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"Me," Mira said, feeling like a pawn.


"We had to act quickly," Kellan explained. "I didn't know Ackmeyer was expecting an escort detail from the Order. It was a daytime op, and with roughly ninety-nine percent of the Order's warriors being strictly night patrol - "


"Who gave you the intel?"


Kellan stared at her. "We have our sources around the city."


"Rooster," she guessed, then barked out a humorless laugh when he didn't deny it.


"The guy is garbage," Kellan admitted, "but he serves his purpose."


"Did you know he was the reason I was assigned to escort duty with Ackmeyer?" She pursed her lips, gave a vague shake of her head. "It was punishment from Lucan, for skewering the little redheaded bastard down in the cage arena at La Notte. I should've aimed for his heart."


Kellan arched a brow. "You really hate him."


"I hate every rebel," she said sharply. "I hate them for what they took from me."


Kellan met and held her simmering stare. When he finally spoke, his voice was sober, deep with regret but not apology. "And now you count me in that number too."


"I never wanted us to be enemies, Kellan. You've done that, not me. You're making certain of it right now, and only you can change that fact."


She watched him, waited for him to tell her it was all a terrible mistake and he would fix it. That he loved her, still, and somehow, together, they would find a way through this dark trap that was closing in on them with sharp, lethal teeth.


But he didn't say any of those things.


"I'll ask you to remember what I said about trying to escape or attempting to interfere with my operation. I don't want this to be any harder on you than it already is, Mira."


She steeled herself to the remorse in his voice, focusing instead on the fact that nothing she'd said had convinced him to change his mind. He was lost to her, as much now as he had been eight years ago.


"Spare me your pity, Bowman. I don't need it. I don't need anything from you."


He looked at her for a long moment, then conceded with a vague nod and left her alone in his room while he stepped out and summoned his rebel troops for a strategy meeting.


It was after midnight and no one had heard from Mira. Word out of D.C. was Lucan was pissed over her neglect to check in from her assignment, but when Nathan heard she was out of contact all day, he'd a cold suspicion that something was terribly wrong. Which was why he had assembled his team that same night and headed to rural western Massachusetts, where Jeremy Ackmeyer lived.


What they'd found at the reclusive scientist's home was a whole lot of bad news and trouble.


The moonlit lawn was scarred with deep tire gouges and shattered headlight glass. Burned rubber had left the paved driveway streaked with black. Half a dozen spent casings littered the ground from what Nathan could only guess was Mira's Order-issued 9-mm.


No sign of her or her vehicle.


No sign of Jeremy Ackmeyer.


"Nothing's tossed inside, but we do have signs of a struggle," Elijah drawled. His face was grave in the darkness as he and Jax rounded the front of the house and approached Nathan near the open garage bay. "Whoever they were, these guys knew exactly what they came for, and they wasted no time getting the hell out once they had it."


"And now they have Mira." Nathan's voice betrayed none of the fury that seethed inside him at the thought of one of the Order's own having fallen into apparent enemy hands. That it was Mira, a female as close to him as any family could be, made his blood run cold and quick in veins.


"Hey, Captain," Rafe called to him grimly from across the side lawn, where the worst of the skirmish seemed to have taken place. "You'd better have a look at this."


Nathan walked over, his nostrils filling with the chemical stench of leaked fuel and vehicle fluids. Another scent drifted on the warm night air too - faint and fading, the lily-sweet perfume of Mira's blood.


Small droplets stained the grass and torn-up ground. Nathan hunkered down on the fouled lawn, brushed his fingers over the drying splatters of the Breedmate warrior's blood at his feet. Mira had been injured, but he would bet all he was that she hadn't gone down without a fight.


"She must've dropped this in the scuffle," Rafe said, holding a slender, hammered-metal object out to Nathan.


He didn't have to look to know what it was.


One of Mira's treasured blades.


Nathan took the hand-tooled dagger from Rafe's grasp. The carved hilt was rough against his fingertips. He turned it over in his palm, reading the words that graced each side of the intricately crafted weapon: Faith. Courage.


He knew Mira had no shortage of the latter. As for the other, he was certainly no fair judge of that. Nathan operated on logic and strength, skills he'd mastered as a child being reared in a madman's assassin ranks. Faith was as elusive to him as magic. In his worldview, it simply did not exist.


But he knew hope. And through his cool logic, he knew a colder fury. He felt it build inside him as he slid Mira's beloved dagger into his weapons belt.


She would survive; he knew that. She would fight the bastards who took her today - whoever they were, whatever their reasons - and her courage would keep her alive, long enough for the Order to reach her.


And when they did, Nathan would see to it that whoever took her suffered.


Before he made them pay for this day with their miserable lives.


Chapter Eight


KELLAN PACED THE MAIN CHAMBER OF THE REBEL BUNKER, feeling a twitch in his bones that told him dawn was rising outside the thick concrete walls. His crew dispersed hours ago, gone about their daily duties of replenishing the camp's food stores, refueling vehicles, tending to weaponry and general maintenance of the base's solar power panels and grounds.


Morning for their Breed commander usually meant a couple of hours of undisturbed shut-eye, but Kellan would get no sleep today. Not with Mira stowed away in his quarters.


His blood was still running hot from his confrontation with her . . . to say nothing of the kiss that had been unplanned but unstoppable. A kiss his libido was all too eager to repeat. And Kellan knew that if he let himself get that close to her again - if he let himself touch her, even in some small way - it would be only a matter of time before he found a way to get her naked beneath him.


Bad, bad idea.


But damn, did the thought of it make everything male inside him stand at full attention.


He hadn't returned to his room all night. No, he'd conveniently called rank and sent Candice in his place. She'd looked in on Mira a few times during the evening, made sure she had water and something to eat, took her to the bunker latrine the humans shared so she could use the toilet and shower. Candice had reported back that Mira seemed cooperative enough, but her eyes never stopped taking stock of her surroundings, studying every corner of the place as Candice led her through the fortress at gunpoint.


God, it killed him to have to treat Mira like this, to drag her into the crossfire of a battle he'd never wanted to fight. One he dreaded he might not survive in the end, let alone win. And now the woman who'd once mattered to him more than anything was sitting behind the locked door of his chamber, hating him. Wishing him dead for good this time.


As far as fucked-up scenarios went, he couldn't imagine how things could possibly get any worse.


There was a weak part of him that wanted nothing more than to go to her now and ask her forgiveness. Try to make her understand that this was not what he wanted. It was, in fact, the very thing he'd wanted to avoid. All these years, all this time, of distancing himself from everyone who'd ever cared about him, everyone he'd ever loved.


But he hadn't gone far enough.


He couldn't outrun fate, and now here it was, striking him hard across the face.


Kellan swore viciously under his breath and stalked out of the main room of the rebel bunker. He resisted the temptation to seek Mira out, instead turning his boots in the direction of the holding cell deep in the bowels of the old fortress.


Since he was stoked up and aggressive, he couldn't think of a better time to pay a visit to the individual who truly deserved some of his menace. Jeremy Ackmeyer sat in the dank darkness of a ten-by-ten-foot cube of windowless concrete block. A heavy iron grate was secured with a key lock, the cell's bars rusted from age but impenetrable. Not that Ackmeyer seemed intent to try them.


Thin and wiry, a gangly young man dressed in sagging jeans and a dated plaid button-down shirt, Jeremy Ackmeyer stood motionless in the center of his prison. Long, mousy-brown hair drooped onto his forehead and over his thick glasses. Ackmeyer's head was slumped low, slender arms wrapped around himself, hands tucked in close. He glanced up warily but said nothing as Kellan approached the bars.


The tray of food Candice had brought him hours ago lay untouched on the cell's concrete bench. Of course, calling the tin-canned MRE slop food was probably a stretch. Not that Kellan or his kind had any experience with human dietary preferences.


"What's the matter, Ackmeyer? Rebel menu choices not to your liking?" Kellan's low voice echoed off the walls of the place, dark with animosity. "Maybe your tastes are a little too rich for such common fare."


The human's eyes blinked once behind the distorting lenses of his glasses. He swallowed hard, larynx bobbing. "I'm not hungry. I'd like to get out of this cell. It reeks of mildew and there is black mold growing in the corner."


Kellan smirked. "I'll fire the housekeeper immediately."


"It's terribly unhealthy. Toxic, in fact," Ackmeyer went on, seeming more frightened than arrogant. He shifted on his feet, his movements awkward, anxious. Less the diabolical scientist than a nervous, confused child. "It's airborne poison. Do you realize the spores reproduce exponentially by the millions? Deadly dangerous spores that you and I are breathing into our lungs right this very second. So, please . . . if you would, unlock this cell and let me out."


Kellan stared, incredulous that the man seemed more terrified of microscopic bacteria than the other, more obvious threat facing him now. If it was an act, the guy was a first-rate player. "You're not going anywhere until I say so. Which means you'll have to either hold your breath or learn to make quick peace with your neuroses."


Ackmeyer shrank back at Kellan's clipped tone. He fidgeted with the hem of his untucked shirt, his thin brows pulled into a frown. "What about the woman?"


"What about her?" Kellan growled.


"She was at my house when everything happened. I heard her calling to me just before I was knocked unconscious." He glanced up, brown eyes soft with worried regard. "Is she . . . okay?"


"She is none of your concern." Kellan approached closer to the iron grate, peering at Ackmeyer through the bars. He barked a laugh, caustic and rough in the quiet of the bunker. "You'd like me to think you care about another person, wouldn't you? If you're looking for mercy, you won't get any from me."


Ackmeyer blinked rapidly, gave a vague shake of his head. "You are free to feel however you wish. Since the attack occurred at my home, I assume this has to do with me, not the woman."


"A brilliant observation," Kellan snarled. "Care to venture a guess as to why you now find yourself sitting in front of me in a locked, mold-riddled cell inside this rebel bunker?"


Ackmeyer slowly met his gaze, but a tremble shook his scrawny body. "I suspect you plan to either ransom me or kill me."


"I'm not looking to get rich off the blood of another man," Kellan replied coolly. "Are you?"


"No." Ackmeyer's answer was instant, filled with conviction. "No, I would never do that. Life is precious - "


Kellan's coarse scoff cut his words short. "So long as that life doesn't belong to one of the Breed, right?"


He knew his eyes were on fire. The amber heat of his contempt for this human's destructive genius was bleeding into his vision, turning his world red as he glared through the thick metal cage - the meager barrier that separated Kellan from lashing out at the scientist with fists and fangs.


Ackmeyer saw that threat full and real now. He backed farther into the cell, realizing if only just in that moment exactly what he was dealing with here. "I-I don't know what you're talking about, I swear!"


"No?" Kellan's voice was a gravel-filled snarl. "I have evidence to prove otherwise."


The human shook his head frantically. "You're mistaken! I'm a man of science. I respect all life as the natural miracle it is."


Kellan gave a dark chuckle. "Even an abomination like me, like my kind?"


"Y-yes," Ackmeyer sputtered, then suddenly realized what he'd said. "I mean no! That's not what I was trying to say, I - I just mean to say that there is something very wrong here. Whatever offense you think I've committed against you, I swear I'm innocent. There's been some kind of mistake. A terrible mistake . . ."


As much as he wanted to dismiss the human's protests as the desperate denials of a cold, profiteering killer, something unsettling began to unfurl within Kellan's gut. Something that put him on the edge of a deeply disturbing realization.


That something was an earnestness that made him peer at Jeremy Ackmeyer a bit closer, searching for some trace of the lie he was certain had to be there.


With a flick of his mind's power, Kellan released the lock on the barred door of the cell and mentally pushed the metal grate open. Ackmeyer cowered, scuttling back toward the far wall until his rail-thin spine was up against the mold-streaked concrete blocks. Kellan strode inside the dank cell, crowding the human. Moving forward until he loomed over him.

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