She didn’t doubt that for a minute, yet her blood still throbbed in her veins, kindling the knot of heat that pulsed in her core. Her nape tingled beneath the loose chignon of her upswept hair, the pulse points in her neck echoing in her ears with each heavy beat of her heart. Warmth spread down her throat and across the tops of her breasts, making her light silk blouse feel as hot and confining as a winter sweater.


“Hello? Earth to Jordana.” Carys’s voice broke into Jordana’s thoughts like a splash of cold water. “Did you hear a word I said?”


“Sorry,” Jordana blurted. “I was just finishing a note on this display.”


Carys cocked her head and narrowed her eyes slightly, as if she didn’t quite buy the excuse. “I’ve got the temps and humidity readings you asked for on the French tapestry displays.” She tapped her tablet screen and sent the data to Jordana’s device.


Jordana scanned the report and nodded her approval. “This looks good, Carys, thank you. I would like to see the lighting muted a bit on the Beauvais pastoral piece. I noticed last night that we were losing some of the more subtle colors of the weaving.”


“Okay,” Carys replied. “Are you still rethinking the placement of the Roman mosaics?”


Jordana glanced over to the display of ancient tiles encased in a multi-tiered tower of Plexiglas in the center of the exhibit. She considered for a moment, then gave a nod. “Yes, let’s have that switched with something else. Sleeping Endymion would be a better focal point for that section of the exhibit, don’t you think?”


Carys smiled. “Your favorite piece. Sure, I think it’s a great idea.”


They walked over to the clear case that housed the Italian sculpture that was more than three hundred years old. The terra cotta depiction of the mortal shepherd Endymion reposed in eternal slumber where he waited for his lover, the lunar goddess Selene, had enchanted Jordana from the moment she first saw it. Donated anonymously, the sculpture had been part of the museum’s permanent collection for at least two decades.


It wasn’t the most valuable, or even among the most historically important pieces Jordana had known. But the simple beauty of the work, and the myth it represented, never failed to move something deep inside her.


Jordana stared into the display at the handsome mortal who slept forever under the delicate sliver of a crescent moon. Just looking at the piece made a sadness swell in her chest. She glanced down at the inside of her left wrist, where she bore a small scarlet birthmark in the shape of a crescent moon with a teardrop falling into its cradle.


Her Breedmate mark.


Unlike Endymion, she wasn’t fully mortal. She, like the other half-human females born with the teardrop-and-crescent-moon symbol somewhere on their bodies, could live agelessly once blood-bonded with one of the Breed.


Such an incredible gift, to entwine two lives forever. And yet it could also be an inescapable shackle.


“Can you imagine sleeping through your entire existence?” Jordana murmured as Carys came to stand beside her, looking at Cornacchini’s sculpture. “Have you ever felt as though your life were taking place around you, outside of you? That everything was moving faster than you could catch it—as if you were asleep and anchored to the ground like Endymion?”


“No,” Carys replied, zero hesitation. “If I want something, I reach for it. I don’t let anything stop me.”


Her careful tone drew Jordana’s gaze to her. “Never?”


“Never.”


Jordana gave a mild nod. “It’s different for you, Carys. You’re Breed. You didn’t grow up in the Darkhavens, or with a father who’s been drumming into your head since you were a child that he expected you to be blood-bonded to a suitable mate by the time you were twenty-five.”


“True,” Carys said around a laugh. “If my father had his way, he’d have chained me to the mansion banister until I was twice that age. Life is meant to be lived, Jordana. And we only get one shot at it, whether we’re Breedmate, Breed, or basic Homo sapiens.”


Jordana smiled at her friend, loving how sure Carys always seemed about what she wanted and where she was heading. “I wish I had your bravery. You’ve never been afraid to leap, no matter how deep or dark the crevasse beneath you.”


Carys shrugged, grinning. “It’s only deep and dark if you pause first to look down. Besides, you’ve got your own kind of bravery, Jordana. I mean, look what you’re doing here with the exhibit.”


Jordana took in the collection she was so proud of, all the pieces she had lovingly, painstakingly, curated one by one. It was her joy, and she threw herself into her work wholeheartedly.


While she’d made a rewarding, promising career for herself, sometimes she wondered if her father and Elliott would both be happier if she’d spent her time in philanthropic or social pursuits like most of the other young Breedmates of the area Darkhavens.


But she’d been a disappointment to them there too. She wasn’t like most other Breedmates, no matter how much she or anyone else wished she were. Hell, she wasn’t even sure what her unique ESP ability might be, a gift most women like her came into by puberty or earlier.


Jordana pulled her thoughts back to the exhibit and Carys’s bolstering praise.


“This is all your vision, your work,” her friend pointed out. “No one handed this project to you—you wanted it, so you went after it and you made it happen.”


“That’s different,” Jordana demurred. Her gaze drifted back to the sculpture under the glass. “What if you don’t know what you want? What if you wake up one day and realize that you never had a clue what you wanted? That someone had always been telling you what you needed or what was expected, and now all you want to do is close your eyes again and pretend you’re still sleeping?”


Carys’s bright blue gaze softened. “You want me to tell you what I think, honestly?”


“Yes.” Jordana nodded. “Tell me, please.”


“I think you know what you don’t want. And I think that’s what you’re afraid to admit to anyone, even to yourself.”


Jordana blew out a slow sigh as she glanced away. “That’s what Nathan said to me too. Well, not in so many words. He was far less polite about it.”


“Nathan,” Carys said. “So you did see him at the mansion this morning.”


Hearing the obvious lack of surprise in her friend’s voice, Jordana shot a frown at her. “You knew?”


Carys smiled, devilish. “I thought you might have. You came back with the packing tape looking kind of flushed and out of breath. I didn’t think it was because you’d been running around in circles down in the command center. Even though my directions to the supply room might’ve gotten you a bit turned around …”


Jordana’s eyes widened. “You did give me bad instructions! I knew it. I ended up so lost, I might never have found my way back.”


Carys grinned. “Civilians don’t go unnoticed on the warriors’ turf for long. I knew someone would help you find your way.”


“I can’t believe you deliberately sent me down there like that,” Jordana said, appalled but not angry. “You couldn’t possibly have been hoping I’d run into him?”


“I saw the way you looked at Nathan last night at the patrons’ reception. And I saw the way he looked at you. I found it … interesting. So I decided to take a little chance.” She arched a brow at Jordana. “I took a leap, thinking maybe you might need help taking one too.”


“With him?” Jordana scoffed. “Please. He’s the rudest man I’ve ever met. He has no social skills whatsoever. He’s coarse and cold and menacing.”


“And yet you kissed him a few nights ago.”


She hardly needed the reminder. Jordana felt her forehead crease harder with her deepening scowl. She’d never been particularly comfortable in her own skin, had felt practically all her life that she was different somehow. That she was merely pretending so hard to be normal—to be the good daughter, the exemplary woman, the pleasant Breedmate—goals that seemed always just out of her reach.


No matter how hard she strived to be what everyone around her expected, inside she felt she was only going through the motions. Acting, not living.


Pretending to be something she wasn’t and maybe never could be.


She’d never felt that lack so markedly as she did in Nathan’s company. He had the uncanny ability to strip her bare, to pare her down to her bones with just a glance. He had the unnerving power to unravel the tentative constructs of her life with just one uninvited touch.


“He scares me, Carys. When Nathan looks at me, I feel as if he’s seeing all my flaws, every crack in who I am. When I’m near him, it’s as though I’m standing naked in the middle of a raging storm. He makes me feel as if I’m on the steepest cliff, about to lose my footing. That if I step too close to him, I might never get back on solid ground.”


Carys stared at her. “And this is a bad thing, the way you see it?”


“Yes, it’s bad. It’s the worst thing,” Jordana said, uncertain who she needed to convince more: her friend or herself. “I’ll be better off—safer—if I stay far away from Nathan.”


“Maybe you’re right,” Carys replied after a long moment. “It would be safer for you if you steer clear of him.”


“Yes,” Jordana said, pushing out the breath she’d been holding. Having her best friend’s agreement was just the confirmation she needed. “I’m glad you understand.”


“Oh, believe me, I do,” Carys said. Her lips curved into a wry smile. “Because what you just described? That’s how Rune made me feel from the moment we first met. I stepped off that cliff with him, and so far, I haven’t missed solid ground beneath me for so much as a second.”


7


CASSIAN GRAY STEPPED OUT OF A TAXI AND INTO THE LATE-AFTERNOON sunlight on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston’s Back Bay. He ambled up the street at a casual pace, even though daytime was ending in less than two hours and he had every reason to hustle his ass to where he was going.


This close to dusk, it was a risk for him to be out and about. Although he hadn’t been in touch with anyone at La Notte in a couple of days, he had no doubt the Order was on his trail. He’d suspected his cover had been blown from the instant one of their warriors—an errant comrade-turned-rebel-leader named Kellan Archer—had body-blocked him during a minor confrontation in the club.


Cassian didn’t know what the Breed male’s unique psychic talent might be, but something told him the warrior’s touch had outed Cass as being other than human.


That bit of shitty luck had nearly been enough to make Cass cut and run from the life he’d made for himself in Boston, but it was the more recent bout of bad news—the death of Reginald Crowe—that had Cass skulking around the city and constantly looking over his shoulder like the fugitive he truly was.


Crowe’s attempt to disrupt the Global Nations Council summit several nights ago had made headlines all over the world. So had his slaying at the hands of the Order. As much as Cass dreaded the possibility of being captured for interrogation by Lucan and his warriors, there was another, equally lethal army of soldiers that he hoped to elude.


His Atlantean kinsmen.


Cass had been on the run from them for far longer than he had from the Order. Hiding in plain sight had worked well enough all these years, and it was that same method of concealment he employed now, as he made his way to an important appointment in the city.


As he strolled nonchalantly by a coffee shop window on the avenue, he caught his reflection and smiled to himself at how different he looked. His short crown of hair was dyed a nondescript brown and combed into an obedient side part. Dark sunglasses masked his eyes.


He’d traded his usual public camouflage of leather and metal for thrift store denim and a faded Red Sox logo T-shirt that had probably started showing its wear a decade ago. Scuffed loafers covered his feet, their soles so thin he could feel every pit and bump in the concrete of the sidewalk as he made his way toward the designated meeting spot.


He looked more than passably pedestrian, hardly distinguishable from any other civilian man in his thirties. To anyone seeing him on the street today, Cass was unremarkable, forgettable. Just as he’d intended.


No one would think that he and the platinum-haired, black-leather-clad Goth nightmare proprietor of La Notte were one and the same.


Nor would any of the humans around him on this stretch of crowded pavement ever guess that he was an immortal on the north side of a thousand years old.


Only his fellow Atlanteans might sense he was one of them, and he’d been careful to keep his head down in the time since he’d left their realm and come to Boston. He’d constructed an all-new identity, a facade he’d carefully maintained for twenty-some years, from his unsavory occupation and all the underworld connections that went along with it, to his offputting appearance and the presumed kink of his carnal proclivities.


Cassian Gray, proprietor of La Notte, was a mask he’d perfected over a long period of time. Keeping his ear to the ground, his fingers busy greasing palms and pulling various strings in the shadowy underbelly of the city were cautious necessities of his new life.


He’d had to be cautious, because he was a wanted man. A hated man. A defector.


A traitor to his queen.


He’d taken something of great value to her when he fled, and her wrath knew no limits. She’d called for his death. Then again, he’d given her little choice. His death was the only hope she had of ever getting her hands on the precious treasure he stole away from her.

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