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"I want you to know," Kellan said, "I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of these past eight years. Worst of all, hurting Mira, and deceiving you and the Order - my family - about my death. I'm guilty of many things, Lucan, but murder isn't one of them. The night the lab was destroyed, Mira and I were in the city, looking for leads on Ackmeyer. We hoped to find something that would lead us to him, or to the member of my crew who defected that morning and took Ackmeyer to ransom."


Lucan scowled. "None of which excuses the fact that you abducted a high-profile civilian - Ackmeyer was practically a national treasure, for crissake. And then you grab a member of the Order besides? What the fuck were you thinking?"


"Taking Mira was never part of the plan. I didn't know she'd be there. We had last-minute intel that Ackmeyer would be on the move that day. We mobilized right away and closed in on him. Mira got swept into the net unintentionally. She was never part of it, and my mistake where she was concerned was not sending her back to the Order right away. But if you ask me to regret the time I had with her these past few days, I can't do that."


Lucan exhaled, studying the younger male. That he loved Mira was obvious. And Lucan couldn't help thinking back to his own mistakes and fuck-ups not so long ago, any one of which could have cost him the woman he cherished with all his heart, his Breedmate, Gabrielle. They'd been fortunate. Had the blessing of a shared life together and a son they adored, who made them both proud. Things Kellan and Mira would likely never know.


His heart heavier than he wanted to admit, Lucan cleared his throat and focused on the things that still needed answers. "Why target Ackmeyer? How had he managed to make enemies of you or your rebels?"


"Three months ago, a Breed civilian was shot dead in Boston. One of the women in my crew, Nina, witnessed the slaying. The Breed male was her lover. He'd left her apartment that night and was walking up the side street when a government vehicle rolled up. Two human men got out and killed him, unprovoked." Kellan stared at Lucan, his gaze intense, alive with an anger that simmered just below the surface of his outward calm. "Their guns held UV rounds. Liquid sunlight, neatly packaged into Breed-killing bullets. The vampire didn't stand a chance. He was ashed on the spot."


"Holy hell." Lucan rocked back on his heels, more grim than astonished. Mankind had always been ingenious, sometimes diabolically so, but the ramifications of ultraviolet technology being developed for arms and weaponry could be staggering. Given time and imagination, they could eventually wipe out the entire Breed race. "And you tracked the tech back to Ackmeyer?"


"Took some time and a lot of digging, but we managed to put it together. Ackmeyer had mentioned in a science journal interview last year that he was working on a pet project involving ultraviolet light. At the time, he'd said he thought it would be ideal for agricultural purposes."


"Until someone wagged a big paycheck in front of him, no doubt." Lucan raked his hand over his scalp, hissed another curse. "Is that what happened? Ackmeyer sold his tech to someone who thought it might be put to better use as a weapon against the Breed?"


"That's what I wanted to know," Kellan replied. "I meant to get answers, and if Ackmeyer didn't prove cooperative, I was prepared to persuade him to destroy the technology - by whatever means necessary. Problem was, Ackmeyer didn't know anything about his work being leaked outside his private lab. When I questioned him while he was in my custody, he said his project - something he was calling Morningstar - was still in testing stages, under lock and key. He swore up and down that he'd never allow his work to be used to harm anyone. I read the truth in him, Lucan. He was innocent. By the time I figured that out, the wheels were already in motion."


Lucan grunted. "You shouldn't have acted alone. You should've come to the Order with this."


"Come to you as Bowman?" Kellan asked, his expression grimly wry. "Or as the coward who'd turned his back on his brethren and his kin?"


Lucan knew he was right. His situation had been untenable either way. It still was. "Unfortunately, it may be too late to turn any of this back now."


Kellan nodded. "There are a lot of things I wish I'd done differently, starting with how I left eight years ago." He glanced down, exhaled a short breath as he shook his head. "Jeremy Ackmeyer is dead because of me, Lucan. Because ultimately I gave the command to abduct him. I accept that blame. But I'm telling you here and now, I didn't give the order to torch his lab or to harm him in any way."


"You're going to have a hard time convincing the public of that."


"I don't give a shit about the public and what they believe," Kellan said, a flicker of amber lighting in his eyes. "I need to know that you believe me. That I haven't lost your trust."


Lucan listened to the younger vampire - the once-sheltered, sullen Darkhaven youth who had become a formidable, stalwart warrior under Lucan's tutelage, only to vanish without a trace before he'd reached his prime.


That warrior was still alive inside Kellan Archer. He was still prepared for the good fight, still held his honor intact, even though he'd lost his way for a while. What a waste it would be to see him slip away once more.


Lucan swore, low under his breath. "Of everything that's gone wrong here lately - and Jesus Christ, there's enough to choose from - I'm not sure what bothers me the most. The fact that you and Mira are blood-bonded under the worst circumstances, or that I have to be the one who tears you apart."


Chapter Twenty-Three


MIRA SAT ON THE EDGE OF A SOFT BED IN A ROOM THAT smelled of roses and lemon wax, surrounded by the love and support of the women of the Order.


She was home. Reunited with her parents, family, teammates, and friends - all the people who mattered in her life. And yet she'd never felt so adrift. So alone.


Because the one she needed most was the one farthest out of her reach now.


By his own choice.


Kellan had promised he wouldn't abandon her ever again, but he had. They might have stayed in the old Darkhaven in the Maine woods for weeks longer - a precious handful of months, if they were lucky. Instead, he'd willingly put an end to their time together.


She would have stayed with him as long as possible.


Instead, he'd let her go.


The warrior in her refused to accept this defeat. Blinded or not, she wanted to leap up and fight her way to wherever Kellan was being held. She wanted to demand he stand with her and take on his problems together. Take on the whole bloody world together, if they had to.


But it wasn't the Order or mankind or the world that stood between them.


It was fate.


Destiny had made a claim on Kellan's life eight years ago. Now it was coming to collect. And in her heart, she knew no amount of fighting, no amount of running, could ever be enough to win out over an enemy as powerful as that.


But that didn't make the prospect of what lay ahead any easier to accept.


Although she could see none of the Breedmates gathered in the room with her now, only shadows on shadows against a field of darkness, Mira heard their voices close to her. Heard more than one of the women quietly sniffling back tears after she had explained everything that happened during her all-too-brief reunion with Kellan.


"I'm glad it's gone," she murmured into the quiet room. "My sight. If losing my sight is the only way to mute my visions, then it will have been worth it."


"Don't say that, Mouse. You don't mean it." Renata sat beside her on the bed, holding Mira's hand in a comforting, protective grasp. The Breedmate who had rescued orphaned Mira when she was a little girl, taking her under her wing as her own child, was as skilled a warrior as any - the first female to fight alongside the Order as one of their own. Tough and deadly, impossible to break, Renata had hardly said a word in the time since Mira's arrival with Kellan and the others.


She was afraid. Mira felt it in the pregnant Breedmate's silence and the soft trembling of her fingers as she held Mira's hand.


Where Nikolai had been furious and vocal in his concern for Mira and his contempt for Kellan's part in all that had transpired, Renata's quiet, heartsick fear was even harder to take.


"Look at all the hurt I've caused," Mira said. "My vision is to blame for everything, Rennie. It was a curse that never brought anything good."


"No," Renata replied. "That's not true." Gentle fingers on Mira's chin turned her face toward the sound of her mother's voice. "You showed Niko that he and I were destined to be together, remember? And before that, your gift gave Hunter a glimpse of hope that not only saved your life as a result, but his as well. There's been good with the bad. Don't wish that all away too."


Mira didn't resist the tender, loving arms that drew her close. She rested her hand lightly on the swell of Renata's belly, smiling in reluctant joy when she felt the strong kick of a tiny foot against her palm. Her soon-to-arrive baby brother, already jealous of the attention he might be forced to share with her.


She wanted to see that child one day. She wanted to see Rennie and Niko holding their newborn son, who would no doubt be every bit as adventurous and bold as his parents.


And she wanted to see Kellan again.


He wasn't in the mansion anymore; Renata had informed her that JUSTIS had taken Kellan into custody a short while ago, but Mira's blood bond told her in a more visceral way that he was no longer under the same roof with her. Being separated from him now was torment enough, but if her eyesight never returned - if she didn't get at least one last chance to be with him, to see his handsome face . . .


She didn't realize she was crying until a small, jagged sob tore out of her throat.


"Mira," said a gentle, nurturing voice from somewhere above her. Not Renata, but one of the other women of the Order. Dante's Breedmate, Tess. "I'd like to help you, if you'll let me?"


Mira had known Tess nearly all her life, had seen her talent for healing firsthand on more than one occasion when the Order had been headquartered in Boston. Trained as a veterinarian before she met Dante and bore their son, Rafe, Tess was still adept in traditional medicine and procedures. But it was her other healing ability Tess meant to employ now: her extrasensory gift for healing with the power of her touch - even the most grievous injuries and diseases.


"Close your eyes for me," Tess instructed as Mira sat up to let her assess the damage.


She did as she was told, feeling the other woman's thumbs come to rest lightly atop her closed eyelids. Tess's palms cupped her face, fingertips spread across her temples, creating slender bands of warmth. The heat from her touch fanned up and out, palpable energy running in tiny currents across the top of Mira's scalp.


And where Tess's thumbs hovered over her closed eyes, a stronger heat bloomed. A core of soft light began to flicker there, twin points of minuscule illumination that slowly ignited into a piercing bloodred glow. Mira flinched as the brightness blossomed behind her lids, glowing so intensely she thought her corneas might smolder.


"Am I hurting you?" Tess asked quietly. She drew her hands away, taking their power with them. "If it's uncomfortable, I can stop if you wish. We can try this another time - "


"No," Mira said. She shook her head vehemently. "No, please, keep going. Something was happening."


Tess resumed her work, and Mira weathered the unnerving heat and light that swamped her entire field of vision, filled her entire skull. She held on to Renata's hand like a lifeline, her other hand fisted in the silk coverlet on the bed.


The power of Tess's touch was lightning in her veins, in her bones and cells. Exploding behind her eyes. When she thought she couldn't take another second more, the intensity doubled. Then doubled again.


And then it was simply . . . gone.


Cool white calm settled over her, like a turbulent night storm giving way to placid daybreak.


Mira slumped forward, panting, wrung out. She felt the weight of each Breedmate's gaze as she struggled to catch her breath, slow her racing heart rate.


Tess lifted her chin on the edge of her hand. "Open your eyes."


Her lids felt like they'd been glued together, but as she carefully peeled them open, the yellow glow of a bedside table lamp seeped into her vision. Shadows took on crisper form, then cleared away altogether. She blinked up at Tess, astonished. She could see again!


She stared in total awe and gratitude, drinking in the sight of the lovely Breedmate's aquamarine eyes and halo of long, honey-blond curls. Tess nodded, holding her gaze as Mira struggled to absorb the fact that she was no longer blind.


"Oh, my God." Mira's voice was little more than a whisper, lost for words. She leapt up and pulled the healer into a tight hug. "Tess, thank you."


Dante's mate nodded, something wistful about her little smile as she stepped back to give Mira space to breathe.


And she needed it. Because all at once, she found herself caught in a round of joyous, relieved embraces from the other Breedmates in the room. Renata was first, her jade green eyes moist with tears as she hugged Mira fiercely. One by one, the rest of the women followed, showering Mira in so much love, her heart felt ready to burst.


She was so overcome, it took a moment for her to realize her eyes were bare. Not only did she risk undoing Tess's work, but her terrible talent was open to everyone in the room with her. "My lenses," she blurted, panic rising. She immediately sent her gaze downward to avoid making unintentional eye contact. "Does anyone have my lenses?"


"Here they are," Tess replied. She placed the case in Mira's hand, her voice quiet. "But I don't think you're going to need them anymore. At least, not to protect your eyesight."

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