Instead, he’d spent the bulk of the day in the command center’s technology lab, digging into public records—and some not so public—in his search for intel on Cassian Gray.


All he’d discovered was that the man was proving to be as elusive on paper as he was in person. For all the lack of information, it was as if Cass had been taking careful steps to cover his tracks from the moment he first surfaced in Boston twenty-some years ago.


As if he’d been planning all along for the day he’d need to vanish.


Nathan downloaded what little he had on Cass to a mission intel file, then shut down the computer and left the lab. With sundown just a few hours away, he had time to get in some solo training and prep his weapons for the night’s patrol with his team.


His body was still tense, aggression still riding him, and he knew damn well it had less to do with frustration over a stymied mission than it did a certain platinum-haired, Darkhaven beauty he had no right to desire.


An unschooled virgin besides.


Fuck.


Never mind the fact that she was Carys Chase’s best friend—as of today, her roommate besides—and the darling of Boston’s high society, Breed and human alike. Never mind that she had all but promised herself to another male, out of obligation or naivete, it didn’t matter.


No, Jordana Gates was off limits for many reasons, but most of all this: Because she was pure. She was innocent.


He wouldn’t be the one to take that from her.


He couldn’t take that from anyone, not the way his hungers ran.


He hadn’t been merely trying to scare Jordana when he told her that he was the last man she’d want in her bed. It had been a warning. One he hoped to hell she took to heart, because God help her if she trusted him to be the hero.


On a curse, Nathan stalked into the vacant armory of the Order’s weapons room. He stripped off his black T-shirt and powered himself through a punishing hour of solo exercise with a pair of long daggers. The exertion woke up his muscles and bones, reminded his body of what it was trained to do.


More important, it woke up his Hunter’s mind, put his thoughts in ruthless focus on executing the patrol ahead of him in the city tonight.


Elsewhere, in the main arena of the weapons facility, he could hear Rafe, Eli, and Jax still running one another through the paces of mock combat. A fourth voice—Aric must have joined them at some point—whooped as blades clanked and sawed together, steel meeting steel.


Nathan finished his solo maneuvers and hit the shower. He hoped to be in and gone before the other warriors wrapped up their work in the adjacent room, but no sooner had he stepped under the hot spray than footsteps falling heavy on tile and lighthearted insults sounded in the locker area outside.


Elijah’s low drawl echoed over the rest of the men. “Damn, someone tell me why I thought that fifth round of hand-to-hand and blade work was a good idea.” A moment later, the brown-haired vampire swaggered naked into the showers, slanting Nathan a casual nod of greeting.


Eli took his place across from Nathan and turned on the spray, groaning as the hot water coursed over him. Blood ran in thin, diluted rivulets down Eli’s dermaglyph-covered arms and legs from wounds he’d sustained in the practice, but already the lacerations were beginning to heal.


Minor injuries were of no consequence to their kind. Cuts and contusions vanished in minutes, sometimes less time than that.


“Don’t be such a sore loser,” Aric Chase taunted. Grinning, he strode in and took a spot two down from Elijah. Rafe and Jax followed him inside, briefly acknowledging Nathan before going to separate corners of the showers. “What’s the matter, Eli,” Aric pressed, “don’t want to admit you got trounced by a trainee?”


“Trainee,” he said, smirking as he glanced at the younger warrior and sluiced water off his face. “Daywalking, smartass punk, more like it. You’re good with a weapon, I’ll give you that. But don’t think I didn’t notice you waited to take me on until after I’d already gone four rounds with two warriors who actually know how to fight.”


Aric chuckled as he soaped up and shot a look at Rafe across the room. “You know, for a Texan, he’s sure got a fragile ego. Must be that weaker, late-generation Breed blood in him.”


“The hell you say.” Eli snorted, his drawl thicker now. “Ain’t nothin’ fragile about me. Next time you ask me to spar, I’m gonna drop you on your daywalker ass before I kick it from here to the Alamo.”


Aric laughed and rinsed off the suds. “Tell you what. If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll give you a handicap next time.”


“I’ll give you a handicap right now, sunshine.” Elijah flashed his fangs at the other vampire and made a fast swat at Aric, cuffing his flaccid dick. It was a jest and a challenge—one Aric tried to return, but wasn’t quick enough.


Both laughing now, Eli grabbed him in a headlock under the water and let him sputter for a few seconds before letting him go. Before long, Jax and Rafe joined in the skirmish, the four big males wrestling around like a close-knit wolf pack.


Like the tight band of brothers they were.


Nathan watched for a moment, detached from the camaraderie. For all his expertise in stealth and combat, game play was a concept that eluded him. It went against his nature. Against the rigid discipline that had made him a consummate killer by the time he was seven years old.


He chased.


He conquered.


He destroyed.


His training as a boy in the Hunters’ cells permitted nothing less. And although his rescue at age thirteen had saved Nathan, a part of him had never come out of Dragos’s lab and likely never would.


He was the fighting dog, rescued from the squalor and violence of the betting pits and brought into a kind, loving home to live a better life.


He had been spared, given a new chance. He had parents and friends he cared for. He had fellow warriors who would die for him, as he would for them.


Yet, like the dog removed from the ring, when a hand reached out to him—in play or in comfort—it was all he could do to keep from biting it.


The distance between who he was now and what he’d been raised to be was a thin razor’s edge that he toed with meticulous discipline each and every day. No one knew the effort it took for him to seem normal. To appear that he fit in with decent people, that he belonged.


They saw what he wanted them to see, and nothing more.


No one knew him beyond what he’d allowed them to perceive.


No one took anything from him that he wasn’t prepared to give up.


No one ever had, until Jordana Gates.


His blood ran hot at the thought of her, their conversation—and the all-too-tempting memory of her body in such close proximity to his—making his veins light up with hunger.


If he’d thought the beautiful Breedmate an unwanted distraction before, crossing paths with her this morning had only confirmed what he’d been striving so hard to deny.


Jordana Gates was going to be a problem for him.


She already was. After one brief kiss and a couple of chance encounters—all told, only a few minutes’ time in her presence—she had aroused a fierce desire in him. She was impacting his focus, diminishing his concentration.


Making him burn with the need to seek her out and take what he craved.


Nathan cursed under his breath and cut off the water.


With his squad and Aric trading insults and banter along with their punches and body checks on the other side of the showers, Nathan stalked out to dry off and dress in the other room alone.


Rafe came out as Nathan was pulling on a fresh black T-shirt. The blond vampire grabbed a white towel from a folded stack and wrapped it around his lean hips. “Something going on with you that I should know about?”


“No.” Without looking over at his comrade, Nathan rubbed his towel over the damp black spikes of his hair.


“You sure about that?” Rafe walked over to the lockers next to Nathan and leaned one beefy shoulder against the metal. “Something’s bugging you. I noticed it in the meeting this morning. Your head is somewhere else.”


Christ. Nathan wasn’t accustomed to being read by someone, let alone getting called on it. He bristled at the weakness in himself but shot his cold glare at Rafe as he slammed his locker shut. “You got issues with my leadership, take it up with Commander Chase.”


Rafe blew out a curse and scowled, studying him closer. “This isn’t about the team, you asshole. I’m asking as your friend. You’ve been wound tighter than usual all day. Actually, ever since that night we went looking for Carys and ended up at Jordana Gates’s place.”


Nathan froze, a muscle ticking in his jaw as he faced Rafe’s steady, knowing blue gaze.


“You do know she’s to be mated soon, don’t you?” Rafe pressed. “Some good ol’ boy Darkhaven lawyer who’s been sniffing around her skirts practically since she came of age, according to Carys.”


Nathan growled at the reminder. “Like I said, there’s nothing going on that you need to know about. Nothing I can’t handle. And as your friend, I’m asking you to trust me on that.”


It took a long moment before Rafe finally nodded his agreement. He turned away and started getting dressed. “Any further word from D.C. today?”


“Nothing yet,” Nathan replied, glad for the change in subjects. “They’re still arranging the meetings with Crowe’s widow and exes. When I spoke with Gideon at Headquarters today, he said they expect to have the interrogations completed within a couple of days. Which is better than I can say about our mission to bring in Cassian Gray. I’ve been digging into the bastard’s records all day and coming up empty. No personal records, no past, no kin. The man’s a fucking ghost.”


Rafe grunted. “He’s got property. La Notte.”


Nathan gave a dubious shrug. “Maybe, maybe not. I hit a wall trying to chase down the title holder of the club. Records are private, sealed. Far as I could tell, there’s about half a dozen layers of lawyers and holding companies in the way.”


“That’s a lot of anonymity and subterfuge for a nightclub,” Rafe remarked. “Cage fighting is illegal, but it sure as hell doesn’t warrant that kind of paranoia.”


Nathan nodded. “That’s what Gideon said when I told him what I’d found. He’s running some hacks now, said he’ll report back as soon as he turns up any leads.”


As the Order’s longtime chief intelligence officer and resident genius, Gideon in D.C. hadn’t run field missions in many years, but the vampire was an absolute killer behind the keyboard.


“Gonna take a hell of a lot more than lawyers and corporate shields to keep Gideon from exposing Cass and whoever he’s hiding behind,” Rafe said. “There’s never been a database in existence that he couldn’t crack.”


Nathan agreed, but time spent waiting was time wasted. While Headquarters was hacking into Cass’s life from D.C., Nathan and his team needed to keep up the pressure locally.


“Tell Eli and Jax we’ll meet in fifteen for a review of tonight’s patrol. We may not know everything about Cassian Gray yet, but there’s one obvious constant in his life and that’s La Notte.” Nathan headed for the exit. “We need to start disrupting his business, rattle the hive, and see what it stirs up. And we start tonight.”


Jordana walked the exhibit floor at the museum, taking a slow measure of the entire collection and jotting notes on her tablet. Last night’s patron preview had been a means of thanking the various donors and community supporters, but it had also been a dry run for the exhibit in preparation for its public opening in just a few nights.


She perused the pieces and their placement, making minute adjustments to temperature and humidity settings, double-checking text cards and lighting levels for each of the displays.


Anything to keep her mind from straying to her unsettling encounter with Nathan earlier that morning.


He’d been crude and confrontational. Impolite and far too bold. He was terrifying, not because of his profession or his past but because of the way he seemed to see straight into her soul and lay her bare.


He was dangerous for so many reasons.


And yet she couldn’t stop thinking about the things he said to her. She couldn’t stop thinking about the way he made her feel. Her pulse quickened at the memory of being alone with Nathan in close quarters.


He hadn’t even touched her, yet her body had thrummed with the need to feel his hands on her.


Have you ever kissed Elliott Bentley-Squire the way you kissed me?


Nathan’s words came back to her in a heated rush, making the ache return again now. She tried to will it away, but it was already taking root deep inside her. In truth, it had never fully ebbed in all the hours since she’d seen Nathan at the mansion.


Has he ever made your cheeks flame just by looking at you, or made your pulse beat like a hammer in your veins because of the things you wish he’d do to you?


Jordana idly brought her free hand up to her lips, finding it all too easy to imagine it was Nathan’s mouth brushing against hers, not the tips of her suddenly trembling fingers. He had been right about that too—she didn’t regret kissing him. Not even after the things he said to her today.


Not even after the mortifying things she’d admitted to him about her relationship with Elliott and her lack of experience in general.


God, why had she told him that? What had possessed her to admit so much to him with so little provocation? Nathan knew more about her now than anyone besides her best friend. What more might she be willing to tell him—or willing to do—if she ever saw him again?


I’m the last kind of man you should want in your life … or in your bed.

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