The year no longer matters; neither does the date. After what’s happening right now around the world, my guess is history will soon be explained simply in terms of Before and After. Before mankind realized vampires were real, and after. After a power- crazed vampire named Dragos freed scores of the most deadly members of the Breed— savage, blood- addicted Rogues— turning the incarcerated monsters loose on an unsuspecting, and obviously unprepared, human public. Even as I write this, I can hardly believe what I’m seeing.
The carnage is unspeakable. The terror unprecedented. It’s hard to look away from the terrible news broadcasts and Internet video pouring into the Order’s temporary compound in Maine.
Every report brings footage of screaming men, women, and children, hysterical crowds stampeding on darkened streets, none of them fast enough to elude the predators in pursuit. Cities glowing bright with flames, vehicles abandoned and smoking in the ruins, gunfire and misery filling the air. Everywhere, there is bloodshed and slaughter.
Lucan and the rest of the warriors of the Order have mobilized for Boston to combat the violence, but they are barely a dozen Breed soldiers against hundreds of Rogues flooding into major cities back into the shadows, the cost in innocent lives could number easily in the thousands. And the damage left in the wake of all this blood- soaked chaos— the mistrust between the humans and the Breed— may never be repaired.
Centuries of secrecy and careful peace, undone in a single night . . .
Day 345, A.F.D.
It’s been almost a year since First Dawn. That’s what everyone calls it now— the morning after the Rogue attacks that changed the world forever. First Dawn. What a hopeful, innocuous term for such a horrific moment in time. But the need for hope is understandable. It’s critical, especially when the wounds from that awful night and the uncertain day that followed are still so fresh.
No one knows the need for hope better than the Order. The warriors have been fighting for twelve hard months to win back some sense of calm, some semblance of peace. Dragos is no more. The Rogues he used as his personal weapons of mass destruction have all been destroyed. The months of carnage and terror have ended. But too much hatred and suspicion still festers on both sides. It’s a volatile time, and even the slightest spark of violence could explode into catastrophe.
In two weeks, Lucan is scheduled to speak on behalf of the Breed before all the nations of the world. Publicly, he will call for peace. Privately, he’s warned all of us in the Order that he dreads man and Breed may instead find themselves swept into war . . .
August 4, 10 A.F.D.
Sometimes it feels as if there’s been a hundred years of spilled blood and lives during the decade that’s passed since First Dawn. The wars continue. Violence escalates around the world. Anarchy reigns in many major cities, spawning criminal activity from bands of rebels and other militants in addition to the relentless killing on both sides of the conflict.
Every day, the Order’s headquarters in D.C. receives sobering reports from the leaders of its district command centers now situated around the world. The war grows worse. Blame for the bloodshed is slung from both directions, deepening the unrest and adding fuel to an already raging fi re. Our hope for peace between man and Breed has never seemed further out of reach.
And if this is the state of things ten years into this conflict, I am afraid to guess at what that could mean for the future . . .
The night was thick with them.
They choked the dark sidewalks and intersections of Boston’s old North End, overflowed from the open doorways of dance clubs, sim-lounges, and cocktail bars. Strolling, loitering, conversing, they filled the near-midnight streets with too many voices, too many bodies shuffling and sweating in the unseasonable heat of the early June evening.
And damned too little space to avoid the anxious sidelong looks—those countless quick, darting glances from people pretending they hadn’t noticed, and weren’t the least bit terrified, of the four members of the Order who now strode through the middle of the city’s former restricted sector.
Mira, the lone female of the squad of off-duty warriors, scanned the crowd of Homo sapiens civilians with a hard eye. Too bad she and her companions were wearing street clothes and discreetly concealed weapons. She’d have preferred combat gear and an arsenal of heavy firearms. Give the good citizens of Boston a real excuse to stare in mortal terror.
“Twenty years we’ve been outed to mankind, and most of them still gape at us like we’ve come to collect their carotids,” said one of the three Breed males walking alongside her.
Mira shot him a wry look. “Feeding curfew goes into effect at midnight, so don’t expect to see the welcome wagon down here. Besides, fear is a good thing, Bal. Especially when it comes to dealing with their kind.”
Balthazar, a giant wall of olive-skinned thick muscle and ruthless strength, met her gaze with a grim understanding in his hawkish golden eyes. The dark-haired vampire had been with the Order for a long time, coming on board nearly two decades ago, during the dark, early years following First Dawn, the day the humans learned they were not, in fact, the ultimate predator on the planet.
They hadn’t accepted that truth easily. Nor peacefully.
Many lives were lost on both sides in the time that followed. Many long years of death and bloodshed, grief and mistrust. Even now, the truce between the humans and the Breed was tentative. While the governing heads of both global nations—man and vampire—attempted to broker lasting peace for the good of all, private hatreds and suspicions still festered in each camp. The war between mankind and Breed still waged on, but it had gone underground, undeclared and unsanctioned but nonetheless lethal.
A cold ache filled Mira’s chest at the thought of all the pain and suffering she’d witnessed in the years between her childhood under the protection of the Order, through the rigorous training and combat experience that had shaped her into the warrior she was now. She tried to sweep the ache aside, put it behind her, but it was hard to do. Tonight of all nights, it was next to impossible to shut out the hurt.
And the part of this war that was personal, as intimate as anything in her life could be, now gave her voice a raw, biting edge. “Let the humans be afraid. Maybe if they worry more about losing their throats, they’ll be less inclined to tolerate the radicals among them who would like to see all of the Breed reduced to ashes.”
From behind her, another of her teammates gave a low purr of a chuckle. “You ever consider a career in public relations, Captain?” She threw a one-fingered salute over her shoulder and kept walking, her long blond braid thumping like a tail against her leather-clad backside. Webb’s laugh deepened. “Right. Didn’t think so.”
If anyone was suited for diplomatic assignment, it was Julian Webb. Adonis handsome, affable, polished, and utterly devastating when he turned on the charm. That Webb was a product of a cultured upbringing among the Breed’s privileged elite went without saying. Not that he ever had. His background—along with his reasons for joining the Order—was a secret he’d shared only with Lucan Thorne, and the Order’s founding elder wasn’t telling.
There were times Mira wondered if that’s why Lucan had personally assigned Webb to her team last year—to keep a close eye on her for him and the Council and to ensure the Order’s mission objectives were being met without any . . . issues. Since her humiliating censure for insubordination by the Council eighteen months ago, it wouldn’t surprise Mira to learn that Lucan had entrusted Webb to smooth out any potential rough patches in her leadership of the unit. But she hadn’t worked her ass off, trained to the brink of killing herself to earn her place with the Order, only to throw it away.
It was highly unusual—all but unheard of, in fact—for a female to come through the ranks with the Order and be awarded a place as captain of a warrior team. Her pride swelled to think on that, even now. She’d lived to prove herself capable, worthy. She’d pushed herself ruthlessly to earn the respect of the Order’s elders and the other warriors she’d trained with—respect she’d eventually won through blood, sweat, and stubborn determination.
Mira wasn’t Breed. She didn’t have their preternatural speed or strength. She didn’t have their immortality either, something she, as a Breedmate—the female offspring of a Homo sapiens mother and a father of as-yet undetermined genetic origins—could obtain only through the mated exchange of a blood bond with one of the Breed. Without that bond being activated, Mira and those other rare females born Breedmates would age, and, ultimately die, the same as mortals.
At twenty-nine and unmated, she was already beginning to feel the physical and mental fallout of her taxing career choice. The wound she’d been carrying in her heart for these past eight years probably didn’t help either. And her “conduct unbecoming” reprimand a year and a half ago was likely more than enough excuse for Lucan to want to reassign her to desk duty. But he hadn’t yet, and she’d be damned if she gave him further cause to consider it.
“Storm’s coming,” murmured the third member of her team from beside her. Torin wasn’t talking about the weather, Mira knew. Like a lion taking stock of new surroundings, the big vampire tipped his burnished blond head up toward the cloudless night sky and drew in a deep breath. A pair of braids woven with tiny glass seed beads framed razor-sharp cheekbones and finely chiseled features, an unconventional, exotic look for someone as expertly lethal as Torin, one that hinted at his sojourner past. The glittering plaits swayed against the rest of his thick, shoulder-length mane as he exhaled and swiveled his intense gaze toward Mira. “Bad night to be down here. Something dark in the air.”