“Exciting, isn’t it? Talk about performance enhancement.” He glanced back down into the pit. “The drug was only a prototype until a few weeks ago. Soon it will be in every major city across Europe and the United States. How long do you think it will take the humans before they beg for someone to make the madness stop?”

Rune stared at him, abhorred. “About as long as it will take them to declare war on the entire Breed population.”

His father shrugged, thoroughly unfazed. “Ah, well. Either way.”

He laughed, and was joined by Ennis and the rest of the guards.

Rune’s veins throbbed with disgust. He had always suspected Fineas Riordan was insane, but now he realized it was something even worse than that. He was psychopathic. “You really wouldn’t care, would you? Not so long as you can get off watching others in pain.”

Riordan stared down at the worsening combat below. “You always did have a weak stomach when it came to these things. I blame your mother for that.”

“Is that why you killed her?”

He glanced over, brows raised in surprise. “I didn’t realize you knew that.”

Hatred seethed in Rune. “I didn’t until you just confirmed it.”

Riordan waved his hand as if to dismiss the whole idea as he returned his attention to the pit. “She was a bad match from the start. I should’ve known better than to take her to mate. The bitch could take a punch, I’ll grant her that. But raise a hand to anyone else and she crumbled. She never approved of my . . . inclinations. Eventually, I simply got tired of her judgment.”

Rune listened in simmering fury to his father’s admission. He thought about the gentle woman who’d borne him. Her unique Breedmate gift for withstanding extreme pain had been passed down to him. As a boy thrown into the pit, Rune had leaned on that ability to endure his father’s training. Over time, he’d learned to fight without calling upon it, and hadn’t used it once since he’d left his father’s domain.

But his mother . . .

Rune had been too young, too blind. He had no idea she was being abused, as tortured by Riordan as he was. The realization now made a growl boil up the back of his throat.

“You sick bastard. I should’ve killed you back then.”

The guns held at Rune’s spine and the back of his head inched closer at the threat, but his father only chuckled. “Don’t be such a pussy, son. Life is pain. I’d have thought I taught you that, if nothing else.”

“You taught me a lot of things,” Rune muttered.

Riordan looked over at him. “Good. That training will pay off for you even more lucratively than it has in Boston all these years now that you’re home again. You’ve been building your little empire over there, but I’ve been busy building too. My comrades and I have been laying the foundation in secret for years. Now, we’re nearly ready to put our plans in motion.”

“What comrades?” Rune asked. “What fucking plans?”

His father studied him for a long moment. “You really don’t know?” A wicked glint shone in his dark eyes. “Opus Nostrum, boyo. You’re looking at its new leader.”

Jesus Christ.

His sick fuck of a father was the current head of that terror group?

Did the Order know? If not, he needed to get that information into their hands as soon as possible. What’s more, he needed to get as much intel on his father as he could before he murdered the bastard with his bare hands.

“Congratulations,” Rune gritted out tightly. “You must be very proud.”

“Oh, I am. But I’ll be even prouder once the world understands that Opus is the only true power. If they want peace, the world will come through us to secure it. If not, we’ll be ready to deliver a war like no one has ever seen.”

“How do you intend to do that?”

Riordan wagged a finger. “Patience, son. We’ll have time to talk about all of that later. Right now, I want to enjoy the match.” He bared his teeth and fangs in a sadistic smile. “We’re just getting to the best part.”

In the pit below, the combat had escalated. One of the Breed males was finally tiring. His shoulder was ripped wide open, the arm dangling uselessly at his side. His opponent flew at him on a bellow that shook the ancient rafters overhead. The two massive bodies crashed together, and the weakened vampire was slammed onto the dirt floor.

Fangs gleamed like daggers as the pair bit and gnashed at each other, powerful fists striking and connecting in a blur of speed and brutality. Blood sprayed from arteries torn open in the struggle. Howls of anguish and fury rose to a deafening level from the enclosure far below.

The male on the bottom couldn’t hope to hold off the other. Disabled, fatigued, he made the fatal error of leaving his throat open for attack. His opponent seized it, hitting as hard as a viper.

Fangs sank deep and shredded the other vampire’s neck in a single strike, all but severing the head from its body.

The victor lifted his head in a shout of triumph, blood and gore dripping from his enormous fangs. There was no humanity left in that face. Nothing but madness and savagery.

Beside Rune, his father and the other Riordan men hooted and applauded the finish. They were giddy with enthusiasm, avid in their enjoyment of the sadistic spectacle below.

The champion seemed to notice his audience for the first time now.

Lips parted, breath sawing out of him, he cocked his head and stared directly up at Rune and the others on the catwalk high above.

He gave no warning of what he was about to do.

One moment he was crouched atop his dead opponent, the next he was airborne—leaping up from the floor of the pit with a feral snarl.

“Holy shit!”

Rune jumped back as the big male vaulted at them. His father and the other men didn’t so much as flinch.

Rune understood why less than a second later.

The fighter’s escape was stopped by an invisible barrier. The very instant his body connected with it, bright sparks exploded. Pungent smoke and blinding light made Rune avert his eyes—though not before he realized the vampire was dead.

Or, rather, ashed on the spot. Once the stench and sparks had dissipated, the massive body of the Breed male was nothing but a small cloud of floating dust.

Rune gaped. “What the fuck?”

“UV webbing.” His father grinned. “I’ve made some improvements to the pit since you’ve been here last.”

He waved Ennis away with a pointed nod, then started walking. Behind Rune, the guns at his back encouraged him to follow.

“Come, Aedan. I’d like to talk about your friends in the Order.”

CHAPTER 31

More than a hundred people, Breed and human, filled the ballroom of Councilman Fielding’s mansion in London at nine o’clock that evening. A small orchestra played in the background as the arriving guests made their way along a receiving line toward the newly engaged couple and their beaming sets of parents.

Brynne made introductions for Carys to JUSTIS colleagues and other guests, explaining that she was the daughter of a friend back in the States, who was visiting London for a brief summer holiday. Carys, in an elegant black pantsuit and heels, smiled and shook hands as she and Brynne progressed down the line. All the while, she studied the layout of the house and its numerous archways and passages leading off to the foyer and other rooms from the bustling ballroom.

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