He wasn't sure if he did or not, but the way she looked at him now - part willing seductress, part leashed predator - made it easy to forgive her. Besides, he was too exultant to care if she was attempting to play him or not. Everything he'd been working toward was now falling into place.
Violently, bloodily, perfectly into place, just as he'd intended.
"How did you enjoy today's continued spectacle?" he asked, gauging her reaction with a shrewd eye.
"Incredible," she answered without inflection. But she moved closer now, her clear, crisp green gaze fixed on him with single-minded purpose. "To see that much bloodshed - " She shivered a little, and when her eyes lit on him again, they sparked with amber fire. "It does something to me, seeing that kind of power. Being near it makes me feel things I can't really explain."
His approving growl curled up the back of his throat. "It turns you on."
He understood that reaction. And it didn't surprise him to hear this female admit as much to him. She was Gen One, her predator's genes nearly pure. She was also bred of the same otherworldly line that he was, the Ancient used to create her having been the very one who sired his own Gen One father several centuries past. Tavia Fairchild shared his genetics; the idea that she might share some of his same dark instincts and hungers was a seduction he could hardly wait to explore.
"I hoped you might show me more," she said, then glanced to the four assassins who flanked him as though they were annoyances she couldn't wait to be rid of. "In private, I mean." Dragos hadn't lived to be in the neighborhood of seven hundred years old because he was a fool. Nor did he tend to let his dick make decisions for him. There was a calculating part of him that knew if he went downstairs to his control room, he'd find his Minion technician no longer breathing and a security breach detected in his computer systems.
He also knew that Tavia's captivity with Sterling Chase and the Order likely hadn't been as noncomplicit as she would like him to believe. But the Order no longer mattered to him. His plans were too far gone to be halted, and Lucan's warriors had their hands more than full with the havoc being wreaked in various parts of the world.
Tavia wanted him to think she couldn't wait for him to take her to his bed. He saw no need to disappoint. He would fuck her senseless and repeatedly - until she bled and begged for mercy - but not until after his ascent to power was assured.
He reached out to stroke her velvety cheek. "I intend to show you a great many things, Tavia. Beginning with the moment I become lord and master of every living being on this planet." He took pleasure in the flicker of uncertainty in her unblinking eyes. "We're leaving now for Washington, D.C. If you're to be my queen, I want you with me when I seize the crown."
THE SCENE IN D.C. made the attacks in Boston and New York City look like a walk in the park. Rogues flooded the downtown streets and outlying neighborhoods from all directions.
Casualties were heavy, collateral damage off the charts. To combat the onslaught of scores of ravenous vampires set loose on the densely populated urban areas, the Order had split up into three teams: two on the ground with guns and knives; another on sniper duty atop a high-rise corporate building, taking out Rogues with high-powered assault rifles while keeping an eye on the situation for the teams on foot.
Tegan, Hunter, Brock, and Kade were taking care of business in Columbia Heights when Niko radioed to Chase's team that a swarm of Rogues had just knocked over a Metrobus full of commuters.
"Down on Pennsylvania Northwest," Niko advised from his rooftop lookout perch with Renata and Rio. "Shit, there must be thirty humans on board. It's gonna get ugly fast." "Heading there now," Lucan told him, motioning to Chase, Dante, and Archer, the team already moving out.
They were at the location in a matter of minutes, but the carnage had already begun. The boxy silver, red, white, and blue bus was on its side in the street, a dozen Rogues climbing all over it, smashing out windows and grabbing for the screaming, terrified people trapped inside. More Rogues crept in from surrounding streets and alleyways, drawn to the scent of spilling blood.
Chase's own physical reaction was swift as well, nearly overwhelming. His head drummed with hunger, veins lighting up with the urge to feed, to gorge like the mad beasts clawing and tearing at the toppled bus. He pushed past his body's fevered response, leaping into the fray with the rest of his team as they charged the downed vehicle and starting kicking Rogue ass. Lucan seized the largest of the assailants and threw the suckhead down to the pavement with a roar. Two rapid gunshots and the Rogue's skull exploded, killing him even before the titanium rounds could do their damage. Lazaro Archer stormed the fallen cab of the bus at that same moment, blasting deadly fire on the pair of Rogues who were climbing in through the shattered windshield, slavering to join four others who had already managed to break inside to feed. Chase and Dante vaulted onto the back of the bus in tandem, a tag team of slashing titanium blades and fury. They mowed down three suckheads in mere seconds, then swung down into the bus to deal with the other assailants while Lucan hacked his way through the ones on top. Up front, Archer cleared away the ruins of the broken windshield and started pulling the terrified humans out to safety.
Screams and roars mixed with the staccato crack of gunfire as the battle raged. People streamed out of the bus in hysterics. It was pandemonium, blood-drenched and savage. When the dust finally settled, only four human victims lay dead inside the bus, another two dropped broken and lifeless in the street nearby. The Rogues' losses had been greater: The oozing remains of nearly a score of smoked blood addicts pooled like black oil on the pavement.
No sooner had they contained the situation than Lucan's cell phone hummed with an incoming call. The Order's leader paced away from the bloody fallout to answer. His deep voice was serious, hushed. When he slid the phone back in his coat pocket and turned to look at Chase, his stern, gore-spattered face was grave.
"What's up?" Dante asked from where he stood beside Chase. Archer drew to a pause beside the other warriors then too.
"That was Rowan." Lucan gave a sober shake of his head. "He received a text with intel for Gideon. Apparently we've got the IP address for Dragos's command center."
Lucan's sober gaze swung to Chase and stayed there, making his heart take a swift, cold drop into his gut. "It was from Tavia. She sent it from Dragos's headquarters. He's got Tavia."
THE WHITE-BRICK, Queen Anne - style mansion and parklike grounds occupied a large, dedicated section of the circular United States Naval Observatory property in the heart of Washington, D.C.
Tavia knew it on sight, had been inside its thirty-three-room splendor more than once during her employment as Senator Clarence's aide. As the blades of Dragos's Minion-piloted helicopter chopped the night sky above the vice president's residence, she peered out the window to the snowy, tree-filled ground below and felt some of the air leave her lungs on a gasp of heartsick astonishment.
Military and Secret Service vehicles sat vacant at their posts around the property. Dark shapes lay unmoving on the ground, the obvious signs of struggle - of armed conflict and unanimous human losses - grimly evident as the aircraft slowly descended into a clearing several hundred feet from the house.
Dragos's assassins had already been here.
She understood that even before a pair of them came out from the cover of the trees to meet their arriving commander. "Everything is secured," one of the massive Gen Ones in head-to-toe black informed him. "The human awaits you inside."
"Excellent," Dragos replied. With the two Hunters leading the way, Dragos took Tavia by the arm in a none-too-gentle grip as they exited the helicopter. Following close behind was the assassin who'd made the trip with them, watching her every move.
If the scene outside the mansion made her heart catch with sick dread, the reality of what had taken place inside hit her even harder. The vice president sat at gunpoint on the ivory-colored sofa in the tastefully appointed living room. Behind him on the wall, the celadon and cream palette of an oversize abstract painting was sprayed with blood, no doubt belonging to the dead Marine who sprawled on the floor just a few paces away.
"Tell me what you want from me, damn it!" the graying government official shouted to his emotionless captors. "Please, let me at least see my wife and family. Let them go."
"Relax," Dragos replied smoothly, catching the vice president's full attention as he strolled into the room. "Your family is upstairs, unharmed, with some of my men. I have no need of them."
The man's face sagged into a visibly incredulous stare. "Drake Masters? For God's sake ... and Tavia?" He moved as though he meant to stand up, but the assassin standing beside him persuaded him otherwise with a nudge of his semiautomatic pistol. "What is this about, Drake? I demand to know what the hell is going on!"
Dragos chuckled. "You no longer demand anything. And you can call me Dragos. In a few minutes you'll be calling me Master."
"I don't understand," the vice president murmured. "I don't understand anything that's been happening these past couple of days - "
"Don't you?" Dragos mused darkly from beside Tavia. He strode forward, radiating a cold menace. "Don't you finally understand how powerful I am? Now that you've seen what I can do - now that the entire world has seen the magnitude of my wrath - perhaps mankind will finally realize that they control nothing. This world belongs to us now. To me."
Stricken eyes went a bit wider. "What are you saying, that all of this madness is somehow your doing?"
Dragos's reply was a low growl of sound that made Tavia's veins turn to ice. "The Breed has lived in the shadows long enough. I am resetting the order of things. I am putting the Breed on the top of the food chain where we belong. And you are going to help me do that."
Tavia's fists clenched at her sides. Anxiety spiked through her like acid as she felt Dragos's mood go from mildly amused to dangerously determined.
"Tonight, I am seizing my rightful place as master of all mankind and Breed alike," Dragos went on. "For your part, you will make the call to help me begin my ascent to power. You will deliver the president to me right here and now."
A look from Dragos prompted one of the guarding assassins to wrest the human's cell phone from his suit coat pocket. The Gen One held it out to the vice president, who merely stared at it in abject refusal. "You're insane," he said sharply. "You may have found a way past my security outside and killed my staff, but more will come. They're on the way now, I can guarantee that. You've just brought down the entire United States military on your head."
Dragos laughed. The air around him vibrated with ominous cold before his eyes flashed bright amber and his fangs erupted from his gums. "Make. The. Call."
"I can't," the human protested. "I won't do this - "
In the fraction of an instant between those damning words and Dragos's leap forward like a viper ready to strike, Tavia sprang into action. With superspeed motion, she placed herself between Dragos and his intended victim, the vial of Crimson retrieved from its concealment on her person and uncorked in her hands.
She held a bunch of the red powder in her palm - all the weapon she had in that moment. She exhaled the breath that would blow the massive dose into his face, praying it would be enough to disable him, if not kill him in a blast of writhing agony.
But she never got the chance.
Moving faster than she could track them or react - faster than she could fathom, even though she herself was gifted with similar genes - two of the Hunters protecting Dragos grabbed her. One wrenched her arms back behind her. The other held the vial of Crimson. With a single command from Dragos, she understood with cold certainty that she would be dead.
His expression was too mild to be trusted, his movements very calm as he took the Crimson away from his guard and held it up to his nose. He gave it a faint sniff, then sneered with cold malice. "Now, this was an incredibly stupid gamble on your part, Tavia. A pity."
Before she could react, he lunged forward and shoved the open vial into her mouth. She choked on the dry dust of the powder as it hit the back of her throat. Coughing, sputtering, she went down on her knees as a rush filled her head like the buzz of a million stinging bees. Oh, God, she thought, desperate with fear as the Crimson hit her bloodstream and agony arrowed through every cell of her body.
She'd failed Chase and the Order miserably, and now she was certain that Dragos had just killed her.
CHASE'S KNEES BUCKLED beneath him in the street. A pain racked him, so violent it felt as though his chest were breaking wide open.
Her agony was everywhere inside him. Fire and daggers and poison - a suffering so intense it was a wonder his heart didn't cease beating in his chest.
No, the wounded organ wanted to explode behind his sternum.
The ferocity of what she was feeling in that moment was the most terrible thing he'd ever known. Not only because of the raw anguish of her pain, but because of the fact it was she who felt it.
His female, his mate, hurting - God forbid, dying - and he unable to be at her side. "Tavia!" Her name ripped out of his mouth on a roar.
"Chase," Dante shouted, right beside him as he stumbled under the weight of her agony. "Jesus Christ. Talk to me, Harvard. What's going on?"
"She's hurt. Ah, fuck ... I've got to get to her!"