Edge of Dawn (Chapter Fifteen)
A few minutes later, Mira was in Kellan's quarters, getting dressed with him in a comfortable silence. She could almost imagine that they were a couple in truth, sharing this space as bonded mates. Sharing the bed as lovers, which shouldn't have been as tempting to her, considering the number of times he'd just made her come.
Mira watched Kellan move as he put on fresh clothes, a black T-shirt that clung to his muscled chest and shoulders, short sleeves tight around his glyph-adorned biceps. His long, firm thighs disappeared into dark jeans that hugged his fine ass and rode at just the right level on his sharply cut hips.
He was gorgeous, and a few minutes ago she had tasted every divine inch of him. She allowed herself to savor that memory for a moment, standing near the foot of the bed in just her bra and panties.
It was so easy to feel normal around him. To feel whole. She wasn't ready to give that up. She'd never be ready for that, no matter what her damned vision had shown him.
Kellan shot her an appraising glance over his shoulder as he buttoned the fly of his jeans. "Good as you look like that, you'd better put something on before I jump you again." He lifted his chin, indicating his clothing trunk at her feet. "You'll find more shirts in there. Take your pick."
The black jeans she'd had on the day she and Jeremy Ackmeyer were brought to the rebel base were still in decent shape, a bit worse for wear, but doable. Her shirt had been toast, ripped up in the scuffle and ruined with blood and grime. Mira hunkered down on folded legs in front of Kellan's clothing locker and sifted through the dozen or so Ts and jerseys stacked neatly inside.
Her hand bumped against something cold and metallic, tucked between a few of the articles. She pulled it out to see what it was. A hand mirror, elegant and feminine, the back of it fashioned of polished silver, inlaid with delicate black onyx cut into the shape of a gracefully arched bow bearing a nocked arrow – the Archer family emblem.
"It belonged to my grandmother," Kellan said when Mira looked up at him in question.
"It's stunning." She ran her fingertip over the careful crafts-manship, admiring each flawless line. "How did you get this?"
When he disappeared years earlier, he'd taken nothing with him but the clothes on his back the night of the patrol that had gone so wrong.
Kellan strode over and gently took the mirror from her grasp. He turned it over in his hands, his mouth curving into a distant smile. "A couple years ago, I ran reconnaissance on a militia group I planned to shut down. They were dealing drugs and small arms out of Maine, north of Augusta. Realized when my intel gathering was over, I was only a few miles from my grandfather, Lazaro's, old place up there."
"The temporary compound the Order moved into after our headquarters in Boston was compromised." Mira recalled it well, even though she'd been just a girl at the time she and Kellan and the rest of the warriors and their mates had lived there.
After First Dawn, it was decided by Lucan and the other elders that the Order needed to spread its resources around the United States and Europe, to better combat uprisings and violence that occurred in the wake of the Breed's outing to mankind. Lazaro Archer, Kellan's grandfather, was now the leader of the Order's command center in Italy.
Mira thought about the many good times – and the handful of bad – that had taken place in that hidden Darkhaven compound nestled in the deep woods of northern Maine. Her first snowball fight, pitted against Kellan and Nathan. Her first Christmas tree, shared with Renata and Nikolai and the rest of her new family, all of the warriors and their mates. The presentation ceremony for Xander Raphael, Dante and Tess's son, who'd been born just days before the Order's emergency relocation from Boston.
So many memories, and she could see that Kellan was reliving them too.
"The place was vacant, or I never would've risked going near it," he said. "But there were a few things left behind. Furnishings, some clothing . . . and this." He touched the bow-and-arrow emblem with reverent fingers. "It was in my grandfather's quarters, on top of a dressing table he'd made for my grandmother out of the surrounding pines. The mirror was charred and blackened with soot and ash. I realized then and there that he must've gone back to our Boston Darkhaven after it had been razed. He must've crawled through the rubble to retrieve this, even though he'd vowed he would never go back to the scene of her death. Back to the house that took her and my parents – all of my kin, his kin – down in flames."
"Kellan," Mira whispered, her heart squeezing in her breast.
"I had no right to take it, but once it was in my hand, I couldn't leave it behind." He carefully replaced the mirror into the chest, setting it gingerly on top of the soft contents. "I have something else that I have no right keeping either."
He strode over to his bureau and opened the top drawer. Took out her treasured dagger and walked it back to her. She took it from his outstretched hand with a small, grateful smile.
She read the word that was carved onto each side of the precious blade. "Honor. Sacrifice." The other one, the other half of the pair, which she'd lost the day she was brought back into Kellan's life, bore another set of tenets she strove to live by: Faith. Courage. "It feels strange, just the one," she murmured. "Unbalanced. Not as strong without its mate. I never thought they'd be separated."
Kellan's eyes were tender on her, his expression sober, regretful. He clearly understood that she could as easily be speaking about the two of them. "I never wanted to take anything away from you, Mouse. Least of all your happiness. I didn't want to cost you anything, including the blade that I promised you'd have again, before everything went so wrong. Just another way I've let you down."
He reached out, gently lifted her to her feet. He stroked her face, his touch so careful and kind, she nearly choked on the sob building in her throat. "If I could go back in time, I'd change so much," he said. "I would do whatever it took to make sure you'd never be caught up in this with me in the first place."
"No," she replied, pulling herself together and giving a firm shake of her head. "No. I wouldn't trade a minute of what we just shared. Would you?"
He didn't speak for a long moment, just caressed her cheeks and brushed his thumb over her lips, before settling his warm hand along the nape of her neck.
"Would you really take it all back?" she asked, terrified of his answer.
His smile was slow as his eyes crackled with banked but still burning heat. "I'm still holding on to you, aren't I?"
He kissed her, and Mira couldn't curb the dread that rose in her when she thought of losing him again. She didn't want to let the awfulness of her vision ruin this moment, but it was there just the same, refusing to give her any peace. She drew back from Kellan's sweet kiss and tipped her head down, closing her eyes as he rested his forehead against hers, still holding her close.
"Kellan," she said, then pulled away, looking up into his amber-flecked hazel eyes. "Tell me again about the vision you saw. About the charges leveled against you."
His handsome face sobered, jaw going a bit tighter as he clamped his molars together. "They were capital charges, Mouse. Just like I told you."
"Yes, but what were they, specifically?"
"Conspiracy," he said evenly. "Treason. Kidnap and murder."
Her pulse skidded on the last one. "Murder. How many people have you killed, Kellan?"
"Too many to recall," he replied, no apology in his voice. "You know about all of them. You were there with me for far too many, when the streets were red with spilled lives."
"No," she said. "That was wartime, not murder. How many unsanctioned kills, Kellan? How many times since you became Bowman have you taken someone's life?"
He stared, considering. He stared for a very long time, then gave a resolute shake of his head. "There is no way of telling how far into the future the vision is destined to occur. We only know that it will, because your visions never fail, Mira. They haven't, in all this time." He paced away from her, raking a hand through his dark copper hair. "Besides, that doesn't negate any of the other charges that I am guilty of: kidnapping Ackmeyer, the relative of a high-ranking GNC government diplomat, and, in so doing, conspiring to disrupt a peace summit. By doing both of those things, I've knowingly led myself and my crew into an act of treason."
"But not murder," Mira stressed. Now that she had a shred of hope in her grasp, she wasn't about to let it slip through her fingers. "You aren't guilty of the last charge. That's something in your control now, from this moment forward. And if the vision is wrong about one of the charges, it can be wrong about any of them. Maybe we can change the course of this, Kellan. Together."
He came back to her, standing right in front of her but saying nothing. His eyes bore into hers, his face gone utterly still except for the sudden tick of a tendon in his jaw. She could sense the wheels turning in his mind. She could feel his pulse throbbing hotly, vibrating the air in the scant inch that separated their bodies.
He swore, vicious and raw, under his breath. Not a sound of anger but one of relief.
His hands shot out and he pulled her to him, kissed her hard on the mouth. Then he let go and spun away to grab for his comm unit on the bureau next to his bed. He checked the time, swung a fierce look on her. "It'll be sundown in thirty minutes." He grabbed a dry pair of boots from nearby and stomped into them. "I'm heading into Boston. I need to find Vince and bring Ackmeyer out of this alive."
"I'm going with you," Mira announced, already wearing one of his T-shirts and yanking on her black jeans. She reached for her combat boots, but Kellan stopped her with his hand coming down firmly on her wrist.
"You stay put," he said. "I'm not putting you in harm's way. Besides, I can cover more ground faster on foot."
She got right up in his face, just like when they were kids. "Either I go with you, or I go alone, Archer."
That tendon that had been ticking in his jaw before now started to pound. His eyes were blazing, searing her with their sharp flashes of amber. She didn't cower. She glared up into those dangerous eyes and held them steady. It was a look he had to recognize, one he had to understand meant she was not about to back down.
"Goddamn it," he growled. "We leave in five."
He stormed out of the room ahead of her. Mira tucked her dagger into the sheath on her belt and went after him.
The knock on the door of the ground-level apartment of the rat-infested triple-decker in Boston's Charlestown neighborhood came roughly seven minutes after sundown. Prompt, considering Rooster had been summoned there only five minutes ago by his friend's urgent, unexplained phone call.
Nathan casually eyed the dead heroin-dealing pimp who lay sprawled where he'd fallen, windpipe crushed five and a half minutes ago, after the human had the bad sense to think the vampire in his living room could be gotten rid of with the help of the revolver stowed under a sofa cushion. The butt of the unused Smith & Wesson was still wedged between the tattered, plaid-covered foam and a fleece throw that didn't quite mask the stains and cigarette burns riddling the filthy upholstery.
Nathan assumed the weapon was loaded, not that he cared. He'd been trained as a boy to kill a hundred different ways with his bare hands. And he'd never taken a hit in all this time. His record was flawless. His mercy nonexistent.
Rooster's rap on the door came again, two staccato beats. "Yo, Billy! You gonna open this damn door or – "
His words dried up in his throat in that next instant, as Nathan had the door open, Rooster yanked inside, and the dead bolts thrown home in the time it would have taken the human to utter another syllable.
"What the fuck!" he hollered, falling back onto the sofa where Nathan dropped him. His bloodshot eyes were wide under the ridiculous plume of his scarlet mohawk as he scrambled to right himself, trying to get his bearings inside the gloomy apartment. His confused, searching gaze finally lit on Nathan, standing in the shadows in front of him. "Oh, shit . . . no fucking way! Billy, what the fuck you doin' with the Order, man?"
Nathan stared down at him. "I need to talk to you, Rooster. Tried your place first, but you weren't home."
"Talk to me? I got no business with you, man. Got no business with the fuckin' Order!" Rooster's eyes went a bit wider, the whites rolling around in his skull as he glanced around him, no doubt looking for some support from his friend. Support he wasn't going to get. He realized that a moment later, when his panicked gaze landed on the motionless limbs and sightless stare of the corpse lying just a few feet away. "Holy shit! That Billy right there? Naw, I don't fuckin' believe this shit! I just talked to him, like five minutes ago."
Nathan shrugged. "Billy made the call to you because I asked him to. Then Billy got stupid and now he's dead."
"Oh, God!" Rooster howled, burying his head in his hands. "Shit, man . . . this is messed up! What the hell do you want from me?"
"Information, to start," Nathan said.
He'd done some discreet digging during the daylight hours between Lucan handing him this solo task and the wait till sundown, when he could finally hit the streets and start taking care of business. Word came back that most of the local lowlifes hadn't known the first thing about a civilian abduction, so whoever was responsible was keeping the intel close to their vest. But the common denominator when it came to rebel factions and related activity around Boston was the red-combed loser spluttering and twitching on the sofa in front of Nathan.
"Ain't got no information," Rooster whined. "You got the wrong guy, man."
Nathan narrowed his look on the human informant. "I know you're not going to sit there and deny you have business dealings of potential interest to me. I'm not talking about drug-dealing flesh-peddlers like this asshole Billy over here, but other associates of yours. Ones who might know something about a situation that went down a couple days ago over in the Berkshires."
Rooster's upper lip twitched. "What kind of situation?"
"Kidnapping," Nathan replied. "Someone very important. Potentially very high profile."
A sharp inhalation as the snitch fidgeted, crossing and uncrossing his arms. He was clued in now. He had information. He would talk. Just a matter of time, but unluckily for Rooster, Nathan's mission meant he was short on that commodity.
"This kidnapping also netted another hostage," he told the man. "One of particular interest to the Order and to me personally as well."
Rooster let out his breath in a gust of sour air. "I don't know anything about her, I swear."
"You just told me you do." Nathan's lethal instincts prickled to full attention, but he remained as outwardly calm as his years of unforgiving training as a born-and-bred killer had made him.
He took hold of Rooster's biceps, sure that the injuries Mira had inflicted with her blades at La Notte a few nights ago still pained the human. He squeezed, ignoring Rooster's sharp cry of anguish. "Take a look at your friend. You remember how I said Billy got stupid before he got dead?" That red mohawk wobbled with its owner's jerky nod. "Don't be stupid, Rooster. Tell me where they took Mira and Jeremy Ackmeyer."
When he didn't hear an answer through the groan of agony coming out of Rooster's mouth, Nathan increased the pressure.
"I don't know," the human howled. "I don't fuckin' know! Last I knew Ackmeyer was with Vince, man. You should be lookin' for him, not me!"
"Vince who?" Nathan demanded.
"I don't know the dude's last name, just know he runs with Bowman and his crew. Or did until today."
"Bowman," Nathan repeated, the first he'd heard of that name among rebel circles. "Where can I find Bowman?"
"Don't know. Never met him." Rooster's face was screwed up in a grimace when Nathan didn't relent for an instant on his wounded arms. "All's I know is, he heads up a small operation somewhere outside Boston."
Nathan noted the new intel but returned his focus to the rest of Rooster's statement. "And this other individual – Vince. He's got Ackmeyer now? Vince decide to run solo or something?"
Rooster nodded. "He was lookin' to make a ransom when he contacted me this morning. Never heard the dude so fired up and cocky. Said Ackmeyer was some kind of genius. Said he invented some kind of UV technology shit that was worth a fortune to the right buyer."
Although Nathan had a cursory awareness of Jeremy Ackmeyer's public resume and his contributions to the science and technology arenas, word of an invention of the type Rooster just mentioned came as a surprise. A very disturbing one.
He said nothing in reaction to this news, his mind playing out a host of possibilities that might come out of a scientific breakthrough involving ultraviolet light. None of them good where the Breed was concerned. And he could only imagine the kind of interest the availability of such technology might attract.
"What else do you know about Vince's plans to ransom Ackmeyer? Did he mention who he was looking at as potential buyers?" Nathan peered at the twitchy informant with assessing eyes. "Let me guess. That's why Vince got in touch with you – to put him in front of someone who might want the deal he had to offer."
Rooster swallowed, still wincing at the pain Nathan was inflicting. "He promised me a cut of his take, so I made some calls. I don't know who took the bait. All's I did was put the word out."
Nathan felt justified in killing Rooster for that offense alone, but he still had Mira to think about. "What about the female? Was Vince looking to turn some kind of profit on her head too?"
"Like I said, man, I don't know nothin' about her. Only what Vince said when I saw him today."
"And what was that?" Nathan all but snarled.
"He said Bowman seems to be having a real good time with her." This Rooster announced with remarkably reckless amusement. He chuckled, even through the pain he was enduring. "Don't ask me to feel sorry for the bitch. After what she did to me the other night, far's I'm concerned, she can suck my dick too."
Nathan's fury stunned him, it roared up so violently inside him. It seethed through his veins, although it was clear from Rooster's continued blathering, the human didn't sense the sudden shift in the air from dangerously tense to lethal still.
He went on, his stupidity far greater than Billy's ill-intended move to defend himself against certain death. "I hope she's gettin' it real good. I hope she got it from Vince and all the rest of Bowman's crew too. Teach that uppity bitch a lesson, put her in her fuckin' place."
Nathan's control snapped, just like that, but outwardly he didn't so much as blink.
He released Rooster's arms and grabbed his head between both palms. Then gave a twist, severing the human's spinal column in one swift twitch of his hands.
He let the body drop, and Rooster's head with its bright red comb of hair flopped at a grotesque angle in the dead man's lap.
Then Nathan turned and calmly walked out of the dump and into the night to continue his mission.