A soft, unsteady breath slipped past Nova’s lips. “Aedan made me feel loved when the rest of my existence was fear and pain. He didn’t know what had been happening with me, either. I was too ashamed to let him know. God, how foolish we both were, trying to put on a brave face for the other.”

“You did what you had to in order to protect yourselves,” Carys said. “And, as much as it hurt me tonight to find out the secret Rune was hiding from me, I can’t condemn him for it. I only wish he’d trusted me enough to tell me. He could’ve asked me for help.”

Nova’s gaze was solemn, sad. “Given what I know about my brother now, I think he would’ve left Boston for good, rather than ask for help. Neither of us were taught to reach out to someone else. That’s why I kept my secrets from Mathias as long as I did. I locked myself behind my own protective walls, thinking my past would never find me there. Hoping I’d be safe if I started over, if I pretended everything that had happened to me was just a bad dream.” She let out a humorless laugh. “But you can never outrun your past or the demons that live there. No wall we build is high enough to keep them away. They always catch up sometime. You have to stare them in the face without flinching before they’ll ever let you go.”

Nova was right, of course. And Carys didn’t doubt for a second that if Rune hadn’t already understood that truth, he knew it now.

Her fear for him deepened when she considered that possibility. Her dread grew colder, as heavy as a stone.

In her heart, Carys knew that was why Rune had walked out willingly with his father’s thugs. He was going with them of his own free will, most likely back to the hell where he’d been raised.

Back to face the monsters of his past.

Carys could only hope Rune survived whatever he intended to do . . . and pray that the Order hadn’t already condemned him.

CHAPTER 28

Lucan sat at the head of the table in the Order’s massive war room later that night. Seated around him were nine of his district commanders and their mates. Three other command center leaders were dialed in via video displays on the large wall monitors in the room.

As Chase wrapped up his report of what had happened in Boston earlier that night, a few muttered curses traveled the group, but the reaction of the most seasoned warriors was grim silence.

“Poor Carys,” said Elise, Breedmate to Tegan, one of the Order’s founding members. She was also Chase’s former sister-in-law, and a woman who’d endured her fair share of heartache and loss in the past. “How is she handling all of this?”

“I saw her in the drawing room with Brynne and Jordana when we arrived,” said Alexandra. She and her mate, Kade, were the last to arrive, having come in from Lake Tahoe. “Carys looked exhausted, and she was pacing the room like a caged animal.”

Tavia sighed. “She hardly spoke on the flight down. She’s hurt and confused, of course. She’s as shocked as we all are, but she believes in Rune. She loves him.”

Chase scoffed. “She’s blinded by her emotions when it comes to that male. That blindness might’ve gotten her killed.”

“Or maybe it was love that saved her life tonight.” This from ebony-haired Corinne, who was seated beside Hunter, her Gen One warrior mate.

He glanced at her tenderly as she spoke, which was a feat in itself, since the former assassin had been raised by his brutal handlers to think that emotion was weakness. He’d overcome that training, just as Corinne’s long-lost son, Nathan, had overcome similar abuse through his newfound love for Jordana.

“Corinne’s right,” said Tess. “And it’s obvious that Rune—or Aedan—must care for Carys too. After all, he tried to protect her from Riordan’s men.”

Chase grunted, clearly unmoved. “If he really wanted to protect her, he never would’ve taken up with my daughter in the first place. I’d like to kill the bastard for that alone.”

Dante glanced around his mate, Tess. “Come on, Harvard,” he said, using a nickname he’d given Chase years ago. “You could say that about any one of us at this table when we met our mates—you included. So, don’t judge him too harshly on that point, man.”

A lot of warriors’ heads nodded in agreement, both around the table and on the monitors. Even Lucan had to admit that what Dante said was true.

“And don’t be too quick to execute, either,” Mathias added. “Let’s all remember that Aedan Riordan is not just his father’s son. He’s also Nova’s brother.”

The tattooed Breedmate threaded her slender fingers through Mathias’s and gave him a sad smile.

As much as Lucan sympathized with the complicated emotional situation in front of them, first and foremost, the Order had a dangerous enemy to contend with.

“We need to get our hands on Riordan, and anyone who stands in the way of that mission will leave us no choice but to take them out. Anyone,” he said, casting a sober look at Mathias and Nova, and at Chase and Tavia. “We need Fineas Riordan alive for questioning. Between Tegan and Hunter, I have no doubt we’ll be able to wring out everything the bastard knows about Opus Nostrum and his comrades in that cabal.”

The pair of lethal Gen Ones inclined their heads in agreement. Tegan’s touch could siphon out the truth from even the most unwilling subject, and nothing could hide from Hunter’s ability to read blood memories.

Wolfish-looking Kade chuckled darkly on the other side of the table and nodded in the direction of the scarred warrior seated near him. “If Riordan doesn’t respond to those lines of questioning, let Rio here put his hands on him for a few seconds. Once Riordan feels his life leaking away, I’ll bet all of his Opus secrets will start spilling out.”

On one of the monitors, the Order’s German-born commander, Andreas Reichen, cleared his throat. “If the rumors in Europe are true, it sounds like Opus has been acquiring new chemical technology recently.”

Lucan wasn’t the only one to mutter a curse at that newsflash. “They already have access to liquid UV light weaponry. What other kind of chemical technology should we be looking for?”

“You won’t like it,” Andreas said. “There’s underground talk about a new, extremely powerful narcotic. Something that turns even the most docile Breed into a mindless, bloodthirsty savage.”

“We’ve been hearing the same thing in Rome the past few days,” Lazaro Archer said from his feed on another of the conference room monitors.

“Jesus Christ,” Dante hissed. “Sounds too much like Crimson.”

Twenty-odd years ago, a red, powder-based club drug had cropped up in Boston and elsewhere. It had spread like wildfire, and had cut a deep gash in the Breed communities, turning good sons into blood-addicted Rogues.

Sterling Chase had been one of the first to go after the drug and its creator. It was that quest that had brought him to the Order in the first place.

And if Opus had a similar narcotic now, they wouldn’t be the first to use it as a weapon against those who crossed them. More than one person seated around the table here tonight could attest to that firsthand.

Chase’s expression was stark and contemplative now, even after Tavia gently took his hand in hers in a show of affection and support.

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