Chase had been staving off his fury and suspicion from the moment Carys called him for help. Part of him had wanted to believe her, that Rune was in danger—in real fear for his life. It was better than the alternative, at least. But even as she’d told him, he’d had his doubts.
That Rune had given Carys a chance to get away was the only thing that had kept Chase’s rage in check as he’d assembled his warrior team and raced down to La Notte. Now, even that small consideration for the fighter was beginning to dim under the weight of what they’d found here tonight.
In frustration, Chase raked his hand over his jaw. His gaze connected with Nathan’s grim stare where the warrior captain stood with his team.
“If he’s got active ties to Riordan, we can’t afford the risk. There can’t be any mercy for Rune when we catch up to him.”
“Yeah,” Chase agreed. Nathan wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t already feel in his gut. As much as it would destroy Carys, the fighter was a dead man if it turned out his loyalty belonged to Riordan.
Even worse, if that loyalty should extend to Opus Nostrum.
To think he’d almost welcomed the bastard into his house earlier tonight.
And Carys . . .
Christ, what would he have done if anything had happened to his daughter? She was terrified and heartbroken now, but if the night had ended differently, she might have been taken along with Rune. She might have been killed—or worse if Riordan’s men had realized who she was.
The thought was still an icy chill under his skin when his comm unit signaled an incoming call. It was the Darkhaven, Tavia’s private number. He picked up, his greeting tense with stress.
“Sterling.” His mate’s quiet, stricken voice went through him like a shot. “There’s something you need to know . . .”
Rage steamed inside his skull as he listened to her explain the shocking revelation that had just unfolded back home. As he ended the call, he couldn’t bite back his anger. It exploded out of him on a curse and a flash of his fangs. “He’s Riordan’s son.”
“What?” Nathan gaped along with the other warriors.
“The fighter. His name isn’t Rune.” Chase practically spat the words. “It’s Aedan Riordan.”
“Aedan?” Mathias’s mouth pressed flat, recognition flaring in his eyes. “Holy shit. Does Nova know about this?”
“She’s the one who confirmed it just now, when Carys mentioned that’s what Riordan’s men called him tonight. The son of a bitch has been lying to her all along. Using her.”
Chase’s blood boiled with the knowledge that for all these past weeks, his beloved daughter had been in the bastard’s arms. In his bed.
He hadn’t liked that idea even before everything that happened tonight. Now, he seethed with the urge to kill the fighter.
Chase started for the club’s exit, his team falling in behind him. “I need to make Lucan aware of the situation. And I want his understanding that when we find Aedan Riordan, no one takes the bastard out except me.”
Alone in her bedroom, Carys changed clothes for the imminent departure to the Order’s D.C. headquarters. The Chase Darkhaven had been abuzz with preparations for the trip since her father had returned from La Notte with his team and Mathias. Lucan had demanded the presence of the entire Boston command center, Carys included.
She knew it didn’t bode well that her father was avoiding her. He didn’t have to say the words for her to understand that he was furious and disappointed in her.
And there was no mistaking his animosity for Rune—or, rather, Aedan.
Carys was angry and let down too. She was confused and hurt. Heartsick and afraid. Unsure what she should feel, after everything that had happened tonight. The complicated tangle of emotions gnawed at her, leaving her numb.
As she fastened the buttons on her ivory blouse and tucked the hem into her camel-colored pants, a soft knock sounded on her door.
“Carys, may I come in?” Nova’s accented voice was quiet, uncertain on the other side of the panel.
Although she wanted to be alone to process all that had occurred, there was only one person in the Darkhaven who could possibly relate to how she was feeling. Carys walked over and opened the door.
Nova smiled sadly, her light blue eyes dimmed with sympathy. “It’s almost time to go. The jet’s fueling up and everyone’s just about ready to head out.”
Carys nodded. “Tell them I’ll be there in a minute.”
“All right, I will.” Nova hesitated, studying her now. “Actually, I came because I wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“I am,” Carys replied automatically. “Really, I’m fine.”
“No, you’re not.” Nova’s words were gentle. She stepped forward and drew Carys into a warm, totally unexpected, hug.
The kindness made Carys’s breath catch. She hadn’t realized how much she needed the support until she was standing there, trembling in the other woman’s embrace.
“It broke my heart when my brother left home all those years ago,” Nova said as she released her. “The best part of my world was suddenly gone. I imagine that’s only a fraction of what you must be feeling now.”
Carys led her inside the room and they sat down on the edge of the bed. “I feel like a fool, Nova. He lied to me. He left me, and now, to make it all worse, my father and the rest of the Order are talking about Rune—Aedan—as if he’s the enemy.”
“But you don’t believe he is.”
“I know he’s not.” Carys saw the same conviction in Nova’s eyes. “You don’t believe it either, do you?”
The Breedmate’s blue-and-black hair swung against her shoulders as she shook her head. “Aedan may be a Riordan by blood, but he’s nothing like that clan. The brother I knew was strong and noble. A good man. From all that you’ve told me of Rune, I have to believe my brother is still a good man.”
More than anything, Carys wanted to believe that too. And, in that moment, she felt an overwhelming gratitude for Nova’s friendship. It meant the world to know that she had someone to lean on if she needed understanding and support, the same way Rune had looked to his little sister as the beacon of light in his dark existence so many years ago.
She gave her new friend’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “He loved you very much, you know. He regretted that he left you behind and never went back for you.”
It took Nova a moment before she spoke. “Did he tell you that?”
Carys nodded. “When he took me out for our date, Rune told me a bit about how he grew up. He told me there was a fighting pit at his father’s Darkhaven. Rune had been made to fight in it from the time he was a boy. Life or death matches, all for his father’s amusement. For years—until he finally worked up the courage to leave—the pit was Rune’s own private hell.”
Nova closed her eyes as if feeling the pain herself. Her voice was quiet. “I had no idea about any of that. But I know firsthand how monstrous Fineas Riordan can be.”
“When Rune told me about the pit and what he’d done to survive, I couldn’t imagine how he was able to endure it. I asked him if there was no one in that house who cared about him,” Carys said. “And he told me about you. He wanted to protect you from knowing what he was going through. He didn’t want you to see that part of his life.”