He got up from his recliner and left his half-baked frozen dinner sitting untouched on the TV tray to greet his visitor. Behind him in the living room, the television blared with sirens and gunshot sound effects. One of those cop dramas he watched every week, but now couldn't recall why. Like the salisbury steak and mashed potatoes he'd warmed up for dinner more than an hour ago, he found he no longer had the taste for any of the things he once enjoyed.
He was different since the incident at the university a few nights ago.
He was a changed man.
And the cause of that change now stood before him in expectant silence inside Keaton's house. Keaton gave a deferential nod of greeting, as respectful as a bow.
"Did the individual sent to deal with the girl show up as planned tonight?"
"Yes," Keaton replied, eyes remaining downcast, subservient. "Everything was in place, just as we discussed."
"So, the girl is dead?"
"She is not," Keaton answered, anxious now. He hazarded to lift his eyes and meet the hard stare of the one he served. "She lives. I saw her leave the station with a man."
The shrewd gaze narrowed on him, sparking with deadly fire. "What man?"
"Big," Keaton said. "Tall. A blond thug in a black leather trench coat. I saw weaponry belted at his waist, but he was no police officer or law enforcer. And he was not mortal."
This Keaton understood with full certainty, just one of the new senses he'd acquired a few nights ago, when his eyes were opened to a dark, hidden new world. The world this man showed him when he made Keaton all over again.
"Did they see you--the girl and her companion?"
Keaton gave a slow shake of his head. "No. I realized what he was, and so I made sure not to be noticed. He is one of your kind."
A grunt of acknowledgment, while the fire in those predator's eyes crackled even more coldly. "Of course, he is one of my kind. All the worse, he's one of the Order." Then, more to himself, he mused, "Could he possibly know about me? Does he realize I have that sword, after all this time?"
The sharp gaze came back to Keaton now. "You saw them leave the station together. Where did they go?"
"I don't know," Keaton answered, supposing that he should feel fear to admit that, yet compelled only to speak the truth to the one who owned him now. "I saw the girl and her companion exit the terminal, but then they vanished. I don't know where they've gone. I went to her apartment in Allston to wait, but they never arrived there."
A growl erupted from between gritted teeth. "I need to find that girl before she tells the Order what she knows. Fuck, it may be too late for that already."
"Shall I locate the individual we sent to the station tonight and have him stake out her apartment?" Keaton offered, eager to provide a solution.
His suggestion earned only a dismissive wave. "That particular weapon is of no use now. Gideon will have killed the Rogue for certain. Then again, maybe this setback can work to my advantage." A dark smile broke over his ageless, unlined face. "To think, I nearly killed my Breedmate when she stupidly gave away a number of my private mementos to the university. She didn't know, of course. She couldn't know. I never told her about that sword or how I came to have it."
"And now you have it in your possession again," Keaton said. "I am pleased to have served you in retrieving what belongs to you."
The answering bark of laughter was sharp-edged, humorless. "As I recall," he muttered, "I gave you no choice, Keaton. Once you saw what I did to that slut you were fucking in your office, you broke easily enough."
Keaton felt no reaction to the reminder of his cowardice. He was detached from the whole event, freed of all the weaknesses of his former self. All that mattered to him now was doing what was needed, what his Master commanded of him.
"I will see to it that the task is carried out as you wish, Sire. Savannah Dupree will die."
"No. I think not." The vampire who owned Keaton's life and mind now--his soul itself--paused with unrushed deliberation. "I have a better plan. Find her. Bring her to me. Since she obviously is of some interest to the warrior, Gideon, she can help me finish a score he started centuries ago."
Take all that you want.
Savannah's tender offer pounded in Gideon's temples--in his blood--hours after they'd made love. He'd left her satiated and softly sleeping in the bedroom a short while ago, while he slipped out to the main room of the empty old house to work off some of his restless energy.
Shirtless, dressed only in his black fatigues, he went through a series of quick, sweeping combat maneuvers with the long dagger from his weapons belt. He kept his hands and body in much-needed motion. His mind churned on vivid recollections of the passion he'd shared with Savannah, earth-shaking passion that still had his veins lit up and electric. Other parts of his anatomy were running on a short leash too.
But undercurrent of the incredible pleasure he'd taken from Savannah was the guilt he felt for having hidden himself--his true self--from her, even while she had surrendered everything she had to him.
Take all that you want, Gideon.
"Fuck," he muttered, low beneath his breath. If she only knew how much he wanted.
He pivoted on his bare heel to make a savage swipe at an invisible opponent. Himself, or the Rogue who accosted Savannah tonight? He wasn't sure who was the bigger villain tonight.
He needed to tell her what he was. It would have to be Savannah's choice how she chose to think of him, after he gave her the truth she rightfully deserved a few hours ago.
The truth she deserved from the moment he first realized the pretty, innocent young student was a Breedmate, not a simple Homo sapiens female. Savannah deserved a hell of a lot more than he'd given her so far.
And if he was being honest with himself, she deserved more than he could ever hope to offer her as the mate of a male whose past was steeped in bloodshed and failure. A warrior whose future was pledged in full to the Order.
He needed to explain all of that and more to Savannah. Damn it, he'd meant to before things had gotten so far out of hand tonight. He'd let himself get too entangled, and now he was caught in a trap of his own making.
It would take time and some doing to make things right now. Time alone with Savannah being a luxury he didn't expect he'd have for much longer.
After what happened at the bus terminal, it was imperative that Savannah be given the full protection and sanctuary the Breed nation had to offer. Before the danger that pursued her came any closer than it had earlier tonight.
As much as Gideon wanted to deny it, it was no coincidence that the Rogue just happened to go after Savannah at the station. He had stalked her there. Not through blood thirst or basic opportunity. Gideon would bet his sword arm that someone had sent the suckhead after her.
More than likely, the same someone who had killed her roommate and left her professor for dead. The same someone who was now, apparently, in possession of the sword used to slaughter Gideon's kin.
He needed to find the bastard and bring him down.
Before Savannah ended up any further into the crossfire.
They couldn't stay here forever. Wherever they were. Tegan had never mentioned this place before. Even though the warrior had offered the old house up to Gideon, he had no misconceptions that Tegan meant it to be a very temporary shelter. Frankly, Gideon had to agree with Savannah that the place felt more like a neglected tomb than a home.
As much as Gideon hated to admit it, she needed to be moved to a more suitable, more permanent, arrangement. And unless he had lost his mind and meant to defy Lucan Thorne's edict for a second time in so many days, he couldn't very well bring Savannah to the compound. Gideon could just imagine how the Order's unyielding Gen One leader would react to a civilian being brought there against long-standing Order protocol.
But if she went there as Gideon's mate?
The notion hit him hard. Not because it was a fucking crazy, bad idea. But because of how sane and right it felt to him.
Savannah at his side, bonded together in blood and life for somewhere close to forever.
Take all that you want, Gideon.
Savannah, his Breedmate.
Holy hell . . . .
The thought opened up something hot and deep in his chest. A longing. A yearning so total, it rendered him motionless, unbreathing.
The bloody last thing he needed was to let himself fall in love with Savannah.
He cursed roundly, making a vicious stab at the air with the long dagger he'd used to gut the Rogue who'd gone after Savannah. Pivoting on his bare heel, he lunged into another mock strike, this one intended for the unknown enemy he was determined to unmask--right before he would force that Breed male to swallow the same steel that killed his Rogue errand boy.
It was at that moment Gideon heard a soft stirring in the other room.
Savannah was out of bed. She drifted into the open doorway of the adjacent room where he stood, the long dagger gripped in his hand, his motion suspended in the stance of a man poised to kill.
She stared at him, her big brown eyes still drowsy, her beautiful, lithe body utterly naked. So stunning.
Gideon drank in the sight of her with a greedy gaze, his pulse kicking with swift, fierce arousal.
But she wasn't looking at him the same way.
She seemed stricken somehow. Wooden with silent shock.
"Oh, my God," she murmured after a moment. Her voice was small and breathless, though not from sleep or desire. She gaped at him in a mix of shock and hurt, her pretty face twisted with confusion. "Oh, my God...I knew you looked familiar. I knew I'd seen you somewhere before--"
"Savannah, what's wrong?" He set the blade down on the fireplace mantel and headed toward her.
"No." She shook her head, held out a hand as if to bar him from getting any closer. "I saw you before, Gideon. When I held the old sword, I saw the murder of those two little boys all those years ago...but I also saw you."
His blood ran cold in the face of her fear. "Savannah--"
"I saw you, like this, with a blade in your hand--the way you looked just now," she said, talking over him. "Except it wasn't you. It couldn't be you."
He didn't speak, couldn't refute what she was saying. What she saw with her Breedmate's gift.
"I mean, how could it be you, right?" she pressed, a raw edge to her words. "The man I saw should be a couple of centuries dead by now."
"I can explain," he offered lamely.
He stepped closer toward her, but she flinched away. She crossed her arms over herself as if she were naked in front of a stranger now. "You're not human," she murmured. "You can't be."
He cursed softly. "I don't want you to be afraid of me, Savannah. If you would just hear me out now--"
"Oh, God." She barked out a sharp laugh. "You're not even going to try to deny it?"
He felt a tendon tick heavily in his jaw. "I wanted to explain everything to you, but not while you were upset. You said yourself tonight you weren't ready to hear more."
She staggered back a pace, shaking her head in mute denial. Her stare had gone distant, turning inward. He was losing her. She was pulling away from him as something to be mistrusted, feared. Maybe even reviled. "I have to get out of here," she murmured flatly. "I have to go home. I have to call my sister. She was expecting me to be on the bus tonight, and I..."
She broke away then, turning to rush back into the bedroom. She made a frantic circuit of the room, started retrieving her clothing.
Gideon followed her. "Savannah, you can't run away from this. You're in too deep now. We both are."
She didn't respond. She grabbed her panties off the floor and hastily stepped into them, flashing the dark thatch of silk between her legs and giving him an intimate glimpse of her long, satiny thighs and creamy mocha skin.
Skin he'd tasted everywhere and longed to savor again.
Without speaking to him or looking at him, she searched for her bra. Her small breasts swayed with her movements as she shrugged into the little scrap of lace.
Arousal stirred inside Gideon, too powerful for him to hold back. He couldn't curb his swift physical reaction to the sight of her, so pretty and disheveled from his lovemaking of a few hours ago. His glyphs started to churn to life on his skin. His gums tingled with the awakening of his fangs.
Hastily, she grabbed up her sweater and jeans, holding them to her as she rushed past him, head-down, out of the bedroom.
He followed swiftly, stalking behind her.
"Savannah, you can't leave. I can't let you go home now. It's too late." His voice was gravel, roughened by his rising desire and the fierce need to make her understand the full truth now.
He flashed over to where she stood, faster than she could possibly track him. He put his hand on her shoulder where the small scarlet teardrop-and-crescent-moon Breedmate mark stamped her flawless skin. "Damn it, stop shutting me out. Listen to me."
She whirled around, her eyes wide. His own gaze felt hot in his skull, must have blazed back at her in that moment as bright as lit coals. By some miracle of deception and desperate will, he'd been able to conceal his transformation from her earlier tonight, but not now. Nor did he try.
"Oh, my God," she moaned, fear bleeding into her voice. She struggled in his hold, turned her head askance on a strangled gasp of horror.
Gideon took her chin and gently guided her face back toward his. "Savannah, look at me. See me. Trust me. You said you did."
Her eyes fell slowly to his open mouth and the tips of his fangs, which stretched longer every second. After a long moment, she looked back up into his fiery stare. "You're one of them. You're a monster, just like them. A Rogue--"
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