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"You told him," Mira said. She came around in front of him and carefully smoothed her fingers over his healing wounds. "If you're talking about Opus Nostrum, whatever that is, Lucan is already looking into it. You gave him that intel just before you - "


"There's more, Mira. We need to bring Benson in. He's got information about some kind of attack that's being planned, one that involves Ackmeyer's Morningstar technology. We need to interrogate the bastard ASAP."


She gave him a funny look, then shook her head. "Benson's dead. He was killed by the same JUSTIS officers who shot you. They murdered him execution style in a back hallway of the GNC building when he was trying to get away."


Ah, fuck.


Kellan grabbed the T-shirt and shrugged into it. "Lucan needs to know what's going on. I have to see him right now."


"You can't." Mira shook her head. "He's gone. He left with Gabrielle and the rest of the Order and their mates some time ago. Everyone's at the peace summit gala tonight."


The peace summit.


Realization sank in with sharp, icy talons.


"It's going to happen at the gala," Kellan murmured. "When I read Benson, his guilt was over the fact that Opus Nostrum had killed Ackmeyer because of his UV technology and that many more people were going to die because of it too - all under the guise of peace. They're going to use Morningstar as a weapon at the gala tonight."


Lucan's grip was tight on his comm unit as he ended the call with Mira. His curse, vicious and nasty. It drew an aghast inhalation from the Breedmate of a visiting ambassador, who'd been blathering on endlessly to Gabrielle and Gideon's mate, Savannah, for the past twenty minutes about her latest art acquisitions. The female gaped at Lucan, who returned the look with a dark scowl, too distracted by troubling news to be bothered with playing the pleasant party guest.


As the woman made her excuses and scurried away, Gabrielle turned a wry look on him. "Thanks for the rescue. What did Mira want? Nothing's wrong with Kellan, is there?"


"He's fine. Already on his feet, in fact. But he remembered something more from his read on Benson." Lucan's blood ran a bit colder as he took in the sea of people in attendance at the gala. He glanced to Gideon, who stood talking with Darion on the other side of the two Breedmates. "Kellan says Benson was aware of an attack being planned by Opus Nostrum. Something big, involving Ackmeyer's UV technology as a weapon. He believes it may be set to take place tonight."


"Here, at the gala?" Gabrielle whispered. "You don't think that's possible, do you?"


Gideon grunted, his blue eyes dubious over the rims of sleek, silvery-lensed glasses. "Between the Order and Crowe's security detail, this place is locked down. Someone would have to be insane to think they could get in here and wage some kind of assault."


"Unless they're already inside," Dare suggested.


Lucan felt a scowl tighten his face as he considered his son's all-too-probable scenario. With a tilt of his chin, he motioned Tegan, Nikolai, and Hunter over from across the room. "Everyone in here went through metal detectors and weapons scans, yeah?"


Tegan gave a grave nod. "Can't get into any government building these days without a full-body X ray. Everyone was scanned on entry."


Niko grinned. "Think it's too late to recommend Crowe for a cavity search? Nah, on second thought, he might enjoy it."


Crowe was currently working his way toward the lavish stage at the head of the large reception hall. He pumped dozens of hands on his approach, chuckling and backslapping with the dignitaries while leering at their wives and basically acting like he owned the damn place and everyone in it.


Lucan lowered his head and glared in Crowe's direction. His voice was a deep, rumbling growl. "He reeks of something more than just arrogance tonight. What if Crowe's got his hands on the Morningstar technology? Everyone went through metal scans on entry to the building, but did anyone check the rounds Crowe's security detail is packing?"


"You think they could be UV?" Niko, the Order's personal weapons expert and gearhead, blew out a low whistle. "Only one way to find out. Who's up for a round of show-and-tell?"


Tegan met his look. "We have to keep it quiet. Take his detail off the floor, bring them somewhere out of sight where we can search them one by one. Between the twenty of us, we can get this done in a few minutes."


Hunter nodded. "There are empty conference rooms on the west corridor outside the reception hall."


Niko grinned. "What are we waiting for?"


"Make it quick," Lucan said, "but keep this shit covert. Hit them with a trance on the way in, mind scrub on the way out. And if you find anything that raises suspicion, this whole party goes on immediate lockdown."


The three warriors acknowledged the command, then took off to alert the others on watch of the plan. Darion started to go with them, but Lucan held him back, a hand clamped tight on his son's muscled shoulder. "Stay close. I want you nearby to look after your mother if the situation calls for it."


Dare's brows lowered, his mouth flattening into a hard line. But he acquiesced with a nod and hung back, watching as the rest of the Order began discreetly carrying out the search on Crowe's security detail.


As for Lucan, his sights were fixed on Reginald Crowe, currently onstage and basking in thunderous applause from the crowd spread out below him. Crowe ate it up with unabashed pleasure, puffed up and pompous, a golden king about to address his lowly peasant subjects. When the adoration finally subsided, Crowe took the microphone to officially open the summit gala and to welcome the dignitaries as his personal guests.


Lucan tuned out the self-preening to survey the warriors' progress with the catch-and-release operation under way on the floor of the reception hall. Nikolai was casually guiding one of Crowe's security men out of the room, while Tegan had just returned to let another of the uniformed guards loose into the gathering. He met Lucan's gaze and gave a grim shake of his head. Nothing.


One by one the Order led Crowe's men out of the room. And one by one they were all returning without anything to report.


Maybe Kellan had it wrong.


Maybe the attack Benson was privy to was set to occur somewhere else, at some other time.


And yet every one of Lucan's battle instincts prickled with the certainty that something was off tonight. Something wasn't right, and he was willing to bet that something had everything to do with Reginald Crowe.


Onstage, Crowe's demeanor had sobered as he paused to express his shock and grief over the tragic loss of both Jeremy Ackmeyer and GNC director Benson. "Two great men, visionaries, both of them," he said, his voice carrying over the silent crowd. "One committed to advancing our world through science and innovation. The other devoted his life to ensuring a safer future for us all . . ."


Lucan tuned out the brief eulogy, instead watching as still more Crowe Industries guards were searched and released by Tegan and the other warriors.


Crowe, meanwhile, was gaining steam again. "To have lost two brilliant champions of our future at a time when we were gathering here to celebrate peace between mankind and the Breed only demonstrates the work still left to be done. Peace is our dream. Peace is our goal."


As the throng applauded and murmured their agreement, Crowe directed their attention to the center of the reception, where his glittering crystal obelisk shone like a beacon under the soft lights of the hall. "Tonight I give you a symbol of my vision for the future of our world. Tonight I propose a future of true peace. Not First Dawn, but a New Dawn."


Crowe's words put a sudden chill in Lucan's veins. He glanced at the obelisk again and noticed that the crystal orb crowning the sculpture had begun to glow with more intensity than before. Now the light inside the sphere pulsed with energy.


Holy shit.


It wasn't UV bullets they needed to worry about after all.


"Peace is our vision," Crowe was saying now, his gaze panning the crowd as he spoke. His eyes found Lucan and came to a stop. "Peace is our work. Pax Opus Nostrum."


Morningstar.


Crowe had smuggled it in right under their noses.


"Get down!" Lucan bellowed. He pushed Gabrielle into Dare's arms and motioned for them to move the hell out of the room. As all eyes turned to him, Lucan drew his 9-mm semiauto from under his suit coat and aimed it at the obelisk. "Everyone down now!"


The light within the orb was growing stronger by the second, threatening to blow.


"UV bomb in the orb," he shouted to the other members of the Order. "Get the Breed civilians out of this goddamned room now!"


The crowd started screaming, even before Lucan fired the first shot.


Chaos erupted, humans and Breed scattering in a stampede of confusion and terror.


The crystal orb cracked with his bullet's impact, but the light didn't dim.


The other warriors rounded up the dignitaries as best they could, the tangle of panicked bodies making it next to impossible to see anything but the rush of men and women, dodging in all directions as the gala dissolved into mass hysteria.


Through the fleeing crowd, Lucan spotted Crowe as he leapt off the stage and headed for the shadows in the back of the reception hall. He wanted to pursue the bastard, but all of his focus - all of his savage purpose - was fixed on destroying the tower of deadly art now glowing with greater strength at the center of the gathering.


Chapter Twenty-Eight


ALTHOUGH HE KNEW IT WAS THE LAST PLACE HE SHOULD be - and the dead last place he wanted to be with Mira alongside him - nothing could have stopped Kellan from heading to the peace summit gala once he realized there was a chance Ackmeyer's UV technology could be unleashed on the Order.


As he and Mira pulled up to the curb in one of the Order's vehicles, Kellan realized the situation was even worse than he'd anticipated.


Much worse.


Hundreds of people - humans and Breed alike - poured out of the GNC building and into the night, fleeing on foot, screaming in utter terror. Men in formal wear, women in shimmering evening gowns and high heels, scattering in all directions.


Sheer chaos.


"Oh, my God," Mira breathed, coming around the sedan to meet Kellan on the other side. She was dressed as he was, head-to-toe black combat gear, sidearms loaded and ready for action. The hilts of Mira's twin daggers, riding at her hips, glinted under the pale moonlight overhead. She stared at the scene of confusion, her expression slack with alarm. "It's already happening. Kellan, what if we're too late?"


He glimpsed several of the warriors ushering Breed dignitaries to safe ground, far away from the building. "We still have time. Come on."


Mira jogged after him, up a broad flight of stairs. They had to dodge the flow of escaping party guests, who crashed toward them like cattle swept up in a blind stampede. Kellan spotted an open side door, away from the mad throng pushing and shoving out of the main entrance. He took Mira's hand and ran with her, ducking inside the building with her.


The scene in the lobby wasn't any more sane. Thick with scores of fleeing people, it was almost impossible to push against the current. Kellan saw Rafe up ahead, his blond head and broad shoulders towering over most of the humans racing past him. The warrior glanced over and his aqua eyes flashed with intensity.


"What happened?" Kellan called to him.


"Crowe," Rafe snarled over the tops of the fleeing throng. "Son of a bitch planted a UV bomb in the middle of the damn reception. Lucan's trying to shut it down. He wants a total evac."


Ah, Christ.


Even worse than ultraviolet rounds, a bomb utilizing that kind of technology could wipe out not only the Order but every Breed dignitary in the place.


Which was exactly Opus Nostrum's plan, he realized now.


"Kellan, look." Mira nodded toward the far end of the lobby. "At the elevators."


Reginald Crowe, flanked by a pair of uniformed security personnel, was rushing into a service elevator while the rest of the lobby swarmed with total chaos. Before Kellan had a chance to flash across the distance and stop the bastard, the doors slid closed. Crowe was gone.


"Fuck," Kellan growled as he and Mira ran up on the sealed doors. "He's heading for the roof. Stay here. Stick close to Rafe and the other warriors."


"Let you go after him alone?" she said, not even close to a question. "Like hell I will."


He didn't like it, but he didn't have time to argue with her, especially the way her chin hiked up as she spoke. And besides, Crowe was only human. The two guards with him weren't Breed either, which meant the three of them together would pose little problem for Kellan. Add in Mira's lethal skill with her blades, and Crowe's escape attempt was futile even before it began.


Kellan shot a glance at the service stairwell. Using the speed his Breed genetics gave him, he could be up to the roof in mere seconds. "I'm going up on foot. You take the second elevator."


She nodded and he took off, racing up the several flights to the service access door on the rooftop, just as Crowe and his security detail were taking their first steps across the asphalt. A helicopter waited a dozen yards away, a human pilot seated behind the controls. The engine whined to a start as Crowe strode swiftly toward the aircraft.


Kellan wasted no time. He put a bullet into the back of each guard's head, dropping the pair like bowling pins. Crowe drew up short as his men hit the ground.


"Don't move," Kellan growled. "Don't you fucking move, or you're dead next."


Crowe put his hands in the air and slowly turned around. His golden brows rose in surprise. "Well, this is an amusing development. The rebel leader formerly known as Bowman. I never expected to see a dead man staring at me over the barrel of a pistol this evening."

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