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He wasn't a virgin - not even close. But the impersonal encounters he preferred to seek out never involved touching or embracing or kissing.

In that moment, Jordana Gates couldn't have shocked him more if she'd pulled his 9-mm out of its holster on his hip and shot him point blank in the chest.

So much so, he wasn't even aware they were no longer alone in the room, until he heard the low sound of a male clearing his throat somewhere nearby.

Abruptly, Nathan disengaged from Jordana's hold on him and put a healthy distance between them. Her oceanic blue eyes were wide, pupils enlarged, deepening the Caribbean azure of her gaze before the kiss to a stormy turquoise now. She brought her hand up to her mouth and backed off quickly, moving to the safety of her friend's side in the living room adjacent to the vestibule.

Beautiful, cultured Carys Chase stood there beside swarthy, dangerous Rune, her fingers linked through his. "Are you all right, Jordana?" she whispered. Then, to Nathan, with no gentleness in her voice at all: "Why did you come here? Why the hell did you just assault Jordana? Tell me what's going on!"

The other Breedmate shook her pale blond head, mute. Even Nathan had trouble summoning his voice for a second. He leveled a cold look on Rune. "That's what I've come here to find out: What the hell is going on?"

Rune held his stare, his dark eyes unflinching. "Just visiting friends on a rare night off from the job. I assume there's no law against that."

"Make no mistake, you and I will talk later about what you think you're doing with this female," Nathan replied. He slanted a hard look at Carys, adding "We'll talk too." To which her chin went up a notch, impertinent, unrepentant. "Right now, I'm here to talk about the friend you met last night at the club," he said to Rune.

The Breed fighter got a strange look on his face, but it lasted only a fraction of a second before he shuttered it with a mask of indifference. "Don't have any idea what you mean."

"That's not what Cassian just told me a few minutes ago when I was there," Nathan countered. "He said you had a visit from a rebel piece of shit called Bowman."

Now Rune chuckled, and from what Nathan could tell, his denial was genuine. "You've been misinformed, my man. I'm not gonna try to guess what game Cass is playing with you, but I don't hang with rebels. And I don't know anyone by that name."

"Really? Cassian told me Bowman was at La Notte last night with Mira." Rune's expression seemed to turn a bit stonier now. "Cassian says you spoke with them for a while in your dressing room."

"That's a lie," Carys interjected, her caramel-brown hair swinging as she gave a vehement shake of her head. "Rune didn't have anyone in his dressing room last night . . . except for me."

Nathan's curse drifted from between his flatly pressed lips. His dismay over that news flash was only slightly less than what it would be for Carys's parents or her twin brother. "Obviously, someone's lying to me right now," Nathan said. "And I'll warn you all just once that I do not have time for bullshit."

Rune stared at him, assessing. Almost suspicious. "Sounds like the Order's got some trouble on their hands."

"Did you or did you not see Bowman with Mira last night?" he asked the fighter. "If you know anything about what he's doing with her, I need to know. Her life could depend on it."

Carys clutched Rune's hand a bit tighter, Nathan noticed. But Rune gave nothing away in his face. "Sorry I can't help."

"Sorry." Nathan snarled the word. "I can make you sorry."

Maybe that's what the bastard needed. Nathan took a pace forward, and couldn't help noticing that Rune stayed put. Didn't matter, because in that next second, both women stepped in to put themselves between the two Breed males.

"Stop this right now," Carys cried. She spun toward Rune. "Both of you, stop this!"

Nathan couldn't take his eyes off Jordana but saw in his peripheral vision when Rune gently stroked Carys's cheek.

Nathan hated that he'd likely end up hurting her tender heart in the next few minutes, when he and her apparent more-than-unlikely boyfriend took their unfriendly discussion into a physical one.

As he considered doing just that, his comm unit buzzed in his pants pocket. He took it out, saw the caller was Eli, one of his teammates in Boston. Before Nathan could even ask for an update, Eli blurted out the news Nathan had been ready to kill tonight to have.

"We got a bead on Bowman."

"Where?" Nathan demanded, his impasse with Rune suddenly less important in light of this crucial intel.

"Tip turned up on a rumored rebel base down in New Bedford. Scumbag gun runner sold Vince a dozen semiautos last winter. Said he only dealt with Vince, never got a look at Bowman or anyone else, but the lead on the possible base seems solid. Not much, but it's something, right?"

"Agreed," Nathan said. "Where are you at?" Eli rattled off the team's location in the city. "Okay. Rafe and I will be there in less than five minutes. Touch base with everyone else on patrol tonight, let them know we're on it. We're moving in on New Bedford, no delay."

"Got it, Captain."

They cut the call and Nathan leveled one last look on the cage-fighting killer as he shoved his comm unit back into his pocket. "Anything happens to Mira because you wouldn't talk, I will make you sorry. That goes double, anything happens to this female."

Rune's dark eyes narrowed at the threat. "I would lay down my life for Carys."

Nathan scoffed, well aware of the Breed male's dubious background and his infamous mode of living. "She's worth ten of you, and you know it."

"Aye," Rune agreed, the first indicator of the accent he usually kept muted. His returning gaze was solemn but unapologetic. "That I do know, warrior."

With Jordana Gates staring at him as if he were the devil himself standing in the middle of her apartment and Carys holding tight to Rune's large, battle-scarred hand, Nathan wheeled around and exited the penthouse.

On the way back down to the lobby to get Rafe, Nathan had to concentrate on his training in order to bring his senses back to a state of cold purpose.

He strode out of the elevator on the ground floor, and beckoned his teammate over with a curt motion of his hand. He filled Rafe in on the new development, then the pair of warriors headed out, ready to deal a lot of pain and death to Bowman and his rebel followers.

And all the while, Nathan's mouth still burned from Jordana Gates's unexpected, disturbingly unforgettable kiss.

The darkness was complete, inky blackness.

The void around her cold, silent, as Kellan drew away from both her and the blindness that enveloped her. She didn't know what he saw in her eyes now, only knew that the hideousness of her unseeing gaze had pulled him away on a violent curse.

"Kellan, I didn't want you to know," she murmured, anguished by his withdrawal. "I didn't want you to see me like this - "

"Can you see nothing at all?" His voice was wooden, edged with a fury she knew would be written across his handsome face, could her eyes find him in the dark. When she slowly shook her head, his breath left him on a groan.

Behind her, although Kellan hadn't moved, she heard the lock on the door slam home like a gunshot. She jumped, her other senses going hyperalert in the absence of her sight.

When Kellan spoke again, his voice was airless, a tightly controlled whisper. "Damn you, Mira. Damn us both, for how badly we've fucked everything up."

"Kellan, I'm sorry - "

"Don't." He cut her off shortly, but then his hands were on her upper arms, and his grip trembled, his fingers holding her tenderly. Achingly so. "Jesus, don't apologize for anything now. Not to me. I don't deserve it. Look what I've done to you."

She wanted so badly to see his face. She needed to know if the emotion she heard in his voice right now was sadness for her or the pity it sounded like. She swallowed, so afraid she was losing him - not because of the fate that threatened to steal him away from her, but because she was no longer whole in his eyes. She was broken and had no one but herself to blame.

"I can't let you live like this," he murmured, breaking her heart even further. "I need to fix it, if I can. You need blood, Mira. The bond might be able to repair this."

How long had she waited to hear him say his blood was hers to take? How many years had she pictured them together as a blood-bonded, mated pair? Now she felt his offer like a slap to her face. It stung. It hurt her so deeply, she rocked back, stricken and numbed by the blow.

"I don't want you feeling sorry for me," she managed to croak. "Don't you dare give me your charity, Kellan."

"Charity?" he murmured thickly. One of his hands came up to caress her cheek. "God, no. What I'm feeling isn't pity. It's regret. And fear. And love, Mira. So much love for you." He blew out a raspy exhalation. "I never imagined things could go so wrong for us. There were so many times I wanted to ask you to accept me as your mate. I should have, but I was terrified of the pain I would feel if I ever lost you."

"You were the one who left," she reminded him. "I stayed. I would've stayed with you, even knowing how it might all end."

"I know," he replied, remorse thick in his deep voice. "And I owed you that choice. I see that now." He scoffed quietly. "I see a lot of things more clearly now, when it's too late to turn any of it back. But maybe not this," he said, his thumb brushing gently across her eyelid as he continued to caress her face. "I might be able to fix this for you. And I'm asking you to give me that chance, Mira."

Tender, beautiful words. She could feel his affection in the quiet hitch of his voice and in the careful way he stroked her skin. He cared. He loved her, she had no doubt now.

But he wasn't giving himself as her mate. He was giving her a chance to heal through his blood bond. He wanted her whole again, but would he be offering this gift if she were looking into his eyes in this moment, seeing him as the man she loved, the male her heart was bound to, with or without his blood to seal it?

Her own blood must have betrayed her to him, because no sooner had she thought it, Kellan's touch slid down along her chin, lifting her sightless gaze up to meet his eyes. "When I imagined sharing this part of me with you, Mira, it was a sacred thing. A thing done in passion, in pleasure, with a promise of eternity ahead of us. It was never like this," he said, his voice rough, so gentle. "It was never supposed to be done with you suffering and afraid and me helpless, desperate, ultimately damned to lose you. And never less suited to be the one you bound yourself to than I am in this moment."

"There's no one else I want, Kellan. There never has been." She reached out to him but struggled to find him, touching only air and darkness. Frustration boiled up in the back of her throat, erupting in a small, broken cry.

Then Kellan's hand found hers, took it into his strong grasp. "There," he said, pressing a kiss to the center of her palm. "I've got you, Mouse."

"Yes, you do," she replied, her love for him swelling inside her until she felt her heart might burst from it. "You won't let go, will you, Kellan? That's what you promised me. You won't let go."

His curse was a whispered oath. Then his mouth was on hers, claiming her in a possessive yet achingly sweet kiss. When he broke the contact a long moment later, she felt him moving his arm. She heard a soft, wet sound, smelled the spicy-dark scent of his blood.

"Open your mouth for me, baby," he whispered, placing his wrist against her parted lips.

Mira took him into her, the first sip of his blood like a lick of fire on her tongue. She swallowed, then drew another sip into her mouth. And another.

She hadn't been prepared.

How could she have ever been prepared to know the roar of heat and power that was Kellan's bond?

Mira drank him down in fevered, greedy gulps. As their blood bond completed, she could only hold on to him and give herself over to the rush of light and strength and something even more intense - something that defied all description - pouring into her every muscle, bone, and cell.

He was hers.

Kellan belonged to her in every way now, and if fate wanted to take him from her, Mira intended to give that cruel bitch one hell of a fight.

Chapter Twenty-One


No sign of Mira or Bowman or anyone else at the old military fort at the far end of New Bedford. The bunker and its collection of underground batteries, which crouched on an outcrop of overgrown, untended parkland banked on three sides by the Atlantic, appeared to have been vacated very recently. They'd missed the rebel bastards.

It was not the kind of report Nathan wanted to have to give Lucan. Hell, it was bad enough reporting it to Nikolai a few moments ago. He hadn't taken it well, erupting in murderous, black fury. Mira's father, in Boston with a small squad of his Order brethren, had been determined that Mira would be going home safe with them before dawn. Now that prospect was looking less and less feasible.

Nathan's team, along with Mira's three teammates, had just completed a full sweep of the purported rebel base and turned up nothing. Just abandoned furniture, tables and chairs, cots and beds, all still in place as it ostensibly had been when the base's occupants used it last. But Mira had been there; Nathan could almost feel her presence in his bones.

"Damn it!" The curse exploded out of him, a reaction too strong to contain. He didn't miss the turn of heads in his direction. The grave looks of his team and Mira's met him through the darkness as the warriors regrouped on the thick, weed-choked grass outside the bunker. Niko and his squad were heading there now too, to see the place for themselves and to strategize the rest of the night's patrol with Nathan and the other men.


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