The reminder seemed to calm some of her indignation. “I’m twenty-seven. Why do you want to know?”
“I just wonder why you aren’t already mated and blood-bonded. You were raised in a Darkhaven, so you must know many Breed males. If any of the ones I know ever saw you, there’d be at least a hundred of them beating a path to your door.”
She stared at him for a moment in uncertain silence, then shrugged. “Maybe I prefer human men.”
Shit. He hadn’t even considered that. “Do you?”
“To be honest, I haven’t given the idea of a blood bond a lot of thought. My life is full and I keep busy enough with other things.”
She started walking away from him, her bare feet moving softly, fluidly, along the bricked path. And he couldn’t help noticing she hadn’t really answered his question.
He strode up next to her. “What kind of things have kept you so busy that you’re still unmated and nearing the ripe old age of thirty?”
She scoffed, but there was humor in her tone. “Important things.”
“I volunteer at some of the border camps, taking care of people who’ve been displaced by wars and other disasters. I guess you could say it’s been something of a calling for me.”
Well, he hadn’t been expecting that. Granted, she didn’t seem the type to flutter around in fancy dresses and high-heeled sandals all day, but he also wouldn’t have imagined a stunning woman like her spending her time covered in dust and sweat. Or putting herself in harm’s way in those turbulent areas that had never known peace, even before the wars between the humans and the Breed.
“What about you, Jehan?”
“What about me?”
“For starters, how old are you?”
She glanced at him. “Younger than I expected. But then it’s impossible to guess a Breed male’s age. It’s always seemed unfair to me that your kind never looks older than thirty, even the Gen Ones who’ve been around for centuries.”
Jehan lifted his shoulder. “A small consolation for the fact that we can never put our faces in the sunlight. Unlike your kind.”
“Hm. I guess that’s true.” She tilted her head at him. “What exactly do you do in Rome?”
“I’m part of the Order. Captain of my unit,” he added, not sure why he felt the need to impress her with his elevated rank.
She stopped dead in her tracks again, and something told him it didn’t have anything to do with sore feet. A chill rolled off her as Jehan pivoted to look at her. She barked out a brittle laugh and shook her head. “No wonder they didn’t tell me anything about you.”
“My parents.” Her arms crossed rigidly over her chest. “If they’d mentioned you were part of that brutal organization, there’s no way in hell I would’ve agreed to any of this. No matter what leverage they used to try to convince me.”
Jehan’s suspicions rankled along with his pride. “You have a problem with the Order?”
“I have a problem with cold-blooded killers.”
Was she serious? “My brethren and I are not—”
She didn’t let him finish. “I’ve devoted myself—everything I am—to saving lives. You’re in the business of taking them.” When he exhaled a tight curse and shook his head, she gave him a sharp look. “How many people have you killed?”
“Me personally, or—”
“I think that answers my question.” She moved past him and started walking away at a swift clip.
He caught up in a handful of strides. “There’s nothing cold-blooded about what the Order does. Are we brutal sometimes? Only when there’s no other choice. But we call it justice. We’re protectors, not killers.”
“No, it’s reality, Seraphina.” When she didn’t slow her pace, he reached out and caught her arm. She flinched at the contact. He wondered if it was purely out of indignation or the fact that even though a chill had expanded between them, the heat of attraction still sparked to life the instant they touched. Her pulse fluttered at the base of her elegant throat, her heart pounding so hard and fast he could feel it through his fingertips.
His entire body responded to that frantic drumming, his veins heating, his fangs prickling as they elongated behind his closed lips. His cock responded just as hungrily, pressing in demand against the zipper of his trousers.
She pulled out of his grasp. “I can’t do this. You need to know that I have no interest in any kind of handfast, and I’m not looking for a blood bond. Especially with you.”
Jehan drew back. “You don’t want to be part of this because you just found out I belong to the Order?”
Her lush lips compressed into a flat line. “I never wanted to be part of it.”
“That makes two of us.”
“What?” She gaped at him.
He shook his head. “I only agreed out of obligation. Because I feel I owe it to my family to uphold their traditions, even if they don’t mesh with mine.”
Her breath rushed out of her. “Oh, thank God!”
She didn’t hold back her relief. She sounded like a death row inmate suddenly granted a full pardon, and his pride took another ding to hear the depth of her alleviation. “So, what do we do now, Seraphina? Go back inside and tell them we’re calling the whole thing off?”
“You mean, break the pact? We can’t do that.” She glanced down at the bricks at her feet. “I can’t do that.”
“Maybe it’s time someone did.”
He studied her under the thin light of the moon and stars overhead. Everything Breed in him was urging him to touch her—to lift her chin and sweep the loose tendrils of her curly brown hair away from her eyes, if only so he could see their unusual shade again. But he kept his hands to himself, fisting them at his sides when the desire to reach out nearly overrode his good sense.
“You strike me as a forward-thinking, intelligent woman. You don’t actually believe the pact holds any kind of sway over the peace between our families anymore, do you?”
“No, I don’t. But it’s important to my parents, and that makes it important to me. But...” Finally, she lifted her head to meet his gaze. “There’s another reason I agreed to the handfasting. I have a trust fund. A sizable one. It’s not due to release to me until my thirtieth birthday, but my father’s promised it to me early. At the end of the handfast.”
“Ah.” Jehan lifted his chin. He hadn’t taken her for the type to be motivated by money, but he supposed there were worse things. “So, you’re here on bribery, and I’m here out of some pointless obligation to prove to my father that I’m not his greatest disappointment.”
“That’s why you’re here?”
Her voice was quiet, almost sympathetic. The soft look in her eyes threatened to unravel his thin control.
He gave a dismissive wave of his hand. “It doesn’t matter why either of us are here. Apparently, we both just need to get through the next eight nights so we can get on with our real lives.”
She nodded. “How are we going to do that?”