Jordana reached over and squeezed her hand. There was a gentle understanding in her best friend’s eyes. “Everyone’s afraid of what’s waiting at the bottom of the fall, Car. Someone once told me that the safest path isn’t necessarily the best one. That sometimes you have to be willing to leap into the unknown. Into the storm.”

Carys recalled that conversation she’d had with Jordana. It had been only a couple of weeks ago, when Jordana was having doubts about risking her heart on Nathan.

“Do you love this male?” Nova asked.

“Yes.” The truth jumped easily to her tongue, in spite of her misgivings about where things were heading with Rune. But she couldn’t deny what she felt for him. Not to her best friend, nor to the new friend she felt she had in Nova. “I love him with all my heart.”

“Then you have no choice but to try to reach him.”

Carys nodded, less certain now. She knew Nova’s advice was sound, but the sting from her argument with Rune was still fresh. So was the fear. If she gave him any more of her heart and he broke it, would she ever be able to piece it back together again?

She wasn’t sure she was ready to take that chance.

“Is this how it was with you and Mathias?” she asked Nova.

The tough-looking Breedmate held Carys in a tender, vulnerable gaze. “Yeah, it was like this for us too. But I was the one surrounded by high walls. Mathias showed me that the only thing strong enough to tear them down was love. I’m grateful every day that he was stubborn enough not to give up.”

CHAPTER 16

For the third time in the past hour, Carys went back to her exhibit design diagram and reversed the placements of a pair of John Singer Sargent paintings. She drew back from the virtual reality monitor to see how the change would look from the exhibit room floor.

Yes, that works better. Or not.

Dammit, maybe their placements had been right the first time . . .

She moved them back with a huffed sigh. Normally, she wasn’t so indecisive, but too many things on her mind had made it difficult to focus on her work at the museum.

The late-night news from Mathias Rowan’s warrior team about the mission that had ended so badly in Dublin had cast a grim mood over everyone at the Darkhaven. As she’d left for work, the command center had been abuzz with activity and back-and-forth communications with the D.C. headquarters, and more than once during the day Carys had to stifle the urge to call home and find out what was going on.

That was, when she wasn’t even more distracted thinking about Rune.

Thinking about the fact that he hadn’t tried to call or message her since she’d left him at La Notte yesterday.

It should have been a small relief, that he had apparently decided to let her go. If it truly was over between them, she would rather it be now than down the road—after she let herself fall any deeper in love with him.

She was still hurting from their argument, still trying to tell herself that she’d done the right thing in walking away.

Work helped. She focused on that with renewed resolve, determined to have the exhibit plan finalized and ready for approval before she quit for the day. Half the department was working into the evening with her on the special project. They were getting closer to wrapping it up, but Carys still had a few items on her list that she needed to handle.

She was on the phone checking in with a colleague about one of her key pieces when her department assistant knocked on the door. Carys waved the young woman in.

“Someone’s downstairs in the lobby for you.”

She covered the phone and murmured, “Great. It’s probably the lighting fixtures I ordered for the exhibit. Will you please sign for them, Andrea?”

“It’s not the lighting order,” the assistant said. “And I don’t think there is anything I can sign for . . .”

“Then what is it?”

“Not what,” Andrea said. “It’s a who. A very large, hot-looking who. I can’t say for certain, but I think he’s one of those Breed fighters from down at that club, La Notte.”

Rune. He was here? He’d never come to the museum before. He’d always been so careful to keep their worlds separate. Just one more way he’d been holding her at arm’s length.

What was he doing here now?

Adrenaline surged into her veins—along with a shot of hope that sent her heartbeat racing.

Carys held her expression neutral as she made her excuses to her colleague on the phone and ended the call. She smiled politely at the department assistant. “Thank you, Andrea. I’ll be right down.”

After the woman left, Carys grabbed her mirrored compact out of her purse and checked her appearance. Ugh, not good. She hadn’t touched her makeup or hair since she’d arrived at work that morning. She looked wilted at best, except for the flush of color filling her cheeks from the news of Rune’s arrival.

On a resigned sigh, she snapped the compact closed and tossed it back into her purse. He’d seen her looking more disheveled than this before, and she wasn’t about to race to the restroom to freshen up for him before finding out what he wanted. No matter how tempting the idea was.

Walking out of the office at an unrushed pace, she headed for the open central staircase that led down to the museum lobby.

The sight of Rune standing down there made her breath catch.

He waited in the center of the lobby, dressed in black jeans and a basic black shirt that clung to his broad, muscled shoulders and massive chest and arms. His wavy, shoulder-length brown hair was brushed off his ruggedly handsome face, exposing the striking cut of his cheekbones and his firm, square jaw.

Power radiated off him, even more when he was wearing casual clothes and standing in the middle of a quiet lobby than when he was in full fighting garb in the center of the cage.

Carys stopped at the top of the stairs. She had been telling herself all night and throughout the day that she was fine without Rune, that the hours since she’d last seen him hadn’t been some of the slowest, most empty hours of her life. All of those little lies burned to ashes as she gazed down at him now.

He turned her way and looked up at her on the stairs. His dark eyes seared her with their familiar heat, but his face remained unreadable.

She descended at a measured pace, even though her stomach felt as if a hundred butterflies had been turned loose inside it.

“What are you doing here?” The words blurted out of her, sounding more like an accusation than a greeting. “Shouldn’t you be back at La Notte, getting ready to open?”

He shook his head. “Jagger’s overseeing things tonight. I told him I had other plans.”

Carys stepped off the final stair, but stayed put at the bottom, hesitant around him now. She crossed her arms, mostly to keep herself from giving in to the urge to touch him. “What kind of plans?”

“A proper date.” The hint of a smile tugged at his sensual mouth. “At least, I hope that’s where I’m heading.”

“A proper date?” She exhaled a soft puff of air. “Because you want to, or because that’s what I said to you a few nights ago?”

“Both.” He closed the distance between them, making every nerve ending in her body tingle with awareness. With longing. “I’m trying to apologize to you, Carys. I’m trying to make it right between us.”

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