Conversations halted abruptly. Heads turned from all directions, Breed and human alike. Only the string quintet in the gallery overhead seemed capable of ignoring Aric’s intrusion on the private gathering. They played on, Mozart’s spirited Serenade Number 13, an odd accompaniment to the current of alarm now spilling across the main floor of the museum.


With Nathan and his squad of warriors trailing close behind him, Aric stalked past the sculpture and art displays arranged specifically for the wealthy patrons assembled there tonight. “Carys Chase!” he bellowed. “Dammit, where are you?”


Nathan was right at Aric’s heels. Nathan reached for him, his hand coming down hard on Aric’s shoulder to halt him in his tracks. “This is not the time or the place,” he warned his comrade, low under his breath, prepared to yank the young Breed warrior out of there bodily before things got any worse.


He would have. But at that same moment, Nathan’s senses came to a full stop as she emerged from within the shelter of a nearby throng.


Not Aric’s sister, Carys.


Jordana Gates.


Tall, slender, wrapped in a gown of sheer, pale blue fabric that floated around her body like a silken cloud, she stepped away from the throng of society’s most privileged elite and met Nathan’s eyes across the several yards that separated them. Her oceanic blue gaze locked on him in what he guessed to be surprise at first—then confusion—beneath the complicated twists and delicate spirals of her upswept white-blond hair.


The gauzy dress she wore hugged the swell of her breasts and her tiny waist, skimming the gentle flare of her hips. She was stunning, like a vision from an enchanted other world. And she was nervous, not because of Aric’s furious disruption of her swanky society party but because of Nathan.


Because he was standing there in front of her now.


Even at this distance, he could see the way her pulse kicked harder in the hollow at the base of her creamy throat as she looked at him. He could practically feel the acceleration of her heartbeat as he held her in an unapologetic stare, drinking her in from head to toe.


He could almost taste her mouth on his again, soft lips crushed against his in a startling kiss he never would have allowed. A sweet, reckless kiss that never should have happened.


Not with someone like him.


No, Jordana’s anxiety wasn’t misplaced at all.


She’d had no idea what she’d done, kissing him like that. The way his thoughts had been turning in the days since then, she damned well should be nervous around him.


“Carys!” Aric called once more into the crowded reception.


His deep, booming voice made Jordana jump, one delicate hand coming up to her throat in alarm. In the gallery above, the music faded, then halted altogether. The museum patrons began to murmur and shuffle about to gape at Aric’s spectacle, though none of the tuxedoed men seemed eager to play hero and take on the threat of a seething warrior from the Order by themselves.


Aric shouted for his sister again and tried to shake loose of Nathan’s hold.


“Not happening,” Nathan said, digging his grip deeper into the meat of Aric’s shoulder. Rafe, Eli, and Jax were right behind him, waiting for his orders. “Come on,” he said to Aric. “You need to cool down. Let’s take this outside. All you’re going to do is piss her off—”


“Aric?” Carys Chase rushed through the unmoving crowds, panic in her normally calm voice. Dressed as elegantly as Jordana and the other women, she gaped at her brother as she charged forward to meet him on strappy sandals that echoed the geometric cut of her curve-hugging copper silk gown. “What are you doing here? What’s wrong?”


While Jordana’s beauty was diamond bright and icy fair, Carys Chase was earth and fire combined. Her eyes simmered with a fierce intelligence, and her caramel blond mane of hair swung around her face and shoulders like liquid bronze.


Of course, the differences between the two females went beyond the physical.


Where Jordana Gates was a Breedmate, half human in addition to the other, more elusive genetics that made her different from her mundane Homo sapiens cousins, Carys Chase was something rarer still. She was Breed, and a daywalker at that.


The same as her twin brother.


“Aric, are you okay?” she asked him, reaching up to touch his rigid jaw. She glanced at him then, studying him in a quick instant. Her shrewd eyes narrowed. “Where have you been tonight? Why is your shirt torn?”


“We need to talk,” Aric snapped at her.


Carys blinked. “Now? Can’t you see I’m in the middle of some—”


“Now,” he snarled, finally breaking out of Nathan’s grasp to grab hold of his sister’s arm. “This is fucking serious, Car. I’m not gonna let it wait.”


He tried to maneuver her away from the onlookers, but Carys dug in her five-inch heels and stood her ground in front of him. “Have you lost your mind? Let go of my arm.” She wrenched loose, outrage sparking in her eyes. When she spoke, Nathan glimpsed the tips of her emerging fangs. “For God’s sake, Aric. You’re embarrassing me.”


Across the room, Jordana started to move away from the others, toward her distressed friend. She was prevented from getting any closer by a man who stepped up behind her now. He was Breed, tall and attractive, with clear blue eyes and golden hair.


One of the shiny people who belonged in this place.


The male’s hand came to rest protectively—possessively—at Jordana’s waist as he gathered her to him, subtly holding her in place. As if she belonged with the man.


Nathan observed this with cool logic and understanding, even if his blood spiked with an unwelcome jolt of disdain for the male who touched Jordana like he owned her.


He stared at her, watched her cheeks flame a little redder under his scrutiny before she abruptly glanced down and refused to look at him again.


Was this the source of her nervousness in front of Nathan tonight?


Not merely Nathan’s presence tonight, but his presence when she was in the company of someone else.


This man, whose hand had drifted from her small waist down to the tempting swell of her hip, fingers idly caressing her even as he retrieved a comm device from his tuxedo jacket pocket and held it at the ready to make a call.


Jordana’s gaze never lifted, not even as the conflict rose to troubling heights between Aric Chase and his sister.


“He’s using you, Carys. Can’t you see that? Trash like that will only hurt you in the end.”


She scoffed, exhaled a curse under her breath. “What are you talking about?”


“Rune.” Aric practically spat the name at her. “You need to end it now. Before it goes any further with him. Before I have to kill the bastard for thinking he can touch you.”


“You don’t know anything about Rune and me.” She glared, fury igniting in her pretty face. “And you have no right to interfere—”


Aric cut her off with a harsh snarl. “I’m your brother—your twin, Carys. And I love you. That gives me every right.”


She slowly shook her head, glancing around at the silent spectators who made no effort to hide their rapt interest in the night’s other, unplanned exhibit. When Carys looked back at Aric, her pupils had transformed from dilated circles to thinning, vertical slits. Although she projected total outward calm, Nathan and every other vampire in the place could plainly see the Breed female was furious.


Carys’s voice was quiet, but as she spoke, her long fangs glinted razor-sharp and lethal in the low lights of the museum reception. “Go home, Aric. For now, I’ll forgive you because you claim you’re doing this out of love for me. But this conversation is over.”


The man at Jordana’s side cleared his throat, an awkward interruption, and late as well. “Shall I call JUSTIS for assistance here, Carys?”


“No. That won’t be necessary, Elliott,” she replied coolly. “My brother and his friends are leaving now.”


Rafe stepped up beside Aric to take his other shoulder in a firm grasp. The two warriors were as tight as brothers, just like their fathers before them, Dante Malebranche and Sterling Chase, both long-standing members of the Order. When Aric didn’t budge, Rafe cuffed him none too gently on the biceps. “Come on, man. This is messed up and you know it. Let’s get out of here.”


Aric relaxed but kept his hard glare trained on his sister. “End it, Carys. Don’t make me do it for you.”


She stared at him, wounded but unbowed. “If you so much as try, then I’ll no longer have a brother.”


The siblings faced off in tense silence, neither of them willing to bend to the other. Having watched the twins grow up within the extended family of the Order, Nathan had seen them lock horns on many occasions, but never like this. Their bond as brother and sister had always been iron strong and unbreakable, no matter how powerfully they clashed.


Tonight, Aric had stepped far over a line he had never crossed with his sister before. Not that he seemed willing to retreat.


Finally, Carys was first to let go of her fury. Head held high, she slowly pivoted away from Aric and strode back toward her friend Jordana and the rest of the stunned gathering as if the confrontation had never happened.


Aric stared after her for a moment, then wheeled around and stalked out of the museum. Rafe, Eli, and Jax fell in behind him, leaving Nathan alone to face the one other person still rooted to the floor and unmoving across the room.


At last, Jordana lifted her gaze to meet his once more.


Some savage, undisciplined part of him imagined how she would feel against him if he closed the distance now and hauled her into another uninvited kiss—his, this time. On his terms.


At his mercy.


A dangerous temptation.


But that didn’t make it any less intriguing.


Jordana held his stare for longer than he would have guessed she could. Longer than any woman would have dared, if she sensed the dark direction of his thoughts.


Her full lips parted on an indrawn breath as she looked at him, but she said nothing. She gave him nothing, standing there unmoving, her eyes locked on his as the music from the gallery began again and the reception resumed around her. Conversations buzzed once more, the crowds of museum patrons already putting the night’s interruption behind them.


And still those ocean-blue eyes refused to let Nathan go.


It wasn’t until the Breed male at Jordana’s side cupped her bare nape in his palm that she finally glanced away. She smiled pleasantly at her companion, gave him a small nod. Then he took her hand and gently coaxed her back into the fold where she belonged, with the rest of the gilded elite.


3


ALTHOUGH SHE KNEW IT WASN’T WISE, JORDANA COULDN’T KEEP from glancing over her shoulder as she was led away from the scene of the night’s disruption.


Nathan was still there.


Still watching her, his eyes simmering beneath the harsh black slashes of his brows, intimate and penetrating amid the very public throng of museum patrons. The massive Breed warrior was a study in darkness and intensity, from the severe cut of his military-style ebony hair, to the impossibly broad shoulders that topped a body honed of pure muscle and powerful, deadly menace.


Even his face was severe, if devastating, in its rugged male beauty. Fathomless dark eyes stared out of a face carved with a blade’s precision. High cheekbones, proud brow, a squared, rigid jaw. His mouth was his softest feature by far, sculpted and lush, generous lips that called to mind all sorts of wicked ideas, even for a woman of Jordana’s limited experience.


Nathan exuded a confidence few men seemed to possess. Perhaps that was why not even one male in the room made any move to confront him now. The women, however, practically vibrated with interest.


Not that Nathan seemed to notice any of the attention he drew.


He stared solely at Jordana. There was no mistaking the heat in his dark gaze; he looked ready to devour her. As if the thought of the crowd around them was of no consequence to him whatsoever.


Jordana struggled to find her breath under the weight of that piercing gaze. Her senses were keenly, instantly aware that if this powerful Breed male—this warrior she’d so foolishly kissed the other night—were to decide he wanted something from her right now, not even the hundred men in the museum tonight would be able to keep him from her.


Even more alarming was her heart’s reaction to that idea.


Save me, her pulse seemed to drum in her veins.


Take me.


The thoughts caught her unaware. Startled her, they were so unbidden and ridiculous.


Save her from what?


Take her where … or how?


Her body answered that question with a warm throb deep in her core. The memory of their brief kiss replayed in her mind, only her imagination embellished the details now, turning an impulsive meeting of their lips into a passionate tangle of mouths and limbs and sweat-sheened, naked bodies.


God.


What was wrong with her that her mind would wander onto such a disturbing path?


And yet a swift, intense craving bloomed inside her as the mental picture filled her senses with an aching, terrible desire.


“I don’t like the way he’s looking at you.”


The baritone voice, muttered from close beside her, snapped Jordana out of her unwelcome musings like a splash of cold water to the face. She glanced away from dark, unsettling Nathan to blond, familiar Elliott Bentley-Squire, her self-appointed protector and date tonight. His handsome features were pinched into a disapproving frown. “What do you know of that warrior, Jordana?”


“Nothing,” she blurted, flustered by Elliott’s notice and the still-burning sense of Nathan’s eyes on her. Although her answer wasn’t quite a lie, it left a bitter taste on her tongue. She shook her head and gave Elliott a vague shrug. “I don’t know him at all.”

***

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