She'd run all the way to the ocean. She'd stood before the dark, churning sea. She'd shifted into her veana form, then raced into the frigid water and dived beneath the waves. As her skin turned to ice, she'd wondered what it felt like to drown-and what it felt like to live.
She'd be wondering that every day of her life from now on because she'd walked away from him. Not only him, but all that he believed in.
The icy water hardened her blood, but it couldn't reach the cat inside her, who burned to be with its master-would perhaps even try to return to its master without her consent. Dillon knew the control over her shift wasn't guaranteed anymore. Shit, Gray had more control of it than she did...That male soothed her savage Beast something fierce and cleared the way for her veana to come through.
He gave her body peace, her mind too. So why couldn't she give him what he needed? Why was it so hard for her to watch him fight for his Impures? Support him in that fight? Because, goddamn it! She slapped the water with her fists. He was one of them-an Impure. Why couldn't she understand that fighting for them was fighting for him too?
She swam close to shore, then walked out of the sea and shifted back into her jaguar once more.
Without another thought, she bolted from the sand and ran. She ran for miles in full daylight, praying she wouldn't be seen. But it was impossible. Back in the city, though careful to remain in the shadows, she ran into several shocked and terrified souls on their way to work. It was only when she hit a familiar street and stole around the side of the massive house and through the back door that she felt as if she could breathe again.
Luckily, the first person she ran into was the very one she sought, and she whimpered and rubbed up against the female's side.
"Dillon," Sara exclaimed, surprise unmasked in her tone as she left her nearly unpeeled orange on the counter and came to stand before the massive cat.
"I need help," Dillon said, hating the desperation in her voice. Knowing she probably reeked with it, there was no point in pretending. "I need clothes, somewhere to stay until it gets dark."
Sara glanced around, no doubt looking for the many pavens in the house, and whispered, "Follow me."
Dillon moved silently behind her, up the stairs and down the hall to the room she knew by scent was Sara and Alexander's. As soon as Sara opened the door, Dillon raced inside and immediately shifted into her veana form.
Sara's eyes widened as she took in Dillon's naked form. It was funny. Just a few months ago, Dillon had thought herself attracted to this female. But now she knew what that minor obsession had been about. Going after a person who was already taken-whose heart belonged to someone else. She'd thought it had made life uncomplicated, free of vulnerability and the pain of losing control.
"Give me a sec," Sara said. "I'll be right back."
That all seemed so stupid now, Dillon thought as the female hurried out the room. And based on nothing more than a way to keep herself tied to unhappiness and emotional deception.
She was learning, it seemed. Slowly and painfully, but she was learning.
A few minutes later, Sara returned with an armload of clothes-undergarments, jeans, shirts, sweaters. She tossed them on the bed, and Dillon grabbed whatever looked like her size and threw it on. Each piece felt warm and smelled sweet, fresh from the laundry, and when Dillon was completely geared out and stood before Sara again, she released the breath she'd been holding for what seemed like hours and said, "Thanks."
Sara sat on a chair beside the empty fireplace, her expression tight with concern. "What's going on, Dillon? Where's Gray?"
Just hearing his name ripped at her insides. "His safe house was destroyed tonight."
Sara's eyes went wide with horror. "What?"
"Oh God." She stood up, started pacing, her tone, her expression heavy with worry. "How did it happen? Is he okay?"
"He's fine," Dillon assured her. "Pissed off and planning his next move, but fine. He thinks it was the Order."
Sara blanched. "Why would he think that?"
Gray had never asked her not to reveal what was going on inside the Resistance Headquarters, and Sara was family. "The Impure warriors have been hacking into the Order's mainframe-their central command, how they communicate with each other. Gray thinks the warriors got caught, traced, and the Order executed some payback."
Sara's eyes narrowed. "But you don't."
Dillon shook her head. "Maybe that was part of it, but the Order wants me. They've made no secret of it. They want to capture and kill the mutore who managed to make it past her birth day. And, hey, if she knows of any more Beasts that may be lurking around town, all the better." She sighed, tired all of a sudden. "After seeing that building gone, reduced to ash, Gray was pretty devastated-and worried about the Impures who'd been inside. He wanted to go find them, in some secret place."
"And you?" Sara asked, hovering near her chair again.
"Well-" Dillon stumbled, not sure exactly what to say, how much to say. "I came here."
Sara's eyes softened then. "Why didn't you go with him, Dillon?"
Because I'm an asshole. A scared, stupid asshole. "I couldn't."
"Because you wanted to protect him?"
"No," Dillon said quickly. "'Course not. I wanted to protect myself."
"Well, that does sound more like the Dillon I know, but..."
"But what?" Dillon wished she could stick a foot in her mouth and stop engaging in this back and forth.
"I just don't think that's the Dillon you've become," Sara said.
Dillon released a heavy breath. "Don't start analyzing me, Doc. There's nothing altruistic here."
"Oh, I agree. You didn't walk away from him for nothing."
"Fine," she acquiesced. "I didn't want the Order to go after him, okay? Is that what you want to hear?"
Dillon snarled at the grin on the female's face. "What?"
Sara's grin widened. "You're falling in love with him, aren't you?"
Sara's eyes widened too. "Oh God, you already have."
Dillon was about to tell the pink-cheeked and far-too-satisfied female just where she could stick that theory when Alexander burst into the room. He saw Dillon, muttered a terse and confused, "What the hell," then shook his head and directed his attention to Sara. "When was your mother here last?"
"What do you mean?" Sara stood up. "She's still sleeping, I'm sure. She went shopping all day yesterday and into the evening."
He looked momentarily relieved. "You saw her come home then, talked to her last night?"
Sara's face drained of color. "Well, no. I was at the hospital until early this morning. There was a shortage in the nursing staff. I just assumed she...Alex, what's going on?"
His mouth thinned into a grim line. "The Order claims to have her, my love."
Panic flared fast and hot in her gaze. "Where is it?"
Sara tore past him, ran down the hall and the stairs. Dillon followed closely behind, entered the library just in time to see all of her brothers staring at words etched into the wall.
Celestine Donohue is a traitor to the Eternal Breed. She has kept the whereabouts of a mutore from the Order. She is being held in Mondrar.
Sara made a sound like an injured animal. "I've got to do something." Her hand went to her belly. "Shit. I've got to get to Gray. I've got to tell him."
"You're not going anywhere," Alexander said, coming up behind her, putting his arms around her. "I'll take the message."
"No," she said. "You're leaving for your credenti."
"That can wait," he declared hotly. "I'll go to Gray."
Tears welled in her eyes, and she tried like hell to shake them off, but it didn't work. She broke out crying, and all the pavens in the room looked helpless.
"It'll take hours, days," she said, swiping at her tears with irritation. "We don't know where he is. Besides, I need you and Nicky and Luca to help find a way to get my mother out of that hellhole."
"We will help as well," Erion stated. "Any way you need."
Sara turned to him and nodded. "Thank you. But I've got to go, got to do this."
"You're not going to find Gray," Alex said, his tone resolute, his nostrils flaring. "It's dangerous."
Tears still glistening in her eyes, Sara whirled on her true mate. "You will not tell me what I can and cannot do, Paven. I am not a child."
"No, but you are carrying one and I cannot have either one of you-"
Her gasp of shock and outrage brought his lecture to a screeching halt. "Oh my God. How did you know? Who told you?"
Alexander's jaw clenched, and his gaze seemed to flick in Lucian's direction. Clearly Sara saw it too, because she turned around and glared at the white-blond paven. "I don't have time to kill you right now, Luca. I want to. Really, really badly. But lucky for you, I want to find my brother more."
"No." The single word popped out of Dillon's mouth. When everyone turned to look at her, she lifted her chin and said, "I'll go."
Sara shook her head. "Dillon, you don't know where he is either."
"I can find him. His blood is inside me." Her gaze held tightly to Sara's. "A true mate can find the one who bares her mark."
* * *
One year ago, he had been driven out of the Eternal Order.
One year ago, he had been deemed a criminal.
Cruen sneered. That's what premorphing a few Pureblood pavens who may or may not have carried the Breeding Male gene got you. The Eternal Order had no love or respect for advancements in science, for change, for a better vampire race. But Cruen did, and he wouldn't stop his experiments no matter who got in the way.
And over the past months, several had gotten in the way. His mutore children, the Breeding Female. It would be a lie to say their loss in his life wasn't felt, but he wasn't one to dwell. Wasn't one to remain in the past.
Even when the past came calling.
Perhaps it was because the Order member standing beside him had always respected him-or feared him. Perhaps it was her desire for advice on taking over leadership of the Order. Whatever it was, it had caused her to go in search of him-resolutely and persistently within her mind until he'd finally answered.
Cautious but curious, Cruen had begun meeting with her at a mutually agreed upon reality that allowed them both to shut down their respective mental frequencies and share information. Most meetings had been fruitless for Cruen, but, he mused as he stood on the snowy Aspen mountaintop and watched skiers race down the slopes below, this one had the potential to turn out to be more than significant.
"This is surprising, Feeyan," he said to the white-haired female beside him.
"No," she said tightly. "This is a grave problem."
"And you wish to know how I would solve it?"
Cruen grinned, his fangs no longer red-but white, bride white, and needle sharp. "If I give you the answers you seek, would you welcome me back to the Order?"
She turned to him, surprise alight in her clay-colored eyes. "Would you want to come back to the Order?"
"And be contained again?" He chuckled. "Never."
"That is what I thought. So what do you want for your advisement?"
His tone went grave. "I want the mutore."
She glared at him. As he'd known she would. "No, Cruen, I want the mutore. It is why I am here."
"You want to catch her, Feeyan, have the rest of the Order see you do it." He turned back to face the mountains. "I want to keep her after you do."
There was silence, save for the whoosh of skis on powder. Then the veana said, "Agreed. But even with the dark magic that backs your power, she will not be easy to obtain. There is an Impure who protects her."
Cruen laughed. "An Impure. You cannot be serious?"
"He is no ordinary Impure. He has gifts, superior mental strength I've never seen before. He and his three warriors have broken into the Order's collective."
This news was equally shocking and impressive. "Who is this male?" Cruen asked.
"Gray Donohue. He is the son of the Impure who began the Resistance. Don't you remember?"
Yes, Cruen remembered. His lip curled and his fists pressed against his sides. No, he did not dwell in the past, but this was a very singular and vital memory to keep. The veana who had come to him, begging to have her husband's castration stopped. Cruen had never seen such beauty, such intelligence, such passion. He had never wanted a female more than he had wanted her. The bargain they'd struck that day had surely haunted them both, maybe even destroyed them both a little.
"I have laid a trap for this Impure," Feeyan continued, her words tripping over his memory. "His mother has been placed in Mondrar. He will attempt to rescue her. It is in his nature."
Inside Cruen, a flood of vile anger was beginning to churn. He refused to release it. But in truth, he could kill this veana who stood beside him with one thought for what she had just said to him. And yet he mustn't act hastily. Celestine would not be harmed. She was only bait for the son, and he was only a trade for the mutore.
He would start with her, and perhaps that would bring the others back home where they belonged, where their blood and skin samples could be of true use.
He turned to the veana and kept his disgust for her actions hidden. "I will give you my council on how to proceed with the Impure, how to interrogate him, how to make certain you get the result you are looking for, but once you have caught the mutore, have showed her around to the rest of the Order like the prize cat that she is, you will give her to me."
A flash of heat moved over Feeyan's face, but she clipped him a nod and said, "Very well."
It had taken Gray twice as long as it should have because he'd doubled back, made sure he wasn't followed, then headed for the shore. As he jogged up the beach, filtering out the sounds of combers and families inside their lavish homes, he wondered what he was going to find within the newly constructed credenti. If he'd find it empty or humming with Impure life. The Resistance had only started building it a few months ago, but most of the main structures and homes were up and ready. It had been their understanding-he, Piper, Rio, and Vincent-that if anything went down at the Bronx warehouse, if it was no longer safe to remain there and he hadn't heard anything from them via text, e-mail, or inside his head, they would meet at the credenti.
Gray left the sand and the water behind and shot up a small hill that led to a path. He ran at high speed, Dillon's pure blood still working within him, until he came to another section of beach. Utterly beautiful, utterly deserted-or so any human life would believe.
The same as it was at the gates of the Pureblood credentis, here too blood acted as a key. But for this new credenti, it was only Impure blood that gained one access.
Gray bit into his wrist and let the blood run for a moment before he lifted it and pressed it up against a solitary and strangely placed lamppost. The tall structure appeared beach weathered and seemingly forgotten, but it was everything-the very start of a new life for the Impures, a self-contained, self-ruling society dedicated to freedom.
Gray waited, the seconds ticking by, nothing shifting dramatically before him, the landscape remaining the same. And then in the distance it was as if the fog lifted and he could see the sprawling village ahead, or the beginnings of one.
He started toward it, got about twenty feet when he heard voices. His mouth twitched with relief and maybe even a smile if he could manage it. They were here. They were all here. Warriors, the Kendricks, staff from the headquarters. Within his mind, he heard Uma ask about him, heard Samuel assure her he'd be there soon.
No guilt swam in his veins as he moved toward the main building, only a deep sense of relief that his Impures were well and safe. And yet, as he saw Vincent emerge from the front entrance and look his way, shielding his eyes from the sun, Gray had the strange and foolish wish that D was beside him. As if her mark had heard him, felt him and his desire, it heated up like a goddamn candle was being held to it.
"Damn good to see you," Vincent said, his face tight with concern.
"Are they all here?" Gray demanded, slapping the male's outstretched hand, then moving inside the main building. "Warriors? Impures? The Kendricks? Did you get everyone out?"
"Everyone escaped before the fire took hold," Vincent said, moving through the hallway.
"Did you see who started it?"
Vincent chuckled. "No. But we have a pretty good guess."
"Yeah, me too."
"The Order doesn't take kindly to those who hack their server." He lifted a brow. "You got that mental text we sent, yes?"
"Long reaching and clear as crystal." Gray glanced sideways at the massive Impure. Of course that's what they all thought. That the Order was punishing them for breaking into their frequency and listening in. Hell, maybe that was part of the reason, but there was more. And Gray was going to have to tell them all about it.
When they pulled open the doors leading into the main hall, the space that would serve as a meeting place for all Impures in residence, Gray scented her. Not Piper or Uma or any of the other females who were standing around talking inside the large rectangle space-but her.
His nostrils flared and he cocked his head to the side. No, no, no. Not possible. Had to be her scent lingering on him-his clothes. There was no way-
She moved out from behind Rio then, her gaze locked on his. The cat was caged. She was a veana again, and she made his fucking heart stop.
The room went dead silent.
"What is she doing here?" he demanded of Rio.
The male looked at him like he was crazy. "She came with you, didn't she? Two seconds before you came in here."
Gray felt as though he were about to explode. He wanted to run at her, grab her and haul her against him, take her mouth as he wanted to take her body, then shake her until she told him why she kept running back instead of away. Why the hell was she playing with him? Was that all she knew how to do? Shred someone's heart into pieces because she didn't have one of her own? He was done-so goddamn done.
"Fuck you," he uttered, then turned around and walked out of the hall. Inside his head, he heard the room explode into thought, but out loud he heard her say, "I guess I'll follow him."
He'd known she would. Shit, maybe he'd even wanted her too. Maybe he'd just needed to unload his anger, his fear, his relief.
When they were alone in his office and she'd closed the door behind herself, Gray rounded on her. "How did you find me?"
She nodded at the back of his hand. "True mates."
"No," he said, his voice like steel. "You need Impure blood to get in here. Who'd you con into helping you?"
"I have Impure blood inside me, Gray. Yours."
That fact, that delectable fact, clipped his wings for a moment, maybe even punched the shit out of his heart. "Well, maybe the important question should be why. Why did you come? What? Do you need me to bring the jaguar back again? Or did you need-"
"Stop," Dillon interrupted, her eyes suddenly grave. "It's your mother. She was taken by the Order."
A low growl of warning erupted within him. "What did you say?"
Dillon moved a step closer to him. "She's in Mondrar, Gray."
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