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Edge of Dawn (Chapter Nine)

MIRA WOKE UP FROM AN EXHAUSTED SLEEP, THE WARM, spicy scent of Kellan all around her. At first she thought it belonged to her dreams – dark, seductive dreams, where he was not her enemy but the lover she'd yearned to touch again, the only man she'd ever wanted.

But it wasn't a dream that filled her senses now. It was reality. Kellan's cold and empty bed, she all alone in his locked quarters in the rebel base he commanded.

Mira sat up, pushed her tangled hair out of her eyes. The room was quiet. He hadn't returned since he'd left her there the night before. The blanket he'd put down for himself on the floor was right where he'd dropped it, the makeshift sleeping area undisturbed.

Where was he? Since he hadn't come back to his own quarters, where had he chosen to spend the night?

Maybe with one of the pretty human women under his command. Candice, with her easy smile and nurturing, competent hands. Or the indigo-haired sprite, Nina, with her sad eyes and pixie-cute face. A pang of jealous suspicion shot through Mira, uninvited and bitter with an acid bite.

She didn't need to wonder who Kellan wanted to spend his nights with. He wasn't hers to worry about. He wouldn't be ever again.

And maybe he never truly was, if leaving her behind had come so easily to him.

Her heart wanted to deny that, but her head was still struggling to make sense of the fact that Kellan had been alive all this time – living just outside Boston in this new, lawless life he'd created for himself as someone else entirely. He'd never tried to reach her. Never cared enough to end her grief and tell her that he was safe – even if that gesture would come with the sting of learning who he'd become. He had simply walked away and never looked back.

The hurt in her chest cracked open wider, but she refused to let it break her.

And she shouldn't give a damn who Kellan – or, rather, Bowman – decided to share a bed with, so long as it wasn't her.

Mira swung her bare legs over the edge of the mattress and poured herself a glass of water from the tumbler Candice had left on the bedside table. Her contact lenses sat in a small dish of saline solution, also courtesy of the pretty, raven-haired woman. Mira put them in, then downed her glass of water, grateful for both kindnesses Kellan's rebel comrade had provided her.

Mira rubbed a damp chill from her arms as she put her feet on the cold floor. She was wearing just her panties and the extra-large T-shirt Kellan had given her out of the chest at the foot of the bed. Her bra and his borrowed sweatpants were folded over a weathered wooden chair. She was about to get up and grab them when the tumbler on the locked door clicked open.

Kellan walked in, no warning or excuse.

His gaze shot to her in his bed. For a moment, she couldn't tell if it was surprise or regret in his hazel eyes. But there was something dark in them too, something troubled and grim. He stepped inside the room and closed the door behind him.

When he spoke, his voice was coarse like gravel. "You look well rested."

Mira scrambled out of his bed, all too aware of her state of undress and too conscious of the fact that Kellan was noticing it too. "You look like hell," she told him, keeping the sarcasm ripe in her tone as she edged away from the rumpled mattress. "I hate to think you had to find another bed to sleep in, with your private quarters turned into my prison cell."

He grunted as he prowled farther into the room. "Who says I slept?"

Mira watched him, wishing it wasn't so easy to picture him warming another woman's bed. For all her mental reassurances that she shouldn't care what he did – or with whom – seeing him unrested and tense with menacing energy made anger spike in her veins. "Where have you been, Kellan?"

He barked out a caustic laugh. "Masterminding rebel business." He pinned her with a dark look, showing the gleaming tips of his fangs. "That's what I do, remember?"

Mira stared at him, taken aback by the barely restrained anger in his voice. His face was taut with aggression, the lean angles of his cheeks and goateed jaw even sharper now. Kellan was mad. Furiously mad.

She watched him stalk over to the clothing chest on the floor like he was marching to war. He stripped off his wrinkled black T-shirt with savage force, threw open the lid of the trunk. His dermaglyphs were livid with color. The swirling arcs and flourishes of the Breed skin markings that covered his chest and biceps churned and pulsed with stormy shades of red and black and midnight blue. Mira swallowed. "Something's happened, hasn't it? Something bad."

He exhaled sharply. "You could say that."

His gaze met hers, and now his irises were bright with amber sparks, skewering her where she stood. Mira could feel his fury rolling off him, could see it in his hot glare, as if he couldn't stand the sight of her today.

"Aren't you going to tell me what's wrong?" she asked, refusing to be cowed. "You can talk to me, Kellan – "

"Talk to you?" he snarled. "I don't want to talk. I need to think. This is my problem. You're not a part of it."

"I am a part of it, whether you like it or not," she reminded him. "Whether either one of us likes it or not, you've made me a part of this."

He slammed the chest lid down so hard, it echoed like a cannon shot. He came up out of his crouch in an instant – less than that – and was standing right in front of her before she could take her next breath. Less than a hand's width separated them; she was close enough to feel the heat radiating from his every pore.

The glyphs that had been pulsing with the furious hues of Kellan's anger and frustration a few moments ago now deepened. There was still rage in them, but Mira watched the colors morph toward need and something darker as Kellan crowded her with the massive bulk of his body. His fangs seemed enormous, as sharp as daggers behind the menacing curl of his lip.

"You want me to tell you how badly I fucked up, going after Jeremy Ackmeyer?" Kellan's eyes blazed as hot as coals as he spoke, his pupils reduced to thin slivers of black in the middle of so much amber fire. He went on, his words vicious with self-directed fury. "You want to hear how I've grabbed an innocent, decent man – a man who wouldn't harm a fly, much less another person?"

Mira tried to process what he was telling her, but hearing his torment, she could hardly breathe. Dark emotion played across his face, turning his handsome features stark and fierce.

A low snarl curled up from the back of his throat. "You want me to explain how my orders will mean a certain death sentence for Candice and Doc and the rest of my crew if I don't figure a way to straighten this shit out?"

Mira's heart was pounding in her ears. She wanted to touch him, comfort him somehow, but she held herself in check, focusing instead on the truth of what he'd just said. "Jeremy Ackmeyer is innocent?" She searched Kellan's face, braving the enraged heat of his glare. "I thought you traced the UV tech back to his lab."

Kellan answered with a growl. "The tech is his. Ackmeyer didn't release it to anyone, not for money or otherwise. Someone stole the technology from him."

"He told you this?"

Kellan nodded. "And I read the truth of it when I touched him. He's innocent, Mira."

"You have to let him go," Mira murmured. Now she did reach out to Kellan, turning his face toward her when he tried to dodge her gaze. His jaw was rigid in her palm, a tendon ticking hard against her fingertips. "You have to release him. Take him straight to the Order and tell Lucan what you've discovered about the UV tech and the killing of Nina's lover."

He looked at her for a long moment, then exhaled a curse, shook his head.

"We can do it together, Kellan." Mira searched his blazing eyes, determined to convince him. "We'll go tonight, as soon as the sun sets. We'll fix it, Kellan."

His answering scoff was brittle as he flinched away from her touch. "I can no more do that now than I could before I realized Ackmeyer was innocent."

"Yes, you can. This changes everything – "

Kellan's eyes blazed even brighter. "It changes nothing. I'm still guilty of kidnapping and conspiracy. The GNC won't care what my reasons were for taking a human civilian hostage. Do you really think the Order will, especially when they learn where I've been all these years, what I've been doing?"

"Then we'll make them understand," Mira said, not even sure herself how they might accomplish that, but damn it, she was determined to try. All she needed was Kellan to agree. "We'll go to Lucan together and explain everything. There has to be a way. Once they see Jeremy Ackmeyer is free and unharmed, they'll be willing to listen, Kellan."

He stared at her for a long moment, considering, she hoped. But the look on his face was hard, unyieldingly so. "You're right about one thing, Mira. I have to release him. I'll release both of you. But not until my crew has a chance to dismantle our base and find shelter somewhere else. I need to know they'll be safe too, after all of this is over."

He stepped away from her, about to turn around and leave. Mira took hold of his arm. "What about you? Where does all of this leave you?"

She didn't like the flinty look in his glowing eyes. "Don't worry about me. This time I'll do what I couldn't before."

"What do you mean?"

He touched her face, so gently it threatened to break her heart all over again. "I'll put as much distance as possible between us. This time, I promise, I'll make sure our paths can never cross again."

The vow struck her like a physical blow. Now she was the one seething with fury – instant, blood-boiling fury. "You selfish son of a bitch! Don't you dare pretend you're doing this for me."

"It's the truth," he stated flatly. "I don't want to hurt you, Mouse. I never wanted that."

Unable to contain the hurt and anger that was raging in her, Mira slapped him, hard across the face. "I want nothing more than to hurt you now," she seethed. She pounded her fists against his strong, naked chest, wishing she had a blade in her grasp. "I want you to hurt like this too, damn you. I would make you bleed if I could!"

Kellan calmly caught her punishing hands, tucking them into a tender hold between their bodies. If he had grabbed her with force, she would have railed against him with all she was worth. She wanted that excuse. She wanted to curse and strike and hate him for this moment and all the others that had brought her so much heartache because of him.

But Kellan's touch was gentle. His face was sober, eyes full of heat and regret as he bent his head down and kissed the white knuckles on both of her clenched fists.

Mira's body heaved with impotent fury. She wanted to scream at him, but all that slipped past her lips was a choked little moan. She couldn't move, could hardly pull air into her raw lungs, as Kellan's gaze bored into hers. His grasp loosened, and he reached out to smooth his fingers along the side of her face, tracing past the tiny teardrop-and-crescent-moon birthmark that rode at her left temple.

His breath left him on a whispered curse as he put his mouth to her forehead and pressed a kiss there, his trim beard gently abrading her brow. Another kiss to her Breedmate mark . . . then still another, this one landing softly, sweetly on her parted lips.

She wanted to tell him no, but everything female within her responded to his kiss with melting, undeniable welcome. His lips brushed over hers, warm and wet, making her thirst for something more. She darted her tongue out to meet his and felt his strong body go tense against her. He broke away only for a moment, just looking at her, his breath hot against her cheek with his growled curse.

His big hands trembled as he brought them up to cradle her face in his palms. So gentle. So heartbreakingly reverent. His thumb caressed the line of her jaw, then drifted down along the side of her neck, pausing over the pulse point that throbbed like a drumbeat with every careful stroke of his touch. Wordlessly, he bent forward and kissed her again.

She couldn't stop him from claiming her mouth, any more than she could stop the wild jolt of pleasure that traveled through her like liquid fire. Kellan seemed equally moved, equally helpless to keep from touching her, kissing her, desiring her as much as she craved him. His skin felt hot to her touch, his dermaglyphs pulsing in reaction to his body's needs. His arousal was swift and obvious, a ridge of unyielding granite pressing with demand against her abdomen. She reveled in the feel of him, so hard and wanting, so powerfully alive.

No matter what he said, he wanted her. There could be no mistaking that now. Not even the circumstances that held them apart – the untenable situation that put them on opposite sides of the law – could erase the desire they once knew. The desire that hadn't banked in all the years Kellan had been gone, no matter how badly they both might wish it had.

And he was hungered in another way too.

She felt that hunger swelling as his mouth left hers on a snarl and drifted along her jawline, then down the sensitive column of her neck. His fangs grazed her skin, sharp and deadly, a bite she craved more than her next breath. The vein beneath her earlobe went electric with each teasing abrasion of his fangs against her throat.

Desire swamped her, pulling her head to the side as his sharp kiss roamed the length of her neck. As reckless as it was to wish for it, she wanted to feel that delicious scrape linger at her carotid. She wanted to feel her tender flesh yield for him – only him – something she'd craved from him for as long as she could remember.

Something he'd resisted with an iron will that seemed unbreakable, even now.

"No," he growled, a savage, raw sound. His eyes were searingly hot, pupils razor-thin, otherworldly. He was shaking, his beautiful chest and arms livid with the colors of twining thirst and desire. And yet his hands remained on her, strong fingers trembling as they continued to caress her. "Jesus Christ, Mira . . ."

She knew he felt the same powerful pull that she did. She knew he desired her, craved her body and her blood. She knew he wanted to sink his fangs into her with the same fevered need that she felt to be the Breedmate beneath his binding bite.

God help her, she would give him that right now, right here, and to hell with everything else. Kellan would be hers, again and forever. They would figure the rest out somehow, together, bound by blood.

"Please," she whispered, not caring a damn for how weak and vulnerable she sounded. All that mattered was Kellan's hands on her, his breath warm and moist on her throat, fangs pressing deliciously against her willing flesh.

"No," he snarled, more forcefully this time. His fingers dug into her arms as he set her away from him with a gruff shake of his head. "I won't, Mira. I can't. Don't let me make a bad situation worse."

He didn't wait for her to reply. No, he didn't even give her that chance. He dropped his hands from her and backed away. Then, with a further, vicious curse, he wheeled around and stalked out of the room.

What the fuck was he thinking?

Kellan stalked out of his quarters, every nerve ending on fire and snapping at the bit for a taste of Mira. His pulse hammered hard, echoing in his ears and temples, throbbing in his chest and groin. Everything male in him was lit up with need. Everything preternatural, otherworldly and wild, was roaring with the urge to take what he so badly wanted.

Mira.

In his bed, naked and hot beneath him. He wanted to feel her wet heat swallowing him whole. Wanted to pleasure her until she screamed his name, not in anger or distress, but urgent, desperate release.

And yes, he wanted to pierce her vein and draw her lily-sweet blood into his body until nothing else mattered.

Until she was bound to him as his eternal mate, where no laws, no lies, no damnable fate could keep them apart ever again.

Holy hell.

The urge to make that a reality – right here, right now – nearly set his boots on a reverse course, back to his chamber. It took all the self-control he had to keep himself moving on his forward path. His footsteps echoed sharply on the earthen floor of the bunker's corridor. His transformed eyes threw a bright amber glow against the dingy concrete walls. His head rang with the fevered pound of his pulse, each beat a reminder of the thirst that raked him.

A thirst he knew only one woman would ever truly sate.

Unfortunately, he was Breed, and regardless of what – or whom – his heart craved, his body had needs that could not be ignored. He couldn't recall precisely the last time he'd fed. Too long by far, based on the savage state he was in now.

Kellan stalked up the dark hallway of the old fort, snarling and ripe with aggression. If it were nightfall outside, he'd break for the city and run until exhaustion purged the worst of his dual fevers. Hunting for a blood Host was easy in the thickly settled neighborhoods of Boston and its surrounding boroughs. No trick at all to find a willing and able human vein, even under the strict feeding laws and curfews imposed since First Dawn.

But it was morning beyond the thick cement walls of his rebel lair.

And he knew damn well the wait until sunset would be a torment he couldn't withstand. Not so long as Mira was under the same roof.

Not so long as everything savage and inhuman within him was hammering with the demand to seek her out again. To take her.

To keep her as his own, regardless of the hell they would both be forced to pay in the end.

He let a growl roll through his teeth and fangs as he headed for the main area of the bunker. Up ahead, he heard the soft drip of water in the shower room, the shuffle of bare feet on a wet concrete floor.

Kellan glanced inside as he reached the open entryway. Candice was seated on a stone bench in the dressing area, combing out her wet black hair. Her skin was damp under her white V-neck T-shirt, the ink of her many tattoos bleeding through the thin fabric. She glanced over her shoulder at him as he paused in the doorway.

Hazel-green eyes met his amber gaze and went wide for a second. She saw his hunger. She understood. She always had. With a mild nod, she set down her comb and made room for him beside her on the bench.

Kellan hesitated, knowing this wasn't what he wanted, not really.

Candice knew that too. He saw the understanding in her gentle eyes as she watched him hesitate at the threshold of the room. She knew what he wanted, and from whom, and yet she still gave him a compassionate smile.

She held her hand out to him, as she had so many times before.

Kellan exhaled a ragged breath.

Then he stepped inside.

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