"Last night, you couldn't stop," she said, needing to understand, even if it would kill to hear it. "But now, you wish you could take it back. Because you feel differently ... about me?" His head came up sharply, his dark brows lowered over his eyes. "No. Jesus ... no, Alex. What I feel for you--" The words broke off, seemed to catch in his throat. "What I feel for you is stronger than anything I've ever felt before. It's love, Alex, and it was there before last night. It would be with me even if I hadn't taken your blood."

She didn't realize she'd been holding her breath until it whooshed out of her on a sigh. "Oh, Kade." He blew out a dry curse as he caressed her. "I don't know how I let this happen. I sure as hell never expected to find what I have with you. Not now, when everything else around me couldn't be more messed up."

"Then we'll sort it out," she said, wrapping her arms around his neck. "We can sort everything out, together. Because I've fallen in love with you, too."

He cursed again, but this time it was with reverence, a whispered oath as he gathered her close and pulled her into a deliriously passionate kiss. Alex felt his muscles flex and twitch under her fingertips. She felt the tremor of need that racked him as he eased her onto her back and he crawled over her. The pink towel fell away and Alex drank in the magnificent sight of his body, the thick jut of his arousal, all of that towel fell away and Alex drank in the magnificent sight of his body, the thick jut of his arousal, all of that power poised to enter her.

His gaze was fierce, pale silver flashing with amber fire. "Ah, God ... Alexandra. I need to hear it now. Tell me you are mine."

"Yes," she said, then cried the word again as he thrust deep and ushered her toward the crest of a swift, hot wave of release.

He had stayed in bed with Alex for nearly another hour, much longer than he had intended, but even at that, it had been damn near impossible to find the ambition to leave. Which meant he'd had to haul some serious ass in order to reach the rendezvous point in time to meet the arriving warriors. He'd made it-barely--and had just gotten off his snowmachine to wait for them when the roar of their engines came ripping out of the darkness.

The four vampires were outfitted like him in black winter gear and visored black helmets. As Breed, none of them needed the aid of their sled's headlight to guide them. Their huge forms, each of them bristling with weapons, spilled from the shadows of the night as they flew into the vacant, run-down truck stop. The whine of their snowmachines filled the air, heavy tractor chains throwing off' plumes of gray exhaust and chewed-up snow behind them.

The Order's answer to the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Kade thought with a wry grin as he watched the group of warriors skid to a halt in front of him.

Brock was the first off his sled. He cut the power and swung his leg over the seat, sweeping up his helmet's visor as he strode over and greeted Kade with a broad smile and a hard right cuff to the shoulder.

"You just wouldn't be happy until I had to drag my ass up here to this godforsaken icebox, that it? Gotta tell you, I'm feelin' some hate here, my man. Or I would be, if I could actually feel anything other than Arctic cold gnawing at my vitals."

Kade grinned at the warrior who had become his closest friend. "Good to see you, too." Directly behind Brock was another of the Order's newer recruits, the ex-Enforcement Agent Sterling Chase--or Harvard, as he was also known, on account of his highbrow civilian education and the stuffy demeanor he'd sported in the beginning of his involvement with the warriors. That cool air of superiority was still there, but sharpened to an icy edge in the year since he'd joined the Order. Chase was deadly, and took something of an unhealthy satisfaction in his work. In fact, Kade was shocked as hell to see the male, considering it had only been a couple of weeks since a street battle in Boston had left him grounded with a nasty gunshot wound to the chest. Looking at him now, Kade couldn't help seeing a bit of Seth's unapologetic arrogance in the male's chilling blue eyes as he pulled off his helmet and bared his brush-cut blond head to the elements. His lean face was almost gaunt and there was a glint of emptiness in the warrior's eyes. An apathy that Kade felt as though he were only truly noticing for the first time.

"Got satellite imagery of the mining company location," Chase said without greeting, pulling a small laptop out of his gear and firing it up as the others gathered around them. "It's fresh intel. Gideon procured the images right before we left the compound."

"Good," Kade replied. "You feeling all right, Harvard?" He glanced up, his expression was unreadable, bleak. "Never better." As Kade considered the warrior, the two others in the unit came over, both of them immense, both ruthlessly efficient weapons in the Order's deadly arsenal. They were both also first-generation Breed, although Tegan was centuries older than the male called simply Hunter. Where Tegan had been one of the Order's founding members along with its Gen One leader, Lucan, Hunter had come on board only a few months ago, an unlikely ally, given that he was a product of Dragos's genetic experimentation labs. Bred off the last surviving Ancient--the very creature potentially at large in Alaska right now--and one of the many unknown, captive Breedmates whom Dragos had been collecting for decades as part of his grasp for power, Hunter was likely no older than forty or fifty years. But during that short span of life, he'd known only discipline and solitary purpose.

He'd been raised an assassin, an emotionless Hunter, given no name other than that of his function-his sole worth--to Dragos, the one who made him. Behind the glossy visor of his helmet, Hunter remained his usual close-lipped, automaton self as he and Tegan approached the rest of the group. As for Tegan, he'd never been Mr. Congeniality. It wasn't that long ago, little more than a year, that Tegan's involvement in the Order looked dubious at best. But he had proven himself in the end, and earned the love of a good woman besides. Now, as Lucan's second in command, the formidable warrior put all of his merciless, lethal intensity into every mission for the Order. His bright green gaze was piercing as he stripped off his helmet and gave Kade a curt nod of greeting. "Nice work, turning up the lead on Coldstream Mining. Gideon tracked it back to an outfit calling themselves TerraGlobal Partners. It's a dummy corporation, a front with about ten layers of bullshit entities behind it."

"Let me guess," Kade said dryly. "All roads will eventually lead to Dragos." Tegan nodded. "Dante, Rio, and Niko are running with the data, pursuing every bread crumb we can find, no matter how small or spread out. Meanwhile, Lucan and Gideon are holding down the fort in Boston. Had to practically tie Lucan down to keep him from coming with us on this one, but we can't leave the compound unprotected when we still don't have a direct bead on Dragos himself. Too much precious cargo at home."

Kade nodded, hearing the grim concern in the other male's voice when he spoke about his Breedmate, Elise, and the other warriors' mates who called the Order's headquarters their home. Kade understood that feeling now.

When he thought of Alex, and the fact that he had to leave her at her house in Harmony while he was on this mission ...

When he thought there was a chance, if things should go terribly wrong and he couldn't return to her, that she might fall prey to the Ancient or to any other danger, and he wouldn't be there to keep her safe ... Holy hell.

Each thought was worse than the other, an awful spiral that he had to mentally shake himself out of to catch up to what Tegan was saying.

"Based on what we've seen from Dragos already, we have to assume the mine has some kind of selfdestruct mechanism in place. If we can't find the nerve center of the lair, we're going to have to detonate the place ourselves."

Brock grunted. "Which is why I'm packing enough C-4 to blow a meteor-size crater into the side of that mountain. Gotta tell you, I'll be glad to unload this shit."

Tegan gave him a wry nod, then set about giving instructions for the raid on the mine. The warriors had already discussed the plan of attack in Boston; now it was just a matter of carrying out the mission.

"Too bad Andreas Reichen isn't here to add some fire to this party," Chase added, referring to the most recent addition to the Order's ranks, the former Darkhaven leader from Germany. "Little bit of pyrokinesis would go a long way tonight."

"Yeah, it would," Tegan replied. "But his talent is still too raw. Until he gets it under control, we're better to keep him working diplomatic relations for the Order."

"Diplomatic relations." Brock chuckled, a deep, amused rumble in his chest. "God knows not a one of us standing here now is suited for that kind of work."

"Damn straight," Tegan agreed, smiling with cold menace. "So, let's stop the yammering and go kick some ass."

As the group broke and prepared to move out, Brock lagged behind the others and gave Kade a questioning look. "What's going on with you? I've gone on too many patrols with you not to notice that you've got something heavy weighing on your mind, my man."

"Nah." Kade shook his head. "It's nothing. I'm good. Let's roll." Brock's dark eyes narrowed. He took a sideways step and blocked Kade's path, keeping his voice too low for the others to hear. "Now, see, that's the kind of lame-ass thing you say to someone who hasn't watched your back as often as you've watched theirs. So, let me ask it again. What the fuck happened since you got here?"

Kade stared at his comrade and friend--the warrior who was as close as a brother to him. Closer, even, than his own identical twin. The twin Kade no longer knew, and had lost as his kin a long time ago. It shamed him to think of Seth now, let alone try to explain what he'd discovered about him in the time that he'd been back in Alaska.

He would have to tell the Order all of it at some point--he knew that. He would have to tell Alex about Seth eventually, as well. But there were other things weighing just as heavily on him, not the least of which being the fact that in the midst of all the madness and strife since he'd left Boston, he had somehow dropped his guard and let himself fall in love.

"The woman," he said lamely. "Alexandra Maguire ..."

"You mean the Breedmate," Brock corrected, having no doubt heard something about her from one of Kade's calls into the compound. "Did something happen to the female?"

"Yeah, you could say that." Kade exhaled a short breath, wry and hedging. "Alex has become important to me. Really important."

As Brock stared at him, the other warriors were getting on their sleds and juicing up their engines. The roar of machinery rumbled all around them, everyone waiting to get moving. Brock gaped a minute longer, then let out a whoop of laughter. "Naah! Oh, hell no. Not you, too?" Kade grinned, gave him a helpless shrug. "I love her, man. And she says she loves me, believe it or not."

"Un-fucking-believable," Brock said, still chuckling and shaking his head. "This is becoming a goddamn epidemic lately."

"Then you'd better watch your step, too."

"Shit," he replied, letting the word hiss out of him on a slow exhalation. "Now who am I going to hang with after patrols--Harvard? Thanks a lot, man. I'll bet Hunter over there would be a barrel of laughs, too."

From across the way, Tegan tipped up the visor on his helmet and shot them a summoning look.

"Let's do this."

Brock waved his acknowledgment, then turned back to Kade. "Ball-busting aside, man, I look forward to meeting your woman. But first, let's go kick some Dragos ass." Kade chuckled as he walked over to his snowmachine and prepared to ride out with his brethren, but his light mood was mostly a mask for the unpleasant reality that was settling heavier and heavier on his shoulders. Because assuming he survived the raid on the mine tonight, he would have the unpleasant task of dealing with Seth soon afterward.

He meant to start a life together with Alex, if she would have him, but he couldn't do that without taking care of the business he should have addressed before he ever left Alaska in the first place. Seth was sliding toward Bloodlust, if he wasn't there already. His madness had to be stopped. And Kade was the only one who could do it.

Chapter Twenty-three

Kade had only been gone a couple of hours, but the waiting was driving Alex crazy. Sleep was out of the question, even though she hadn't been getting much of it lately. She had already fed Luna breakfast and taken a shower, and if she walked around her tiny house looking for one more thing to dust or scrub or straighten, she was going to scream.

Maybe she could invite Jenna over.

Better yet, maybe she could go to her house instead. God knew, she could use the distraction of some company while her heart was caught in a vise, waiting for word from Kade, letting her know that he was all right.

Ordinarily, she might have just hopped on her snowmachine and rode over unannounced, but this was the one time of the year that Jenna appreciated her privacy--demanded it, even. The November anniversary of Mitch and Libby's deaths had always been a struggle for her friend, and it hurt Alex to think that Jenna preferred to suffer it out alone rather than lean on her for support during the difficult time. It also bothered Alex that she hadn't heard a word from Jenna since she had seen her last. Going more than a day or two without at least a phone call or quick drop-in was unusual for Jenna, no matter what time of the year it was.

Alex picked up her phone to call her and noticed that the message symbol was lit up. Probably Jenna, Alex thought with a relieved laugh under her breath. She'd probably left a voicemail asking Alex why she hadn't called or come around herself. Alex punched in her access code and waited for the message to play. It wasn't Jenna. One of the clients on her supply route, a new mother with a sick baby and a husband gone some six months doing work on the pipeline, wanted to know if Alex could possibly bring out some formula and more fuel for the cabin's generator. She was just about out of both, and worried that the coming snowstorm would only make things worse. The call had come in yesterday morning. More than twenty-four hours ago.


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