With her retreat, he advanced a pace. "What's wrong, Savannah? You can tell me."
She shook her head. "I don't want to talk about it. I can't..."
Gideon's gut tightened with concern. "You lost someone you cared about. I know that's not easy. But last night at the library, you seemed different. Not visibly upset, the way you are now. Something's scared you, Savannah. Don't try to deny it. Something happened to you today."
"No." The word came out choked, forced past her lips. "Please, Gideon. I don't want to talk about this anymore."
She was trying desperately to hold herself together, he could see that. But she was really shook up, dealing with something more visceral than simple grief or fear.
She was terrified.
He studied her closer, seeing the depth of her fright in the trembling that raked her from head to toe where she stood. Good God, what the hell could have put her in such a state?
"Savannah, did someone threaten you somehow?" His blood seethed at the thought. "Did someone hurt you?"
She shook her head, silent as she withdrew into her apartment and left him standing at the open door. He followed her inside, uninvited, but he wasn't about to walk away and leave her alone to cope with whatever had her so stricken with terror.
Gideon closed the door behind him and strode into the cramped living room. His gaze strayed toward the bedroom to the left, where a suitcase lay open on the bed, a few articles of folded clothing tossed inside.
"Are you going somewhere?"
"I need to go away for a while," she said, still drifting ahead of him into the small living space, keeping him at her back. "I need to clear my head. The only place I know where I can do that is back home in Atchafalaya. I called my sister this afternoon. Amelie thinks it's best if I come home too."
"Louisiana?" he said. "That's a bloody long way to go just to clear your head."
"It's my home. It's where I belong."
"No," he said, a clipped denial. "You're panicked about something and you're running away. I figured you to be stronger than this, Savannah. I thought you liked heroes who stood fast and pursued the truth, no matter the cost."
"You don't know the first thing about me," she shot back, and pivoted to face him. Her dark brown eyes pierced him with a hot mix of fear and anger. She crossed her arms over her chest again, a wounded, self-protective stance.
He walked toward her with unrushed strides. She held her ground, watching him approach. She wasn't retreating now, but she kept those arms braced tight against herself, barring him--maybe barring anyone--from truly getting close.
Gideon took one of her hands in a firm, but gentling, grasp. "You don't need to protect yourself against me. I'm one of the good guys."
He took hold of her other hand too now, and drew her arms down to her sides. Her breast rose and fell with each shallow, rapid breath she took as he reached up to cup her delicate jaw in his palm. Her skin was creamy smooth under the pad of his thumb, her plump lips soft as satin, the color of a dusky wine rose.
He couldn't resist the need to taste her--if just this once.
Curling his fingers around her warm nape, he brought her toward him and brushed his lips over hers. She was sweeter than he'd imagined, the heat of her mouth and the tenderness of her kiss awakening a need in him the way a thirsting man must crave cold, clear water.
Gideon couldn't keep from dragging her deeper against him, testing the seam of her lips with the hungered tip of his tongue. She let him in on a pretty moan, her hands coming up to his shoulders, clinging to him in delicious surrender.
He swept her denim shirt off so he could feel the bare skin of her arms. A mistake, that. Because now the pebbled peaks of Savannah's unbound breasts were crushed against his chest, an awareness that burned right through his black leather jacket and T-shirt, arousing him as swiftly as if she'd been standing fully naked before him.
He felt the sharp tips of his fangs elongating as desire swept through him like a wildfire. Good thing his eyes were closed, or the heated glow of his irises would betray him to her in an instant as something other than human.
Gideon growled against her mouth, telling himself this swift, dangerous passion was simply the result of a long, self-imposed drought.
Right. If only he believed that.
What he felt was something far more surprising. Troubling, too.
Because it wasn't just any woman he wanted in that moment. It was this one only.
Maybe she sensed the dark strength of his need for her. God knew, she had to feel it. His cock was a ridge of steel between them, his veins pulsing with a drumming demand to take her. To claim her.
"Gideon, I can't." She broke away and sucked in a hitching breath. Her fist came up to her mouth, pressing against her glistening, kiss-swollen lips. "I'm sorry, I can't do this," she whispered brokenly. "I can't start wanting something that feels so right when everything else around me feels so terribly wrong. I'm just so confused."
Hell, he was too. Confusion was a wholly unfamiliar feeling for him. This woman had knocked him off his axis the moment he met her, from her quick-witted comebacks at the library, to the intense attraction she stirred in him, just to be near her.
He hadn't come to her apartment looking to seduce her, but now that he'd kissed her, he wanted her. Badly. Their kiss left a fierce desire pounding through him for the first time in more years than he cared to recall. It took all his self-control to cool the hammering of his pulse, to make sure the amber was extinguished from his eyes before he met her gaze. To coax his fangs back to their human-like state before he attempted to speak.
Savannah heaved a sigh. "I've never been so confused in all my life. And you're right, Gideon. I am scared." She looked so vulnerable and sweet. So alone. "I'm scared that I'm going crazy."
He stepped closer, gave a mild shake of his head. "You don't seem crazy to me."
"You don't know," she replied, her voice quiet. "Nobody knows, except for Amelie."
"Nobody knows what, Savannah?"
"That I...see things." She let the statement hang between them for a long moment, her gaze searching his eyes, watching his face for a reaction. "I saw the attack on Rachel. I saw how she was murdered. I saw...the monster that did it."
Gideon held himself still at her mention of the word monster. He kept his expression neutral, a carefully schooled show of outward calm and patient understanding, despite that inside his Breed instincts were on full-alert, alarm bells clanging. "What do you mean, you saw your friend's killing? You were there?"
She slowly shook her head. "I saw it afterward, when I found one of Rachel's bracelets outside Professor Keaton's office. She was wearing it that night. I touched the bracelet, and it showed me everything." Her lips pressed together, as though she wasn't sure she should go on. "I can't explain how or why, but when I touch an object...I can see a glimpse of its past."
"And when you touched her bracelet, you saw your friend's death."
"Yes." Savannah stared at him with a gaze that was far too wise. Bleak with a dark, unswerving knowledge. "I saw Rachel being murdered by something inhuman, Gideon. It looked like a man, but it couldn't have been. Not with sharp fangs and hideous glowing yellow eyes."
Holy. Bloody. Hell.
Forgetting the fact that she had just confessed to having a powerful extrasensory ability--something many mortals faked but very few genuinely possessed--it was Savannah's other revelation that had Gideon's veins going tight and cold as she spoke.
When he didn't answer right away, Savannah blew out a humorless laugh. "Now you do think I'm crazy."
"No." No, he didn't think she was crazy. Far from it. She was intelligent and beautiful, a hundred years of wisdom in those soft brown eyes that hadn't even seen twenty years of life yet. She was extraordinary, and now Gideon wondered if there was something more to Savannah that he had yet to understand.
But before he could pose the questions--questions about her ESP talent and whether her body bore any unusual birthmarks--she turned away from him and the answer was right there in his line of sight. A small red mark on her left shoulder blade, only partially visible beneath the thin strap of her white tank top. It was unmistakable: a teardrop falling into the cradle of a crescent moon.
Savannah wasn't merely human.
She was a Breedmate.
Ah, fuck. This wasn't good. Not good at all. There was a protocol to be observed when it came to the discovery of women like Savannah living among the Homo Sapiens public at large. That protocol certainly didn't include seduction or duplicity, two things Gideon was currently teetering between like a man on a high wire.
"Since I've obviously rendered you mute with my mental instability," she went on, as his uncharacteristic loss for words or a quick solution eluded him, "then I might as well tell you about the other glimpse I saw. There was a sword in the Art History's collection, a very old sword. The one item that went missing the other night. I touched that sword recently too, Gideon." She turned back to look at him. "It showed me the same kind of creature--a group of them, in fact. Using that sword, they slaughtered a pair of little boys a long time ago. I'd never seen anything so awful. Not until I saw what happened to Rachel. I know you probably don't believe any of this...."
"I believe you, Savannah." His mind churned on the implications of everything he was hearing, everything he was seeing in this frightened, but forthright, female. "I believe you, and I want to help you."
"How can you help?" He heard the desperation edging into her voice now. She was exhausted, emotionally drained. She drifted over to the sagging sofa and dropped down onto it Bent over her knees, she held her head in her hands. "How can anyone help with something like this? I mean, there's no possible way that what I saw is real. It doesn't make any sense, right?"
God help him, he nearly blurted out the truth to her, right then and there. He wanted to explain away her confusion, help her make sense of everything that had her so distressed and uncertain now.
But he couldn't. He didn't have that right.
The Order needed to be informed of Savannah's existence. As a warrior--hell, like any other member of the Breed race--Gideon was duty-bound to see this female gently introduced to their world and her place within it, should she choose to take part. Not plunged carelessly into the worst of it.
"What I saw doesn't make sense," she murmured. "But maybe I should go to the police and tell them anyway."
"You can't do that, Savannah." His words came out too quickly, too forcefully. It was a command, and he couldn't take it back.
Her head came up then, her brow creased in a frown. "I have to tell someone, don't I?"
"You did. You told me." He walked over, sat down beside her on the sofa. She didn't flinch or withdraw when he put his hand on her back and slowly caressed her. "Let me help you through this."
He reached up with his free hand to stroke the velvet curve of her cheek. "For now, I just need you to trust me that I can."
She held his gaze for a long moment, then gave a nod and curled into his embrace. Her head rested over his heart, her slender body nestled close, warm and soft in his arms. It was a struggle to hold his desire in check with Savannah pressed so sweetly against him.
But she needed comfort now. She needed to feel safe. He could give her that, at least for the moment.
Gideon held her as she fell into a hard sleep in his arms. Sometime later, easily hours, he lifted her off the sofa and carried her tenderly to her bed so she could rest more comfortably.
He stayed until the hour before dawn, watching over her. Making sure she was safe.
Wondering what the hell he was getting himself into.
"Tell me this is some kind of fucking joke."
Lucan Thorne wasn't at all pleased to hear that Gideon had gone AWOL from the night's patrol. He'd been even less enthused to learn where Gideon had spent those off-grid hours.
"A goddamn Breedmate? What the hell were you thinking, man?" The Gen One leader of the Order blew out a nasty curse. "Maybe you weren't thinking. Not with your brain, anyway. That alone is cause for serious concern, if you ask me. You've never lost sight of your duty to the Order, Gideon. Not once in all these years."
"Nor have I lost sight of it now."
He was seated in the war room with Lucan and Tegan, the former radiating fury and pacing the room like a caged cat. The latter was sprawled in a conference chair at the other end of the table, showing less than passing interest in Gideon's morning-after ass-chewing while idly spinning a pen around on top of a mission review notebook.
"My interest in this woman has nothing to do with Order objectives. I told you, it's personal."
"Exactly my point." Lucan's stormy gray eyes narrowed on him. "Personal agendas have no place in this operation. Personal agendas make people sloppy. You get sloppy, you get people killed."
"I can handle this, Lucan."
"Not your choice, Gid. You know the protocol. We have to let the Darkhavens know about her, let them step in on this. We don't do diplomatic work. For damn good reason."
"She witnessed a Breed assault on a human," Gideon blurted. "The coed who ended up in the morgue after the attack on her and one of the professors over at the university the other night. The dead girl was Savannah's roommate. She was killed by one of our kind."
Lucan's jaw went even more rigid. "You're certain of this? You're saying this Breedmate--Savannah--was there when it happened?"
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