Edge of Dawn (Chapter Thirteen)

RECLINING ON HIS ELBOWS ATOP THE BROAD PLANKS OF A picnic table in one of suburban Boston's conservation area parks, Vince tipped his head back on his shoulders and let the midday summer sun bathe his face in heat. Overhead, a crow sailed against the blinding blue of the sky.

That's me, Vince thought, grinning smugly up at the clouds. Free bird.

Soon to be a filthy rich free bird.

He didn't know precisely whom he was meeting at this rendezvous Rooster had set up for him. Didn't much care either. All he knew was that making the call to the red-haired snitch after fleeing the base with Ackmeyer was about to net him serious pay dirt.

Rooster had immediately put out feelers with a few folks he knew, who in turn put out feelers to folks they knew, and then bam! Less than an hour later, they had a live one on the hook, ready to plunk down God-only-knew how much in exchange for the scientist and access to his Breed-smoking UV technology.

If Bowman had been smart – as smart as Vince – he would've thought of cashing in on Ackmeyer himself. But nope. He'd been too preoccupied with sniffing around the bitch from the Order to recognize the true opportunity he had with Ackmeyer. Then again, Bowman and Vince never had seen eye to eye on how things should be done.

Bowman's missions were always based on high-principled bullshit, like evening scores and righting wrongs. There wasn't a lot of cash to be made leaking intel on dirty politicians or exposing corporate grifters, but that never seemed to stop Bowman. And he had no qualms about derailing the ops of other rebel groups if he deemed their goals or methods too extreme.

As far as Vince was concerned, Bowman and his lofty morals could both get fucked. He preferred to operate based on profit and deal making.

Especially when those two objectives sent all the benefits directly into his hands, as they were about to do any minute now.

It was hard not to fantasize about what he was going to do and buy with the nut he stood to collect. Couple million, easy. Hell, maybe he should set his starting price at a cool five and see where it took him.

Gonna get himself a sweet ride, first of all. A swank place of his own too. Maybe he'd set up his own base of operations, recruit a fresh crew of his own and really shake shit up. Unfortunately, he'd have to open shop somewhere far from Boston, because no doubt about it, after the move Vince pulled today, Bowman was going to be coming after him hard.

Vince couldn't lie to himself; the thought of being on the receiving end of a pissed-off vampire's fury was more than a little disturbing. Didn't help that he'd seen Bowman in action enough to understand that there would be major hell to pay. The Breed male had skills that went beyond supernatural genetics. He was lethal even without the advantage of his otherworldly DNA, easily as badass deadly as any warrior of the Order. And for the first time since he'd known the vampire commander of the rebel base in New Bedford, that realization gave Vince serious pause.

Vince had always assumed Bowman's identity as a member of the Breed was his biggest secret, but now he wondered if there wasn't something else the vampire had been hiding . . .

Not that it mattered.

If Vince had his way, he was going to be big enough that he and his crew could go after Bowman themselves. Hell, maybe he'd use some of today's windfall to take out a hit on the Breed son of a bitch. How poetic would it be to see Bowman ashed with some of Ackmeyer's UV rounds?

Yeah, that was definitely going on the immediate agenda. Vince's first act, and a prime way to announce he's the new man in charge.

As he closed his eyes and ruminated on the pending birth of his rebel empire, the low rumble of an approaching, unmistakably expensive vehicle drew his chin back down to his chest. Vince raised his arm to visor his eyes, squinting as the sleek black sedan eased to a stop and a man in a dark suit and shades climbed out of the passenger-side door. With the micro-size comm unit clinging to his ear and his buzz-cut salt-and-pepper hair, the guy had a distinct government vibe about him, but the pricey wheels screamed private enterprise. Extremely lucrative private enterprise.

Imagining what he might look like prowling around town in a ride like that, Vince mentally upped his price tag on Ackmeyer.

The guy in the impeccable suit strode from the empty parking lot across the grass toward the picnic table. "Mr. Sunshine?"

Vince smiled, amused by the fitting alias he chose for this transaction. "That's me. And you are?"

"Why don't you come have a seat in the car? We can talk more comfortably inside."

It wasn't an answer. Hell, it wasn't even friendly. Sounded more like a command than the kind of respect Vince felt he was due. He didn't appreciate the superior attitude, and he wasn't stupid enough to get into a vehicle with someone he didn't know from Adam. No matter how much money was on the line.

"I'm enjoying the nice weather," he said, dropping his arm to his side and wishing he'd thought to bring sunglasses with him to this meeting too. Instead, he was forced to squint through the harsh daylight. He tried to work it in his favor, sneering in the hopes of looking more badass. "Listen, I'm a busy man. I got several interested parties for what I'm offering here today, so let's get down to business."

"Of course," replied the suit. "Where is the package?"

Vince chuckled. "Somewhere safe."

He also wasn't stupid enough to have Ackmeyer on-site until a firm deal was in hand. Vince had his hostage stowed and secured in the van, which was parked about a mile down the road, in another part of the conservation area. Once he had cash in hand, Vince would turn over his goods, but not a second before.

The guy in the suit didn't seem to understand the concept. "Until I can assure my employer that you will deliver what you promise, we have nothing to negotiate."

"Your employer?" Vince echoed, not a little put out to hear this. "I thought I'd be speaking to the man in charge, not some lackey."

"Do you intend to produce the package or not?" asked the suit, unfazed but unyielding.

"Hell no, I don't!" Vince vaulted off the picnic table, agitation vibrating through him. "You're wasting my time, man. I got four – no, five! – other potentials I could be talking to right now, every one of them ready, willing, and able to pony up serious cash." A bluff, but anger was making him cocky. He started pacing a tight track in front of the sharp-dressed gofer. "I'm in a situation where I want to get this done pronto, so tell you what. I'm willing to make a quick deal with you – or, rather, your employer. Ten million cash. Right here and now, no games, or I fucking walk."

The guy didn't say a word. Vince wasn't even sure he was listening. He watched as the guy lifted his hand to the comm device in his ear. "Status," he murmured, more of an order than an inquiry. A second later he grunted, said, "Excellent," then lowered his hand and continued to stare past Vince as if he were invisible.

"Well?" Vince demanded, impatient as hell and quickly getting beyond pissed at the lack of respect. "What's it gonna be? Make me wait another second for your answer, and my price doub – "

A sudden engine roar and screech of tires in the parking lot cut Vince off mid-threat. Not the throaty purr of another sweet sedan but the rusty bellow and knock of a vehicle he knew well. The same vehicle he'd stashed in what he assumed to be a safe place in another part of the park.

The van that contained Jeremy Ackmeyer, Vince's future fortune.

Some other goon in a dark suit was seated behind the wheel. The guy standing in front of Vince in the grass gave the driver a brief nod.

"What the fuck!" Vince shouted. "What the fuck is this?"

How the hell had this gone so wrong, so fast?

He didn't have time to guess. When he swung his head back around to look at the guy in the suit next to him, the nose of a black 9-mm pistol was leveled dead center on his face.

Now the suit finally managed to show some interest. He cracked a thin smile. "Get in the car, asshole."

Vince was shoved into motion, the gun ensuring he kept moving.

As he staggered toward the waiting sedan, he had a sinking feeling this was the closest he would ever get to feeling a few hundred grand worth of metal and leather and high-end performance machinery wrapped around his stupid, sorry ass.

* * *

Mira dumped an armful of wet, blood-soaked towels into a sink of cold, soapy water in the bunker's shower room and watched as the suds turned scarlet.

She should have left when she had the chance.

She should have just run away after hearing what Kellan told her. Back to the Order. Back to her teammates in Montreal. Back home to Niko and Renata.

Anywhere but here.

If what Kellan said was true, that fate would take him from her again – for good, this time – then she would do well to take whatever measures she could to spare herself that kind of hurt. She'd barely survived losing him the first time. How would she be able to bear that kind of pain again?

But she hadn't been able to make her feet take the path that would have led her out the door of Kellan's rebel base.

She couldn't make herself walk away from him, not when she could see that she still meant something to him. He still cared. Some hopeful part of her wanted to believe that he still loved her, even if he refused to admit that to himself or to her.

So, Mira hadn't run.

She'd stayed, taking it upon herself to mop up the blood from Vince's attack, while Kellan, Doc, and Nina were elsewhere in the bunker, ostensibly seeing to rebel business and looking after Chaz's remains once Candice had been stabilized.

Mira plunged her hands into the bloodied water and started washing the towels and rinsing them out. She tried to separate herself from the reality of the task – the knowledge that the blood staining her hands and clothes, running in a scarlet river down the opened drain of the sink, represented a life taken today, and another one narrowly spared. She tried to tell herself that this place, these people who lived and had now died here, were not hers to worry about.

But she was worried.

Worried about Candice, about Doc and Nina, all of whom had lost an old friend and made a new enemy today. She was worried about Jeremy Ackmeyer too, because as frightened as she'd been for him in Kellan's keeping, it was nothing compared to the dread she felt knowing Vince had him now and was obviously willing to kill anyone who stood in his way.

And she was worried about Kellan, of course.

Stricken to her marrow with fear over the vision he'd seen in her eyes on the terrible morning she'd mistakenly believed had been so perfect.

Mira hung her head, running another basin of cold water for the next round of washing.

For what wasn't the first time, she wished she'd been born without her gift. Her cursed ability, which brought anguish to nearly everyone who had the misfortune of glimpsing her unprotected gaze. She'd never known if her eyes would tell her own future too. She'd never had the courage to test it.

Now she wondered if she should try.

Would she see the same thing Kellan did?

Mira submerged a couple more blood-drenched towels into the water and watched as the crystalline liquid turned deep, murky red.

If she stared long enough into her own naked-eyed reflection, could she deplete her gift's power for good? She was tempted to find out, never mind that her eyesight died a little every time she exercised her seer's vision. She didn't care about that. Better she blind herself than risk delivering any more pain to someone else with her terrible ability.

She found her face in the dark water that filled the sink. Pale, weary lavender eyes stared back at her. The pain she felt was stamped all over her, worry bracketing her mouth and bruising the delicate skin beneath her lower lashes.

She heard a strangled moan and didn't realize it was coming from her own throat until the haggard young woman in the bloodred reflection opened her mouth on a sob.

The stained water rippled with her ragged exhalation, shattering her image into a hundred wavering pieces.

It took a few minutes to collect herself, time Mira used to finish the washing. She hung the wet towels on racks that contained other articles of laundered clothing. Another scrub of her hands still didn't remove the stains that rode under her fingernails and deep in her cuticles. For that, she'd need a good soak and plenty of soap.

Later, she promised herself, drying her hands and then stepping outside to the bunker's main corridor. Once she was there, she realized she didn't really know where to go.

She couldn't bring herself to go to Kellan's quarters to sit and wait for him. And she knew it wasn't her place to intrude on discussions or activities taking place between him and his diminished crew. Mira started walking, and soon found herself stepping past Candice's room.

She glanced in only briefly, but it was enough to notice that the young woman was awake, lying in her bed on her back. Her injured leg was bent at the knee and elevated with a mound of pillows and folded blankets, most of which had at some point toppled off to the side. She was trying to reach for them, struggling helplessly.

Mira blew out a sigh and took a reluctant step inside. "Here, let me help you with that."

"Thanks." Candice settled back in a slump, watching as Mira straightened the mess and carefully placed the restored mound under Candice's leg.

Mira glanced up. "How's that?"

"Better." She was still as pale as the sheets that covered her, little color in her lips, which curved into a small smile. "Will you bring me a sip of water, please?"

"Sure." Mira grabbed the cup and straw from the rickety nightstand beside the bed and held the drink while Candice sucked weakly. "How are you feeling?"

"Good." She nodded for Mira to set the cup down. "Doc says I'm going to make it. No walking for a week or so, and I'll have to take things slow for a while."

"But you're alive," Mira pointed out, and she felt genuinely glad about it.

"Yeah. Doc's the best. He's a good man." Candice was looking past Mira now, her jet-black eyebrows knitting into a small frown. "Where's everyone else?"

"They're around," Mira said. "There were things that needed to be done. Things for Chaz . . ."

She said it gently, not wanting to upset Candice. But the woman's hazel eyes went a darker shade of green as tears welled up in them. "Have they already buried him?"

"Not yet. I heard them talking about taking care of that later tonight. They want to do right by him. I heard them say his life deserves a worthy acknowledgment."

"Bowman," Candice said, smiling again, bigger than before. "That sounds like something he would say."

Mira stared, neither acknowledging nor denying it. But it had been he who'd said the words. It had been he who'd carried Chaz's lifeless body out of the cell and into a private chamber somewhere deep in the bunker. It had been he who'd informed the others that he wanted to perform a burial worthy of the warrior who'd served with honor and had fallen too soon.

Candice's eyes were locked on Mira in soft understanding. "Bowman's a good man too. I have a feeling you know that better than any of us."

Mira started to shake her head, but the denial wouldn't come. Instead she murmured, "It was a long time ago."

Candice's expression softened even more. "I don't need to know what he was called then, but I know it wasn't Bowman. I knew that from the minute he gave me the lie, when he finally woke up after two months of watching over him, unsure if he'd ever open his eyes, let alone speak. I didn't need to know his real name then either, or what he'd done that put him in the middle of a war zone."

Mira couldn't speak. Could only look at Candice and listen, reliving the private hell of the night she'd lost Kellan and his new life began.

"I figured he'd tell me his name one day, but he never did. Eventually I stopped looking for those answers." Candice brought her hand out from under the coverlet and laid it over the top of Mira's. "It didn't take long before I learned all I needed to know about the Breed male named Bowman who chose to live among humans instead of his own kind. I saw for myself that he was honorable. Not long after he was recovered, he learned there was a rebel faction looking to sell a group of young women into prostitution. The deal had already been struck with some bad men from overseas, but on the night the rebels were to make the trade, Bowman stepped in to derail the exchange and free those girls single-handed."

Mira was hardly surprised to hear it, having seen Kellan in action when they were part of the same unit for the Order. He was a fierce warrior, afraid of nothing when it came to combat and protecting those who couldn't do for themselves. Apparently those qualities had followed him into this other part of his life too, in spite of the fact he now straddled a threadbare moral line.

Candice went on. "I saw from the start that he was courageous and just. But he was also scarred somewhere deep inside. He was alone and kept himself isolated by choice. I knew he belonged to someone else. I just didn't know who, until I saw the way he looked at you when we brought you back with us to the base that day."

"You saved his life," Mira finally managed to croak out of her dry throat, swamped by gratitude for this woman she hardly knew. "I thought he was dead, but you found him. You took care of him. You and Doc didn't know him at all, but you didn't let him die . . ."

Candice frowned slightly, gave a mild shrug. "He needed help. We gave it. That's all."

"You did all that, even though he was Breed."

"If you saw someone bleeding and broken in the street, would you stop to see if he was different from you before you lifted him up?"

Mira fell silent as Candice's words sank in. And then she knew a profound shame, because she realized that, not very long ago, she might have been the one to turn her back. Her hatred and mistrust of humans, rebels in particular, was so blind and deep, she likely wouldn't have even broken her stride if it had been one of them in need of her help.

It was ugly, what she'd allowed herself to become.

For so long, she'd held people like Candice and Doc and Nina in contempt, lumped together with lowlifes like Vince and Rooster – villains all of them, to be squashed under her boot or skewered by her blades.

And now . . . ?

She withdrew her hand from beneath Candice's loose grasp, feeling undeserving of the kindness she was being shown. She felt regret for the loss these people had suffered today. And she felt fear for what their future might hold, if what Kellan saw in her eyes eventually came to pass.

The coldness that thought brought with it settled in Mira's chest like ice. She needed to find some distance from the dread that was pressing down on her when she considered the price all of them might pay if her vision proved true.

Mira summoned what she hoped was a reassuring smile. "You should rest now. I'll let Doc know how you're doing."

At Candice's nod, Mira backed away from her bedside and pivoted toward the door. She paused there, gratitude rising inside her, swamping even the darker tide of emotion that was doing its best to pull her under.

She looked back at the human female who'd done the impossible eight years ago, bringing Kellan back from the dead and delivering the miracle Mira had hoped for so desperately. "Thank you for saving him."

Candice smiled. "My part was easy. Now it's your turn."