At first, Jehan wasn’t sure what he was seeing.
Not canned meats, that much was certain.
Each container held a palm-sized electronic object comprised of a metal casing and a glass center chamber. Inside the glass was a milky blue substance that glowed like a vial of pure energy.
Like a source of harnessed, weapons-grade ultraviolet light.
The instant realization dawned on him, Karsten’s cohort came around the back of the building. He was empty-handed, but the second his eyes lit on Jehan, he reached for his gun and fired a panicked round. Reacting almost instantly, Jehan let his blade fly, dropping Massoud dead in the sand.
The discharged bullet flew wild into the air. The cracking report of the gunshot echoed, shattering the sleepy calm of the camp. Screams and commotion stirred at once in some of the nearby tents.
Karsten raced out of the supply building. “Massoud, for crissake—”
He drew up short when he came face to face with Jehan holding his comrade’s gun.
Jehan bared his fangs. “Doing a little dealing on the side, I see. What’s the going rate on UV grenades these days?”
Karsten narrowed his eyes. “More than you could imagine, vampire.”
The impulse to blow the human’s head off was nearly overwhelming. But caution warned him that this was also Seraphina’s longtime coworker. She considered Karsten Hemmings her friend.
As much as Jehan wanted to waste the bastard for profiting off Breed-killing UV arms and using Seraphina’s goodwill to front it, that call wasn’t his to make. Not like this.
“We both know you’re not going to use that gun on me,” Karsten taunted. “She’ll hate you for it. Of course, if you pull that trigger, you’d better be prepared to die with me.”
It was then that Jehan noticed the human held something tight in his fist. The blue glow poured out between his fingers.
“The detonator is already tripped,” he confirmed. “The UV blast won’t give me more than a sunburn. You, however...”
Jehan ignored the threat. He would deal with the fallout if and when it occurred. Right now, he wanted answers. If he had any chance of getting information to the Order, he needed answers.
“Who’s waiting for this shipment, Karsten? Who’s paying you for this shit?”
“Oh, come now. I think you know. Every warrior in the Order should know the answer to that question.” He chuckled. “Yes, I know you’re one of them. I did some checking tonight. Made a few calls. You’re part of the Rome unit.”
Jehan glowered. “And you’re part of Opus Nostrum.”
Karsten pursed his lips and gave a faint shake of his head. “Merely a businessman. And a like-minded individual. I despise your entire race of blood-sucking monsters. If Opus wants your kind eradicated and a war to make it happen, I’m only too happy to help send you all to your graves. Or into the light, as the case may be.”
“Karsten?” Seraphina emerged out of the darkness, disheveled and confused. “Oh, my God. Jehan, what on earth is going—”
“Seraphina, stay back!”
Jehan’s warning came too late. She had already strayed right into the middle of the standoff.
And Karsten seized his chance to let his weapon loose.
The UV grenade went airborne.
Jehan had precious little time to react. He dived under the Jeep as the light exploded all around him. The power of it was immense. Even from beneath the undercarriage of the vehicle, he could feel the searing energy of the solar detonation. It extinguished a moment later, plunging the desert back into darkness.
He was shielded.
He was alive.
But the act of self-preservation had just cost him dearly.
He heard Seraphina cry out, and he knew Karsten Hemmings had her.
The realization tore his heart from his chest. He couldn’t let her be harmed. He couldn’t lose her.
He never wanted to lose her.
On a roar, Jehan rolled out to his feet to face the bastard. Karsten had a pistol on her, held against the back of her head. And Jehan had dropped his gun somewhere in the sand.
“Let her go.”
Karsten sneered. “Let her go so you can have her? She deserves better than you, vampire. Better than anything you can ever give her.”
Jehan wasn’t going to argue when he was thinking the same thing now, miserable as he drank in the sight of her terrified face and her tender brown eyes pleading for him to help her.
“Let her go, Karsten. If you do, maybe I’ll let you live. But only if Seraphina wants me to.”
The human chuckled. “No, I don’t think so. We’re going to leave now. I’m going to make my drop and collect my money. Then Sera and I are going to get out of this godforsaken hellhole and enjoy our spoils.” He nestled his open mouth against her cheek, the nose of the gun still pressed against her skull. “You’ll see, my love. I can give you everything you need.”
She winced and closed her eyes, a miserable sound curling up from her throat.
Jehan couldn’t bear another second of her torment. He had to act. He had one chance to end this, but he couldn’t do it without her total faith in him.
“Seraphina.” He spoke her name softly, reverently. Hoping she could hear how much she meant to him. “Look at me, sweetheart.”
Her eyes opened and found his gaze through the dark.
He couldn’t say the words out loud without betraying his plan, but he needed her to understand. He needed her to trust him.
Do you trust me, Seraphina?
He said it with his eyes. With his heart.
Trust me, baby. Please...
She gave him a nearly imperceptible nod.
It was enough. It was all the permission he needed.
Moving with every ounce of Breed agility and speed he possessed, Jehan reached around to his back and pulled out the dagger he’d stashed there. He let it fly from his fingertips.
An instant later, Karsten Hemmings dropped to the ground, Jehan’s blade protruding from the space between his wide-open eyes.
Jehan ran to Seraphina and pulled her into his arms.
In that moment, nothing else mattered.
Not Karsten Hemmings. Not the Jeep full of UV grenades, or Opus Nostrum.
Not even the Order mattered as he drew Seraphina close and kissed her with all the relief and emotion—all the love—he felt for her.
He stroked her beautiful face and stared down into the soft brown eyes that now owned his heart and his soul. “Come on,” he said, drawing her under the protection of his arm. “Let’s get out of here.”
Sera was still numb with shock and disbelief several hours later, after Jehan had driven them back to the villa.
Karsten’s betrayal cut deep. That he had used her to free up the supplies containing his hidden cargo was bad enough. But the idea that greed and hatred had poisoned his humanity so much that he was willing to kill—willing to traffic in weaponry designed for the wholesale slaughter of the Breed—was unthinkable. It was unforgivable.
Countless innocent lives were saved today, now that the UV grenades had been diverted from their buyer and stowed safely inside the villa.
As for Karsten and Massoud, when the other camp workers and residents came upon the scene and heard what the two men had been up to, there had been no shortage of volunteers offering to dispose of their bodies in the desert so that Sera and Jehan could get on the road as quickly as possible to beat the sunrise.