A Taste of Midnight (Midnight Breed #9.5)

Chapter 8

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Thane gave him a shrewd, knowing look. "Reiver called from the airport. His cargo came in. He's moving it to one of his country estates as we speak." He shoved Mal's arm away from him, hissing a hard curse as he straightened his rumpled dark suit coat. "Since Kerr and Packard are no longer in service, that leaves you and me to head up security tonight. Reiver's expecting his top-tier clients at this thing, so he wants total discretion."

Blood club.

Malcolm knew this moment would come one night, but it still took him aback. This was it-his shot, at last, to take out Reiver and all of his untouchable cronies in one fell swoop. "When do we leave?" he asked, hoping the tight edge of his voice would not betray his eagerness to Thane.

"The boss wants us out there right away."

Mal nodded. Malice coursed through his veins like acid. He met Thane's inscrutable look and gave the guard a cold smile. "So, what the hell are we waiting for?"

Half a dozen gleaming luxury vehicles sat parked outside Reiver's hunting estate, as if their owners were gathered inside for a black-tie event, not the sick, bloody game soon to take place on the snow-covered grounds.

And there would be blood tonight, Malcolm silently vowed, as he and Thane walked up to the front of the palatial Highlands residence. His jaw was clamped tight, veins vibrating malice as another of Reiver's guards opened the door to permit them inside. "This way," said the Breed thug with a jerk of his head. "Mr. Reiver has been waiting for you."

He was of his has in a lavish salon, its high-ceilinged walls paneled in dark mahogany and adorned with painted masterworks depicting all manner of hunting scenes. Graceful stags being felled by medieval archers' arrows; small red foxes on the run from a pack of brown-and-white hounds and red-jacketed gentlemen on horseback; a majestic lion snared and surrounded by spear-wielding natives before a white-skinned adventurer toting a long black rifle. The room was a celebration of slaughter, and assembled within it stood Reiver and the nearly dozen members of his privileged, secret cabal of savages.

"Ah," said Reiver with a thin smile. "About time you arrived. We're just about to view the evening's game selection." His bloodthirsty friends exchanged eager looks, but Reiver's gaze stayed rooted on Malcolm with cool scrutiny. "Shall we get started?"

Reiver touched the frame on the fox hunt painting. In response, from behind the group of elegantly attired vampires, a doorway on the back wall of the salon opened into a dimly lit corridor. With a look that bade Malcolm and Thane follow him, Reiver strode through the center of the throng to lead the way.

Inside the long corridor was still more violent art. Here the depictions of hunter and hunted became more gruesome, scene after scene showing all manner of human degradation and bloodshed. It was horrific art, a profane collection no doubt intended to inflame the basest Breed appetites. Malcolm paid it little mind. All of his focus was centered on Reiver, senses taut and at the ready, waiting for the prime opportunity to lodge his offensive strike on the vampire and his cronies.

As they neared the end of the corridor, Reiver touched another hidden panel on the wall. Cold air gusted in as a thick wooden gate lifted, revealing a covered walkway leading to the outside grounds of the estate. Flanking both sides of the walkway were iron-barred kennel cages, but the cells did not contain animals.

"My God," one of Reiver's cronies breathed from behind Malcolm. "Just look at them all. One more tempting than the next."

Reiver chuckled, so full of himself. "As promised, something for every taste."

The humans were bound and gagged inside their cages, upwards of twenty men and women, all shapes and sizes and ages. They shivered in the wintry night air, eyes wide and fearful. Bile rose in Malcolm's throat as he glanced at the terror-stricken faces. He could not let this sick game proceed any further. Reiver and his blood club associates would die tonight-here and now.

He started to reach for his weapons, prepared to unleash hell on the whole lot of them.

"Oh, but there's more," Reiver announced, snapping his fingers at one of the other guards, dispatching him in unspoken command. "Tonight I have something very unexpected to offer you, and most certainly … exotic. Brandogge, I think you'll have particular interest in this."

Malcolm went stock-still at the remark, a cold dread locking down his senses even before he glimpsed what the guard had gone to fetch.

Danika.

width="1em" align="justify">Unlike the others, she wasn't shackled or muzzled. No, the pistol pressed to the back of her head was enough to ensure she didn't fight or flee her captors.

Her long blond hair hung limp over her face as she shuffled ahead of Reiver's thug, little Connor held tight in her arms. Malcolm's heart lurched as her stricken gaze lit on him through the crowd. There was apology in her moist blue eyes, a regretful twist to her pale lips.

Before Malcolm could react-before he could calculate the terrible risks of wheeling on Reiver and his associates and hoping to take them out before the guard with the gun on Danika pulled the trigger-Thane and two other guards pounced on him. Dani screamed, and it nearly undid him to hear the terror and worry in her voice. Worry for him, when it was his personal need for retribution that brought them both to this awful moment.

The cold metal nose of Thane's loaded nine-millimeter jabbed hard and ready to fire into Mal's temple. "Don't do anything stupid, asshole."

Malcolm roared, but it was impotent rage. He couldn't attempt to throw off his captors. He couldn't do anything-not so long as Danika and her baby were at equal risk as he. "Thane, you goddamn bastard. I'll kill you too, before this is over."

The guard seemed unfazed, keeping a steady hand on the weapon poised to blow Malcolm's brain out of his skull. One of the other guards stripped Mal of his Glocks and pocketed them.

While Reiver's associates inched away, he strode forward, slowly shaking his head. "You lied to me. You betrayed my trust." He paused in front of Malcolm, seething with thinly held malice. "You could have risen far in my service. I thought that's what you were aiming for, Brandogge. So, the only question I have is, why would you be so fucking stupid to cross me now?"

Malcolm growled his reply. "I'm not your dog. I've never been your anything, you arrogant son of a bitch." He could see the flicker of confusion in Reiver's dark eyes, and he kept going, glad to finally voice his intentions. "I've been waiting for the chance to kill you and your blood club cronies ever since your pimp in Edinburgh told me your name."

Reiver's confusion deepened, turned to uncertainty and a sick look of surprise. "My pimp?"

"Aye," Mal ground out. "The human rubbish who'd been supplying game for your sick gatherings. The same human offal who grabbed a young woman off the street in Edinburgh seven months ago for the purpose of selling her to you."

Reiver scoffed. "Am I to fret over every ant that gets crushed under a boot heel? Or mourn every beast sent to the abattoir? This is no different, except it's us on the top of the food chain, not mankind."

"She was a Breedmate," Malcolm hissed. "And she was newly pregnant. She put up a fight with your supplier. He killed her. My mate, my unborn child."

Reiver's bark of laughter erup [laumy unbted out of him. "All this for a female, Brandogge? And a dead one besides?" His cruel gaze slid to Danika. "And now this other one too? What does she mean to you?"

"Leave her out of this," Mal snarled. "She has nothing to do with it."

"Oh, but she does." Reiver's eyes turned brutal, sparking with amber. "She matters to you, and that means she and her brat will suffer worse than you now. Pity you won't live to see that." He glanced to Thane. "Kill him."

The icy metal of the gun bit harder into Mal's temple, Thane's finger on the trigger.

Then, in a blur of movement and speed, he pivoted, firing instead on the guard holding Danika.

The guard went down, head blasted apart. Chaos erupted. Reiver's cronies scattered as Thane shot one of the guards on Malcolm and Mal snapped the neck of the other.

"Dani, run!" he shouted, grabbing his weapons from the dead vampire and wheeling around to fire a hell storm of bullets into Reiver.

Too late.

Reiver was already on her.

Malcolm's vision burned amber hot as he raised both loaded Glocks and aimed them in the center of Reiver's sneering face.

Except it wasn't Reiver's face he saw down the barrels of his guns …

Ah, Christ.

It was Danika's baby boy, wailing and squirming, dangling by the pudgy little arm that Reiver clutched tight in his fist. In his other hand, Reiver held a fistful of Danika's hair. She struggled against his brutal hold, her eyes wild with horror, hands reaching for her squalling child.

Reiver's smile was a deadly baring of his fangs. "You lose, Brandogge."

Chapter Nine

Danika could hardly breathe for the fear that gripped her as she watched Connor flailing in Reiver's cruel grasp. Her own pain meant nothing, her own panic and regret-none of it mattered when her child's life literally hung in the balance.

And Malcolm.

Oh, God … Mal.

She'd thought things couldn't have gotten worse when Reiver spotted her and Connor arriving at the airport earlier tonight for the flight Gideon had arranged for them back to Denmark. Reiver and his thugs had been there to pick up a live cargo shipment at a private hangar-that same cargo she'd overheard him talking about at the Darkhaven party, a night that seemed a year ago now. They'd grabbed her and Connor and tossed them into the vehicle with the rest of the people intended for Reiver's sick hunting party.

Danika had dreaded what Reiver had in mind, not only for her and her child but for Malcolm as well. Most of all, for him. Reiver had been unable to hide his fury at having been deceived by Mal about the fact that she was still breathing. Still able to create trouble for him and his sinister business dealings.

And so she had created trouble for Reiver-at least, she hoped so, now more than ever.

Her call to the Order had been about more than just arranging passage out of Scotland for Connor and her. She couldn't bear the thought of Malcolm's life in danger, even if it meant interfering in his quest for personal vengeance. She'd brought the Order into the situation. Although the compound in Boston had been thrown into chaos since she'd last talked with Gideon, his immediate inquiries to an Enforcement Agency ally of the Order's revealed that an elite squad of Agents in London were already aware of Reiver and working to bring him down. They even had one of their own embedded in his organization, working as one of his bodyguards.

Danika glanced at the dangerous-looking Breed male with the black hair swept back in a disheveled queue at his nape. The guard called Thane, who'd defied Reiver to help her and Malcolm both. Several of Reiver's cronies lay dead thanks to Thane, the rest having fled, some back into the mansion, others across the snowy expanse of the back lawn.

And now the undercover Enforcement Agent stood as cautious and still as Malcolm, both of them understanding how precious Danika's baby was to her; neither willing to give Reiver the excuse to bring little Connor harm.

"Drop your weapons, both of you." Reiver's voice was otherworldly, a gravelly snarl of menace. "Drop them, or I'll tear this child's arm from its socket and feed it to his mother while you watch."

"Oh, my God," Danika moaned, unable to keep the horror from erupting from her lips. "Please, don't hurt my baby. Please …"

Even though it was the only solution she could see, she didn't know what was more terrifying: Reiver's heinous threat, or the fact that it made both Malcolm and Thane slowly disarm and set their guns down on the ground.

"Now back up. Keep moving until I tell you to stop."

They obeyed, both Breed males' eyes simmering with amber fire. "Let them go," Malcolm growled. "Goddamn it, you sick fuck … let them go."

Reiver chuckled. "As you wish."

The fist in Danika's hair loosened and suddenly she was pitching forward, a violent shove with a force so punishing she felt as if she were flying. Malcolm moved in a flash of motion, catching her before she fell.

But Reiver wasn't finished yet.

Danika sensed her child in danger even before Reiver sent Connor airborne. She swung her head around and there he was-her baby, her heart itself-flung aloft like a rag doll as Reiver pivoted, then vanished into the night to mak c nias othere his escape.

Danika screamed as she stared up at her helpless child, her chest exploding in abject terror.

Malcolm jolted into action.

With a running vault, he leapt to catch Connor in midair, bringing him down safely in the cradle of his arms. Danika was on her knees, holding her face in her hands and shaking as Thane stood nearby, making a feeble attempt to console her.

"Dani," Mal murmured. "Danika, it's all right. Connor is safe."

She lifted her tearstained face and sucked in a hitching sob as she took the crying baby out of his hands. "Oh, Mal." She wrapped one arm around his neck, pulling him into her embrace along with her precious child. "Malcolm, thank you. Thank you for saving my son. You saved us."

He kissed her brow and hugged her close, never loving her more than in those terrifying moments when he thought he might lose her to Reiver's fury. "It's all right," he assured her. "You're both safe now. But you have to get out of here."

He helped her to her feet. However, inside he knew he couldn't go with her. Not yet. Not after what Reiver had done here tonight.

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