“Can I have a word.” Markov didn’t phrase it as a question as he glared at Cassius. Anger ran hotly through his veins. Having Cassius treat him without regard was one thing but to do it with Azim, Victor’s mate, that was a whole different kettle of fish.

Cassius nodded stiffly, his features betraying nothing of what he was thinking. Swinging around on his heel, Markov didn’t acknowledge anyone else in the room. The scent of his fated mate was torture as it wafted on the warm air surrounding Markov while he left the office with Cassius close on his heel. He could only hope that his brothers would put the obvious tension between them as a result of the situation and nothing more.

Up to now he’d been so damn careful to keep some distance between him and Cassius. Years of restraining himself while working with Cassius had helped him control his body’s reaction, something he’d not initially been able to do with how volatile their relationship or non-relationship was in the beginning.

How many fated mates were rejected by their mate?

Markov didn’t have the answer, but he’d bet Todd could find it ─ maybe. Who would really want the world to know that the universe selected them to get a fated mate, only for that mate to give a fucking half-assed reason as to why they shouldn’t be together?

Entering his apartment, the scent of sea teased Markov, leaving him equally hungry for a taste of his mate and disgusted with himself that he continued to torture himself in this way when his mate didn’t want him. Why had he done it? Why had he thought it had been a good idea to reach out to the one man that could turn his world upside down?

Markov didn’t need an answer, he’d always let his bleeding heart lead his actions. The missing paranormals Danik had been searching for deserved the best and Cassius and his team had been that! Had being the operative word. They were no longer that, not if they laughed at someone who needed protection, who needed their help.

Clearly, watching Alexi with Danik had messed with Markov’s head, and his heart. Hadn’t he promised himself when he’d left the Shadow Team he wouldn’t look back, wouldn’t think about things that couldn’t be changed ─ like the never-ending shadow of rejection.

His internal laughter at himself held bitterness as Cassius roamed his apartment like a trapped beast. It was the only place they could speak and not be watched or heard, so Markov had no options. Asking him to join him in his own space was done purely so Markov could vent without fear of revealing his past hurt in front of his brothers. He hoped and believed they’d no clue he was the first to find his fated mate, only to be rejected… for what? A team of men who couldn’t see the value of a mate. Was it that simple?

Fucked if he knew for real, Cassius wasn’t one to reveal his cards which he’d always kept impossibly close to his chest. Building a head of steam over his own issues and the hurt that had been once more inflicted on Azim by his kidnapper, one who shouldn’t have got anywhere near him, Markov glowered at Cassius, the anger bubbling furiously inside him much like a volcano readying to erupt. His kraken was watchful, there right under the surface waiting to see how things would go. They were both affronted and hurt by the man doing his best to look anywhere but at them. But, by the sea gods, we want him to.

Markov waited, even with the anger, he wanted Cassius to explain, to justify why he’d become this… asshole!

The seconds ticked by… the silence and tension between them deepening. Then, Cassius turned his back on him flinging Markov right back into the past, to a time he never wanted to visit again, but did with more regularity with Cassius right under his nose.

“Holy fuck!” Markov gasped, the door clicking shut behind him. The scent of the sea and a sense of belonging ran through him causing him to struggle to keep control of his kraken as it rose quickly. Our mate, it crooned.

Yes! The joy was overwhelming and for a few seconds, Markov didn’t notice that the Shadow Commander, Cassius, who was his new boss, hadn’t moved from his seat. “We’re mates,” he said stupidly, his bounding pulse and happy kraken making it hard to say much more.

Dark eyes held his and Markov’s instincts started to feel as if a conga eel was electrifying him. His breath got trapped in his chest as Cassius templed his fingers under his chin, a look on his handsome face that did not say he was happy about the situation. “I’m not looking for a mate.” The gruff, gravelly voice sent shivers, and not the good kind, through Markov. Cassius swept his hand around the large, familiar office Markov had been called to, to meet the replacement for Ralph, the previous Shadow Commander. “We’re meeting because you’re part of my new team.”

“What do you mean you’re not looking for a mate?” Markov shook his head, trying to comprehend what was going on. For more centuries than he’d care to count he’d hoped one day to meet his mate. “It’s a gift. We’re fated mates.”

Is he rejecting us?

Markov wasn’t sure how to answer his kraken, because it fucking sure as hell looked like it.

Cassius’s jaw bunched, his eyelashes dipped and shielded his eyes from Markov. “Some might think of mates like that, but I’m not interested in having one… I’ve got a career, men to command and a world of… people out there that require me to focus and keep them safe.”

Markov struggled to pick his way through what Cassius was inferring. “We can do that together. I work for the team. We have the same goals. I can work with you.”

The head was shaking before Markov had finished. Cassius rose from the chair and there was nothing but a hard mask staring back at him. “You can do all those things without the mate aspect. It’s important to keep our attention in the right area – mates don’t allow for that as they become the focus. Is this going to be a problem for you?” His voice held no infliction, nothing to indicate any feeling.

Markov’s heart for several seconds refused to beat, refused to believe they were being rejected. He breathed deep, his fists clenching as he worked to control his kraken.

Does he think we are not worthy of him? Show him what we are, show him!

I’m not sure that would change anything. Markov eyed the rigid stance of the man who was meant for him. Maybe he needs to see we can be trusted. Markov inhaled Cassius’s scent. He’s a sea creature, but what, I’m not sure. We’ll make him see us, see we are worthy of him. He just needs time.

Cassius swung around and faced the window. “I hope this isn’t going to be an issue. The team is the priority.”

Those words rang through Markov’s head bringing him back to the present as Cassius reiterated them again. In the two years he’d tortured himself into believing that he could change Cassius’s mind, the man had stuck to that one fucking phrase like a mantra. A well-worn tune that gave Markov a fucking headache.

His body vibrating with all the years of pent-up anger, he stomped toward Cassius trying to reign in the hurt because, yet again, here he was, facing off with the man who was meant to be his. “The team can go fuck themselves. What happened to you to make you like this?” There was a flicker of something that looked like fear, but it was gone so fast that Markov passed it off as wishful thinking. “What soured you to the beauty of mates?”

The arousal came regardless of what Markov tried to do to stop it, with Cassius’s pheromones strong enough to alert anyone within a mile radius of their connection. “You want me, I can scent it,” he growled, his hands already dragging Cassius to him.

Mouths within inches of each other, Markov fought for his own self-control. Years he’d yearned, and hand action just wasn’t the same. Once he’d scented Cassius, he and his kraken wanted no one else regardless of the rejection. The pain was there buried deep inside, his own personal pit of hell where he went or was dragged when his kraken got pissed at him.

“I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now. What the fuck is your problem?” He shook Cassius, tasting his breath on his lips. The temptation to kiss caused him to shake.

He thrust Cassius away, but still made sure not to cause him harm. As much as he wanted to punch some sense into the man in front of him, Markov would never hurt his mate. He breathed shallowly. “Fine. You might have issues with me, but Azim deserved protection. He deserved more than your icy contempt and superior attitude that your fucking team come first. I think it’s time you left. I hoped…” Markov ran his hands through his hair and tugged hard enough to feel it, “fuck if I know what I hoped. You never once changed your stance. I think it’s finally sunk in, you mean it.”

Cassius met his angry glare with one of his own, but Markov was convinced there was something lurking in the depth of his eyes. Something he was… protecting. “I’ve apologized,” Cassius said in a stiff tone that broke Markov’s heart once more.

Markov stomped to the door and opened it, needing to be alone to grieve. He met Cassius’s gaze. “Great, that makes everything better. Now get the fuck out of my life and if I have another moment of madness and call you again, make sure to tell me to fuck off!”



Pain. Gut-wrenching, blade-twisting pain iced its way through his insides as Cassius forced himself to walk away from Markov’s door. Only his hand jammed in his pocket, holding the most recent photograph kept his feet moving away, instead of back into the room that held a promise he couldn’t keep. So much sacrifice… One day…

“Shadow Commander.” Perky fucking Percy, his PA and damn shadow, bounced in front of him, coming out of nowhere. Cassius hid his flinch, just. “I was just looking for you. The weekly reports are due, and honestly, I’m not sure how long I can keep our illustrious bosses from knowing where we are and what we’re doing here… you know, taking private jobs on company time.”

He peered up from under blond bangs that were probably meant to be sexy, but for Cassius, the boy was yet another example of what was wrong with his life. “The bosses already know where we are, and if you didn’t know that, then you’re slipping,” he snarled. “Get the team together, we’re heading out today to base one…”

“Oh wonderful.” Percy grabbed Cassius’s forearm with both hands. “Can I travel with you up in front? Take any dictation? You know I’m the best navigator on the team.”

“For fuck’s sake.” Cassius shook the hands off. “Everyone in the team already knows where to go. Do your job. Get it organized. Tell Jacobs he’s in charge until I get there. I’ll make my own way there.”

“But…” Percy frowned. “The bosses said the team must travel together. It’s important for unity, and so that…”

“I know the fucking spiel.” Cassius loomed over the persistent spy. “It’s tattooed on my damn ass. But for now, let’s pretend you work for me, and I just gave you an order. I’ll see you back at base one… when I get there.”

Percy’s mouth was already open, likely ready to deliver another annoying company line more suited to a corporate office than the military Cassius originally signed up to serve. Cassius wasn’t listening, he was on the brink of shifting, his pain mixing with his anger and the knowledge he’d hurt his mate, again. Pushing past, he ran for the main stairs, his boots clattering down them before he burst out of the main doors. Alarms rang out – the Thalassas had impeccable security, but Cassius was beyond caring. He ran across the parking lot as a taxi cruised past.

“Stop!” Luck, Fate, or whoever sat on his shoulder must have listened for once as the taxi stopped in the middle of the road. Pulling open the back door, Cassius climbed in, checking he had his wallet on him. “The closest beach,” he snapped. “Fast as you can.” He pulled a hundred-dollar note from his wallet and held it up.

Ten minutes later, Cassius was two hundred dollars poorer, his wallet, keys, and ID in a prepaid envelope already on its way to base one. The sand between his toes and the gentle roar of the sea greeted him, flooding his senses – the only thing that could calm his ragged soul. Tearing off his clothes as he crossed the beach, Cassius didn’t notice the photo that had fallen from his pocket as he dropped his clothes on the sand. He barely made it knee-deep in the surf before his shift came over him and the Shadow Commander disappeared under the next wave.

The photo flapped over in the light breeze, skipping down the beach, large black words printed on the back of it easily seen under the bright sun.

Follow Orders

This is your

Last Warning