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FREE READ: Ch. 6-8 of Michael

I have the next 4 chapters of MICHAEL!! I’d love if you’d take the time to comment on this post with your favorite quote so far! 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.


Want more from Michael? Continue reading for the first four chapters OR get it on Amazon! It’s just $2.99 or FREE in the KindleUnlimited program! Check it out HERE.

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.

READ CH.1-4 HERE

Chapter 5  

Two years after that dreaded day Adam Rain had overtaken Area 51, Cassandra pulled her wool-lined coat around her chilled neck, her heels clicking on the red-brick path that led away from the German military hospital where she’d worked for nearly two years. Her coworkers had left hours ago for the New Year’s festivities she had no desire to take part in. She’d take her rented   G.I. Joe   DVD and microwave popcorn and be just fine. She didn’t mind being alone. In fact, she preferred it, found peace in it. She simply hadn’t been ready for relationships—neither male nor female. Not after the two people she thought she’d known—Michael and her father—had proven, despite all her clinical skills, that she was incapable of evaluating those closest to her.

Even now, she would catch herself replaying Michael’s parting words, trying to understand why he’d been so adamant about hiding the mark if he wasn’t trying to protect her, if he was really loyal to Adam and his Zodius movement. She shook herself, murmuring a word of frustration. She was doing it again, tearing herself up inside with the unanswered questions. Trying to make a traitor into a hero.

The few months she’d spent at a Texas air force base right after the Zodius uprising hadn’t been far enough away from Groom Lake. She’d never considered herself a coward, but maybe she was—because she’d simply wanted out. Away. She wanted to forget. She didn’t even ask what was happening with Adam. There wasn’t any news of some massive Zodius takeover, and Adam wasn’t coming after her. That was enough for her.

A snowflake fluttered in front of her. Another touched her nose. She loved the snow. She loved this job where she counseled rather than researched. She wasn’t sure how she’d gotten away from that aspect of the field. She liked her life. She liked the food, especially German pasta—she adored spaetzle. And she liked—the rest of her thought was lost as the wind gusted around her, blowing her a step backwards. The snow began to fall faster, mixed with ice that pelted against the pavement. She cast a furtive look around the nearly vacant parking lot a few feet away. There was no sign of trouble. No GTECH—Renegade or Zodius. No Adam. No… Michael. God, would she ever stop looking for him in the wind? Hoping he’d come to her and explain everything, hoping everything wasn’t as it seemed.

Quickening her pace, Cassandra clicked the lock on the silver Audi that had replaced her Beetle—a little luxury for once, a luxury she’d decided she deserved. She was about to get into the car, when a black sedan with dark windows pulled up. The back window rolled down. “How’s my favorite daughter?”

Her heart stopped beating for an instant. She wasn’t sure if she were more shocked just to see her father—who she had not seen since her move—or to see him out of uniform, in a designer-looking, black suit. “Father?” she said, questioning the obvious, reeling with disbelief. “What are you doing here?” The wind gusted again, snow and ice plastering her hair against her head and face, reminding her why leaving her hat in the car was a bad idea.

“Get in, sweetheart,” he said. “You’re getting wet.” The door popped open.

She stood there, staring at the door, her heart randomly charging and stalling. Tears prickled in her eyes, and she was thankful for the snow. She hadn’t cried since that first night in the hospital when she had faced Michael’s betrayal. And her father’s actions, both at Groom Lake and then in the aftermath, when she’d caught glimpses of a desperate man trying to save himself no matter what the expense. But she’d dealt with these things. Or so she thought. Yet now emotion filled her chest like a heavy block of steel, crushing her.

With a slow, calming breath, she forced herself to slide into the double-seated back, directly across from him. He reached for the door and pulled it shut, leaning back as he brushed the snow away from his jacket.

“What’s going on, Father?” Even as she asked the question, a stark, cold memory filled her—of asking that same question that day at Groom Lake.

He arched a brow. “No ‘how are you?’ ‘Happy New Year?’ No hug for Dad?”

“I’d prefer skipping the part where we pretend everything is okay,” she said. “We both know you didn’t come to Germany to wish me a happy New Year.”

He offered her a file. She ignored it, didn’t want it.

“Take it, Cassandra,” he said.

Her lips thinned. “Whatever you’re up to now, Father, I want no part of it.”

“Adam’s Zodius Army has been attacking our naval bases,” he said. “They claimed a New Mexico base and another in Texas. Men are dying. Good men. And you can help prevent that. Take the file, Cassandra.”

She didn’t want to hear this. She didn’t want to know this. But… now she did, now she couldn’t pretend she didn’t know. She took the file, her gaze flickering over the label “Red Dart” and underneath that “PMI Research,” then back to him. “What is ‘Red Dart,’ and who is this PMI?”

“PMI is my private company, and Red Dart is a tracking device we’ve developed that will allow us to tag the Zodius during attacks, like we do animals in the wild. It enters the bloodstream and becomes permanent. It then alerts us to their approach. This program will allow us to save lives and capture the enemy.”

“I still don’t see what this has to do with me.”

“I’ve got a meeting in Washington on Monday morning, and I’ve asked Caleb Rain to attend as the leader of the GTECH Renegades. I’d like you to be there as well.”

She handed him back the file. “That’s not going to happen.”

He leaned forward and took her hand. “My daughter, the angel of my eye,” he said, his voice rough with emotion, “I have made mistakes. I hurt you. I know this. But I swear to you that everything I did was meant to protect the country I love and the daughter I worship. I knew what Michael was—I knew he was using you.”

Hatred laced his voice, and Cassandra couldn’t blame him for that. Michael had tried to kill him, though knowing her father, the embarrassment of Michael making him look a fool was probably more like it. Michael—a man who’d stolen her heart, had almost ripped it out. Pain knifed through Cassandra, and she squeezed her eyes shut. Every passing day, every day that he didn’t appear, reminded her that he was Zodius, no matter how much she didn’t want to believe it to be true.

“I have to fix the tragedy that Project Zodius has become,” her father continued, squeezing her hand and willing her to look at him.

Cassandra opened her eyes, stared into the desperate plea in her father’s face, so out-of-character, and felt her insides unraveling, felt him tugging her into his world again.

“Adam’s Zodius Nation is nothing short of a cult,” he said. “Some of those GTECH soldiers following Zodius can be saved. If anyone can make that happen once we have them in custody, it’s you.” He squeezed her hand again. “Stand by my side, daughter. Show the world you believe in me, and I will not fail you or them.”

***

“In the six months since Powell’s return to duty, I’ve been hearing these claims that he can control the GTECHs with Red Dart. And I’ve looked over the data Lucian collected from his White House informant with some excitement. However, there is absolutely nothing here that allows me to create the Red Dart program. Certainly nothing that even remotely indicates it works on GTECHs. In fact, just the opposite. The research shows Red Dart is destroyed by the GTECH immune system.”

The announcement, made by Dr. Edward Reed, the frail, fifty-something scientist, displeased Adam. In fact, he was so fucking not pleased, he couldn’t decide if he wanted to reach across the desk and wring Reed’s scrawny little neck or turn around and grab Lucian Brody—the Zodius soldier who’d made this White House contact—and pull his balls through his throat. He grabbed Reed’s laptop from his desk and flung it against the two-way shatterproof glass panel. The computer hit the floor with a thud, plastic pieces bouncing off the tiled floor.

Silence swelled in the room while the two other men, one GTECH and one human, stared at each other. Adam waited for one of them to say the wrong thing—that would let him know which one would die today. Because one of them needed to die.

“Red Dart is the reason Powell was reinstated—with I might add, a promotion,” Lucian argued defensively, anger seething in his voice as he glared at Reed. “It’s why they created the role of security advisor to the secretary of state and acquired funding for a new Nevada air force base twice the size of Groom Lake’s Area 51. He is calling it Dreamland. The government is afraid of the GTECHs, all of us. They only pretend allegiance to the Renegades to gain their protection from us. Powell promised the joint chiefs of staff that his company, PMI, is no more than a few weeks from having Red Dart GTECH-ready. There are troops being transferred to Powell’s new Dreamland facility to prepare for a full-scale attack on both the Zodius and Renegade bases even as we speak. I’m working on getting more details about his attack plans now.”

Reed pressed his dark glasses up his nose and straightened. His lower lip quivered with fear. “While this information sounds quite daunting, nothing in the data Lucian has given us supports such claims. This file holds nothing but a detailed documentation trail of failed attempts to use Red Dart against enemies of the United States government. They were able to bind the alien chemical component to the humans’ blood, which makes them sensitive to sound waves. When they activated the sound device for torture, it killed the humans. Painfully. It became a kill switch rather than a torture mechanism. Red Dart was ruled inhumane and terminated. The file was sealed fifty years ago.”

Adam jerked around and leaned on Reed’s desk, shoving his face into the other man’s. “And what’s wrong with a little inhumane?” he asked. “Fucking. Love. It. And I fully intend to use it on both humans and GTECHs. Do you understand?” Reed nodded, turning ashen, and Adam continued, “Then you get me Red Dart ready for humans while we wait on the GTECH formula, and you do it now.” A little torture, a few high-profile dead bodies, and he’d own the White House—hell, he’d own every government in existence. Once he had the GTECHs fully controlled as well—there would be no stopping him.

“Red Dart is administered by a laser,” Reed said, his voice shaking. “The laser is created by a crystal. I have to have that crystal or there is no Red Dart.”

Adam pushed off the desk, ready to fling the doctor through the window this time. Already the man had failed to re-create the GTECH serum. The alien DNA protected itself from duplication, and they did not have the original DNA sample. Now, while Adam’s scientists sought a way around the problem, Adam was forced to grow his following with lesser beings, with humans. But he was dealing with the problem the way all great leaders dealt with problems—creatively. If he could not convert the humans, they would simply have to become his pets.

“I still think we should ransom Cassandra Powell for the crystal.” The female voice came from the doorway.

Adam looked dismissively past Lucian, to find his Lifebond, Ava, standing in the doorway, her long, red hair draped over her lab coat, and one of the many wolves Adam commanded at her feet. Adam’s gaze traveled possessively to the beginning of a baby bump lifting around Ava’s stomach, the heir to the kingdom he was building. One day soon, Ava would discover the secret to creating Lifebond matches who would produce GTECH offspring.

“Powell won’t negotiate,” he told her. “Not even for his daughter. No general worth his salt would.”

She looked thoughtful, walking farther into the room. “Then send Michael to seduce her into getting the crystal,” she said. “He had her once. I’m quite confident he can have her again.”

“He tried to kill her father,” Adam reminded her.

“But he didn’t,” she said. “Michael will tell her he never intended to either. That he always loved her. That he protected her. That he can no longer stay away. He’ll tell her he wants to save humankind, and she can help him—by helping him locate, and destroy, the crystal. Once he has the crystal, I’m sure he can manipulate an answer as to how to use it on GTECHs. Though, I must say—human application of Red Dart might be enough. Once we use it on say, the president of the United States, and we hold his kill-switch, I find it doubtful Caleb will do anything but obey your commands.”

A slow, satisfied smile slid onto Adam’s lips. “I like the way you think, Lifebond.”

Calmness overcame him, his mind finding the peace that only she could give. And with that came clarity. Michael would get him Red Dart. Michael had never failed him.

***

She was at a fancy Washington, D.C. party when it happened, wishing herself back to the comfy, secluded confines of the Vegas condo she’d rented upon her return from Germany six months ago. It was the moment that Cassandra had longed for, yet dreaded for over two years. That moment that, deep down, she had always known would come.

It started with a soft breeze that seemed to lift the sound of music and laughter and funnel it around her. Calling to her. Demanding her attention. Instantly, memories washed over her, of the fire of his touch, the spice of his kiss, the warmth of his body pressed close to hers.

Slowly, her gaze shifted from the displays of delicate finger foods and flocks of uniforms and elegant gowns to the sheer curtains caressing the double-paned patio doors. A familiar tingling sensation touched the mark on the back of her neck. Her hand shook as she set her champagne glass on the table and watched a waiter push the doors shut.

Michael.   God, Michael was here. She could feel his presence as easily as she did her own breath within her chest. She’d hoped the mark would fade with time away from him, but it had not, and neither had the bond.

With a deep breath that did nothing to calm the racing of her heart, Cassandra pushed off her chair, her floor-length, white chiffon dress clinging to her petite frame as she began weaving her way through the crowd, past elaborate floral arrangements, and a dance floor filled with perfectly learned ballroom dancing.

Her mind was already far from the purpose of the night’s festivities, but she was forced to stop and shake hands with the daughter of the visiting Mexican dignitary they were honoring tonight. Cassandra’s father, now a White House security advisor, wanted to nurture the relationship, considering Mexico’s close proximity to Zodius activity. He’d managed an alliance—albeit an uneasy one—with Caleb’s Renegades, and he was close to unveiling some cutting-edge technology, which would even the odds against Adam’s Zodius soldiers. These were good things. Things that made her not regret her decision to return to the States.

Finally, Cassandra managed to break away from the crowd and paused as she reached the double-glass doors, pressing her palm to her fluttering stomach. Born of nerves, not fear. In fact, as more of that fanciful laughter bubbled up behind her, Cassandra was struck by the irony of the blissful party when a silent war against humanity was well under way. Michael was a part of that war, she reminded herself.

Angry now, Cassandra yanked open the door and stepped onto the patio, the hot night suffocating her with eerie stillness. Her nerve endings prickled, bristled, screamed with awareness an instant before the wind gently lifted, blowing wisps of her long blonde hair worn straight and to her shoulders, around her face.

A musical sound shimmered in the air, drawing her attention to a wind chime hanging at the edge of a walkway. Michael wanted her to follow that path. And much to Cassandra’s dismay, Michael’s way of using the wind to communicate warmed her limbs, wickedly declaring she still wanted him. And that uncontrollable want, which bordered on need, delivered a dose of the fear she’d thought she’d left behind. In fact, it downright terrified her. But she was out here now, and she was quite certain that he wasn’t going away until she went to him.

Shaking inside, Cassandra inhaled another breath and started forward, following the lighted walkway that twisted and curved and ended at a dimly lit gazebo. In the same instant she stepped inside the structure, he emerged from the shadows, potently male, a presence that expanded, consumed her, downright stole her breath. A presence more powerful than she even remembered. The scent of him—male, musky, uniquely Michael—flared in her nostrils and rippled a path along her nerve endings.

His long, black hair touched broad shoulders and framed that powerful square jaw she’d touched and kissed so often. He towered over her, reminding her of a sleek, muscled panther, hungry and ready to feast. On her. And Lord help her, as she stared into those intelligent, unnaturally black eyes that seemed to see straight to her soul, a part of her that she had no control over wanted him to.

“You look more beautiful than ever, Cassandra.”

His voice swept along her nerve endings with a velvety smooth slide, licking at her limbs with fire. She hugged herself against the sudden heaviness in her breasts, the ache of her nipples—against the wanton reaction that had to be about the mark on her neck. This man had tried to kill her father. He was trying to destroy humanity. He was the enemy, and she was here for answers. And for anything they could use to defeat Zodius.

She drew her spine stiff. “Why are you here, Michael?”

“You’re in danger,” he said softly.

“If I’m in danger, it’s from you,” she bit out through her teeth.

“And yet here you stand,” he pointed out, challenge etching his chiseled features.

“To protect everyone else in that building,” she quickly countered.

He arched a disbelieving brow. “So you bravely put yourself in harm’s way.” One corner of his far-too-inviting mouth lifted. “Or maybe you simply remember I’m the kind of ‘dangerous’ you enjoy.”

It was a familiar sensual taunt he’d used in the past, and unbidden, the words drew an image of Michael’s hard body pressed tightly against hers, of his hand sliding up her dress. Cassandra squeezed her eyes shut and silently cursed. Her lashes lifted, and she cast him an accusing glare. How powerful had Michael become? Could he place such a thought in her mind?

He laughed and held up his hands. “Don’t look at me like that, Cassandra. Whatever thoughts that wickedly lovely mind of yours conjured up were all your own. And don’t tell me they weren’t wicked. We both know you have a way with creative imagery.” His hands slowly lowered, those sensual lips lifting at the corners ever-so-slightly. “I do believe I’d like to hear what you were thinking now.”

“Oh, they were wicked thoughts all right,” she said. “And they were, indeed, full of creative imagery. I’ve had two years to contemplate all kinds of interesting ways to kill a GTECH as powerful as you.”

“And I’ve had two years to dream of touching you again.” He inhaled. “You still want me. I can smell your arousal.”

“This is insane,” she said. “I shouldn’t have come out here.” She turned, started to walk away, but quickly regretted the action. Damn him. Damn him! She would not retreat. She’d waited too long for this confrontation.

Cassandra whirled around to face him and sucked in a breath as she found him in close pursuit; she barely kept her hands from settling on his chest as she steadied herself. They were toe-to-toe now, so close her body ached, so close she could lean forward and touch him. She hated herself for wanting to.

“What makes you think you have the right to say such things to me?” she demanded, frustrated that her voice trembled. “You followed Adam and his Zodius movement. You tried to kill my father.” Her words rasped deeper, her fingers curling in her palms.

“If I had wanted your father dead, he’d be dead.”

Cassandra swallowed hard at the lethal quality in his voice, ground her teeth at the memory of Michael holding a blade to her father’s neck. “I was there. I saw the blade at his throat. I saw the blood.” The memory shook her, and she stepped backwards, a mistake when she was so close to the edge of the stairs. She stumbled, losing her balance and almost taking a tumble. Michael reached for her, steadying her, as if he were her protector. Thighs pressed to thighs. Hips pressed to hips. The world disappeared. The man and everything he’d meant to her reappeared. In those few seconds, she both reveled in the feel of him close to her again and silently cried at the loss.

“Let go,” she whispered. He narrowed his gaze, defiance settling there. “Let go, Michael!”

Instead, he kissed her, one hand threading through her hair, the other molding her hips to his. His tongue possessively pressing past her lips, coaxing a response. Cassandra tried to resist, her hands pressing against him, her intention to push him away. Instead, heat seared her palms and spread warmth up her arms. And the taste of him, wildly Michael, rushed through her like a gust of hot, sensual wind. Consuming her. Melting her. Oh God, melting her resistance.

And just when she knew she was lost, when she could hold back no more, he released her, stepping away. Giving her space that she both wanted and hated all in the same instant. She hugged herself against the ache in her body and the heat of his stare.

“My response means nothing. It’s the mark.”

“You kissed me like that before that mark ever existed,” he reminded her. “And we both know it.” His voice softened. His eyes too. “I didn’t betray you, Cassandra. When it was clear that the Renegades could not defeat Adam, we needed someone on the inside of Adam’s operation. I was X2 positive. Adam believed I had reason to follow him.”

She could barely breathe, barely think. “But you didn’t tell me?” Emotions collided inside her, a desperate part of her wanting to believe his words. Another part reminding herself not to be naive, not to let down her guard. “What do you want from me, Michael?”

“I want   you  , Cassandra. Make no mistake about that.” His words were firm, powerful. Possessive. “But if Adam had known you wore my mark, he would have demanded you be hunted down and brought to Zodius City. And there was no way in hell I was allowing you anywhere near Zodius City. You couldn’t know the truth, Cassandra. It was too dangerous.”

Her heart thundered in her chest. “Then why are you telling me now?”

“Project Red Dart,” he said, dropping the term as if he were testing her knowledge.

Her chest tightened at his mention of the top-secret program. Oh God, he was trying to use her. This was all one big trick. “Red Dart?” she asked, feigning ignorance.

“Adam knows about it, Cassandra.”

That was impossible. There were only a handful of people who knew about Red Dart for fear of leaks to Adam. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

He crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Red Dart is a laser beam created by a crystal that shoots a chemical into the bloodstream of the target. The target is then tracked,” he paused, “and tortured, sometimes to the point of death.”

Her mouth dropped open in a near gasp that she struggled to contain. He was wrong, but telling him so meant admitting she knew about Red Dart.

“You didn’t know about the torture part, did you?” he asked, then softly added, “I knew you would never support such a thing.”

He was serious. He really thought Red Dart was a torture device. “Of course, I wouldn’t,” she agreed. “You have no idea what you are talking about.” There wasn’t any torture involved with Red Dart.   Oh God.   Please let there not be any torture involved with Red Dart. The idea that a GTECH could be ordered to do anything—no matter how unethical or wrong—or risk torture, was not a possibility she wanted to consider. Please let her father really be making things right as he’d promised.

“Did you know he’s promised the secretary of state that all GTECHs, Renegade and Zodius alike, will be under his complete control within sixty days?”

“Oh no,” she said, shaking her head in instant rejection. “He would never act against the Renegades. And damn it, Michael, there is no torture involved with Red Dart. We don’t even water board our enemies. We sure as heck aren’t going to insert some sort of torture mechanism that would do Lord-only-knows what to them.”

“Yet that is exactly what your father intends. Just like at Groom Lake, he is driven by a personal agenda that endangers innocent lives. There were two men on the military tribunal for your father, both ready to put him away for life. Both died of brain aneurysms. A very unlikely coincidence.”

“What does that have to do with any of this?”

“There’s a drug called ‘Stardust’ that was developed at Groom Lake. It causes brain aneurysms,” he said. “It’s an alien substance that won’t show up in blood testing. I know this because Adam confiscated a supply when he took over your father’s operation.”

She gripped the railing. “I know all too well what my father did in the past.” Her father was here, trying to fix the mistakes he’d made at Groom Lake. Michael had been gone two years. Michael had been with Adam. “He’s trying to defend us against a Zodius takeover. He needs the Renegades to defeat Adam, and he knows that.”

“Why then, has he told Caleb nothing about Red Dart?” he asked dryly.

“It’s classified.”

“Right. Classified. Well here’s something else ‘classified.’ Both Adam and your father want to use Red Dart to control all the GTECHs. As for Adam, once the GTECHs are under his control, he plans to take it even a step further. He plans to use it on humans. On every government and financial powerhouse in the world. I need your help, Cassandra. We have to destroy that crystal so that no one can abuse it—not Adam, not your father. Because it can destroy the world.”

She didn’t know where Red Dart was even if she wanted to destroy it. But that wasn’t the only problem… there was also that thing called trust. “How do you know any of this?”

“Like your father,” he said, “we have friends in the White House.”

He had a fast answer for everything. “You said my connection to you puts me in danger,” she said. “So why are you here, and not Caleb?”

“That danger I spoke of,” he said. “It   is   me, Cassandra. Adam sent me here to seduce you into helping him. And if I don’t convince him I’ve done my job, he’ll send someone else for you. And their method of persuasion will not be seduction.”

Cassandra gasped at the same moment that her father’s voice filled the air. “Cassandra!”

Michael reached for her, pulling her tight against his body, one powerful arm anchoring their hips together and rendering her immobile. “There will be a package at your hotel desk tonight,” he said. “A phone you can use to contact Caleb without being traced. He’ll confirm I’m telling the truth.”

“Cassandra!”

Her heart kicked into double-time as her father’s voice grew closer. “If my father finds you, he’ll order the guards to kill you.”

“We both know they would not succeed.” His gaze dropped to her mouth, and then lifted, sensual hunger charging the air as if he were more concerned with kissing her than he was with his own life.

“You might be willing to take a chance with the guards, but I’m not.” She shoved at his arm. “Go now, Michael.”

A hint of satisfaction flared in his dark eyes, as if she had said she cared about him when she had not. He ran his hand roughly through her hair, his lips inches from hers. His breath, warm and tempting. He was sin and satisfaction, and damn him, she wasn’t sure she could ever escape him.

“Don’t go trying to save the world without me,” he warned. “Trust no one, Cassandra. Especially those closest to your father.”

“I’ve learned not to trust,” she bit back, feeling exposed, vulnerable. “Thanks to you.”

His eyes darkened, his mood shifting with the stir of the wind. “I know all too well what you think of me,” he said, as he abruptly released her. “I’ll return for you soon.” The wind gusted in a powerful surge, as if he wanted to taunt her father with his presence. A second later, Michael was gone.

The absence of his touch and the promise of his return flowed through her as a deep ache. No matter how she had tried to deny it, she’d wished for the day he would come for her, that he would have a reason for having left her that made sense. But she was no fool. Despite their physical attraction, he’d come back for Red Dart. Not for her.

“Cassandra!” Her father’s voice forced her to pull herself together, or at least try. The world felt like it was crumbling around her, but somehow, she painted on a calm expression and turned to find her father at the edge of the gazebo. “You shouldn’t be out here alone,” he reprimanded the instant he spotted Cassandra, his face etched with apprehension. If he had his way, she’d have guards by her side 24-7. He was certain that one day Michael would contact her, try to use her again. And tonight he had.

“I needed air, Father.” She managed to sound nonchalant, but she could feel herself shaking inside.

“The wind, you shouldn’t be out in the wind.”

“The wind, Father, has been gusting all night,” she assured him, walking down the stairs and latching her arm onto his.

His gaze skimmed the gazebo and then the surrounding area as the wind began to fade. “You’re sure?”

“Quite,” she said, urging him back to the party. “And I find the fresh   wind   far more appealing than the stuffy cigar smoke that drove me outside in the first place.”

Slowly, he relaxed and smiled. “General Roberts?”

“Isn’t it always?” She smiled brightly, her mind racing with the implications of all Michael had said. She squeezed her father’s arm more tightly. She didn’t want Michael to be right about him. But she didn’t want Michael to be lying. And even if Caleb backed Michael’s statement, it still didn’t mean they were right about Red Dart. It simply meant she had to prove them wrong.

“They are about to cut the cake,” her father said, pulling her back into the moment. “I know how you love your sweets.”

She smiled and agreed, somehow making small talk as they walked down the path, somehow presenting a façade of happy and lighthearted. But in the back of Cassandra’s mind, she knew a storm was coming. And that storm had a name: Michael.

 

Chapter 6

With the taste of Cassandra still lingering on his lips, Michael stepped onto the elevator leading to the underground world of what was once Area 51, but now known as “Zodius City,” the first of its kind in Adam’s planned Zodius Nation. Michael was shaking inside. And he didn’t shake. He couldn’t shake. It showed weakness, and weakness would get him killed and maybe Cassandra with him.

He’d been living the façade of being the second in charge to the most evil monster on this planet. Hell, he’d earned the reputation as the “Punisher” for his torture of any Zodius soldier who dared cross Adam. And he was fucking shaken. To the core. Because no matter how forcefully he reached for that black spot in his mind where he felt nothing, it was nowhere to be found.

There was only Cassandra, and that bittersweet taste of her on his lips. He could make her want him again, but he doubted he would ever make her trust him again. Which was for the best, he told himself. Nothing had changed. This place, his role in it, was proof; he was not the man for Cassandra. Hell, most days the darkness inside him made him doubt he was a man at all.

The elevator dinged its arrival, the doors sliding open to Adam’s private corridor, a part of the never-ending expansion of the underground facility. A pair of silver doors, similar to those on the elevator awaited him, two armed guards on either side, both in desert fatigues, machine guns on their shoulders. Neither soldier dared to look Michael in the eye; there was a class system followed in Zodius, with Adam at the top and humanity below, under his foot.

The guard to the right used the wall phone to call Adam. Before he hung up, the doors slid open, and Michael stepped into a hallway resembling that of a hotel with doors running down its length. He headed to the one at the end—Adam’s apartment that dripped of Upper East Side Manhattan luxury.

Ava appeared in the entrance before he arrived, draping herself over the frame, one hand over her head, her hip seductively cocked. She wore a sheer white bra and panties, displaying her rounded stomach and full breasts, nipples barely covered. Long red hair draped over her shoulders.

“Michael,” she said, a taunting, sexual smile on her red lips, despite the fact that she had eyes for no one but Adam. But like her Lifebond, Ava was pure evil, and she enjoyed luring men into her web and then watching Adam catch them. Look the wrong way at Ava, and you ended up in the “coliseum,” Roman style. There, the entire city watched as dozens of Adam’s wolves savaged the offender, who couldn’t kill one of the prized animals—at least not without further reprisal. The soldier would heal but not without disgrace and a hell of a lot of pain.

Ava was a bitch. “Where’s Adam?” he asked shortly.

“In the shower,” she said, inching the door open. “I’ll keep you company until he’s out.”

“I’ll wait in the hall,” he countered, his eyes never leaving her face.

She pursed her red lips. “What’s the problem, Michael?” she baited. “You afraid you’ll be tempted to actually   look   at me if you come inside? Or do you simply find me unattractive because I’m pregnant with Adam’s child?”

Such a fucking bitch. He gave her a heavy-lidded, cold stare. “I just want to talk to Adam.”

The door opened fully and Adam—wearing a navy silk robe, his hair damp—stepped behind Ava and smacked her on the ass. “Stop taunting the man. You should know by now that Michael is not going to betray me.”

That shaking feeling Michael had felt when he’d stepped off the elevator disappeared for a moment as Michael smiled inside. Ava was Adam’s weakness. She made him blind and foolish.

Adam yanked Ava tight against him and wrapped his hand around her head, his lips close to hers. “Not even for you.” He kissed her hard and then set her away. “Get dressed.” He turned to Michael. “Come in.”

Michael sauntered into the apartment filled with black leather and expensive art—stolen art. Adam wanted. Adam took. Ava wanted. Adam took. If the bank vaults weren’t sealed tight from the wind, they’d be empty.

Adam sat down on the couch, waving a hand for Michael to join him, before filling two crystal glasses with brandy. You’d never know the man had been a “Bud” guy only two years before. Michael hated brandy, and Adam damn sure knew it. But every time he came here, he poured him a glass. And every time, Michael didn’t touch the shit. Some sort of test, though Michael had no idea for what.

And as usual, Adam studied him, willing him to pick up that glass. “You are the only Zodius who would dare to snub my offer of anything.” He seemed pleased with this, as if it somehow made Michael worthy of being “second.” Yet anyone else would be beaten for such a refusal.

Adam set his glass down and spread his arms across the back of the couch. “Tell me about Cassandra. I always thought she was one of those preacher’s daughter kinds of fantasies for you. Only it’s the general’s daughter.” His lips twitched. “Did you kiss her broken heart and make it better?”

Michael had a fantasy all right, the same fantasy he had at least once a day, and not about Cassandra. The one where he slit Adam’s throat and ended all of this. Only it wouldn’t end. Adam had insurance on himself—a strategy he’d made clear to both the government and the Renegades. Upon his death, those three biological weapons they’d taken from Port Said years before would be released, among a string of other disasters that would escalate around the country.

He and Caleb both blamed themselves for that one. And thus far, only Michael knew where they would be released, but not by who—if he knew who, he could end this, end Adam, and end his terror.

Michael forced himself out of the fantasy and back to the conversation. He disliked talking about Cassandra with Adam. “She’ll be cooperating,” he said. “But she’s been kept in the dark. I’ll guide her through manipulating her father. She’ll find Red Dart.”

“Quickly,” Adam said. “Guide her quickly.”

Ava sashayed back into the room, wearing a pink silk robe and draping herself over Adam’s shoulder. “Did you tell him about the fertility testing?” She didn’t wait for a response, excitement lifting her voice. “I injected six women with a hormone formulation from my pregnancy. Their fertility ranges immediately skyrocketed off the charts. Next step is to pair them with some of the soldiers and see if the hormones make them lifebond compatible.” Ava lavished the women inside Zodius City with gifts and luxurious living quarters. These were the future mothers of Zodius children. Seventy percent of the nearly one hundred women inside the “Silver, Gold, and Twilight Quarters”—the female housing units—were brainwashed by the glamour and Ava’s unique ability to mold nearly every female mind she touched. Only a small percentage were unaffected by her new gift. Despite the requirement of frequent, rotating sex partners, they wouldn’t leave if given the chance.

“What Ava failed to mention,” Adam said, “was the part where two of the six females she injected have died. The last thing I need is a bunch of panicked females worried about why women are disappearing. I want them all injected now, deal with the fallout, and be done with it all at once. There is no reason to wait.”

Michael had gone ice-cold inside. This was where the buck stopped, where he exited Zodius. Because he was leaving with as many of those women as he could—and he was doing it tonight, while they still had a chance to live. And considering a woman who’d had sex with a GTECH developed a psychic energy that could be traced by certain skilled GTECHs while above ground, that wasn’t going to be easy.

Ava curled up to Adam’s side. “We’ll need more women, Michael. You’ll need to send a team out hunting.”

Adam smiled. “If you didn’t have to attend to the needs of Cassandra,” he said, “I’d say we take the wolves out hunting for prospects. It’ll be an interesting diversion. I love to watch their faces when the wolves go at them, and then we save the day by rescuing them.” He laughed. “Priceless. They come willingly. We are their heroes.”

An hour later, finally having leveraged himself out of Adam’s company, Michael appeared inside Sunrise Canyon on a deserted dirt road eighty miles north of Zodius City. Only a few miles from the underground Renegade Headquarters, their version of Zodius City: Sunrise City.

A black Jeep waited by a mountainside, and with nothing but desert and darkness for cover, he wasted no time climbing into the front passenger’s side. Caleb sat behind the wheel. Sterling Jeter, one of Caleb’s closest confidants, sat in the back, his long blond hair loose around his shoulders. Wild, like his entire existence.

“The Dark One has arrived,” Sterling joked, hitting Michael’s shoulder. “What’s cooking, Mikey?”

Sterling could crack a really bad joke at any given moment, regardless of circumstances. Michael ignored the jokes because Sterling’s irritating need to be a comedian didn’t change the fact that Sterling was not only both a loyal friend and confidant to Caleb, but also one hell of a soldier. None of which kept Michael from wanting to beat Sterling’s ass. Often.

“What’s cooking is my nerves,” Michael said dryly, refocusing on Caleb. “If we rescue the women, he’ll just kidnap more.”

“Maybe,” Caleb said, cutting him a sideways look. “But it will take time for him to find this number of women again. Time we can use to stop him completely. Time the women inside Zodius now do not have.”

“If we do this,” he said. “I’m out. Only three people have the codes to override the security to get them to the surface,” Michael responded. “Myself, Ava, and Adam. He’ll know I did this.”

“Get me into the mainframe,” Sterling said, leaning forward. “I can make it look like we hijacked Adam or Ava’s security codes.”

“Not even you can do that,” Michael said. “There is a full-body scan to get into that room, and I’m not approved. Adam never fully trusts anyone. The bottom line here is, I stay in Zodius and a large percentage of those women die. Or I am out, and we save them.”

Caleb’s hands closed around the steering wheel in a white-knuckled grip. Obviously struggling with his choice. After several seconds, he slanted Michael a sideways look. “After two years of trying to get the name of the person, or persons, who would launch the attacks on our country upon Adam’s death, do you have any reason to believe you can get that information now or in the near future?”

“No,” Michael said. And he’d tried. Every which way and back.

“And you’re certain those chemical weapons are not on site?”

“Positive,” Michael assured him.

“Nor can you find out where they are?”

These were all questions Caleb had asked before, and he knew where this was heading. “No chance at all.”

Caleb stared out the front window, tense seconds ticking by. “We can’t let those women die. No. We   won’t  . We’ll get the women. Then, we’re going to get Red Dart and stop Adam once and for all.” He lowered his voice. “And you’ve been in that place too long, Michael. You can only play with the devil so long before you lose your soul.”

Right. Soul. Michael almost laughed at that. He wasn’t sure he had a soul   to   lose. But Caleb did, and Michael wouldn’t let that happen. “01200 then,” Michael said. “When the guards change.”

Sterling rubbed his hands together. “A long night of kicking some Zodius ass,” he said, excitement in his voice. “I live for this shit.” And he meant it. He lived to die everyday. Michael saw that behind his jokes. It was a wild glint in his eyes. And when they invaded Zodius City he might just get the chance. Caleb started the Jeep engine and glanced at Michael. “Looks like you’re about to walk into Sunrise City and stay this time,” he said. “Where you belong.”

Michael digested that like a well-placed bullet, right in the gut, with a hard bite. Not because he didn’t want to be inside Sunrise City, but because this was the day he had always known would come, the day he’d become Adam’s worst enemy. And Cassandra was right in the middle of the firing range. A prime target for Adam’s vengeance, and he had no way to get her off the radar. Not when she was the best shot they had at getting to Red Dart—a technology that could hand the world over to a madman. His world was bleeding onto hers. He ground his teeth. But that blood always seemed to originate with her father. A man he’d once had a chance to kill. And Cassandra had been right—he’d wanted to.

***

Sirens shrilled through the intercom, blasting through Adam’s bedroom. “Oh my God,” Ava gasped, her hand cradling her stomach. “Are we being attacked? Our baby. Adam, our baby.”

A phone rang beside the bed, and Adam answered. He listened a moment and cursed as he flung it across the room. “The Renegades are attempting to remove the females,” he said, already standing, and shoving his legs in the fatigues he kept near the bed for such an occasion.

She was on her knees. “What? No! That will destroy our testing. You can’t let them take the women! How could they even get to them? How?”

“Michael,” Adam said vehemently. “Michael has betrayed me.”

She gasped. “No!” She shoved the covers aside. “I’m coming. I have influence over the women. I’ll—”

“You will not leave this room.”

“But Adam—” She was shaking. Panicked.

“Ava,” he said sharply, still dressing. “Control yourself.”

The phone on the wall rang. Adam yanked it off the receiver. He listened a moment before the anger turned to red rage and then to fury. He beat the phone against the wall, fast, hard, pounding thrusts that didn’t even begin to release the rage inside him. He grabbed not one, but two, MP5 machine guns and headed to the door. He was going to blow holes in Michael and let him damn near bleed to death. Then let the bastard heal and do it all over again.

The instant Adam exited the building he heard the Renegade choppers—to the east, west, and south sides of the complex. He faded into the wind and went west, appearing just as a group of his soldiers were about to fire a rocket launcher at a chopper. Awareness ripped through Adam—the kind he felt only for two people—his Lifebond and his twin.

“No!” he shouted, but not soon enough. The weapon discharged and time stood still. The dreams of a greater world—of his brother joining him to rule a new kingdom—threatened in the shadowy swampland of his brother’s certain death.

A crackle of energy slid over Adam, much like the awareness of Caleb an instant before. Michael stood in the doorway of the helicopter—the wind shifting around him, seeming to take form. It was unlike anything he had ever seen before, nothing any other GTECH could do. Then suddenly, a powerful wall of wind thrust from where Michael stood and forced the missile back at the Zodius soldiers in his pursuit. Adam faded into the wind a second before the missile exploded, one of the few weapons sure to be lethal for a GTECH. He returned seconds later to see soldiers sprawled out on the ground, injured or dead, and the helicopter quickly traveling away. Those who had survived scrambled for their footing, murmuring about both Michael’s betrayal and his ability to control the wind, an ability no one, not even Adam, had known about.

Fucking Michael had power he’d never disclosed. He could control the wind, use it as a weapon. Michael who had betrayed him and made him look like a fool. He sneered. The red rage part of him wanted to start blowing shit up until the government gave him Red Dart.

Adam paced, calming himself down, thinking. If Michael was working for the Renegades, Caleb knew about Red Dart and the government’s intent to use it on all GTECHs. Caleb was smart enough to know that Red Dart in the hands of the government meant his demise as well. This was a race—who got to Red Dart first. Him or Caleb.

Adam grabbed the phone on his belt, hit the two-way radio, and called two of his officers to his side for immediate action. Within seconds, the two men stood at attention before him. Adam stopped, turned to them, his hands behind his back. “If I find out that either of you is working with Michael,” he vowed, “I will start cutting out vital organs. Starting with your fucking eyes. Understood?”

“Yes sir!” they barked together.

He cut a look at Tad, the officer in charge of female recruitment. “How many did we lose?”

“Half,” he responded.

Adam ground his teeth. “Replace them. Quickly.”

“Commander, sir,” Tad replied. “I respectfully request the added duty of killing Michael. Both to prove my loyalty and because I would enjoy drawing his blood.”

“A dead Michael feels no pain,” Lucian, Adam’s third-in-command, countered. “I can give you Red Dart. Then use it to make Michael suffer. You will control him. Make him sit at your feet. Make him bark like an animal if you wish, so all of Zodius City may see.”

Adam turned to Lucian, new interest in the soldier who’d always paled in Michael’s shadow, often seeming weak. He studied the harsh slash of Lucian’s mouth, the turbulent, black eyes set in a handsome face, unlike the doggish hardness of Tad’s features. No one without physical beauty would be a part of his elite upper class. Exactly why the women recruited for their studies were all beautiful. Those who were unattractive would serve, not lead. Tad would serve. Lucian would prove himself to lead.

As for Michael, Adam now knew him to possess a lethal ability to control the wind so powerful he could direct missiles with it. That meant Michael was too lethal to be left alive unless Adam controlled him with Red Dart. “You are that confident in the man you have inside Powell’s operation?” he inquired of Lucian.

“He’s closer to Powell than his own daughter—who he keeps at a distance,” he said. “Easily capable of creating doubt about where Michael’s loyalty may lie.”

Acidy warmth filled Adam as he contemplated a far better option. “If Cassandra Powell were dead, then her father will be distracted enough to let down his guard, which will allow your connection to get his hands on Red Dart.” He sharpened his words. “Make it look like an accident. I don’t want this connected to Red Dart. But I do want her dead.” His lips twisted. “A car accident—the way her mother died. My gift to Powell. His dead daughter. That’s what he gets for crossing me. Kill her. And get me that damn crystal and the method to make Red Dart work on the GTECHs. And I want them both now.”

Adam faded into the wind.

 

Chapter 7

Twenty-four hours after Michael had reappeared in her life and turned it upside down, Cassandra sat in the bar of her Washington hotel enduring the final items on her agenda before her return home to Nevada the next morning. She and Lieutenant Colonel Brock West—her father’s closest confidant since her return from Germany—were hopefully wrapping up the first of two press interviews scheduled for the evening.

The press was eager to gobble up details about her father’s new role as special security advisor and about the new facility he’d built eighty miles north of Groom Lake. And despite her best efforts to stay focused, Cassandra kept thinking about Michael and that kiss. God, that kiss. And the envelope with a phone inside that had been left for her—no instructions, no phone call yet—that she knew was the contact he’d promised. She told herself to throw it away. Told herself she didn’t trust him, didn’t want to talk to him, that she should turn him over to her father. But his words, his accusations about Red Dart, had burned like acid in her stomach, awakened more than the reality of her desire for Michael. They had made her feel doubt, made her realize that deep down she still didn’t trust her father either. And truth be told, kissing Michael again, feeling those strong arms around her, had taken her by storm, made her realize why she had not dated. No one had ever lived up to Michael, and she had always secretly hoped beyond reason that there had been an explanation for his actions that was forgivable. Yet, his two years away and his time with Adam more than suggested he was the one not to be trusted, that he was manipulating her to get Red Dart. That idea twisted her in knots, and she shoved it away and refocused on what Layla Cantu, the raven-haired reporter from the   Sun Times  , was asking.

“Why would the army build this new Dreamland military facility less than eighty miles from Groom Lake rather than use Groom Lake?” she queried. “I mean—how much space does all that top-secret research at Groom Lake really take?”

Not liking the direction this was going, Cassandra opened her mouth to respond, officially back in this conversation with full attention, but Brock answered before she could. “Top-secret means top-secret, Ms. Cantu,” he said with the same snotty arrogance he’d used on even her, despite his desire to please her father. He simply couldn’t help himself.

Cassandra cringed, knowing full well you don’t reprimand someone for interest without creating more interest. She eyed Layla and gave her a discreet eye roll that said Brock West—“Brock,” as he’d casually, flirtatiously, insisted that she call him—was a pain in the backside. The eye roll was for show—well, not really. She couldn’t stand the way Brock panted after her father, condescended to her one minute, and flirted the next.

“Groom Lake is a top-secret research facility,” Cassandra agreed. “Secret because we don’t want our enemies to have the upper hand with technology, if Lord forbid, we ever go to war again. Trainees coming and going from that facility would represent a great security risk. And Dreamland is going to be the most amazing training facility ever created. A place where every branch of military, and even nonmilitary law enforcement agencies, will send their very best to make them better.”

Which was true. What she didn’t tell Layla was that they’d be training to fight Adam. Zodius soldiers would be targeted with Red Dart while outside the protection of Zodius City, captured, and brought to Dreamland. How they planned to capture them she did not know, but she planned to find out. The truth was, her father had been hush-hush about the progress with Red Dart—claiming the secrecy was for her own safety. And she hated that Michael was making her question whether that was his true motive for keeping her in the dark.

Layla tapped a pencil on her pad, glanced between Cassandra and West with a look that screamed “I’m not buying it.” “I don’t suppose either of you would like to comment on the rumors that a nongovernment militant group has taken over Groom Lake?”

Cassandra all but gaped at the question, while West maintained his unflinching, stone-faced soldier persona framed by a buzz-cut and lots of attitude. Cassandra managed a reasonably realistic sounding laugh. “Next thing I know, you’ll be telling me those nongovernment militants are big green aliens.”

Layla didn’t laugh. “Are they?”

West   did   laugh, the sound mocking, snide. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

Layla visibly paled. “Yes,” she said. “Of course.” She closed her notebook. “Thank you both for your time.”

Cassandra and Layla shared a few cordial words of good-bye. West didn’t bother. “I have no idea why your father thought I was the appropriate person to meet the press. I can’t stand those UFO chasers.”

“My father wanted you involved because you’re in charge of the training operation,” she reminded him. “And he had to return to Nevada a day early.” Cassandra shifted gears. “Aren’t you even a little worried about her questions regarding Groom Lake?”

He snorted. “Not in the slightest. She was digging for a reaction. If she’d had anything of substance, she wouldn’t have stopped pushing.”

Maybe. Hopefully. She let it go and focused on poaching him for information regarding Red Dart—“RD” for discretion. “The first group of Dreamland troops arrives next week. Reading through the training protocols, there is no mention of RD. The soldiers are being taught the same rapid-fire and heavy weapons techniques already in place to battle the Zodius. I thought Dreamland and RD were about capture and reform.”

“So far the tranquilizers we’ve used don’t work more than a few seconds, so it’s imperative we train our men to survive at all costs,” he said. “Trust me. We have a plan.”

But she didn’t trust him. “I know we have to survive.” She lowered her voice further. “If they can wind-walk past our security gates, how will RD help?”

“Once their blood is bound with the RD chemical, we have weapons and sensors inside the gates that will be automatically triggered when they approach,” he said. “Even in the wind.”

That sounded dangerous, like an accident waiting to happen. “So it only works if they are tagged with RD,” she said.

“That’s true,” he said. “But RD is a painless laser, easily used in confrontation. And it permeates their armor. We’ll get them all tagged and captured in no time.”

“When exactly will RD be officially launched?”

“Soon,” he said.

“In time for the training?”

“Soon,” he said again. “You know your father doesn’t want you involved in RD. I’m not supposed to be telling you any of this.”

Oh she knew. And she knew he wouldn’t be telling her now without an agenda. “Then why are you?”

He leaned closer. “He’s too protective, Cassandra. He underestimates you.” His voice was low, seductive. His eyes hot. He wanted her. He’d made that clear on more than one occasion. “Why don’t we finish up here? We’ll go to dinner and talk. Plan a strategy to convince your father to ease up.”

She recoiled inside, barely containing a tart response. He didn’t want to help her. He wanted into her pants and further inside her father’s good graces. If she were a vicious person, she’d tell her father. But she wasn’t. So she didn’t.

His hand slid over hers. “Perhaps if I promised to keep you safe.”

Awareness rushed over Cassandra, her skin heating, her senses tingling with lethal warning. Michael. Michael was here. And she didn’t know how she knew—but he was most definitely, angry, possessive, ready to rip Brock apart. And Cassandra was scared, not for herself, but for Brock. She yanked her hand away from him at the same moment that a bosomy waitress appeared at the table to refill their coffee mugs. Cassandra vaguely welcomed a refill, trying to calm her racing pulse, to get a grip on the whirlwind of emotions assailing her. The conflicting parts of her that both reveled in Michael’s silent claim over her and felt angry that he dared flex a role he’d left behind two years ago.

The lieutenant colonel chatted with the waitress who was flirting outrageously with him. Cassandra took the opportunity to escape and pushed to her feet. “I’m going to freshen up before the second wave of press arrives.”

She didn’t wait for a reply. She had no idea what Michael might do if she didn’t go to him. The government might not fully understand the lifebond connection, but she did. She knew full well how possessive, how consuming, that bond could be.

With quick steps and a racing heart, Cassandra walked toward the bar and asked for the location of the restroom. Then she walked toward the lobby knowing Michael would follow her, that he would find her. She entered a hallway, stepped toward the women’s restroom. She hesitated before entering, pressed her fist to her chest, and drew a deep breath that did nothing to calm her. She shoved open the door. The instant she entered, Michael was there, stealing the very breath she’d just taken.

The door slammed shut behind her, her back suddenly pressed against the hard surface, his big body fitted over hers, a rough palm rasping over her thigh as he lifted her leg to his hip, and good Lord, settled his cock between her thighs. Heat rushed over her, fire like she had not felt in the two years since his departure, lust that threatened to consume.

“If he touches you, I’ll kill him.”

If you stop touching me, I might die.   “You don’t get to decide who touches me, Michael,” she hissed, the desire he provoked downright frightening.

He stared down at her, his long, dark hair wild around his face, passion harshly edged in his dangerously beautiful face. “You are my Lifebond.”

She shivered at the possessiveness of his words, aroused when she should have been outraged. And damn it, she hated how he stole her control, how he could make her melt no matter how much time had passed. “Don’t call me that,” she proclaimed defiantly, reminding herself of his betrayal, telling herself this was nature at work, not Michael. She was over him. She would not fall for him and be hurt again. A hiss slid from her lips. “Don’t act as if the mark gives you some claim over me. You don’t have any. Not anymore.”

“Ah, but I do,” he said, his eyes alight with anger. “And we both know it.” His free hand ripped open her blazer, his hand sliding beneath, palm branding her side as little silver buttons flew through the air, clattering to the floor. He tilted his head down and rested his cheek against hers. The heat of his chest framed hers, rushing over her like a warm, erotic blanket.

Her hands closed around his arms, muscles flexing beneath her touch. “Michael,” she whispered desperately, a plea to stop, a plea to continue. “You can’t just show up again and…”

His lips brushed her ear. “Your words deny me, but your body does not.” Possessively, a man confident of her body, his hand swept up her side, fingers stroking her breast, teasing her nipple into a stiff peak. She should demand he let her go, but she said nothing for fear she would instead beg him for more.

“I remember how sensitive your nipples are,” he whispered, a strand of his silky raven hair brushing her cheek, and she shivered with the featherlike erotic sensation even as he pressed onward, pressed her further under his spell. “Remember how much you like them licked and sucked.” His warm breath touched her mouth, teasing her with the possibility of a kiss. “I remember everything.”

“I don’t want this,” she whispered.

“Liar,” he purred, nipping her bottom lip with his teeth, but denying her the taste of him she craved. She was lost in that craving, in her need for him—helpless to stop his hand traveling up her thigh and firmly covering her backside.

Cassandra gasped as he shoved aside the thin strip of her thong and ruthlessly sought the proof of her burn for him, stroking the sensitive flesh beneath. “Already you are slick and ready for me.” His fingers slid along her core as little darts of pleasure shot through her body, her hips arching into his of their own accord. Arrogantly, he promised, “I can make you come right here and right now.”

Yes. Please do  . She grabbed his shoulders. Told herself to shove him away. She didn’t have the will. She should hate him—she did hate him—yet, she wanted him, desperately wanted him. “Someone is going to find us,” she offered weakly.

“Ask me if I care.” Steel laced that statement; magic laced his fingers. She gave up, let her head fall against the door, let the pleasure roll over her. Allowed those nimble fingers of his to intimately explore, deftly pleasure. Let the waves of passion rush over her, the possibility of discovery set aside. “That’s it, my sweet,” Michael murmured, his lips dragging along her jaw, her neck. His finger slid inside her, caressing her. She was hot, aching with need. Her nipples tightened, her core gushed. The rise of release came on her quickly, embarrassingly so, but she could do nothing to stop it, nothing to hold back. Not with Michael, she could never hold back with Michael.

Cassandra tightened her hold on his shoulders, buried her face in his neck. She felt her core clench at his fingers a moment before she shook with the intensity of her release, waves of pleasure rushing over her, born of years of needing, fantasizing, longing.

When finally she calmed, the heat from her body flooded her cheeks. She didn’t want to look at him, didn’t know what to say. Michael eased her leg to the floor, but held her close. His hand slid over her hair, gently, tenderly, reminding her there were two sides to him, reminding her of the lover and the fighter.

She didn’t want to remember. She didn’t want to feel these things. Slowly, she lifted her head, tilted her chin upward to look at him, and defiantly lashed out. “This changes nothing. It proves nothing.”

Torment flickered in his eyes a moment before an arrogant, hard look slid across his face, and his hands pressed on the wall on either side of her. “Word of warning, Cassandra,” he said softly, lethally. “Seeing you again has ignited possessiveness in me like nothing I have ever felt in my life. When you deny wanting me, I have a sudden urge to prove you wrong. So if you wish to leave this restroom, I suggest you stop denying what we both know is true.”

Oh good Lord, why did his words have her nipples aching again? She tried to calm her shallow breathing, to will her heartbeat to slow. She didn’t know how to respond, and thankfully she didn’t have to. He moved from personal to business, if that was possible between them.

“Now onward to that help you’re going to give me with Red Dart.” He reached in his jeans pocket and presented her with a silver flash drive stick. “Go through airport security—point two. Someone will be there to ensure your laptops get switched. Go to the restroom and insert this into Brock’s laptop. You’ll need twelve minutes to get a full hard drive copy. Remove it, and I’ll come for it. There are cameras in your offices, so it has to be done in the airport.”

Her gaze jerked from the flash drive to his face. “Why would I do that?”

“Because you don’t want innocent people to die. And because you want to know who is lying—me or your father,” he said bitingly, the words holding the harsh reality of cold, hard truth. “Otherwise you would have already told your father I came to see you. And we both know you didn’t.”

She didn’t take the stick. “I received the phone, but no phone call. I won’t be used or manipulated, Michael.”

“Caleb has probably been trying to call you all day,” he rebutted, snagging his cell from his belt and punching in a number before handing it to her.

“There were unavoidable circumstances last night, or he would have called,” he said.

She swallowed and took the phone. “Hello?”

“It’s Caleb, Cassandra,” came the familiar male voice. “Michael is one of us. He’s always been one of us. I’ll call you later tonight if you want to talk.”

Her eyes connected with Michael’s, a combination of relief and hurt washed over her. “Yes,” she whispered in agreement, ending the call and offering the phone back to Michael.

He grabbed it and her hand. “Cassandra…” His voice trailed off, as if he wasn’t sure what to say, his hand sliding away from hers. Still watching her with those black eyes—eyes that somehow darkened beyond the blackest of black as he stood there, silent, unmoving, towering above her. The mass of thick, raven hair draped over his broad shoulders only added to the primal charge clinging to his presence.

She didn’t know what else to say, didn’t know what he expected her to say. This man, this GTECH soldier, was her biological Lifebond no matter how much the pain of the past made her want to deny the fact. She longed for him as much as she ached to escape the pain that the longing had created. But a lot had happened. Maybe too much.

“I’ll get the data from the hard drive,” she finally said. “But I’m not handing it over until I look at it first.” She wasn’t allowing Red Dart to be destroyed until she evaluated what was really going on and who had what agenda. “Caleb might trust you, but you are too close to Adam to suit me.”

The door jerked behind her, and in one long, agile step, Michael’s palm flattened on the wooden surface, sealing it shut. He was close again, his body heat radiating around her, his eyes pinning hers in a hard stare. “There isn’t time to explain, but the situation with Adam has become increasingly dangerous.”

“Make time,” she demanded urgently. “What does that mean?”

“Hello!” A woman’s voice sounded from the other side of the door.

“It means I am no longer undercover with Zodius,” he said. “And if I had any other choice but to have   you   get this data, I would take it. We have to find and destroy Red Dart before it’s too late.”

Her breath lodged in her throat. That meant… oh God. “You said Adam—”

“He’ll never get to you.” He took her hand and closed it around the stick. “I’ll kill him, or anyone, who tries. I’ll be close, Cassandra, watching you.   Protecting   you. Use the phone we left you if you need me otherwise. I’m programmed in the autodial.” He brushed her cheek with his finger, a shiver racing down her spine with the contact as he said, “And don’t let West touch you. It pisses me off. And I am really   good   at being pissed off.”

He let go of the door, forcing her to scramble as it started to open. A second later, Michael disappeared, and a little old lady appeared in his wake, scoffing at Cassandra’s obvious disarray. The woman huffed in disgust and marched to the stall.

Cassandra ran her hand down her flared black skirt, thankful the silky material didn’t easily wrinkle. She wasn’t going to crawl around for her buttons; she took off her jacket and marched to the mirror.

The quick inspection proved, indeed, she was a mess, her hair all over the place, a glob of smudged lipstick on her jaw and chin. She looked… Cassandra frowned, heart suddenly racing as her eyes dilated and changed, fading green to black, green to black. Cassandra gasped, trying to control the panic threatening to overtake her. She leaned on the sink as if a closer look would somehow change the reality of what she was seeing. But it didn’t. Her eyes were definitely black now—so black, that against her pale skin, with her blonde hair pulled neatly back at the nape of her neck, they all but consumed her face.

She pressed her hand to her forehead. This couldn’t be happening. She’d managed to get her hands on Ava’s lifebond research after Adam’s takeover, and she knew a blood exchange was necessary for her to be converted to GTECH and fully linked to Michael. Her mind raced with the possibility that the lifebond process had evolved, that Michael might know it, that he might be using their bond to get to Red Dart, to her father.

She grabbed the sink again with both hands, her knees wobbling with the thought. “What have you done to me, Michael?” she whispered.

 

Chapter 8   

Only minutes after leaving Cassandra in that restroom, Michael appeared on the roof of the hotel where he was to meet Caleb and instantly began to pace, damn thankful Caleb had yet to arrive. He was coming out of his skin, reveling in the memory of holding Cassandra, tortured by the fact that he burned to claim her, his Lifebond, his woman. He ran a hand over his face, tension rippling through every muscle of his body. He told himself he was still a man of control, a man who, despite everything he’d faced with Adam, had managed to manipulate a fine line between right and wrong to serve the Renegades’ cause. Yet when he’d seen Brock West touch Cassandra and felt the lust rolling off of that bastard, Michael had been ready to kill. Had Cassandra not come to him when she did… well, he did not know what would have happened.

The wind shifted ever so slightly, and Caleb materialized, quickly assessing Michael’s edginess. “I assume you saw Cassandra?”

Michael forced himself to stop pacing, one hand on his jean-clad hip. “She’s agreed to copy the hard drive.”

Caleb narrowed his gaze. “Did you tell her you are no longer undercover inside Zodius?”

“I told her,” Michael said. “And I swore to protect her. What I didn’t tell her was how likely it is she is going to need that protection. She has plenty to worry about with Brock right now. And she’s no fool. She knows she’s on Adam’s radar. She knows he’ll send someone else for Red Dart in my absence. I figure she had plenty to digest right now.”

“I’m sorry, Michael,” Caleb said grimly. “I know you don’t want her involved in this. If there was any other way—”

“You didn’t do this, Caleb,” he said, cutting him off. “Her father did. He’s the reason that she is back on Adam’s radar. Why the hell did he bring her back from Germany? I should have killed that SOB when I had the blade to his throat.”

Michael started pacing again, replaying that moment inside Groom Lake. How much he’d wanted to kill Powell, rather than simply put on a show for Adam, how certain he’d been that Powell would be nothing but trouble. But damn the look in Cassandra’s eyes… it had shredded him up inside. Staying away from her for two years had been hell, but he’d watched Adam’s soul grow darker by the day, and Ava’s with him. He was headed there—he knew that. And as long as he didn’t complete their blood bond, he told himself, he wouldn’t take her with him. He should have killed Powell. The world would have been a safer place, and Cassandra’s hatred for him would have kept them both from feeling temptation.

Caleb sat down on a concrete block that surrounded an air conditioner and cast the sky a thoughtful inspection, seeming to know—as he did often these past few years—where Michael’s thoughts had drifted. “Letting a man like Powell turn you into a murderer isn’t the answer.”

That stopped Michael in his steps. “How many people did we kill because that man ordered us to do it?”

“Because it was our duty,” Caleb reminded him. “To protect our country.”

“Knowing what we know now about Powell’s personal agendas,” Michael said, “I question every order he ever gave us.”

“Regardless,” Caleb said. “Killing him would have been the wrong choice.”

“If I had killed him,” he murmured disagreeably, giving Caleb his back as he turned to the skyline, “Red Dart would not be an issue now.”

Caleb pushed to his feet and joined him, and for a few minutes they stood there, staring into the night. “I could have killed Adam hundreds of times over,” he said.

Michael cut him a sideways look. “He’s your brother,” he said. “I’ll do it for you.”

“Let’s figure out how to keep him from blowing up the world from his grave first, eh?” He patted Michael on the back—the only man alive Michael trusted enough to allow such a thing. “Once Cassandra is safe again, we should go have a long-past-due beer and plot his demise.”

A beer with Caleb. A kiss from Cassandra. Her safety. If only it were all so simple. But it wasn’t, and Michael knew it.

***

After Michael had left her in the restroom, her eyes black as coals, Cassandra had been sure she would miss the press conference—her black eyes would be a dead giveaway to Brock West that she’d converted to GTECH.

But a quick trip to her room, and she’d discovered that her eyes, thankfully, were already fading back to green. She had no idea what that meant and hadn’t had time to think it through. She’d quickly changed her jacket, willed herself to calm, and managed to make her meeting.

Now, two hours later, back in the bar, Cassandra and Brock wished the final reporters farewell. And while the black of her eyes might have been temporary, the rage of hormones that Michael had created in her still thrummed within her body. A dull ache between her thighs punished her with awareness that had her squeezing her legs together.

Her reaction to Michael had always been physically intense, but nothing like this. It was as if her body were trying to complete the lifebond process on its own, and that terrified her. They knew so little about Lifebonds; the few who existed all lived within the Zodius compound, out of their reach. For all she knew, the more powerful Michael became, the more responsive she would be to their connection.

“You’re an ace with the press,” Brock commented, eyeing a text message on his phone. The slightest hint of irritation flashed on his face before he refocused on her. “Listen. I want to take you to dinner, but I have unexpected business to attend. Can we do it tomorrow night?”

Relief washed over her. Even without the threat of Michael nearby, she had no interest in this man’s obvious intent on seduction.   Not that any man had a chance against Michael  , she thought wryly. “I’m tired anyway,” she said, packing up her bag. “I’ll meet you in the lobby at ten in the morning to head to the airport?”

He didn’t move, his eyes fixed on her—hot, inviting. She felt as if he knew she was all wet and wanting, as if she were transparent. “You didn’t respond to my dinner offer.”

Her first instinct was to shoot him down, but Cassandra checked her reaction. Michael was right—she wanted to know who was lying, and creating an enemy out of Brock didn’t seem a smart move when she needed to snag his hard drive information.

She forced a smile. “Let’s play it by ear. We have a long day of travel tomorrow.”

“And we’ll need to eat. We might as well do it together.” His phone vibrated with another text message, and he sighed. “I better go. I’ll see you in the morning.” He pushed to his feet, and she stared after him.   Who was that call from  , she wondered?

Cassandra grabbed her things and headed to her room, her mind and body replaying Michael’s touch. He was no doubt miles away now, but one call from that phone he’d left her, and he’d be with her in seconds. Part of her wanted to throw it off the hotel balcony for fear she’d dial it—dial it to scream at him, dial it to demand to know how he could have left her without one single word in two years. Dial it to beg him into her bed to make this ache and loneliness go away. “Damn you, Michael,” she whispered, as she stepped into her dark room and leaned against the hard wooden surface of the door. “I don’t want to feel this again.”

A voice sounded in the hallway—Brock’s voice, she realized. She’d known they were on the same floor, but not this close. “She’s in her room,” he said. “Where I was planning to be too, until you called.” He listened a moment. “I told you I’d get it, and I will. And she’s a part of my plan, which you are interrupting.” A few seconds of silence. “Fine. I’ll be there.” A low curse followed as the door next to hers opened and slammed shut.

He’d been talking about her! Lord help her father if that was him on the other line. And get what? Red Dart? Oh, no. Maybe that wasn’t her father. Maybe it was… Adam. Or Michael? No, that was insane. Unless Michael was a really good actor. She bit her bottom lip. How could she be sure he wasn’t after everything that had happened?

She flipped on the light and set her briefcase and purse against the wall. She considered a moment and then kicked her shoes off, unzipping her skirt in the process. She didn’t bother to change her shirt and jacket, just quickly grabbed a pair of jeans and slid them over her hips. Sturdy boots followed.

Wherever Brock was going, she was discreetly going, too. She had to find out what was going on and who was behind it all. And who, if anyone, she could fully trust. She paused, a sick feeling coming over her. What if that had been Adam, not Caleb, on the phone with her today? Didn’t twins sound alike? She inhaled sharply and forced herself back into action. All the more reason she had to follow West, and any minute now, he’d be opening his door again.

Too many had died at Groom Lake, and maybe, just maybe, if she had seen through her father sooner, then she would have saved them. She couldn’t sit back and risk being wrong about his motives again. Nor could she risk trusting Michael and then find out he was really still with Zodius. Because Michael had been right on another point besides her need to know who was lying—Cassandra couldn’t sit back and let innocent people be harmed if she could do something to stop it from happening.

And right now that meant trusting no one.

Cassandra was already fishing the rental car key from her purse when she heard Brock’s hotel door open and shut. She listened for his footsteps to fade and then quickly did a hallway sweep before darting toward the stairwell. She raced down the fifteen flights of stairs to get to the parking garage, hoping that Brock’s elevator had a good many stops on the ride down—enough time to make up for the delay her run downstairs required.

With her chest heaving, Cassandra finally reached the basement level and paused for both breath and caution. She eased the door open just in time to see Brock sliding into his rental two cars down from hers. Deftly, she slipped through the door and inched it silently closed then used a blue Ford pickup as cover while she waited for Brock’s departure. The instant Brock pulled away, she took off running to her car, wishing for a security clicker rather than the stupid key entry that rental cars used. She fumbled to jam the darn thing in the lock and then fumbled some more to start the car, her adrenaline in overdrive. But she was moving and just in time to see in which direction Brock turned onto the street.

Only a few minutes later with her discreetly on his tail, Brock pulled into an alley behind a cluster of three white stone buildings near the National Mall District, with the Lincoln Memorial lit in all its glory a short walk away. It was nearly 11 p.m. now, and the streets were relatively bare but for a speckle of pedestrians.

“Damn it,” Cassandra murmured, knowing that honking and waving her hands would be more discreet than following him down that alley. Instead, she whipped the car to a narrow side street that sat on the edge of the adjacent park and killed her lights, not happy about leaving the safety of her car. Instinct sent her hand to her purse for her weapon a moment before she grimaced over the realization that it was not there. Growing up a military brat, she’d been taught to use a gun about the same time she’d learned to walk. But taking a gun through airport security post-9/11 and into the capital city wasn’t exactly approved—government employee or not.

Considering her options, Cassandra grabbed the cell phone Michael had given her, her chest tight with the thought of punching his programmed number. Not unless hell froze over, she vowed, but also knew she’d grabbed it at the last minute for a reason—she wasn’t going to let pride get in the way of safety. If anything went wrong with this not so brilliant plan she was about to undertake, she knew clear to her soul Michael would protect her. The only person Michael was going to let hurt her was Michael himself. A little like her father, she’d decided grimly. Cassandra flipped the phone to vibrate and then slid it into her pocket, shoving open the car door as she did. Her purse would stay behind with the car door unlocked, precautions meant to ensure she could make a fast escape if need be.

She eyed the trees draping the street and the statues in the park, assessing a few possible escape routes and hiding places—more of her father’s training—as she quickly crossed the two-lane street to approach the buildings from the front. She cut between the first two, keeping a tight line down the side of the wall until she found the grass divider outside the alley lined by shrubs. Muffled male voices lifted from the alley where Brock had pulled his car.

Bending down, Cassandra crawled through the grass to the edge of the shrubs. “I’m starting to get pissed off, Brock.” The voice was low, deep, familiar, though she couldn’t quite place it. The kind of familiar that sent chills down her spine because she knew the man was one of the GTECHs from Groom Lake. “Adam wants the crystal and the protocols for GTECH use.   Why   is this so   fucking   difficult to produce?”

“I’m aware of what Adam wants, and I’m working on it,” Brock snapped back, clearly not afraid of the Zodius. “Powell isn’t keen on giving out that information to anyone. He insists it’s still in the testing stages, not ready to be revealed, and after Groom Lake, he won’t hand it over until he’s certain it’s ready.”

“I’m beginning to feel we’re being jerked around,” the Zodius soldier countered. “You need to get this under control, and I mean now.”

“Don’t tell me what I need to do, Lucian,” Brock spouted back. “Fucking around and moving too fast isn’t going to do anything but screw this up. Once Powell is out of the way, I’ll be the go-to man. I’ll control the government’s Zodius initiatives, meaning…   we’ll   control those initiatives. But that means patience, which you, Lucian, have never had.”

Lucian! Yes. Now she remembered the voice. He was one of Adam’s most trusted Zodius. She sought confirmation, tweaking a few leaves enough to create a line of sight and managing to gain a visual—tall, muscular, bigger than life, with short, military-spiked, blond hair. She recognized Lucian instantly.

Lucian sauntered a few steps toward Brock, leaving the two Zodius who flanked him behind. Brock stood waiting, arms crossed in front of his broad chest, legs spread in a solid stance. He lowered his voice for Brock’s ears only. Cassandra wasn’t sure what he was saying, but she thought it was, “If you fail me, Adam will kill us both.”

Yes, that was what he’d said she decided when she heard Brock reply, “I will not, nor have I ever failed you,” his voice equally as low. “Powell demonstrated Red Dart on humans. His company, PMI, is testing it on GTECHs in his private facility.”

“So he doesn’t trust you,” Lucian accused. “Or you’d be a part of his PMI staff.”

“I’m close to becoming an insider,” Brock insisted. “Getting close to his daughter would—”

“Michael has defected to the Renegades,” Lucian said. “And as we all know, they are ex-lovers. We know they have been in contact. Cassandra Powell needs to be eliminated.”

Cassandra barely contained a gasp. Dead. Adam wanted her dead.

“Are you fucking insane?” Brock demanded. “She is the only thing, besides himself, that Powell gives a shit about. If she dies, he’ll go nuts. He’ll put his guard up—and I’ll never get to Red Dart before it’s too late.”

“Not if it looks like an accident,” Lucian said. “And while he grieves, for a brief time his guard will come down. Use the opportunity to get me Red Dart.”

“I want to talk to Adam,” Brock demanded.

Lucian and the other two Zodius soldiers laughed. “Adam does not talk to humans,” Lucian said, amused.

“I wouldn’t be human if you gave me the damn serum.”

“Earn it,” Lucian said. “Get us Red Dart.”

“Powell wants me to romance his daughter,” he said. “He’s grooming me to be his son-in-law. His right-hand man. This is bigger than Red Dart. We’ll know every move the government is making.”

“We don’t need to know what they are doing,” he said. “We’ll have Red Dart to control humans. We simply need the Renegades out of the way.” Lucian’s laugh filtered through the air, low and deep. “Besides, in six months you haven’t gotten into that bitch’s pants. I’m not placing any bets on you now. We already know she’s susceptible to Michael’s influences. She’s a liability. You want the serum. To be one of us, you   will   kill her.”

Cassandra had heard enough. She could barely breathe. She started to back away, realizing that being caught was a death sentence. A twig broke. She froze as she felt their attention shift in her direction. Her mind raced. She hadn’t been seen yet, and she didn’t want to be. She contemplated backing up slowly or simply charging to safety, to heck with noise—and the need to run won out. She sprang into action, straining with every stretch of her muscles to get around the corner of the building to the more public forum.

A motorcycle screamed in her ears as she rounded the corner, the headlights streaming in her face, blinding her. A second later she was swept off her feet as a powerful arm wrapped around her waist. Warmth washed over her, and a sense of security that defied the precarious way her feet dangled above the street.   Michael  . Suddenly, the questions and accusations about his motives didn’t matter. He was here. That was all that mattered. And she had a chance to survive this night.


Want more from Michael? Come back to the blog tomorrow for another four chapters OR get it on Amazon! It’s just $2.99 or FREE in the KindleUnlimited program! Check it out HERE.

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.

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