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Something still wasn’t making sense. Nathan failed to find the logic in Cass’s plan.


And deep down, a possessive, protective brand of fury sparked to life in him when he thought of Jordana with any male other than him.


“Why not let her choose who she wants to take as her mate? The blood bond is sacred. It’s unbreakable.” Nathan nearly spat the words, recalling how easily Gates would have pushed Jordana onto his crony, Elliott Bentley-Squire. A decent man, maybe, but a man who didn’t love her.


Not like Nathan did, fiercely and with his whole heart.


“You would’ve locked her into an irrevocable union, all for the sake of a promise made without her consent?” Nathan blew out a violent curse. “Jordana is an extraordinary woman. You raised her; you ought to know that. She deserves more than you or anyone else of your choosing could give her as her mate. God knows she sure as hell deserves more than I could ever give her.”


Gates lifted his chin, understanding flickering across his features. “You really do love her.”


Nathan gave a firm nod, his chest heaving with the intensity of everything he felt for Jordana. “I do,” he answered solemnly. “But even if I didn’t—even if I’d never met her—I would tell you that no Breedmate should be forced into a bond she doesn’t want. Not for any reason.”


Gates stared at him. “I never said Jordana was a Breedmate.”


A sound of disbelief went up, though whether it came from Chase or one of Nathan’s team members in the room, he wasn’t sure.


Nathan could count on one hand the number of times he’d been struck silent for any reason. Never like this. Never with the sense that the floor had opened up beneath him and left him dangling over an abyss of uncharted terrain.


Chase spoke where Nathan was unable. “What do you mean, she’s not a Breedmate?”


“Jordana’s mother wasn’t human,” Gates said. “She was one of Cass’s kind.”


“Are you saying Jordana is fully immortal?” Chase pressed.


Gates nodded. “She is Atlantean, as were both her parents.”


Finally, Nathan found his voice. “She has the Breedmate mark.” He could see the small, scarlet-colored teardrop and crescent moon symbol in his mind. He’d stroked it more than once as they’d made love. “It’s on the inside of Jordana’s left wrist.”


“A tattoo in the shape of the mark,” Gates clarified. “Cass inked it on her himself when she was an infant, soon after he took her out of the Atlantean realm.”


“Jesus Christ,” Rafe murmured from his position across the small interrogation room. “What for? Why try to pretend she was something other than what she truly was?”


Nathan knew. “To hide his child among the Breed,” he said, the pieces beginning to fall into some logical pattern now. “Cass wanted to hide Jordana where he thought she’d be safest. In plain sight.”


Chase looked at Gates narrowly. “How was he so certain you’d keep his secret, or that you could be trusted with raising his child?”


“Because I’d already proven myself to him the night I found Cass hiding with an infant in my barn outside Vancouver. He’d been on the run for days. He was bleeding, gravely wounded, even for an immortal,” Gates explained. “Naturally, the scent of so much blood drew me to the barn. But when he pleaded with me to help him and I saw the baby girl in his arms, I put aside my thirst and allowed him to recuperate in my home.”


Nathan pictured the scene, imagining what he might have done, had he been in Martin Gates’s place.


Having been raised not to feel mercy or compassion—to have been conditioned as a Hunter to exploit weakness and punish kindness—Nathan couldn’t deny that he was humbled by Gates’s actions and his honor. He was grateful to the man as well.


“Cass was fortunate to have ended up in your care. There aren’t many who would’ve been so charitable with their trust.”


Gates shrugged in mild dismissal of the praise. “I was fortunate too. Back then, I was alone, with no mate or kin of my own. All I had was a meager farm in the middle of nowhere.” Gates’s expression softened in remembrance. “It’s because of Cass that I live in luxury now. It was his wealth that allowed me to start a new life here in Boston. He made me who I am today. And he gave me the most precious gift of all, my daughter.”


“She knows nothing of this?” Nathan asked. “Jordana has no idea that she’s not a Breedmate but full-blooded Atlantean?”


“No. But soon enough, she’ll know.” Gates leveled a sober look on Nathan and the other warriors in the room. “When Jordana turns twenty-five, her Atlantean powers will mature. In addition to extrasensory gifts a Breedmate might have, she will become stronger both physically and psychically. Her aging will stop, and she’ll be impervious to all but the most severe injuries. She will know that I’ve been deceiving her all along about who she is. But even worse, Cass warned that unless she’s shielded by a blood bond, the enemies who hunted him will now be able to sense her as one of their own kind.”


The thought of Jordana being pursued by the same killers who caught up with Cass made Nathan’s veins go icy with dread. If he had to take on the entire Atlantean race to protect her, he would. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for her, and if he’d known his blood might keep her safe, he would have already begged her to accept his bond.


Hell, he wanted that connection to her regardless of anything he’d heard here just now.


And he could only hope she would let him make it up to her for how things had gone so wrong tonight.


“She has to be told.” Nathan pulled out his comm unit and hit Carys’s number. As it started to ring, he stalked for the door. “Jordana should have been told all of this long before now.”


And she needed to be told how he felt about her. That he loved her. That he was sorry if he hurt her tonight. She needed to hear that she was the only woman he would ever want, if she would have him.


Carys wasn’t picking up.


The realization seeped into him like acid. Something wasn’t right.


Nathan knew it in his marrow.


He was already bolting into the corridor outside the interrogation room before he heard the rise of panicked female voices carrying from the other end of the long hallway.


Tavia Chase had her arm around her Breed daughter, Carys staggering alongside her mother. When she saw Nathan heading toward them, Carys let out a ragged sob.


“I didn’t see him until it was too late,” she murmured. “He did something to my head. Bright light in my skull. Too much power—I couldn’t fight it. I’m so sorry, Nathan. I couldn’t do anything. It just happened so fast.”


All the blood in Nathan’s body seemed to halt. Froze solid in his veins. “Where is Jordana?”


“He took her.” Carys shook her head weakly, her face wrenched with anguish and worry. “When I came to in the museum lobby a few minutes ago, there was no trace of her. Oh, God, Nathan … Jordana is gone.”


24


THE SUDDEN, BRIGHT TWITTER OF A SONGBIRD PIERCED THE FOG of Jordana’s waking senses. A soft, warm breeze blew in from somewhere, carrying the fragrance of a nearby garden—flowers and lemons and rich, fertile earth. Farther away, quiet thunder rolled, its rhythm drawing her out of a deep, dreamless sleep.


No, not thunder, she realized.


Waves.


The sea.


Where was she?


With a jolt of alarm, she recalled the dark intruder in the museum. The attack that came out of nowhere. Carys lying motionless on the lobby floor, the hooded man standing over her unconscious body.


Then a blinding, powerful light exploded inside Jordana’s skull before everything around her went black …


Oh, God.


What happened?


Where had he taken her?


Jordana opened her eyes, expecting to meet the horror of her imprisonment. She expected to feel pain. She braced herself to feel the cold bite of restraints or any number of other abuses dealt to her by her captor.


But she felt no discomfort. Her limbs moved freely as she gingerly tested her muscles. Nothing but velvety bedding beneath her on a pillowy, decadent mattress.


And the room she awoke in was nothing remotely close to a prison cell.


Spacious and inviting, it was elegantly furnished with antiques and the king-size bed she lay in, which was canopied with sumptuous white silk and flanked by a pair of delicate, French Provincial nightstands. Creamy, lacquered millwork festooned every wall; snowy, polished marble covered the floors, luxury that extended into the adjacent palatial bathroom suite.


Jordana cautiously sat up to better take in her surroundings.


The place was quiet, all was still, except for the gentle stirring of the airy silk drapes drawn over the open window across from the bed. Where was her abductor?


Jordana scooted carefully to the edge of the mattress and put her bare feet down on the cool marble. She was still wearing her red dress from the museum event, her high heels placed neatly beside what appeared to be a Louis XV bureau. Atop the expensive piece was a vase full of cheery, fresh-cut flowers. A vase that appeared to be museum-quality Italian porcelain.


Good Lord, that Renaissance-era painting hanging behind the bouquet couldn’t be an original Raphael, could it?


She might have been tempted to look closer, but she reminded herself that despite the impressiveness of the place, she had still been taken there against her will.


By someone who had not only disabled a Breed female with his bare hands but had also knocked out Jordana and apparently spirited her far, far away from everything she knew in Boston.


Why? What the hell was going on?


She stood up and took a few hesitant, soundless steps. Peering out toward the larger, equally luxurious living area outside the bedroom, she searched for signs of her abductor.


She saw no one in that room or elsewhere in the sunny, beautifully appointed villa. Jordana crept closer to the open bedroom door, then into the living room, where the scents of the gardens and ocean beyond were stronger, more enticing.


French doors stood open onto a terrace patio perched on a high hillside overlooking a craggy, green mountain coastline. Early morning sun-dappled blue water stretched as far as the eye could see.


Lush vegetation, much of it laden with exotic blooms and large yellow lemons, provided fragrant shade for the large terra cotta patio tiles and a charming little cafe table set with breakfast service for two—complete with crisply pressed white linens and gleaming, polished silverware. Jordana eyed the delicious-looking pastries, fruits, and thin-shaved meats with a frown.


Was this some kind of joke?


Or had she been kidnapped by the most gentlemanly psychopath on the planet?


Jordana spotted him out on the terrace as she ventured a few more paces into the main room of the villa. Every bit as big and tall as she remembered, except now he wasn’t garbed in black or hooded.


He stood at the railing overlooking the sea beyond, wearing a gauzy linen tunic and loose-fitting linen pants. His back to the villa, he held his arms spread wide, palms turned up. On one of his wrists, he wore a brown leather thong, from which a small silver emblem glinted under the rising sun.


As she watched, the man tipped his golden blond head back on his shoulders to put his face full in the morning light.


It was a worshipful pose, a peaceful pose.


Yet there could be no mistaking the immense power that radiated from every inch and muscle of his body.


He wasn’t human.


Obviously not Breed either. Not even a daywalker like Carys or her brother, Aric, would risk such intense UV exposure.


This man seemed to relish it. He seemed to need it.


Hopefully he was so deep in meditation he wouldn’t notice she’d escaped until she was long gone.


Jordana turned her attention away from him and took a step forward.


“Good morning.” The golden man from the terrace now stood directly in front of her.


A startled cry caught in her throat. Jordana threw a wild glance over her shoulder to the balcony outside, just to confirm what she was seeing.


He wasn’t there anymore.


No, he’d vanished from his position several dozen feet away and had materialized barely an inch from where she stood. Shoulder-length blond hair shot with burnished shades of copper haloed a face blessed with perfect angles, flawless bronzed skin, and arresting, tropical blue eyes.


So the psycho who kidnapped her was not only gentlemanly and an art connoisseur but gorgeous besides. That didn’t make him any less of a threat.


He reached for her, and Jordana screamed in earnest now. Fear and fury swelled inside her like a rising fire until it exploded out of her on a sharp, terrified yell. At the same time, she gave her abductor’s massive body a hard shove and tried to dodge left to get around him.


To her amazement, he stumbled backward half a pace before righting himself and catching her around her upper arms. He actually seemed pleased.


“Impressive. Your powers are still young, of course, but they’re already strong. They’re manifesting quickly now.”


Jordana’s hands tingled with the pricks of a thousand tiny needles. She’d felt the odd sensation before—most recently while making love with Nathan, a memory, and a longing, that made her heart ache sharply in her breast.


Now she glanced down at her palms and was astonished to find them imbued with warm, glowing light. Faint, but unmistakable.


And not a little disturbing.


“Oh, my God,” she gasped at her captor. “What’s going on? Who are you? What have you done to me?”


“Shit.” He let go of her and gave a mild shake of his head. “I’m scaring you. I’m sorry, Jordana.”

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