"No." Kade spat the denial as Seth began a slow prowl around him.


"No?" he asked, cocking his head in question. "Isn't that why you leapt at the chance to join the Order? Tell me you don't enjoy your license to kill on behalf of Lucan and your brothers-in-arms in Boston. Say it, and I will be the one standing here calling you a liar."


Kade clamped his molars tight, admitting, at least to himself, that there was some truth in Seth's words. He joined the Order to escape what he was becoming in Alaska, as much as he had joined to feed the wildness inside him with something that had some degree of honor in it. But there was a higher purpose in his work for the Order now. With the enemy they had in Dragos, his work for the Order had never been more vital. And he wouldn't let Seth cheapen that with the comparison to his own sick games.


"You know that this cannot continue, Seth. You have to stop."


"Don't you think I've tried?" His lips peeled back from his teeth, baring the tips of his fangs. "In the beginning, when we were young, I did try to curb my ... urges. But the wildness kept calling to me. Doesn't it call to you anymore?"


"Every minute that I'm awake," Kade conceded quietly. "Sometimes even in my sleep." Seth sneered. "But of course, you, the noble one, can resist it." Kade stared at him. "How long have you hated me, brother? What could I have done differently to make you see that it was never a competition between us? I didn't have anything to prove with you." Seth said nothing, merely stared at him in bleak consideration.


"You've made mistakes, Seth. We all do. But there is still some good in you. I know there is."


"No." Seth shook his head vigorously, the agitated twitch of a festering mind. "You were always the strong one. All the good went into you, not me."


Kade scoffed. "How can you say that? How can you think it? You, the favored son, the hope of the family. Father never made a secret of that."


"Father," Seth replied, exhaling sharply. "If he feels anything for me, it's pity. I have needed him, where you never did. You're just like him, Kade. Can neither one of you see that the way that I can?"


"Bullshit," Kade said, certain in his rejection of the idea.


"And then you went off and joined the Order," Seth continued. "You were gone and I sank deeper into your shadow. I wanted to hate you for leaving. Hell, maybe I do."


"If you need an excuse for what you've done, then so be it," Kade ground out savagely. "Blame me, but you and I both know you're only looking for a way to justify what you're doing." Seth's answering laughter was little more than a growl, deep in his throat. "Do you really think I'm looking for justification? Or for any kind of absolution? I kill because I can. I won't stop, because it is part of me now. I enjoy it."


Kade's gut twisted. "If that's true, then I feel sorry for you. You are sick, Seth. I should put you out of your misery ... right here and now."


"You should," Seth replied without inflection. "But you won't. You can't, because I am still your brother. Your own rigid morals would never let you harm me and we both know it. That's a line you would never cross."


"Don't be so sure."


As he said it, the wolf howl he'd heard a few minutes ago sounded once more, from somewhere nearby. Kade glanced over his shoulder, toward the thick knot of pine and spruce in the crouching darkness, feeling the wild summons coursing through his veins. As it must have been for Seth, as well. Even though he should hate his brother, he couldn't.


And although his threat was well deserved, he knew in his heart that Seth was right. Kade could never bring himself to harm him.


"We need to sort this shit out, Seth. You have to let me help you--" When he swiveled his head back around to face his twin again, all that greeted him was the empty winter landscape ... and the bone-deep, bitter understanding that any hope of saving Seth was gone along with him.


Chapter Eighteen


Each step was agony.


Every inch of his naked body was blistered and raw from ultraviolet exposure, his normally rapid healing processes impeded by the added damage he'd sustained from the shotgun blast that had ripped into his thigh and abdomen. Fresh blood would speed the required regeneration. Once he fed, his soft tissue and organs would mend in a few hours, as would his skin, but he could not risk another minute without seeking adequate shelter.


He had barely survived the daylight, having been forced to flee the cave after the humans had stumbled upon him there. He'd run, bleeding and wounded, into the surrounding woods, into the lethal rays of the sun outside the cave. He'd had only enough time to dig a hole in a deep bank of hard-packed snow and bury himself within before the severity of his combined injuries had shut his body down and rendered him unconscious.


Now, a short while after he'd roused to find welcome darkness, he knew only that he needed to seek new shelter before the next sunrise. Needed to find somewhere secure to recuperate further, so he would be strong enough to hunt again and feed his damaged cells.


His feet dragged in the moonlit snow, his pace slow and halting. He despised his physical weakness. Hated that it reminded him of the torture he had endured while in captivity. But animosity drove him now, forced the shredded muscles of his legs to move.


He didn't know how long or how far he had walked. Easily miles from the cave and his makeshift shelter in the snow.


Ahead of him, he saw a dim orange glow through the veil of silhouetted evergreen trunks. A human residence, apparently occupied, and far removed from any other signs of civilization. Yes, it would do.


He stalked forward, ignoring his pain as he locked all focus on the remote little cabin and the unsuspecting prey within it.


As he neared, his ears pricked with the low, mournful sounds of human suffering. It was faint, muffled by logs and plank-shuttered glass. But the anguish was clear. A female was weeping inside the cabin.


The predator crept up to the side of the domicile and pressed his eye to a crack in the wooden shutter that covered the window to bar the cold.


She was seated on the floor in front of a dying fire, drinking from a half-consumed bottle of dark amber liquid. Before her was an emptied box of printed images, scattered in disarray all around her. A large black pistol lay on the floor next to her bent knee. She was sobbing, incredible sorrow pouring out of her. He could feel the overwhelming weight of her grief, and he knew that the weapon was not beside her as a means of protection. Not tonight.


The scene gave him pause, but only for a moment.


She must have sensed his eyes on her. Her head snapped to the side, her reddened eyes fixed on the very spot where he stood, concealed by the closed shutter and the darkness of the night outside. But she knew.


She rose, picking up the gun as she wobbled to her feet.


He backed away, only to move on silent feet toward the front door of the cabin. It wasn't locked, not that it would have barred him if it had been. He squeezed the latch with his mind, pushed the door open. He was inside the cabin and had his hands wrapped around the woman's throat before she realized he was there.


Before she could open her mouth to scream, before she could command her drink-impeded reflexes to pull the pistol's trigger in defense of the sudden attack, he bent his head and sank his fangs into the soft flesh of her slender neck.


Alex sat at the table in her kitchen with Luna resting at her feet. Every light in the house was turned on, every door and window locked up tight.


It had been nearly two hours.


She didn't know how much more waiting she could take. While Luna slept calmly, blissfully oblivious, across her toes under the table, Alex's mind had been spinning. Churning over questions she hardly dared to ask, and worrying for a man who had left her wondering just who--or what--he truly was. But the small voice inside her that so often urged her to run from the things that scared her was silent when she thought of Kade. Yes, she was uncertain after what she witnessed today. Frightened that the path ahead of her might be even more unsteady than the past she'd left behind her. But running was the last thing she intended to do--not now. Not ever again.


Idly, she wondered how Jenna was holding up. It couldn't be easy on her, hearing about the deaths in town when she was nearing the anniversary of her own personal grief. Alex reached for her cell phone, wanting to hear her friend's voice. She was just about to punch in Jenna's number when there was a soft rap on the back door.


Kade.


Alex put down the phone and stood up, dislodging her canine foot warmer, who groaned in protest before dropping her head back down to sleep some more. Alex drifted toward the door where Kade waited. Now that he was there, looking so dark and immense and dangerous through the glass window, some of her courage faltered.


He didn't demand or force his way inside, even though she knew without the slightest doubt that there was little she could do to bar him from entering if that's what he intended to do. But he merely stood there, leaving the decision entirely up to her. And because he didn't force her, because she could see a shadowed torment in the piercing depths of his silver eyes that hadn't been there before, Alex opened the door and let him in.


He took one step inside her little kitchen and pulled her into a hard, long embrace. His strong arms circled her, held her close, as though he never wanted to let her go.


"Are you okay?" he asked, pressing his mouth into her hair. "I hated to leave you alone."


"I'm all right," she said, drawing back to look at him when he finally released her from his hold. "I was more worried about you."


"Don't," he said. Scowling, he stroked her cheek, swallowed hard. "Ah, Jesus. Don't worry for me."


"Kade, what the hell is going on? I need you to be honest with me."


"I know." He took her by the hand and led her back to the table. She dropped into her chair as he took the one next to her. "I should have explained everything to you earlier, as soon as I realized ..." Her heart sank a bit as his words trailed off. "As soon as you realized, what?"


"That you were part of this, Alex. A part of the world that belongs to me and those of my kind. I should have told you everything before you saw me kill that Minion. And before we made love." She heard the regret in his voice for the intimacy they'd shared, and weathered more than a little sting because of it. But the other part--the peculiar way he'd referred to himself and his kind, and the fact that he was somehow including her in that equation--was what made her mind stutter to attention. And then there was the odd word he'd used to describe Skeeter Arnold.


"A 'Minion'? I don't know what that's supposed to mean, Kade. I don't know what any of this is supposed to mean."


"I know you don't." He raked his palm over his jaw, then exhaled around a vivid curse. "Someone got to Skeeter Arnold before I did. Someone bled him, almost to the point of killing him, before bringing him back so that he could serve. He wasn't human anymore, Alex. He was something less than that. Someone had made him into a Minion, a mind slave."


"That's crazy," she murmured, and as badly as she wanted to reject what she was hearing, she couldn't dismiss Kade's grim, sober demeanor. "You also said that I am a part of this. A part of this, how? And what did you mean back at the clinic, when you said there was something more I didn't know about the attack on my family? What could you possibly know about the monsters that took my mom and Richie?"


"What they did was monstrous," Kade said, his tone unreadable, too level for comfort. "But there is another name for them, too."


"Vampire." Alex had never voiced the word out loud, not in relation to the murders of her mom and little brother. It stuck to her tongue like bitter paste, foul even after she had spit it out. "Are you actually trying to tell me--my God, do you really expect me to believe they were vampires, Kade?"


"Rogues," he said. "Blood addicted and deadly. But they were also part of a race separate from humans called the Breed. A very old race, not the undead or the damned, but a living, breathing society. One which has existed alongside mankind for thousands of years."


"Vampires," she whispered, sick with the thought that any of this could be real. But it was real. Some part of her had known this truth all along, from the instant her family was shattered by the attack all those years ago.


Kade's eyes remained steady on her. "In the simplest terms, to say that they were vampires is fair enough."


Nothing seemed simple to her anymore. Not after everything she had seen. Not after everything she was hearing now. And definitely not when it came to Kade.


She felt some measure of retreat in him as he looked at her, some amount of hurt in his bleak gaze, and it gnawed at her. "You told me once that nothing is simple. Nothing in your world is simply good or bad, black or white. Shades of gray, you said."


He didn't blink, just held her in an unflinching look. "Yes."


"Is this what you meant?" She swallowed, her voice cracking just a bit. "Is this the world that you live in, Kade?"


"We both do," he replied, his voice so gentle it terrified her. "You and I, Alex. We're both a part of it. I am, because my father is Breed. And you are, because you bear the same birthmark as my mother and a small number of other, very rare women. You are a Breedmate, Alex. Your blood properties and unusual cellular makeup connect you to the Breed on the most primal level."


"That's ridiculous." She shook her head, recalling how tenderly he had touched the odd little scarlet mark on her hip when they were together in the cabin earlier today. Without trying, she could still feel the heat of his fingertips on that very spot. "A birthmark doesn't make me anything. It doesn't prove anything--"

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