After a Breed dignitary from Africa and his mate stepped forward to greet the hosts, Brynne leaned close to Carys and spoke around a pleasant smile. “Stop touching your ear, darling. We don’t want to draw unwanted attention.”

Dammit. She wasn’t used to espionage, and it was damn hard to ignore the tiny transmitter and GPS tracker she carried in her left ear. “Sorry,” she whispered quietly.

Gideon’s voice replied, equally covert. “No worries. Just pretend I’m not here. You know what you need to do, right? Locate Fielding’s office, search for any kind of hard intel you can find—login IDs, passwords, calendar appointments, anything at all. Then scatter those bugs I gave you and get the hell out of there.”

“Mm-hmm.” Carys knew her instructions. She also knew to turn on her best smile as Brynne shook hands with Fielding’s wife.

“Such a beautiful night for this happy event,” Brynne was saying. She brought Carys forward to meet the GNC official and his wife. “Mr. and Mrs. Fielding, I’d like to introduce Carys Fairchild, the daughter of a dear friend of mine from Boston.”

Carys didn’t so much as blink at the use of her mother’s maiden name. She played along, extending her hand to the portly, middle-aged councilman and his wife.

“How nice to meet you,” Mrs. Fielding cooed. She turned and made further introductions to their daughter and her new fiancé, and to the Fieldings’ adult son, Simon.

The introverted twenty-something human had his father’s pear-shaped body and thinning tangle of curly brown hair, but his mother’s soft blue eyes. He blinked at Carys from behind thick-lensed glasses, and, with an awkward bob of his head, took her hand in a clammy, limp grasp.

“Carys is from Boston,” his mother informed him cheerfully. “Simon will be speaking at an economics seminar there next month. Perhaps he’ll tell you all about it. Would you like that, Carys?”

“Of course,” she replied, dreading the prospect already. “That sounds fascinating.”

Gideon’s quiet chuckle was a tickle in her ear. “Smoothly done. Welcome to the glamour of covert ops.”

“Hmm. Now you tell me,” she whispered, turning her face aside to mask the subtle movement of her lips.

Brynne had since gone on to gush over the Fieldings’ home, which they had only moved into a couple of weeks ago. “Such a lovely property. And so expansive too. Are there eight bedrooms upstairs?”

“Ten,” Mrs. Fielding replied, beaming. “And that doesn’t count Neville’s study and meeting rooms, which occupy most of the entire east wing.”

Carys hid her reaction, as did Brynne, who covered the direct hit with a light tease about having plenty of room for future grandchildren. With the receiving line reaching its end now, the women laughed and began chatting about the upcoming wedding and preparations being made for the honeymoon.

Carys, meanwhile, took the opportunity to fade back into the crowd.

She drifted casually through the scores of elegantly dressed people. A passing server offered her a flute of champagne, which she accepted with a smile before continuing on her incremental, yet deliberate path toward the far end of the ballroom.

She wended her way deeper into the throng, slowing to watch the handful of couples who were now moving onto the dance floor as the orchestra began to play a waltz. She moved on, laughing along with a few of the guests, and pausing here and there to feign interest in the mansion’s art.

Bringing her glass to her lips, Carys murmured her position to Gideon. “I’m heading for the exit on the east end of the house. As soon as I see my chance—”

“Uh . . . Miss Fairchild?”

The hesitant croak of a male voice drew her attention sharply. She schooled her expression to one of mild surprise. “Oh, hello again, Simon.”

“Hello.” He fell back into an awkward silence. Standing there, he fidgeted with the buttoned collar of his dress shirt beneath the tight bow tie at his throat. Then he thrust his hand out at her, palm up. She frowned, uncertain what he wanted.

“Would you care to dance?”

Inside her ear, Gideon’s laugh sounded choked and far too amused.

Oh, shit. Seriously? “I, um . . .” She glanced around, casting for an excuse.

But she had no plausible reason to say no, and Simon’s face was so pitifully hopeful, she didn’t have the heart to refuse him. Besides, she was there to blend in with the other guests. If she was lucky, maybe she could wheedle some useful information out of Fielding’s son.

“All right. I would be happy to dance with you.”

Setting her half-empty champagne flute down on a nearby tray, she placed her fingers into Simon’s moist palm and let him lead her out to the dance floor.

~ ~ ~

“I hear you’ve earned quite a reputation for yourself in the ring in Boston,” his father said, walking behind Rune with his armed thugs in the dank chill of the passageway. “I hear you’re unbeatable. A killer.”

Rune grunted. “You taught me everything I know.”

“Yes, I did.” There was a smile in that thin voice. “Glad to know you’ll admit it.”

They continued on, around a wide bend that led toward the old store rooms of the fortress. The guards yanked Rune to a stop outside a large, iron-banded door. Riordan stepped around them and stuck a key into the heavy lock. He gave it a twist and shot a smirk over his shoulder at Rune.

“Maybe I should be demanding my share of your profits, eh, boyo?”

Rune kept his voice level, his rage on a low simmer. “You don’t deserve a fucking thing.”

Except an excruciating death, which he couldn’t wait to deliver.

Riordan’s face hardened, but then he shrugged. “I don’t need money. I’m not looking for anything as mundane as that anymore. I trade in something far more valuable now.”

Rune scoffed. “Flesh and blood?”

“When it pleases me, yes. But my preferred currency is power.”

With the lock freed, Riordan unfastened the latch and pushed the old wooden door open. At his nod, the guards shoved Rune ahead of them into the room.

Scores of sealed barrels, shipping crates and large steel boxes were stored inside. Riordan motioned for a couple of his men to open some. They carefully pried loose a barrel lid, then levered the top off a sealed wood crate and removed one of the small boxes from inside it.

As Rune was guided toward the containers, he saw brick-sized packages of fine red powder filling the barrel. Inside the large crate were cushioned boxes holding hundreds of thin glass cylinders, all of them glowing with a milky blue light in their center. There were dozens of containers holding each type of supply. So many, they filled the large storage chamber.

“As I said, I trade in power now.” Smiling, Riordan gestured around him. “My war chest, courtesy of Opus Nostrum. I have enough narcotics to create an army of bloodthirsty savages, and enough liquid UV weaponry at my disposal to eradicate half the Breed population around the world.”

“You’re sick,” Rune spat. “You’ll never get the chance to use any of this shit. Not you, and not Opus either.”

“Who’s going to stop us, boyo? You? Your friends in the Order?” He chuckled as he slowly shook his head. “Imagine my shock when the scouts I’d sent to Boston reported back to me that they’d not only found you in that city, but found you rubbing elbows with warriors from Lucan Thorne’s Order. I have to say, it made me curious.”

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