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Edge of Dawn (Chapter Twenty-Six)

MIRA CAME AWAKE ON A GASP, LIKE A FISH TOSSED OUT OF the ocean and onto dry land.

Shocked.

Confused.

Slapped into a sudden, harsh new reality.

She shot bolt upright in bed, breath heaving. Her heart was pounding fast and hard, as though it wanted to burst out of her breast.

She was back at the Order's headquarters, alone in a darkened bedroom. Nothing but silence all around her. She hardly noticed her surroundings, hardly cared how she'd gotten there or how long she'd been unconscious.

She vaguely remembered Nikolai trancing her after they'd left the GNC building. She couldn't blame him for putting her under a hypnotic sedation. She'd been inconsolable, hysterical with grief.

It all seemed like a nightmare – horrible and wrenching. But no, it had been real. She still had Kellan's blood on her clothes.

He had been shot.

Kellan was dead.

And yet . . .

She rubbed her chest, felt the steady beat of her heart, heavy and strong, beneath her palm. Her blood was thrumming in her veins. All of her senses honed on one pure point of awareness.

Kellan.

She felt him with every particle of her being.

She felt his pain, his struggle to cling to something that until now kept slipping out of his grasp.

Life.

She felt him reaching for it. She felt him fighting for each breath, forcing each heavy beat of his heart to push more blood into his veins. She felt his mind searching for her. Felt their bond reconnecting, giving him much-needed strength.

Oh, God . . .

Kellan was alive.

Mira swung her feet to the floor and stood up, just as Renata entered the room.

"Kellan?" Mira blurted, both a question and a prayer.

Renata smiled, relief written across her face. "Yes, Mouse. He's not out of the woods yet, but Tess and Rafe – "

Mira was too elated to let her finish. She let out a cry of disbelief and threw herself at Renata in a fierce, overjoyed hug. "I have to see him."

She raced through the mansion, following the thin tether of the blood bond she shared with him. It led her down the stairs to the main floor, then down again, to the underground wing of the headquarters' tech center and the double doors of the infirmary down the hallway.

Kellan lay in a hospital bed inside one of the half-dozen medical rooms. Tess and Rafe were with him. Nikolai, Dante, and Lucan stood off to one side of the bed. And Nathan was there, standing as rigid as a sentry on watch, flanked by his squad of warriors and Mira's too.

The teams she'd trained with, laughed with, rode into battle with, all gave her nods of greeting and support as she entered the room. As for Nathan, despite his carefully schooled posture, there was no mistaking the concern in his dark-fringed eyes as he pivoted his head and met Mira's gaze. He'd been worried about Kellan too.

Mira went to the side of the bed, not realizing she was holding her breath until she saw Kellan's chest rise and fall, and her own lungs expelled a ragged sigh.

She whispered his name, reaching down to smooth his coppery-brown hair off his pale brow.

"He's weak right now," Tess said gently. "He's lost a lot of blood."

"He's alive," Mira said. It was all the hope she needed. She kissed his mouth, tasted her own tears as she wrapped her arms around his bulky shoulders and let her relief pour out of her.

It took her a long moment before she could release him. She turned away, walking over to Tess and Rafe, her personal miracle workers. She embraced them both but held on to Tess with a gratitude that defied words.

Just that morning Tess had told Mira her vision had given her a gift she could only hope to repay. Never had Mira imagined how much she would need Tess's extraordinary power. How could she ever express the depth of her indebtedness?

"Tess, I . . ."

The other Breedmate merely smiled and squeezed Mira's hand. "I know. Now, go to him. Kellan needs you, more than anything else we can do for him."

Mira went back to his side and took his hand. His skin was warm. His fingers twitched in her grasp, then tightened. He could feel her. He knew she was there with him.

"His heart is very strong," Tess said. "He's been fighting very hard to come back. He didn't want to let go."

Mira couldn't hold back her little sob. "You came back to me," she murmured, leaning in close to him as she caressed his handsome face. "Now you're stuck for good, Kellan Archer. Do you hear me? Don't you ever let go again."

Tess's hand came to rest lightly on Mira's back. "I'd like to check on him a bit later, make sure he's in the clear. But right now, his healing will depend on you. Your blood will do the rest for him, Mira."

She nodded, noted that as Tess stepped away, she had placed a slender scalpel atop some folded clothing on the bedside table.

Mira's relief that Kellan was alive couldn't have been more complete, but she couldn't help feeling the dark gravity of Lucan's presence in the room. Kellan had been given the chance to defy the gunshot wounds that killed him in front of the GNC, but where did that leave him with Lucan and the rest of the Order?

"What happens now, Lucan? If Kellan wakes up – when he wakes up – where will he go from here?"

Lucan's grim expression gave nothing away. He stared at Kellan, then brought his stern gray gaze back to Mira. "None of this changes what's already come to pass. Dead or alive, he was still found guilty by the Council. He can't return to the life he was leading before. Neither of the lives he once led."

Mira knew her disappointment must have shown on her face. She'd been hoping for some kind of absolution from Lucan. Some reassurance that Kellan would be welcomed back into the fold and that life would go on as it once was. Better than it ever had been.

She was hoping for a miracle. And she had it, didn't she? Kellan was alive. The rest they would simply have to figure out later. They would figure everything out together.

And if that meant she had to leave the Order to be with Kellan?

She tried to ignore the twinge of hurt that notion brought with it. The Order was her family. Her purpose in life. Her home.

She glanced away from Lucan, to Renata, beautiful and heavy with child, nestled under the protective wing of Nikolai's strong arm. She looked next to Nathan, her dear friend. Kellan's friend. And to the trio of Breed warriors who had long ago become more than simply comrades. Everyone gathered in the room and under this roof was part of Mira's life.

For all her attempts in the past days to convince Kellan that they should run away together, abandon everything and try to outrun the destiny he'd seen in her eyes, she realized only now how steep the price would have been.

But Kellan had known.

Even with the prospect of his own death hanging over his head, he hadn't allowed Mira to turn her back on everything she loved for a life of exile and hiding with him. He'd chosen to face a fatal destiny in order to make certain she found her way back to where she belonged.

She loved him more for that sacrifice now than she had loved him at any other time.

Mira took the scalpel from the table beside the bed. She made a small incision in her wrist, then held the bleeding wound against his slack mouth. She stroked his hair, his cheek, softly encouraging him to drink. Her blood welled on his tongue, deep red, the coppery tang of it laced with the trace fragrance of lilies, her unique blood scent. Kellan responded after a long moment, his throat working slowly as the blood slipped to the back of his mouth.

"That's it," Mira whispered. "Take some more of me, Kellan. Take all you need."

His lips moved to get a better purchase on her vein. Then his tongue pressed against her skin, warm and searching. He took another swallow. Then another.

Mira caressed him as he drank from her, feeling his strength begin to renew through their bond. "Keep drinking," she told him gently. "Come back to me."

She hardly noticed the others in the room now, all her focus locked on Kellan. On making him better. Making him whole.

"Let's give them some time alone," Renata said. She led the group of warriors and their mates out of the room, pausing to send a caring, tender smile in Mira's direction. "I love you, Mouse."

Mira nodded, gave her a wobbly smile. "I love you too, Rennie."

She loved them all, the only family she'd ever known. And she loved Kellan, the man who had held her heart from the moment she first laid eyes on him.

She didn't want to choose. She wanted both.

Selfishly, desperately, she wanted both.

Four hours later, Lucan Thorne stood beside his Breedmate, Gabrielle, in the middle of the peace summit gala, dressed like a freaking undertaker in his black suit, black button-down shirt, and polished black shoes.

The rest of the Order on duty at the reception was similarly outfitted, a nearly twenty-man security detail garbed in finely tailored suits and tactfully concealed weapons. Not that they blended in, exactly. Hard to miss the presence of six and a half feet of muscled Breed might and darkly sober menace stationed in all corners of the glittering reception hall.

Precisely the point Lucan had wanted to make to the upward of a thousand human and Breed dignitaries and heads of state in attendance from various parts of the world.

The Order was on-site and vigilant.

They didn't need an arsenal of weapons to prove their point. It was evident in each warrior's stride. In his steady eye and stern jaw. And in the preternatural power that radiated off every one of Lucan's warrior brethren, even at rest. They were deadly cool and on the watch.

But they were there to maintain peace, not fan the flames of unrest or mistrust.

More than he could say for the thirty-plus cowboys swaggering around in Crowe Industries uniforms, each with a pair of sidearms bobbing at his hips. Lucan glowered as the preening peacock in command of those clueless yahoos started strutting toward him from across the wide floor of the crowded reception.

Next to him, Gabrielle put her hand on his arm and casually leaned toward him, speaking through her pretty, diplomatic smile. "Try to be nice. This is a party, remember?"

Eyes on Reginald Crowe, Lucan lowered his head and growled.

Filthy rich and oily with a born salesman's ready grin, Crowe strolled over in his black tux and white shirt, a slender flute of bubbling champagne caught between the fingers of his left hand. He was tall and fit, carried himself with an air of entitlement – of ownership of all he laid eyes on – that made Lucan want to punch the arrogance out of him on sight. Crowe's thick yellow mane held the golden glint of a Krugerrand, slicked back tonight, making his broad grin seem to take up even more of his Mediterranean-baked face.

"Chairman Thorne," he said, that grin seeming even tighter, far less friendly, up close. "Good evening to you."

Lucan had little choice but to take the offered hand and give it a firm shake of greeting. But he didn't have to curb his glare as Crowe's gaze shifted to Gabrielle. He looked her over from head to toe, stunning in her simple dove gray sheath and delicate heels. "I don't believe we've had the pleasure."

"My mate," Lucan snarled. "Gabrielle."

She gave a polite nod of her head and Crowe's face lit up with appreciation. "Enchanted, to be sure." He bowed slightly, then gestured with his champagne glass. "May I get you a cocktail or some hors d'oeuvres? It would be my pleasure to serve, Lady Thorne."

Gabrielle's smile went a bit strained at the unwanted attention. "No, thank you."

"What do you want, Crowe?"

Crowe swung his head back to Lucan. "Actually, I wanted to commend you on the decision to move forward tonight with the gala. Director Benson would've wanted that, I have to believe. He and the rest of the GNC – yourself included, of course – have done so much to make this summit happen. It would've been a shame to see it fall apart at the last minute."

Lucan grunted in acknowledgment. "Especially after you've obviously invested so much into the event personally."

Everywhere he looked he saw Crowe Industries' stamp on the party: from the security staff to the catering service and video crew broadcasting the reception for the rest of the world. For crissake, even the ten-man orchestra at the back of the lavish hall played under a digital banner bearing Reginald Crowe's smirking image.

And then there was the centerpiece of the man's ego – the crystal sculpture he was to dedicate to the GNC tonight in commemoration of First Dawn and the summit's mission of securing true peace – situated in the center of the grand hall. At least this wasn't a blatant ode to Crowe's arrogance. Not the life-size likeness of the man that Lucan had half expected but a tall obelisk carved of glittering, multifaceted crystal. The ten-foot sculpture tapered at its peak, on top of which sat an orb that gleamed as flawless and cool as a diamond but glowed faintly at its center in palest shades of peach and gold.

It was, Lucan had to admit, if only to himself, a stunning work of art. Most of the mingling dignitaries agreed, crowds drawn to the obelisk like a beacon in the middle of the sea of formally attired attendees.

Crowe took a sip of his champagne, surveying the reception he'd bought with what had to easily have been millions. He exhaled a beleaguered sigh and slowly shook his head. "A pity, really. This evening was supposed to have been a celebration of all the good things still to come. A recognition of all the promise the future holds. To have lost one of the world's most brilliant scientific minds and a respected statesman, both to violence in the same week . . ." Crowe clucked his tongue. "Well, it's unthinkable. Such a tragedy."

"Indeed," Lucan replied.

Crowe's gaze locked on him, as shrewd and sharp as a bird of prey. "And the Order must be in shock as well, not without its own losses this week. Terrible business, learning one of your flock has turned traitor. A former warrior, gone to the dark side to collude with the rebels . . . astounding." Crowe peeled his lips back in a cold smile. "I hope you'll forgive me for saying that's one death today for which I did find cause to celebrate."

Lucan gave a careless shrug, refusing to let the human goad him. "Apparently he wasn't the only one involved in conspiracy. Benson's murder by JUSTIS officers today obviously means the director had secret enemies of his own."

Crowe frowned as if to express regret, but the emotion didn't quite make it to his eyes. "We live in dangerous times, I'm sure you'd agree. And I have to say, I'm surprised at the lack of security response after the violence at today's hearing. I would've guessed the Order to come in tonight like a battalion on the march."

Lucan grunted, cool and unfazed. "This is a peace summit event, not a combat zone. Your men must've missed the memo."

Crowe chuckled, looking around at his uniformed guards who patrolled the party like a SWAT team.

"Makes me wonder whose interests you're protecting more," Lucan added. "The summit, the attendees . . . or your own."

Now the magnate's humor vanished, and his smile was anything but pleasant. "I happen to view those things in equal importance. Especially after the Order allowed someone like Jeremy Ackmeyer to be abducted under their watch – by one of their own fallen members, no less. I'm of the opinion we can't be too careful when it comes to protecting the interests of our future, Chairman Thorne."

"On that we are agreed," Lucan replied stiffly.

Crowe lifted his glass and drained it in one long swallow. He glanced to Gabrielle, gave her a gallant nod. "If you'll excuse me, I have guests to greet."

He didn't wait for a response. Spotting a Breed ambassador from South America arriving with his attractive blond mate, Crowe glided smoothly away, vanishing into the throng of tuxedos and evening gowns.

Gabrielle stared after him, then scoffed under her breath. "What an asshole."

Lucan grunted and drew her close to his side. "He is that, all right. And he's up to something. I can smell it on the son of a bitch."

He sent a glance to Tegan and Dante across the room, then a meaningful nod in Crowe's direction. They would be watching the human closely tonight.

And if any of the Order got so much as a whiff of cause to be concerned, the bastard was going to be taken down – whether the whole world was watching or not.

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