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It was tempting to think there was somewhere she could go. It was a relief to think there was a place for her to get away from the kind of enemies who had killed Cass and were now on the hunt for her.


A place where she could be with others of her kind—her true kind. Somewhere she wouldn’t have to hide who and what she was. Where her very existence wouldn’t jeopardize the lives of the people who loved her and wanted to protect her.


Selfishly, there was a part of her that craved the asylum Zael described.


But could she really go without even a word of good-bye?


Could she leave her father? Could she leave Carys or her other friends? Could she abandon the job she adored and the colleagues and community she’d worked with for years?


And what about Nathan? Could she imagine any kind of life that didn’t somehow include him in it?


Of all the people she loved and would miss so terribly, it was this last thought that twisted her heart the most.


And she had to face the fact that whatever she thought she had with Nathan might already be gone.


But could she really walk away without knowing for certain?


“I realize this is an impossible choice, Jordana.”


She slowly shook her head. “No, you can’t know that. You’re asking me to walk away from the only home I’ve ever known. To never see the people I love most in this world ever again. Is my safety worth that? Is anything worth all of that?”


Zael’s handsome face was solemn, a dark, private pain swirling in the depths of his Caribbean blue eyes. “I will need your answer soon. If we mean to leave before you’re discovered, we must do it tonight. Make no mistake, Selene’s soldiers will come for you here. It’s not a question of if, Jordana, but when.”


26


NATHAN SAT BEHIND A PANE OF UV-BLOCKING GLASS IN THE BACKSEAT of a dark sedan that idled in the dusk on a narrow street in the coastal village of Amalfi. The driver, Salvatore, was human, a discreet, proven ally, hired to meet Nathan’s flight earlier that afternoon by the Order’s district commander in Rome, Lazaro Archer.


Nathan had been airborne from Boston within three hours of Jordana’s disappearance. The fly time on the Order’s private jet and the wait for sundown once he arrived in Italy had been maddening. Each second had crawled by in agonizing slowness. He wasn’t sure how he would have endured any of it if Martin Gates hadn’t been certain Jordana was in friendly hands, in a place that had once been a private sanctuary for Cass.


Knowing that Jordana was in any other man’s hands, particularly those of an Atlantean, hadn’t made the delay in reaching her any less torturous.


Now, finally, Nathan found himself looking up the steep, tree-choked hillside, to the secluded villa perched high above the serpentine little street.


He opened the door and got out. A quiet rap on the roof of the car sent Salvatore on his way back down the road. Nathan had no idea what he was walking into, and he and Lazaro Archer agreed that discreet or not, the farther they kept humans out of Order business, the better.


That went double when it came to Order business involving the race of immortals who were evidently hunting down and slaying their own kind while purportedly plotting war against the Breed and humans both.


A race of immortals that claimed Jordana as one of their own.


Part of him still couldn’t reconcile the idea that she belonged to a different people, a different world. He’d felt from the beginning that she deserved someone better, more worthy of her. That she was destined for greater things than he could ever hope to offer her. He just hadn’t realized how true his sense would actually turn out to be.


Movement on the terrace patio high above him drew his attention up to the villa.


As if conjured by his thoughts, Jordana appeared at the railing overlooking the hillside and coast below. Relief poured over him the instant he saw her.


She was safe.


Thank God, she was safe.


And she was more beautiful than ever, the sight of her so welcome he could hardly breathe for the way his heart was jackhammering in his chest.


Nathan stood motionless, arrested by the sight of her in the indigo wash of evening.


She looked different to him tonight. Changed, somehow. Stronger, more vibrant.


She wore a loose, white linen tank and gauzy pants, simple clothing that couldn’t quite hide the enticing curves and lean, graceful lines of Jordana’s body. Her long, platinum blond hair was gathered off her delicate face and braided in a thick rope that snaked down her spine.


Willowy and ethereal, she glowed as pale as moonlight and as breathtaking as a goddess.


Fitting, he thought, that she should look so enchanting, like a being from another realm.


As for Nathan, he had never felt more out of place than he did just then, staring up at her from the shadows in his warrior’s gear, bristling with all the ugly, brutal weapons of his trade.


He’d come to find her, to bring her home. He’d come to tell her what she meant to him, to say the things he should have told her when he’d had the chance—before everything went so wrong last night.


He’d come to rescue her on behalf of her father and the Order, but in his heart, he knew he’d come here with the hope he’d bring Jordana home as his mate.


Now he had to wonder if she wasn’t already on the path that she truly belonged on.


Not certain how he would be received, or even if she would want to see him again, Nathan took a step out of the gloom on the street. He lifted his hand, about to call out to her and let her know he was there.


Before he could speak, a man walked up beside her on the terrace balcony. Nathan’s chest went hot and tight at the tender smile and nod Jordana gave this stranger. Tall, golden-haired, too handsome to be merely mortal, the man wrapped a protective arm around Jordana’s shoulders.


Then her Atlantean guardian gently guided her away from the railing, and the two of them disappeared inside the villa.


Jordana rubbed a sudden chill from her bare arms as she reluctantly walked back inside the villa with Zael. She didn’t want to leave the terrace, or the warm night air that had drawn her out to the railing while Zael was serving the dinner he’d prepared.


She’d gone outside for answers, for comfort.


For some much-needed space to think about the choice she’d made a short while ago.


She would be leaving with Zael soon. Whether she was making the best decision, or one that she would eventually regret for the rest of her life—forever, in that case—Jordana couldn’t be sure.


Whatever she chose, Zael had made it clear there could be no reversing it. Once she left the villa with him, her course would be set and final.


“Wine or water with your coq au vin?” he asked, waiting politely as she took her seat at the table. The meal smelled delicious, and looked even more incredible.


Not that she was hungry in the least.


“Water, please.” Her head was still a little woozy, and the electrical buzz that had been with her all day was only intensifying. She put her prickly hands on her lap under the table and tried to ignore the warm tingling of her palms. “How soon will we be going?”


“As soon as you’re ready.” Zael retrieved a bottle of San Pellegrino and poured some in her glass. He gave her a sober look that said she hadn’t fooled him by trying to hide that the power within her was getting stronger by the moment. “It’s not too late to change your mind. But we don’t have long.”


“Do you think I’m making the right choice?”


Zael’s expression was mild, deliberately neutral. “Only you can answer that.”


She nodded and took a sip of the sparkling water. Zael seated himself across from her at the dining table, then attacked his culinary masterpiece with abandon.


He seemed relaxed, confident, and unrushed, but Jordana hadn’t missed the fact that at some point that day, he’d acquired a slender, gleaming sword from somewhere in the villa.


The long blade leaned against the table at his right, easily within his reach.


It didn’t look like any other kind of blade she’d seen before. The steel was inscribed with some kind of ancient-looking lettering and symbols. And the pommel bore the symbol Jordana now recognized as the Atlantean mark.


“You don’t really think you’ll need that, do you?”


Zael lifted one bulky shoulder as he shoveled another mouthful of food to his mouth. The corner of his lips quirked with unrepentant male pride. “If I do, don’t worry. I know how to use it.”


As he finished speaking, the joviality faded from his eyes. He dropped his fork, face turning lethal in an instant.


Jordana glanced behind her to the open French doors to the terrace. A man stood there, dark and grim in his black combat fatigues. Shock and disbelief—along with a piercing, desperate hope—sprang to life inside her.


She pivoted and started to rise. “Nathan?”


She had barely gasped his name before Zael was in motion.


One second, he was seated across from her at the table; the next, gone and materialized again to stand in front of her like a full-body shield. He held his Atlantean sword in a defensive angle in front of them, poised to kill.


While Zael squared off at Nathan, Nathan stood unarmed, all of his weapons holstered and sheathed, his hands held loosely at his sides.


“No.” She put her palms briefly on the Atlantean male’s shoulders, her eyes locked on Nathan in tentative, uneasy question. “It’s okay, Zael. Nathan is my … he’s with the Order.”


The tension in Zael’s big body relaxed only slightly. He didn’t lower his blade, but he didn’t move to attack either.


Nathan said nothing, his thundercloud eyes moving away from Jordana’s protector to her, standing behind Zael. His gaze was unreadable in the shadows of the terrace patio. His face remained impassive, emotionless and schooled.


More than anything, Jordana wanted to move around Zael and rush into Nathan’s arms.


Instead, she stayed the impulse, terrified of his rejection. And she was still too wounded by the way things had ended between them last night to risk another heartbreak.


In the heavy silence, Zael took a step away from Jordana. The look he turned on her said he understood that Nathan was the man she’d been thinking of earlier today. The man she’d been longing for when she spoke of the way few had considered how she wanted to live her life or where her heart might be the happiest.


Zael’s wise, ageless gaze said he recognized that this was the man she loved.


He gave her a faint, almost reverent, bow of his head. “You’ll want some privacy, no doubt. I’ll be just in the other room, if there is anything you need.”


“No,” Jordana murmured. As relieved and hopeful as she was to see Nathan standing there, she was afraid of what she might hear. Afraid for what the Order might have done to her father.


Afraid for herself, and the heart that was beating so frantically in her breast, a heedless organ that wanted to forgive Nathan and believe she meant something to him simply because he was there.


But she didn’t know why he had come, and she refused to be the trusting, naive fool after everything that had happened since she last saw him.


“No, Zael. I want you to stay,” she told him. “Anything the Order has to say to me can be said in front of you.”


Nathan exhaled a short sigh, the first crack in his iron-clad composure. “I guess I deserve that.”


Jordana held tight to her resolve, but his low voice still had the power to make something inside her melt. He glanced at Zael briefly as the Atlantean relaxed his stance with his blade, then settled back on his heels to remain, at Jordana’s request.


“Are you all right?” Nathan took a step toward her, emerging into the light of the villa’s living room. “You haven’t been hurt?”


“No. Not by Zael.” Sharp words, but she couldn’t bite them back. She steeled herself as Nathan took another few steps inside. “Where’s my father? What have you and the Order done to Martin Gates?”


“He’s at the command center in Boston. He’s worried about you, Jordana. The Order is very concerned for you as well. So is Carys.” Nathan’s cool gaze slid to Zael in unspoken warning. “Everyone wants you returned home safe. I mean to ensure that happens. And make no mistake, I’m not leaving without you.”


She bristled at the idea that he expected to dictate any aspect of her life. Especially when he was doing it on behalf of a committee: her father, her friend, the Order.


Everyone except him.


She raised her chin, hoping he wouldn’t see through her to the sting she was feeling all over again. “And if I decide I don’t want to go with you? What then? Do you mean to physically force me into custody, the way you did my father?”


Beside her, Zael tensed with palpable menace. Nathan’s brows furrowed as he looked at her and gave a slow shake of his head.


“Jesus.” He uttered the low, ripe curse. “Do you think I would do that to you?”


“I don’t know what to think, Nathan. Last night, I thought I knew you. Not the warrior or the Hunter—I thought I knew you. I thought I could trust you. I thought that you and I—” She stopped herself before the confession—the dashed hope—could escape her. “It doesn’t matter what I thought last night. Today nothing is the same.”


“That’s right. Today everything is different,” Nathan agreed. “Last night, we took Martin Gates into custody because we discovered he’d secretly been in business for years with Cassian Gray.”


“In business with him? How?”


“La Notte belongs to Martin Gates, not Cass.”


The news came as a surprise, but she was beyond the capacity to be shocked. A club like that, with its illegal sporting arena and gambling operation, to say nothing of the BDSM dens, would be the last kind of business her father would be involved in. Then again, if it had been a front for Cass, what was to say her father hadn’t been secretly holding the club as some further means of protecting Cass and his secret?

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