Lucan had hoped that Dare might one day take a seat beside him on the GNC, despite the exemplary skill that the young male had demonstrated during his training in weapons and combat. That hope died a little as he met his son's intense gaze. The gaze of a warrior, though his father was loath to admit it. As a parent, he wanted to keep his son close. Keep him safe.
"I can help," Darion said. "You know I want to help. You know I'm ready."
Lucan dropped back into his chair and reached for the pile of documents still awaiting his approval. "Don't wish for war, boy. You're too young to remember the hell of that word."
"I was six when the wars were at their worst. I heard enough. I learned enough in my studies at the Order's compound and at university. I've listened to you talk about battles and fighting for most of my life. I understand what war means, and I understand what it takes to be a warrior."
Lucan's pulse spiked, more from concern than anger. He aggressively scrawled his name on one of the GNC agreements, then grabbed for another set of documents. "Reading and talking about war doesn't make you a warrior. It doesn't prepare you to witness or be part of the things people do to one another under the banners of war. As your father, I hope you never know those things."
Darion's temper was a palpable thing, a force of power rolling from across the desk. "You still see me as a child in need of your protection."
Lucan set his pen down. "That's not true," he replied, sober now. Regretful that his conversations with Darion always seemed to end up in this same place. At this same cold impasse.
His son's jaw was clenched tight, a tendon ticking in his cheek. He scoffed, holding Lucan's stare, unblinking. "I trained under Tegan from the time I was twelve years old, because he is - in your own words - one of the best warriors you've ever known. Why send me to learn from the best, if you never intended to give me a place within the Order?"
Lucan couldn't tell him that he'd sent him to Tegan because of all the warriors ever to serve the Order, it was under Tegan's hard, merciless training that Dare stood the best chance of breaking. But Darion hadn't broken. No, far from it. He'd excelled. Smashed all expectations.
"You have your place here."
Dare grunted. "Advising on tactical stratagems and mapping out ops I'll never be part of in the field." He leaned back now, a negligent sprawl, with his long legs outstretched and one muscled, dermaglyph-covered arm draped along the back of the chair. His frustration was evident in the pulsing color that had begun to seep into the flourishes and arcs of his Breed skin markings. "Just once, I'd like to put my training to a true test, on a true mission, not mocked up in a computer program or scribbled on the walls of the war room. I could do more, if you'd only give me the chance."
"Your role with the Order is no less important than any other." Lucan picked up his pen again and calmly began to sign his name to the rest of the documents littering his desk. "I don't imagine you came here at this hour to reopen our same old argument. If you did, it will have to wait."
"No. That's not why I'm here." Darion took out his comm unit and touched the screen of the slim device. "I wanted to ask you about something I ran across in the headquarters' private archives today."
Lucan looked up at the mention of the chamber in the D.C. compound that housed a large and ever-growing history of the Breed and its otherworldly origins. A history the Order had been collecting for the past two decades through the sole efforts of an extraordinary woman. "You've been reading Jenna's journals?"
Dare's smile was dry. "I have a lot of free time. Not like I'm spending it all on Facebook."
Lucan chuckled, glad their conversation wouldn't end in a heated stalemate after all. "Tell me what you've found."
No sooner had he said it when Gideon arrived in the open doorway of Lucan's study. The Breed male's spiky blond hair was more disheveled than usual, raked up in all directions as though Gideon had just repeatedly run his hands through it, as he often did when faced with a problem he couldn't solve in three seconds flat. Or when he found himself appointed the bearer of disturbing news.
The look in Gideon's blue eyes as he peered over the tops of wireless silver shades told Lucan that nothing good was coming his way right now.
"Trouble with the security schematics?" he guessed, rising to face the other warrior as Gideon entered the room.
"Trouble in Boston a short while ago." Gideon gave Darion a slight nod in acknowledgment, then looked to Lucan for permission to speak of Order business in front of the younger male.
Lucan inclined his chin, a scowl furrowing deep in his brow. "Tell me what happened."
Lucan listened as Gideon gave a rundown of the incident at the club that had landed two of the Order's most decorated teams in JUSTIS custody. "She discharged deadly weapons to attack an unarmed civilian. Unprovoked. In a public establishment.
"Not that Mira needs me to make excuses for her," Gideon interjected, "but apparently the human she chased into the place has ties to rebel groups in the area."
"No, she doesn't need anyone's excuses," Lucan replied, his blood rolling toward a boil. "And you know as well as I do that she's got a hard-on for anything with a whiff of rebel involvement. That doesn't give her license to break half a dozen laws and defy my command."
Neither Gideon nor Dare said anything in the quiet that fell over the room while Lucan considered the female captain's fate. "Where is she now?"
"There have been no charges pressed, so both teams were released shortly after JUSTIS officers cleared out La Notte. They're all cooling their heels with Chase at the Boston Op Center."
Lucan grunted. "She's lucky this shit went down where it did. La Notte's proprietor probably forked over a good chunk of payola to JUSTIS so they'd forget the whole thing. As for the human Mira tried to shish-kebob, who knows why he let her slide. Doesn't matter."
Gideon nodded. "What do you want me to do?"
"Tell Chase I want Mira's team sent back to Montreal immediately. She stays behind. I want her on video call. Right. Fucking. Now."
MIRA LET A CURSE FLY ALONG WITH HER BLADE AS SHE CONTINUED A VIGOROUS SOLO SESSION IN THE TRAINING ROOM of the Boston Operations Center. It was late - or, rather, early. Barely three in the morning, and she probably should have been in bed sleeping off a bad night that had only gotten worse with a well-deserved reprimand delivered personally by Lucan Thorne.
Instead, on her dismissal from the video-conferenced rebuke and the news that she was being pulled from active duty effective immediately, Mira had headed straight for the indoor target range. For the past hour, she'd been pushing herself hard, driving her body toward exhaustion in an effort to purge the tight coil of anger and frustration that was still knotted up within her.
Her training had taught her better discipline than what she'd demonstrated a few hours ago in the city, and apart from the disapproval of the Order's founder and commander, she hated that she'd let emotion rule her. All the more so when her actions had put a very public stain on both her team and Nathan's, as well as the Order in general - at a time, Lucan had reminded her, when the Breed and mankind needed nothing to derail their hard-won progress toward peace.
He was right, of course. No matter how deep her ache over the loss of Kellan, nor her contempt for those she held responsible, her duty to the Order had to come first. As a warrior, she should be above such weakness. She had to be stronger than that, damn it. But she'd failed.
And now she would have to pay the price.
Remorse and self-directed anger put a hard edge to her stride as she stalked back into ready position on the range. Tucking loose strands of her blond hair back into her long braid, then wiping at the moisture that beaded her brow and added to the sting of unshed tears in her eyes, Mira prepared herself for another punishing round of training. With ruthless focus, she drew the remaining dagger from the pair of sheaths strapped to the thighs of her black fatigues, then completed a rapid series of strike and counterstrike moves against an imaginary opponent. She was breathing hard, sweat trickling down her temples and between her breasts as she drove herself through another round of mock combat, then still another.
She kept going, until she was panting from exertion, muscles screaming, her white tank damp and clinging to her skin. Then, with a final thrust of power, she pivoted into a battle crouch and loosed her weapon from her nimble fingers. The blade shot forward in an arrow-straight path, nothing but a flash of gleaming metal in the instant before it struck home in the target at the far end of the range.
"Flawless execution." From behind her, Nathan's voice caught her by surprise. "Your blade work is impressive, as always."
Mira hadn't even heard him come into the room, a fact she attributed to both her deep concentration on what she was doing and her friend's unnerving furtiveness. Not that Nathan's lethal silence came as any shock. Being Breed, he could move faster than any outside his kind could see, let alone match. But Nathan's stealth went deeper than that.
He had been bred and raised in a madman's laboratory, created for the sole purpose of dealing death, until he was recovered by his birth mother and taken in by the Order when he was just a teen. Mira had known Nathan from the time she was a child, had long ago come to hold him as dear and trusted as her own family. Still, she hid her face from him now, brushing the sweat and hot tears from her cheeks while keeping her back to him.
"Don't look at me, Nathan." Not because of her tears but for another, bigger reason. She gestured to the lens case that held her custom-made contacts. "My eyes. They're bare. I thought I would be alone in here, so I left my Sight unshielded while I trained."
Like all Breedmates and the Breed offspring they bore, Mira had an extrasensory gift unique to her. More powerful than many, hers was the ability to show someone a glimpse of their destiny in the reflection of her clear, mirrorlike irises. Often those glimpses were unwelcome, even horrifying. She couldn't control what people saw, nor was she privy to the details of the vision herself. And the cost for using her gift was an incremental degeneration of her eyesight.
As a girl, she'd worn a short veil over her face to protect her vision and mute her Sight. After her parents, Nikolai and Renata, had brought her with them to live under the protection of the Order, Mira had been given special contacts like the ones she wore to this day.
The air behind her stirred subtly with Nathan's movement, then the smooth plastic lens case was pressed into her palm. "Why didn't you let me stand with you when Lucan called tonight? You didn't have to face him alone. I would have vouched for you, shouldered some of the blame for what happened."
"I would never ask you to do that nor allow you to," she said, dismissing the idea outright as she put the violet-colored contacts into her eyes. The last thing she would've wanted was for Nathan or any member of their two squads to be undeservedly penalized for her actions. The only one she'd like to see hurting was the rebel sympathizer she let slip through her fingers earlier tonight. "Has there been any word about Rooster? I suppose the JUSTIS detail has released him back into the wild by now."
When she swiveled around to look at Nathan, he gave a vague shake of his head. "He'd committed no crime, has no outstanding warrants. There was no cause to hold him, so he was free to go."
"Damn it," she muttered, ignoring the Breed warrior's assessing look. "Who knows how long it will take before the bastard resurfaces again."
Without waiting for his reply, she strode away from Nathan, down the length of the target range to retrieve her blades. When she returned, he was watching her in his cool, detached way, studying her as he might a tactical plan or a puzzle in need of solving. "I hear it didn't go well for you with Lucan."
She lifted her shoulder in acknowledgment. "He was right to be upset with me. I acted out of line, and that's unacceptable. I should have been more careful. If I wanted to take care of that human rubbish, I should've done it out of the public eye. Next time, I'll know to be more discreet."
"Next time." Nathan swore low under his breath. "You've been relieved of duty until further notice, Mira. There can be no next time, or you can expect to find yourself pulled from the ranks permanently. That's not what anyone wants. I know that's not what you want."
"No," she said. "What I want is vengeance."
"And so you charge into every battle with a head full of fury, guns blazing, knives flying, and damn the consequences." At another time, she might have taken it as a compliment to her bravery, but the indictment in her friend's expression was impossible to deny. He was silent for a long moment, studying her. "A warrior driven by such selfish means is not a warrior fit to lead others into battle. Maybe unfit to serve at all."
Lucan had told her much the same thing earlier tonight. That she had earned the disapproval of the Order's founder and commander was bad enough. Disappointing Nathan and the other warriors who served alongside her was much harder to bear. "I'm sorry," she said, meaning it wholeheartedly. "I wish I could forget him, Nathan, but I can't."
"You still love him."
Not a question, and she couldn't begin to deny it. Nathan, along with most of the Order and their mates, had long ago recognized the bond that had formed between Kellan and her over the years. What had begun for her as a childhood crush on a sullen, damaged boy had blazed into something much deeper as she matured into a young woman and watched Kellan become a courageous soldier, a good man of unshakable honor.
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