As the great belch of noxious exhaust and steam cleared away, she found herself staring into the face of a monster.
The Rogue stood on the twilit curb, dressed in a tattered, bloodstained institutional jumpsuit.
He cocked his head as he stared at her, his face and neck slick with gore from a fresh kill.
Tavia's fangs throbbed at the scent of wet red cells, but the spike of adrenaline running through her had nothing to do with hunger. Fear needled her veins, racing up her spine.
The carnage was about to happen here too.
With an animal sniffle and a low grunt, the Rogue stepped off the curb toward her. Tavia ducked out of his path and ran for the nearest alley. She looked back, making certain he followed.
The knot of dread that formed in her stomach when she saw him loping after her with fangs bared was as cold as ice and put a chill in her blood. She ran deeper into the alley, reaching for the weapon concealed in the back waistband of her jeans.
The Rogue's footsteps were heavy, crunching on the ice that crusted the old pavement.
Tavia slipped behind the corner wall of a brownstone and waited the few seconds before the lumbering bulk of the vampire appeared. Then she struck - silently and swiftly.
The blade stabbed into the Rogue's chest, stopping him dead in his tracks. He grunted something unintelligible, his hands coming up to the wound that was blossoming over his heart. Already the titanium was doing its business on the Rogue's bloodstream. Racing through the diseased veins and arteries like poison, just as Chase said it would.
It was thanks to that advice that Tavia had paid a visit to an area pawnshop earlier that day, spending half her remaining cash on the blade. So worth it, she thought, watching the Rogue drop to his knees as the metal made quick work of him.
She didn't wait to watch the Rogue's body disintegrate into a heap of sizzling goo, then ash. Instead she cleaned the blade and stowed it, then ran for Chase's Darkhaven.
As she reached the front door of the empty brownstone estate, a soul-rending scream went up in another part of the neighborhood.
More Rogues on the prowl.
More human deaths taking place even now.
Night was coming, and the terror it was bringing had already arrived.
THE WORLD WAS ABLAZE and bleeding in the dark.
Chase eyed the terror-torn landscape from the backseat of the Order's speeding black Rover. Dante and Renata sat beside him in silence. Rio was grim-faced in the jump seat in back, Lucan stoic, jaw clenched, where he rode shotgun next to Nikolai up front.
They had miles of travel behind them, five-plus hours of drive time packed into barely three at Niko's breakneck speed. Brock followed fast in the second vehicle, carrying the rest of the Order's mission crew toward Boston. Even Lazaro Archer had strapped on arms and combat gear to accompany the warriors into the night's battle.
God knew they were going to need all the help they could get.
By Mathias Rowan's account, the Rogue population let loose from rehab facilities along the eastern seaboard alone numbered close to a hundred. It would take weeks to contain them all, possibly longer. And that didn't factor in the scores of others likely released in other parts of North America tonight.
The odds against the Order's success were staggering. Eventually, they would have to split up, tackle the problem from multiple directions.
But Boston was the immediate concern. It was there that Dragos had seemed to deliver the hardest hit, no doubt to flaunt his power in the warriors' faces, unleashing unholy hell in the Order's home turf.
The closer they got to the city, the worse the chaos became.
Scattered house fires shot bright orange flames skyward on both sides of the highway. Traffic was crazed in both directions as panicked drivers fought their way in and out of the various city arteries. Sirens blared from everywhere. And in the neighborhoods and surface streets, packs of humans rushed on foot in a blind confusion, eyes wild, faces contorted in terror, fleeing a danger they would never outrun.
Everywhere Chase looked, the scene was utter, bloody madness.
"Cristo," Rio hissed in the tomblike quiet of the Rover. In his peripheral vision, Chase saw the formidable Spanish warrior cross himself and lift a religious pendant on a thin chain around his neck, pressing the small medallion to his lips in silent prayer.
The Boston skyline loomed just ahead now, black smoke rising from smoldering buildings and the crumpled wreckage of cars left abandoned in the streets by their fleeing drivers. Screams rent the air, adding to the cacophony of violence that hung over the entire city.
Chase's thoughts went to Tavia. She hadn't left his mind for a moment in the time since he'd set out with the Order for Boston. He knew she was near, somewhere in the city. He could feel her in his blood. His veins still tingled with the pang of fear he'd picked up from her not long after the Order had set out for Boston. The jolt had been visceral but brief, and long diminished. The knowledge that she was safe now - that she was alive and unharmed - was a reassurance he clung to as the rest of the world was dissolving into bloodshed and ruin before him.
Still, the urge to wrench open the vehicle door and run to her was strong. Overwhelming. But his duty was with the Order right now, more than ever. So long as he knew she was breathing, he could do what he had to tonight.
Tavia was a strong, capable woman. She had been even before the astonishing revelation of her Breed lineage. She was smart and levelheaded. He knew that. He took comfort in the fact that his beloved - his mate, if he should ever prove worthy of the honor - was the most extraordinary female he would ever know.
But she was also courageous and determined. Two things that put a knot of worry in his chest when he considered what she might do if the violence Dragos had unleashed here tonight were to find its way to her. He prayed she'd lie low until he and the Order could clamp a lid on this hellish situation and he could break away to find her.
From the passenger seat up front, Lucan radioed the others in the second vehicle. "Tegan, take your team into the North End. Start your sweep there. The rest of us will begin in Southie, drive the Rogues together from both ends and take out as many as possible."
"On it" came the warrior's grim reply.
Behind them, the Rover's headlights veered away as Brock gunned the SUV through an obstacle course of clogged and chaotic traffic.
"Lock and load, everyone," Lucan said, casting a grave look at the rest of them. "It's gonna be a long, bloody night."
Tavia hadn't slept at all. Probably no one in the city had. Probably no one across the entire bleeding nation had found a minute's rest so long as the screams and violence played out in what seemed an endless, hopeless night.
It wasn't until daybreak pushed the attacking Rogues to ground that the terror had paused. With morning came the cries of the grief-stricken and the lost - the war zone aftermath of an assault few human minds could fathom.
And it wasn't over yet.
When the sun set again, a fresh wave of carnage would come.
Tavia knew it with a dread in her marrow as she opened the front door of Chase's Darkhaven and stepped outside into the daylight. Her plan to seek out Dragos had solidified overnight. She'd taken the necessary steps, devised the method she would use to put herself in his presence and, with opportunity and any luck at all, kill the son of a bitch.
The scene outside the brownstone mansion as Tavia walked briskly was nothing short of Armageddon. Vacated cars lay scattered everywhere, headlights flashing, alarms bleating in a discordant symphony with the musical rings of what seemed to be a thousand unanswered cell phones. Smoke and ash billowed from the smoldering shells of looted storefronts and residences that had been smashed open during the worst of the attacks. Huge pools of blood soaked the snow-filled neighborhood yards and empty sidewalks.
The city was a ghost town. No one risked being out, except for Tavia and the grim-faced emergency workers patrolling the shambled streets, or the medical examiner's office personnel who soberly covered and collected the many dead.
Tavia hurried to her destination, head down, eyes stinging from the barrage of so much ugliness and destruction. She went across town, back to the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department, the same police station where she'd been just a week earlier. It seemed as though a decade had passed since she'd been summoned to identify the unnamed shooter from Senator Clarence's holiday party. Her world couldn't have rotated any farther on its axis than it had in the handful of days that followed.
Reality had shifted, and now that same alleged madman was the person she loved more than any other. The one she didn't want to live without. And she was determined to reunite with him, once she did her part to destroy their shared enemy.
"Miss Fairchild - Tavia?" Detective Avery's voice carried across the bustling station a moment after she'd entered. She glanced up and saw him hurrying toward her, his middle-age face drawn and haggard. He looked her over with obvious concern. "My God, are you all right?"
She was, but the bruises and lacerations on her face and body would have indicated otherwise. Which had been the entire point, after all. In addition to her assortment of self- inflicted injuries, her jeans and long-sleeved black sweater were torn and ragged. Her grimy leather flats were soaked with blood, the latter effect coming courtesy of her trek into the station. "Come with me. I'll find someone to look after your wounds," the kind detective said, obviously taking her silence for shock. He led her deeper into the station, through the throngs of anxious officers coming in and out of the place in a collective daze.
"At least you're alive. Thank God for that," he went on, taking her over to an empty chair in a vacant office. His hands were shaking as he lifted the receiver of the black desk phone and dialed a number. He swore and slammed the thing back into its cradle. "Busy signal. Lines could be down. The whole damn city is falling apart out there. I can't even comprehend what's going on these past several hours. I mean, none of this can really be happening ..."
Tavia felt sorry for the horror of what this man and the rest of his kind were suffering. But she had no words of sympathy to offer. Nothing was adequate anyway. Her mind focused wholly on her purpose in being at the station, she scanned the dozens of faces passing through.
She found one she was looking for: Cold, dead eyes met her narrowed gaze across the sea of churning bodies.
The Minion knew her on sight, recognized what she was.
"I'll be right back," Tavia murmured to the detective. "I need a drink of water."
Avery didn't protest or get up to follow her, already pulled in another direction as a uniformed officer swept in to relay more grim news from the trenches. Tavia beelined it for the Minion, breezing her way past the humans until she was standing right in front of Dragos's mind slave. "I need to see your Master."
His mouth twisted. "I don't take orders from anyone but him."
"I've just come from the Order's compound," she pressed. "I think Dragos will be very interested to hear what I have to tell him."
The Minion in uniform stared for a long moment, considering. "Follow me."
She went with him, out a back door and into the parking lot. The Minion dialed a number, let it ring once, then disconnected. A second later, the cell phone chirped with an incoming call. Tavia could barely contain her contempt as Dragos's voice came over the line, demanding to know why he was being disturbed. The Minion informed him that Tavia was there, then received clipped instructions to search her for weapons.
He pocketed the phone with Dragos still on the line and started patting her down. He found the titanium blade right away, pulled it from behind her with a smug sneer and shoved it beneath the leather belt of his cop's uniform. His hands were rough on her, skimming both legs and thighs before climbing up her torso. He lingered a bit too long around her breasts, and Tavia growled her disapproval, showing him a bit of fang in the process.
The Minion backed off and put his cell phone up to his mouth. "She's clean. What would you like me to do with her, Master?"
Dragos's voice was menacing, edged with an intrigue that made her skin crawl. "Hold the female there. Await my further instructions."
"THE NUMBER of confirmed dead worldwide is in the thousands."
Lucan nodded as Mathias Rowan delivered the sober news that morning at his Darkhaven.
The Order had finally sought shelter there after the long night of combat. Not even Dragos's evil could trump the rising sun. With daybreak, all of the Breed - warrior, civilian, and Rogue alike - were forced to look for cover.
In the background, Tegan, Chase, and the rest of the warriors were flipping through television coverage of the attacks and their aftermath. It seemed impossible, not only the accounts of widespread slaughter and destruction over the past eighteen hours but the open talk by human law enforcement and government officials about the indisputable existence of vampires.
And mankind had, understandably, deemed them their enemies.
Lucan saw Mira's vision in the graphic video coverage and photographs being broadcast all over the world. He'd lived it last night, when his boots had been soggy with spilled blood, the bodies of dead humans and slain Rogues spread out as far as his eyes could see. He tasted it now, in the bitter tang of regret on his tongue, regret that he hadn't put a stop to Dragos before he'd unleashed such hell. Regret for the fact that the nightmare had only just begun.
Europe was bracing for nightfall again, calling in military forces to help secure the largest cities in case of another attack. Everyone was praying it wouldn't come, but Lucan and the rest of the Order knew it would. Although none of the warriors or Mathias Rowan had said as much, they had to be wondering, as he was, how they would be able to combat another attack of the magnitude seen yesterday.