Archer's face drew into a cautious look. "Do you think that's wise?


Placing your trust in anyone who's been so closely linked to Dragos?"


Lucan inclined his head. "I had the same reservations at first, but Hunter has proven more than worthy of the Order's trust. You've met him yourself, Lazaro. He was there tonight with you, and helped to kill Christophe's assassins."


The Gen One exhaled a quiet curse. "That warrior saved my life. No one could have acted swiftly enough to save my son, but if not for Hunter, I would not be here, either."


"He is an honorable male," Lucan said. "But he was bred and raised to be a killing machine. Based on the descriptions we received of Kellan's abductors, we're all but certain that it was three of Dragos's Hunters who took him from your home."


"I thought I heard some of the warriors tonight say that the captors who were killed inside the building earlier were humans--Minions."


Lucan nodded. "They were. For some reason, they'd been made to look like the same inpiduals who took Kellan, but the Minions were part of some larger scheme. As was the attack on your Darkhaven, I have no doubt."


"But why?" Archer murmured. "What did he hope to gain by taking nearly all of my family and reducing my home to ash?"


"We don't have that answer yet, but we won't rest until we do." Lucan paused in the corridor, crossing his arms over his chest. "Dragos has given us a hell of a lot to deal with lately, and my gut tells me we're only seeing the beginning of what he's capable of. We've recently discovered that he's got Minions embedded in at least one human government agency, as well.


No doubt, there's more bad news where that came from."


Archer cursed, low under his breath. "To think all of this has been taking place right under our noses. Lucan, I don't know what to say, other than I regret not giving you my support sooner. You can't know how sorry I am for that."


Lucan shook his head. "It's not necessary. The fight belongs to the Order."


Lazaro Archer's expression was grim with purpose. "As of now, the fight is mine, as well. I am in, Lucan. In whatever means that I can serve you and your warriors, if you'll accept my offer--belated as it is--then I am in."


Dragos's black limousine pulled up to the ice-crusted curb where his lieutenant waited, huffing and shivering under a streetlamp in his dark cashmere coat and low-brimmed hat.


As the Minion driver braked to a stop, Dragos's man came over to the back passenger door and climbed inside the vehicle. He pulled off his hat and gloves, pivoting to face Dragos beside him in the backseat.


"The Order was tipped off about the building where the boy was being held, sire. They showed up tonight just as we'd anticipated, along with Lazaro Archer and his son and a unit from the Enforcement Agency. The Minions who'd been guarding the boy were killed within moments of the confrontation."


"Hardly a surprise," Dragos said with a mild shrug. "And Agent Freyne?"


"Dead, sire. He and his men were killed by one of the warriors as they were attempting to carry out their mission. Christophe Archer was eliminated, but his father still lives."


Dragos grunted. If one of the Archers had to survive the assassination he'd arranged, he would have much preferred Lazaro dead over his society-bred son. Be that as it may, the multipronged assault he'd orchestrated tonight had still been a success. He had watched from a safe distance, secure in his limousine, as Lazaro Archer's Darkhaven exploded into the winter night like a Roman candle.


It had been glorious.


A total annihilation.


And now he had the Order precisely where he wanted them--confused and scattered.


His Breed lieutenant went on, ticking off the rest of the evening's outcome. "The fire at the Darkhaven claimed all lives within, and I have reports that Lazaro Archer has not been seen or heard from in the hours since. Although I've not had confirmation, I suspect that both the Gen One and the boy are in the Order's custody as we speak."


"Very well," Dragos replied. "As Lazaro Archer is still breathing, I'd hardly call this a flawless execution of my orders. But then, if I expect perfection, I should have to do everything myself."


His lieutenant had the gall to look affronted. "All due respect, sire, but had I known the Order now counts one of your Hunters among them, I might have taken extra precautions concerning Freyne's role in the mission tonight."


Dragos had lived long enough that surprises rarely had the power to take him aback. But this news flash--this disturbing bit of intelligence--


actually made his pulse knock a bit against his sternum. Rage filled his skull, a cold fury that practically had him spitting the curse that leapt to his tongue.


"You didn't know?" asked his lieutenant, crowding against the door in an effort to put as much distance as possible between them.


"A Hunter," Dragos replied, amber sparks flashing in the darkened cabin of the limo. "Are you certain this is true?"


His man nodded soberly. "I had surveillance cameras trained on the construction site from more than one location nearby. The way he moved, the sheer size of him, and the precision of his kills ... sire, there could be no mistaking the warrior for anything but one of your Hunters."


And there was only one of his specially bred, ruthlessly trained killers who had managed to connive his way out of Dragos's control and make his escape. That he had allied himself with the Order was a shock, plain and simple.


Dragos had assumed the Hunter had escaped the bonds of his obedience collar and fled into obscurity, a stray dog, lost without its master.


On some level, he'd assumed the fugitive assassin had ended up dead or Rogue by now.


But not this.


And no, he reflected now, not this particular Hunter.


He had been different from the start. Chillingly efficient. Coldly intelligent. Relentlessly disciplined, yet far from submissive. That was a lesson he'd never been able to learn, no matter how mercilessly it had been drilled into him.


Dragos should have had the son of a bitch put down, but he'd also been the best assassin in his personal Gen One army to date.


And now he'd apparently sided with Lucan and the warriors in this mounting war.


Dragos growled with outrage at the mere idea.


"Get out of my sight," he snarled to his lieutenant. "Await my orders to begin the next phase of the plan."


The other Breed male scrambled out of the car without another word, slamming the door behind him and hurrying off in the opposite direction of the street.


"Drive," Dragos barked to the Minion behind the wheel.


As the limo sped off into the hustle of Boston's evening traffic, he straightened the lapels of his Italian silk tuxedo and smoothed his hand over his meticulously styled hair. In the dim glow of the highway lights, he withdrew an embossed invitation from out of his jacket pocket and read the address of the political fund-raiser he had just attended downtown.


A small droplet of human blood stained the lower corner of the ivory paper, still fresh enough to smear under the press of his thumb.


Dragos chuckled under his breath, recalling how pleased the group of city officials had been with the generosity of his donation.


How stunned they had been just a few minutes later, when they realized what each of them would be surrendering to him in exchange.


Now he leaned back and closed his eyes, letting the hum of the road lull him as he savored the buzz of power still swimming in his veins.


Chapter Twenty-eight


Jenna had never seen Brock so quiet.


He and the other warriors had returned a short time ago, accompanied by Lazaro Archer and his grandson. The relief surrounding the boy's rescue was severely dampened by the cost at which it had come. While arrangements were made to accommodate the new arrivals at the compound and get them cleaned up and settled, Brock and the other warriors on tonight's mission had dispersed to their own quarters.


Brock had hardly uttered a word since he'd returned. He'd been covered in blood and grime, his face drawn taut with tension and not a little horror for what he and his brethren had witnessed during the recovery of the boy. Jenna had walked with him back to the room they now shared and had since been sitting on the edge of the bed alone, staring at the closed bathroom door while he ran the shower on the other side.


She didn't know if he'd welcome company or preferred his solitude, but after hearing about what had occurred on his patrol, she found she couldn't sit idle when he might be hurting on the other side of the closed door.


She walked over and tested the latch. It wasn't locked, so she cracked it open and peered inside.


Brock was naked under the steaming spray, his glyph- covered back toward the door, hands fisted and pressed against the shower wall in front of him. Although she didn't see any wounds on him, the water ran in red trails down his dark skin before swirling into the drain at his feet.


"May I come in?" she asked softly.


He didn't reply, but he didn't tell her to leave him alone, either. She entered, shutting the door behind her. She didn't need to ask him if he was all right. Despite that he seemed physically unharmed, every thick muscle in his broad back was bunched with tension. His arms were trembling, his head bent low against his chest.


"An entire family was blown to bits tonight," he murmured, his voice rough and raw with restrained emotion. "That kid's life is never gonna be the same."


"I know," she whispered, drawing nearer.


He lifted his face into the hot cascade of water, then slicked a hand over the top of his head. "I tell you, there are times when I don't think I can handle all of the goddamned pain and death."


"That's what makes you human," she said, then laughed quietly to herself at how easy it was to think of him as a man--her man--despite all the things that made him something more than that.


Hell, it was getting hard to think of herself as being purely human anymore. She was morphing into something she didn't quite understand--


more and more every day--but she was growing less afraid of the changes taking place within her. They were making her stronger, giving her a renewed sense of purpose ... a rebirth.


She found herself looking forward to the chance to have a different life. A new life, perhaps right here in this place. Perhaps with Brock at her side.


After the last time she'd been in his arms, she realized she was less afraid of the feelings she had for him, too.


It was that lack of fear that prompted her to take off her top and step out of her loose yoga pants. Her bra and panties went next, discarded on the floor as she walked into the shower with Brock and wrapped her arms around his strong back.


He tensed at the contact, drawing in a sharp breath. But then his arms came down over hers and he held her there, his big hands warm and soothing as he caressed her. "I'm filthy from the mission, Jenna."


"I don't care," she said, pressing a trail of kisses to the smooth, muscled arch of his spine. His dermaglyphs pulsed with deepening color.


"Let me take care of you for a change."


She pulled her arms from around him and took the bar of soap from the shower shelf. He stayed unmoving as she filled her hands with lather, then began to gently smooth the suds over his immense shoulders and bulky biceps. She washed his strong back, then slowly let her hands drift down, past his tight waist, to the sides of his lean hips.


She felt the powerful twitch of his body as she reached around to the front of him, her soap-slicked hands skirting the edge of his groin. He was erect even before she got there, moaning as she splayed her fingers around the base of his cock, teasing but not yet touching. She brought her hands around and gathered more lather, then crouched down behind him to wash the lengths of his legs.


He shuddered as she dragged her soapy fingers back up his thighs, pressing her body flush against him as she rose, slippery from the suds that still lingered on his skin. She wrapped one arm around the front of his waist, her other hand reaching down to stroke his hard shaft. He growled a dark curse as she caressed him, his sex swelling even greater in her grasp.


She found a rhythm that seemed to please him, and she worked it mercilessly, delighting in the feel of his body's response to her touch. With a low moan, he leaned forward to brace one elbow against the shower wall in front of him. "Ah, fuck, Jenna ... I love your hands on me."


She smiled at his praise, losing herself in his pleasure as she stroked him harder, more intensely. He grunted, his sex kicking in the tight hold of her pistoning fist. Then, before she could make him lose all control, he hissed a raw curse from between his gritted teeth and fangs.


He flipped around to face her. His erect cock rose up past his navel, hard as steel but hot as a flame when he dragged her against him, his big hands firm on her upper arms, his hold possessive and fierce. His handsome face was drawn in sharper angles in the throes of his passion, his eyes as bright as glowing coals, his fangs stark white and enormous, deadly sharp.


Jenna licked her lips, her throat suddenly gone dry with need.


He knew what she wanted. She could read his understanding as surely as he'd read the hungered look in her own eyes.


He lifted her off her feet, guiding her legs around his waist as he carried her out of the bathroom and toward the big bed in the other room.


Their bodies were wet, still slick in places from errant suds as they flopped onto the mattress together in an intimate tangle.


He kept her thighs wrapped around him as he rolled onto his back, settling her on top of him. He thrust inside her, filling her up so perfectly.


She tipped her head back and exhaled a slow, pleasured sigh as he seated himself to the hilt beneath her.


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