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Kellan grunted. "Funny, I'm looking at a dead man too."

Crowe smiled. "You can't kill me. We both know that. You need me. You need information only I can give you. You want to know about Opus Nostrum, don't you?"

Kellan kept his aim steady on the center of Crowe's head. "I know all I need to know."

"Do you?"

Kellan held the man in a dark glower. "Let me summarize. You and Benson had plans of killing the Order tonight to clear the way for you and your twisted need for power. But you weren't capable of pulling off something like that on your own. You needed Jeremy Ackmeyer's technology to accomplish it. You needed a weapon capable of instant, mass murder. Morningstar was your answer."

Crowe smiled, seemingly amused.

"Benson stole the prototype from his nephew, but you decided Ackmeyer needed to die. No loose ends would be my guess. Lucky for you, his kidnapping provided the perfect opportunity for you to strike. You were able to kill him and blame it on rebels, ending the life of a pawn you always intended to sweep off your board."

Kellan heard the access door on the rooftop service building open behind him and Mira quietly announced herself. She drew up next to him, blades in her hands, looking fierce and formidable. Sexier than he wanted to notice in that moment.

He centered himself back on Crowe and the contempt he had for the man. "Benson wasn't on board with his nephew's killing, was he? That's why he showed up drunk at the hearing today. He said too much, so your spies had him executed on the spot."

Crowe chuckled. "You think you have it all figured out. You're not even close."

"I think I am. When I touched Benson, his mind told me what Opus Nostrum had planned here tonight."

"Opus Nostrum isn't the worst of your problems," Crowe replied. He lowered his hands, letting them fall slowly to his sides. He started walking toward Kellan and Mira.

Kellan raised the gun, prepared to fire a shot straight between Crowe's amused eyes. "Stop right there, asshole. Or your next step will be your last."

But Crowe didn't stop. He came forward another pace.

Kellan pulled the trigger - once, twice. Two direct hits, right between the eyes, a dead-on shot into the bastard's skull.

The bullets didn't so much as make him flinch. The blood seemed to evaporate on the spot, skin healing over even faster than one of Kellan's kind.

Mira sucked in a sharp breath. "Oh, my God . . ."

"What the fuck?" Kellan muttered, shocked and confused. "You're not human. Not Breed either."

Crowe grinned. "Now you're getting the picture."

Kellan emptied his weapon at him, but Crowe dodged most of the bullets with superhuman agility. Kellan reached for his second sidearm, but Mira was already in motion. She let her daggers fly on a battle roar, planting one blade in the center of Crowe's chest, the other driven deep into his throat.

Crowe cocked his head at her, a cruel, animalistic gleam in his eyes.

As if the grievous wounds were of no consequence at all, he plucked out the daggers and dropped the bloodied weapons to the ground.

The rising glow drew Nathan back into the reception hall as the crowd of screaming gala attendees continued to pour out to the lobby in wave after wave of mass hysteria.

Lucan stayed behind, attempting to disable the crystal obelisk and its illuminated orb. As Nathan stepped back into the hall, Lucan was discarding his empty 9-mm magazine and feeding another into the weapon. The orb was chipped and shattered but not broken.

"It's getting brighter." Darion Thorne had come up beside Nathan. "Gunfire isn't enough to destroy it. What the hell is that thing made out of?"

Nathan shook his head. He didn't know, but he had another weapon in his arsenal - one inherited from the Breedmate who was his mother. He tossed both of his guns to Darion. "Light that fucker up. I'll be right behind you."

Dare nodded and stalked across the emptying floor to meet his father in front of the obelisk. He opened fire in concert with Lucan, a 9-mm in each hand, squeezing off rounds with each long stride.

Nathan focused on the din of thunderous shots and the echoing screams of the crowd. He gathered the noise, summoning his Breed ability to bend sound waves and either amplify or mute them. He built up the cacophony, tumbling it into a ball of sound and energy.

Lucan glanced to his son, then to Nathan, giving both warriors a nod of approval. Of solemn respect and gratitude.

Together Lucan and Darion blasted into the orb, creating deep fissures in the glowing sphere of light. Nathan gathered more sound, until the vibrating collection of energy was almost too much for him to contain.

On a roar, he let it loose.

The air rippled as the sonokinetic blast arced toward the cracked obelisk.

Lucan and Dare leapt out of the way, both warriors still shooting at the sculpture as they tumbled away just before it shattered.

Light erupted from the orb, but it lasted only an instant. The pebbled crystal of the obelisk and its crowning sphere exploded in all directions, raining down onto the reception hall floor like thousands of tiny diamonds.

Morningstar had been neutralized.

Lucan glanced at Nathan, then his son. "Good work, both of you." His gray eyes flashed with hot amber sparks. "Now let's go find Crowe and finish that bastard."

Chapter Twenty-Nine

MIRA GAPED IN ASTONISHMENT AS CROWE'S PUNCTURED throat and chest repaired themselves in a matter of instants.

Who - or what - was he?

Whatever the answer, there seemed to be no stopping him.

But that didn't keep Kellan from trying.

He launched himself at Crowe, a full-body assault that sent both males slamming into the side of the stairwell door of the service building on the roof. The heavy steel panel crushed inward with the impact, groaning on its industrial-grade hinges.

Crowe chuckled. "Not used to being beaten by someone lesser than your own Breed, are you, warrior? That would be your mistake, assuming I was anything less than your equal."

Kellan went at him again, throwing Crowe into the side of the rooftop building. For all the good it did. Crowe wheeled around in midair, taking Kellan with him. He thrust forward, propelling them both into a frightening tumble across the wide plain of asphalt, nearly to the edge.

"Your kind is an abomination. Bastards, born of mixed blood between the ones you called Ancients and the female halflings spawned by humans and the profane defectors of my own race. The Breed does not deserve to inhabit this planet, no more than the humans do. Your Ancient forebears thought they'd defeated us when they drove us from our own world, down to this crude rock. They thought they'd won again when they hunted us here and destroyed our perfect Atlantis, forcing our queen into exile. But we've only been waiting for our chance to rise again. We will have it, and soon. The wheels are already in motion."

Mira listened as she scrambled for a way to help Kellan defeat Crowe. She'd heard the theories over the past couple of decades that Breedmates like her were the offspring of an immortal race who'd built a civilization human legends would eventually call Atlantis. Jenna's journals back at the Order's headquarters archives were filled with entries about that stunning probability. But no one had ever knowingly been face-to-face with an Atlantean until now.

The things Crowe was saying, the revelation that his kind had not only survived the destruction of Atlantis but were flourishing in secret, plotting their own war, was astonishing. It was terrifying. The prospect of war with another immortal race put a marrow-deep shiver in Mira's bones.

But her more immediate concern was keeping Kellan alive.

Her blades were of no help in slowing Crowe down, so Mira grabbed for her pistol. She knew bullets were hardly a sure thing in this fight either, but it was all she had.

If only she could find a clear shot.

Kellan and Crowe fought hand to hand, alternating between bone-crushing fists and violent body slams. They moved so fast, each gifted with a speed that was nothing close to human, Mira could hardly track them, let alone get a decent opportunity to fire on Crowe. She couldn't risk hitting Kellan. She'd seen him shot already today. She didn't have the heart to be the one pulling the trigger if he was in her line of fire.

After several aborted aims, she realized there was nothing for her to do but join in the fray.

She jumped on Crowe, tried to get her gun flush and steady against his head. One bullet into his head hadn't slowed him down, but she was prepared to squeeze off the entire magazine if he'd hold still long enough for her to attempt it.

She didn't get the chance to pull the trigger.

Crowe reared back and threw her off. He dropped his hold on Kellan, shifting around to face her as she fell to the rough asphalt of the rooftop and her gun clattered out of her grasp. Crowe fumed now, his features seeming to tighten across the bones of his face.

He looked utterly inhuman. Unearthly. She realized only now how true that observation was.

With a snarl, Crowe seized her, yanking her up off the ground and bringing her around in front of him like a shield. Kellan had her gun raised on Crowe, but somehow Crowe had acted equally fast, having retrieved a weapon off one of his fallen security detail before Mira had even registered his movements.

He put the cold nose of the pistol against Mira's temple as he started backing toward his waiting helicopter.

"Put her down," Kellan commanded.

"Oh, I don't think so." Crowe kept retreating, edging closer to the aircraft. The breeze off the slowly rotating blades stirred Mira's hair, sent wisps loose from her braid and blew them across her face.

She stared at Kellan, imploring him with her eyes, hoping he'd see that she wanted him to take his shot. Hoping he'd feel through their blood bond that she wasn't afraid. She trusted he could hit Crowe.

Do it. Take this bastard out before he reaches that bird.

She saw Kellan's finger tighten on the trigger. Felt his pulse kick with fear of harming her and the icy need to kill the one holding her. But at the last moment Kellan shifted his aim, shooting past Crowe and hitting his pilot.

The human rocked back in his seat with the impact before slumping down over the controls. The engine choked, and the blades lost some of their speed.

Crowe barked a laugh, unfazed. "You think after a few thousand years on this chunk of stone I haven't learned to fly your crude machinery? Please." He was still backing up, preparing to make his escape and keeping a firm hold on Mira the whole way.

She couldn't do much to get loose. His grip was iron around her middle. The metal nose of the gun bored into her right temple like ice. She swallowed her mounting panic as her ears filled with the steady chop-chop-chop of the rotor coming closer.

"A pity I'll only get to kill one of you before I have to go," Crowe taunted at Kellan. "I guess it'll have to be you."

Mira felt Crowe's muscles twitch nearly imperceptibly as he readied to take aim on Kellan. The instant the pressure eased from her temple, Mira broke loose from Crowe's hold and knocked his arm up, twisting out of his reach at the same time. She felt the sudden force of something heavy hitting him. Heard the low crunch as the propeller blade took his hand off at the wrist.

Crowe staggered, mouth slack as he gaped at his severed limb.

Then he looked back to Mira.

Something strange crossed his features as he stared into her eyes. He no longer seemed to notice the terrible wound that wasn't healing itself. His lost hand lay on the asphalt next to his gun, blood pumping down his forearm and onto the black rooftop. And yet Crowe stared at her eyes, utterly transfixed.

Her eyes . . .

She felt the tickle of one of her lenses where it clung to her cheek. It must have popped out during the struggle, unveiling the hypnotic mirror of her iris. Crowe didn't seem able to tear himself away from her gaze.

But he was still drifting backward, his steps sluggish now that he was caught in the power of her visions.

She didn't know what he saw.

She didn't think she'd want to know.

And in that next instant, it no longer mattered.

Crowe - or whatever his true, Atlantean name was - stumbled back on his heels. He was too close to the blades. Too tall, when the slowing rotors had started to droop with their loss of momentum.

Crowe turned his head then, almost as if some stronger part of his subconscious recognized the threat his waking mind couldn't see under the spell of Mira's gaze. He glanced behind him . . . just as the helicopter blade swung toward him, cleaving his head away from his neck.

Mira averted her eyes, but it was impossible to shut out the horror of what just happened.

Then, as Crowe's body crumpled to the ground, a bright light began to swell inside him. It rushed through his limbs and poured out of his neck, intense and pure and otherworldly. And in the center of his intact palm, a symbol began to take shape, illuminated from within.

It was in the shape of a teardrop falling into the cradle of a crescent moon.

The same symbol Mira and every other Breedmate bore as a birthmark somewhere on their bodies.

There could be no doubting it now.

The Atlanteans were real, the otherworldly fathers of the Breedmates.

The Atlanteans were alive, an unknown number of them, hiding in secret with their banished queen. Lying in wait for their chance to rise up against the Breed and mankind.

They were immortal and deadly.

They were the enemy.

Lucan crashed through the battered door of the rooftop service stairwell, Darion and Nathan right behind him. It seemed the only feasible place for Crowe to have fled, but the situation that greeted Lucan at the top of the GNC building was nothing he would have expected.

Mira and Kellan stood together in the darkness, she wrapped tightly around the Breed male, her blond head nestled into his chest, his muscled arms holding her close.


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