Page 17

"What's going on?" Kellan demanded. "Where is he?"

"I don't know!" Nina shook her head, indigo hair tossing, sending the dozens of tiny metal loops swinging in her pierced earlobes. She was sobbing now. "Vince is gone. He took the van. He's got Ackmeyer with him."

Although Mira tried to stay in the background, she couldn't bite back her gasp of alarm. Even Kellan seemed to take the news with no small amount of shock. He went still for an instant, silent. Then seemed to shake it off like the leader he now was.

"Where?" His voice was a roll of thunder, dark and lethal, fully Breed. He stepped out into the corridor. "Where did he take him?"

"I don't know," Nina cried. "But Chaz and Candice tried to stop him. Oh, God . . . he killed Chaz. He's dead, Bowman. Vince slit his throat - "

"Jesus Christ," Kellan muttered. His shoulders slumped a bit, but when he spoke, his voice was level with cold command. "When did this happen? How long has the bastard been gone?"

Nina shook her head. "I don't know. A little while ago, not long. He killed Chaz, then he stole the van and took off."

Mira closed her eyes, absorbing the weight of all she was hearing. Jeremy Ackmeyer in the hands of a cold-blooded killer. Kellan betrayed by one of his own. A death among the ranks of his comrades.

"And Candice," Nina went on. She sucked in a hitching breath, then dissolved into more tears. "Vince stabbed her too. Doc's trying to take care of her, but she's bleeding really bad. He says the blade nicked an artery in her thigh. He can't get it to stop."

Kellan's answering curse was quiet but savage. He swung a look over his shoulder at Mira, somewhere between misery and apology. Mira's own guilt gnawed at her with sharp teeth. All of this violence and betrayal had happened while she and Kellan were making love.

Her body was still humming from the pleasure of Kellan's touch, but her chest was heavy with the knowledge that one life had been cut short today, another stolen away with Vince's escape. If anything happened to Candice now, Mira could see in Kellan's tormented eyes that he would never forgive himself.

She gave him a faint nod, understanding that whatever they'd shared in the privacy of his bed for the past few hours was over now. He wasn't hers in this moment; he belonged to them. To his comrades. His friends.

"They need you," Mira said quietly, meant for his ears alone. "Go to them."

Kellan took off like a shot, Nina trailing after him at a run.

Kellan didn't have to guess where Doc was treating Candice. The olfactory blast of spilled fresh red cells led him like a beacon to the cell where Ackmeyer had been held.

Jesus Christ.

Blood was everywhere. Pooling almost black under the crumpled slump of Chaz's unmoving body inside the opened cage. Splattered on the cement block walls. Smeared in a chaotic path by Vince's boots and Jeremy Ackmeyer's stumbling feet as he'd obviously been dragged away. And then there was Candice.

Lying supine inside the cell, arms splayed out at her sides, she was covered in blood from the front of her T-shirt down, with still more of it seeping out beneath her. Her legs were bare; Doc had apparently removed her jeans so he could work on the nasty puncture in her right thigh. His brown eyes sober, he glanced Kellan's way only briefly before returning all of his focus to treating Candice's wound.

Kellan's skin went tight, fangs filling his mouth. His vision had gone instantly red - not only in physical reaction to the presence of so much fresh-flowing blood but in deadly rage for the betrayal by one of his own. A betrayal that had resulted in the slaying of one friend and the grave injury of another.

All of this havoc and loss wreaked while Kellan had been distracted by the pleasure of having Mira in his bed.

He'd failed his crew in the worst possible way. Failed Jeremy Ackmeyer too, whom Kellan should have freed immediately upon learning of his innocence several hours ago. None of this would have happened if Kellan had kept his head on straight as the leader these people expected him to. They had entrusted their lives to him, trusted him to protect them.

Instead, he'd allowed himself to get caught up in a romantic entanglement with Mira that could only end in disaster. So, yeah, he'd failed her today as well, and it was too late to call back any of his mistakes.

"Goddamn it," he snarled, self-directed anger making his voice sound raw and violent, even to his own ears.

More than anything, he wanted to tear out of the bunker and hunt Vince down - daylight or not. He wanted the bastard to suffer for this, wanted to make him bleed. But it was Kellan's crew that was bleeding and suffering now - one of them bled out on the floor in front of him, another possibly heading that way too.

The sight of Candice injured so severely jolted Kellan back to his duty as the commander of this base and its people. He ignored the coppery gut-punch of Candice's bleeding wound as he walked to her side and went down on his haunches next to her.

Her breath raced between slack, pale lips. Her eyes were wide and unblinking, fixed on the ceiling as Doc bent her leg at the knee, elevating the wound, before fastening his belt around her thigh as a tourniquet.

Kellan grabbed her discarded jeans and rolled them into a makeshift pillow. As he lifted her head off the floor and rested it back onto the softer fabric, her glassy gaze slid to him. "Vince . . . I tried to stop him, but he - "

"I know. Don't worry about him. You just hang in there, you got it?" Her eyelids drooped with her weak nod. Kellan clamped his teeth and fangs together as he smoothed his fingers over her clammy brow. "How we doing, Doc?"

"Be a helluva lot better once I get the blood flow stanched," Doc replied, hands slick with red, face grim as he tightened the belt on Candice's thigh.

Kellan shot a glance over his shoulder to Nina, who hovered nervously in the doorway. "Clean towels, lots of them. Cloths too. Bring whatever you can find."

"On it." She took off at once.

Candice's teeth started to chatter. Her eyes were glazed, alternating between rolling back in her head and sliding over to focus on him. "I'm s-scared, Bowman. Don't want to die."

"You're going to be all right," he assured her. "Doc's treated worse. You remember the shit condition I was in when you dragged me in to meet him that first time?"

"Yeah." Her voice was thready, small. "I remember."

Kellan nodded, swept a lock of damp black hair from where it was plastered to her cheek. Her skin was cold, alarmingly so. "Doc didn't let me die that night; neither did you. He and I aren't about to let you die now either. So, you hang in, Brady, that's a fucking order."

"Okay," she said, giving him a faint smile as her eyes drifted closed. A shudder went through her whole body, prolonged, bone-deep. She trembled, blue-lipped and shivering, despite the summertime humidity of the bunker. "Freezing in here," she murmured. "I'm so cold."

Before Kellan could respond or turn to find something to provide her some warmth, a blanket appeared from somewhere behind him.


He looked up to find her standing at his back, holding a blanket she'd brought from his bed. She moved around him to cover Candice's torso, gently tucking it under her chin and shoulders to keep in as much heat as possible.

When she was done, she stepped back, her hand coming to rest tenderly on Kellan's shoulder. He reached up to meet her touch, clasping her fingers in a grateful squeeze. His guilt and self-recrimination was still acid in his gut, but the sight of Mira standing near him, the feel of her touch on him in silent support and understanding, was a balm he couldn't deny. He saw Doc's gaze flick to the unspoken exchange, saw the question in the rebel's eyes as Kellan's hand lingered on Mira's, possessive and intimate.

"Tell us what you need us to do, Doc."

"Keep her awake," the medic said, going back to work on the wound. "Shock will make her want to sleep, but we can't let her do that. She needs to stay conscious right now."

Kellan nodded. "Open your eyes, Candice. I need you to look at me, stay focused," he prompted, letting go of Mira's hand to give Candice's shoulder a rousing shake. "I need you to tell me what happened in here with Vince. Can you do that?"

"Yes," she murmured. Her eyelids lifted, though she seemed to struggle with the effort. "Came in here to pick up Ackmeyer's meal tray. Chaz came with me . . . gonna take Ackmeyer for a bathroom break."

Kellan grunted in acknowledgment, his eye drifting to the upended tray of half-eaten food that lay scattered on the floor nearby. When Candice shuddered again, struggling to suck air into her lungs, Kellan reached down and stroked his palm over the top of her head. "You're doing great. Take your time, but you stay with me. You stay awake, Brady."

"O-okay. I'm okay." She looked up at him and took a few deeper breaths. "Ackmeyer asked if we were letting him go . . . started going on about how he was innocent . . . never meant to hurt anyone with his inventions."

All the things Kellan heard from the scientist himself. Things Kellan's touch had vouched for as truth.

"He said someone must've stolen his work," Candice went on. "Said he wanted to help us find out who it was and see them punished . . . he said if what happened was true - that his work had been used for harm, for murder - he would personally make sure the technology was destroyed, no matter what it was worth."

Kellan's jaw tightened at the thought of how wrong he'd been in going after Jeremy Ackmeyer. He'd assumed the worst, and he dreaded that the fallout from that bad call was far from over.

Candice weathered another full-body shudder as Nina came in with an armful of towels and handed them off to Doc. Mira pitched in without being asked, she and Nina helping Doc wrap Candice's wound as she continued with her account. "We didn't realize Vince was in the room . . . not until he asked how much Ackmeyer thought someone might pay for his technology."

"Son of a bitch," Kellan muttered, needing no further explanation to understand what Vince would be up to next. "What did Ackmeyer tell him? How much did he say the UV tech was worth?"

"He didn't," Candice replied. "He told Vince it didn't matter . . . said it wasn't for sale, and he wouldn't allow anyone to profit from it now."

"Which obviously didn't sit well with Vince," Kellan snarled, his every fiber still seething with predatory rage and the need to make his traitorous comrade pay.

Mira met his gaze from where she crouched near Doc and Nina, working like a member of the team, not the unwilling captive she'd been just the night before. He didn't want to think of her as one of his crew. Didn't want to think of her in any of the ways he was now. He tore his gaze away from her and put it back on his wounded colleague. "Keep your eyes open, Candice. Tell me the rest now."

"Everything happened so fast," she said, her voice a thready whisper. "Vince had a dark look on his face . . . Next thing I knew, there was a knife in his hand. He lunged at Chaz . . . stabbed him hard in the chest. Then he grabbed Ackmeyer . . . had the knife under his chin . . . said he was going to start doing things his way."

Kellan's growl rumbled in the quiet cell. His vision burned a deeper shade of amber, fury roiling through him with each word he was hearing.

"I tried to stop him, Bowman." Candice's eyes lifted to him now and stayed there, glassy and lethargic, but fixed on him as though searching for forgiveness. Kellan swore, low and coarse under his breath. "Even after he stabbed me, I tried to stop him from taking Ackmeyer, from getting away," she said weakly. "I tried . . ."

"It's all right." Kellan cupped the side of her skull in his palm. "You did everything you could, I know that. I'm the one who should've been there to deal with Vince." His glance strayed to Chaz's body and the three grave faces that were all staring at him in the blood-soaked cell of the rebel bunker. "Bastard's a dead man. He's going to know that now."

Kellan rose to his feet and stalked out of the room without further explanation.

He wasn't surprised to hear Mira right behind him as soon as he took his first step in the corridor outside, but he was far from pleased. "What are you doing?" she demanded at his back, running to keep up with his furious gait. "Kellan, where are you going?"

The sound of his name on her lips - his true name - put a dangerous edge in his answering growl as he wheeled around to face her. He grabbed her upper arms and steered her back against the nearest wall. "One of my men is dead back there. Another of my crew could bleed out in a few minutes, if Doc doesn't work some kind of magic on her leg. And a captive under my watch has been taken by one of my own - right under my fucking nose - likely to be sold to the highest bidder or killed before sundown tonight. You think I'm going to sit back and let this go unmet?"

"It's the middle of the day. You can't go anywhere - "

"Let me deal with that," he snapped, knowingly harsh as he let her loose and pivoted to leave her behind him in the hallway.

But Mira had never been one to give in that easily. No, not her. She marched right after him, bare feet padding in determined strides at his back. It took her only moments before she was in front of him, blocking his path with her body. A body that looked entirely too damn good in his T-shirt and overlong sweatpants, rolled up at her ankles.

"Don't be an idiot," she said, eyes flashing behind the purple tint of her contact lenses. "You'll die out there right now."

"I've got a good half hour before I need to worry about exposure," he pointed out. "I can be in the city in less than ten minutes on foot."


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