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God knew, the female had repaired more than her share of combat injuries for the Order over the past two decades.

But now Tess seemed less than assured. "I can restart his heart," she said, "but I won't be able to stop the bleeding and repair all the bullet wounds at the same time. I can revive him, but he could bleed out faster than I can fix him."

"Let me help you." Tess and Dante's son, Rafe, hunkered down next to her. The young warrior's face was solemn with purpose, his eyes - the same aquamarine shade as his mother's - intense with a determination Lucan had seen him display in equal measure on the field of combat. Rafe placed his palms on two of the bullet wounds, then gave his mother a nod. "You kick-start his ticker. Leave the rest to me."

Tess smiled, her face full of maternal pride as the pair of healers went to work on Kellan.

Lucan wanted to know as badly as anyone else gathered around the scene if the Order would have a miracle here today or a loss that would send the body of one of their own - one of their kin - up to meet the sun tomorrow morning in a funeral ritual.

But regardless of in what condition Kellan Archer returned to the Order's headquarters, Lucan and the other warriors had serious problems of their own to contend with now.

Problems that only became more urgent with the execution-style slaying of GNC director Benson a few minutes ago.

Lucan sent a glance at Gideon, Tegan, Dante, and the rest of the Order's elders. "Opus Nostrum," he said grimly, a question in his dark tone.

Gideon shook his head, as did the other warriors. "It's Latin. Means 'our work.' "

"Any idea what it refers to or, more important, how it might relate to Ackmeyer's Morningstar project?"

"First I'm hearing of it," Gideon replied.

Tegan inclined his head, gaze flat and cold. "I'll get a team together and run some recon. We can have boots on the ground at sundown."

Lucan nodded. "We're gonna need whatever you can gather. Leave no lead unturned. Report back to me on everything you find."

Tegan pivoted, signaling to several other warriors to join him.

"What about the summit reception?" Dante asked. "You want to step up security, put more heat on display, in case anyone's got ideas about doing something stupid tonight?"

Lucan considered for a moment. As tempting as it was, the last thing he needed to do was storm into the peace summit with an army of Breed warriors decked out in full-scale combat gear and heavy firearms. In fact, doing so could play right into the hands of anyone who might harbor a private wish to see the truce between mankind and Breed disintegrate.

What better place to incite a war than at a peace summit?

At the reminder of Darion's words, Lucan glanced over at his son. Dare's observation from several days ago, before all of this chaos began, had been troubling enough to consider then. Now it seemed all too possible that his son's keen head for tactics and strategies had predicted it right.

What if someone wanted to disrupt the summit gala tonight?

What if someone wanted to undo all the strides that had been made since First Dawn twenty years ago and set back the clock to a time when there was no peace? Or make sure there never could be any going forward?

To do so, they would have to get through the Order first.

Lucan looked at Dante, gave a curt shake of his head at the question of putting on a very public display of the Order's might. "Let's not tip our hand tonight. If something is in play, let the bastards get comfortable. Let them show themselves first. We'll be ready for them. Meanwhile, no one is above suspicion."

Chapter Twenty-Six

MIRA CAME AWAKE ON A GASP, LIKE A FISH TOSSED OUT OF the ocean and onto dry land.



Slapped into a sudden, harsh new reality.

She shot bolt upright in bed, breath heaving. Her heart was pounding fast and hard, as though it wanted to burst out of her breast.

She was back at the Order's headquarters, alone in a darkened bedroom. Nothing but silence all around her. She hardly noticed her surroundings, hardly cared how she'd gotten there or how long she'd been unconscious.

She vaguely remembered Nikolai trancing her after they'd left the GNC building. She couldn't blame him for putting her under a hypnotic sedation. She'd been inconsolable, hysterical with grief.

It all seemed like a nightmare - horrible and wrenching. But no, it had been real. She still had Kellan's blood on her clothes.

He had been shot.

Kellan was dead.

And yet . . .

She rubbed her chest, felt the steady beat of her heart, heavy and strong, beneath her palm. Her blood was thrumming in her veins. All of her senses honed on one pure point of awareness.


She felt him with every particle of her being.

She felt his pain, his struggle to cling to something that until now kept slipping out of his grasp.


She felt him reaching for it. She felt him fighting for each breath, forcing each heavy beat of his heart to push more blood into his veins. She felt his mind searching for her. Felt their bond reconnecting, giving him much-needed strength.

Oh, God . . .

Kellan was alive.

Mira swung her feet to the floor and stood up, just as Renata entered the room.

"Kellan?" Mira blurted, both a question and a prayer.

Renata smiled, relief written across her face. "Yes, Mouse. He's not out of the woods yet, but Tess and Rafe - "

Mira was too elated to let her finish. She let out a cry of disbelief and threw herself at Renata in a fierce, overjoyed hug. "I have to see him."

She raced through the mansion, following the thin tether of the blood bond she shared with him. It led her down the stairs to the main floor, then down again, to the underground wing of the headquarters' tech center and the double doors of the infirmary down the hallway.

Kellan lay in a hospital bed inside one of the half-dozen medical rooms. Tess and Rafe were with him. Nikolai, Dante, and Lucan stood off to one side of the bed. And Nathan was there, standing as rigid as a sentry on watch, flanked by his squad of warriors and Mira's too.

The teams she'd trained with, laughed with, rode into battle with, all gave her nods of greeting and support as she entered the room. As for Nathan, despite his carefully schooled posture, there was no mistaking the concern in his dark-fringed eyes as he pivoted his head and met Mira's gaze. He'd been worried about Kellan too.

Mira went to the side of the bed, not realizing she was holding her breath until she saw Kellan's chest rise and fall, and her own lungs expelled a ragged sigh.

She whispered his name, reaching down to smooth his coppery-brown hair off his pale brow.

"He's weak right now," Tess said gently. "He's lost a lot of blood."

"He's alive," Mira said. It was all the hope she needed. She kissed his mouth, tasted her own tears as she wrapped her arms around his bulky shoulders and let her relief pour out of her.

It took her a long moment before she could release him. She turned away, walking over to Tess and Rafe, her personal miracle workers. She embraced them both but held on to Tess with a gratitude that defied words.

Just that morning Tess had told Mira her vision had given her a gift she could only hope to repay. Never had Mira imagined how much she would need Tess's extraordinary power. How could she ever express the depth of her indebtedness?

"Tess, I . . ."

The other Breedmate merely smiled and squeezed Mira's hand. "I know. Now, go to him. Kellan needs you, more than anything else we can do for him."

Mira went back to his side and took his hand. His skin was warm. His fingers twitched in her grasp, then tightened. He could feel her. He knew she was there with him.

"His heart is very strong," Tess said. "He's been fighting very hard to come back. He didn't want to let go."

Mira couldn't hold back her little sob. "You came back to me," she murmured, leaning in close to him as she caressed his handsome face. "Now you're stuck for good, Kellan Archer. Do you hear me? Don't you ever let go again."

Tess's hand came to rest lightly on Mira's back. "I'd like to check on him a bit later, make sure he's in the clear. But right now, his healing will depend on you. Your blood will do the rest for him, Mira."

She nodded, noted that as Tess stepped away, she had placed a slender scalpel atop some folded clothing on the bedside table.

Mira's relief that Kellan was alive couldn't have been more complete, but she couldn't help feeling the dark gravity of Lucan's presence in the room. Kellan had been given the chance to defy the gunshot wounds that killed him in front of the GNC, but where did that leave him with Lucan and the rest of the Order?

"What happens now, Lucan? If Kellan wakes up - when he wakes up - where will he go from here?"

Lucan's grim expression gave nothing away. He stared at Kellan, then brought his stern gray gaze back to Mira. "None of this changes what's already come to pass. Dead or alive, he was still found guilty by the Council. He can't return to the life he was leading before. Neither of the lives he once led."

Mira knew her disappointment must have shown on her face. She'd been hoping for some kind of absolution from Lucan. Some reassurance that Kellan would be welcomed back into the fold and that life would go on as it once was. Better than it ever had been.

She was hoping for a miracle. And she had it, didn't she? Kellan was alive. The rest they would simply have to figure out later. They would figure everything out together.

And if that meant she had to leave the Order to be with Kellan?

She tried to ignore the twinge of hurt that notion brought with it. The Order was her family. Her purpose in life. Her home.

She glanced away from Lucan, to Renata, beautiful and heavy with child, nestled under the protective wing of Nikolai's strong arm. She looked next to Nathan, her dear friend. Kellan's friend. And to the trio of Breed warriors who had long ago become more than simply comrades. Everyone gathered in the room and under this roof was part of Mira's life.

For all her attempts in the past days to convince Kellan that they should run away together, abandon everything and try to outrun the destiny he'd seen in her eyes, she realized only now how steep the price would have been.

But Kellan had known.

Even with the prospect of his own death hanging over his head, he hadn't allowed Mira to turn her back on everything she loved for a life of exile and hiding with him. He'd chosen to face a fatal destiny in order to make certain she found her way back to where she belonged.

She loved him more for that sacrifice now than she had loved him at any other time.

Mira took the scalpel from the table beside the bed. She made a small incision in her wrist, then held the bleeding wound against his slack mouth. She stroked his hair, his cheek, softly encouraging him to drink. Her blood welled on his tongue, deep red, the coppery tang of it laced with the trace fragrance of lilies, her unique blood scent. Kellan responded after a long moment, his throat working slowly as the blood slipped to the back of his mouth.

"That's it," Mira whispered. "Take some more of me, Kellan. Take all you need."

His lips moved to get a better purchase on her vein. Then his tongue pressed against her skin, warm and searching. He took another swallow. Then another.

Mira caressed him as he drank from her, feeling his strength begin to renew through their bond. "Keep drinking," she told him gently. "Come back to me."

She hardly noticed the others in the room now, all her focus locked on Kellan. On making him better. Making him whole.

"Let's give them some time alone," Renata said. She led the group of warriors and their mates out of the room, pausing to send a caring, tender smile in Mira's direction. "I love you, Mouse."

Mira nodded, gave her a wobbly smile. "I love you too, Rennie."

She loved them all, the only family she'd ever known. And she loved Kellan, the man who had held her heart from the moment she first laid eyes on him.

She didn't want to choose. She wanted both.

Selfishly, desperately, she wanted both.

Four hours later, Lucan Thorne stood beside his Breedmate, Gabrielle, in the middle of the peace summit gala, dressed like a freaking undertaker in his black suit, black button-down shirt, and polished black shoes.

The rest of the Order on duty at the reception was similarly outfitted, a nearly twenty-man security detail garbed in finely tailored suits and tactfully concealed weapons. Not that they blended in, exactly. Hard to miss the presence of six and a half feet of muscled Breed might and darkly sober menace stationed in all corners of the glittering reception hall.

Precisely the point Lucan had wanted to make to the upward of a thousand human and Breed dignitaries and heads of state in attendance from various parts of the world.

The Order was on-site and vigilant.

They didn't need an arsenal of weapons to prove their point. It was evident in each warrior's stride. In his steady eye and stern jaw. And in the preternatural power that radiated off every one of Lucan's warrior brethren, even at rest. They were deadly cool and on the watch.

But they were there to maintain peace, not fan the flames of unrest or mistrust.

More than he could say for the thirty-plus cowboys swaggering around in Crowe Industries uniforms, each with a pair of sidearms bobbing at his hips. Lucan glowered as the preening peacock in command of those clueless yahoos started strutting toward him from across the wide floor of the crowded reception.

Next to him, Gabrielle put her hand on his arm and casually leaned toward him, speaking through her pretty, diplomatic smile. "Try to be nice. This is a party, remember?"

Eyes on Reginald Crowe, Lucan lowered his head and growled.


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