So as some of you know I got my rights back to my Zodius series, and I’m so excited that I thought I would share, book one, MICHAEL, with you for FREE!! I’ll be posting 4 chapters a day for the next 8 days, so be sure to come back or subscribe to know when the new chapters are available!
ABOUT THE MICHAEL
HE IS A LETHAL WEAPON…
One of an army of soldiers created by a government experiment, Michael is different from the others involved, dangerous in ways no one quite understands. Even Michael himself, believes darkness lives within him, evil fights to control him. And only one woman, the woman he loves, can bring him back from the darkness and into the light. But she has become his enemy.
Cassandra is the daughter of the man who created Michael, who unknowing to her, tricked him into taking drugs he believed to be immunizations. She is torn between her love for Michael, and her love for her father. She’s also the woman Michael left behind, breaking her heart, seeming to shut her out without looking back. But now Michael is back, fully intending to show his enemies, Cassandra’s father included, his wrath. And he’s not leaving without Cassandra.
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Want more from the Zodius series? Sterling, Kel, and Damion all have their own stories available NOW! All are standalones, and $2.99 or FREE in KindleUnlimited! Find them HERE.
Nevada’s Area 51 was not only the subject of government conspiracy theories; it was now, officially, her new home. A good hour before sunrise, Cassandra Powell pulled into the military parking lot outside the launch pad leading to the top-secret underground facilities where the launch of the Project Zodius GTECH Super Soldier Program was a year under way. The ride from her new on-base housing had been a whopping three minutes, which considering the inhuman hours the military favored, she could deal with. The simplicity of a standard green army skirt and jacket—required despite her contract status—seemed to be working for her as well. The cardboard bed, not so much. It had, however, made a great desk for her laptop and all-night reading.
And considering she was only three days on the job—taking over for the former head of clinical psychology who’d transferred to another department—she had plenty of work to do. The prior department head hadn’t done one fourth of the studies that Cassandra deemed critical to properly evaluate these soldiers. And while the counseling aspect fell outside her clinical role, she wasn’t pleased with what was being offered. She’d certainly be nudging her way into that territory.
Files in hand, she exited her red Volkswagen Beetle and pushed the door shut with a flick of her hip. She walked all of two steps when the wind whipped into high gear, fluttering her suit jacket at her hips and tearing to pieces the blonde knot tied at her nape.
She shoved at the loose locks of hair and drew to a shocked halt, blinking in disbelief as four men dressed in black fatigues materialized in a rush of hot August wind at the other side of the long parking lot next to the elevator. She drew a breath and forced it out, trying to calm the thunder of her heart pounding her chest. Apparently she wasn’t quite as prepared for the phenomenon of GTECH Super Soldiers as she’d thought she was. Or at least not this skill her piles of paperwork referred to as “wind-walking.” It was one thing to be inhumanly strong and fast, even to be immune to human disease, but to be able to travel with the wind was downright spooky—and suddenly, so was the dark parking lot as the four men disappeared into the elevator.
Eager to get inside, Cassandra started walking, but made it all of two steps before another man appeared beside the elevator, this time with no wind as warning. Good grief, she hadn’t read about that stealthy little trick yet. Special Forces soldiers were already called lethal weapons, but these men, this one in particular, were taking it to a whole new level.
Still a good distance away from the building, Cassandra slowed her pace, hoping to go unnoticed, but she wasn’t so lucky. The soldier punched the elevator button and then turned and waved her forward. Oh no. No. No. Not ready to meet anyone yet. Not until she had a few of her ducks in a row. Cassandra quickly juggled her files and snagged her cell from her purse as an excuse to decline joining him, holding it up, and waving him off. He hesitated a few moments as the doors opened before he finally stepped inside and disappeared.
Cassandra started walking instantly, determined to get to the darned elevator before another soldier appeared. By the time she was inside, she had her file on wind-walking open—a good distraction from the entire underground, bomb-shelter-style workplace that made her more than a little uneasy.
Absorbed in her reading, head down, Cassandra darted out of the elevator the instant it opened, only to run smack into a rock-hard chest. She gasped, paperwork flew everywhere, and strong hands slid around her arms, steadying her from a fall. It was then that she looked up to find herself staring into the most gorgeous pair of crystal blue eyes she’d ever seen in her life.
She swallowed hard and noticed his long raven hair tied at the back of his neck, rather than the standard buzz cut—a sure indicator he was Special Ops. He could be one of the two hundred GTECH soldiers stationed at the base. A Wind-walker , she thought, still in awe of what she’d seen above ground.
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t watching where I was…” She lost the final word, her mouth dry as she suddenly realized her legs were pressed intimately to his desert fatigues, and her conservative, military-issue skirt had managed to work its way halfway up her thigh. “Oh!”
She quickly took a step backwards, righting her skirt in a flurry of panicked movement. Three days on the job, and already she was putting on a show. She pressed her hand to her forehead. “I know better than to read while walking. I hope I didn’t hurt you.” He arched a dark brow as her gaze swept all six-foot-plus of incredibly hot man, all lethal muscle and mayhem, and knew that was unlikely. She laughed at the ridiculous statement, feeling uncharacteristically nervous. She was five four in her bare feet—well, on her tip toes—and she bet this man towered over her by nearly a foot. “Okay. I didn’t hurt you. But, well, I’m still sorry.”
He stared down at her, his gaze steady, unblinking, the chiseled lines of high cheekbones and a square jaw, expressionless. Except deep in those strikingly blue eyes, she saw a tiny flicker of what she thought was amusement. “I’m not sorry,” he said, squatting down to pick up her files.
She blinked at the odd response, tilting her head and then squatting down to face him. “What do you mean?” she asked, a lock of her blonde hair falling haphazardly across her brow, free from the clip that was supposed to be holding it in place. “You’re not sorry?”
He gathered the last of her files, then said, “I’m not sorry you ran into me. Have coffee with me.”
It wasn’t a question. In fact, it almost bordered on an order. And damn, if she didn’t like the way he gave that near order. Her heart fluttered at the unexpected invitation. “I don’t know if that is appropriate,” she said, thinking of her new position. She stalled. “I don’t even know your name.”
The elevator behind them dinged open, and Kelly Peterson, assistant director of science and medicine for Project Zodius, appeared. “You’re early, Cassandra,” she said, amusement lifting her tone. “Morning, Michael.” She continued on her way, as if she found nothing significant, or abnormal, about Cassandra being sprawled across the hallway floor with a hot soldier by her side.
Cassandra popped to her feet, appalled she’d made such a spectacle of herself. Her sexy Special Ops soldier followed. “Now you know my name,” he said, and this time, his firm, way-too-tempting mouth hinted at a lift. Not a smile, a lift. God… it was sexy. “Michael Taylor.”
“Cassandra,” she said, unable to say the last name, dreading it more with this man than with the many others she’d been introduced to in the past few days. What was she supposed to say? Hi. I’m the daughter of the man who changed your life forever by injecting you with alien DNA without telling you first, and then claimed it was to save you from an enemy biological threat? Now you’re a GTECH Super Soldier for what we think is the rest of your life, but who knows what that really means long-term for you. But hey, I promise I’m one of the good guys, here to ensure you aren’t used and abused just because you’re a macho, kick-ass, secret government weapon? And did I mention I’m nothing like my father?
“Cassandra Powell,” he said, handing her the files, leaning close, the warmth of his body blanketing her in sizzling awareness. “I know who you are. And no, that doesn’t scare me away. I never run away from anything I want.” He leaned back, fixing her in another one of those dreamy blue stares. “So how about that coffee?”
She nearly swallowed her tongue at his directness, but, a true general’s daughter, she managed to recover quickly, remembering her duty in a painfully responsible fashion. “I… don’t think that’s a good idea.”
He studied her a moment before stepping into the now open elevator doors. “I’ll ask again,” he said as he turned to face her. She found herself lost in those addictive crystal blue eyes—eyes that had promised nothing, but somehow, promised everything—until the steel doors shut between them.
Cassandra inhaled, the scent of him still lingering in the air, and she bit her bottom lip. Too bad she’d sworn off soldiers years ago, because he was one heck of a man. Oh yeah, he was. But she’d seen her mother fret and worry over a man who was gone too often and might never return, right up to the day she’d died two years before, and Cassandra already had her father to worry about. So why was she wondering when he would “ask again”?
Forcing herself to shake off the encounter, Cassandra headed to the lab attached to the tiny corner office she’d claimed as her own on her one previous visit. The area should have been vacant this early in the morning, but Kelly was waiting eagerly for her entrance. They’d had a casual friendship for years, having met at a military seminar. Which made it easy for Cassandra to recognize that though Kelly looked every bit the scholar with her light brown hair neatly piled on top of her head, her lab coat already in place, and a pencil tucked behind her ear, the mischief in her expression meant she didn’t have work on her mind.
“It’s a shame those blue eyes of his are really black now, isn’t it?” she asked.
“Hello and good morning to you too,” Cassandra said, piling her things on top of one of the ten empty lab tables and turning to her. “And what do you mean his eyes are really black?”
“I see someone is behind on their homework,” Kelly said, claiming one of the stools beside Cassandra to sit down. “All of the GTECHs have black eyes, but they can camouflage them to their natural color. Well, except with their bonded females. It’s kind of freaky and amazing at the same time, like about everything else around this place.”
“Clearly I’m way behind on my homework,” Cassandra said, perching on a stool herself, “because I don’t know anything about camouflage and changing eye colors. And what do you mean by bonded females?”
“To date, three random women have experienced pain on the back of their necks shortly after their first sexual encounter with a GTECH. Immediately afterward, a mark appears on their neck resembling a tattoo—a double circle with intricate design work around the outer line. For now, and for lack of a better term, we’re referring to those couples as ‘bonded’ since the mark is clearly some sort of link between the two, though frankly, our understanding of what that means is weak, at best. But the very fact that the GTECHs can’t camouflage their eyes from the female they gave this marking to supports some sort of unique bond.”
Cassandra blinked in amazement. “You’re sure these marks aren’t tattoos and the three women—maybe even the GTECHs—are in on his together—trying to get attention?”
“That was my first thought too, but there’s no ink, and we’ve attempted surgical removal unsuccessfully. The mark regenerates immediately.”
“Wow,” she said, blown away. “Just wow.”
“You can say that again,” Kelly agreed. “One thing about this job—it’s never boring.”
That was an understatement. “Aside from the immunity to the camouflage—what kinds of effects are these marks having on these women?”
“In the women, some specific blood work changes that appear to be nonmalignant. None in the GTECHs involved. Interestingly enough though, the couples are quite attached to one another, and the men quite protective of the women. Now—is that because of the marks? I don’t know. Obviously, these couples were having sex, so they were already attracted to one another. Did the marks occur because of a deeper emotional bond, or did the deeper emotional bond occur because of the marks? I have yet to answer those questions. But, needless to say, we’d prefer to avoid further incidents until we know more. The men weren’t happy when I handed out condoms en masse to the troops. Not needing a condom was a bit of cold comfort for being made sterile by the GTECH injections.”
“You can’t be sure they’ll take precautions though,” Cassandra objected. “What about the dangers to the general population? What if this tattoo marking comes with dangers we don’t know about yet?”
“Two hundred GTECH soldiers and who knows how many sexual partners, yet only three women have been marked. Laboratory studies are inconclusive, but we’ve run test after test, and we’ve found nothing environmental, no set of stimuli, that re-creates that mark. And believe me, we’ve tried thousands of combinations. The odds of this mark spreading across the general population, even with unprotected sex, are next to zero. Even lower if at least a portion of the men actually use the condoms.” She eyed her watch. “The weekly department-heads meeting starts in an hour. It’s always… interesting. Why don’t we grab some coffee, and I’ll brief you before heading in that direction. Bring your files, and I can answer any questions.” The suggestion of coffee sent her thoughts darting to Michael and his words. I’ll ask again . Disconcertedly, Cassandra shook off the memory and cleared her throat, not used to being this distracted unless it was with her work. “Yes. Okay.” She pushed off the lab stool and reached for her files as they headed toward the door.
“You know,” Kelly said, mischief creeping back into her voice as they headed toward the door. “I’ve seen many a woman drool over Michael, but I’ve never seen Michael look at anyone the way he looked at you by that elevator.”
The out-of-the-blue comment took Cassandra off guard, and she cut Kelly a sideways glance. “What look?” she asked, with a delicate snort. “The man was all emotionless steel.”
“Oh, he had a look,” she said. “How does it feel to be wanted by ‘The Dark One’?”
“The Dark One?” Cassandra asked, shaking her head at the strange name.
“That’s what everyone here calls him. You know—because he’s all dark and intimidating.” She laughed. “They’re afraid he’ll kill them if they look at him the wrong way.”
Cassandra gaped. “Kill them?”
Kelly chuckled. “I’m kidding, or mostly kidding. The stories of Michael are darn near legend, though half of them are probably not even true. The whole lethal-in-battle and lethal-in-bed kind of typical soldier talk. They say he’s different than the other GTECHs.” Before Cassandra could ask how, Kelly wiggled an eyebrow and added, “He’s certainly got that tall, dark, and sexy thing going on, doesn’t he?”
Cassandra shook her head. “Oh no. You aren’t luring me into saying he’s sexy. I’m here to do a job, not drool over the soldiers.” Though silently, Cassandra wasn’t sure “sexy” even began to describe Michael’s appeal.
“You don’t have to admit it,” Kelly said. “I saw the look on your face, too, at that elevator.” She grinned. “Just use a condom.”
Heat rushed to Cassandra’s cheeks. She didn’t need a condom! Or a soldier to fret over, especially a man who apparently had plenty of other women to do it for her. No way. She was not having sex with Michael.
Late that evening, Cassandra sat at her simple steel desk in her still barren office—now her home away from her not-so-comfortable home—trying to focus on the GTECH file and failing. She grimaced, giving in to the temptation driving her to distraction, and punched in Michael’s name. He was thirty-four, five years older than she was. Of course, who knew how the GTECH serum would affect his aging process. She could turn into an old lady, and he’d never age a day. She didn’t like that thought much and moved on. He was from California and… holy moly. His family owned Taylor Industries, one of the largest weapons manufacturers in the world.
She sat back in her chair. There was no way his being here was a coincidence. Her father, of course, had to know. She’d bet her weight in chocolate that Michael was here because her father believed he could be useful in the future, if not already. Cassandra sat up, keyed again. Sure enough, Michael had been the only soldier pulled from his Special Ops unit and brought to Groom Lake. Her father was nothing, if not strategic. He’d wanted something from Michael beyond his battlefield skills. He wanted that connection to Taylor Industries.
“What are you up to, Father?” she whispered. “And why do I know it’s not a good idea?” Frowning, she stared at the computer screen. And what made someone like Michael, who had to be filthy rich, join the military? Family trouble was the usual answer. She’d seen it plenty of times. Cassandra tabbed down the computer screen, reading the details of how Michael’s father had died in a small plane crash in Saudi Arabia when Michael was twenty-one. She checked the record. That happened a year after he’d entered the Special Forces. Michael had been on a mission and didn’t hear about the death until after the funeral. His mother now ran Taylor Industries. So even after his father died, Michael had stayed in the army, which meant he wanted nothing to do with the family business. Or his mother didn’t want him involved.
“How’s my favorite daughter doing?”
Cassandra all but jumped out of her skin at the sound of her father’s voice, finding him standing in the doorway, a smile on his face, looking sharp as always in his well-decorated uniform, his gray hair trimmed neatly.
“I’m your only daughter,” she reminded him, wishing he’d share that smile with the staff at Groom Lake who feared him far more than they should. “And that joke is older than you, Father.” She had no idea why she felt like a kid who’d been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.
“The old ones are the good ones,” he said. “Remember that.” In tip-top shape and looking far younger than his fifty-five years, he lent truth to that statement.
“I don’t have to,” she said. “You remind me often.”
He studied her with a critical eye. “Why aren’t you sleeping?”
“I’m a workaholic, like my father,” she said.
“And if your mother were alive,” he said, “she’d hang us both up by our toes.”
Even two years after her mother’s car accident, the reference to her passing made Cassandra’s chest tighten uncomfortably. “As my psychology mentor, she’d be as nuts as I am over the incomplete evaluations done on the GTECHs.”
“I have no doubt,” he said. “But before you dive in and try to conquer a year of what you see as our deficiencies, I want you to focus on a specific list of ten soldiers of special interest to me.”
“What kind of special interest?”
He shut the door. “They’ve all tested positive to a certain gene we’re calling X2. We have animals in the lab also testing positive that are showing aggressive tendencies we need to be certain don’t translate into our GTECH population. We need to rerun all baseline evaluations and whatever extra testing you deem necessary, then ongoing evaluation.” He fixed her in a silvery stare. “The animals and the soldiers seem to be showing the gene growth somewhere in the twelve to fifteen months post-injection range.”
Cassandra ground her teeth. The fact that he, and the government, had withheld the experimental compound of the immunizations from the soldiers was completely despicable. But she’d stated all her objections to how the GTECHs had been created before taking this job. Heard all the vows that the GTECHs were created by accident, when they—meaning the army, though she translated that to her father—were simply protecting them from a biological threat. Considering her father was all about protecting his country at all cost, and though he meant well, often went too far by her standard, she wasn’t completely sure she believed that claim. She suspected she’d hear the soldiers voice the same concerns once she earned their trust, which she fully intended to do. In fact, it was her objections to how the GTECHs were created, and then how little emotional support they’d received regarding that creation—rather than her father’s urging—that had finalized her acceptance. Her father wanted her for the job for her skill and the family loyalty her mother had often given him. But like her mother, who had often worked by her father’s side, Cassandra wanted to help the soldiers he employed. So, like her mother, and out of character to her true self, she did what most people did around her father and bit her tongue.
“Let’s have a father-daughter breakfast in the morning,” he ordered rather than asked. Her father didn’t know how to operate outside of giving orders, even when he simply wanted father-daughter time.
Knowing this, and seeing it as his form of affection, Cassandra smiled. She didn’t always approve of her father’s ways, but she loved him deeply. “I’d like that.”
“I’ll pick you up at seven,” he said, giving her a nod before disappearing out the door, and leaving her with a sense of unidentifiable dread that lingered for the next hour.
Finally, tired and ready for food, she exited the building and headed to her car, only to be greeted by a perfectly flat, perfectly defeating, tire. “Great,” she mumbled, setting her files inside on the backseat and then pulling the tight knot at the back of her hair free to release the ever-growing tension there. She glanced around, looking for the resource never in short supply on a military base—a soldier or two or three, who could be easily convinced to lend a helping hand.
Suddenly, her hair lifted around her neck, a soft breeze picking up momentary speed with a raw masculine scent touching its depths. A second later, Michael appeared before her, as big and broad and devastatingly “sexy” as he had been this morning.
“You really should come with a warning alarm of some sort,” she said, fist balled at her chest to calm her pounding heart.
“So I hear,” he said, his too-blue eyes flickering with a hint of unreadable emotion before he glanced at her tire. “Looks like you need help.”
There was something overwhelming—perhaps decadent even—about this man that had her struggling to remember how to form a proper sentence. “I… yes, please.” Cassandra brushed a lock of blonde hair from her eyes and glanced at the elevator, then him. “Was that you this morning holding the elevator for me?”
He kneeled down to inspect her tire. “Yeah,” he said, tossing her an amused look over his truly spectacular shoulder hugged by a nice, tight black tee. “But apparently, strange men and elevators don’t work for you.”
Cassandra felt her cheeks flush. “I had a call,” she said. The look he gave her said he wasn’t buying it, so she added, “Okay fine. I’m not beyond admitting I was a little intimidated. You wind-walked without any visible wind. I didn’t know that was possible.”
He pushed to his feet and ignored her comment. “You’ve got a screw the size of a rocket launcher in that tire. It’ll have to be replaced.”
Cassandra wasn’t letting him off that easy. “Can everyone wind-walk without any visible wind?”
“I can,” he said, his lids half-veiled now, his jaw a bit more tense. “I don’t pretend to speak for anyone else.”
Kelly’s words played in Cassandra’s head. The stories of Michael are darn near legend. “You’re the only one who can do it, aren’t you? That’s why people talk about you. Because you’re different and it scares them.”
He stepped closer to her, so close she could feel the heat of his body, so close she had to tilt her chin to look him in the eyes. They flickered and then turned solid black. “Do I scare you , Cassandra?”
Oh yeah. He scared her all right, but not for the reasons he assumed. This man reached inside her and demanded a feminine response she wasn’t prepared to give him. In fact, standing there, looking into his eyes—she didn’t care if they were black or blue—they spoke to her in a soul-deep way that told her far more than she thought he knew. He was showing her the GTECH, and instinctively, she knew he needed her to see the man. “I’ll make you a deal, Michael Taylor,” she said. “I’ll be scared of you when you give me a reason to be. But just so you know, being all broody and showing me how well you can shift your eye color isn’t doing the job.”
Surprise flickered across his handsome features, and for a moment she almost thought he might smile. She wanted to see that smile, for reasons she couldn’t explain, and hung on to a thin string waiting for it, until the moment was gone. Until he said, “Let me take you to dinner. I promise to work on being scarier while we eat. And for added effect, I’ll replace your tire when we get back.”
Warnings played in her head at the invitation. He had a slew of females. She didn’t date soldiers. Her father wouldn’t approve. But still, she found herself looking forward to the challenge of enticing that elusive smile. She playfully replied, “I’m up for the challenge if you are.”
Those black eyes shifted back to blue fire, filled with enough heat to make her knees weak. “I guess we’ll see about that.” He fished his keys from his black fatigue pants. “I’m parked over in the corner.”
“What?” she teased. “We have to drive? We don’t get to wind-walk to dinner? Superman used to fly Lois all over the place.”
“While I’m never against a little comic book fantasy,” he assured, “I’m no Superman, believe me, and you’re not Lois—not unless you’re looking for a near-death experience. It’s dangerous for humans. Sometimes even fatal.”
“Oh,” she said, surprised, walking with him toward a row of cars. “That’s limiting. I thought you could just pop in and rescue someone and be done with it.”
“Gives me an excuse to keep Carrie,” he said, stopping next to a classic black Mustang.
“You named your car Carrie?” she asked, surprised yet again by this man. He was far more human than people made him out to be.
“She’s the friend who has never failed me,” he said, pulling the passenger door open and waving her forward.
“She’s also a psycho demon character from a Stephen King novel,” she reminded him. “Not sure that’s a friend I want to have.”
“You won’t say that after you ride in her,” he promised.
All too aware of his warm stare, Cassandra slid into the car, sinking into the soft leather surrounding her, a moment before he shut her inside. The friend who has never failed me. Someone had not only failed Michael in the past, they’d hurt him doing it. And that hurt was a part of how he defined who, and what, he was. Maybe it even made him as lethal as everyone seemed to believe him to be. Maybe she should be afraid of him. So why wasn’t she opening the car door and getting out?
Besides, how could one little dinner date be dangerous?
Michael walked into the Kuwait City Fish Market off Arabian Gulf Boulevard in street clothes—casual jeans, a black T-shirt, and shades covering his eyes. It was two weeks after meeting Cassandra, and he was on a mission, but in one hell of a foul mood, never something that boded well for his enemies. After four casual dates that had somehow not ended up in bed, despite a damn near primal need to strip her naked and have his way with her, Michael had sworn off seeing her again. And not because he wanted to. He wanted that woman like he had never wanted anything. She was full of life and intelligent, like his mother had once been before his father had shredded every bit of soul she possessed. And as his mother often said—Michael was nothing, if not the spawn of his father, a man who knew way more about death than he did about life.
The foul scent of the dead fish flared in his nostrils, made worse by the heat radiating beneath the canvas roof that covered the displays, reminding Michael he had a little of that death to deal today. He hated the smell of dead fish almost as much as he hated the smell of blood, but sources said Raj Mustafad came here every Friday to buy his fish, which meant Michael had to endure the stench. Raj was their link to an Iranian terrorist group which was hell-bent and on their way to the annihilation of Israel by biological attack.
Michael knew the instant Raj walked into the market, having memorized his photos. Three tables of stinking fish separated them, which Michael quickly remedied, fading into the wind and reappearing beside Raj, not giving a crap about witnesses. Not in Kuwait City where people were afraid to speak their names for fear of being stoned to death in the streets.
He grabbed Raj by his long robe and flung him onto the center of one of the tables of fish, the slimy bodies smashing beneath him and flopping off the table. He pointed a gun at the man’s head and spoke in Arabic. “Where are the canisters?”
Screams sounded behind him, as the fish market cleared. Shouts called out for the military forces nearby. The wind shifted, and Michael didn’t have to look to know Caleb and Adam Rain, identical twins, stood behind him, covering his back. He trusted Caleb completely, but Adam, not at all. Adam was a loose cannon developing a God Complex who Michael might one day have to kill to spare Caleb the pain of doing it himself. He suspected that was why Powell kept him paired with the two brothers. Because he knew Michael wouldn’t hesitate to kill Adam no matter how much he respected Caleb. But for now, the two brothers made an impermeable shield, and Michael had a job to do.
Raj continued to plead for his freedom as Michael cocked the gun. “I don’t have time for denial.” There were millions of lives on the line, with reliable intel from the Israeli government that the attack was planned for sometime in the next twenty-four hours. A week and a half of chasing their tails for the details had led to only one person—Raj. He was all they had.
Raj spouted more denials. Michael moved the gun to the man’s ear. “I’ll start here and move on.” Michael fired a warning shot, and Raj screamed as the bullet intentionally grazed his ear.
Gunfire sounded behind him. Caleb shouted at him, “Anytime now, Michael.”
Michael shoved the gun to the man’s crotch. “Last chance.”
Raj spilled his guts before Michael did it for him. Michael released him, and without turning, called out a second before he faded into the wind, knowing Caleb and Adam would follow. “We’re a go.” He wasn’t worried about Raj talking—he’d be killed for being a traitor.
Near sunrise, several hours later, in black fatigues, Michael materialized from inside the wind behind one of the four terrorists, who was arming the unlit fishing boat, and silently snapped the man’s neck. Only a few feet away, two more insurgents were taken out by Caleb and Adam, wearing dark caps to conceal their short, light brown hair. If Raj’s claims were accurate, then in exactly three minutes, a supply jeep would appear on the dark, dirt path leading to the dock—that jeep would hold the live biological agent they’d come for.
Michael quickly scanned for the fourth man, previously missing, but finally located him on the edge of the boat about to jump. Michael simply thought himself beside the man, and the wind made it so. In a matter of ten seconds, he’d snapped the man’s neck. Quickly, he lifted the dead insurgent, dumping him below deck where Caleb and Adam had already stored the other bodies.
The eerie sound of wolves howling ripped through the distant woods. The three GTECHs stood side-by-side, eyes on those woods. Barely audible, Adam said, “Two snipers. Another ten insurgents a half mile down the hill. Here for the same reason as we are. They want the shipment that’s on the way to that boat.”
Michael narrowed his gaze on Adam. “How the hell do you know that?”
“The wolves,” Adam said without looking at him, his attention on the dark line of the trees barely a kilometer away. “They’ve started talking to me.”
What the F? “And do you talk back?” Michael asked.
“Working on that,” Adam said. “I’ll handle the snipers.” The wind lifted a second before he was gone.
Michael cut Caleb a look. “Did you know about this?”
“It started last week on that mission to Asia we went on without you,” he said. “The freaking wolves followed us everywhere.”
Headlights flickered down the dirt path, and Michael and Caleb instantly faded into the shadows, taking cover. Michael took scout position behind the cabin, keeping the approaching target in sight. Caleb crouched low in a dark corner of the boat. The engine grew louder; the canvas-covered truck halted in front of the dock. Doors slammed shut. Male voices rumbled through the air.
The instant the last of the five men stepped on board, leaving the truck and the biological weapons unattended, Adam spoke into his headset. “Go.” He didn’t say “clear,” which translated to: Adam still had his hands full, but he had them covered.
Michael signaled Caleb, and Caleb faded into the wind, going after that biological agent and leaving Michael to deal with the five men. Using the edge of silent wind-walking that made him lethal in ways no other GTECH could be, Michael methodically took out the men. Like a ghost, he appeared behind each, snapping their necks, and then disappearing. In less than a minute, he wind-walked to join Caleb, appearing behind the truck.
Michael found Caleb standing on the back ledge of the vehicle, lifting the canvas covering, unaware that a young boy, maybe fourteen, held a machine gun on his back. Michael drew the semi-automatic at his side, finger on the trigger.
Time seemed to stand still in the three seconds that passed, and that black place he called home when on the battlefield, slipped away. Dealing with the kid soldiers messed with his head. They always had. It was likely that the boy was fighting, serving the terrorists, because his mother—and brothers and sisters, if he had any—had been threatened. The line between killer and victim, man and boy, was skewed, which was the case all too often, yet Michael had never gotten used to it. Today the boy could become a killer and a man, if Michael let him, but then Caleb would be dead. Because even as a GTECH, Caleb had little chance of surviving a machine gun unloaded in the back of the head.
Michael fired his gun, hit the boy with a bullet in each arm, for good measure. The boy fell to the dirt screaming as Caleb jumped to the ground, a grim expression on his face showing he felt the same trauma over the boy that Michael did. “Michael,” he said, “you had no choice.”
The wind rippled as Adam appeared beside the boy and shot him. Michael went cold inside, his gaze connecting with Caleb’s in shared discomfort.
From the nearby woods, a scream cut through the air, and Adam laughed. “The wolves were hungry.” His gaze flickered to the boy. “Piece of shit human.” He kicked the bloody, limp body, and Michael flinched with the action. “They’re all pieces of shit, weak in every possible way.”
He reeled back to kick the boy again, and Caleb grabbed him a second before Michael would have done so himself. “Enough!” Caleb said, glaring at his brother. “He is only a boy. A child and a victim, Adam. Probably trying to save his family.”
Adam grabbed a handful of Caleb’s fatigue jacket. “Oh come on, brother,” he ground out. “Humans are no more than animals. They kill each other. We stop them. And for what? So they can try again. Maybe they are supposed to die so we can thrive.” He let go of Caleb and eyed both of the men. “We evolve as they turn more Neanderthal with every passing day.”
“Damn it, Adam,” Caleb said, scrubbing his day-old stubble. “Stop talking crap. Sometimes I don’t even know who you are anymore. Let’s just do our jobs.” He yanked down the tail of the truck and slid the wooden box forward.
“You’ll come around, brother,” Adam said, and glanced at Michael. “Once you’re a little less human, like me. And Michael.”
That comparison shredded what was left of Michael’s gut. Like me and Michael . Michael glanced between the two brothers, so alike and so different—Caleb, who Michael knew would die to save an innocent human, and who might well have chosen that boy’s life over his own; and Adam, who would kick the child while he was down.
Caleb pulled open the lid and exposed three airtight canisters, small, yet lethal—able to kill hundreds of thousands. Adam reached in and roughly removed a canister. “Eventually there must be an end so that there can be a new beginning.”
There was an evil look in Adam’s eyes that said he was considering opening that canister. Michael readied himself for action as Caleb grabbed his brother’s wrist. “Enough. Put it down, Adam.”
Adam laughed. “Maybe I’ll keep one of these babies for myself.” The wolves in the distance howled as if joining in on the joke. Another glare from Caleb, and Adam returned the canister to the crate and sealed the lid. “I’ll do the honors of taking these to Powell.” He grabbed the crate holding the canisters and faded into the wind.
Caleb cursed and eyed Michael. “I’ll deal with Adam. And Powell.” He disappeared.
Michael felt no compulsion to follow. He just hoped Caleb was truly as prepared as he claimed for what was to come, for the day when Michael would be forced to deal with Adam. A day that was coming sooner than later. The GTECH serum had done something to him, turned him into a monster. Caleb was a good guy, the one who wouldn’t break rules. The one who needed someone like Michael by his side, someone who would.
He glanced down at the blood puddle at his feet, the blood of the young boy, the sight all too familiar, and told himself that every life he had ever taken had been necessary. He wasn’t like his father, who’d sold weapons to foreign countries without concern for who lived or died, or his mother who justified his actions for money and security. Who hated him because he dared to shake up her perfect little world. Nor was he like Adam who killed for amusement. Michael had devoted himself to saving lives, and sometimes that meant taking lives. The GTECH serum had nothing to do with his choices, or Caleb’s, for that matter. Caleb and Michael were not X2 positive. Adam was.
And it meant nothing that Michael and Adam had both developed special gifts—his own ability to communicate with the wind and Adam’s to communication with the wolves. Michael balled his fists at his sides. He wasn’t like Adam, damn it. But you aren’t like Caleb either , the wind seemed to whisper back. In that moment, without any conscious decision to do so, Michael faded into the wind. More and more, it seemed to communicate with him, almost speak to him. And it knew where he wanted to go. It knew he needed an escape, to pretend he was still human—when sometimes he wondered if he had ever really been human.
An hour and a half later, Michael leaned against the back wall of Vegas’s version of Coyote Ugly, known for loud music and hot women in Daisy Dukes and cowboy boots, several of whom were dancing on the bar above the rows of tables.
He had no idea why he was still here, pretending to watch the dancers, why he hadn’t done his normal post-mission roundup of a woman—or two or three—and already gone and buried himself, and the hell of his mission, in their many pleasures. Or why he had to keep talking himself out of going to see Cassandra when he knew damn well that was a bad idea. “What can I do you for, Michael?” There was no mistaking the invitation in the sweet southern drawl of Becky Lee, the twenty-something redhead who’d sidled up beside him and pressed her ample breasts and a sleek body against his side. She knew why he was here as well as he did. A woman liberal with her sexual preferences, willing to try about anything, who didn’t want a commitment, Becky Lee was exactly Michael’s kind of pleasure, and this wouldn’t be the first time she’d serviced his post-mission needs.
Michael eyed her, his gaze raking the curves of her bountiful cleavage, expecting that rush of raw, primal need, the need that beckoned him to seek female comfort and seemed to draw females to his side. That same rush that got worse with every return home since he’d become GTECH. But he felt nothing. Not one damn thing. Michael ground his teeth at the thought. Damn it to hell, what was wrong with him?
He tilted back his beer and downed it, wishing his GTECH metabolism didn’t burn off the alcohol practically before he swallowed. There was no pleasure to be found from booze, just a reminder of exactly what he was trying to escape—that he wasn’t human. But sex gave him escape—sex made him feel alive, gave him a release. Frustration churned in his gut, and Michael grabbed Becky and pulled her with him. He was damn sure getting his escape.
A few seconds later, Michael dragged a laughing, pleased Becky down the deserted hallway, by the restroom, and out the back door exit. The minute they were outside, he pulled her lush curves against him and slid his hand into her silky red hair in preparation to kiss her, but was unable to execute.
Breathlessly, Becky Lee whispered, “I’m dying here, Michael. Kiss me. I need you to kiss me.” But she didn’t need him, not really. She wanted him, wanted the rush of sex with someone who burned for the escape it offered as much as she did. And there was a time when that had been a perfect match for Michael, a time when that made her a short-term kindred spirit. A time when holding a woman and knowing he gave her pleasure made him feel like something other than a monster. But tonight wasn’t that night. Or rather, this wasn’t the woman, any more than any of the others inside that bar were.
Michael released Becky Lee and led her back inside. “What you need is a drink.”
Several minutes later, he exited the back door alone, the need inside him nearly primal now, a need beyond resisting, beyond any form of denial. Michael faded into the wind and reappeared on Cassandra’s back patio.
Near midnight, Cassandra sat in the overstuffed chair in her bedroom, a stack of research papers on her lap, the rare cool evening breeze, compliments of a hit-and-run August storm, drifting past the curtains covering her open sliding-glass doors. She’d dressed for bed and promised herself she’d go to sleep at a reasonable hour, knowing full well that fourteen-hour days were wearing on her. But this X2 research was wearing on her too. There had been five more soldiers who’d tested positive for a total of fifteen. Out of those, a third of them were displaying out-of-character aggression, and as a result, her father wanted all fifteen men turned into pincushions. Washington had supported his immunization program because he’d given them an amazing weapon in the GTECHs. He wasn’t going to risk losing that support, no matter what he put these men through. It was a miracle any of the GTECHs were still sane, but she’d give her father credit, he’d picked soldiers who endured and thrived.
A breeze lifted the curtains ever so slightly, and her gaze shifted to the doorway. Her thoughts immediately went to Michael, wondering when, or if, he’d ask her out again. Every time they got a little steamy, he ran for the hills. With all the heat between them, and all those legendary stories of his conquests, she wasn’t sure what to make of it, but she worried it had something to do with the disapproval she sensed in him when the subject of her father came up. Not that she wanted to be one of his conquests, but well, maybe he could be one of hers.
She laughed at the insanity of that idea and then laughed some more in memory of their second date to play Putt Putt mini-golf when she’d smashed a ball into someone’s car—a BMW, of all makes. The owner had, thankfully, been generous in his forgiveness, but Cassandra had been horrified. That was, until Michael, “The Dark One,” had smiled and kissed her on the nose—she’d forgotten her embarrassment. She remembered looking into his eyes, all twinkling with crystal blue amusement, and feeling a connection. There was something different about him in that moment, beyond the smile she’d finally dragged out of him. He’d let his guard down.
Suddenly, the curtain lifted with a full-out gust of wind, and Cassandra could have sworn it called her name. Almost instantly she shook her head. This crush on Michael was making her crazy.
She set her file on the table beside the chair and pushed to her feet, her sheer white gown settling just above her knees. She intended to shut the back door and go to bed, but was also more than a little eager to peek outside. Pulling back the curtain, she saw the dim glow of her porch light sprayed across the porch, illuminating a tall figure standing several feet away from the doorway.
Cassandra blinked, certain she was imagining Michael standing there, but no, he was actually here, looking as lethally male as ever—and a bit like a warrior of old, with his hair framing that strong face and broad shoulders. That thought sent her stomach on a roller coaster ride. Oh God. He was a warrior—or rather, a soldier who’d just returned from a mission. She knew all about these midnight visits and the bad news that came with them.
She shoved open the screen and stepped in her bare feet toward him, all thought of her sheer gown forgotten. There was only the certainty her world was about to crumble around her. “Tell me. Just tell me now. It’s my father, isn’t it?”
“No,” he said quickly. “Everything is fine. He’s fine.” He scrubbed his jaw. “ Everyone is fine.”
“You’re sure?” she asked, searching his face for confirmation. “Please tell me you’re sure.”
He nodded sharply. “Yes,” he said. “I’m sure.”
“Oh thank God,” Cassandra said, letting out a relieved breath, her hand still pressed to her chest where her heart had darn near ripped a hole. For all her father’s flaws, he was all she had, and she loved him.
“I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said, taking a step backwards. “Coming here was a mistake.”
“Wait!” she said quickly, certain he was about to disappear, closing the distance between them and grabbing his arm. “Please. Don’t go. You came here for a reason, and you haven’t even told me what that is.” But she could see from the tension in his expression, he’d already shut her out. She didn’t want him to shut her out. “Talk to me, Michael. What happened? Was it a mission?”
He hesitated, and said softly, “It’s always a mission.”
So something was wrong. Something had upset him, and he’d come here, to her, for comfort. Her heart swelled with that knowledge. Michael, who shut out everyone, had come to her. Her fingers slid down his arm to his hand. She drew it into hers. “Can you talk about it?”
“I wouldn’t if I could,” he said. “It’s nothing you want to hear.”
“I’m pretty tough,” she promised.
He pulled her close and held her, burying his face in her hair, the warmth of him surrounding her. “I know you are,” he said softly. “And too good for the hell of my life. Which is why I feel so damn selfish for needing you.”
He tried to set her away from him, as if he planned to leave. Cassandra held tight, shocked by his confession, by his vulnerability. “You aren’t going anywhere without me. I won’t let you push me away. I need you too.”
The fire in his eyes was instant, the low guttural moan that slid from his throat, primal. She barely remembered the moment he lifted her, hands intimately palming her backside. There was only the passionate wildness of his kiss and the need to wrap herself around him, to get close and then closer. She didn’t even remember entering the house—completely out of her conservative nature. He could have taken her on the patio, and she would have begged him to take her again. She just wanted him, and yes, needed him.
Somehow, they made it to the mattress, her on her back and her gown on the floor. But shyness jolted her out of her wanton abandon when he rolled to his side, still fully clothed, and flattened his hand on her stomach, his gaze hot in its perusal.
Cassandra tried to sit up, but his hand pressed her back in place.
“What are you doing?” she asked, suddenly feeling exposed, vulnerable herself now. Why wasn’t he as lost in passion as she was?
“Admiring you,” he said, his hand gently brushed her nipple, and she barely contained a moan. She didn’t want to be out of control when he was not.
He slid back on top of her, as if he sensed she was ready to bolt, trapping her beneath his big body and spreading her legs with his knees. Long raven hair framing his shoulders, reminding her again of a warrior—a wild, wicked warrior. Her warrior. It was a crazy thought, as wild and wicked as the man. But for tonight, he was hers, for tonight there was only the two of them, only the need that she saw in his eyes, tasted on his lips as they brushed gently over hers.
“This is the part where you relax and let me show you how beautiful you are.” He kissed her neck, her ear. “So very beautiful.” And so he did—slowly, seductively, perfectly. She lost herself to pleasure, lost time, lost coherent thought, as Michael’s mouth found her breasts, her nipples, the aching V of her body. There was something magical about the way he touched her, the way he looked at her, that stole the inhibitions of her past and demanded she give herself fully to him. That demanded she lose herself and find him.
His tongue brushed her nipple, and her back arched, a soft moan slipping from her lips. He lifted his head, his crystal blue eyes touching hers, brimming with molten heat.
“I like it when you moan for me.”
She touched his face, wanting so desperately to know the man beneath the warrior. “Your eyes,” she said. “Show me the real color.” She felt, rather than saw, his reaction, the instant tension in his body and responded. “The real you. That’s who I want. That’s who I need .”
He stared at her, unmoving, barely breathing, until his mouth was on hers, hot and demanding, drawing her into a frenzied burn of pure hot sensation. Their hands were all over each other, their clothes vanishing. She never felt such an ache to feel skin against skin.
Time faded into moans, into sighs, into the ache of her body’s need for him to be inside her that had her calling out when he pushed away from her to stand at the end of the bed—naked, rippling perfection, every bit as delicious as she’d imagined. Instinct sent her to the edge of the mattress, eager to touch him again, to feel him and look at him. He reached for her and pulled her with him as he sat down on the chair. “I need to be inside you, Cassandra,” he said, easing her legs across him.
“Yes,” she agreed breathlessly, letting him brace her as she slid down the long, hard length of him until he was buried deeply, completely.
His hand tangled in her long blonde hair, gently tugging her mouth to his. “Do you feel how much I need you?” His hips shifted, his cock expanding within her, stroking her with one long, teasing caress.
“Yes,” she gasped as he did it again.
His eyes shifted blue to black. “Are you scared now, Cassandra?”
She didn’t want to fall for a soldier, didn’t want to worry or be hurt, and her heart said it was too late. She wasn’t falling for him. She’d fallen. “Yes,” she whispered, leaning back farther, ensuring that he could see the emotion behind her words. “You scare the hell out of me, Michael Taylor.”
“The feeling is mutual, sweetheart,” he said, before he claimed her mouth in a hot, hungry kiss that paled to the wildness that followed. He let her feel the vulnerability and pain behind each stroke of his cock, each caress of his tongue. He needed her, and that didn’t scare her. But how much she needed him… did.
Michael wasn’t good for Cassandra. He knew it. He was pretty damn sure she knew it too. But there was an odd feeling of peace inside him while he was with her, a feeling that almost— almost—as impossible as he thought it to be—made him feel human.
Michael had told himself to leave before she woke up, to make last night a mistake not to be repeated. But after getting dressed, he’d sat down in that chair where they’d made love and was still there when her alarm went off. And damn if he wasn’t glad he’d stayed around because seeing her with her hair wild and her lips swollen from his kisses, was an invitation to a good morning that had him following her to the kitchen while she made coffee.
“I hope you like your caffeine so strong it’ll peel your eyelids back,” she said, a few minutes later in the kitchen.
“The stronger the motor oil,” he said, leaning an elbow on the cabinet across from her, “the better.”
She smiled her approval, turned to the cabinet, and pushed to her tip toes, trying to reach a mug. Michael would have helped her, but he was too busy admiring her cute heart-shaped butt, outlined in silk, and trying to talk himself out of setting her up on that counter and taking her right here and now.
She turned to face him, mugs in hand. “You GTECHs might not need much sleep, but I—” A gasp cut off her words, the mugs flying in the air, as her knees buckled.
Michael caught her around the waist, and she collapsed against him. “My neck,” she whispered, barely able to speak. “It… hurts.” She balled her fists on his chest, desperation in her pain-stricken face.
He lifted her and carried her to the couch, sitting down and cradling her shaking body in his arms. “Easy, sweetheart,” he soothed, running his hand over her hair. He didn’t have to look at her neck to know what was happening, any more than he imagined she did. He’d known to stay away from her, known he was treading dangerous waters, and now, he’d marked her.
Long minutes later, she eased off his lap onto the cushion. “I’m okay. I think it’s passing now.” They stared at each other several tense seconds before she confirmed she was thinking the same thing he was when she said, “You should check my neck.”
He nodded, and she slowly turned, lifting her hair to expose her neck. The instant Michael saw that mark on her skin, a rush of pure white-hot possessiveness flared inside him. He wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her to him, pressing his lips to the double circle on her neck, wanting nothing more than to make love to her, to mark her yet again as his.
“Michael,” she whispered, leaning into him, and he could feel her responding to his need, feel the passion turning damn near combustible. “Is it…?”
“Yes,” he said, turning her in his arms, resting his forehead against hers. They were both breathing heavily, both barely controlling themselves. His fingers brushed her cheek.
Her hand covered his, holding it to her face as if she couldn’t bear to lose the touch. “I should call Kelly.”
“No,” he said, fixing her in a stare, letting her see just how wild the fire was in his eyes. “No one can know about this. I won’t let you get turned into a lab rat. Not because of me.”
“I trust Kelly,” she said. “She’ll keep this to herself.”
“Until something worries her and she feels obligated to tell your father,” he said, releasing her, trying to get himself under control—feeling protectiveness fill the space that had been possessiveness and passion only moments before.
He pushed to his feet and ran his hand over his head, giving her his back, knowing he had to make her understand the importance of keeping their bond a secret. And so, he did the only thing he knew to do—he admitted to her what he had told no other—not even Caleb, who he trusted with his life. “You were right—that first day we met.” He kept his back to her, avoiding any fear he might see in her eyes. “I am different than the other GTECHs.”
“The wind,” she said softly prodding. “You have a special bond of some sort with it.”
He turned to face her, not even trying to mask the emotion in his face. She looked small, her long hair pushed behind her ears, exposing the uncertain emotion in her eyes. For a moment, he had to remind himself she might look and feel, even smell, like a delicate little flower in his arms, but she was tough. Otherwise she couldn’t stand up to her father, as he’d already figured out, she did often. She could deal with the truth, just like she dealt with him. “Yes. Yes, I have some special connection to it, and who knows what else I don’t know about yet. I won’t let you end up under a microscope because of me. You have access to all the testing being done on the other marked women. You’ll know what you need to know.” He went to her then, bent down on one knee, and rested his hands on hers. “You can’t tell Kelly or anyone else. I was selfish coming to you last night, and I will never forgive myself for that. But I’m telling you right now, I will do anything, and everything, no matter what cost to me, to protect you from any harm from this. This is our secret.”
She hesitated, her expression cloudy, confused, before she nodded. “Yes. Yes okay. It’s our secret.”
He pulled her close, his relief at her agreement little comfort, knowing that there was no known weapon, no GTECH skill, no drug that could undo what he’d done. He’d just changed Cassandra’s life forever.
Cassandra stood at the grill on her back patio, while Michael scavenged in the kitchen for some manly utensil he couldn’t do without. It was an unseasonably warm day in November, six months since that day the mark had appeared on her neck, and she felt exactly the same as before it had appeared. But their relationship had not stayed the same—their bond was stronger, the passion, their need , so intense she could taste him on her lips just by thinking of him, feel his approach in the tingle on the back of her neck. This bond was something all the marked couples shared and the reason the scientific team now called the bonded males and females “Lifebonds,” to signify a marriage by nature. But since the lifebond research had been classified beyond her clearance several months earlier, she knew little else. Ironically though, Michael’s seemingly intense need to conceal their lifebonding from the rest of the world didn’t leave him much room to protect her from the monster he considered himself.
“Step aside,” Michael ordered from behind, a moment before he stepped to the edge of the grill with a fork the size of Texas in his hand, his long raven hair bristling in the light breeze.
“Oh good grief.” She laughed. “That thing belongs on a battlefield, not at the grill.” She’d barely gotten the words out when several cold raindrops splattered on her face. She eyed the dark line of clouds hovering above, ready to explode on their little outdoor adventure at any moment. She cast Michael a hopeful look. “I don’t suppose you can handle the rain like you do the wind, and you just haven’t told me yet?”
“No, but I cook a mean steak,” he said, patting her blue-jean-shorts-clad backside. “And if I don’t get them inside on the stove before the downpour, you might have to discover that talent another day.”
Her stomach rumbled with the promise of a good meal, and she rushed into action by his side, grabbing the wine and two long-stemmed crystal glasses sitting on the steel patio table. Both the wine and the glasses were gifts from Michael, made more thoughtful and wonderful because they came after he’d learned she had a thing for trying new wines. Turned out, his mother had as well. It was one of the few tidbits about his family she’d managed to get out of him. But one day, she vowed, she’d unveil all the hidden pieces of the puzzle that was Michael.
He headed toward the door with the steaks loaded on top of a foil-covered pan, but on second thought, stepped backwards and snatched the Texas-sized fork off the grill. “Can’t leave without my weapon,” he teased, a smile lifting his lips a moment before he disappeared inside the house.
Cassandra stared after him, that smile warming her, telling her the walls were coming down, one by one. That only made the guilt she felt about keeping a secret from him all the more intense. Several months before, when tensions had risen between X2 positives and negatives on a mission, her father had sealed all the test results so that none of the soldiers knew who was positive and who was negative. But she knew Michael was on that X2 positive list, just like she knew what it would do to him if he ever found out.
Not long after the base had cleared for the evening, Powell walked through the animal lab, inspecting the cages riddled with dead, X2-positive animals after they’d finished attacking each other. He couldn’t believe this had happened after he’d finally received the phone call he’d been campaigning for since before the first GTECH injection had been given—an invitation to the White House by the secretary of state. The president and chiefs of staff were pleased with the GTECH program and had high hopes for both it and Powell. But they wanted to be absolutely confident that the program could not backfire in their faces. It was his chance to show he was one of the great leaders of this country. But now there was this X2 gene problem.
“Their behavior,” Dr. Chin said from behind him, “was not only widespread, but sudden and unexpected. This supports the theory of a trigger setting them off. There is no indicator of what that might be.”
Powell’s gaze lingered on one of the cages before he turned to face Dr. Chin, director of science and medicine for Project Zodius. Dr. Chin had proven to be admirably ambitious and loyal beyond the expectations of his employment by the U.S. government. “Who else knows about this?”
“Myself and my assistant, Ava Lane. The rest of the staff had already left for the day.”
Powell eyed the curvy redhead on the other side of the glass panel as she studied a slide under a microscope; she’d made it onto his radar for more than her sultry looks. Ava had masterminded a blood exchange between one of the marked women and her male partner. The result was that the woman converted to GTECH without using the limited supply of serum.
Powell cut Chin a sideways look. “And Dr. Peterson?” he asked, well aware that Kelly Peterson often lunched with his daughter.
“Left shortly before the animals’ erratic behavior began. I thought you’d want to know before anyone else.”
“As it should be,” Powell approved. “No one else knows.” Especially his daughter. Cassandra had done her job as he knew she would—meticulously reporting the soldiers’ mental capacities as slightly aggressive within normal ranges, despite her warnings this could change. A detail that had pleased the White House, but defied what he saw before him today in these X2 animals. She wouldn’t understand why her tests were not enough. He motioned to the cages. “Do what you have to so that it remains that way. Is there any more ‘kick in the teeth’ news you care to share, Chin?”
“Not only is the marked female converted to GTECH, but the female will become X2 positive if her Lifebond is X2 positive. Early stage laboratory studies support a hypothesis that the ‘Lifebonds’ become capable of reproducing once the blood exchange is complete, though the men were previously infertile.”
“Fabulous,” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “So now we can breed X2 monsters. That should please the White House.” He walked toward the cages, scrubbing his palm across his face, all too aware he was backed into a corner. The X2s were simply too big a potential liability to be ignored. There was only one way to avoid long-term confinement of the X2s, and he knew it. Red Dart. Created by an alien crystal, the laser inserted a chemical into the target’s bloodstream, allowing for both tracking and control by torture. It had been confiscated from an alien shipwreck some fifty years ago, but was never successfully manifested for use. When he’d seen the writing on the wall—that human law was no means to manage inhuman soldiers—he’d covertly confiscated the research.
He rotated to face Chin. “We’re using Red Dart. Now. Today. I don’t care how risky, how potentially fatal. I don’t care. Just make it work.”
“Science does not take orders, General,” Chin said. “Nor will it be rushed. Again, as I’ve told you numerous times, Red Dart was designed for humans, not GTECHs. And even in humans, it’s killing the carrier rather than torturing them. The GTECHs are another story. Death isn’t my concern—they heal too rapidly. It’s the application. Their immune systems destroy the tracking dart before it ever hits the bloodstream, which is necessary for it to function properly. It’s worthless until I figure out how to trick their immune systems into seeing Red Dart as part of its normal operating system.”
Silently, Powell cursed, using every profane word in the dictionary. And some that were not. Outwardly, he remained cool, collected. “If I double your funding, how soon can it be ready?”
“A year,” Chin said quickly. “Maybe longer. Too long, considering we have no idea what set off the violence in these animals to begin with. The X2 positive soldiers could do the same thing at any given moment.”
The words ground through Powell’s stomach. Every fucking thing he’d worked for could be flushed down the toilet over this. “You’re certain it’s X2 related?” he asked.
“I am of the belief that all GTECHs are the unknown and thus volatile,” Chin said. “Exactly why I’m willing to work on Red Dart. But specifically,” he motioned to the cages, “this threat is directly linked to the X2 gene.”
Confining those X2s, a group of nearly invincible soldiers, would take strategic planning, substantial manpower, and a creative story prepared for the secretary of state. His mind ran down a path that twisted and turned. Thankfully, the soldiers had never been told about the X2 gene, so there would be no connecting the dots. He’d tell the X2s they were being reassigned for further alien enhancements and given a new serum to make them bigger and stronger. They’d go willingly, then be lured to containment cells under the guise of protecting the medical personnel from potential side effects. The secretary of state would be pleased they were moving to another level of development with Zodius. This would buy him time.
A smile touched his lips. There was a reason he was headed for the White House. No challenge was too great.
Adam Rain lurked in the shadows of the parking lot outside the launch pad leading to the underground Groom Lake facility as the elevator opened and Ava exited. His eyes followed the sultry strut of her hips as she approached, admiring her long legs. She was the woman who secretly wore his mark. The woman who would one day, when the time was right, bear his child, a child who would be the future leader of a new superpower, the Zodius Nation. It would be a nation free of weakness and crude, human diseases. Adam’s nation. And that day was almost here.
Ava approached, and Adam pulled her hard into his arms, his hand molding her soft, hot body against his, and kissed her, feeding the wild hunger inside himself before tearing his mouth from hers. “What was so urgent it could not wait? Or were you simply urgent to feel me inside you again, my little Ava?”
Her hands pressed to his chest, her eyes wide with urgency. “It’s Powell.” She panted past the kiss. “He’s afraid of the X2 positives. He plans to imprison them.”
Anger ripped through him. “When?”
“Tomorrow,” she said, her eyes sparking with matching anger.
Adam cursed. The underground facility he’d funded through private investors with the promise of converting them to GTECHs wasn’t ready yet, nor had they gotten their hands on the serum to mass produce it. Perhaps there was a bright side to this. His brother had been clinging to humanity’s goodness, the same humanity that was about to cage the GTECHs and throw away the key. Perhaps even exterminate them, which is what he would tell his followers, accurate or not. Even Caleb would see the writing on the wall that humans corrupted everything they touched. It was us or them—and the stronger group, the GTECHs, would prevail.
“My following at Groom Lake runs deep,” he said, and not just with GTECHs. The human soldiers sent to battle in their natural, vulnerable form, resented being denied GTECH conversion. “We’ll have no problem seizing control.”
“The army will bring in reinforcements,” she warned.
“The army will fear aggressive action that might alert the humans to an alien takeover,” he said. “Any attempts to stop us will be weak, and we will prevail.”
His fingers wrapped around the back of her neck and pulled her close. “Do not fear, my beauty. Soon you will be the queen of a new nation that will grow and prosper. No one will stop us.”
“No one will stop us,” she whispered.
After eating their barbecue feast, an attempt to watch a movie was waylaid by passion. Hours of passion. Hours of wonderful, amazing passion. Cassandra lay curled on Michael’s chest in the middle of a blanket on the living room floor, naked and only half-sated, the rain having long ago passed. She felt warm and wonderful inside, and she knew this was the moment—the time to share her past and tell him about her mother. She couldn’t explain why, but she needed to do this.
But before she got the chance, he rolled her onto her back, his long raven hair tickling her cheeks, those black eyes piercing hers with emotion. “Cassandra,” he said softly. “Do you know how much I—?” The wind gusted through the window, permeating the curtains and splattering rain onto the tiled kitchen floor.
Michael went ramrod stiff, the confession he’d been about to make lost to the interruption, leaving Cassandra hanging on his words. A second gust of wind shot through the window, unnatural, like a demand. That gust confirmed in her mind that whatever was happening was created by “someone,” not the “something” of Mother Nature.
Further confirmation came with Michael’s reaction. “Stay here,” he ordered, not waiting for a reply. This was the soldier she knew as part of him, and that soldier wasn’t in “welcome” mode. He was dressed in seconds and out the door, pulling it shut behind him.
Cassandra slipped on her tank top and shorts, foregoing her shoes out of urgency. Unexplainable dread twisted in her gut, a sense of unease inside her that pulsed with life as she peered through the curtains. Adam and Michael stood outside facing each other, the wind whistling briskly around them—and as she had discovered these past months, the wind did not move, certainly did not whistle, unless Michael allowed it to do so. No one else had that power. Until now, she’d assumed his fellow GTECHs knew that, but she wasn’t so sure. Because either Michael was concealing his ability, or he was too pissed to bother with controlling the wind. Or both. Adam set Michael on edge. She’d seen it when they were together, sensed it with the simple mention of Adam’s name. Caleb was another story. Michael’s admiration for him was clear.
Michael knew Adam was X2 positive, and he knew Caleb was not. If Michael knew that he himself was X2 positive, he’d think he was like Adam, and she wasn’t going to let that happen. As much as she feared losing the hard-earned trust between them, she had come to know she loved Michael, too much to see him condemn himself unfairly. The wind shifted, pressing against the window. It was then that Caleb appeared, and Cassandra felt a sense of relief that was short-lived. Even without sound, it was clear from the body language and expressions that while Michael listened intently, Adam and Caleb were in a heated exchange. When finally Caleb and Adam departed, Michael walked back to her, his face grim, far more turbulent than the storm now passed; she felt her stomach twist with the certainty that something was terribly wrong.
Her hand shook as she opened the door to greet him. “What’s wrong? What’s going on?” She moved back into the kitchen to allow him to enter. He stayed on the patio, distant, and not just physically. “Michael?”
He grabbed her then and pulled her to him, hands laced in her hair. “No matter what happens to me,” he said, “do not tell anyone you wear my mark.”
“What?” she gasped. “Why? What’s going on?”
“Promise me, Cassandra. No matter what. No matter how things seem, you stay silent.”
“I… okay. Yes. We already agreed I—” He kissed her then, swallowing her objections in a deep, passionate, I-really-care-about-you, but I’m-saying-good-bye kind of kiss that ended with him fading into the wind.
Her eyes prickled, dampness clinging to her cheeks. Because wherever Michael had gone, he didn’t believe he was coming back.
Monday morning, dressed for work, her purse on her shoulder, Cassandra was in heavy pursuit of her keys, which she’d somehow misplaced, when she stepped into the slim hallway leading to the living room and stopped dead in her tracks. The scent, so uniquely Michael, laced the air.
A memory took shape in the shadowy recesses of her mind—of waking up with a tingle at the back of her neck that she’d only recently started to feel when he was near. Had he been here? While she slept? She shook her head. No, that was nuts. She hadn’t seen or heard from him since Saturday night. She glanced at the clock on the wall and shook off the memory, cringing with her tardiness. She’d arranged to have ten lab techs begin a round of brainwave testing on the soldiers as of mid-morning, and she still had preparations to do.
Another ten minutes of searching for her keys, and she gave in and called Kelly to come get her. “You lost your keys?” Kelly said. “How very unCassandra-like of you.”
Five minutes later, Kelly pulled her blue Camry to the curb and shoved the passenger’s door open.
“Something is going on,” Cassandra said the minute she slid inside, as she started replaying the events of the weekend.
“Adam’s involvement is enough to make me nervous,” Kelly said, cutting her a worried look. “I don’t care what your profiles say about the man being within normal aggressive range. When you look into his eyes, pure evil looks back. I am betting these brainwave tests of yours are going to be far more revealing than discovering the X2 gene has been.”
Cassandra’s cell phone rang, and she fished it out of her purse, silently wishing for a call from Michael. Instead, it was one of her staff members. The call was quick, and she hung up more worried than ever.
“Okay, Kelly. Now I know something is wrong. My staff received a memo that all soldiers scheduled for the brainwave testing were indefinitely reassigned.”
“Reassigned?” Kelly quaked, whipping into the main parking lot. “What does ‘reassigned’ mean? As in another military base? The GTECHs?”
“I don’t know,” Cassandra said, motioning across the parking lot as she spotted her father in deep conversation with a ranking officer. “But I intend to find out.” The minute the car stopped, Cassandra was out of the door, purse over her shoulder. “I’ll meet you in the lab.” She slammed the door and took off across the pavement, her black high-heels pounding across the concrete slab.
“Father!” she yelled, making sure he knew she was here and wasn’t about to let him get away.
With a barely-there glance over his shoulder, he offered a short wave of acknowledgement and continued speaking to the officer. About the time Cassandra reached the two men, the officer saluted and then headed across the parking lot.
“I’m on my way to a meeting,” her father said. “Whatever you need is going to have to wait.” He started walking away, dismissing her.
She double-stepped to keep up with him, firming her voice. “I just heard that some of the GTECHs in my studies have been reassigned. Why wasn’t I told?”
“You’ll get a briefing when everyone else does,” he said, quickening his pace.
She grabbed his arm, drawing him to a halt. “Don’t dismiss me like I’m one of your soldiers.” He’d apparently forgotten she could be as dogmatic as her mother when she wanted answers. “You brought me here to do a job. I need to know what’s going on to do it. I can quit. They can’t.”
“You try my nerves, Cassandra. You are my daughter, but you are also an employee of the base who will get the information as I deem it necessary.”
“I can’t do my job without proper communication. I had expensive, specialized testing scheduled this morning that just got flushed down the drain.”
“Duty first, Cassandra,” he said tightly. “I’ve taken command of a secondary base which required immediate high-level security. You’ll find a list of soldiers removed from evaluation status is already in your inbox.”
“How many soldiers?” she demanded.
That was one-fourth of the GTECHs. “What about our research? We don’t know enough about the GTECHs to simply send them off to duty like any other soldier.”
“Dr. Chin left this morning with the troops,” he said. “He’ll oversee the scientific monitoring and research of the GTECH program. Dr. Peterson will be promoted in his absence.”
Nothing about this felt right. “You relocated Michael, didn’t you?”
“He met certain requirements for the assignment, yes.”
Yet Michael hadn’t said he was being relocated. Michael would have said good-bye. “What requirements?”
“He’s a cold-hearted killer,” he said. “Never blinks an eye at a command, no matter how bloody it may be.”
She all but visibly flinched at both the tone and content of the statement. He knew she was seeing Michael and had made his disapproval known, but now he was going too far. “If you have something to say to me, Father, say it, but don’t involve Michael. And don’t judge him for doing what you order him to do.”
“I don’t remember saying I was judging him at all,” he replied dryly. “I simply answered your question. You wanted to know what requirements Michael met for his relocation, to which I replied—he’s a cold-hearted killer.”
He’d said it again, and added even more bite. Her mind tracked back to the night before. To Michael’s words. No matter what happens to me, do not tell anyone you wear my mark. And considering Caleb and Adam’s visit had sparked the warning, she was beginning to piece this together. “Were Caleb and Adam also relocated?”
“Adam, yes,” he stated. “Caleb, no.”
That horrible feeling in her chest spread to her stomach. Adam, the man Kelly had just referred to as “evil,” had gone with Michael. Caleb had not. And now her father was basically accusing Michael of enjoying the act of killing. “What have you done, Father?”
The question was swallowed as the humid Nevada wind rushed against them—unnatural, violent—a second before Adam Rain solidified in front of them and dropped a limp body onto the hood of the Jeep.
“He tried to lock me in a cage,” Adam declared, glaring at her father, black eyes framed by sculpted bone structure. His full lips twisted in contempt. “That’s a good way to piss me off.”
Shock held Cassandra, eyes riveted on the broken man on the truck, blood trickling from his mouth. The wind lifted again, tangling the loose hair around Cassandra’s neckline and throwing dirt and rock from the nearby desert terrain at her feet. Relief washed over Cassandra as the mark on the back of her neck tingled with the certainty that Michael approached. Michael could control Adam, where her father could not.
Michael appeared beside Adam, and four more GTECHs formed a V formation behind the two of them—as if they were standing behind their leaders, as if Michael stood with Adam. Cassandra rejected the warning sizzling down her spine. Michael worked with Adam, ran missions with Adam. To see them together was not abnormal. But there was that warning, growing stronger by the second. And he wasn’t looking at her. Why wasn’t he looking at her?
“Michael?” she said, needing him to look at her, to reassure her everything was okay.
“Go inside, Cassandra,” her father ordered.
“Yes,” Adam agreed. “Go inside, Cassandra. That is, unless you want to watch your father bleed to death.”
Cassandra’s gaze rocketed to Michael, and she stepped toward him. The wind gusted, as if in response, pushing her backwards several steps. She stumbled and somehow regained her footing, only to be pushed backwards yet again.
Her chest tightened as she saw her father step toe-to-toe with Adam, and desperately she searched for help, finding that the parking lot had turned into a ghost town. Everything about this was wrong. Everything spelled disaster in the process. She forced herself to turn and run toward the elevator, telling herself Michael would protect her father, Michael would handle Adam. She had to warn the others on the base, to call for backup. She punched the elevator button and refused to look behind her, unable to face the prospect that her father might be lying dead on the ground.
“Michael will save him,” she said, the verbal assurance allowing her to rush into the open elevator.
The minute the car hit basement level, she charged out of the doors. “Help! I need help!” But there was no one where there were usually many, and the red emergency phone was ripped from the wall.
“Kelly,” she whispered and took off running, her heart in her throat. Please let Kelly be okay.
Cassandra burst through the doors of the lab where she’d told Kelly she would meet her and stopped dead in her footsteps. Ava Lane, with whom Cassandra had never shared more than an uncomfortable greeting, stood alone, arms crossed in front of her full bosom, the glint of evil in her pale green eyes enough to send a chill down Cassandra’s spine.
“In a hurry?” she asked.
“Late for work,” Cassandra said, trying to act nonchalant as she started to rush past Ava, with one intention—to call Caleb. Michael trusted Caleb.
“At one point I thought you were Michael’s intended Lifebond,” Ava said. “But no Lifebond would keep the secret you kept from him. I would certainly never keep any secret from Adam.”
The biting accusation, along with the obvious proclamation that she was Adam’s Lifebond, stopped Cassandra in her tracks. She and Ava were nearly face-to-face now, only a few steps separating them before Cassandra would have stepped around the lab table. “What are you talking about?”
“Michael knows he’s X2 positive,” she said. “And he knows you knew and didn’t tell him. Did you know your father was going to lock him away because of it?”
“No,” she said, her throat dry. “No. That’s not what was supposed to happen. My father—”
“—should be thanked,” she said. “He gave us a reason to act. Once we’ve claimed control of the base, we will begin to create a new world, free of weak, useless humans like yourself. It is the nature of evolution, a chance for a better Zodius race.”
Cassandra pressed her hand to her temple, willing herself to think logically, to remain calm. Again, she replayed Michael’s words in her mind. No matter what happens, do not tell anyone you wear my mark . It had been a warning—about this, about Adam and Ava.
Ava’s cell phone buzzed, and she glanced at the screen. “Darn,” she said. “Adam needs me. I was really hoping to stick around for the special treat Michael has lined up for you.” She laughed. “Bet you can’t wait to find out what it is.” She waggled her fingers and headed for the door.
The instant Ava was gone, Cassandra bolted for her office to call for help, only to find her phone and computer ripped from the wall. She raced around her desk to the bottom drawer where she kept the Glock her father had taught her to shoot when she was twelve, only to come up dry again. The drawer was open, the gun gone.
She leaned on the desk, defeated. “Think Cassandra. Think. What now?”
The mark on her neck began to tingle, and she reacted immediately. “Michael,” she yelled, certain he hadn’t betrayed her. Certain he was here to save her.
But when she rounded the doorway and brought the lab into view, her hope and her world crumbled at her feet. Michael was, indeed, there, but he wasn’t alone. He had her father in front of him, and he held a blade at his throat. Blood trickling from an open wound, no doubt the method used to keep him from warning her.
“Michael,” she whispered, her eyes prickling with unshed tears. “Please don’t do this.”
The plea had barely left her lips when Michael lifted a gun and pointed it at her. Time stood still as she stared down at the tranquilizer in her arm, and then the world that had crumbled went black.
Cassandra woke abruptly, climbing through the darkness of a deep sleep to jerk to a sitting position, quickly registering that she was in a bed, steel rails on either side of her. An IV hung from her arm. Green curtains covered the windows to the right. She was in the hospital.
“Easy, sweetie,” came Kelly’s gentle voice, as her friend rushed out of the nearby restroom. “I knew you’d wake up while I was in there.”
Kelly. Kelly was here. Cassandra cut through the tangled memories weaving through the blank spots of her mind. Michael’s betrayal. The knife. “My father!” she exclaimed urgently, adrenaline rocketing her heart monitor into a series of fast beeps. “Is my father—?”
“Alive and unharmed,” Kelly said, sitting on the edge of the bed. Her eyes were red, her attire casual jeans, and an out-of-character, wrinkled T-shirt. “He had to fly to Washington to deal with the aftermath of Adam’s takeover of Groom Lake.” Her gaze took on a distant look. “I swear, that day was a nightmare I will not soon forget.”
“That day?” Cassandra queried quickly, her hands going to the steel bars. “How long have I been out? What happened to me?”
A nurse rushed into the room. “You’re awake!”
“Please,” Cassandra said, holding up a hand. “I’m fine. Just give me a minute.”
“I need a minute,” Cassandra said forcefully.
Kelly flashed the badge on her chest. “She’s in good hands. Give us that minute.” Reluctantly the nurse nodded and exited the room.
The moment she was gone, Cassandra asked again, “How long have I been out?”
“Three days,” Kelly said. “You hit your head when, ah, Michael tranquilized you.” She stood up and filled a glass with some water and handed it to her. Cassandra waved it off. Kelly stood her ground. “Drink.”
Cassandra accepted the glass, the cool liquid soothing her throat, but not her heart. Michael had tranquilized her. That part she remembered all too well. She could still see his black eyes in that moment when he’d fired the gun—cold and calculating. She shivered and handed the glass back to Kelly before leaning against the mattress and crossing her arms over the hospital gown.
Her voice softened as she asked, “How did we get out?”
“Caleb,” she said. “And thank God for him, though I cannot imagine what it must have been like to stand against his brother. Apparently, Adam had been planning a revolt for some time. Caleb had been working to head it off. But when your father suddenly decided to throw the X2 positive men into confinement, he forced Adam’s hand.”
“Michael…” A lump formed in her throat, and she had no idea what she’d wanted to say.
Kelly squeezed her arm. “He’s alive, if that’s what you want to know. With Adam, Cassandra. At least seventy-five GTECHs and almost the entire medical and military staff at Groom Lake followed him.”
She remembered Ava’s vow. “Did they get the serum?”
Kelly nodded and rolled the doctor’s stool to the side of the bed before sitting down. “Enough to create two to three hundred GTECHs. That’s a lot of GTECHs, but not enough for the world domination that Caleb says Adam has his sights set on.”
World domination. This could not be happening. “Can’t he duplicate the serum?”
“I’m sure he thinks he can,” she said. “But he can’t. And neither can we. The original sample was destroyed, and the alien DNA we are dealing with is nothing like human DNA. It protects itself from duplication. Almost as if it defends itself against imperfection. So once he hands out the serum that he has on hand, he’ll have to find another way to grow the GTECH population.”
Kelly grimaced. “It’s easy to talk big, but execution is another story. Three hundred men is hardly a new race.”
“Who says humans won’t follow him, Kelly? The GTECHs could become like royalty. The humans will hope to be made into GTECHs.”
“Zodius,” she said. “That’s what the army is officially calling the GTECHs who are under Adam’s command to distinguish those who follow him and those who follow Caleb. Caleb’s followers are the Renegades because they’re standing against Adam, but outside the veil of the government.”
“That’s because my father destroyed any hope Caleb will ever trust us again,” she said, still reeling from what he’d done.
“Regardless.” Kelly said. “Caleb is going after Adam, Cassandra. He’ll stop him before he becomes a bigger threat.”
“Surely we can end this with some sort of covert attack?”
Kelly sighed and reached for the remote control on the nightstand. “Once upon a time, I had a good bedside manner, but I don’t seem to be doing the comfort thing well today.” She flipped to the news where they were showing a Casino up in flames and then flashed to a high-rise in downtown Manhattan, also on fire. “That’s how Adam managed to get Caleb to back down. He promised every attack on Area 51 would be met with double retaliation.”
“You’re right,” Cassandra said. “You really aren’t good at the comfort thing today. So if there is anything else, just spit it out, and let’s be done with it.”
“There’s an inquisition into your father’s actions. He may face court martial. And… there are guards stationed at your door in case Adam tries to kidnap you.” Translation—Michael might try and kidnap her, but Kelly didn’t want to say that. “Not that anyone has any reason to believe he might. Caleb says Ava was planning to use you and me and any female they could get their hands on to re-create the fertility testing she’s been working on at Area 51 by trying to find lifebond connections.” She shook herself. “That woman was going to offer us up to their entire male population. Bottom line here is that you’re safe. You were convenient, and now you’re not. We’re just being cautious until things settle down a bit, in case they try to use you to lash out at your father.”
Cassandra’s chest tightened. Michael had said he wouldn’t tell anyone about their Lifebond, but he’d tried to kidnap her. That could mean only one thing. He must have told Adam. And if she had been captured, he would have used her to reproduce and build Adam’s new Zodius race. Which meant he was going to come for her. It meant she should confess her lifebond connection to Michael and plan for protection. But even as she had the thought, she couldn’t find the words. Cassandra wasn’t ready to let go of the hope that everything wasn’t as it seemed. No matter how things seem , Michael had said. No. She wasn’t ready to let go of Michael or their vow of silence. The takeover of Area 51 might have been Kelly’s personal nightmare, but Cassandra had a horrible feeling that this was only the beginning of hers.
Inside a covert warehouse location, two weeks after his successful takeover of Area 51, Adam sat at a conference table with Ava to his right, and Michael, now his second-in-command, to his left. Also present, twelve of the country’s most influential powerhouses—men who represented banking, technology, pharmaceuticals, even government.
“As you know from prior conversations,” Adam announced, “we are here today because our government is failing our people, and you want to be a part of a better nation. You want a country free of corruptness, free of human illness.” He tapped the table. “You want a Zodius Nation. Each of you is so close to a perfect world. I know you can taste it. All you have to do to ensure that you’re one of the first one hundred conversions to Zodius is to dedicate yourselves to our success.”
An immediate rumble of assurances quickly followed—promises of generous donations that bordered on begging. Adam leaned back in his chair, satisfaction filling him. He quite enjoyed having these humans—high-ranking amongst their race in power and prestige—beg for his approval. Let the bidding war begin.
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