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"Then what?" she countered hotly. "Twenty minutes to turn Boston upside down looking for Vince and Ackmeyer before you're toast? It's suicidal and you know it."

He scoffed, even though she was right. "You got a better idea?"

"Yeah. I'll go after them. If I don't find Vince myself, I'll work my way through every rebel piece of shit in the city until someone rats him out."

Kellan barked out a caustic laugh. "Forget it. This is my mess to clean up, not yours. You're not a part of it, Mira. And I'll walk into the sun itself before I put you in the middle of this shit."

If he'd had any kind of honor, he would have done that eight years ago, ensuring that he'd never have the chance to hurt her the way her vision showed him he would. But he hadn't been able to cut himself off from Mira, not totally. He'd stayed close, closer than was wise. He should have put continents between them, anything to make certain their paths would never cross again.

But he hadn't done any of those things.

Even now, it was nearly impossible to keep from reaching out to touch her. He crossed his arms over his chest when the temptation to smooth her outraged scowl proved almost too much to resist.

"You bastard." Mira drew in a breath, then pushed it out on a sharp exhalation. "God, you are still the most infuriatingly pigheaded male I've ever known. You're going to stand there and tell me I'm not a part of this - that you would rather kill yourself than let me into your world - when you just had your cock inside me? You said a lot of sweet things to me, things I was almost fool enough to believe - "

Kellan cursed. "I meant everything I said. Every word, Mira. But that was before."

She gaped, stricken and breathing hard. "Before what?"

"Before everything that went down in that cell back there," Kellan replied. "Before what happened with Vince just now reminded me that this is never going to work. It can't work."

He uncrossed his arms and ran a hand over his scalp, trying to figure a way off the path that fate seemed determined to place him on. But there wasn't one. Vince defecting with Jeremy Ackmeyer in tow had all but made sure of that fact.

"Whatever happens now, whatever Vince ends up doing with Ackmeyer, I want you out of it. To anyone outside this bunker, you're still my captive, an unwilling participant in anything I've done. I intend to keep it that way. I won't have you jeopardizing your future, thinking you can help me. You can't, because I'm not going to allow it."

Her slender blond brows lowered even farther over her flashing eyes. "That's not your decision to make. I don't need your permission to care about you, Kellan. You don't get to decide what's important to me."

God help him, but it didn't take much to remember the stubborn little girl who'd told him pretty much the same thing in word and deed time and again when he'd been a withdrawn, stupid teen who didn't know how to accept her friendship, let alone her love. By sheer force of will, she'd made him participate in life when grief and anger over his family's annihilation had all but crippled him inside. As a girl, Mira had held his hand and led him out of a dark place. As a woman, she'd held his heart, despite his efforts to protect himself from caring for someone he could never bear to lose.

Now he only hoped he'd find the strength to push Mira away, when all he wanted was to pull her close and never let her go.

He kept his voice quiet, the words as gentle as he could make them. "This time I do get to decide. Bad enough I couldn't stay away from you, even though I knew damn well where this would take us in the end." He lowered his head and held her searching gaze, needing her to hear him now. She needed to understand. "When I go down, I'll be damned if I take you down with me."

Mira had gone utterly still in front of him. She didn't blink, barely drew breath. "What do you mean, you knew where this would take us in the end?"

Kellan stared into her eyes, those muted mirrors that had cursed him on what had so briefly been a perfect morning eight years ago. Now they looked up at him imploringly, searching for a truth he hoped she'd never need to hear.

"Tell me," she said, a slight tremor in her soft voice. Her anger was gone now, replaced with a gravity - a tangible dread - that caught his heart in a stranglehold. "What did you mean by that, Kellan?" She spoke hardly above a whisper, hardly breathing, for all he could discern. "Tell me what you know, damn it."

He reached for her, but she flinched away from him. Gave a slow shake of her head, her eyes never leaving his. "Tell me."

"That morning," he said, the words coming out of him dry and rusty. "The morning before the warehouse explosion . . ."

"We made love," she murmured.


"We made love for hours, earlier that night too," she said, filling in the blanks when his voice seemed to desert him. "For the first time."

He nodded. "The first time for both of us. It was the best night of my life, Mira. Until a few hours ago when I was with you again, that night eight years ago and the morning I woke up next to you were the best moments I've ever known. I never got the chance to tell you that. I should've said the words then, but I didn't know."

She swallowed, her delicate throat visibly clenching. "You didn't know what?"

"That it was all going to end that night. I didn't know I'd be leaving you so soon. I thought I would have time to explain." He shrugged lamely, shaking his head. "I thought . . . I prayed we'd be able to sort it all out, find a way - somehow - to make it right."

"I don't know what you're saying, Kellan." She scowled even deeper now, and despite her denial that she understood, he could see in her eyes that realization was settling in hard the longer she looked at him. "What happened that morning? Did I do something wrong? Did I say something, or - "

"No. God, no. You didn't do anything wrong." He cupped her jaw in his hand and smoothed the pad of his thumb over her trembling mouth. "You were perfect. You were everything I could've wanted. More than I ever deserved."

"But you left me," she said quietly. "Why, Kellan? The truth this time. Something happened the morning we were together. Something bad enough to make you think I'd be happier believing you were dead in that explosion."

"Ah, Mouse," he murmured, letting his hand travel up from where it caressed her lips, to the Breedmate mark riding at her temple. He stroked the tiny teardrop-and-crescent-moon birthmark, then leaned forward and pressed a kiss to each of her eyelids. When he drew back from her, there were tears welling in her eyes. "You see? You would be happier if I'd died that night. And I would rather have left you mourning someone you loved than one day pleading for my life as the traitor I was destined to become."

Her hands came up to his chest, pushed him away. "What are you saying?"

"I saw it, Mira. In your eyes, that morning when we woke up together, naked in your bed. Your eyes were naked too. The lenses that mute your visions - "

She sucked in her breath. "No."

"I looked into your eyes, only for a second - "

"No." The denial was short and sharp. She gave a shake of her head, then another, more vehement this time. "No, I don't believe it. I would've known. I would've felt my eyesight weaken afterward. Using my ability always takes a bit of my sight along with it - "

"I know that," he said gently. "And that's the only reason I looked away as quickly as I did. I didn't want you to pay for my inadvertent lack of care. But there was a part of me that could've gotten lost in your naked gaze forever."

"No!" She gaped at him incredulously, aghast. "You wouldn't have done that. You know better than to look at my eyes when they're unprotected. Everyone knows better than that!"

"I wasn't thinking about your visions or what I might see in your eyes, Mouse. I rolled over that morning to kiss the beautiful woman who'd invited me into her bed and given me more pleasure than I knew was possible. You gave me the sweetest kiss I ever tasted, and then you smiled at me and opened your eyes."

"Oh, God. No, Kellan. Why did you look?" She moaned, a miserable sound that cut him to the marrow. When she turned her head away from him, Kellan brought her back to face him.

"Your eyes are extraordinary, Mira. They're bright as diamonds. Clear and flawless, like crystal pools. In that one fleeting moment that I looked into your gaze, I felt like I was seeing you - all of you - for the first time. And I'd never witnessed anything so beautiful." He caressed her face, wiped away the tear that rolled down her cheek. "That was worth the price. Worth any price fate may make me pay down the line."

"What did you see, Kellan?"

He had little choice but to tell her. "I saw myself, being led before Lucan and the GNC. There were charges against me - capital charges. Conspiracy, murder, treason. They judged me guilty on all counts. And so they sentenced me." He wanted to deliver the words gently, but there was no easy way to tell her what needed to be said. "The sentence was death, Mira. And I saw you there with me, begging for them to spare me. I don't want to think about the pain I saw in you, the grief that all of this will cause you when I'm put to death for my crimes."

She didn't speak. Just stared at him in silent torment, tears streaming down her face.

Kellan tried to smooth them away, but he couldn't keep up. He swore softly, hating that he'd caused her this hurt now and hoping he wouldn't bring her any more.

"I told you I thought you'd be happier believing I was dead eight years ago," he said. "But I had a selfish reason too. I would rather keep the memory of your sweet smile that morning in bed after we made love the first time than see the way you're looking at me now."

Behind them in the corridor, subtle movement sounded. Nina awkwardly cleared her throat. "Bowman? Doc needs to move Candice so he can cauterize her wound and stitch her up. He asked me to come find you - "

"Be right there," Kellan replied, his eyes locked on Mira, even as he drew away from her.

When he finally pivoted to return to his rebel comrades, he hoped Mira would take this chance to leave him and never look back.

He wouldn't blame her if she did.

Chapter Thirteen

RECLINING ON HIS ELBOWS ATOP THE BROAD PLANKS OF A picnic table in one of suburban Boston's conservation area parks, Vince tipped his head back on his shoulders and let the midday summer sun bathe his face in heat. Overhead, a crow sailed against the blinding blue of the sky.

That's me, Vince thought, grinning smugly up at the clouds. Free bird.

Soon to be a filthy rich free bird.

He didn't know precisely whom he was meeting at this rendezvous Rooster had set up for him. Didn't much care either. All he knew was that making the call to the red-haired snitch after fleeing the base with Ackmeyer was about to net him serious pay dirt.

Rooster had immediately put out feelers with a few folks he knew, who in turn put out feelers to folks they knew, and then bam! Less than an hour later, they had a live one on the hook, ready to plunk down God-only-knew how much in exchange for the scientist and access to his Breed-smoking UV technology.

If Bowman had been smart - as smart as Vince - he would've thought of cashing in on Ackmeyer himself. But nope. He'd been too preoccupied with sniffing around the bitch from the Order to recognize the true opportunity he had with Ackmeyer. Then again, Bowman and Vince never had seen eye to eye on how things should be done.

Bowman's missions were always based on high-principled bullshit, like evening scores and righting wrongs. There wasn't a lot of cash to be made leaking intel on dirty politicians or exposing corporate grifters, but that never seemed to stop Bowman. And he had no qualms about derailing the ops of other rebel groups if he deemed their goals or methods too extreme.

As far as Vince was concerned, Bowman and his lofty morals could both get fucked. He preferred to operate based on profit and deal making.

Especially when those two objectives sent all the benefits directly into his hands, as they were about to do any minute now.

It was hard not to fantasize about what he was going to do and buy with the nut he stood to collect. Couple million, easy. Hell, maybe he should set his starting price at a cool five and see where it took him.

Gonna get himself a sweet ride, first of all. A swank place of his own too. Maybe he'd set up his own base of operations, recruit a fresh crew of his own and really shake shit up. Unfortunately, he'd have to open shop somewhere far from Boston, because no doubt about it, after the move Vince pulled today, Bowman was going to be coming after him hard.

Vince couldn't lie to himself; the thought of being on the receiving end of a pissed-off vampire's fury was more than a little disturbing. Didn't help that he'd seen Bowman in action enough to understand that there would be major hell to pay. The Breed male had skills that went beyond supernatural genetics. He was lethal even without the advantage of his otherworldly DNA, easily as badass deadly as any warrior of the Order. And for the first time since he'd known the vampire commander of the rebel base in New Bedford, that realization gave Vince serious pause.

Vince had always assumed Bowman's identity as a member of the Breed was his biggest secret, but now he wondered if there wasn't something else the vampire had been hiding . . .

Not that it mattered.

If Vince had his way, he was going to be big enough that he and his crew could go after Bowman themselves. Hell, maybe he'd use some of today's windfall to take out a hit on the Breed son of a bitch. How poetic would it be to see Bowman ashed with some of Ackmeyer's UV rounds?


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