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Two of Crowe's uniformed security men lay dead on the black asphalt in front of him. Across the way, a helicopter idled, its pilot slumped forward in his seat, engine winding down to an unmanned stop.

And lying under the slowing rotor blades, the headless body of Reginald Crowe.

Lucan stared, uncertain if he was seeing right, as a glow that seemed to light Crowe's limbs and torso from within now faded away before his eyes.

Behind Lucan, both Dare and Nathan murmured their disbelief.

Lucan glanced back to Mira and Kellan. "What the hell just happened?"

As the pair began explaining, more of the Order arrived behind Nathan and Dare. The younger teams, and the warriors who'd been with Lucan nearly from the start of the Order's founding. Gabrielle and the other Breedmates soon arrived as well, until Lucan found himself surrounded by the kith and kin who meant the most to him.

They all listened in silent astonishment as Mira and Kellan described what Crowe had done, who he was . . . and the things the immortal had revealed in his final breaths.

That Mira and Kellan had defeated Crowe by themselves was commendable, even if the leader in Lucan wanted to take the pair to task for the maverick move undertaken without his knowledge or permission. Perhaps that was the rebel in Kellan, the leader unafraid to charge to the head of any battle. God knew, Mira had never been known for her willingness to color within the lines.

Tonight they had been a united front. A team of two, stronger together. It felt right, seeing them joined as a mated couple. A partnership that had been tested more than most, and hard-won.

Lucan walked over and extended his hand to them, first to Mira, whom he couldn't resist dragging into a brief embrace, feeling fatherly and proud of the little girl who had become such a valuable member of the Order's team. As they drew apart, Lucan clasped her hand in his firm grasp. "You honor us well, warrior."

To Kellan, he gave a nod of gratitude as he shook the Breed male's strong hand. "You as well," he said. "Maybe there's a place for a rebel ghost within the Order's ranks after all."

Kellan grinned, drawing Mira a bit closer to his side as he nodded in acceptance of Lucan's offer.

Lucan looked at them, then at his son and the younger warriors surrounding him. He was looking at the shape of the Order's future. A new generation, already stepping up to the plate.

And they would be needed, all of them.

Lucan glanced down at Reginald Crowe, realizing he was looking at something new there too: an enemy the Order had never confronted before, one that was clearly playing by its own set of rules now.

"What happened here tonight marks a new beginning," he told the men and women of the Order standing with him under the dark night sky. "This marks a new war . . . one we must win."

A round of agreeing voices answered him, grim faces filled with determination and fire.

Lucan met each fierce gaze, man and woman alike. "From this moment forward, we play by our own rules. Whatever it takes, whatever the cost. Our new mission begins now."


THE GNC SUMMIT WENT ON AS PLANNED THAT NEXT DAY. Lucan had announced to the world that there was no better time to gather for serious conversations about the future than in the wake of an assault that might have set the peace efforts of mankind and Breed back centuries.

Reginald Crowe's death had exposed him as the mastermind behind the attempted bombing at the gala. That he was something more than human was a fact Lucan and the rest of the Order agreed would only make an already skittish population even more uneasy. To the human and vampire nations around the world, Crowe was merely a would-be terrorist and a member of a clandestine cabal the Order had now made it their public mission to root out and eradicate.

In private, the Order's mission was something far more urgent.

A mission that would involve every District Command Center and warrior team posted in all corners of the globe.

The Atlanteans and their queen had to be found. They had to be stopped.

Mira had never known Lucan Thorne to be so serious about a mission objective before - and given the many wars and battles he'd fought in his more than nine hundred years of living, that was saying a hell of a lot.

She almost felt guilty about the respite Lucan had granted Kellan and her after their defeat of Reginald Crowe. Then again, it was hard to feel anything but grateful - not to mention, blissfully exhausted - when she was sprawled atop Kellan's naked body, the two of them having just made love in front of a crackling fire in the remote Darkhaven nestled deep in the northern Maine woods.

They were three nights into a week of alone time, a break they were doing their best to make the most of, in and out of the bedroom. Tonight, after a long walk in the woods where they used to play war games and wage snowball fights as kids, they'd forgone the bed in favor of the fluffy sheepskin rug in front of the fireplace in the Darkhaven's great room.

Kellan's fingers made little circles on the small of her back where he held her close to him. His body was warm and strong beneath her, his heart drumming against her ear. She thought he'd been sleeping - assumed he'd have to be, after their workout for the past hour. But he was awake. Awake in every way. Inside her, she felt him growing thicker, already pulsing against the tender walls of her body.

Mira lifted her head to look at him, incredulity tugging at her mouth. "You can't be serious."

His grin was slow and wicked. "Do I feel serious?"

She laughed as he tumbled her over onto the soft animal skin, his hips wedged deliciously between her parted thighs, his fists planted on either side of her, supporting his weight above her. "I'm so happy, Kellan. My heart has never felt so full."

He smiled and kissed her, moving against her in a deep, slow thrust that made her veins go bright with electricity and heat. "Do you know how much I love you?" he asked, even though he'd shown her a hundred times in the past few days, told her with every tender glance, every hot touch and possessive, claiming kiss. "I love you, Mira . . . my mate. My life. You're my everything."

She reached up to him, caressing his face as he stared down into her eyes. When instinct made her flick her gaze askance, Kellan lowered his head and kissed her. "Let me see you," he said, bringing her back to face him once more. "So beautiful. You never have to hide your eyes from me again. I'm not afraid of what I'll see. Not anymore. We've already been through the fire."

"We came out of it together," she said, her love for him a sweet ache in her chest. "We'll make it through anything now."

He nodded, his rhythm getting stronger, more intent. "You're mine, Mira. Mine forever."

"I always have been." She smiled, knowing he could feel the depth of her promise in the blood bond that wove them together, heart, mind, body, and soul.

He covered her with his body, with his strength and heat and the passion that she knew would always take her breath away.

He loved her, even the part of her that had nearly destroyed him.

Kellan kissed her again, deep and slow and thorough. As if to let her know their love had all the time in the world. "You're mine, Mira," he purred darkly. "And I'm not ever letting you go."


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