The question made his pulse hammer, even while the notion of binding her to him as his mate sent a coldness into his veins. “I don’t have room for that in my life.”

“No room for me.”

“No, not just you.” He shook his head. “Hell, especially you.”

“Especially me?” A jagged laugh scraped out of her. “At least you’re finally being honest about something.”

Shit. He was fucking this all up. Saying the wrong things. He was making everything worse.

In a darkened corner of his conscience, he knew this was the moment when he could do the right thing by her at last. Right here, right now, he could let Carys go.

She was angry with him for good enough reason, already wounded by him. One more hard push and she would probably be able to hate him.

But damn it . . . He couldn’t do it.

He didn’t want to let her go.

A harsh curse rushed out of him as he looked at the misery on her beautiful face. “You weren’t supposed to happen to me, Carys. You were going to be trouble for me and I knew it. I told myself that, the very first time I saw you. I should’ve fucking listened.”

He leaned in to kiss her, but she shoved him away on a broken cry.

“Don’t touch me.” She was off the barstool and standing more than arm’s length from him in less than a blink of time. Her eyes were glittering with fury now. The pretty tips of her fangs peeked out from behind her lip as she glared at him. “Sex isn’t going to fix this, Rune. I’m asking you to let me in. I want to know who you truly are.”

In truth, she didn’t want to know.

No more than he wanted to go there with her.

He couldn’t open that up. He’d buried that part of him in the past where it belonged. And where he planned to keep it.

“You know more than anyone else, Carys.” He rubbed a hand over the tight tendons that started to ache in his jaw. “Christ, woman. You know more than you should.”

“It’s not enough. I can’t do this with you anymore. It hurts too much.”

“Carys . . .” He moved toward her and she dodged him, using her Breed genetics to elude him in a flash of motion.

She started for the corridor across the arena toward the staff entrance at the back of the building. Rune fell in behind her, but she was already at the door.

“Carys, for fuck’s sake. Wait a minute—”

She paused only long enough to throw a searing glare over her shoulder. “Congrats on the club, Rune.”

She pushed the door open. The battered metal panel swung wide, into the blinding blast of midday sunlight. Hot rays poured inside the corridor, pushing Rune back into the shadows on a hiss.

He brought his arm up to shield his eyes and saw her stride into the broad daylight, where she knew he couldn’t follow her. She was unreachable now. Gone.

He told himself he should be relieved.

He kept telling himself that, even as he stormed back into the arena bar and smashed the bottle of whiskey into the nearest wall.

CHAPTER 14

After a long day of talks in the command center with D.C. on conference call and his own team in Boston, Sterling Chase still had hours of work ahead of him that evening. But as he strolled back up to the Darkhaven with Tavia, he could think of nothing more pressing than taking a long moment to appreciate his mate’s perfect backside as she walked ahead of him in the corridor leading into the mansion.

He fell back another pace or two, watching her hips sway with each long-legged stride. Her firm, fine ass never failed to captivate him. Wrapped in gray tailored pants as it was now, or gloriously bared for his every wicked pleasure. Preferably the latter. As soon as possible, if he had anything to say about it.

“Stare any longer, vampire, and my cheeks are going to be scorched from the heat your irises are throwing off.”

He chuckled, but didn’t take his eyes off her for a second. “I know another way to pinken those pretty cheeks.”

“Promises, promises.”

Tavia’s stride turned into a teasing strut that made his veins thrum and his cock ache with hunger. He caught up to her in a flash of motion, spinning her around on her heels and taking her into his arms. She gasped in surprise as she crashed into his chest, but her eyes were dancing with bright sparks of desire as he kissed her.

Their mouths joined in a tangling of tongues, mingling breaths and rushing pulses. When he drew back from her lips a long moment later, every cell in his body was pounding with the need for more. The need for her—his female. His beloved, eternal mate. “You do it to me every time, you know that?”

Tavia’s mouth broke into a grin that revealed the pretty tips of her fangs. “Do what?”

“Stop me in my tracks whenever I see you. Make me think about what a lucky son of a bitch I am that an extraordinary woman like you decided to hang your heart on me.”

She made a throaty sound that sent a jolt of lust straight to his shaft. “Maybe we should discuss this in further detail later tonight.”

He slowly shook his head. “Not sure I can wait that long, darlin’.”

“You’ll have to. We do have guests, Sterling. You told Mathias and Brynne you wanted to meet with him twenty minutes ago.”

“I don’t care. They won’t care. Mathias will certainly understand that I needed time alone with my mate.” He caressed her face, then skimmed his hands onto the sweet ass he’d been drooling over a moment ago. He brought her against him, against the hard ridge of his erection. “I want you now. And I don’t care who knows it.”

She giggled and nipped his lip. “You’re terrible.”

“You’re delicious.”

He took her mouth in another deep kiss, then pulled her under the shelter of his arm as they headed for the privacy of his open study down the nearby hall.

Which turned out to be not-so-private.

Mathias was seated in one of the guest chairs on the other side of the large desk. Brynne sat in the other one. Their eyebrows quirked at the sight of Chase and Tavia, both sporting amber-lit eyes and emerging fangs.

Mathias cleared his throat and started to get up from his chair. “Apologies. I thought we were supposed to meet and discuss the situation in London—”

“Yes, you are.” Tavia disengaged herself from Chase’s hold, ignoring the possessive growl of protest he made. “I’m sorry we kept you waiting.”

“Not at all.” Mathias still looked uncomfortable at the inopportune intrusion. “If you’d rather—”

“I would,” Chase grumbled.

But since Tavia was already perched on the far edge of his desk, all he could do was drop into his chair and hope it didn’t take too long for his raging hard-on to subside. He rallied his thoughts—and wrestled his focus—onto the business at hand.

“Any word from your team on the ground in Dublin tonight, Mathias?”

He shook his head. “Not since the op rolled out a few hours ago. They should be in the city and heading for Ivers’s residence as we speak. My captain, Thane, will call in the status as soon as there’s news.”

“Good.” Chase glanced at Tavia’s sister. “I appreciate your discretion with this, Brynne. All of the Order appreciates that we have your trust. Not only with the mission under way in Dublin tonight, but the one concerning Neville Fielding as well.”

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