Tavia nodded and hugged her close.

Carys breathed a bit easier, knowing her mother was on her side. Now, she just had to trust that her father and brother wouldn’t greet Rune at the door with the rest of the Boston warriors, armed to the teeth and fangs.

She wanted nothing to ruin what she had now with Rune.

And she could only hope that nothing went wrong.

CHAPTER 22

At the D.C. headquarters, Lucan sat across from Zael in a conference room usually reserved for visiting statesmen and other diplomats.

In the past two decades, the sumptuous, yet comfortable, chamber had hosted presidents, prime ministers, decorated generals, religious leaders, world-renown scientists and countless other important guests. But Lucan was hard-pressed to name a single meeting that had carried the same weight and potential lasting consequences—good or bad—as the one taking place with this immortal today.

Darion, Gideon and Brock had joined them a few minutes ago, after Lucan and Zael had gotten acquainted and decided if the visit should proceed beyond cursory introductions and politely couched mistrust. Lucan had since put out calls to each of his district commanders to report to headquarters later that evening to meet the Atlantean in person and hopefully set a path toward a mutually beneficial alliance between Zael and the Order.

So far, he had been forthcoming and engaging, answering all of Lucan’s questions about Jordana and her Atlantean father, Cassianus, AKA Cassian Gray, as well as another deceased immortal, Reginald Crowe. His azure gaze was shrewd and measuring, but not unfriendly, as Lucan and the other Breed males studied him from around the big table.

“And you’re certain Crowe had no ties to the colony?” Lucan asked, after the other men were seated and the conversations resumed. “No one who might know about his activities with Opus Nostrum?”

“None.” Zael gave a slow shake of his head. “Crowe was dead to our people long before the Order killed him. He belonged to the old guard—one of the royal legion, like Cass and me—before he decided to make his fortune in the human world. He was loyal enough to our queen, but his real interest had always been in conquest, whether that was business, pleasure, or war. His views went against everything the Atlantean people believe in.”

Lucan acknowledged with a nod. “What about the names Riordan or Ivers? Do either of them sound at all familiar to you?”

“I’m sorry, no.” Zael leaned back in his seat, getting more comfortable. He cocked his head to the side. “I assume our meeting today isn’t merely to discuss Crowe or his unsavory associates.”

“No,” Lucan admitted. “I wanted to meet because I need to know if our interests are in alignment.”

“That depends on what your interests are, Commander Thorne.”

“Peace. True and lasting peace between the humans, the Breed and your kind.”

Zael’s broad mouth pursed slightly. “A simple concept, but a thousand ways for it to fail. Or worse, end in irreparable catastrophe.”

“We’ll have better odds without your queen plotting her war in the shadows.”

“And the Order won’t be opposed to destroying her to achieve it?” Those oceanic blue eyes held steady, unreadable. “How does that make your goal any better?”

A palpable tension poured over Brock, Gideon and Dare at the bold retort. Lucan was taken aback slightly too, but Zael’s forthrightness only served to remind him that, although the Atlantean had come to the meeting in peace, he was still a powerful being who would not be cowed. Not even by a room full of Breed warriors and their Gen One leader.

“I’m not interested in a philosophical debate,” Lucan said, without heat. “We need to know which side the colony stands on if a war is to come.”

“Neither,” Zael said. “All in the colony hope for peace, but enough of our lives have been spent already. That’s why the colony exists. That’s why its inhabitants defected from Selene’s rule after the fall of the realm. They want no part of anyone’s war or vengeance—yours or hers.”

Lucan cursed. “So, you’ll all just stand by and wait for the dust to settle around a victor, then determine your course? I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what that makes you in my eyes, Zael.”

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t choose a side.” Zael’s expression was placid, but there was a dangerous gleam in his gaze. “The colony is my people, but so is Selene. And there are others like me—her former legion and a handful of advisors—who feel her rage has blinded her to what is right. Cassianus was one of those people too. That’s why he stole his daughter away, to protect her and give her better a life outside Selene’s new realm.”

“Is that why Cass stole one of the Atlantean crystals?” Lucan asked. “To keep Selene from using it war against the Breed and man?”

Zael’s brows arched. “Jordana told you about the crystal her father was rumored to have taken?”

“She didn’t tell us. She showed us.”

“Jordana has Cass’s crystal?” Zael didn’t even seem to try to conceal his astonishment. Or his interest.

Lucan shook his head. “The Order has it now. She entrusted it to us.”

“I don’t suppose you’d let me see it to substantiate that fact?”

Lucan grunted. “Today is about trust. We hope it’s about building an alliance. With you, with the colony. With anyone else who doesn’t want to see our world destroyed by an enemy we’re not even sure how to fight yet.”

Zael narrowed his gaze on him. “Today is about trust, I agree. So, help me to trust that what you say is true. How can I be sure you have the crystal if you’re not willing to show it to me?”

“Because I told you I have it. We found the egg-sized, silvery crystal hidden in a titanium box. The box was hidden inside a sculpture that sat in a public museum in Boston, right in front of everyone’s noses for more than two decades.”

Zael smirked as he listened. “Concealed within a sculpture. How like Cass to hide his treasure inside an object of art. What kind of sculpture was it?”

“An eighteenth-century Italian piece called Sleeping Endymion. Or rather, an expert replica of that piece. Jordana said Cass had the original at his villa on the Amalfi coast.”

Zael started to chuckle. “Of course. The moon goddess, Selene, and her doomed human shepherd lover.”

“You know the myth?”

“The story is myth, but Endymion was a man,” Zael said. “He was our queen’s consort. He was also her betrayer. He’s the one who gave her enemies—your race’s Ancient fathers—two of the realm’s crystals.”

Astonished murmurs traveled between the other men at the table. Lucan stared at Zael. “Pity about your queen’s poor judgment in men, but what kind of power do the crystals have? We need to understand how it can be harnessed. How it can be unleashed.”

“The crystals are a power source. They’re meant to protect, to energize and sustain life. Not destroy it.”

“And yet that’s exactly what the Ancients did with them,” Lucan countered. “Somehow, they used the crystals’ power against Selene. Against Atlantis. They did something with them to create that massive explosion and the wave that followed.”

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