Page 25


It was hard even for Jordana sometimes to remember that her father wasn’t a Brahmin product of this city but a self-made man who’d established himself in Vancouver before relocating to Boston with Jordana almost twenty-five years ago.


She’d been just a newborn then, an orphaned Breedmate adopted by Martin Gates only days after her birth. She could never repay her father for the life he’d provided her, and it warmed her heart to see him there to support her tonight.


Hundreds of people strolled the exhibit, conversing with one another, admiring the art and sculptures, enjoying the canapés and champagne being served by catering staff in tuxedoes while a small orchestra played softly in the background. The exhibit hummed with conversation, laughter, and enthusiastic energy.


Even Elliott had come, despite the graceless way she’d ended their nonrelationship. But that was Elliott—dutiful, political, in all things. Then again, watching him blithely chat up a couple of Back Bay socialites in front of the French tapestry collection, she had to wonder if his prior interest in her had been more about pleasing her father than any kind of true affection he may have felt for her.


It certainly hadn’t been desire, not even during Elliott’s most ardent moods. Jordana knew true desire now—scorching, insatiable, consuming desire. What she and Elliott had was little more than a tepid, companionable regard for each other.


Nothing like what she’d experienced the past few nights with Nathan.


Jordana scanned the exhibit hall again, looking for the one face in the crowd she longed to see above all others.


She knew better than to think Nathan would actually come. This wasn’t his kind of place, not his kind of event at all. He had far more important things to do. She knew that even when she’d sent him those impulsive messages earlier in the day.


God, what did he think of her now? She was sure she wouldn’t want to know.


If only she could erase those messages, take back the photo she’d sent him. He hadn’t responded, so there was a chance he hadn’t seen her messages. Maybe Carys had given her the wrong number.


She could only hope to be that lucky.


“Old Mr. Bonneville sends his regards,” Carys said with a wry grin, emerging now from inside the exhibit hall to join Jordana in the quiet of the adjacent gallery. “As do Mr. Delano, Mr. Putnam, and Mr. Forbes. I told you that dress was amazing. Every man in that room who still has a pulse is waiting to get another glimpse of you. What are you doing hiding out here?”


“I’m not hiding, I’m—”


“Waiting,” Carys gently finished for her. She strolled over, catlike and graceful in a pair of strappy, stiletto sandals that perfectly complemented the midnight hue of her body-hugging cobalt blue dress. “Come on. Rune won’t be here either, and we both look much too hot to be flying solo.” Carys looped her arm around Jordana’s elbow and gave her a bolstering smile. “Let me be your date tonight.”


They walked into the noise and bustle of the party, offering greetings to clusters of happy patrons and supporters who sought Jordana out as soon as she entered the hall.


It didn’t take long for her to put aside her disappointment that Nathan hadn’t come. There were too many people to welcome, endless hands to shake, one conversation after another to attend to as she slowly circulated through the crowd. Carys drifted away as the attendees converged on Jordana.


“An exquisite collection, my dear,” enthused the jewel-draped Breedmate of a prominent Darkhaven leader from within her circle of elegant society companions. The ladies all nodded in agreement. “Each display offers something to delight or intrigue.”


“Just lovely,” added the petite, silver-haired human of the group as she wrapped cool fingers around Jordana’s hands. “If the museum doesn’t take care of you properly, tell your director I may have to steal you away to curate our family’s private collection.”


Jordana accepted the praise with a polite smile to the elderly matriarch who’d raised a powerful Boston political clan the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the middle of the twentieth century.


“That’s very kind of you to say, Mrs. Amory,” Jordana demurred. “I’m so pleased you’re all enjoying the exhibit.”


The old woman winked and leaned in close. “If any of my unwed sons were here tonight, I might attempt to convince you to join our family in a more permanent capacity. Not that they would complain. Have you met my youngest, Peyton? He’s quite the charmer.”


“I, um …” Jordana stammered, eager to make her excuses and move on, but then her father stepped in to do it for her.


“I’m afraid you’ll find my daughter is immune to matchmaking, Mrs. Amory,” Martin Gates replied smoothly, placing a light, sheltering arm around her shoulders. He offered a gracious smile to the now-giggling ladies before turning a warm, if less jovial, look on Jordana. “Take it from someone who knows.”


She winced inwardly at the private chastisement. So much for hoping she might delay having to explain about her abrupt breakup with Elliott.


“May a proud father steal his daughter away for a moment?” he asked the women, to a collective round of approval. As he guided Jordana away from the well-meaning society hens, he murmured quietly, “An interesting choice of dress tonight. You look …”


She waited for him to disapprove, to tell her it was too provocative, drawing too much attention. Or maybe her father would say no more than he had, merely give her the silent, pensive look that always made her worry she was letting him down by not doing what he expected of his only child.


He paused and affectionately smoothed his hand over her hair. “You look beautiful, Jordana. And what you’ve done here tonight is remarkable. I’m very impressed.”


His praise was heartfelt; she could see as much in his caring expression. That he approved meant more to her than all of the other attendees’ compliments combined.


Jordana reached up and squeezed his hand. “Thank you, Father.”


“I want you to know that I’m pleased that you’ve found something that gives you so much obvious satisfaction—”


“But,” she prompted, noting the faint crease forming between his dark brows. He was trying to be supportive, but it was obvious he couldn’t turn off the part of him that seemed determined to direct the way she lived her life.


His frown deepened, and he shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Jordana, this is hardly the best time or place—”


“Say it,” she said without venom or dread. “It’s okay. I’ve been avoiding this conversation long enough. I’ve got a few minutes before I need to make my welcome speech. We might as well have this talk right here and now.”


Although he didn’t seem to agree, Martin Gates lowered his voice to a private tone. His features were pinched with genuine concern. “I’ve always been proud of your accomplishments, Jordana. You’ve given me so much reason to be proud that you’re my daughter. But when I took you in as my own, I made a promise—to myself, and to you. I made a promise to the parents you would never know. I vowed to do the best for you, to provide everything you could ever possibly need.”


“And you have.”


Unmated and without heirs of his own, it was common knowledge that Martin Gates, the Vancouver hospital’s most generous benefactor, had stepped in to take personal responsibility for Jordana after learning that a Breedmate had been orphaned there by a penniless, unwed mother who died giving birth to her.


“No.” He slowly shook his head and muttered a low curse. “I made a vow that I would see your future was secured. It’s all that matters to me, and I’m failing you in that, Jordana.”


Seeing his genuine distress, she reached up to touch the tense jaw of the Breed male who had always been her father, her only family. “Elliott Bentley-Squire was never my future. I know you hoped he would be. That wasn’t your failing, Father. It wasn’t even Elliott’s. It was mine.”


“It doesn’t matter who’s at fault now. We must fix it,” he argued quietly but firmly as he took her hand in his. Idly, his thumb moved over her Breedmate mark on the inside of her wrist. “It’s important that you find a suitable mate. Time is running out, Jordana. You must do this—for me, if you won’t do it for yourself.”


His grip tightened, desperation filtering into his stern gaze as he spoke. Jordana’s veins jangled at the urgency in his voice. She’d seen him argue this point before, but never with such intensity. “I’m a grown woman. You worry about me too much.”


“No,” he snapped, giving a taut shake of his head. “Jordana, we must talk this through. When this event is over tonight, I want you to come home with me to the Darkhaven. I’ll tell Elliott to stop by—”


“I can’t,” she said. “Father, I won’t. I don’t want Elliott.”


Her father’s mouth flattened, but his tone was tender with concern. “He’s a good man. Can’t you understand, I only want what’s best for you. Someone worthy. Someone decent.”


“Someone of your choosing?” she asked gently.


His gaze sharpened a bit, intense with purpose. “Someone I trust implicitly to have your best interests in mind, yes.”


“What about my happiness? What about love?” She stared up at him. “What about the things I need?”


Clearly taken aback, he went silent for a long moment, regret creeping into his features. “Have you ever felt unloved or unhappy as my daughter?”


“No,” she assured him. “I’ve never wanted for anything, Father. You’ve given me more than I ever could’ve hoped for.” She smiled sadly. “Except the freedom to become an adult woman with my own mind, my own dreams … my own plans for my future.”


He said nothing, not for several endless seconds. “Please come home, Jordana. Let me fix this … before it’s too late.”


She shook her head. “I don’t love Elliott. I never did, no matter how much you seemed to wish it were so. And now there’s someone else—”


The words seized up in her throat as her senses prickled to attention. A shiver of awareness traveled through her bloodstream, making her veins sizzle and her palms tingle with the dancing of a thousand needles.


He was here.


Nathan.


Jordana felt him even before she turned around to confirm it with her eyes. The entire room seemed aware of his powerful presence too. She watched as a clearing began to form down the center of the exhibit hall.


Bit by bit, a path opened between Jordana’s place in the room and Nathan, standing just inside the doors.


He came after all.


And, God, he looked good.


Tall and dark and dangerously handsome in a basic black suit that looked anything but basic on him. He wore an ebony silk shirt, unbuttoned below his throat, exposing just the sexiest hint of the Gen One dermaglyphs beneath his clothing.


Glyphs Jordana was now intimately familiar with and couldn’t wait to see in their full, naked glory once again. Along with the gorgeous Breed male they belonged to.


Her mouth watered just thinking about it, and her heart rate kicked into a faster, heavier tempo.


Without a word of excuse to her father or anyone else who had stopped to gape, Jordana waded into the parting crowd and headed straight toward Nathan. She could hardly keep from running to him, and there was no curbing the smile that spread across her face as she came to a halt in front of him.


“I didn’t think you’d be here.”


His stormy eyes took a long, slow trip from her face to her toes. When he met her gaze again, amber sparks glowed in his irises. “How could I refuse such an enticing invitation?”


She felt warmth flood her cheeks. It had nothing to do with shyness, but an eager reaction to the hunger she saw written so plainly on Nathan’s face. It was written on his skin too. The tawny-hued glyphs at his throat surged with deeper saturation, and she knew the rest of his Breed markings would be livid with wild, waking colors underneath the urbane dark suit.


She smiled, barely resisting the urge to touch him. To kiss him and press herself against him, even in front of hundreds of observing eyes.


“I’m glad you came,” she murmured. “I realize you probably can’t stay long. Your patrols—”


“My patrols will wait. For tonight, anyway.”


Hope flared in her belly. “You have the night off?”


“More or less,” he replied, his sensual lips flattening slightly. “I was instructed to take the night off.”


“Because of me?” She frowned, reading the meaning in what he didn’t say. “Because you stayed with me last night. Oh, God … not because of the messages I sent you today? I never should’ve done that. I overstepped—”


“You did nothing wrong.”


His hand lighted gently along the side of her face, an unexpected touch Jordana savored. She tilted her head into his palm, greedy for the brief contact.


“I chose to be with you,” he said, bringing his hand back down to his side. “I knew what I risked last night.” Nathan’s voice was a rumble in the back of his throat, low and deep, as his heated gaze drank her in once more. “As for the messages you sent, I haven’t been able to focus on anything else since I saw the photo of you in this dress. You look even more incredible in the flesh.” His mouth curved wickedly. “But then, I already knew that.”


Her veins thrummed in response to his innuendo. All it took was his dangerous smile and her core bloomed with liquid heat at the remembrance of their night together.

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