To the left of Nathan at the table, Rafe smirked. “His private apartment had been vacated too, except for an interesting collection of restraints and spiked collars in the bedroom.”


Elijah and Jax chuckled along with Rafe, but Nathan remained serious, glad to put his mind back on the trail of their quarry. “Cass already knows he’s being pursued. His employees at the club said we’d just missed him, but it’s probable they were lying to us. My guess is he cleared out of there days ago.”


“I wonder if Cass realized he’d been outed the moment Kellan touched him.” This from Tavia, her first comment of the entire morning. “He might be fully aware that the Order suspects he’s not human and would come after him soon enough.”


Nathan nodded with the rest of the warriors around the table. Kellan Archer was recently reunited with the Order and since mated to Mira, one of the few female squad captains. The couple had been at La Notte on a mission of their own no more than a week ago, when Kellan and Cassian Gray became embroiled in a brief altercation. Kellan pushed the club owner, tactile contact that had roused the Breed male’s unique psychic gift to read human intention with a touch.


Cassian Gray had been a blank slate.


Cass wasn’t Breed; there was no mistaking that fact. But Kellan had realized at once the man wasn’t human either.


He hadn’t been sure what else Cass could be—no one had been—until a few nights ago in Washington, D.C., at a global peace summit event that had ended in an act of terror meant to sabotage the gathering and blow hundreds of Breed lives away in the process.


Lucan Thorne and most of the Order’s elder members included.


The individual who’d tried to carry out the plot under the banner of a shadowy organization called Opus Nostrum hadn’t been human or Breed.


No, Reginald Crowe had been something else entirely: Atlantean.


Known publicly around the world as a billionaire business magnate with holdings all over the globe, Crowe was, in actuality, one of a powerful race of immortals that had existed on Earth unknown for millennia. They had been as much a secret to the human population as the Breed.


And now the Order understood the Atlanteans to be an even greater threat than any enemy they’d ever faced before.


“It’s been three days since Crowe’s death and it’s still trending on all the news outlets around the world,” Jax said, spinning one of his hira-shuriken stars on the conference table. “If Cass is Atlantean, the killing of one of his own by the Order would be enough to send him to ground.”


Eli exhaled a drawled curse. “Unfortunately, Crowe’s death—and all the shit that went down before that—was a little too public to be contained.”


The ultraviolet bomb at the summit had been only one of Crowe’s crimes in his role as Opus Nostrum’s leader. Before plotting to derail the gathering and ash every Breed dignitary in the building, Crowe’s cabal had arranged for the murder of a brilliant human scientist and that man’s uncle, a senior member of the Global Nations Council, the governing arm responsible for ensuring peaceful relations between the vampire and human populations of the world.


“It’s true, we’re at a disadvantage right now,” Chase interjected. “The only good to come of the exposure of Crowe’s actions and his death is the fact that now the public, Breed and man, is united in their fear of Opus Nostrum. Only the Order is aware of the Atlanteans and the bigger threat Crowe divulged before he died.”


The threat of a brewing global war being plotted at the hands of the Atlanteans and their exiled queen.


“The Order has already waged a battle—and won—against a sinister member of our own race,” Tavia murmured quietly. “To think that another, more insidious enemy has been lurking in the shadows all this time …” She slowly shook her head, unwilling or unable to finish the grave direction of her thoughts.


“And we’ll win again, love.” Chase reached over to stroke his mate’s cheek, then he turned his steely, determined gaze on Nathan and the others. “Lucan is making a very public show of working with human and Breed law enforcement to root out Opus Nostrum. However, the Order’s primary mission is something far more crucial, more covert. If what Crowe said is true, then everything we’ve been through to this point in time—including our hard-won battle with Dragos—was merely preparation for the war still to come.”


“If Cassian Gray knows anything about Crowe’s threat,” Tavia added, “worse, if he’s part of it, he has to be contained. We can’t let him get away.”


“He won’t,” Chase assured her. “Lucan has arranged for each of Crowe’s former wives—his widow and the five exes who came before her—to be quietly interviewed at the D.C. headquarters.”


Rafe grunted, his mouth spreading into a wide grin. “Invitations to tea, followed by a friendly game of twenty questions and a mind-scrub?”


Chase slid him a wry look. “Something like that, yeah. If any of the women who knew Crowe best have any knowledge about his true nature or his dealings as part of Opus Nostrum, we’ll find out soon enough.”


“As for Cass,” Nathan said, “we’ll find him too. We’ll bring him in. His employees, his known allies and associates—we’ll leave no lead unturned. Tell Lucan, neither Cass nor his secrets will elude us for long.”


Chase gave him a tight nod. “Excellent,” he said, and dropped his open palms to the table in finality. He rose from his seat, and the rest of the group stood up with him. “If there’s nothing else, Tavia and I have some personal business of our own to contend with this morning.”


“It’s Carys,” Tavia volunteered to Nathan and the other warriors. “She’s moving out. Today.”


“Moving out,” Nathan murmured guardedly, surprised by the news, though surely not as surprised as the young woman’s parents must be. “That seems like a sudden decision.”


As he spoke, he caught the uncomfortable looks exchanged between his teammates as all three made a hasty exit from the conference room.


The bastards.


He’d punish them later for abandoning him to this unwanted drama.


“Carys says she’s been considering this for a while now,” Chase replied. “But I know my daughter, and she’s holding something back. I’ve already asked Aric if he knew of any reason she might be upset about something—or upset with us—but he’s been no more forthcoming than her.”


Nathan grunted. “Do you know where she’s going?”


Tavia answered him. “She’s moving in with Jordana at her apartment across town. Nathan, do you know anything about this?”


He gave a slight shake of his head. “It’s the first I’m hearing of it.” The answer was as close to the truth as he could slice it without betraying the sibling conflict of the night before.


“I realize Carys is an adult, and she’s free to live her own life,” Tavia reasoned aloud. “She’s always been impulsive, but this just doesn’t seem like her. More than that, I don’t know if I’m ready to let go of her,” she added, turning a baleful look on Chase. “I know, I’d never truly be ready for this day to come, but especially not now, knowing dangerous people like Cassian Gray are skulking around, unaccounted for. Who knows what he or his cage-fighting thugs might do if they realized one of the Order’s children—a female, no less—was living somewhere in the city away from our protection?”


A growl vibrated in Chase’s chest now. “I’ll forbid her to leave.”


Tavia sighed. “You can’t and you know it. Trying to force her will only make her dig her heels in harder. Carys is a headstrong young woman—not that either of her parents should be surprised by that.”


“No,” Chase replied, his eyes gentle on his mate, even if his tone remained firm. “But if she’s leaving because she’s got a head full of steam over something, or if she’s in some kind of trouble—”


Tavia shook her head. “If she’s upset or in any trouble, you know she’ll only try to shield us from worrying about her. Nathan, what do you think? Are we being too protective if we try to make her stay?”


Fuck. How he’d found himself in the role of family mediator, Nathan had no bloody idea.


But it was difficult not to be moved by Chase and Tavia’s obvious love and concern for their child, even if Carys was a full-grown woman, twenty years old. She was stronger than most later-generation Breed males, and more than capable of taking care of herself.


“You raised her to be independent—Aric too. If Carys feels she’s ready to live on her own, she’s going to do it. No matter what anyone says or thinks. But if you’ll sleep better knowing my team and I will keep a close eye on her, consider it done.”


“Thank you, Nathan,” Tavia said, exhaling her relief while Chase gathered his mate close and gave Nathan a brief nod of appreciation for his offer. The three of them exited the conference room to the corridor outside. They paused there, and Tavia lifted her head from where it rested against Chase’s shoulder. “I still think it can’t hurt to talk to her one more time, see if I can persuade her to change her mind.”


Chase grinned. “Your powers of persuasion may work flawlessly on me, love, but good luck dealing with your daughter. And you’d better work fast. She’s upstairs now, packing up her things with Jordana.”


Nathan stood there as the couple excused themselves and strolled away hand in hand.


Jordana Gates was there right now, upstairs in the estate. Helping Carys collect her belongings, a task that would likely keep Jordana under the same roof as Nathan for the next couple of hours at least.


Christ.


He pivoted abruptly and stalked down the corridor in the opposite direction of Chase and Tavia, toward the passage that would lead him to the weapons room.


It was about as far away from the living quarters of the mansion as he could get. A few hours of physical training was just what he needed. Hell, the way his blood was churning through his veins now, he might not come up for air until the night’s patrol was ready to head out.


With any luck, by the time he surfaced, Carys and her new roommate would be long gone.


5


JORDANA BLEW OUT A SIGH AS SHE CAME TO A STOP IN A LONG, empty corridor—one of many confusing arteries in the Chases’ sprawling estate.


Had Carys said to turn left-left-right-left once she was in the Order’s command center wing of the mansion, or left-right-left-left?


Shit.


A simple quest to fetch more packing tape for her friend had now delivered Jordana deep into the warriors’ domain. It wasn’t like she’d wanted to be there. Not when the odds of encountering Nathan in that part of the mansion seemed a bit too likely for her peace of mind.


But Carys had been insistent. She’d made it seem like no big thing at all: “Just run down to the central supply room and grab another roll of tape for me, will you? Take you not even ten minutes round trip, and I’ll have this box of shoes ready to go by the time you get back.”


Fifteen minutes later, Jordana was still wandering the corridors, becoming more turned around with each step she took.


She was sure she’d followed Carys’s directions correctly …


Whether she did or not, she was definitely in the wrong place now. Ahead of her at the far end of the passageway was a set of steel double doors with a security access panel mounted to the right of them on the wall. Above the doors, the dark, unblinking eye of a surveillance camera stared down at her.


“Dammit, Carys,” she whispered. “Next time you have a fool’s errand to run, you’re doing it yourself.”


Jordana edged backward a few steps, hoping she didn’t look as uncomfortable or idiotic as she felt to whoever might be monitoring the corridor. Then again, it was probably too late to worry about that. She just needed to get out of there, before she wandered any farther afield.


Spinning on her heel, she hurried back the way she came. She was jogging at a good clip by the time she reached the end of the hallway and rounded the corner—


Only to run full tilt into a wall of unmovable, warm flesh and bone.


Nathan.


Oh, God.


He caught her by her upper arms, muttering a curse that didn’t sound happy to see her either. “I might’ve guessed,” he growled, more to himself than her. “Never did have much faith in luck.”


Jordana struggled to find her voice for a second. “Excuse me?”


Caught in his grasp with only inches between them, she stood there immobile, her hands splayed on his broad chest. Though he was wearing a T-shirt, her palms burned with the heat rolling off the firm planes and bulges of his body beneath the soft black cotton that covered him.


His eyes bored into her, and she realized she never knew what color they were until now. Deep, greenish blue, they looked like the sky just before the arrival of a brutal storm.


That same dark, arresting stare had held her across the room of the museum last night.


Demanding.


Possessive.


Even now, she found it hard to tear herself away from Nathan’s unnerving gaze. “I, um … I was looking for packing tape for Carys,” she blurted. “She gave me directions for the supply room, but I must be lost.”


He grunted, one black brow lifting almost imperceptibly.


Jordana rushed on, hating how he unsettled her. “Usually when I’m here at the mansion, I keep to the residential areas.”


“As you should,” he said. “You don’t belong down here.”

***

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