Edge of Dawn (Chapter Eighteen)
Such unbearable loss.
Kellan . . .
She came awake on a start, her eyelids lifting in the dark silence of a room that smelled of damp stone, distant brine . . . and him.
Thank God, only nightmares.
Kellan was right there with her, both of them naked in his bed. His heart thudded leisurely beneath her cheek, his bare chest warm under her palm. He was there. He was safe.
He stirred beneath her, and Mira held herself very still, not wanting to disturb his sleep after the long vigil he'd kept atop the bunker.
Not to mention the hours of unrushed lovemaking, which must have worn him out as well. Though she wouldn't have imagined it then, when he brought her to shattering orgasm three times, his own release never far behind.
The thought of his passion, the pleasure they'd given each other just a short while ago, helped soothe the panicked beat of her heart. It calmed her to recall his words – his tender promise of love – as they'd embraced under the waning starlight in the moments before he'd brought her to his bed.
Kellan loved her. He didn't want to leave her; she knew that. But he would. As he'd told her so gently tonight, when he was ready to surrender to the Order, he would do it alone. He didn't want her there.
And thinking about him facing judgment – and her vision's prophesied outcome – by himself put an icy knot in the bottom of her stom-ach.
She had to work to tamp down her dread, willing herself not to go back to her nightmares of a few moments ago or to the unbearable thoughts of what Kellan had described seeing in her eyes. Although the urge to cling to him now as he slept verged on desperation, Mira was too wired to lie still. Her head was buzzing, her limbs restless, worry nagging at her like tiny fish nibbling at her sanity.
Carefully she extricated herself from Kellan's side and eased her way to the edge of the bed. He sighed and rolled over, his breathing settling into a deeper slumber. Mira rose, unsure what to do or where she could go to shake off the heavy weight of her anxiety. What she needed more than sleep or distraction was answers.
She needed to know what her future held with Kellan. More than anything, she needed some glimmer of hope that they could, somehow, overcome the trouble they were in and find a way to be together.
She shot a glance over her shoulder, toward the foot of the bed. Her eyes lit on the trunk that rested there on the floor. The trunk that held Kellan's grandmother's mirror.
No. It was dangerous even to consider it.
She didn't even know if it would work.
And yet she reached for her empty contact lens case on the night table beside the bed, then her feet were moving her silently across the floor, carrying her to the wooden locker. She crouched down in front of it. Silently lifted the lid.
The silver hand mirror lay facedown on top of a stack of Kellan's shirts. Mira picked it up, her fingertips brushing over the carved design of the Archer family emblem.
She had to try.
She had to know, even if it terrified her to do this, something she'd never attempted before. The worse terror was not knowing, fearing that what Kellan saw might actually be his fate.
If there was any chance that looking into her own unprotected gaze might give her even a slim hope of a future together with Kellan, she would risk anything. She would pay any price to know for certain if he was destined to live . . . or doomed to die.
Mira pivoted, putting her back to the trunk as she kneeled on the floor and removed her contact lenses to their case. The mirror in hand, she closed her eyes and took a steeling breath deep into her lungs.
She could do this.
She had to do this.
She brought the mirror up in front of her face, her eyelids still shuttering her talent. Her heart banged in her chest, so erratic and nervous, so loud in her ears, she half expected Kellan to wake from the sound of it. Her palms were damp, mouth dry as ash.
She had to try.
She had to know.
She lifted her lids and froze at the sight of her face staring back at her in the oval of polished glass. She looked so different without the purple lenses muting the crystalline intensity of her gaze. She hardly recognized herself like this – her features, of course, but lit with an icy fire that seemed ageless, not quite of this world.
Extraordinary, Kellan had said.
Startling, she thought. Unsettling. So unfamiliar, she couldn't . . .
The thought fell away as the clear pools of her irises began to ripple as she looked at them in the mirror, their surface wobbling as if a small pebble had been dropped into a serene lake.
Transfixed, astonished, she couldn't look away.
And then, within the fathomless, colorless depths, an image began to take shape. Several images, shadowed figures, a group seated at the front of a large, high-ceilinged room, a tall, raised bench in front of them, separating the group from the smaller figure that stood before them, awaiting their response.
Even before the images began to take clearer shape, Mira recognized the silhouette of the person standing before the court. She felt the person's trepidation, the bone-deep dread and uncertainty.
She knew, because that person was her.
In the vision, she tried not to tremble as she faced Lucan and the other members of the Global Nations Council seated in judgment on the bench, knowing that they held the power to either save her or destroy her with their decision. Their faces were impassive, without mercy.
She watched in anguished expectation as her vision-self pressed for leniency and got only stoic faces in reply. In the vision, she began to weep, her face dropping into her palms, shoulders shaking with the force of her sobs.
The pain of that image skewered Mira's heart in real time, made her lips tremble in echoed reaction. She wanted to look away now, before she saw any more. But then all heads in the gallery turned to look behind them as the accused entered the chamber to hear the sentencing.
Oh, God. It was just as he'd said.
He strode forward, broad shoulders squared, head lifted, but she could see resignation in his handsome face as he looked at her. Mira could nearly feel his stoic acceptance as she watched the scene unfold in her reflected gaze.
Her vision-self whirled back around to face the ones who held Kellan's fate in their hands. She pleaded with them. Tried to draw some of the blame to her instead. To no avail. They announced their edict just as Kellan had told her they would. For the capital crimes Kellan stood accused of . . . death.
As the vision continued, Mira knew her anguish could not possibly be worse.
But she was wrong.
Because then the terrible vision Kellan had prepared her for began to fade into a misty darkness. Another image began to take shape in her reflected gaze. Something dreadful. Something far, far worse than the prospect of Kellan's execution.
His lifeless body, pale and unmoving, laid out before her.
No . . .
No! Her mind screamed in anguish. Or maybe she'd actually screamed her horror out loud. All she knew was the incredulity, the bone-deep grief, that overcame her as her vision-self collapsed atop his dead body and began to wail.
It couldn't be true.
It could not possibly end like that for them.
She could never bear that level of pain.
She would rather die along with –
The mirror flew out of her hands and crashed into the nearby wall, raining shards of broken glass.
She jumped at the shock of what just happened, the abrupt startlement yanking her out of the vision's unbreakable hold.
Kellan loomed over her, seething so fiercely he shook with the depth of his feelings. Heat rolled off his body in palpable waves. His eyes were throwing sparks, his lips peeled back from his fangs.
"What the hell were you doing?" His voice was pure thunder, more furious than she'd ever heard him. "Mira, goddamn it. Tell me you didn't try to – ah, Jesus."
He looked away from her now, turning his head away from her naked eyes. Still shaken, still raw with the grief from the awful things she'd just witnessed, Mira scrambled to put her lenses in. By the time she had, Kellan had sunk down to his knees on the floor in front of her.
"Mouse, for fuck's sake. Why would you . . . What in God's name were you thinking?" He took her upper arms in a tight grasp, trembling. "Look at me, baby. I need to see you. I need to know you're okay."
She lifted her face to meet his blazing stare. His face blurred through the tears filling her eyes. "I'm . . . Oh, God, Kellan! You were right. The vision. The judgment. All of it."
"You saw," he murmured, and his grip went a bit slack then. "You used your vision on yourself. Mira . . . why?"
"I had to know. I didn't want to believe it. I couldn't make myself believe it . . . until now." Her voice caught, scraping in her throat. "I saw everything, just like you described it. And there was something more. Oh, God. Kellan, they sentenced you to death and then I saw you. You were – " She couldn't speak the word. On a sob, she fell against him, exhausted and hurting. "I can't bear to lose you. Not again. Not like that."
He gathered her close, wrapping his muscled arms around her. "I don't want to face that reality either. If I could keep you with me, hold you forever, I would."
She nodded against his warm chest, wishing desperately for the same thing. She needed to feel his arms around her. She needed to feel his heartbeat, his breathing, his body's strength and heat. She needed to feel for herself that he was with her, whole and hale. He was alive.
As she clung to him, her gaze drifted over the broken mirror and scattered, glittering splinters on the floor nearby. A new grief tore at her. "Your grandmother's mirror . . . Kellan, I'm sorry. It's ruined because of me."
"I don't give a damn about that," he whispered against the top of her head. "All I care about is you. You can't even be sure of the damage you've done to yourself tonight, Mouse. Do you realize that?"
"I had to know," she said, her outstretched hand drifting over one of the shiny pieces of glass. She plucked it from the floor and held it between her fingers, regretting that this one surviving memento from Kellan's past had been destroyed in his desire to protect her. "I wanted so badly to prove that you were wrong about what you saw. I just wanted some hope – even a little bit – that we would be together. But it was worse than I imagined. It was so much worse than anything I want to believe."
She didn't realize she was curling the razor-edged shard into her fist, until she felt its jagged edges biting into her palm.
But Kellan knew.
He'd gone still, his muscles immediately tense, his body taut like a cable. He drew away from her only slightly, enough that she could see his nostrils flare with his intake of breath. The embers that had been sparking in his eyes a moment ago had now turned into red-hot coals bisected with the thinning vertical slits of his pupils. He growled, a rumble that came up from his chest, vibrating into her bones. "Mira . . ."
He took her fist in his hand and pried it open, let the glass tumble out to the floor. Blood covered her palm, tiny rivulets trickling down her pale wrist. He stared at those dark crimson trails, and the curse he hissed through his fangs was raw, though not with anger.
He transformed even further, his face becoming starker, wilder. Otherworldly. She had seen him in his true natural form before, but never like this. This was Kellan Archer fully Breed, primal and thirsting, a formidable male predator with his sights set squarely on her.
He wanted what she would offer him now.
What had been his to claim all along.
"I belong to you, Kellan. There will never be another for me. Not even if I can't be with you. Not even if you're gone." She glanced down at her bleeding hand still caught in his grasp. The wound in her palm wasn't bad, but it didn't take much for a bond to be activated. One taste. That's all he needed to take, and he would be linked to her forever. "I need to be connected to you. In every possible way. Never mind what my vision says. It can't stop us tonight. It can't stop this."
He made a strangled sound in the back of his throat as his fevered gaze lifted to meet her eyes. His fingers didn't release her, remaining clamped around her wrist like a vise. His fangs elongated further, sharp points filling his mouth as he parted his lips on a groan. His glyphs pulsated, dark hues of thirst and desire churning all over his beautiful Breed skin.
Mira reached out with her free hand to stroke his face. "I offer you my blood freely, Kellan. If you'll have it now."
His blazing amber eyes slid back to her red-stained palm, his breath rasping through his teeth and fangs. He said her name, and it sounded like a tormented mixture of profanity and prayer as he drew her hand up to his mouth and licked the rivulet of blood that was running down toward her elbow.
Mira sighed as his tongue traveled back up her wrist, soft as velvet against her skin. He took his time, lapping up every bit that had spilled. Then he put his face in the heart of her palm, his trim goatee gently tickling, his lips hot and moist, his breath like steam against her sensitive flesh. He settled his mouth over her wound and drew his first true swallow.
She felt his body tense up, a jolt going through him as the bond to her took root. He moaned into her hand as he pulled in another taste of her. The vibration of his mouth, the wet heat of his tongue, the graze of his fangs against her palm – it combined into one of the most erotic sensations she'd ever known. Her body responded with a surge of pleasure and liquid fire.
Desire coiled deep within her, flowing out to every nerve ending as Kellan suckled from her palm. Her blood stirred to new life with each passing second, awakening to his kiss. She could feel it racing through her veins, eager to feed him. Arousal burned hot and fast within her, wet need pooling between her thighs. Twin points of radiant electric light bloomed inside her, one in her core, another at the spot where Kellan's mouth was fixed to her.
"God, Mira . . . you taste so fucking good," he murmured. "Your blood is so sweet, so powerful. Holy Christ, I can feel you in my muscles and bones, in my senses . . . so damn good."
She caressed him as he praised her, and between their naked bodies, his cock stood erect, stiff and heated, while she was melting. Craving to be filled by him.
"Yes," he said, his voice thick and hungered. "I can feel your need through the bond. I can feel your pulse, as if it's my own." His tongue swirled one last time into her palm, gently, sealing her wound. "I never realized how strong it would be . . . how complete. But I need to be inside you now."
Without another word, he gathered Mira up into his arms and placed her back on the bed. He prowled over her, strong arms braced on either side of her, his big body poised above her in the dark. And his eyes – she was bathed in their glow, mesmerized by the desire she saw smoldering in Kellan's otherworldly gaze.
She'd never seen him look so formidable, so incredibly powerful. He was magnificent in this state, fully transformed, nourished by the new bond that linked him to her for as long as they both drew breath. He was dark and fevered and gloriously aroused, and she quivered to feel all of his heated focus trained on her.
She was ready when he entered her, so ready. He drove in deep, the feel of him enormous, harder and hotter than ever as he moved inside her body. His mouth found hers and he covered her lips in a kiss that was demanding, fevered . . . thirsting.
Mira clung to him, wrapping her legs around him to bring him closer. She wanted to be fused together with him. Couldn't get close enough.
She cried out when Kellan's mouth left hers, then gasped as it drifted lower, settling just below her ear. "Take me," she whispered as his lips found purchase on her neck. "All of me, Kellan. Take me."
His answering snarl was feral-sounding and raw as his mouth clamped down more seriously against her throat. Desire spiked into her core as the tips of his fangs found their place at her carotid. Mira put her hand in his hair, fingers burrowing into the thick waves. She tightened her fist in demand, holding him in place. "Take me," she rasped. "I'm already yours."
"Yes," he answered, rough and wild and carnal. He made a sound of dark hunger in the back of his throat. "Mine," he said.
Then he pierced her.
Mira's gasp was pure elation as his fangs went deep, and his hips thrust hard and long between her open thighs.
He would be dying soon – in a few hours or days or weeks, he couldn't be sure – but Kellan had never felt more alive.
Pride swelled in him at the pleasured sound of Mira's cry as his fangs penetrated her delicate flesh and pierced the artery that pulsed so robust and lovely against his tongue. Possession rocked into him like a massive wave as her body clung to him, her sleek, wet channel enveloping him, milking his cock as the first tremors of her orgasm began to ripple through her.
Her mounting climax echoed in his own consciousness, in all of his senses. Such was the power of the blood bond that now joined him to her. He should hate himself for taking this step with her, knowing there was no future in it. But she felt too good, tasted like sweetest heaven. And he'd wanted this intimate, unbreakable connection to her for too long.
He was greedy for all she could give him now, primal in his claiming of her body and her blood. She belonged to him. Her whispered pledge spurred him on now, made his thrusts urgent, his bite locked onto her with animalistic fervor, drinking her in.
She was his.
In this moment, she was his forever.
So easy to think it. So tempting to believe that he could stretch this moment into an eternity with her, keep Mira at his side as his mate for as long as they both drew breath.
And it was nearly impossible to resist the need that rose in him now, a need that urged him to complete the blood bond, to seal their connection by opening his own vein and feeding Mira a taste of him in return.
He wanted it with a ferocity that staggered him.
She wanted it too. He felt her craving for him, raw and thirsting. He heard it in her breathless moan, as she clutched at him and arched beneath him, her head craned to the side on the pillow, granting him total access to her carotid.
She wanted more of him. More than he was willing to give. He couldn't let her drink now, not when her link to him would only increase her pain tenfold when they were parted by death.
"Please," she gasped. "Oh, God . . . Kellan . . ."
God help him, he nearly gave in to her plea when she came in that next instant, her fingernails scoring his shoulders, his name a throaty roar as her release crested and broke. He wanted to bleed for her.
More than anything in that moment, he wanted to bind her to him and give her the same depth of pleasure she was giving him now. But he reined in the impulse with narrowly held control and dubious honor. Pressing his mouth to her open vein, he sealed the punctures with his tongue and braced himself for the rolling tide of her climax. Every nuance of her emotions branded themselves on his senses. She came with the same unbridled intensity that she did most everything else in her life, her climax astonishing him with its force as the waves of her body's release flowed through his veins as if his own.
He couldn't slow the tempest building within him now too. With Mira's orgasm still crashing over him, Kellan came too, shouting with the ferocity of it as his seed blasted out of him, scalding and ferocious.
And Mira's sweet, welcoming body accepted all that he had to give.
He didn't know how long it took before the aftershocks finally began to recede. Could have been moments. Could have been hours.
All he knew was the warm cushion of her body beneath him on the bed, her limbs still tangled around his, her fingers playing in the hair at his nape while he rested his head next to her shoulder.
It was her quiet voice that brought him back to the here and now.
Back to the reality of what they still faced.
"I don't want you to go to the Order." He felt her worry in the dull throb of her pulse, in the tang of dread that filtered through their new bond, into him. "I've changed my mind, Kellan. About wanting you to plead your case, trying to convince the Order and the Council to pardon you. I don't want you to go anywhere near D.C. Neither one of us can ever go back there."
"Ah, Mouse." He kissed the bare curve of her shoulder, then came up on one elbow so he could meet her troubled gaze. "You don't mean that. You've never been one to run and hide. That was always more my territory, remember? And look where that's gotten us."
"I don't care," she murmured, a stubborn edge to her tone. "Let's just stay here, like this. For as long as we can, let's just be together and make this last. Whatever it takes."
He kissed her again, on the mouth this time, unrushed and tender. "I don't want this to end either. Not now or ever. But I don't want it if it means forcing you into a life of skulking in shadows and fearing what lies around every corner. I can't do that, Mira. And we can't stay here. It's not safe for any of us now. We all have to get out of here soon, go to another location. Somewhere out of the line of fire."
His dread about the Order closing in on him was still very real and disturbing. And the prospect of either a stealth death squad or, after last night's turn of events, a full-scale invasion was more than he was willing to risk. A sick guilt weighed down on him when he thought of Candice and Doc and Nina coming under heavy weapons fire amid the chaos of a raid. As for Mira, he knew his Breedmate well enough to realize that she would fight to her own death if she thought she could save him.
As he would for her.
And would, in a short time from now.
He hadn't been much of a leader to his crew of rebels, not that it had ever been his intent to lead them. He hadn't been anything close to a worthy mate to Mira either, and that he wanted more than anything.
But he still had time to do right by them all. He could put measures in place that would ensure a minimum risk of injury or bloodshed to his Breedmate and his friends. Only then would he be ready to do what he needed to do – confront the fate that waited for him at the other end of this increasingly inescapable path.
His plan took shape with resolute clarity as he took Mira's hand in his, stroking his fingers over the perfectly healed heart of her palm. "We'll leave as soon as possible this morning."
She frowned up at him. "In the daylight?"
"As soon as we can," he reiterated. Now that he knew what needed to be done, he wanted the plan in motion. "Nina has friends who can get us a vehicle, no questions asked. I'll ride in back, out of the sun's reach. One of my crew can do the driving. We can be there in a few hours."
Mira was staring at him, a question in her muted gaze. "You're taking me with you?"
"I want you safe," he said, lifting her chin to meet his kiss. "You're mine now, remember?"
"I'm yours." Her smile nearly broke his heart, it was so pure and trusting. She burrowed deep into the curve of his body, molding herself to him. "Don't let go, Kellan. Promise me you won't let go."
"I won't let go, Mouse." He wrapped his arms around her, pressing a kiss to her forehead as she snuggled tighter and her breathing slowed to a contented rhythm.
And in that moment, he was glad for the absence of her link into his emotions.
Because if she'd been bonded to him by blood, she would have understood no matter how much he wished he could keep that promise to her, before the next dawn, she would know it had been just a pretty lie.