If Cassian had anything to say about it, not even his death would assure the queen of that goal.


He figured it was only a matter of time before someone caught up to him—his immortal comrades or the Order’s warriors. There was nowhere completely safe for him now, and so long as he stayed in Boston, his presence alone posed an added risk to the very thing he’d worked so hard to shield and protect.


Which was the reason for his clandestine appointment today. He needed further assurances that his interests would continue to be looked after, even if he was gone from the picture altogether.


Cassian rounded a corner at the end of the block and made his way onto Newbury Street. He headed into a swanky sim lounge, bypassing the hostess before she could tell him what the current offerings were in each of the club’s experience rooms. Cass wasn’t there to spend time or money playing in the virtual reality realm with tourists looking to become spaceship captains or fairy-tale creatures at the rate of a couple hundred an hour.


He walked to the back of the club as had been arranged earlier that day. The individual he’d come to meet was already waiting in one of the private VIP rooms.


Garbed from head to toe in dark, UV-protective clothing, the Breed male waited with his driver, a human—hired help, by the anxious look of him. No doubt the driver’s tip would come in the currency of a mind scrub once the meeting was concluded and his fare was delivered safely back to his home elsewhere in the city.


Cassian strolled in and faced the vampire’s obscured form. “My old friend,” he said, extending his hand to the vampire who knew all his secrets and had kept them faithfully. “Thank you for agreeing to meet me on such short notice.”


“What do you think?” Carys spread her arms wide and gestured around her to the display of French tapestries when Jordana sought her out a few hours later, as the museum was closing for the day. “I had the guys mix the halogens with a few low-watt LEDs. If you think it’s too dark now—”


“No.” Jordana shook her head. “No, it’s perfect like this. Good work.”


Carys beamed. “Thanks. I also picked up the interior signage from the printer. It’s in your office. They said they’ll deliver the digital placards and exterior banners in the morning.”


“Excellent. I have a placement mock-up almost finished for all of the banners and digital signs. I know it’s getting late, but it shouldn’t take me too long to wrap up. You want to wait for me? We can grab some carryout from the Thai place on the way home and a bottle of wine. Seems like we should do something to celebrate your moving in today, right?”


“Oh,” Carys said slowly, her expression wilting in apology. “Jordana, I’m sorry. I made plans with Rune earlier this week that I’d be at the club. He’s got a big match tonight and I want to see him before he goes into the cages. I hate watching him fight, but I can’t bear to not be there, you know?”


Jordana gave a mild shrug. “Sure, I understand. You should be there.”


“Come with me instead. We can celebrate and have dinner there.”


“No. That’s okay.” Jordana was disappointed, but she knew how Carys worried herself sick when Rune was in the cages, despite the fact that the brutal Breed fighter had never lost a match.


Jordana could hardly stomach the fights either. And she hated to support an establishment whose proprietor made his living off the spilled blood and broken bones of others. Besides, it wasn’t as if she didn’t have plenty of work to keep her busy anyway.


“You go on and be with Rune tonight,” she said. “We can celebrate another time.”


Carys frowned. “Are you sure?”


“Positive. I want to tie up a few loose ends before I head out anyway. I’ll order takeout instead and bring home the leftovers for you in case you’re hungry when you get in.”


“Thank you.” Carys pulled her into a quick, warm hug. “I’ll see you later, then. And when we do go out to celebrate, it’s my treat. Deal?”


Jordana nodded. “Okay. It’s a deal.”


She went back to work as Carys gathered her things and left the museum. Two hours later, Jordana had finished the signage map for the exhibit and eaten half a container of veggie pad Thai, stowing the rest in the department refrigerator down the hall. The museum was quiet, everyone but her and the twenty-four-hour security guard on post in the lobby having long since left the building.


Jordana saved the signage map on her computer and sent a copy to Carys’s tablet for the morning. She got up to stretch her legs and walk to the restroom before she would have to make the drive home across town. When she returned to her desk, she had a voicemail from Elliott.


He didn’t sound happy that she was working late again. “Apparently, I’ve missed you most of the day, darling. Did you get the message I left on your mobile a few hours ago?”


Shit. She’d been so busy, she hadn’t bothered to check the damn thing.


“I want you to call me as soon as you get home tonight, Jordana. I want to know that you’re safe.” He cleared his throat, and she thought she heard irritation in his tone. “When I didn’t hear from you today, I called your building and spoke with Seamus. Maybe you can tell me how it is that I had to find out from your doorman that Carys Chase has moved into your apart—”


Jordana disconnected from the message on a furious curse. What the hell was Elliott doing checking up on her behind her back?


She was half tempted to return his call right now and ask him that herself. But she knew if she did, she might also say something she could never take back.


Angry now, she deleted the voicemail and closed up her office for the night.


She took the elevator down to the lobby, said good-bye to Lou behind the reception desk, and walked out to the parking lot.


Hers was the only vehicle there, the pale silver compact car gleaming under the overhead lamps at the far end of the pavement. Jordana got halfway across the lot before she remembered the Thai food in the refrigerator upstairs.


“Dammit.”


She turned to go back and froze. A pair of eyes was trained on her in the dark; she could feel it.


There—a shadow near the building.


It skulked away quickly when she peered in its direction, though not soon enough to escape her notice. Someone was there, watching her. Waiting for her?


The hairs on her nape rose in a wave. Fear shot down her spine like a cold electrical current. Her heart raced, palms going damp.


Someone was there.


Hiding, but not gone.


Watching her, even now.


Who was it?


What did they want?


She wasn’t about to go back to the building and find out. Carys’s leftovers weren’t going anywhere tonight.


As for Jordana, the idea of going home alone to an empty apartment while her pulse was still jackhammering in fear didn’t sound very appealing. Of course, she could always call Elliott. He’d come over in a moment’s notice if she asked it of him. But she didn’t want Elliott.


The sad fact was, she never had wanted him.


And he deserved to know that.


But that was a problem she’d have to deal with soon enough.


Right now, Jordana just wanted to make it to her vehicle in one piece. She needed to go somewhere public, somewhere she knew she’d be safe among friends.


She hurried across the dark pavement and hopped in her car, then peeled out of the parking lot.


Her penthouse was just a few blocks away from the museum, but Jordana passed her building and kept on going, heading deeper into the city, to La Notte.


8


NATHAN LED HIS TEAM INTO CASSIAN GRAY’S CLUB AT THE height of the evening’s most lucrative hour. The dance floor and bar on street level were jammed with people who’d shelled out the steep cover charge just to get in, but the real commerce—Cass’s bread and butter—was taking place in the cages below.


With fearful glances and anxious murmurs rising in their wake, the heavily armed patrol squad cut a path through the crowd upstairs and headed down to La Notte’s arena.


The fights, and the sizable bets that accompanied them, were already well under way. Rune always drew the largest numbers, and tonight appeared to be no exception. The immense, dark-haired Breed male was matched against an opponent almost his equal in size and menace.


At six and a half feet tall and 300-plus pounds apiece, the two vampires dressed in little more than leather breeches and locked in brutal hand-to-hand combat inside the cage was a sight few humans would ever see in their lifetimes.


So much the better that the Breed-on-Breed blood sport could be enjoyed from the perceived safety of the club surrounding the steel-reinforced arena.


The crowd gasped as Rune drove a hard right hook into his opponent’s jaw. Bone cracked and blood spewed from the vampire’s slack mouth.


The blow was punishing, catastrophic, given that each fighter wore titanium-spiked, fingerless leather gloves in the ring. The metal was meant to increase the savagery of the contest, but it also served to discourage the fighters from doping their performance with excessive feeding before a match.


If a Breed pushed himself into Bloodlust—the addiction only a rare few had ever beaten—the titanium of his opponent’s knuckle spikes would enter his diseased bloodstream and kill the vampire faster than any pounding he might suffer in the cages.


With the spectators cheering wildly, Rune’s opponent sank down onto his knees on a low howl of anguish. Nathan assessed the damage with a shrewd assassin’s eye. Another strike like the last one and Rune’s kill count would increase along with the stakes on him at the cashier.


Rune didn’t seem interested in beefing up his record or his worth. The big male stood back, allowing the other vampire the choice to either hit the mercy button on the cage and deliver Rune a jolt of electricity to the U-shaped steel collar each fighter wore around his neck or continue the match without the benefit of the handicap. Shouts of disapproval traveled the crowd near the cages as their champion refused to end the bout with an easy, but unnecessary, kill.


As the fight resumed, Nathan gestured to his squad to begin clearing the place out. It took only moments—and the flash of fangs from a group of combat-ready Order members—to send the bulk of the club’s clientele in the direction of the nearest exits.


But the intrusion also got the swift attention of La Notte’s security staff. Nathan and his men played rough with them tonight, no need to pretend they weren’t there to stir things up and make their presence known.


Elijah, Jax, and Rafe bounced a few Breed guards into the brick walls of the place, while Nathan soon found himself going hand to hand with a couple of the other fighters employed by Cassian Gray.


He disabled both in seconds, stopping just short of killing them. He wheeled around to face yet another of Cass’s fighters, but Syn made no move to take him on. Just shy of Nathan or Rune’s size, and handsome to the point of being pretty, the blond Breed male held his own impressive record in the cages. But he seemed to know better than to invite further problems with Nathan. All around them, the club was emptying out.


“Tell your boss we’re gonna come back every night and toss this place until we hear from him,” Nathan warned. “The longer he takes, harder the Order’s gonna push.”


Syn merely stared, unfazed, watching the arena empty further. Only the drunks and diehard fight fans remained now, a clot of about forty people still riveted to the match winding down in the cage.


Nathan stared into that crowd and felt his veins go tight as his gaze locked on to a pair of young women in the front row of the straggling spectators.


Holy hell.


Carys was easy enough to spot. Her loose caramel waves bounced around the shoulders of her form-fitted black sweater as she cheered on her man, dark denim hugging her backside. She jumped up and down on high-heeled black boots, clapping her hands and whistling as the clock ran out and Rune’s victory was assured.


The other female was a surprise Nathan neither wanted nor needed tonight.


With her back to him, Jordana Gates stood beside Carys, dressed by contrast in a soft gray pencil skirt and pale pink silk blouse. Her long white-blond hair was gathered into some kind of knotted updo at her nape.


Jesus, she looked like she belonged in a boardroom meeting uptown, not a blood match down in the cages of Boston’s least reputable club.


Except Jordana seemed as rapt as Carys with the match taking place tonight. Neither woman paid any attention as Nathan left Syn standing behind him and made his way toward the pair. He smelled liquor on them even before he was halfway across the room. And now he noticed that the women were less than steady on their feet, even Jordana in her conservative pumps.


When the bell on the match rang out, Carys and Jordana cheered Rune’s name along with the handful of spectators around them. Nathan stalked forward, idly aware that Rune had peeled off his gloves and collar in order to catch Carys as she threw open the cage door and flew into his arms.


He felt Rune’s dark gaze light on him in disapproval for the Order’s interruption of the night’s commerce, but Nathan’s focus was trained elsewhere now.


Jordana went still suddenly, then slowly turned around. Her gaze collided with Nathan’s glower, a connection he felt like a lightning strike that sent heat straight to his groin.


If he’d thought Jordana looked suited for a board meeting from behind, facing her now threw that lame comparison out the window. Her blouse was carelessly untucked in front, the first three buttons unfastened, creating a tempting plunge of bare flesh that ended just between the perfect swell of her breasts.


Her skin there was flushed, a pretty rose hue that traveled up her throat and into her cheeks now as well. He couldn’t help imagining her blood rushing through those delicate capillaries. Hell, he could almost taste it. His mouth watered at the thought, making his fangs punch out of his gums.

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