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Zael’s golden brows quirked in surprise. “I wasn’t aware that the specifics of the attack on Atlantis were common knowledge among the Breed.”

“They weren’t. Not until recently.”

Now the Atlantean’s expression darkened to wary suspicion. “And you know this, how?”

Lucan glanced at Brock, whose grim face looked less than amenable about bringing his mate into the conversation. “Today’s meeting is about establishing trust and forming a meaningful alliance. That effort has to work both ways, but if you’d rather we don’t discuss her—”

“It’s all right,” the warrior replied. “We need to extend our trust to Zael too. And if telling him puts Jenna in any kind of danger, I’ll know who to go to first for explanations.”

Lucan nodded and glanced at their guest. “Brock’s mate, Jenna, saw the attack on Atlantis take place. In a memory. Not her own, but the memory of an Ancient. One who was there when it happened.”

Zael frowned. “I don’t follow.”

“Before he died in a confrontation with my men, this Ancient had been wounded and on the run. He attacked a human woman named Jenna. For reasons we’ve yet to understand, he implanted a piece of himself inside her. Now, at the base of her neck, she carries a biotechnology chip that contains his DNA. It’s been responsible for some . . . interesting changes in her. It’s also given Jenna recurring glimpses into the Ancient’s memories.”

“Has she seen how your ancestors relentlessly hunted my people before they destroyed our community and killed three-quarters of our population?”

“She has.”

Zael nodded. “We were a peaceful race before the attack on Atlantis. We came here to colonize. We lived in secrecy, in harmony, with one another and our human neighbors for thousands of years. We had no interest in war or bloodshed or conquest.”

Lucan grunted. “Whereas the Breed’s ancestors thrived on all three. We know the Ancients were a violent, predatory race. They hunted humans with the same ruthlessness as they did your kind, Zael. They fed and destroyed and conquered. But they are not us. The Breed should not be judged based on the sins of our fathers.”

“I’m afraid you’ll have a hard time convincing Selene of that.”

Darion blew out a low curse on the other side of the table and met his father’s grim stare. “If the Atlantean queen can’t be reasoned with, then she leaves us no choice but to meet her in war.”

Lucan agreed with that logic, but he’d seen enough war in his long lifetime. He hoped his son, and those of his fellow warriors, would not have to wade through rivers of blood and cities reduced to cinders the way he and his comrades of the Order had done over the centuries.

But Dare was right. If Selene truly was blind with vengeance, then she would leave the Order no choice but to destroy her.

“Crowe said the queen has been plotting her war for a long time. Do you know how she might accomplish it?”

“I do not,” Zael admitted. “But if I were her, I’d be looking to recover the two crystals the Ancients stole.”

“Do they still exist?”

“I’m quite certain they must. It’s not easy to destroy that kind of power source. And I doubt the Ancients would have been eager to let go of such a valuable weapon.”

Holy shit.

Gideon’s intrigued gaze seemed to echo Lucan’s thoughts. “Where would you look?” he asked Zael.

The Atlantean gave a slow shake of his head. “Even if I knew, I’m not convinced that’s a secret anyone needs to have.”

“Maybe not,” Lucan agreed. “But if you did know, or were to find out, can we count on you and the colony to keep that information a secret from your queen too?”

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“As I said, the colony wants peace. I want peace. So long as the Order’s actions demonstrate the same, you’ll have my alliance. You’ll have my trust.”

“And you have mine,” Lucan said.

He extended his hand to the immortal. Zael grasped it in a firm, strong grip, and the two powerful males sealed their pact.

Zael turned to Brock then, his tropical blue eyes lit with curiosity. “Now, I would very much like to meet your Jenna.”

CHAPTER 23

Rune checked his reflection in the mirror for the third time that night as he got ready to leave his quarters at La Notte.

Showered and dressed, he’d finally settled on a pair of charcoal slacks and a pale gray Charvet shirt. Shiny black oxfords gleamed on his large feet. As he stood in front of the mirror, he shrugged into a black suit jacket usually reserved for funerals or mating ceremonies—on those rare occasions he’d actually attended either one.

He felt ridiculous, but tonight wasn’t about him. It was all about Carys, and he didn’t want to disappoint her or her family. He wanted to make Carys proud. And yeah, there was a part of him that wanted her family’s acceptance too.

He wasn’t part of their world and didn’t fool himself that he ever truly could be, but he’d be damned if he wanted to walk into that Darkhaven tonight and feel unworthy. He’d do his best to look the part, if nothing else.

Finger-combing his unruly mane of hair back from his face, he bit off a low curse. Good thing the other fighters weren’t there to see him primping and fussing in the mirror for the past half-hour. If they had, they’d bust his ass about it from now until next year.

He glanced at the time. Twenty minutes across town would get him there just before nine. He didn’t want to show up too early, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to be late and give Carys’s father another reason to despise him.

Shit. Maybe the pall-bearer jacket was pouring it on a bit thick.

Rune took it off . . . then froze when the club’s sound system in the arena suddenly went from silent to ear-splitting.

What the fuck?

It was still a couple of hours before the first of the staff were due to show up to open the place, so who was there? He stalked out of his quarters and into the main floor of the arena, cutting the noise with a sharp mental command.

A large man leaned on the bar, one foot jacked up on the boot rail below.

No, not merely a man.

A Breed male.

His head was shaved, showcasing a blend of dermaglyphs and tattoos that snaked up his thick neck and onto his skull. He wore black pants and a black shirt, the kind of clothes that were standard issue for any urban street thug. A black nine-millimeter pistol was holstered at his hip.

Rune’s hackles rose in warning. “Club’s not open now. You lost or something?”

“Just lookin’ for someone,” the guy said without bothering to look Rune’s way. “Thought I’d have me a little peek around in the meanwhile.”

The gravelly voice, dark with amusement, carried an unmistakable Irish brogue. The sound of that accent turned the warning that clamored in Rune’s veins to something colder.

“I think you misunderstood me,” he growled at the stranger. “What I meant was, get the fuck out of my place.”

Now the vampire grinned. He drew to his full height, and Rune realized he wore one of the spiked cage gloves on his hand. He curled a fist and met Rune’s stare across the arena. “Ya know, as efficient as a nine semiauto is, I’ll wager slicing into some asshole with one of these is a lot more satisfying.”

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