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Even though his body yearned for action, his mind thirsted for knowledge. And the history contained in this room alone was enough to keep him busy for decades.


Not surprising, since it had taken a full twenty years to collect it. The library represented millennia's worth of information, everything from the otherworldly origins of the Breed and their alien forebears, their language and customs, their lineage here on Earth, to their often-violent past as powerful, savage beings perched at the top of the food chain. The wealth of insight was nothing short of staggering.


And Jenna Tucker-Darrow, the woman responsible for the archive, was adding more volumes all the time.


"If you spend any more hours in here, I may start worrying about my job security."


Dare swung his head up at the sound of Jenna's voice. She was smiling as she entered the room, wearing a little black dress and strappy high heels. Her brown hair was shorn close to her scalp, showing off her lean cheekbones and big hazel eyes. She was dressed for a date, no doubt with her warrior mate, Brock, but she carried what looked to be a newly completed journal in her hand.


"I don't think you ever have to worry about job security," Dare told her. "No one can do what you do."


She winked at him. "I am cyborg, hear me roar."


Strolling over to a bookcase far across the room, she slipped the journal onto one of the shelves, carefully selecting its placement. It was hard not to stare at the female, and not only because she was beautiful and Dare was a man with two eyes in his head. Jenna was stunning for an altogether unique reason as well.


Her simple black dress plunged low in the back, baring her pale, slender neck and spine, both of which were covered in a graceful tangle of dermaglyphs. Unusual, particularly given that Jenna was neither Breed nor Breedmate.


She'd been fully human once, but all of that changed twenty years ago, when the last of the alien fathers of the Breed transplanted a biotech chip from his own body into Jenna's. The Ancient likely had his reasons for leaving behind a piece of himself before he was killed by the Order. For Jenna, that bit of alien DNA and technology had meant numerous astonishing physical and psychic changes, coupled with memories of a long, often-disturbing past that did not belong to her.


It was those memories that now filled the countless volumes of hand-scribed journals lining the built-in bookcases of the archive chamber.


"I hadn't heard you and Brock had arrived from Atlanta," Dare said.


Jenna ran her fingers across the spines of several journals on the shelf, pausing to rearrange one that apparently had been misfiled. "We got in before dawn this morning. I wanted to come early, do some work in here before the summit later this week. Dante and Tess are coming in tonight. Tegan and Elise too. Everyone else should be arriving over the next couple of nights, from what I understand."


Dare nodded. Lucan had informed him of the gathering of all the Order elders and their mates from their various districts of command around the world. It would be good to see them all again. The warriors and their mates were as close as kin to him, but Dare couldn't help resenting the fact that the summons to publicly assemble was anything more than a command performance instigated by the GNC members. A means for them to show the world that the Order endorsed the peace summit wholeheartedly and would abide by the GNC's terms without question. The politics of it all disgusted him.


Jenna regarded him over her shoulder. "Will you be at the gala reception too, Darion?"


He grunted. "Me, in a monkey suit? Not likely. I can think of a hundred things I'd rather do than stand around kissing the rings of those posturing GNC blowhards. That goes double for kissing their useless asses."


Jenna's brows arched upward. "You're a lot like your father, you know that?"


"I'm nothing like him," Dare insisted. "He's too willing to let the humans have the reins. He's too careful with their fragile egos, when the world would be a better place - a safer place for mankind and our own - with the Order firmly in charge."


"And if you ask the humans, they would argue the opposite. Sooner or later, it would be war." Jenna strode over to him and took a seat on the edge of the table. "Things were different before First Dawn, simpler. The Breed kept their own counsel, lived in the shadows. Now that we're out to the humans, we have more freedoms. We have more power now that we don't have to hide our existence, but there are trade-offs. And the line we must walk to maintain peace is even thinner. Lucan's actions impact the entire Breed nation now. He doesn't take that responsibility lightly."


"He doesn't trust anyone to help him shoulder that burden either." Dare glanced away from Jenna's sage expression and gave a curt shake of his head. "He doesn't give anyone the credit that they could be useful, maybe even as capable as him, if he gave them half a chance to prove it."


When he looked back up at her, Jenna held him with a knowing smile. "Still fighting that same battle with him, are you? He'll come around one day, Darion."


He scoffed. "Have you met my father? He doesn't bend."


"Neither does his son, from what I've seen." Still smiling, she leaned over to see what he was reading in the open journal. "Ah, that's one of the oldest volumes. I was working on that one before First Dawn."


The frustrations of politics and parental misgivings fell away as Dare returned his attention to the journal he'd been studying for the past couple of weeks. "Do you know what this numerical sequence might be?"


Jenna peered at the handwritten page and gave a mild shrug. "The things I record don't always make sense. Sometimes there are symbols or numbers - like this one - that don't mean anything to me, but because I see them or hear them through the Ancient's memories, I make sure to write them down."


Dare nodded, but it wasn't the answer he was hoping for. "This isn't the only occurrence of this same sequence in the journals."


"Really?" Jenna's eyes brightened with interest.


"The same one appears in two other volumes that I've found so far," Dare told her. "I'm betting I'll eventually find it in more of them too."


"Well, what are we waiting for? Let's see if you're right." Jenna slid off the table and started heading for one of the nearby bookcases. She kicked off her delicate sandals and raised up on her toes to reach for a high shelf. "We should start on the older volumes first, then work our way forward in time."


Dare felt the air shift in the second before Brock's deep voice rolled into the room. "I might've known I'd find you in here." The immense warrior gave a nod of greeting to Darion, but his dark-brown eyes were on his mate alone. "It's damn near impossible to drag this woman away from her work. You know, a lesser man might get a complex."


Brock was dressed in a charcoal-gray suit and deep wine-colored shirt, left unbuttoned at the neck where the arcing tails of his dermaglyphs rode on his dark skin. Dare had seldom seen the hardass Breed warrior out of his combat gear, and as much as he wanted to chuckle at the sight of him all spit-shined and civilized, it was obvious from Brock's loving gaze on Jenna that the GQ getup was all for her.


Her answering smile as she pivoted around to face him said she knew it too. "Work? Who needs work?" She picked up her sandals and went into his waiting arms. "I've suddenly got an irresistible urge to play hooky."


Brock grinned, shooting Darion a brief, sly look. "I like the sound of that. Maybe we should skip the dinner date routine and go straight to the hooky part."


Jenna laughed. "What, and waste this killer dress?"


"Believe me," Brock growled, low under his breath, "it's far from wasted."


Dare chuckled as Brock swept Jenna into a hungered, uninhibited kiss. He wondered if he'd ever know that kind of passion. The kind strong enough to make him want to take a mate of his own. A forever kind of thing, not the casual, sweaty encounters he used to burn off restless energy and sate his need for blood.


"Let's get out of here," Brock murmured, nuzzling his mate's neck. "Dinner out is optional."


"Wait a second." She ducked out of his embrace and jogged to one of the bookcases to pull a slim journal from the far corner of the shelf. She came back, held the aged, leather-bound volume out to Dare.


"What's this?" he asked, taking it from her.


"My very first journal. I wrote it in the weeks after I arrived at the Order's old compound in Boston."


Darion smoothed his hand over the faded brown cover, then carefully opened the book. The spine cracked softly, pages brittle as he turned them, looking at Jenna's bold script that filled the journal.


"If you really want to study the Breed and learn your own history, you need to start at the beginning." She smiled at him, her once-human eyes holding him in a gaze that was as wise as the most sage elder of his race. "You might also gain a better understanding of your father from this book."


Darion held her stare, then glanced down at the journal he held so carefully in his warrior's hands.


When he looked up again, Jenna and Brock were gone.


Darion opened to the first page and began to read.


Kellan drove to the back of a closed community park in Brookline and cut the headlights on the old Wrangler. Mira hadn't said a thing the entire trip north from the rebel base in New Bedford, aside from the choice words she had for him when he'd placed her in the vehicle wearing a blindfold and handcuffs. True, after he finished with her tonight, she wouldn't remember anything about where she'd been or how he and his crew operated, but Kellan wasn't taking any chances.


"I'm sorry, but it was necessary," he said, reaching over to remove the restraints from her hands. "We can't risk any more problems than what we already have."


As soon as he freed her, Mira tugged down the blindfold and slanted him a measuring look. "Are you going to kill Jeremy Ackmeyer?"


"If I wanted him dead, don't you think he would be already?"


"Maybe he is." Her eyes narrowed on him before she turned her head to look out toward the vacant parklands. "How do I know anything you say is the truth?"


Kellan cursed under his breath. "He is alive, Mira. He'll stay alive, so long as he agrees to my terms."


"What terms?"


He felt her eyes on him again, but this time he was the one who stared at the sea of dark nothing ahead of him through the glass. "Ackmeyer has something I want. Something of extreme value that I can't allow anyone else to get their hands on."


"So, this is about money?" She practically spat the words. "Is that what you've become - a common thief, like your friends back at your bunker?"


"I am not a thief, Mira. Common or otherwise."


"No," she replied. "From the way they fawn and lick your boots, I'd say you're practically their king. Congratulations, by the way. You must be incredibly proud of yourself, seeing how far you've come in these past eight years."


It burned, the acid in her tone. He turned a level glance on her, not wanting to let on how deeply it would wound him if she truly hated him. What would be the point in letting her know that now? "You shouldn't make assumptions about things you don't understand."


"Then enlighten me . . . Bowman, is it?" She shook her head, her pretty mouth twisted in a humorless smile. "Kellan Archer dies a much-mourned hero, and in his place rises Bowman, leader of the rebel resistance. Traitor to everything he once believed in."


"I'm not proud of the way I handled things." And he hated like hell to think how close she was coming to the heart of his reasons for wanting everyone he cared for to believe he was dead and gone. "I never planned to be in this place, Mira. You just have to trust that I had my reasons. I did what I had to."


"Trust?" She barked a sharp laugh. "Oh, that's rich, coming from you. Especially now, when you're sitting here, about to give me a good old-fashioned mind scrub. That's why you brought me here tonight, isn't it?"


He killed the engine and the ancient Jeep rumbled to a stop. "Come on," he said. "Let's get some fresh air."


She didn't budge. "Aren't you worried I'll make a break for it?"


He smiled despite the gravity of the moment. "You never go down easy, do you?"


"Never."


"You may be tough, Mira, but you're not Breed," he reminded her. "You can't outrun me."


"And you made sure I couldn't fight you either. Don't think I haven't noticed your thieving colleagues kept my daggers."


"You'll get the blades back after this is over. I'll see to that."


"Even the one I dropped during the ambush by your rebel underlings?"


Kellan scowled, caught off guard.


"Oh, didn't you know?" she asked, visibly pleased by his surprise. "They must not have noticed, and left it behind. My comm unit too. It's in the glove compartment of the car I was driving."


"Fuck," Kellan growled through gritted teeth.


"Homo sapiens." Mira sighed with no little drama. "So careless sometimes. I'm sure Lucan's going to be curious why my comm signal hasn't moved in the past, what . . . twelve hours?" She gave him a cold, satisfied smile. "It makes you wonder, doesn't it? What else might your crew have overlooked that will come back to bite you in the ass later?"


Kellan considered the possibility, reluctant to admit she had a point. But she underestimated Candice, Doc, and Chaz. Even Vince had plenty of pros to make up for the frequent cons of his hair-trigger temper and tendency toward excessive force. The team had phoned in the problem of Mira's disabled vehicle, and so Nina had tapped a contact in that area to toss the plates and hack the VIN before towing the heap to a scrap yard. Mira's comm unit was very likely nothing but crushed circuitry and dust by now.

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