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Every Breedmate’s veins carried a unique scent, but Jordana’s natural perfume was beyond unique. It was unearthly, addictive. He found it impossible to describe the mix of exotic spice and crisp, delicate citrus that tickled the back of his throat and made his gums tingle with the presence of his emerging fangs.


All he knew was that he wanted her.


Again.


Still.


Nathan leaned over her in the dark, watching as the banked but burning embers of his transforming eyes illuminated her face. She must have sensed him in her sleep, just enough to coax a quiet little sigh from between her parted lips.


Nathan wanted to taste those lips again. He couldn’t resist sweeping aside an errant tangle of her platinum hair that snaked across the smooth column of her throat. He wanted to press his mouth to the fluttering pulse point below her ear.


He wanted to do more … much more.


He likely would have, if a faint noise outside the bedroom hadn’t jolted him to full attention.


Someone was entering the apartment.


In an instant, desire was doused with concern for Jordana’s safety. Nathan moved with lightning speed, battle instincts switched on and lethal as he flashed out of the bedroom.


He rushed the opening elevator doors, total stealth and menace, prepared to kill.


Carys Chase stood in the center of the lift. She gaped, her eyes going wide.


“Shit,” Nathan hissed. “What the fuck are you doing here at this hour?”


Her brows hiked upward. “I live here. Rune just dropped me off. What the fuck are you doing here at this hour, Nathan?”


Damned good question. He backed off on a snarl and raked a hand over his scalp. “I came to check in on Jordana earlier tonight. I had questions about what she and Cassian Gray discussed before he was killed.”


Questions he’d all but neglected to ask, because he was too busy getting naked with her.


Carys’s narrowed look said she suspected as much.


She stepped off the elevator to jab a finger in his chest, her voice a sharp whisper. “You asshole. I can’t believe you would come back here like this. I can’t believe she even let you in, after what you did to her the other night.”


“After what I—” Fuck. Of course. Carys had almost certainly been with Jordana at La Notte when he’d come out of the private room with the human female.


Jordana had probably confided the evening’s entire chain of events to her best friend, starting with his near seduction of her in the elevator. A seduction that would have been a certainty if running into Bentley-Squire hadn’t put a damper on Nathan’s plans.


And Jordana hadn’t exactly let Nathan in tonight, but somehow he didn’t think Carys needed to hear that. The Breed female was furious enough with him already. She glared, her blue eyes crackling with sparks of amber outrage.


“We’ve worked things out,” he said, all the explanation he intended to give. What happened between Jordana and him tonight was their business. Not that Carys didn’t have a pretty good idea anyway. “It’s not what you think. I don’t want to see her get hurt. Not by anyone.” He paused, trying to find the words to summarize all the things he felt where Jordana was concerned. “She’s become … important to me. I care about her.”


Carys stared at him for a long moment. “My God. I believe you actually mean that.”


He stepped around the daywalker without further comment. “It’ll be morning soon. I have to go. Look out for her today,” he added. “I’m not convinced she’s safe so long as whoever killed Cass is out there.”


“You think his death could be linked to Reginald Crowe and Opus Nostrum?”


“Could be,” Nathan replied, unable to keep the gravity from his tone.


In his gut, he dreaded that the truth might prove to be something even worse. Until further word came in from the Order in D.C. about Crowe’s apparent mistress and any useful intel she might provide, Nathan wasn’t ruling out anything.


“I will protect Jordana with my life, Carys. No one will do her harm so long as I’m able to keep her safe. But during the daylight hours—”


“Of course.” Her gaze softened with understanding now. “She’s important to me too, Nathan. I’ll make sure she’s all right.”


He inclined his head in acknowledgment. “Tell her I’ll be back tonight at sundown to look in on her again. We’ll talk more about Cassian Gray then.”


Carys shook her head. “She won’t be home. The exhibit opens this evening,” she reminded him. “We’ll both be at the museum reception tonight, along with a couple hundred invited guests and visitors.”


Shit. He didn’t want Jordana out of his sight tonight, let alone out of reach entirely and surrounded by a museum packed to the gills with the general public.


“You could always come as her date,” Carys suggested, a teasing glimmer in her eyes. “Might do you some good to take a night off for once. You might even have fun.”


Fun? He scoffed at the idea. Even if he did decide to attend the event, fun would be the last thing on his mind. He’d be there for the sole purpose of ensuring Jordana’s safety, making certain every person in the vicinity understood that if they intended harm toward her, they would have to come through him first.


Not that Jordana needed him showing up to disrupt everyone else’s good time. He’d already done that once this week with his team and Carys’s brother. None of the Darkhaven and human elite of Jordana’s social circle would appreciate having the Order present in the room—no doubt that sentiment would be doubled for the soulless killer Nathan’s past had branded him in the public’s eye.


Not gonna happen.


Jordana didn’t need him barging into every aspect of her life, least of all an event she’d obviously poured her heart into for weeks or months. It was her moment to shine; he owed it to her to let her have it without him distracting from her accomplishment.


“Keep your eye on her, Carys. Let me know if you have any cause for concern. Anything seems off, you call me at once. Agreed?”


She gave him a nod. “Yes, of course. But I still say you should come to the museum tonight and look after her yourself.”


Nathan dismissed the idea with a curse as he strode for the waiting elevator car.


At the Order’s global headquarters in Washington, D.C., Lucan Thorne leaned back in his chair in the war room, listening in displeased silence as Sterling Chase briefed him via video feed early that morning on the night’s patrol report out of Boston.


It wasn’t good news.


Then again, good news was something the Order had been coming up short on for too many months to count now. Years, in fact. Hell, more than a couple of decades, if he really wanted to do the math.


Lucan felt a dark rage building in him as he received the details of Cassian Gray’s slaying. A crucial lead lost. Possibly their only viable lead on the race of immortals reputed to be plotting war against the Order and the rest of the planet.


And now that lead had been severed on the edge of a hidden enemy’s blade. An enemy with unknown motives, and still at large.


Damn it all to bloody hell.


Before his fury had a chance to explode out of him in a roar that would bring his mate, Gabrielle, flying into the room in alarm, Lucan vaulted out of his seat.


He began an agitated pace behind the conference table where Gideon and two of the Order’s district commanders had assembled with Lucan to review current missions and organize further operations. Tegan, chief of the New York City operation, and Hunter, who oversaw the Order’s presence in New Orleans, had remained in D.C. with their mates since the Global Nations Council summit last week.


A peace summit that had nearly resulted in catastrophe.


“I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that this was not what I wanted to hear right now,” Lucan said, glancing at Chase’s grim expression on the screen. “We had slim prospects to begin with—just two potential sources of intel on this operation—and now we’re down one before we even get out of the gate. As for the other, the way things are going in Ireland with Mathias Rowan and his team, we may end up holding nothing but our dicks before this whole thing is over.”


“It could be worse,” Gideon said without looking up from the array of 3D touch-screen monitors laid out before him and illuminated with countless servers’ worth of data, which he swept through and resequenced like a deranged symphony composer. “A few nights ago at the summit, if we hadn’t stopped Reginald Crowe and Opus Nostrum’s Morningstar bomb, today we’d be engulfed in certain world war between the humans and the Breed.”


Lucan grunted. “Don’t think that’s off the table yet. If what Crowe promised—that Opus Nostrum and their plans are nothing compared to what the Atlanteans mean to do—then we stand on the brink of war every second of every day that we let Crowe’s kind elude us.”


On the video screen, Chase’s face remained sober. Lucan knew the serious warrior long enough to realize that failure didn’t sit well with him either. “Nothing to report out of Dublin yet, I take it?”


Lucan shook his head. “Rowan’s got a full squad on the ground in that city and outlying areas, searching for anything they can find on Crowe’s purported mistress. Without a name or physical description, they’re getting nowhere fast.” Lucan blew out a low curse. “It doesn’t help that Rowan’s had his hands full with JUSTIS in London recently as well.”


“How so?” Chase asked.


“They’ve been dealing with a rash of unsolved murders in that city recently. Human and Breed victims, a few of them high profile. Joint Urban Security finally got so desperate to make the killings stop, they extended an olive branch to the Order in exchange for an unofficial assist on the investigation.”


Tegan grunted. “ ‘Unofficial assist’ meaning handle it for them quietly and by any means necessary, so long as they don’t have to get their hands dirty.”


“It’s the old Enforcement Agency all over again,” Gideon said, his hands flying from one large display to another. “Except now it’s got a shiny new, politically correct name. Same old shit, but someone else is doing the shoveling.”


A onetime career Enforcement Agent himself, Chase arched a golden brow. “And there’s twice as much of it, now that the bureaucracy has been extended into both Breed and human law enforcement combined under the JUSTIS banner.”


“Their inefficacy is our advantage right now,” Hunter said, his deep voice unnervingly level, his input logical as always. “If local law enforcement decides to wash their hands of Cass’s slaying too, then the Order can investigate unimpeded by JUSTIS red tape.”


“We’d better hope for that,” Lucan said. “Hell, we’d better do more than hope. We need to run this thing down with every resource at our disposal. If Nathan and his team are right about this killing—this immortal-style execution in the middle of a city street—then we need answers, and we need them yesterday.”


“Understood and agreed,” Chase replied. He hesitated for a moment, then pointedly cleared his throat. “There was a witness … not on scene at the time of the killing, but someone who saw Cass—spoke to him—within hours of his murder.”


Lucan frowned. “You didn’t mention that a witness had been identified in the team’s reports.”


Another pause, and Chase’s mouth flattened. “Because she wasn’t included in any of the field reports that Nathan or his team filed. Rafe came to me a short while ago and personally informed me about the female. She’s a Breedmate from one of the Back Bay Darkhavens. Actually, she’s Carys’s best friend and roommate as well.”


Hunter cocked his head, eyes narrowed on Chase. “You’re saying Nathan overlooked a key detail of his investigation? He doesn’t make mistakes. That’s impossible.”


“No,” the Boston commander said carefully. “I’m saying Nathan deliberately omitted a key detail of his investigation when he sent in his report this morning.”


Lucan practically snarled his response. “Why the hell would he do something that stupid?”


Chase’s look said it all.


“Ah, Christ.” Lucan ran a hand over his jaw and barked out a humorless laugh. “He’s fucking her?”


“Nathan didn’t report back to base from patrol until just before sunrise,” Chase explained. “I don’t suppose he was out taking a long stroll.”


Lucan shot a hard look at Hunter. “You and Corinne don’t know anything about this?”


The former assassin who’d taken Nathan’s mother as his mate some twenty years ago gave a shake of his head, looking every bit as displeased as Lucan was. “Nathan is our son, but he came to us as a man, even at his young age. He keeps his private life private. That wall has been in place for a very long time. That said, Nathan would never allow his physical urges to overrule his duty. Or his training.”


“I suspect this could be something more than just a physical urge,” Chase interjected. “He’s distracted. Maybe even a bit obsessed. He thinks he’s keeping a lid on it, but the only one he’s fooling is himself.” Tegan chuckled darkly. “He’s hardly the first of us to fit that description.”


“No, he’s not,” Chase agreed. “But if he doesn’t watch his step, he’s going to leave me no choice but to pull him off the mission.”


“Chase is right,” Lucan said. “This shit is too critical. We need every team working as a unit—no exceptions. If Nathan can’t get on board with that, then we regroup and keep moving without him.” Lucan glanced back at Chase on the video screen. “What else do we know about this witness?”

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