Veil of Midnight (Chapter Thirty-four)
Three nights later.
The Order's compound seemed vastly different to Nikolai as he walked the corridor that led from the tech lab where he'd been meeting with the other warriors. The mission to thwart Dragos had taken a significant hit a few nights ago, but they 'd also come away with a very unexpected advantage in their quest to locate him and shut down his operation.
Unfortunately, while Hunter was shaping up to be a valuable asset, the Order had also lost a crucial ally and trusted friend: Andreas Reichen had fallen off the grid completely, and the word out of Berlin was the worst kind of news. No one knew if the German Darkhaven leader had survived the attack on his residence. Based on the reported slaughter of all his kin and the blaze that consumed the entire property, the Order held out little hope for their friend.
Personally, Nikolai thought it would be a small mercy if Reichen had perished in the raid. He didn't know how such a deep loss could ever be overcome. Certainly no man, Breed or otherwise, would be strong enough to walk away unscathed from such a brutal blow to the soul. As a warrior, Nikolai understood combat casualties. Every warrior walked into battle knowing that he or his brethren might not return to base.
But to lose one's family…
He didn't even want to consider what that would do to a man. Instead Nikolai focused on the blessings he had – one of which could be heard speaking softly as he neared the open doorway of his private quarters.
Renata was inside, seated on the sofa in the living room, reading to Mira.
For a moment, as Niko reached the entrance, he leaned against the jamb simply to listen and to feast his eyes on the beautiful woman who was now his mate. He loved that Renata was as comfortable curled up with a book as she was holding a weapon. She had a softness he admired, an intelligence that continually challenged him, and an inner strength that made him strive to be a male worthy of her devotion.
It didn't hurt that she was also hotter than hell, especially when she was staring down the barrel of a big 9mm or training with her beloved blades. Kade and Brock had been almost permanent fixtures in the weapons room the past few days, if only for the chance to spar with Renata or watch her in action. Nikolai could hardly blame them. But if he was tempted to feel the slightest nip of jealousy, all it took was a sly glance from his woman to put him at ease. She loved him, and for that Nikolai counted himself the luckiest damned male on the planet.
"Hi," she said now, glancing over as she turned the last page of a Chapter and paused to greet him.
"Hi, Niko," Mira chimed in from under the fall of her short veil. "You just missed a really good part in the story."
"I did? Maybe I can talk Renata into reading it to me later," he said, slanting a heated look at his mate as he stepped into the room. He walked over to the sofa and hunkered down in front of Mira. "I have something for you."
"Really?" Her tiny face brightened with a smile. "What is it?"
"Something I asked Gideon to get for you. Take off your veil and I'll show you."
He didn't miss Renata's protective look as Mira tore the black fabric away from her face. "What's this about?"
"It's okay," he said, taking a small plastic case out of the pocket of his jeans. "You can trust me. You both can trust me." Renata relaxed at the reminder, and watched as Nikolai unscrewed the cap from a contact lens container. "These are special lenses that Gideon thinks will help with your eyes. How would you like it if you never had to wear that veil again?" Mira nodded enthusiastically. "Let me see them, Niko!"
"What kind of lenses are they?" Renata asked, cautiously hopeful.
"Opaque irises to shield the mirroring effect of Mira's own eyes. She'll be able to see through them, but no one looking at her will notice anything unusual about her eyes. Her irises will be covered, in the same way the veil covered them. I thought these would be better."
Renata nodded, smiling warmly at him. "Much better. Thank you."
"Can I try them on?" Mira asked, eagerly peering at the small case in Niko's hand. "Look, Rennie, they're purple!" "That's your favorite color," she said, turning a questioning look on Nikolai.
He'd brought himself up to speed on a lot the past few days, taking on a role he never imagined himself in, let alone imagining it would fit so comfortably on him. He was a blood-bonded male with a Breedmate who loved him and a young child to bring up as their own. And he relished the idea of both.
He, the maverick, the reckless one, had a family of his own now. It was mind-boggling to him, not to mention to the rest of the compound. It was the last thing he ever dreamed he'd wanted or needed, and now, just a few days into it, he couldn't picture life any other way.
His heart had never felt so full.
"Let me help you with those," Renata said, taking the lenses from him and carefully assisting Mira into them. When they were in place for a few long seconds and the child's talent didn't stir, Renata caught a small laugh in her hand. "Oh, my God. It worked, Nikolai. Just look at her. The lenses work beautifully."
He glanced into the wide violet pools of Mira's altered eyes and saw…nothing. Only the happy, carefree gaze of a child. Renata threw her arms around him and kissed him. Mira was right behind her, and Niko caught them both in a heartfelt embrace.
"There's more," he said, hoping they would enjoy the rest of his surprise. He stood up and took each of them by the hand. "Come with me."
He led them up the corridor to the elevator that climbed from the subterranean headquarters to the large mansion that sat topside. He could feel Renata's apprehension in her loose grasp and in the spike of adrenaline that edged into her bloodstream. "Don't worry," he whispered against her ear. "You'll enjoy this, I promise."
At least, he hoped she would. He'd been working on it for the past day and a half, trying to get everything just right. He guided Renata and Mira into the heart of the estate, toward the candlelit warmth of the formal dining room. The aromas of baked bread and roasted meat drifted out to greet them. Niko himself had no appreciation for human food, but the Breedmates living at the compound certainly did, and judging from the looks he was getting from the two females walking along at his side, they did too. Renata's astonishment shone in her eyes. "You cooked dinner?"
"Hell, no. Believe me, I'm the last person you'd want in charge of your meals. I pulled some favors from Savannah , Gabrielle, and the other women. Your stomach is in very good hands."
"But I was just with all of them earlier today and no one said anything about this." "I wanted to surprise you. They wanted to surprise you, too."
She didn't say anything more, and he couldn't help noticing that Renata's steps had slowed the closer they got to the dining room. Mira, however, was crackling with excitement. As soon as they reached the arched entryway, she broke away from Niko's loose hold and ran into the gathering, chattering a mile a minute as though she'd lived there all her life. But not Renata.
She was silent, unmoving. She took one look inside at the table full of dishes and fine porcelain settings and drew in a shallow breath. She said nothing as she looked at the faces of the warriors and their Breedmates, every gaze lifted in welcome as she and Nikolai stood at the door.
"Oh, God," she finally whispered, her voice broken and raw.
Niko followed her as she backed away, turning into the hallway like she wanted to bolt.
Damn it. He'd been so sure she would enjoy a nice dinner with everyone, but obviously he'd been wrong.
When she spoke to him, her voice was choked with emotion. "Everyone's waiting in there…for us?"
"Don't worry about it," he said, drawing her into his arms. "I wanted to do something special for you, and I screwed it up. I'm sorry. You don't have to do this – "
"Nikolai." She looked up at him, her eyes glittering with tears. "I've never seen anything lovelier than that table in there, with everyone gathered around it."
He frowned, baffled now. "Then what's wrong?"
She shook her head, swallowed a strangled laugh. "Nothing's wrong. That's just it. Nothing is wrong at all. I'm just so happy. You have made me so completely happy. I'm afraid to hold on to this feeling. I've never known what it was like, and I'm scared to death that it's only a dream."
"Not a dream," he said gently, caressing the stray tear from her cheek. "And you can hold on to me if you feel afraid. I'm going to be here beside you as long as you'll have me."
"Forever," she said, beaming up at him.
Nikolai nodded. "Yes, love. Forever."
Renata's elated laugh bubbled out of her. She kissed him hard, then nestled up against his side and walked with him under the shelter of his arm, back to join the others. Back to join the rest of their family.