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No, Nathan thought, grave with understanding. They were Atlanteans.


“Any idea what they were looking for?”


“Yeah,” Rune replied. “When I found the fuckers hammering on Syn, they kept demanding that he tell them where Cass’s daughter was.”


Nathan cursed and drew up short in the corridor.


“Syn kept telling them Cass didn’t have any family, but they wouldn’t believe him.”


Nathan stood there, frozen, his mind racing to process everything he was hearing. “This just happened, you say? These men—they were there just now?”


“Aye,” Rune said. “The corpse of the one I killed is still warm.”


Rafe drew up next to Nathan, the blond warrior frowning in question. “What is it?”


“You’re certain they were looking for Cass’s daughter?”


“Dead certain.” The fighter was quiet for a moment, menace radiating through the comm. “Carys just told me what happened to her and Jordana a little while ago. Goddamn it, Nathan. I’m sorry about Jordana. And I hate like hell that Syn is gone. But these fucks—whoever, whatever, they are—put their hands on my woman tonight. This shit just got personal.”


“Tell me about it,” Nathan replied grimly.


With a murmured end to the conversation, he handed the comm unit back to Carys. She pivoted away, speaking to her lover in hushed, private tones.


Outside the war room, Nathan and his team were joined by Sterling Chase and Tavia, their expressions indicating they knew the weight of the information he’d just received.


Martin Gates drifted over too. “What is it? Has there been news about Jordana?”


Nathan glanced grimly from his commander and teammates to Jordana’s distraught father. “Three men just broke into Cass’s office at La Notte. They killed one of the fighters. Rune said they’re looking for Jordana.”


“Atlanteans,” Gates murmured woodenly.


Nathan gave a sober nod but turned a look on Chase and the other warriors. “So, if Cass’s enemies don’t already have Jordana …”


“Then who took her?” Tavia asked.


Nathan glanced back at Gates. “Was there anyone else Cass might have trusted to know about Jordana living in Boston? One of his own kind?”


Martin Gates considered for a moment, then gave a shaky nod. “Yes, there is one other person who knew. Oh, my God. Dare I hope she’s with him?”


“It may be all we’ve got,” Chase replied.


Gates met Nathan’s unblinking stare. “If she’s been taken somewhere safe, I believe I know where you’ll find her.”


Jordana wiped some of the steam from her shower off the large mirror in the villa’s master bathroom suite. She stared at her reflection for a moment, trying to understand how the pale blue eyes and familiar face looking back at her could feel so much a stranger now.


It had been only a few hours since her conversation that morning with Zael. A few hours since everything she thought she knew about herself had been peeled away.


Now, with the sun soon to set outside the villa where she’d been born, Jordana was looking at a new face. A new reality.


She was Atlantean.


Immortal.


The orphaned granddaughter of the race’s vengeful queen.


It all felt so foreign to her, so incredible. And yet it also seemed as if the missing pieces of a puzzle had finally dropped into place. Her restlessness, her sense that she’d been sleepwalking through her own existence, living someone else’s vision for what her life was supposed to be.


Because she hadn’t been living her own life. She’d been living a fantasy conjured for her protection by parents she would never know and by a beloved adoptive father who’d sacrificed the past twenty-five years to the promise he’d made to keep her safe. To keep her hidden from enemies she’d never even realized had existed.


Enemies who were seeking her out even now.


After the initial shock of it all had worn off a bit, Zael had done his best to explain to her about his people—their people—and about Cassianus and Soraya and the Atlantean realm. He’d been patient and kind, forthcoming with everything she wanted to know. But she still had so many questions.


In particular, how long before she could get back home to Boston and resume her life.


Refreshed from sleep and a long shower, and dressed in comfortable, soft white linen palazzo pants and a sleeveless tank of the same fabric, Jordana braided her damp hair and let the long plait fall down the center of her back.


She heard Zael in the villa’s kitchen, the aromas of roasting meat, wine and spices, and warm, baked breads wafting through the place. The dinner smelled wonderful, but her stomach seemed to have other ideas. It rolled and twisted, making each step a delicate, careful effort.


Her veins seemed charged with a low-level current. Her palms felt prickly and warm again, the way they sometimes had when she was making love with Nathan, only more intense now. More persistently heated and tingling.


“How do you feel?” Zael asked as she entered the open-concept gourmet kitchen.


“The rest and the shower were just what I needed, but now I’m kind of woozy.” Her knees started to buckle beneath her, as wobbly as a new fawn’s.


In an instant, Zael came around and helped her to one of the tall counter stools at the center island. “Better?”


She gave a weak nod, then crossed her arms on the snowy marble countertop and laid her head down. No doubt she had to look more than a little green around the gills. “Some immortal princess I make, huh?”


He chuckled. “It’s par for the course. We all go through this—call them Atlantean growing pains. Your system will mature and stabilize after you turn twenty-five.”


“That’s next week.” Zael nodded and she took the glass of water he handed her. “What’s going to happen to me then?”


She sat up and sipped the water while he went back to chopping and sautéing a pan of fresh vegetables. “Your body stops aging completely. You’ll become stronger, your senses keener. You’ll be able to tap into an energy that connects all of our people—you’ve already experienced that when I frightened you earlier and you used your power to push me away.”


“My hands were glowing,” Jordana said as she glanced down at her palms, which still tingled but held no light. “Yours glowed too, but I could also see the teardrop-and-crescent-moon symbol in them.”


“Yes,” he said. “Your symbol will manifest eventually too. As a member of the royal bloodline, it will happen sooner for you than most. Others of our kind have to be much older before the symbol appears.”


“How old?”


He lifted a bulky shoulder. “A hundred years, give or take.”


“So, you’re—”


“Older than that,” he replied, his mouth quirked in a grin.


She shook her head, unable to believe the youthful, golden man could be even a day out of his twenties. “How old can you—or any of us—get?”


“Atlanteans don’t keep count of years the way humans do, or even the Breed. We can live for many millennia, and have. Selene herself is one of the longest lived of our kind. When we mature, we develop the ability to heal from within, and nothing but catastrophic injury can kill one of us.”


“Like beheading,” Jordana murmured quietly. “Or self-immolation.”


Zael gave a sober nod.


“Would he ever have told me? Would Cass ever have explained any of this to me—who I was, who he was … who my mother was?”


“No,” Zael replied gently. “He wouldn’t have. You have to understand, he did what he thought was right for you. He manufactured a completely new identity in Boston, an unsavory facade meant to keep him under Selene’s radar. He was a soldier; he wasn’t afraid of dark work. But he never would’ve wanted that part of his life to brush up too closely against you.”


“Are you saying La Notte was just a front for him?”


Zael inclined his head. “A lucrative one, but yes. The club provided a deep cover for Cassianus in Boston. As for you, he thought you’d have a better life outside the Atlantean realm, in this world. He thought you could blend in if you were brought up as a Breedmate. Cass felt you’d be safest if he hid you in plain sight.”


“How could my secret stay hidden from everyone? How could it stay hidden from me?” She thought about the energy she felt coursing through her, building in her, even now. “I would’ve known I was different. I’ve had a feeling all my life that something about me was different, that some piece of me was missing.”


“Yes,” Zael said. “That’s why Cass wanted you blood-bonded to one of the Breed before the age of twenty-five. A bond would have eased the changes in you. It would’ve explained your lack of aging. Most important, it would’ve shielded you from Selene’s legion by making your energy harder for our kind to detect.”


Jordana considered the certainty she heard in the immortal’s voice. “You say that as if it’s proven fact. Has it been done before—an Atlantean mating with one of the Breed?”


Zael nodded. “There have been pairings between our races over time. But they’re rare, and the blood-bonded couples living their secret are known only to a chosen, trusted few.”


“That’s why my father—Martin Gates—tried so desperately to match me up with someone.”


Zael gave an affirmative dip on his head. “He and Cass had agreed that you would be blood-bonded before your twenty-fifth year.”


She sat back in her seat on a long, heavy sigh. “It staggers me to think of all the promises made with me in mind, all the sacrifices. And I understand it was all done out of love—the purest kind of love, that of parents wanting the best for a child.” Jordana met Zael’s gaze across the kitchen. “But when everyone was coming up with these promises, all these secret plans, there was one thing they all overlooked. It was my life they were manipulating, my future. It was my heart.”


They would have locked her into a bond with someone she didn’t desire and would never love.


Not the way she wanted Nathan.


Not the way she loved him.


There was a heartbroken, desperate part of her that hoped this was all just a dream and she might wake up and discover she was still in Boston. That none of this was real.


She closed her eyes, wishing that when she opened them she would find herself curled up next to Nathan in her bed.


If she sent up a silent, pleading prayer, could this all turn out to be just some cosmic mistake? Maybe the exhibit opening hadn’t yet occurred, and she hadn’t felt her whole world crumble as Nathan stoically, mercilessly led her father away like a criminal.


Maybe Nathan hadn’t simply seduced her as a means of closing in on her father.


Maybe she had actually meant something more to him.


Maybe he really did want her, love her, even just a little.


And maybe the only dreaming or wishing she was doing was in trying to shape Nathan into someone he would never be.


He’d warned her away from him, but fool that she was, she hadn’t listened. He’d been the wild, dangerous storm she feared—the one she’d leapt into from atop her high ledge, knowing full well she might get tossed onto the rocks below.


Now, with her heart lying in broken pieces on the ground, she could only blame herself for jumping off.


Zael was staring at her. Studying her in thoughtful silence. “Who is he?” She glanced down, shook her head. “I’m not sure it matters anymore. Not to him, anyway.” But thinking about Nathan and the way things had ended renewed her concern for her father. “I need to get back home now. It’s very important. Last night the Order arrested my father, and I—” She paused to think, suddenly unsure. “Was it last night? How long have we been gone? And exactly how did we get here?”


“I took you from Boston last night, around nine in the evening,” he said. “You’ve been gone from there not quite fifteen hours now.” As she worked to make sense of how that could possibly be, considering travel distance and time zone differences, Zael gently cleared his throat. “As for how we got here …”


He held up his wrist, the one with the leather thong and the silver emblem dangling from it. Jordana saw now that the emblem was in the shape of the Breedmate—or, rather, the Atlantean—symbol.


And the charm wasn’t made of silver at all but an unusual crystal that somewhat resembled mercury glass.


She blinked at him. “I don’t understand.”


“The crystal this is made from is an energy source belonging to our people. It generates power, provides protection … it’s useful for many things, both good and bad. It also allows our kind to travel great distances, or small ones, in the blink of an eye.”


Jordana gaped. “Are you saying this bracelet brought us here?”


“It will take us anywhere, so long as the place can be imagined accurately in the traveler’s mind.” Zael’s voice became more serious now. “It can take you to asylum, Jordana. Somewhere Selene and her soldiers will never find you. There are others living in exile from the realm, some for many hundreds of years. Cass wanted me to offer that choice to you, should the worst occur and the legion finally caught up to him. That’s why he summoned me. He wanted me to give you the option to escape to a protected colony with those of your own kind.”


“Leave Boston?” she asked. “You mean here and now. You mean forever.”


He gave a grim nod. “For obvious reasons, you could tell no one about this. For the safety of all, no one in the colony is permitted to leave. No outsiders are allowed in, except in the most extreme of circumstances, like my mission to contact you. This would be a permanent decision. And one you don’t have much time to make. With your powers manifesting already, every minute we spend here risks your being located by the queen’s guards.”

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