Page 15

The device vibrated again, and with reluctance written all over her face, Carys finally picked it up. Before she even had the chance to utter a word of greeting, Aric’s deep voice came over the receiver. “Carys, where the hell are you right now?”

“Hello to you too, brother dear.”

His response was clipped and dark. “Are you at La Notte?”

“Since when do I have to answer to you, Aric?” Amber light sparked in the Breed female’s blue eyes. “Where I am is no business of yours. I thought I made that clear to you.”

“Dammit, Carys! I’m not playing a fucking game here,” he snarled, and suddenly it was obvious that Aric’s demanding tone wasn’t about anger but something more visceral. Something more urgent than that. He was calling out of fear and worry for his sibling. “Carys, tell me you’re nowhere near that goddamn place right now.”

Carys’s voice dropped to a near whisper. “What’s going on?”

Jordana could no longer hear Aric on the other end, but judging from his sister’s stricken expression, the news wasn’t good. Carys inhaled a sharp breath, her fingers coming up to her mouth for an instant before relief flooded back into her features. She listened for a moment, her face grim, then she quietly ended the call.

She glanced across the table at Jordana. “There’s been a killing at La Notte.”

“Oh, no,” Jordana murmured. “But it wasn’t—”

“No.” Carys shook her head. “Not Rune, thank God. Aric said it wasn’t any of the fighters, but he didn’t have any more information than that. Some of the warriors are heading there now to investigate. Aric told me to stay away from the club tonight.”

And yet Carys was already pulling out cash enough for the bill and a generous tip from her pocketbook. “I have to see Rune,” she explained as she got up. “I just need to see for myself that he’s okay.”

The depth of Carys’s love for the fighter was evident in her eyes. So was her fear. The strong Breed female trembled where she stood, visibly shaken by the news of a death at the place where her lover risked his life every night in the cages.

And while Jordana had no wish to be anywhere near the Order if it meant she might run into Nathan, she wasn’t about to let her friend go there alone.

“Come on,” Jordana said. “I’ll drive.”

Carys managed a faint nod and followed Jordana out to her car.

They made the short trek across town, arriving at La Notte’s block in mere minutes. The club was closed, the arched wooden doors of the old church building barred.

A pair of immense bouncers was parked at the top of the steps leading up to the place, standing shoulder to shoulder in the dark beneath the thin lamplight at the front entrance. As the club’s usual stream of patrons arrived to party upstairs or do other, less savory things in the lower level, the two bouncers turned them away on arrival.

“Drive past and turn down the side alley,” Carys instructed Jordana as she slowed outside the club.

They rounded the corner and found the alleyway access blocked by one of the Order’s huge, unmarked black patrol vehicles. Carys hopped out of the car the instant Jordana brought it to a full stop. Jordana followed her, only to be halted along with Carys by one of Nathan’s team.

“Out of my way, Jax,” Carys said as the pantherlike Asian vampire moved out of the shadows to intercept the women.

“Captain said no civilians, Carys. We’ve got a crime scene back there.”

“I know. Aric called me. I just want to see Rune.”

Jax gave a shake of his dark head. “He’s around back with some of the other club staff, but you ladies are gonna have to stay out here for now. Trust me, you don’t wanna see—”

“I’m going back there.” Carys shoved past the warrior, breaking into a bolt before he was able to react.

Jordana followed her, jogging to keep up as her friend rushed around to the rear of the building. Rune may not have been injured here tonight, but it was obvious there was no one, not Carys’s brother or any of the Order itself, who could keep the female away from the fighter she loved.

“Rune!” Carys called to the dark-haired Breed male as she and Jordana rounded the back of the club. Standing among a few of the other fighters and La Notte staff gathered in the gloom behind the old brick church building, Rune glanced up at Carys’s shout.

His hard face was grave, his eyes shadowed and grim as he broke away from his colleagues to meet her as she and Jordana approached. Carys launched herself into his arms.

“Rune, I was so worried! Aric called and told me someone died at the club. Even though he said it wasn’t you, I had to see for myself. I had to be sure—”

“Shh,” the brutal fighter soothed, stroking his broad palm over the back of Carys’s head as she clung to him. “It’s okay, baby. I’m right here.”

While the couple embraced, sharing private words of comfort and affection, Jordana drifted away from them. Although she’d never been to a crime scene before, and didn’t want to be at one now, she found herself drawn toward the dark stretch of pavement where the apparent victim lay, surrounded by the team of warriors from the Order.

Her heels ticked hollowly on the asphalt, an odd sense of dread snaking around her with every careful step. Death hung in the air, cold and cloying. It lifted goose bumps on her arms, put a chill knot behind her sternum.

Although she didn’t want to look—didn’t want to know what kind of violent end someone had met with a short while ago—Jordana couldn’t keep her gaze from peering between the warriors at the slain individual on the ground.

She caught a glimpse of baggy, worn denim on the skewed legs of the victim. The brown loafers on the man’s feet were scuffed and aged … familiar.

Oh, no. It couldn’t be …

She was holding her breath. She knew that even before the ache in her starving lungs forced her to suck in air.

Even before she saw all the blood on the asphalt, and the object lying next to the body. An object that looked unmistakably like the dead man’s—

Before her horrified mind could confirm what her eyes were seeing, a deep voice was at her ear. “Holy hell.” A pair of strong arms swept her away from the scene, a firm hand holding her head against a rock-solid chest covered in black combat fatigues. “Jesus Christ, Jordana. What the fuck are you doing here?”

Nathan’s words were rough and dark, but his hands were warm and gentle on her as he held her close, keeping her face averted from the carnage. She didn’t want to acknowledge how welcome his touch was in that moment. She meant nothing to him, so feeling his comfort now only added a deeper sting to the shock she was feeling.

She pulled out of his hold on a ragged cry. “It’s him,” she murmured. “I know him.”

Nathan’s black brows crashed together over his stormy eyes. “Who?”

Jordana gestured in the general direction of the victim, too stricken to look again. “That man. I was just talking to him a couple of hours ago.”

Nathan’s scowl deepened. “You talked to him?” His dark voice went from concerned to demanding, almost bordering on suspicious. “You saw him today? Where, Jordana? When?”

“Jordana,” Carys said, walking over now with Rune. “What’s the matter, honey? Are you all right?”

“It’s him. The man I met in the exhibit this afternoon. He was alive earlier today and now he’s—” Jordana’s stomach lurched, choking off her words. Her chest ached with a sense of loss she could hardly reconcile for a stranger she’d known only a few minutes. “I don’t understand how this could happen. Why would anyone want to kill Mr. Cassian?”

A swift, uncertain look passed between Carys and the two Breed males. Even in her distress, Jordana noticed the change in the air.

“Mr. Cassian?” Carys asked gently. “Jordana, that man over there is Cassian Gray.”

When Jordana didn’t react, Nathan added, “La Notte’s owner. Until tonight, no one would admit to having seen the bastard or to knowing where he might be.” He slanted a dark look at Rune. “I guess the Order wasn’t alone in trying to track Cass down.”

The fighter held the warrior’s stare. “Like everyone told you, Cass dropped off-grid for a few days without warning. It wasn’t that unusual for him.”

Nathan grunted and turned his attention to Jordana. “Why was Cass at the museum today—did he tell you that? What exactly did he say to you? What did he want?”

Jordana shook her head, confused. She hadn’t known the club’s proprietor by name, had only glimpsed him once or twice from a distance on those rare occasions when she’d gone with Carys to watch Rune fight.

What she vaguely recalled was a man with a shock of stiff, white-blond hair and black leather clothing bristling with metal studs and buckles. Not the drab-dressed everyman she’d met today.

“There has to be some mistake. I don’t know the man who runs this club. He’s not who I saw in the exhibit. He doesn’t even look like him—”

“It’s Cass,” Nathan insisted. “He’d altered his appearance and stayed out of the public eye, no doubt because he knew the Order was after him. Maybe he did it because someone else was after him too. The one who chased him down and took his head tonight.”

Jordana winced at the reminder. “The man at the museum today wouldn’t have those kind of enemies. He talked to me about sculptors he admired, about art and some of the pieces we have in the collection. He seemed like a decent, nice man—”

“He was a criminal,” Nathan cut in. “More than likely, far worse than a criminal. If I’d seen him anywhere near you, it would have been my blade biting into his neck.”

She stared up into his sternly handsome face, into stormy blue-green eyes that kindled with the faintest embers of amber light. She didn’t know what skewed reality she had to be living in that would make the kind of possessive, violent remark he’d just made seem like a pledge of affection. Certainly not in her reality—the one she’d chosen to retreat back into after she’d let Nathan nearly seduce her in her building’s elevator.

He cared for her about as much as he might care for any of his bed partners here at La Notte’s sex dens. Possibly less.

Jordana forced herself to break his arresting eye contact. “If I’m supposed to be flattered that you would use me as an excuse to murder an innocent civilian, you’re sadly mistaken.”

His thundercloud eyes narrowed on her. “He was no innocent, Jordana. Trust me on that.”

“Trust you?” She scoffed. “I don’t even know you.”

She turned and started walking away, needing space to breathe, to process everything that had happened today. She felt sickened by the death of the man she’d genuinely enjoyed meeting—whoever he truly was. And she couldn’t deny that seeing Nathan again, even under these awful circumstances, had affected her more deeply than she cared to admit.

In spite of how it hurt her to see him at La Notte with another woman so soon after he’d left her, Jordana couldn’t keep her pulse from beating a little harder around him. She couldn’t keep her foolish heart from wishing things had gone differently last night, that they could start over again, beginning with that reckless first kiss.

She hurried her pace, hoping she could round the corner and make it to her vehicle before the weight of everything she was feeling overwhelmed her.

While Carys and Rune stayed back, she heard Nathan’s long strides coming up fast on her heels. “What the hell is that supposed to mean—you don’t even know me?” His already deep voice dropped to a lower, arrestingly intimate tone. “Seems to me we got pretty familiar last night.”

She stopped abruptly and wheeled around on him, struggling to keep her voice controlled enough so that only he would hear. “Please, don’t remind me about last night.”

He halted where he stood, his square-cut jaw rising a notch. “You’re upset with me. Because of what happened between us in the elevator, or the fact that Bentley-Squire interrupted us and we didn’t get the chance to finish what we started?”

Jordana exhaled a sharp, outraged laugh. “I wish last night had never happened.”

“That makes two of us,” he said quietly, his face hard and unapologetic.

So he regretted it too? God help her, but she didn’t want to feel wounded by that admission. She wanted to feel only anger that he could bring her to the crest of something so incredible—something she’d shared with no other man before him—then turn around and slake his need on one of the trained professionals at the club.

Jordana spotted the leather-clad brunette sex worker near the back door of the building, one of several La Notte employees who’d since come out to gawk at the crime scene. She couldn’t help picturing Nathan’s hands on the female.

Equally painful to imagine was the thought of what the brunette might have done for him to earn the fistful of money Jordana had seen the woman tuck away after Nathan left one of the club’s private BDSM dens.

“I never should’ve kissed you,” Jordana murmured. How much simpler would her life be if she’d just stayed on the safe, secure little path that had been laid out for her?

How much happier would she be if she’d never let herself reach for something reckless, something as dangerously seductive as the Breed male standing before her now?

“I never should’ve let you touch me, Nathan. I wish I could take it all back.”


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