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“Her name is Jordana Gates. Her father, Martin Gates, is one of Boston’s most prominent residents. Gates is unmated. He adopted Jordana as an infant.”


Lucan grunted. “Not a typical arrangement, for a single Breed male to take in a Breedmate as his child.”


“Not typical, but not unheard of,” Chase said. “My family has been friendly with Martin Gates since his arrival in Boston from Vancouver a few years before First Dawn. His reputation over those twenty-plus years has been spotless. He made his fortune in the stock market and investments in fine art. As for taking in an orphaned infant to raise on his own, I’ve personally heard Gates say more than once that without blood heirs or family to look after, he felt it a shame to have acquired so much and have no one to share it with. The man is as charitable as he is wealthy. And Martin Gates is very, very wealthy.”


“And Jordana?” Lucan asked.


“A nice girl,” Chase said. “A bright, beautiful woman. She could probably have her pick of any man in the city, Breed or human. For some time, there were rumors that she was involved with a vampire named Elliott Bentley-Squire, Martin Gates’s prominent, longtime attorney and friend. To hear Bentley-Squire talk, it was only a matter of time before they would be mated. Back Bay society rags have been speculating on the match for years.”


“Nothing like dragging a high-profile civilian into the middle of covert Order business,” Lucan muttered under his breath. He crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t know what Nathan thinks he’s doing with this female, or what his intentions might be where she’s concerned. So long as she’s a potential intelligence source, I don’t give a damn about any of that. Our mission is all that matters. We fuck that up, people die, wars happen.”


Lucan glanced to Hunter, who met his comment with a concurring nod. The former assassin’s tone was steady, coolly logical. “Nathan pledged himself in duty to the Order. If he can’t uphold that promise, he will expect nothing less than to have it taken from him.”


“Yeah, that ought to go over well,” Gideon remarked, furiously sifting through what looked to be thousands of digital files and sweeping them off the screen one after another. He slowed after a moment and raked his fingers through the short blond spikes of his hair.


“Holy shit.” He glanced at Lucan and the other warriors over the rims of his ever-present pale blue glasses. “My packet sniffer just encountered a remote back door on one of La Notte’s commerce account firewalls.”


Lucan, along with Chase on video and the other warriors seated in the room, all stared at Gideon in questioning silence.


A grin spread over the vampire hacker’s face. “I found a way in. Once I machete through a few more layers of tangled security and subterfuge, I’ll have all of Cassian Gray’s secrets cracked open like a walnut.”


18


JORDANA HAD BEEN AWAKE SINCE DAWN.


Her head was buzzing with a thousand thoughts and minutiae about the exhibit opening that evening, but it was the deep, blissful thrumming of her body that roused her from sleep hours ago.


That enlivened vibration of her limbs and core—of her very blood—was also to blame for the secret, irrepressible smile she couldn’t seem to wipe from her face no matter how hard she tried.


Making love with Nathan last night had been nothing short of spectacular.


Even now, when she closed her eyes, she could still feel his strong hands on her, his hot mouth on her. His hard body moving over her, inside her …


Jordana groaned into her teacup as she took a sip of her favorite morning blend. She’d showered a while ago and now sat in her robe on her bed, answering emails before she and Carys needed to head in to the museum for the day.


“Someone’s up early.” Carys stood in the open doorway of Jordana’s bedroom, leaning against the jamb. Her caramel-brown hair was swept up into a ponytail, baggy gray sweats hanging loosely on her athletic figure. “Everything all right?”


“Yeah.” Jordana nodded, wondering if she looked any different to her friend today. God knew she felt different. Everything seemed different today. “Just getting a jump on a few things since I couldn’t sleep.”


“No wonder,” Carys replied. “Quite a night you had.”


The ghost of a smile played at the corners of her mouth, and Jordana realized instantly that her friend wasn’t referring to the awful incident at La Notte. “You know Nathan was here?”


“I ran into him before sunrise here in the apartment. He was trying to slip out just as I was coming home.”


Jordana hadn’t really expected Nathan to be next to her when she woke up, but she couldn’t deny the pang of disappointment she’d felt when she opened her eyes earlier and found him gone.


And she had to admit, at least to herself, that she’d been hoping to hear from him by now. All she needed was some small indication that last night meant something to him too.


“How did he seem to you?” she asked, setting her tea on the nightstand to give Carys her full attention. She was hungry for every last detail her friend could provide. “What did he tell you? Did he say anything about me?”


Carys arched a slender brow. “You mean after he realized I wasn’t someone he needed to attack for coming in to harm his woman?”


“Did he say that—those exact words?” Jordana’s heart skipped a beat. “How did he say it? Did he specifically call me his woman?”


Laughing softly, Carys entered the room and took a seat on the edge of the bed. “I see this is even worse than I first suspected.” She leaned in and whispered, “If you want to write him a note, I’ll ask Rune to pass it to him after school.”


“Tell me what he said!” Jordana gave her friend’s shoulder a light shove, giggling with her now. “Come on, Car. I need details. I’m serious.”


“I know you are,” Carys relented. “And so is Nathan, I think. More serious than I’ve ever known him to be.”


Without saying any more, Carys got up from the bed and strode into Jordana’s walk-in closet. “Did you decide what you’re wearing tonight?”


Jordana hurried after her. “I’ve narrowed it down to the black tea-length or the pale rose silk cocktail dress.” It was hard to think about clothing choices, let alone discuss them when her breath had suddenly caught in her lungs. “What do you mean, Nathan is more serious than you’ve ever known him? Serious … about me?”


Carys found the two dresses Jordana mentioned and was now pulling them out of the wardrobe. She held them up, one in each hand. “I’d have to see these on you before I could decide which one is best. Here. Try the black one first.”


Jordana grabbed the dress her friend pushed toward her. “Did Nathan say he was serious about me?”


Carys waggled her hand dismissively. “Let me see the dress, then we’ll talk.”


On a grumble, Jordana twisted her long blond hair into a makeshift knot on top of her head, then shucked her robe and bra and slipped into the fitted black dress. It was her original choice, a purchase she’d been saving for months specifically for the exhibit opening. Classic, conservative, perfect.


Carys cocked her head to the side, then feigned a yawn. “Next.”


“You don’t like this one at all?” Jordana turned to one of the full-length mirrors in the massive walk-in. The portrait-collared, mid-calf-length dress was lovely.


It would have been an excellent choice for any social event … particularly if Jordana was officiating at a funeral instead of an art exhibit.


She slanted her friend’s reflection a conceding look, then crossed her arms over her breasts. “Tell me what he said.”


“He said he didn’t want anything to happen to you. He doesn’t want to see you get hurt.”


Not exactly a love song, but it made Jordana’s heart pound heavy and hopeful in her breast. “That’s it? He didn’t say anything more than that?”


Carys gestured for her to continue with the fashion show. Jordana frowned but quickly took off the black frock. When she reached for the equally uninspired rose silk dress, Carys snatched it away and pulled a different one from out of the sea of elegant attire. “Try this instead.”


“Oh,” Jordana said, already beginning to shake her head. “No, that’s not appropriate for tonight, and I—”


“I thought you wanted to know what else he said,” Carys teased. “So put it on.”


Given little choice, Jordana accepted the red cocktail dress from Carys’s outstretched hand. The silken fabric was sleek and soft in her fingers, if somewhat shapeless on its hanger.


Jordana recalled the impulse buy with alarming clarity now. She’d bought this dress the day after she’d so recklessly—insanely—forced a kiss on Nathan in the other room of this very apartment.


It wasn’t the kind of dress she’d ever have chosen for herself normally, and she had no idea why she hadn’t immediately returned it.


She gathered the light bundle of fiery fabric over her head and let it settle down over her body. It felt like liquid skating along her skin, decadent, luxurious. Deliciously sinful.


“Tell me what else Nathan said,” she ordered her friend as the red dress smoothed into place.


“He told me that you’re important to him,” Carys replied from behind her. “He said he cares about you.”


Jordana pivoted around. Cool air caressed her spine where the swooping, low-cut back of the knee-length cocktail dress plunged daringly low. “He really said that? He said I’m important. That he cares about me?”


“Yeah.” Carys looked her up and down, then a broad, slow smile broke across her face. “Damn, Jordana. You just found your dress.”


Dubious, she turned to face the long mirrors again.


She hardly recognized the woman staring back at her. The sleeveless red dress clung in all the right places and showed just enough leg, yet still managed to look tasteful and sophisticated. In front, its draped neckline only hinted at her curves and cleavage, while the real show was in the back.


“My father will choke on his tongue if I walk into the exhibit opening in this dress,” Jordana mused. She shook her head and could hardly bite back her giggle when she pictured all of the stunned reactions she would stir. “Elliott will be completely scandalized—possibly apoplectic.”


Carys shrugged. “That’ll be their problem. You look amazing.”


Jordana studied her reflection, wondering if it was merely the powerful hue of the fabric that intensified the ice-blue color of her eyes and made her features seem somehow bolder, indomitable. Not the good girl held back by propriety and expectation but a fearless woman ready to take on the world.


Or maybe that fierce look came from the way thoughts of Nathan had her blood running hot and quick through her veins.


She felt different. Not simply because of her lost virginity and the incredible passion she experienced last night.


She was different.


Changed in a way she couldn’t quite define. It was as if she were evolving into a new skin, into a new sense of herself, and doing it at an accelerating pace that should have frightened her.


Yet it didn’t. She felt strong and alive. And all she knew was, regardless of where she was headed with Nathan, her life now could never go back to what it was before.


“Carys,” she murmured, “do you remember when I told you how Nathan makes me feel?”


“Of course I do.” Carys stared at her with clear-eyed understanding. “Like you’re on the edge of a cliff and he’s a storm about to sweep you over.”


“Yeah, like that. Well, last night … I did it. I stepped off.” Jordana sighed. “I stepped off with my eyes wide open and now I’m falling. What if no one’s there to catch me? What if what I’m feeling for Nathan is sheer, heedless stupidity and I end up crashing and burning on the ground?”


Carys smiled at her in the mirror. “Sweetheart, if Nathan sees you in this dress, the only one in danger of crashing and burning will be him.”


Nathan’s comm device vibrated just as he was about to drop his knuckles on Commander Chase’s study door at the Boston compound. Paused there, he frowned and glanced at the incoming message. Probably Rafe or another member of his team, wondering why he wasn’t down in the weapons room with them, putting the crew through their daily paces.


He stared at the number on the display.


It wasn’t any of the warriors.


Jordana.


How the hell did she know his private call code?


Curious now, and more intrigued than he cared to admit, Nathan tapped the message open.


Hi. Carys gave me your number. Hope you don’t mind.


Fuck.


Yes, he did mind, but that didn’t keep him from scanning to the next short message, his veins going suddenly electric.


Can’t stop thinking about last night. About us.


Neither could he, and the distraction was driving him out of his damned mind.


I can’t stop thinking about you, inside me.


Holy fuck.


Now that hot current racing through him arced sharply south, rendering him instantly hard. He shifted his stance, for all the good that did.


He had a crystal-clear mental image of Jordana lying naked and open beneath him, and there was no way to relieve the pressure of his huge erection, which strained full and heavy in his fatigues.


Scowling furiously, he glanced to the next line.


I’ll be thinking of you at the exhibit party tonight too. Join me, maybe?


He didn’t miss the real invitation she was extending. Neither did his cock. Every blood vessel in his body lit up with eager agreement. As tempting as it was to pick up again where he and Jordana left off, Nathan growled and tried to push the idea out of his head.

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