She could only nod in agreement, her words fleeing her as she spiraled toward another shattering orgasm. She clamped her legs around him and held on as he drove harder, deeper.

When her release slammed into her, his name was a raw cry on her lips. He followed a moment later on a sharp, vicious shout.

It took a long while for them to drift back down from their peak. Carys held Rune close, his body a heavy comfort on hers as the aftershocks of orgasm rippled out of them.

They were as intimate as two people could get, but she couldn’t help feeling that tonight, somehow, he’d been distant. He’d been pulling away from her.

If she was being honest with herself, Rune had been holding something of himself back from her for weeks.

Maybe even from the very beginning.

As he rolled off her and drew her against his warmth, Carys tried to tell herself she was imagining things. But the small, gnawing coldness that settled in her heart seemed to warn her otherwise.

CHAPTER 12

It felt strange waking up in her own room, in her own bed, back home at the Darkhaven that next morning. Strange, yet comforting too. Her time with Rune had been incredible as usual, a blissfully exhausting gauntlet of pleasure and release that never failed to leave her sore in all the right places and longing for the next round.

But as she showered and dressed, it was the other persistent ache that clung to her.

Was she anything more than just a good fuck to him?

Did she even know him?

She knew he cared for her. More than once in the weeks they’d been together, he’d even told her he loved her. She believed him. Even now, she wanted to believe that what they had together was real.

But there were missing pieces to the puzzle that was Rune.

There were secrets.

Last night, she saw for the first time that there were walls built up around him too. Steep walls she hadn’t even realized she needed to climb. Walls he obviously wasn’t ready to let her get close to, let alone begin to scale.

Rune came from dubious beginnings; she knew that. He’d told her that he’d grown up on the streets, a denizen of Boston’s underworld. He’d scraped by most of his life, making his living on his fists and other dangerous means.

He’d told her all of that the first time she had asked about his past. He hadn’t seemed proud of where he’d come from, but he hadn’t seem bothered by any of it either.

Now, however, she wondered . . .

Those heavy thoughts followed her as she left her room and walked to the main living area of the Darkhaven mansion. The place was quiet, no one around. Then again, at nine in the morning, her father would be deeply entrenched in Order business with his warrior teams down in the command center.

Carys strolled toward the kitchen, following the aroma of fresh baked goods and brewing coffee. She found Brynne seated at the island counter, enjoying both by herself. She wore jeans and a crisp white button-down shirt, with her long sable hair twisted up into a messy bun on the top of her head.

Carys smiled as her mother’s half-sister glanced up. “Good morning.”

“Morning.” The Breed female’s expression turned sheepish as she chewed a big bite of blueberry muffin. “I know, I really ought to go find a blood Host this morning, but honestly. How am I supposed to resist temptations like this?”

Carys laughed. “Just one of the benefits of being winners of the genetic lottery. Not only can we walk in daylight, but we can eat and drink anything we like.”

Brynne lifted her coffee mug in salute. “And not a bit of it ever goes to our hips.”

Carys walked over and took a muffin off the serving plate. She popped off the top and began nibbling at the crispy edges. “I suppose everyone is down at the command center already?”

“For about an hour now.”

“My mother too?”

Brynne smiled. “She left me with muffins and coffee, so I can hardly complain.”

It wasn’t unusual for Tavia to be part of patrol reviews and mission strategy meetings. She’d been involved in Order business since her mating to Carys’s father, and it was obvious Tavia was at her happiest when she was working at her mate’s side. But her impeccable manners would balk at abandoning a guest—family or not—for so long by themselves.

“Today’s meeting must be important,” Carys mused out loud.

“Must be,” Brynne said. “Lucan’s called in personally this morning, from what I understand. Something about a new lead on one of the ongoing operations.”

Carys nibbled on her muffin, her mind running a hundred miles an hour. It couldn’t be her lead they were discussing, could it? Had the information she’d found last night proven useful? Had it possibly led the Order to another Opus Nostrum member? The very idea spiked her veins with a jolt of adrenaline, the thrill of the hunt.

“Why don’t you go find out for yourself?”

“What?” She blinked at Brynne.

“If you want something, sweetheart, you have to be willing to reach for it.”

She gaped. “What are you saying? That I want to be part of the Order?”

“I didn’t say that at all. But you just did.”

Carys shook her head, but the denial didn’t quite make it to her lips. “They haven’t asked for my help.”

“Just because you don’t have an invitation to the party doesn’t mean you don’t belong.”

Brynne picked up her empty plate and coffee cup, then carried them to the sink. As she washed both, her phone chirped on the island countertop. Murmuring her excuses, she dried her hands and took the call into the other room.

No sooner had she gone, than Carys set down her half-eaten breakfast and headed for the command center.

She didn’t have to guess where everyone was because a low rumble of voices carried out from the war room at the far end of the corridor. Carys slowed her pace to a stroll as she approached the interior windows and glass-paneled door.

Her father saw her immediately. She waited for his questioning look or even a scowl, but instead, his handsome face eased into surprise. His blue eyes bright under the crown of his trimmed blond hair, he motioned for her to come inside.

She opened the door and stepped into the room.

“Carys,” he said. “Is anything wrong?”

“No, nothing’s wrong. I just . . .” She felt awkward suddenly, but would have felt even more so if she gave in to the urge to turn around and leave now that everyone was staring at her.

Seated around the long conference table with him were her mother and the Boston team of warriors: Nathan and Rafe, Elijah and Jax. Her brother, Aric, was there too. Mathias and Nova sat together across from her parents. Jordana was there too, seated beside Nathan.

And on the video wall opposite the table was Lucan and Gideon.

Her father stood up. “Come in. We were just talking about you.”

On the huge monitor, Lucan’s stern mouth curved into a smile. “Excellent work, tracking down that information on Crowe’s associate, Carys.”

Heads nodded in agreement, both in D.C. and around the conference table in front of her.

Even Aric seemed pleased and impressed. Despite their personal cold war of the past week or so, his green eyes were warm on her. As she stepped farther inside, he pulled out the empty chair beside him.

Carys sat down. It was the first time she’d seen the war room from such an angle—at the table as one of them. Part of the group. It felt surprisingly comfortable.

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