Edge of Dawn (Chapter Nineteen)
Nathan led a unit comprised of his team of three and Mira's squad, Bal, Torin, and Webb, who'd come in from Montreal to aid in her recovery. While Nathan and his crew scoured the old North End for leads on the rebels who held her, the other side of the city was getting a shakedown by Nikolai, along with Tegan, Hunter, and Rio, diverted from the D.C. headquarters and joined by Sterling Chase, director of the Boston command center.
To a man, they'd all vowed that dawn would not come without Mira being brought safely back into the fold of her family of the Order.
That pledge was cold water in Nathan's veins as he and Rafe Malebranche split off from Eli and Jax and Mira's three teammates, taking their search into establishments known to be friendly to rebels and their ilk. The club La Notte was their first stop, given that Rooster was a regular at the illegal arena there.
Nathan and Rafe walked in together, both warriors scanning the crowd. Upward of a hundred people were partying inside, clad mostly in black leather and heavy eyeliner, convulsing to the grinding pulse of an industrial rock band screaming about pain and betrayal onstage. Goth girls and punks, most of them human. All harmless clubbers. No sign of the criminal element Nathan was currently searching for.
As he and Rafe sliced through the churning throng, Nathan noticed La Notte's proprietor eyeing them with less than enthusiastic regard. Cassian broke away from a pair of attractive women easily a decade too young for him and strode toward Nathan. He was dressed like many of his patrons, in head-to-toe black leather and heavy lug-soled boots. Tonight his cropped hair was a crown of gelled spikes, his bright green eyes accentuated by dark brows, each pierced by a pair of tiny silver rings. A black stud was stuck through the tip of his tongue.
"Didn't realize my club was so popular with the Order," he drawled. "I don't know if I should be flattered or offended."
Nathan hardly paid Cassian any attention. "Check the arena," he told Rafe.
As the warrior turned to carry out the order, Nathan continued to prowl the club at street level. Cassian was right at his heels. "The fights don't start for hours, warrior."
"We didn't come to watch your blood sport."
"No," Cassian replied, "from the look of you, I'd guess you were here to start some of your own. Wouldn't have anything to do with the hotheaded female from your operation, would it?"
Nathan had his hand clamped around the other male's throat before Cassian could take his next breath. "What do you know about her?"
Some of the proprietor's henchmen, including the cage fighter called Syn and a couple of others, emerged from out of nowhere and started closing in. Still caught tight in Nathan's grasp, Cassian dismissed his thugs with a glance and a subtle twitch of his head.
"He won't kill me," Cassian said. "He would've finished it by now if that were his intent."
Nathan was tempted, but intel was more crucial. "What do you know about Mira?"
By this time, Rafe had come back from downstairs. Nathan noticed his brother-in-arms from the corner of his eye. Skilled and deadly, Rafe had a blade in one hand, his other ready to draw the 9-mm semiauto holstered on his weapons belt.
Nathan didn't let up the pressure on the human's throat. "I asked you a question. If you know where Mira is, you would be wise to tell me now."
Cassian smiled, unafraid. Amused, even. "So many surprises lately where that one is concerned."
"You know something," Nathan pressed, certain he'd found the lead he needed. "Do you know where Bowman is holding her?"
"Holding her?" Cassian's smile stretched wider. "My guess would be he's holding her quite close."
Nathan squeezed, taking uncharacteristically sadistic satisfaction in the man's answering sputter. As Cassian coughed and wheezed, his henchman and fighters advanced another few paces. Rafe moved with effortless speed, placing himself between Nathan and Cassian and the approaching guards.
"Tell me where to find Bowman," Nathan demanded coolly, "or I will kill you. Make no mistake. Your life is only worth the information you give me now. Where is Bowman keeping her?"
The club owner sucked in a restricted breath. "I can't tell you anything about the rebel leader or your MIA comrade. Pity you weren't here last night. You could've asked them yourself."
Nathan's blood went still in his veins. "What are you talking about?"
"They were here," Cassian said. "Both of them. Talking to Rune downstairs at his dressing room."
Son of a bitch.
Nathan slanted a stunned look at Rafe, who took off immediately for the back stairs. Nathan glared back at the man caught tight in his grasp. He let up only enough to permit Cassian to speak. "Was she all right? Did it look like he'd harmed her in any way?"
"Still had her sharp tongue and attitude intact, if that's what you mean."
"You spoke to her?" He didn't like the sense of confusion that roiled through him now. He was accustomed to cool logic, calm calculations. This revelation was the last thing he expected, and despite his keen mind, he struggled to make sense of all he was hearing. "What did she say to you? Did you speak to Bowman too?"
Rafe came up from the floor below, shaking his head. "No sign of Rune down there."
"No," Cassian said, his tone unfazed, conversational. "Rune took the night off."
"Where?" Nathan demanded.
Cassian chuckled, the black stud at the end of his tongue gleaming as he spoke. "Find the daywalker and I reckon you'll find Rune."
Although Nathan was taken aback, it was Rafe who spoke first. "What the fuck? You mean Aric Chase?"
"No," Cassian replied. "The other one. The female. Hot young thing that's been slumming around my club for the past few weeks. Find her, and I guarantee you, Rune won't be far."
They made the long drive to his grandfather's old Darkhaven in northern Maine earlier that afternoon.
Halfway there, Mira had come down with a vicious headache. She had assured Kellan she was fine, but he'd felt the blast of pain in her skull through their bond. He could feel it still, while she slept in the large master suite of the Darkhaven. Her discomfort was less now that she was sleeping, but the fact that she'd been hurting at all – especially after tapping into her Sight for how long, he could only guess – disturbed him more than he wanted to admit.
At least she'd found some peace once they arrived in Maine. Her exhaustion had taken her down more than two hours ago, and when Kellan had gone in to check a few minutes ago, she hadn't even stirred when he sat down next to her on the bed.
As for his crew, they'd quickly adapted to the relocation. After getting Candice settled and tending to her wound, Doc and Nina had gone to work sweeping out the whole place, dusting off the old furniture and appliances that hadn't been used in years, and restocking the pantry and weapons cache with supplies brought with them from the New Bedford bunker.
The Darkhaven was a huge step up from the primitive amenities of their previous base, with a kitchen full of top-grade appliances, a fully functioning refrigerator and range, room after room of comfortable furnishings, and nearly ten thousand square feet of living space. But their stay could only be temporary. Just a safe haven to hold them for a short while, until Kellan had the chance to confront the storm closing in on him from all sides.
On that score, he only hoped his instinct was good.
He prayed it was, or he had likely risked all their lives doing what he had today.
Standing at the French doors that overlooked the thick woods outside the big house, Kellan didn't even hear Nina approach from behind him until she quietly cleared her throat. He turned, frowning at the small white bottle she held out to him.
"Migraine meds," she said, giving the container a little shake. "I've only got a few left, but you can have them if you think they might help . . . your friend."
He nodded, took them from her outstretched hand, and slipped the bottle into his pocket. "Thank you."
The three of them – Nina, Candice, and Doc – were all gathered in the great room with him. They'd been watching him pace for a while, and now he realized just how uncomfortable was the pall of silence that hung over the group. Part of that silence had to do with the events of the past twenty-four hours – the lab explosion that had made global headlines and the resulting public unrest that followed; the somber good-bye they'd given Chaz; now this, the sudden flight to a place they'd never even known existed.
And part of his crew's unease had to do with the female warrior from the Order, who was quite obviously something more to him than just a captive being held against her will.
He looked at their faces now and saw their confusion, their wary uncertainty about who he truly was and what Mira meant to him.
It bothered him, those uneasy stares.
They didn't know him, not even after eight years of living side by side. They'd protected the secret of his Breed origins, but he'd given them nothing in return. They had offered him their trust and friendship, but he'd kept them out.
No more, he decided.
These three people – these humans, for crissake – had become his friends. They'd become his family, and it killed him that he was only seeing that just now. Now, when he would soon be forced to leave them behind.
"I haven't been fair to you," he said, giving a rueful shake of his head. "I've been lying to you all this time. You haven't even known my name. It's not Bowman. It's Kellan. My name is Kellan Archer."
Doc scowled, his black brows furrowing, brown eyes narrowing, suspicious. Nina cocked her indigo-haired head in question, her look of unease deepening. Only Candice met his gaze without perplexity or surprise. The sharp-witted, compassionate young woman had probably figured most of it out for herself the other day, when she and Mira had spoken. The two of them had formed something of a kinship – what might have become a friendship, if circumstances had been different.
She gave him a mild nod, and he cleared his throat to continue. "You've known from the beginning that I'm Breed. That's something I couldn't hope to hide from you. Candice and Doc, you knew it the night you pulled me from the Mystic and saved my life. Nina, you've known it for months. You've all known my secret and you kept it."
"We're your friends. That's what friends do for one another, Bow – " Doc's voice broke off abruptly, and he shook his head back and forth, blowing out a long sigh. "Friends watch your back. You've had ours too . . . Kellan?"
He nodded at the testing of his name. "I've still got your back, Javier. As long as I'm drawing breath, know that I'll watch all of your backs. And I want to lay it all out tonight, no more secrets. No more lies. I want you to know the truth – all of it. And part of my truth is sleeping in that room down the hall."
"You love her." Nina's expression had softened to one of understanding. Wistful and quiet, no doubt because of the love she'd known not so long ago. Known and lost, taken from her by whoever it was who'd absconded with Jeremy Ackmeyer's UV technology. "You've loved this woman for a long time, haven't you?"
Kellan nodded. "All my life. That's what it seems like. I've loved her since we were kids . . . when Mira and I both were raised by the Order."
No one said a word. Even Candice now looked at him in anticipation. "You are Order?"
"Was," he corrected. "A long time ago."
He told them about the destruction of his family's Darkhaven when he was thirteen years old, how he and his grandfather Lazaro Archer, the owner of the place they now occupied, were accepted into the Order's protection. He told them how he met an eight-year-old, pale-haired, stubborn little imp who'd refused to let him sulk over everything he'd lost, refusing to let him give up and forcing him to accept her as his friend. He told them how that same little imp had blossomed into an amazing woman and impressive warrior, how he and Mira had trained together with the Order, eventually becoming members of the same patrol team.
And then he told them how, after finally admitting to himself that he'd fallen in love with her, after at last giving in to the desire they shared for each other, his world came crashing down in an instant, when he glimpsed his future in her extraordinary eyes.
He told them about the warehouse explosion that should have killed him, but didn't. And how he'd been a coward, taking what he thought to be the easiest way out – running as far and as fast as he could from the vision he dreaded – and letting Mira and everyone else he cared about at the time believe he truly was dead.
"I thought I was being so careful, making sure our paths never crossed." He uttered a low curse. "And then the call came in from the field, after the grab on Ackmeyer didn't go off the way we'd planned. When I heard we snagged a member of the Order . . . a female warrior . . . I should've told you all then. I think I was still fooling myself that I could escape this. That I could evade the inevitable."
"Sounds like you're giving up, boss." Doc eyed him like the field surgeon he was, examining a mortal wound. "Sounds to me like you brought us here to say good-bye."
"I needed to do what I could to see that the three of you had the chance to come out of this unscathed," Kellan said, not yet ready to talk about farewells. "I want you to think about where you're heading with your lives, after all of this is over."
"What about you and Mira?" Candice asked gently.
He shook his head slowly, considering. "I need to know she's going to be safe too. She belongs with the Order; that's her family. They'll look after her. They'll help her through."
Candice watched him, her hazel-green eyes far too wise. "And you, Kellan? Where does all of this leave you?"
He grunted, wry with resignation. "Right back where I started."
At least he had honesty in this moment, with these people. At least he had a few precious days and nights with Mira, a gift that made any price he paid more than worth the cost.
He had her love.
She would always have his heart.
"I think she's finally awake," Nina said, a moment after Kellan heard a bump of movement coming from the bedroom down the hall.
He was already heading that way, jolted into action by a sudden burst of pain passed to him through the blood bond. His long strides ate up the distance. He opened the door and found the bed empty, covers pushed aside. "Mira?"
He saw her a second later, on the floor near the foot of the bed. Her hands were wrapped around her shin. As soon as Kellan opened the door, his nostrils flared with the inhaled punch of her lily-scented blood. "Jesus Christ. What happened?"
"N-nothing," she stammered. He saw now that she had a bleeding gash on her leg. "I must've been half asleep when I got out of bed. I banged my shin into the bed frame."
"I'll get you something for it." He dashed into the bathroom to wet a washcloth, then brought the cold compress back out to her. "Here, use this."
Her fingers trembled shakily as she took the cloth from him and put it on her wound. It wasn't anything serious, but the fact that she had stumbled – Mira, as sure-footed a female as he'd ever seen and a combat-proven warrior besides – made a cold knot form in his gut. "How are you feeling?"
"Fine," she replied quickly. Too quickly. And the blood bond told him another story. He registered fear and confusion running under the sting of her injury and the dull throb of her still-present headache. "Don't worry about me, Kellan. It's just a scratch."
He glanced at her face, at her eyes, which seemed to be looking past him, despite his effort to lock onto her gaze. Oh, Christ. He didn't want to acknowledge the thought that crept into his mind. He didn't want to consider the awful possibility.
"Mira . . ." He reached up to her face, up near her eyes.
Her gaze flicked a fraction but still didn't come to rest on him as he prayed it would. Her voice sounded so small. So heart-breakingly frightened. "What . . . what are you doing, Kellan?"
She didn't have any idea. He understood that without any doubt now.
But he had to know, had to see the truth of it for himself.
"Hold still," he told her gently. "I'm not going to hurt you."
Carefully he removed one of her contacts.
"Kellan, don't – " She sucked in a sharp breath and tried to avert her face from him, but he gingerly brought her back and removed the second lens. "Kellan . . . I didn't want you to know. I thought maybe if I rested for a while, I would get better."
"Oh, Mouse." He could hardly speak. The words tasted like ash on his tongue. "Oh, Jesus, baby . . . no."
Behind the lenses, her irises were no longer mirrorlike and clear.
They were milky white, opaque.
Her pupils stared straight ahead, minuscule pinpricks in the center of her sightless eyes.