Her mother stood at the large island in the center of the space, sharing a tray of canapés and finger sandwiches with her guests. Occupying two of the counter’s dozen tall stools were Brynne and the other female—a petite, pretty young woman with asymmetrically cut blue-and-black hair, countless colorful tattoos and multiple piercings.

Carys awkwardly cleared her throat. “Hello, everyone.”

Her mother spun toward her with a little gasp, her beautiful face lighting up instantly. “Carys! Come in and join us.”

No censure. No judgment. Just pure, maternal warmth and affection. Carys all but launched herself into her mother’s open arms. They embraced for a quiet moment before Tavia brought her around to greet the other women.

Brynne got up to hug Carys. “How nice to see you.”

“You too,” Carys replied. “How long have you been in Boston?”

“Just a couple of days. A much-needed holiday from the office.”

Carys nodded. “I’m sorry I didn’t stop by sooner.”

Brynne waved her hand. “You’re here now.”

Tavia gestured to their other guest. “And this is Nova, Carys. She’s Mathias’s mate.”

Carys’s brows rose at the idea. She’d known Mathias Rowan for as long as she could remember. Although she’d heard he had mated recently, she had always pictured the Order’s London commander settling down with a female more like Brynne than Nova, but she had to admit she liked the unusual pairing.

Carys held out her hand in greeting. “Very nice to meet you, Nova.”

“You too,” Nova replied, her tattooed fingers delicate and warm. As was her shy smile.

When Carys glanced back at her mother, Tavia gestured to the large tote hanging from her shoulder. “Does this mean what I think it does?”

Carys nodded. “It’s only temporary. The huge penthouse has been kind of lonely without Jordana there with me, anyway.”

Her mother cupped her cheek. “Well, no matter what brought you home, I’m happy you’re here. Your father will be thrilled . . . and relieved.”

Carys set her bag down, then reached over for the tray of appetizers. “May I? I’m starving.”

At her mother’s nod, she grabbed a little cucumber sandwich off the tray. Then another. Now that she was home, she realized how long it had been since she’d last eaten. Longer still, since she’d sought out a human blood Host.

As a member of the Breed, she needed to drink fresh red cells from an open vein at least weekly. She’d never given the necessity a lot of thought until she’d met Rune. Now the idea of feeding from anyone else, even simply for nourishment, only served to remind her of the one thing that was missing in an otherwise amazing relationship.

At some point, she knew she would have to accept that Rune might never be willing to take that step with her.

Carys pushed the sting of that thought aside as she reached for a third helping from the tray. As she ate, she glanced at Nova’s intricate body art.

“Whoever did your ink has an impressive talent. It’s really beautiful work.”

“Thank you.” Nova smoothed one hand over the other, idly tracing some of the art. “Most of it was done by my friend, Ozzy. He owned the shop where I worked. He was killed a couple of weeks ago.”

Carys instantly regretted bringing up a sad subject for the other woman. She wasn’t aware of the details, but she could see that Nova still grieved for her friend. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Me too. He was the only family I had, aside from Eddie, the boy Ozzy took in a few years after he saved me from the streets.” Her pained expression shifted a bit. “Now, I have Mathias. We’ve formed a new family together. With Eddie too.”

Tavia reached out to squeeze Nova’s hand affectionately. “And your new baby on the way.”

“A baby!” Apparently, Mathias and his mate were full of surprises. Carys smiled at Nova. “Congratulations.”

She murmured her thanks, looking both awkward about it and overjoyed. “I never dreamed I’d have a child of my own one day. I never imagined I’d take a mate either, especially from among the Breed.”

The way she said it—the way her pale blue eyes clouded over with an unspoken darkness before she glanced down at her hands again—made Carys guess there had been a lot of ugliness and suffering in Nova’s past. But she didn’t pry, just let the comment pass in the silence that followed. “I’m sure you’ll have nothing but happiness with Mathias.”

“I’m sure of that too.” Nova lifted her head, no more dark clouds in her gaze now, only certainty. “I’m thankful every day that Mathias walked into Ozzy’s shop. I’ll be thankful for the rest of my life that he didn’t give up on me, even though I tried my best to push him away.”

“Maybe sometime you can tell me all about it,” Carys said.

Nova nodded. “Sure. I’d like that.”

As the four women fell into an easy conversation around the canapés, footsteps sounded in the hallway outside the kitchen. A moment later, Carys’s father strode in with Mathias.

“I thought I heard my daughter’s voice in here.”

Carys offered him a guilty smile. “Hello, Father.”

He crossed his massive arms over his chest, looking every bit the formidable warrior, even in a crisp white oxford shirt and tailored pants. “I’m glad to see you didn’t try to ditch Jordana and Nathan tonight too.”

Tavia clicked her tongue. “Sterling, don’t be difficult.”

His frown stayed directed at Carys. “I wasn’t aware that’s what we’re calling a father’s concern these days.”

She bristled, even though she knew he had a right to be upset. To be worried about her. “I didn’t move out to add to your stress or to the Order’s problems.”

“And yet you have,” he informed her. “At a time when all we’ve got are problems.”

A fresh dread crept up her spine at his ominous tone. “What’s happened? Has there been anything more regarding Opus or the Order’s other missions?”

“Nothing in our favor,” he grumbled. “We’re still gathering intel. We only have Riordan in our sights now, when we need to unmask all of Opus’s members if we stand any chance of bringing down the organization.”

Mathias nodded. “Too bad Reginald Crowe didn’t leave behind anything solid to lead us to the rest of his associates.”

“Only a cold trail to a rumored lover who may or may not exist,” Chase said. “Gideon hacked into all of his business and personal accounts, but Crowe took precautions with his interests. Nothing to implicate anyone as a member of Opus. And if Crowe did have a mistress, he was careful to keep his relationship with her out of the spotlight. Which is saying something right there, based on Crowe’s lack of discretion in all the other areas of his life.”

Carys knew of Reginald Crowe, of course. Anyone alive in the past twenty years was familiar with the billionaire business magnate who was as famous for his numerous, progressively younger ex-wives as he was for his limitless ego. He’d put his name on everything he could, from high-rise hotels and casinos, to enormous grants for art and science institutions. Even Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts where Carys and Jordana worked had a large exhibit of masterworks on loan from Reginald Crowe personal collection.

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