Page 9

"Let's take a walk, Mira." Before she could argue or throw another verbal volley at him, Kellan got out of the car and rounded the hood to her door in less than a second. The speed was deliberate. He figured it couldn't hurt to remind her what she'd be up against if she thought he was playing games. He opened her door and instructed her to get out.

She obeyed, much to his surprise, and he walked her into the peaceful darkness of the empty park.

"I would've expected you to scrub and dump me in the city, not out here."

"I wanted to be alone with you," he said as they strolled along-side each other in the crisp, moonlit grass. "I didn't want to do this in a parking lot somewhere, or be rushed by crowds around us."

"Romantic," she mocked. "I hope there aren't any rapists or rebels hiding out between here and Boston proper when I make the walk back to the city."

Kellan ignored the jab. "I'll watch over you once we're done here, make sure you get back to the Order's headquarters safely."

She blew out a sharp exhalation. "Don't do me any favors. I'm a big girl, all grown up, in case you haven't noticed."

Oh, he'd noticed. The first time had been when Mira was about fifteen. Scrappy and stubborn as always, but that year the reed-thin tomboy with her mop of pale-blond hair had emerged seemingly overnight as a powerful young woman with curves in all the right places and legs that went on forever. He wasn't the only male in the Order's training program that summer who lined up to spar with stunning Mira.

But for some reason that still eluded his understanding to this day, she only had eyes for him. Her best friend, she'd dubbed him, from the time she was an annoying eight-year-old, refusing to give up on the sullen teenager who'd come under the Order's protection after the slaying of his entire family, save his grandfather, Lazaro Archer.

Mira was still stunning, even with the passing of eight years since he'd last been this close to her. He could see traces of that time under her eyes and around the full curve of her mouth. She hadn't taken another Breed male as her mate. If she had, their blood bond would have enhanced her beauty. It would halt her aging, keep her youth intact.

There was a time that Kellan imagined he might be the male to stand at Mira's side. He'd wanted that, right up until the morning of the last day he spent with her. Then everything changed. What he wanted became impossible, and later that night, he had simply ceased to exist.

And now, here she was, walking beside him in the dark.

Hating him, as she had every right to.

Still, the urge to touch her was nearly too much for him to resist. But Kellan knew if he touched her now, he would only want more. Things he had no claim on. Things that were now and forever out of his reach.

How had he managed to keep his distance all these years? Not very well, he reminded himself. He hadn't really ever been that far from her. He'd lost count of how many times he'd watched her in secret, both in Boston and Montreal, curious to know how she was faring. Proud to see her accomplishments. Dismayed when her fierce independence - that unyielding stubborn streak - landed her in trouble.

His plan upon waking up and realizing he hadn't been blown to pieces along with the warehouse had been to get as far away from Mira and the Order as he could. It would've been better for everyone if he had. All the more so, given where he stood now. But the simple fact was, he hadn't been able to leave. She had a hold on him that he hadn't been able to break.

He'd told himself he would be careful, that there was no harm in staying close to where she was so long as he ensured their paths never crossed. But if he'd had any honor in him, he would have fled as far as possible, as soon as he'd been given the chance.

Mira's pace slowed beside him, then stopped as she pivoted to face him. "What happened to you inside that warehouse, Kellan?"

He grunted, gave a vague shake of his head. "Does it matter now?"

"It matters to me. I want to know." Her lips pressed together and she gave him an arch look. "Come on. You're going to scrub my memory anyway, so it's not like I'll remember anything you say or do here tonight. If you've got a conscience anymore, this is your perfect chance to clear it - when you know I will only hate you for a few more minutes before you take even that truth away from me."

It was an accusation, one that scathed him more than he wanted to admit. "I have to do this, Mira. It'll be better for everyone this way."

"Definitely better for you, at any rate." Bitter, angry words. She was hurting deeply, understandably so. But it was the sudden downward tilt of her head - the move that wasn't quite fast enough to hide the moist glint of her eyes - that undid him the most.

"You're right," he murmured. "I do owe you that."

"You owe me the truth," she insisted tightly, her pale eyes bright now, nearly dry when she looked up at him again.

She wouldn't allow herself to break in front of him. He could see that in her diamond-sharp gaze. She wouldn't give him that soft part of her. After tonight, never again.

When she spoke, her voice was schooled and level, a soldier recounting facts after battle. "I've seen your death a thousand times in my mind since that night. You were ahead of Nathan and me and the rest of our team, all of us on foot by then, fanned out and patrolling the riverfront after reports of rebel movement down at the industrial park. You radioed that you were in pursuit of several suspects, gave us your location and where you were heading. Nathan and I were closest to the area by then, so we joined up and proceeded in your direction to provide backup. We arrived just in time to see you disappear into the warehouse. Not even two seconds later, the explosion went off."

Kellan nodded, recalling the night as clearly as she did. But this was the point where their two accounts differed. "The rebel led me to that building. I didn't realize why until I was inside and smelled the taggant of live explosives somewhere nearby. It was a trap, Mira. I knew you and Nathan were right behind me. I couldn't risk that you'd be anywhere near the place when it blew."

"But you were," she said, her blond brows knit as she tried to put the pieces together in her mind. "You were inside the warehouse when it exploded."

"I was," he said. "But only long enough to spoil the trap. I flashed to where the C-4 and detonator had been planted. It was wired to the walls, no chance of ripping it out and disposing of it, certainly not without setting the whole thing off. So I killed it. Shot the whole thing up."

Mira gaped at him. "You detonated it while you were still inside? You would've had less than seconds to escape the blast once the charges blew."

He nodded again. "I didn't even know if I would make it out in one piece. But if it meant preventing you and anyone else from my team from getting hurt in the blast, it was worth the risk. As it happened, the bomb went off just as I was clearing the back door of the place. I remember feeling the percussion throw me airborne. I could smell the smoke and my own burned flesh. I felt my broken bones shatter even more as I hit the cold surface of the Mystic and sank into the murky water. After that, I suppose I lost consciousness. The next thing I knew, someone was pulling my bloody, broken body ashore."

Mira swallowed, utterly silent through his explanation. "Someone saved you?"

"Candice did." He saw her nearly imperceptible flinch at his mention of the human woman's name. "Candice hauled me out of a certain drowning and took me to her friend, Javier, a former Army sergeant who helped sew me up and heal my wounds. He's one of the best field medics I've ever known."

"Doc," she said, her sharp mind easily making the connection. "They had to know who - and what - you were. Why would rebels spare your life?"

"They weren't rebels then. Except for Vince, none of my crew was involved in any outlaw activity at the time. That came later." He cleared his throat and pushed on with the rest of what he had to say. "Anyway, it took two months before I was whole again. By then, you and everyone else I had known before assumed I was dead."

"So, you just let us continue to believe that?" Her expression was incredulous, her voice clipped and climbing toward outrage. "Why would you do that? How could you let everyone carry that pain when you knew it was a lie?"

Kellan shook his head, knowing that he would feel the same way in her place. Hating to see the anguish in her face when it was he who'd put it there. "My reason back then was more important than even my own life." He looked around at where he was, who he'd become as of this moment, and let out a harsh curse. "Everything's different. It doesn't matter anymore."

"You're saying you did this - you left me and everyone else who ever cared about you - all for nothing?"

"I don't expect you to understand," he told her, as gently as he could. "I'm not going to make you try to understand. Certainly not now, when it's too late for that anyway."

Her eyes held him in a stare that shredded him, so full of confusion and anger and hurt. "You have every right to hate me now, Mira. But that was never what I wanted."

"What about love?" she shot back at him. "You never wanted that from me either, did you?"

He swore under his breath. God, he'd been honored, humbled, by how openly Mira had always given herself to him. She'd loved him when he was at his weakest, angry and withdrawn, a self-pitying idiot who would've been happy to wallow in his misery forever. But she'd seen something in him worth saving. She'd pulled him into her light, pushed him until he was able to walk on his own, challenged him to be more. To be a better man than he ever would've without Mira as a part of his life.

Her love had been a precious gift. One he didn't deserve then and couldn't accept now.

When she started to turn away from him, he did what he'd promised himself he wouldn't. He reached for her, gently took her furious and wounded, beautiful face in his hands. "This isn't what I wanted, Mouse."

"No. Goddamn you, no." She wrenched away from him, pissed off and seething. Her finger came up in his face. "You don't call me that. My family called me that a long time ago. You're not family."

"No," he admitted quietly. Not anymore, not even close.

"You're not a friend either. Not after what you've done," she charged, breathing heavily with every clipped word. "After what you're doing to me now, I can't believe that you were ever truly my friend. Was it all a fucking joke to you, Kellan? Was I just a joke in your mind?"

"You were never a joke, Mira." He fisted his hands at his sides to keep from taking her in them once again. "I think you know better than that."

"Do I? How many times did you try to push me away when we were growing up?" She gave a brittle laugh. "I should've let you push. I should've walked away from you and never looked back, any one of the times you gave me the chance. God, I wish I'd never met you!"

"I know." He couldn't blame her, after all. "If I could take it all away for you right now, I would."

Unfortunately for both of them, a Breed mind scrub wasn't effective on long-term memory. He could erase today, but anything older was outside the bounds of his powers.

"You know this won't be the end of it," Mira pointed out. "Scrub my memory if it will make you feel better, but you know as well as I do that you're on the wrong side of this war."

"I'm trying to prevent a war, Mira."

"Bullshit!" She gave him a hard shove, hands flat against his chest. "What you've done might spark a war."

Kellan seized her by the wrists, trying not to notice the heat of her skin, the frantic beat of her pulse, ticking against his fingertips. He should have released his grasp on her, he knew that. But now that he had her, now that the staccato tempo of her heartbeat was echoing through him - a rhythm that stirred his own blood and sent it coursing through him at a more rapid pace - there was no letting Mira go.

She looked up at him, her purple eyes intense. "What do you think will happen if word gets out that an important human scientist was abducted while under the Order's protection? By a former member of our own ranks."

"No one will know that I was once a warrior," he insisted. "No one but my team back at the camp is even aware that I - that the man they know as Bowman - is Breed. They've kept my secret all this time. They won't betray my trust."

She scoffed. "How nice for you, to have that kind of confidence in the people you care about."

Kellan's answering curse was low and coarse and furious. Before he could stop himself, he hauled Mira up against him and slashed his mouth across hers in an unforgiving kiss.

At first, she resisted. Her lips were tense beneath his, sealed tight against his assault. The fine muscles in her wrists were taut as cables, delicate, skilled hands fisted where he held them between their pressed bodies. She was still angry with him, still rigid with loathing for everything he'd done to her, everything he'd admitted after so many years of deception.

But Kellan couldn't release her. And as he deepened his kiss, teasing his tongue along the stubborn seam of her lush mouth, some of the fight finally leached out of her. She parted her lips on a strangled moan, and he pushed inside, drawing her body closer to his, drowning in the taste of her after such a long time without.

His blood was on fire, scorching his veins. His fangs had erupted from his gums, filling his mouth as desire for this female sent heat and hunger into lower parts of his anatomy.

He told himself the kiss meant nothing. That in a few minutes she would remember none of it anyway. As for him, he was doomed. Because, holy Christ, this moment was going to stay with him for the rest of his days.


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