back into the room. "I'll run the blood work and tissue analysis later today. We should have full results in a few days, but based on what I've already seen here, coupled with the data you found in good old Dr. Minion's clinic records, I think it's pretty obvious what they're going to return." He raked his fingers through the blond spikes of his cropped hair and exhaled a marveled chuckle. "Never dreamed there'd come a day when I'd be up close and personal with a female Breed - never mind a female Gen One with Breedmate DNA. You can blend in with humans if you have to, you can subsist on blood or food, and you can walk in the daylight without getting cooked after a few minutes. My God, Tavia. You're absolutely remarkable."

She smiled. "Hey, I've seen you working magic on these computers, Gideon. You're not so bad yourself."

Chase grunted, slanting an arch look at the warrior. "Yeah, and come to think of it, you've been up close and personal enough for one day."

Gideon smirked in Tavia's direction. "What can I say? He gets wicked jealous when I flirt. It's a problem for us."

She laughed along with him, as aware as anyone by now that the Order's resident genius only had eyes for his Breedmate, Savannah.

Gideon studied Tavia in open wonder, his head cocked to the side now, arms crossed over his gray Boondock Saints T-shirt. "Have you considered offspring?"

"Offspring?" Tavia shot an uncomfortable look at Chase. "Uh ..."

"Oh, not that I'm suggesting," he quickly interjected. "I just mean, from a purely genetic standpoint, the possibilities are ... well, exciting. Intriguing, to say the least. Don't you think so, Harvard?"

Chase couldn't have replied if he wanted to. The thought of Tavia pregnant had struck him both mute and stupid. He could imagine nothing more powerful than the idea of her giving birth. The fact that her children would mark the beginning of an entirely new generation of the Breed paled in comparison to the feeling that swamped Chase when he pictured himself as the father of her sons.

Tavia's eyes were steady on his, and he wondered if her bond to him would betray the depth of his reaction. He couldn't hide what he felt, not with her. And even without the blood bond to tell her how powerfully she affected him, his unflinching, heat-filled gaze would have given him away.

Gideon cleared his throat in the weighted silence of the room. "You say there were clinic records documenting other cases like yours, Tavia?"

She nodded. "Dr. Lewis was treating others like me, but according to the files we found, the patients had all died over the years. If there were files on others who are living, I didn't see them when we searched the clinic."

"But there could be others like you out there," Gideon said. "Knowing Dragos, I'd lay odds there definitely are others. Women who are embedded in normal human lives as you were.

Women who will soon run out of their meds and begin transforming into their true Breed natures, the same way you did."

"Oh, my God," she replied. "If that's true ... if something like that were to happen ..." Gideon nodded. "Disaster time."

"And assuming there are others," Chase put in, "there's no telling what Dragos might be using them for. In Tavia's case, it was her photographic memory. Dragos was using her to collect various human government intel through her work for the senator."

Tavia inclined her head in agreement. "When I'd go in for treatments at the clinic, they also used that time to harvest details about places I'd been with the senator, security-sensitive things I'd been privy to as his assistant. It wasn't enough to exploit me as some kind of secret science experiment, they had to mind-rape me too."

Chase heard the anger in her otherwise calm voice. He reached over and slipped his fingers through hers. "Wish like hell I'll get the chance to deliver a little payback on that sick bastard. The more painful, the better."

"You, me, and the rest of the Order," Gideon said. He glanced to Tavia once more. "I don't suppose you have any knowledge - even the slightest bit of intel - about Dragos's operation?" "No. I didn't even know he existed until Chase tried to warn me about him." She shook her head, brow furrowed. "If I could get anywhere near Dragos, I'd love to use my new skills against him. Especially the lethal ones."

Although Chase understood her need, he bristled at the notion of her even considering getting close to evil like Dragos. "Not gonna happen so long as I have anything to say about that. Dragos is deadly, Tavia. You can never underestimate what he's willing to do."

"Harvard's right," Gideon said. "As much as I agree with him, though, I have to admit having a mole in his operation would be damned useful right about now." He gestured to a computer monitor with a program running some kind of split-screen script. "The data Hunter and Corinne brought back from New Orleans is password-protected and encrypted. I created a routine to break it down, but the damn thing has been cranking on that character sequence for a couple of days and we're barely halfway there."

Chase looked at the display. Of the thirteen-digit placeholders on the screen, only six of them were locked into place: 5, 0, 5, 1, 1, N.

Tavia's mouth curved into a sly smile as she turned to look at Gideon. "May I try?" He held out his hand in invitation and let her take the seat in front of one of his computers. He typed something on the keyboard, and the machine beeped, popping up an "Access Denied" screen that prompted for a password. "Knock yourself out."

Tavia entered the six digits from the deencryption program, Chase and Gideon taking positions behind her to watch her work.

She typed another seven characters to complete the sequence: 1, 5, 2, 5, 1, 2, E. And just like that, she was in.

"It's the same password that opened Dr. Lewis's clinic records," she said, looking fairly pleased with herself.

Gideon slapped Chase on the back of his shoulder and let out a whoop. "Well, fuck us both, Harvard. She's bloody brilliant." He pivoted away suddenly and grabbed a notepad and pen from his workspace. He handed both to Tavia. "Jot that whole thing down for me again."

She did, and when she passed it back to him, he hissed out a slow curse. "Bugger. I might have guessed it would be something like this." He brought up a browser and typed the sequence into a search engine map. "It's GPS coordinates."

Chase watched as the screen displayed a close-up of an area he immediately recognized. "It's a mountain region in the Czech Republic. Isn't that the area where we found the cave the Ancient had been hibernating in before Dragos woke him and imprisoned him in his lab?"