As Carys listened to what the Order and her family had been dealing with in her absence, she felt guilty for the strife she’d caused in her need to spread her wings. She should have been helping her family and the Order however she could. Instead, she’d been preoccupied with Rune, and unintentionally causing everyone more problems and distress.
“I’m sorry,” Carys said, looking at her father. “I didn’t realize everything that was going on right now. It was selfish of me to leave the way I did.”
“You’re damn right it was.” He was still frowning, still terribly upset with her. “I’m just glad Nathan and Jordana were able to talk a little sense into you where no one else could. I’m glad someone was able to convince you that you belong at home right now, not running around with that fighter down at La Notte.”
Carys walked toward her blustering, bristling father. She didn’t stop until she was standing directly in front of him, close enough to see the tightly leashed fury glittering in the blue eyes that were the same shade as her own. He stared at her mutely, nostrils flaring.
He rarely showed this side of himself to his family: the explosive Breed male. The lethal warrior. Protector of the entire city of Boston for the past twenty turbulent years and then some.
Carys stared up at him for a long moment, seeing the concern of a devoted parent in his hard-held expression. She saw the bone-deep fear she’d been causing all of her family by distancing herself from them when the dangers surrounding the Order demanded that they keep the ones they cared about closer than ever.
“I love you too, Father.” She raised up on her toes and kissed his cheek. “And you should know that it wasn’t Jordana or Nathan who convinced me to move back home tonight. It was Rune.”
His face went slack, utterly stunned.
He didn’t say anything, just swung a silent, dumbfounded look toward his mate.
Tavia’s broad smile lit her face, amusement dancing in her gaze. “Well, isn’t this a night for surprises?”
Admittedly, Carys probably took a little too much satisfaction in her father’s rare descent into mute shock. He was a difficult man to rattle, but he seemed totally at a loss for words.
Smiling, Carys picked up her tote and murmured that she was going to get settled.
Rune sat at the long bar in La Notte’s underground arena, reviewing the night’s receipts. The last of the club’s patrons had left more than an hour ago. Few of the Breed lingered in public past the city’s nightly feeding curfew, and the humans tended to stagger home once the band on the main floor upstairs packed up and the drinks stopped flowing.
From out of the back of the club where Rune worked now, a group of La Notte’s employees drifted through the arena, chattering as they headed for the exit. The men and women were humans—payrolled blood Hosts and sex workers from the BDSM dens.
Rune nodded to them and murmured goodnight as he continued to work on the books. The woman who fed him a short while ago gave him an inviting smile he hardly noticed. Although his Breed genetics demanded he drink fresh red cells from an open vein every other day at least, his hunger stopped there. For the past seven weeks, the rest of him had craved only one woman.
The one woman he would never be able to take between his teeth and fangs.
Not when bonding to her would mean letting her see the ugliness inside him, the stains on his soul. The shame and horror he’d left far behind him.
And which he damn well meant to keep banished there for good.
Rune cast the dark memories aside. He studied La Notte’s receipts, reconciling the digital reports to the cash and credits taken in tonight. With Cass and Syn dead, the day-to-day management of the club had settled onto him.
As he flipped to the liquor invoices and consumption accountings, Jagger and two other Breed fighters—Vallan and Slade—strolled into the bar area of the club. They were dressed in street clothes, their arena garb left behind in the dressing rooms out back. “You got time to talk now, Rune?”
He nodded and closed the ledgers to avoid curious eyes on La Notte’s business, then pivoted on his stool to give the men his full attention. “Tell me what’s going on.”
Jagger took the lead. “It’s the club, man. We’ve all been talking for the past few days. Any idea what’s gonna happen to it now that Cass is dead?”
Before Rune could say anything, Slade piped in. “One of the girls working the dens says the assholes who came in here the other night and killed Syn were asking about Cass’s daughter.”
The third fighter, Vallan, blew out a curse. “If he did have a kid, I doubt Cass knew about it. He wasn’t exactly the doting daddy type.”
Rune let them talk, more interested in what they knew—or thought they knew—than in helping to clear up any confusion. None of the club’s fighters had seen the Atlanteans who killed Syn. The club was closed after Cass’s murder.
Syn and Rune had been the only ones there, aside from a handful of human employees, when the Atlantean soldiers had infiltrated the club and started digging through Cass’s office and private rooms on the floor above the arena.
In search of Jordana, or information that would lead them to her, Rune now understood.
Once he’d been alerted to the intruders’ presence, Rune had sent the straggling employees out of the place for their own safety. It had been only seconds later that he had smelled Syn’s blood spilling upstairs.
“If Cass does have family,” Slade said, “I wonder how long it will take before they start sniffing around the club. The fights may be illegal, but they bring in serious cash. Too much cash to just walk away from.”
Jagger lifted a shoulder. “What’s to say they don’t decide to close down the arena instead?”
Vallan grunted. “Or convert the whole building back into the pseudo-Goth dance club it was twenty years ago?”
Slade swore under his breath. “Could be worse. What if they decide to turn the place into one of those damn sim-lounges instead?”
Jagger chuckled. “Trade the real fights for virtual reality shit, so all the tourists and wannabe hardasses in this town can sit in their simulation rooms and pretend they’d last more than half a second in the cage.”
Rune wasn’t amused by the possibilities either, although he doubted Jordana would do any of those things to La Notte. He had to admit, the future of the club was nothing if not uncertain. And given what he knew about Jordana now, he couldn’t imagine holding on to a business that profited from violence and debauchery was high on her priority list.
The other men were right. They needed to know where La Notte stood now that its proprietor was gone.
Vallan’s face was grave. “Been nearly a week and no one’s stepped forward to take the place over or shut it down. We’ve all been talking that maybe we should make other plans before someone else makes them for us.”
“What do you mean?” Rune asked.
“Move on,” Jagger said. “Go find another arena, or start a new one of our own.”
Rune shook his head as he came up off the barstool. “No one’s leaving. No one’s going off to fight somewhere else so long as I’m here.”
Vallan crossed his arms over his massive chest. “You’ve been acting as manager since Cass’s death, but how long are you gonna look out for a business that doesn’t belong to you?”