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“How do you know my name?” Her panic climbed. “Where are we? What is this place? How the hell did you get me here? What did you do to my friend Carys?”


“So many questions,” he murmured. “It’s understandable. Your friend is fine, I didn’t harm her. I won’t harm you either. I only wish to help. That’s why your father called me—”


“My father?” She hardly dared hope he was telling her the truth, but it was all she had. “When did you talk to him? Did the Order let him go? I want to see him, right now. Please. You must take me to him.”


As her words spilled out of her, the golden man looked at her in sympathetic, gentle silence. “I wish there had been an easier way to explain all of this to you. There wasn’t time. If I hadn’t taken you out of Boston, they would’ve gotten to you first. They were already closing in on you, Jordana.”


“What are you talking about? Who was after me?”


“Your father’s enemies. The soldiers who once served under his command—as I did, a very long time ago. I was your father’s friend. My name is Ekizael.”


Jordana shook her head. This guy may look like a fallen angel, but he was obviously very disturbed. “Look, Eh-kee-zayel—”


“Zael,” he said, offering her a courtly bow of his head.


She stared at him. “Whoever you are, you don’t know my father. His name is Martin Gates. He’s a businessman. A Darkhaven leader. He was never a soldier and he doesn’t have any enemies.”


“No, Jordana,” he said quietly. “I’m not talking about the Breed male who raised you. Your true father was a royal guard. He was once the most decorated warrior in the queen’s legion.”


“The queen’s legion? Oh, right, of course.” She couldn’t bite back the small, nearly hysterical laugh that bubbled up from her throat. “And which one would that be—the Queen of England or the Queen of Sheba?” The golden man—Zael, she mentally amended—remained sober, utterly serious. “Her name is Selene. She’s been my people’s queen for many thousands of years. Your people, Jordana.”


She wanted to scoff at this insane statement too, but as her captor spoke, his hands began to emit the same soft light that hers had just a moment ago.


Even more unsettling, in the center of his broad palms glowed a symbol she recognized all too well: the teardrop-and-crescent-moon mark she bore on the underside of her left wrist.


“You have the Breedmate mark,” she murmured. “I don’t understand. How can you—”


“It is our symbol, Jordana. The symbol of the Atlantean race. The one on your wrist was put there as a decoy. Your father hoped the tattoo would help you fit in among the Breed and the halfling daughters of our kind born outside our realm.”


“I was born with this mark,” she argued. “The same as any other Breedmate.”


“No. You, Jordana, are something different from them.” Zael’s deep voice was unnervingly rational as he spoke. “You’re no halfling, not even close. You are full immortal. A pureblood Atlantean.”


She looked at her symbol with fresh eyes, realizing only now that it might not be a birthmark after all, but crimson ink embedded meticulously under her skin.


Confusion swirled inside her. She wanted to deny what she was seeing—she wanted to deny everything she was hearing—but the evidence was too compelling to dismiss.


She already lived in a world where vampires and humans coexisted. Why did it terrify her so deeply to think she might be something other too?


Because it would mean accepting the fact that her entire life had been a lie.


“Did he know all of this? Martin Gates, I mean. Does he know?”


Zael gave a mild nod. “He agreed to raise you and keep you safe as his child, as a Breedmate. For your protection, you were never to be told that you were different. Cass trusted him with that secret implicitly—”


“Cass,” Jordana whispered, her breath drying up in her lungs. “Cassian Gray.”


She closed her eyes as the realization sank in, a wave of shock washing over her. Then sorrow, when she recalled Cass’s strange visit to the museum.


The enjoyable, far-too-brief time she’d spent talking with him. And the unthinkable way he died, just a short while later.


“His true name was Cassianus,” Zael said. “He adopted a simpler one—an entirely new identity as well—to help him blend in with the mortal world after he left the Atlantean realm.”


“Is that where we are now?” Her new reality settling over her, she glanced out at the breathtaking coastal paradise beyond the open French doors and couldn’t help but wonder … “Is this Atlantis?”


“No.” Chuckling quietly, Zael lowered his head. “Atlantis was destroyed long ago by our oldest enemies, the Ancient fathers of the Breed. There are some similarities between this place and Atlantis, but this is Amalfi, on the coast of Italy. This villa was a private sanctuary of Cass’s for a long time, although it’s been many years since he was last here.”


Jordana could hardly speak. She glanced around at the sophisticated villa with its priceless antiques and masterpiece paintings. At least that part made sense now: Cass’s unexpected, uncanny knowledge of art. He had apparently loved it as much as she did.


Cassian Gray was her father.


The news staggered her, perhaps even more so than any of Zael’s other incredible revelations. To say nothing of the fact that she was hearing all of this not in the comfort of her home in Boston but evidently a continent away, and from the mouth of a man who’d brought her there through means she still hadn’t determined and was almost afraid to guess at.


Her head spun with a hundred questions—so many, she wasn’t sure where to start.


“You said Cass had enemies,” she murmured. “Soldiers from the queen’s legion who are also after me. You mean Atlantean soldiers. That’s who killed him?”


“Yes.” Zael’s face was grim. “Their method left little doubt. They had been pursuing him for a long time on Selene’s orders.”


“Why?” Jordana struggled to keep the memory of the savagery from forming in her mind. “What did he do to her that she would hate him enough to want him killed?”


“For starters, he fell in love with a member of her court. It was forbidden, even for a legion soldier of Cassianus’s renown. But Soraya loved him too,” Zael explained. “For a while, they carried on in secret, meeting anywhere they could. They even risked time together outside the realm, coming here, to this villa.”


It didn’t take much for Jordana to imagine loving someone in defiance of what anyone else wished or expected. When it came to love, she’d learned firsthand that the heart gave itself freely, openly, completely.


Sometimes foolishly.


She met Zael’s solemn look and knew the story he was telling her would not end well for the forbidden lovers.


“So, Cassianus and Soraya … they were my parents?” At his grave nod, she had to ask the other question that sat like a jagged pill on her tongue. “What happened to my mother?”


“She died,” Zael said. “Soraya had you in secret, here in this villa. Cass thought the three of you could be a family together, stay on the run, never go back to the realm. But Raya missed the Atlantean way of life. She missed her home. To please her, Cass returned with Raya and you. Selene was furious. She called for his immediate execution. Raya pleaded for mercy. Selene finally granted it, but at a price.”


Jordana listened, rapt yet heartsick for what her parents had endured. “What did the queen ask in exchange for Cass’s life?”


“She made Raya agree to take a mate of Selene’s choosing and exile with you until you turned twenty-five and your powers came of age. Once that occurred, Raya would be free to return, and you were to take your place as a member of the royal court.”


“But Soraya didn’t accept the queen’s terms?” Jordana guessed.


If she had, Jordana would have never been raised as Martin Gates’s daughter.


She would have never met Nathan.


As much as it hurt to think she’d meant nothing to him, the thought of having never known his touch, or his kiss, or the pleasure they shared, was too bleak to imagine.


Zael shook his head, his voice low. “Raya could not promise to give herself to another man. She begged for a different punishment, but Selene would not be swayed. Finally, on the day Raya and you were to leave the court for your new home, she took a drastic, irrevocable step.”


“What happened?” Jordana whispered, her heart in her throat.


“Raya put you in the palace nursery. Then she went to her chambers, locked herself in, and set the place ablaze. By the time the fire was discovered, it was too late. Even an immortal could not heal from the wounds Raya inflicted on herself.”


Jordana choked on a ragged breath. “And Cassianus? What did he do?”


Zael smiled sadly, proudly. “He did what any loving parent would do. Risked everything to take you away from there and ensure that you had a new life—a better life. One where Selene’s guards wouldn’t find you. Cass wanted you to have a life of your own choosing.”


Except the irony was, as good as her life had been living with Martin Gates as his child, it hadn’t been authentic. She’d lived under the cloak of secrets and half-truths, never really knowing who—or what—she was. She’d never been given the chance to know the two people who brought her into the world and gave up everything, including their lives, because of her.


Two people she missed keenly now, despite having had them in her life so briefly.


“Why did she do it?” Jordana murmured. “Why couldn’t the queen just let them be happy together? Why chase Cass down and kill him after all this time? Why keep her guards searching for me?”


Zael’s tropical blue eyes were steady on her. “Because Soraya was her only child.”


Jordana went still. She shook her head slowly, at a complete and sudden loss for words.


When she couldn’t speak, Zael did it for her. “You, Jordana, are Selene’s granddaughter. You are her only living heir to the Atlantean throne.”


25


IN THE HOUR FOLLOWING CARYS’S ARRIVAL, THE BOSTON COMMAND center buzzed with sober conversation and urgent preparation for a do-or-die sweep of the city.


Gathered in the weapons room along with Nathan, Rafe and Eli and Jax rehashed the team’s game plan for turning the city upside down in their search for the Atlantean bastard who had Jordana. In the corridor outside the war room, Sterling Chase and his mate, Tavia, were attempting to reassure a shattered, sobbing Martin Gates that the Order would do everything in its power to find Jordana quickly and bring her back, safe and sound.


Nathan had no words for anyone. He had no energy to expend on talking or hoping or wishing. He had no patience for consolation or promises that morning wouldn’t be allowed to break without Jordana returned home.


All he had was his determination, his ruthless discipline.


With robotic efficiency, Nathan suited up in his patrol gear. In utter silence—with deadly calm purpose—he zipped and cinched, buckled and tied his black fatigues and combat boots, then strapped on his weapons belt and holsters for multiple firearms.


He would find Jordana.


There would be no failing that mission.


There would be no failing her, not ever again.


He had never been more committed to any goal in all his life. Jordana was all that mattered to him. If she were found harmed—if the man who took her tonight inflicted even the smallest pain on her—Nathan would eviscerate the son of a bitch.


Slowly.


He knew countless ways to kill, incrementally when necessary. If Jordana was hurt in any way, her abductor was going to suffer the full, merciless force of Nathan’s wrath.


He readied the last of his weapons and threw a hard look on his team. “Let’s go.”


Leading the way, he stalked out to the corridor with Rafe, Jax, and Eli.


They were halfway up the winding hallway when Carys came rushing around a corner, her face stricken and grave. She clutched her comm unit in a white-knuckled grasp. “Nathan, wait. Something’s happened.”


The female’s fearful voice just about stopped his heart. He was almost afraid to guess at this new, obviously bad news. “Jordana?”


Carys shook her head. “There was an attack at La Notte a few minutes ago. Syn’s been killed. Rune wants to talk to you.”


Normally, the death of a Breed cage fighter would be the last of the Order’s concern. And neither Syn nor Rune had many friends among the warriors. But this was a night unlike any other, and a deadly attack on Cassian Gray’s club within hours of Jordana having gone missing was far from coincidental.


Without slowing down, Nathan grabbed the comm unit and put it to his ear. “What happened?”


“That’s what I wanna know.” Rune’s breath was tight, shallow. His deep, growling voice held an edge of wariness that Nathan had never heard before. “We just took a bad hit down here at the club. Couple of thugs tossed Cass’s office. They fucking killed Syn, broke every bone in his body.”


Like Rune, Syn was a proven champion in the cages. It would take a hell of an opponent to knock him down. “You see who did it?” Almost too much to hope.


Rune grunted. “Yeah, I saw them. Heard a ruckus in the office above the arena, then I smelled blood. Lots of blood. Found three men tearing the place up. Syn was already in bad shape, no more fight left in him. I dropped one of the bastards, but the other two got away.” Rune paused. “The one I killed? He didn’t go down easy, man. Not until I took his fucking head from his shoulders. Then the whole damn place lit up with the glow he threw off as he died. Sure as hell wasn’t human, but he wasn’t Breed either.”

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