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Edge of Dawn (Chapter Twenty-Five)

NO.

Oh, God . . . no, this couldn't be happening.

"Kellan." Mira squeezed his hand, felt the strength leach out of his grasp as his eyes fell closed. "Kellan? Oh, no . . . No, Kellan, please, stay with me. Don't let go."

But he was already drifting away from her, being pulled by unseen hands that wouldn't release him. She felt their blood bond stretch tight, thinner and thinner, a gossamer strand that couldn't be reeled back in, no matter how hard she willed it.

And then it broke.

She felt the pluck of shock as the connection severed. Felt her heart go numb and empty, set adrift in her breast.

Oh, God. She'd lost him.

Lost him all over again.

"Kellan, no," she cried, choking on hot, stinging tears. "No!"

She couldn't hold back her sobs. Her grief tore out of her, jagged and raw, as she collapsed atop his lifeless body and wept.

Kellan was gone.

Dead.

Just like her vision had shown her.

She wailed his name over and over again, out of her head with sorrow and soul-shredding anguish. She didn't want to believe that he was gone, but his hand was limp in hers, his strong body motionless, drenched in his spilled blood. So full of grievous, terrible wounds.

They'd killed him.

Her love.

Her mate.

Her best friend, her partner . . . her everything.

Gone.

Mira barely registered the hands that came to rest lightly on her shoulders as she clung to Kellan's lifeless body, bereft and sobbing. She barely heard Nikolai's low voice, his careful, quiet tone making the horror of it all seem even more real. "Mira," he said gently.

Renata was with him too, both of them trying to give her comfort. Rennie's fingers caressed the back of her head. "Come on, Mouse. Let him go, sweetheart."

"No," she growled, batting away the hands that had always provided her so much comfort as a child. Niko and Renata had always been able to make things better for her when she was a little girl. They were her parents in every way that mattered, the strong shoulders and loving arms she could forever count on whenever she needed them. But not today. Not now. They couldn't fix this, couldn't make it go away.

"They killed him," she murmured, miserable with despair. "Oh, God . . . They killed him."

She swung her head around to look up at Nikolai and Renata. Lucan and most of the Order were there too, the warriors and their Breedmates gathering solemnly around Kellan's body. Silent, shocked, everyone at a loss for words.

And behind them all, gaping in morbid curiosity, the members of the GNC – most of whom had needed no convincing to call for Kellan's death. They stared now, Breed and human alike, bobbing heads jockeying to get a glimpse of their reviled villain's body. Mira felt venom seethe through her veins at the sight of the Council members. They were as much to blame for Kellan's death as the JUSTIS guards who opened fire on him.

Contempt boiled up inside her, erupting on an anguished roar. "Get out of here," she snarled at the Council. "Get away from him, all of you!"

She launched herself at them, but Niko caught her in a sure grasp, held her back when every cell in her body was screaming for vengeance. Her despairing wail sounded animal, even to her own ears. She sagged into Nikolai's arms, tears flooding her vision.

"Take her back to headquarters," Lucan told Niko and Renata, his deep voice grave but low with sympathy. "See that she's comfortable. Whatever she needs."

Mira couldn't fight the arms that drew her away now. She had no strength, no will. No feeling at all.

Her chest seemed as though it were cracked open and filled with a cold, numbing wind.

Kellan was dead.

Mira walked woodenly, not even sure she was breathing anymore, as Nikolai and Renata led her out of the silent chamber.

Lucan threw a glower at the gawking GNC members as Mira was taken away from the scene. His vision was hot, sparking amber. His fangs felt sharp against his tongue when he spoke, his voice vibrating with lethal rage. "Show's over. You got your pound of flesh. Now get the fuck out of here."

The group scattered, silent and afraid. As they fled the chamber, Dante came in from the back where Benson had escaped. "The director's dead, Lucan. Found him in the rear corridor just now. Shot three times, point blank in the head. No sign of the JUSTIS officers who followed him out."

"Son of a bitch." Lucan raked a hand over his scalp. Benson had known something about Ackmeyer's UV technology. He'd practically confessed as much in the seconds before Kellan leapt at him. Benson had apparently known enough about Morningstar, and whoever now had their hands on the tech, for someone to make sure he didn't get the opportunity to say anything more. But who, and why?

And just how far did this conspiracy reach?

Now there was another question that needed swift answers as well: Who, or what, was Opus Nostrum?

Lucan glanced back at Kellan, at the dozens of gunshot wounds that took the young male down. "It didn't have to go like this, goddamn it. He deserved better. He deserved a chance at something more – he and Mira both."

Dante nodded grimly. "Maybe there's a way to make it right."

The warrior sent a meaningful look to his Breedmate, Tess, who stood with the rest of the Order and their mates. Before either Lucan or Dante could say another word, Tess was in action, picking up on the thought and dropping down beside Kellan to run her healing hands over him. "His blood's still warm, but his heart is stopped."

"Can you jump it?" Lucan recalled an event Dante had described to him from Tess's life before she met her warrior mate. As a young woman, she'd once revived someone who'd passed suddenly from heart failure. Later, in her work as a veterinarian, she'd even cured a sickly little mutt of its cancer and other ailments using her extraordinary Breedmate talent.

God knew, the female had repaired more than her share of combat injuries for the Order over the past two decades.

But now Tess seemed less than assured. "I can restart his heart," she said, "but I won't be able to stop the bleeding and repair all the bullet wounds at the same time. I can revive him, but he could bleed out faster than I can fix him."

"Let me help you." Tess and Dante's son, Rafe, hunkered down next to her. The young warrior's face was solemn with purpose, his eyes – the same aquamarine shade as his mother's – intense with a determination Lucan had seen him display in equal measure on the field of combat. Rafe placed his palms on two of the bullet wounds, then gave his mother a nod. "You kick-start his ticker. Leave the rest to me."

Tess smiled, her face full of maternal pride as the pair of healers went to work on Kellan.

Lucan wanted to know as badly as anyone else gathered around the scene if the Order would have a miracle here today or a loss that would send the body of one of their own – one of their kin – up to meet the sun tomorrow morning in a funeral ritual.

But regardless of in what condition Kellan Archer returned to the Order's headquarters, Lucan and the other warriors had serious problems of their own to contend with now.

Problems that only became more urgent with the execution-style slaying of GNC director Benson a few minutes ago.

Lucan sent a glance at Gideon, Tegan, Dante, and the rest of the Order's elders. "Opus Nostrum," he said grimly, a question in his dark tone.

Gideon shook his head, as did the other warriors. "It's Latin. Means 'our work.' "

"Any idea what it refers to or, more important, how it might relate to Ackmeyer's Morningstar project?"

"First I'm hearing of it," Gideon replied.

Tegan inclined his head, gaze flat and cold. "I'll get a team together and run some recon. We can have boots on the ground at sundown."

Lucan nodded. "We're gonna need whatever you can gather. Leave no lead unturned. Report back to me on everything you find."

Tegan pivoted, signaling to several other warriors to join him.

"What about the summit reception?" Dante asked. "You want to step up security, put more heat on display, in case anyone's got ideas about doing something stupid tonight?"

Lucan considered for a moment. As tempting as it was, the last thing he needed to do was storm into the peace summit with an army of Breed warriors decked out in full-scale combat gear and heavy firearms. In fact, doing so could play right into the hands of anyone who might harbor a private wish to see the truce between mankind and Breed disintegrate.

What better place to incite a war than at a peace summit?

At the reminder of Darion's words, Lucan glanced over at his son. Dare's observation from several days ago, before all of this chaos began, had been troubling enough to consider then. Now it seemed all too possible that his son's keen head for tactics and strategies had predicted it right.

What if someone wanted to disrupt the summit gala tonight?

What if someone wanted to undo all the strides that had been made since First Dawn twenty years ago and set back the clock to a time when there was no peace? Or make sure there never could be any going forward?

To do so, they would have to get through the Order first.

Lucan looked at Dante, gave a curt shake of his head at the question of putting on a very public display of the Order's might. "Let's not tip our hand tonight. If something is in play, let the bastards get comfortable. Let them show themselves first. We'll be ready for them. Meanwhile, no one is above suspicion."

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