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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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With Cassandra’s limp body in his arms, Michael reappeared outside the cavern wall of Sunrise City—barely able to breathe and certain he didn’t want to if Cassandra did not. Desperate to get her to safety, he stepped to the exact, invisible spot where a scanner tracked his body, identified him. The cavern split in two, dividing into an equally invisible entrance. In an instant, Michael was inside the massive warehouse that served as an entry pod to Sunrise City, the doors automatically closing behind him.
He set Cassandra’s dripping wet body down, feeling like a vise was clamping down on his chest as he stared at her pale face and realized his worst fear—indeed, she wasn’t breathing.
“No!” he screamed in his mind, even as he scrambled to save her, ripping away her body armor to the waist and beginning CPR. She had to live. Had to live. Wildness charged through him, defiance, pain, anger. He pressed his lips to hers. His mind raced with punishing thoughts as he worked to save her. Blame rushed over him. He’d done this to her. He had done this.
Reason tried to save him from the crushing blow—had he lifebonded with her, he couldn’t have been apart from her, he couldn’t have saved the other women inside Zodius, would never have known about Red Dart, would never have gotten the body armor. But had he lifebonded with her, he could have given her his full protection. She would not be dying. Or dead. He reared back and yelled at the top of his lungs. She was dead. She was dead. And so was he. Because losing her was the one thing he could not bear, the one punishment this life had given him that he could not endure.
A loud shout spiraling through the darkness consumed Cassandra, and speckles of white touched the black and gray in front of her eyes. She gasped awake, sucked in air, and sat up, head spinning, stomach twisting. But there was only one thing that mattered. The realization that Michael was shouting. Not just shouting. Roaring deep from inside his chest, pain etched across his face. For her. He was shouting for her. She knew it in every ounce of her being.
“Michael,” she whispered, reaching for her voice, grabbing him. “Michael. I’m okay. I’m okay.”
He looked down at her, instant relief pouring over his features. He grabbed her and held her, then framed her face with his hands. “Cassandra. God. I thought—”
She pressed her lips to his, needing that warm comfort that on some level she knew had brought her back to life. Those lips. This man. A memory—of those guns pointed at them, of being certain she was going to die—washed over her. One minute there were guns, the next… “We wind-walked.”
“Yes,” he said, pulling back. “I had no choice. They were going to—”
“Kill us,” she said. “I know.”
He studied her a moment, tenderness fanning his features. “We need to get you down to medical,” he said, already pulling her into his arms when an alarm sounded. Her heart jackhammered in reaction, and instantly, Michael’s gaze jerked to the cavern wall. Cassandra’s own gaze followed the wall as it parted, and Caleb and Sterling appeared in a gust of wind, shadowy figures in black fatigues that faded into the darkness outside the door. Sterling took one step forward and collapsed, blood pooling beside his body. The wind carried three more men to the door, two of whom were hunched over in pain, injured as well.
Cassandra’s face riveted to Michael’s, and she could see the conflicted emotion spreading across his face. “Go!” she yelled, pushing out of his arms. “I’m okay! Please. Go. Help them.”
He hesitated only a moment before he was running toward the injured soldiers. Cassandra struggled unsteadily to her feet, though she was gaining strength quickly. She watched in horror as Caleb threw Sterling over his shoulder and started moving toward the back of the warehouse in the direction of a row of elevators. Blood trailed in his wake. A lot of blood. Leaving no question about the seriousness of Sterling’s injuries.
Guilt overtook Cassandra as Michael grabbed another injured man, whose name she remotely remembered as Damion. She’d liked Damion, just as she’d liked Sterling. These men had been hurt protecting her.
“Please,” she said softly, her gaze lifting upward, calling on faith she’d perhaps forgotten too much lately. “Don’t let them die.”
Even as she said that little prayer, she charged toward the elevators, determined not to be left in the warehouse alone, determined to help anyway she could. She ended up in the back of one of the two, standing behind Michael and Caleb, the injured soldiers hanging across their backs. She looked from one pair of broad shoulders to the other, feeling a silent, yet kindred spirit between the two Renegades in a way she’d noticed back at Area 51. Renegades . They were both, and had always been, Renegades. How had she ever believed Michael would really follow Adam rather than Caleb?
The underground elevator moved slowly. Too slowly. A lifetime for these men, she feared, the silence thick with that implication.
“What happened out there?” Michael asked, his voice rigid and low.
“Damion was down, and I was going after him. But Sterling was gone before I could stop him. Wind-walking right into the middle of the fucking gunfire and took those Green Hornets meant for Damion. Damn fool. Damn idiotic fool. He knows the Zodius won’t kill me. He knows my brother forbids it.”
Michael glanced at Caleb. “They might not intentionally kill you, but that doesn’t mean you might not have died out there,” Michael said. “Your life is too valuable to risk losing. You have to lead us the hell out of this mess. Correction. You’re destined to lead us the hell out of this.”
“Spare me the talk about the grandness of my life while Sterling is bleeding to death over my shoulder, Michael,” Caleb hissed. “My life is no more valuable than—”
“Like hell it’s not,” Michael countered, “and Sterling knows it even if you don’t.”
Cassandra squeezed her eyes shut. Shaken. Feeling more guilty. A lot more guilty. Could she have prevented any of this by seeing her father for what he was back when Project Zodius began? Wasn’t she here because of him? Weren’t they all here because of him?
“This isn’t your fault, Cassandra,” Caleb said, shocking her with the certainty that he had read her mind. Though nothing should shock her about the GTECHs any longer.
“No,” Michael added roughly. “It’s mine.” Cassandra’s heart leaped wildly. “It’s mine.” Was Michael talking about being the one to bring her here tonight? She regretted that. God, how she regretted coming here, allowing these men to be hurt.
Or maybe for Michael, this was about her father. About allowing him to live. He regretted that, she knew it. That was between them, a wall bigger than any other he’d ever drawn between them, and there were plenty of those.
The elevator doors slid open. Sterling and Damion were quickly placed on the rolling beds that awaited them in a long, narrow stone-covered foyer. Cassandra followed the men and saw other soldiers exiting the elevators on either side of her; all were being attended to or helping others in need.
A whirlwind of activity followed, and Cassandra chased the gurneys down a long hallway that led to the medical facilities. She saw what resembled a large emergency room with a center desk and curtained-off rooms.
Cassandra found herself sandwiched between Michael and Caleb in front of a large window outside a surgical room. And Kelly was inside with Sterling, operating.
She hadn’t even known Kelly was with the Renegades. She’d selfishly shut out everything when she’d fled Groom Lake. Shut out a war that wasn’t going away. Refused to fight while Adam became more dangerous. And right now, watching Kelly in there fighting for Sterling’s life, as Sterling had fought for all of them—Damion, Caleb, and yes, her—she hated herself for that. She vowed she would make it up. She would find Red Dart. She would destroy it. She’d help get those bullets, too. She wouldn’t allow Adam to get more of them. If confronting her father would make a difference, she’d be out in that canyon right now; she’d be charging back to demand he make this all right. But it wasn’t that easy, and she knew it. God. If only it were that easy.
She glanced up at Michael, at the hard set of his jaw, the stiff posture. Waves of turbulent emotion rolled off him and crashed over her. Whatever was behind his words in that elevator seemed to be eating him alive. The walls between them had crumbled while he’d worried for her and had rebuilt in seconds as he worried for his friend.
She yearned to strip those walls away, to touch him, to comfort him, but for the first time since she’d met him, she felt she should not. They stood shoulder to shoulder, but it seemed as if he were on the other side of the world, lost with no way home.
“He’s crashing!” someone yelled, a moment before a warning buzzer pierced Cassandra’s mind.
A harsh breath of air ripped through Cassandra’s lungs, and her hands flattened on the glass. She watched as the medical personnel prepared to shock Sterling. And deep in her core, Cassandra knew that this gut-wrenching minute would change this war. Because this moment spilled blood and cut deep in the hearts of those on the front lines. They were not, nor was she, going to sit by and let it be for nothing. These men had saved her life. She owed it to them to fight by their side, to make their sacrifices matter. She stared through that window and willed Sterling to survive, so she could tell him so herself.
Michael stood by the surgery window, watching as Kelly worked on Sterling, holding his breath. The instant the monitor by his bed began a steady, stable rhythm, his shoulders relaxed, relief filling him. Those bullets, those Taylor Industry manufactured green bullets had not stolen a good man’s life. Nor would he let them. Beside him, he could hear the sighs of relief from both Cassandra and Caleb, the tension in the small enclave of the waiting area immediately easing.
“Caleb.” The male voice came from behind.
Michael turned to find Dr. Walker, one of the half-dozen doctors who’d followed Caleb from Groom Lake. A tall, human male with short, dark hair, he was casting Michael a suspicious look. Caleb didn’t miss the look. “He’s one of us. He’s always been one of us.”
Michael wanted to bare his teeth and watch the man jump, damn him. Like he didn’t feel like crap enough right now without being made to feel he didn’t belong here. But then, maybe he did not.
“Do you have something to tell us?” Michael barked irritably, barely keeping the growl out of his voice.
Dr. Walker cleared his throat nervously. “Noah, Cooper, and Jacob have avoided major organ hits. I’m about to take Damion into surgery to remove a bullet near his heart, but I don’t anticipate any complications. It wasn’t a direct hit, so he should be fine. His body will heal quickly.”
Caleb gave a sharp nod, but apparently wanted a few minutes alone with the man, motioning him down the hall as he followed for a little one-on-one private time. And Michael had no doubt that it was about him, which only served to make him more damn agitated.
His gaze settled on Cassandra’s mud-smudged pale face, and he motioned to a nurse. “We need medical attention.”
Cassandra shook her head, motioning the woman away. “Let them deal with the men who are in life-threatening situations. I’m not.”
“No,” he said in instant rejection, thinking of those moments when he’d held her lifeless body in his arms. “You stopped breathing. You need to be checked.” He raised his hand again and motioned to the nurse who was staring at him as if he were Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street . He scowled. “Holy hell, woman. I’m not a Zodius. I’m a Renegade. And we bloody well need medical attention.”
“Easy, Michael,” Cassandra said, shaking her head at the woman. “I’m fine. I don’t need help.”
“Like hell you don’t,” he grumbled.
“I’m okay, Michael. Thanks to you.” Her hand wrapped around his arm, gentle, calming. He couldn’t afford gentle. He couldn’t afford calm. Not when people were damn near dying. The wrong people. Cassandra. Sterling. Not Powell and Adam.
“Don’t thank me, Cassandra,” he hissed vehemently, anger forming within him like a swiftly thrown blade. He didn’t want her thanks. He wanted… Well. He didn’t know what he wanted right now, besides Adam’s and Powell’s blood, and her beneath him, pressed close, and moaning his name. Giving him a little piece of heaven, an escape.
But she couldn’t be that escape any longer. Not without the consequences of lifebonding for her—to a man who wasn’t even a man. He told himself to pull his arm away, to break that connection between them, so he wouldn’t forget that. Again. He always forgot with her.
But he didn’t pull away, and neither did she. Instead, she stared up at him with those beautiful green eyes—eyes that he wanted to remain beautiful and green. Not black. Not spiraling into the depths of obsidian hell with him as they would be if he claimed her fully.
“I cannot imagine what it must be like to be treated like the enemy,” Cassandra said softly. “As hard as it was for you to be gone those two years, I want you to know how proud I am of you for everything you did.”
His chest tightened with her words, and he cut his gaze to the window. “If you knew what I had to become inside that place, you would not say such things.” He’d played his role of Adam’s personal bodyguard, of tyrant and terrorist, all too well. All too easily. Sometimes he’d almost forgotten he wasn’t that person. But he had prevailed. He’d stayed on his path, reminded himself he did those things, walked those lines because he was capable of doing so, and so that Caleb would not have to. So Caleb could remain a leader of honor, untainted by the likes of his brother and those around him. Someone had to be that person.
“It doesn’t matter what you did,” she said. “It only matters why.”
He cut his gaze to hers. She pretended to understand, but she did not. And he didn’t want her to understand. He didn’t want this world for her. He wanted to get her the hell away from all of this. Safe. Happy. And so he pushed. Pushed hard. Pushed to make her run. “Is that what you would have said if I had killed your father?”
She sucked in a breath, her hand jerking from his arm. “Killing him wouldn’t have solved anything. Adam would still be out there, trying to take over the world.”
“Without the lure of Red Dart to aid his efforts,” he said.
“So, had you killed him at Groom Lake, the world would be a happy place right now?” she challenged. She held up a hand. “Don’t answer. Just don’t.” She narrowed her gaze on him. “Are you trying to upset me?”
“I’m simply trying to prepare you.”
She looked stricken, even paler than moments before. She wet her dry lips. “For when you kill him?”
“For whatever the future may hold,” he said. “This is war, and I am a soldier.”
She choked on that. “Oh, I am fully aware that you are a soldier, Michael.” She swallowed hard, shook her head. “No, I don’t believe you’ll kill him. I know you know that isn’t the answer.”
“You know less about me than you think you do, Cassandra,” he promised.
Caleb’s footsteps sounded behind them, and Cassandra squeezed her eyes shut. No matter what her father had done, he was her father. She couldn’t wish him dead. Nor could she bear the idea of Michael killing him. It would destroy her. She would lose everything in one fatal swoop. But she didn’t say that, not now, not with Caleb joining them.
One look at Caleb’s face, and Cassandra backed away, giving the two men space to talk. “I’m going to the ladies’ room.”
Cassandra rushed down the hall as Caleb said, “The Zodius have retreated for now…” The rest was lost as she turned the corner, seeking her much needed escape.
Once inside the tiny one-stall restroom, she pressed her palms against the cool ceramic sink, letting her head fall between her shoulders. She didn’t need to hear more of Caleb’s report. “Retreated for now” translated too easily to “more bloodshed to come.”
She wanted the bloodshed to end. She wanted to turn back time and do a hundred things differently—to have connected the dots about her father’s motives and taken action. But she could only go forward, however daunting it seemed. Inhaling, Cassandra lifted her head, cringing at the raccoon eyes staring back at her in the mirror, the mud slashes streaking a line down her cheeks. She was still sick, feeling pretty crappy to be honest. But worrying about her stomach churning seemed selfish when people were fighting for their lives.
What rattled her in that moment was not the disheveled image or her personal discomfort, but what was underneath it all. For years, perhaps all her life, her identity had been tied to her father’s in ways that reached beyond biology.
“You can make this right,” she whispered. “You will make this right.”
Pulling herself together, Cassandra cleaned up a little and rejoined the men, finding them side-by-side outside the surgery-viewing window. The sight of Michael standing there—legs braced in a V, arms crossed in front of his chest, an unapproachable air rolling off him like thunder—made her stomach clench because she was the cause of his mood.
In a matter of days they’d gone from enemies to lovers, and right now, she wasn’t sure what they were. Truth be told, Cassandra wasn’t sure Michael completely separated her from her father, no matter how hard he might try or how much he might say otherwise.
She lurked behind the men, leaning against a wall, attention traveling beyond the glass as Kelly dropped one green-spiked bullet after another into a glass container. The tension in the waiting area was palpable; the worry that Sterling wouldn’t make it was on everyone’s mind. Michael stood like steel, watching every move the doctor made. Caleb, in turn, fell into pacing. He paced to the point of darn near wearing a hole in the solid concrete floor by the time the doctor finally rounded the corner to give them an update. All three of them rushed to greet her.
“He’s stable,” Kelly announced, eyeing Cassandra with a silent, understanding welcome. Her good news felt like a soft breeze on a hot day. Oh so needed. Kelly continued, “He’s not out of trouble yet. He’s lost a lot of blood. And he’s endured tremendous damage to his body. Whatever those bullets are made of, they do more than penetrate the armor. They shred muscle and tissue. He’s in for a long night of healing, and I’m worried about the healing sickness, considering the extent of his injuries. Though untested, I’m of the opinion that C deficiency is creating the healing illness, so I’ve started a supplement intravenously. That and the fact that he’s shown no healing illness in the past make me hopeful.”
“When will we know he’s out of trouble?” Cassandra asked, before either of the men could inquire.
“A few more hours.” Kelly looked them all over. “You should all go clean up and get some rest.” She motioned to Cassandra. “Not you. I need to examine you before you get away from me. I just need a few minutes to check on the other patients.” She started to turn and stopped. “Oh.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a clear, sealed baggy full of bullets. “Thought you might want these.” She dropped them into Caleb’s hand and left.
Caleb let them rest in his palm and stared at them. They all did. As if they were the devil in design. And after seeing the other men bleeding to death because of them, perhaps they were.
Abruptly, Caleb did something Cassandra had never seen him do. He lost it. Totally, completely lost it. He blasted out a curse and then flattened one fist against the cavern wall beside the glass, his big body tense, thundering frustration rushing off him.
Cassandra cringed as blood oozed from his knuckles and quickly backed away, hugging herself, unsure of what to do. Not sure there was anything she could do. Caleb had lives in his hands, perhaps the world’s future. The pressure had to be immense.
“Adam has soldiers on our perimeters,” Caleb growled. “Waiting to unload those damn bullets in every one of my men. And what do we have to beat them back? Nothing. Not a damn thing.”
“We can fix that,” Michael offered. “Let’s go get Powell’s stock of Green Hornets now, tonight.”
Caleb ran his uninjured hand over the back of his neck, tense, but seemed to calm. “The location is on that encrypted hard drive, and I’m not trusting anyone but Sterling to read it. Finding the bullets without that information would be like finding a needle in a haystack.” Caleb leveled him in a stare. “Can you get them from Taylor?”
A muscle jumped in Michael’s jaw. “I assume Sterling told you my mother is providing Powell with Green Hornets and that I believe she is helping him with Red Dart. If I’m right, and I show up and do what I have to do to get those bullets, then we’ve alerted her and Powell with her that we know what they are up to.”
“I’m pretty sure we’ve done that already,” Caleb muttered foully. “We need those bullets.”
Long, tense moments passed. Michael’s expression was unemotional, indecipherable. But Cassandra could feel the emotion rolling off him, the tension eating away at him from the inside out. He did not relish seeing his mother. In fact, he dreaded it.
But he was that soldier he’d reminded her he was—he was going to do it. She knew that even before he finally said, “I’ll need a team at the Taylor Facility ready to go the minute I give the coordinates. If they leave with me now, I can get them out of the canyon under the cover of wind.” Caleb gave a short nod of approval, and Michael’s gaze shifted to Cassandra. “I’ll be back in a few hours.”
A futile desperation rose inside her. She wanted to yell at him to stay. This night needed to end. The war had already cut too deeply, taken too much from them. But she could do nothing but nod. “Be careful.”
His eyes darkened, a flicker of emotion in their depths so fleeting she almost thought she’d imagined it before he turned and started walking. And she realized she feared he was never coming back. That every time he walked away, she would always fear he wasn’t coming back. But not because he was a soldier. Not because they were in a silent war. Because he was Michael.
“He’s assimilating ‘Grade 2’ serum well, despite the rapid introduction into his system,” Dr. Chin reported, his patient lying in bed a few feet away.
Powell received this report with limited enthusiasm, regardless of the scientific progress that had modified the three-month transformation process and turned it into a few days. He’d watched 209 soldiers transform into GTECHs at Groom Lake before the White House forced him to pull back. But creation wasn’t his goal at this point. He’d proven he could create, and he’d stockpiled enough serum for another hundred soldiers, which the government had no idea he possessed. Alignment with the government had given him the men he needed, but it was Jocelyn who would give him the missing element that allowed him to use his new GTECHs—control.
“As it stands,” Chin continued, “he’s at 70 percent absorption. We should have—”
Suddenly, West jerked, his eyelids peeling back so wide it was as if needles threaded the lashes and stretched them outward.
It was a familiar look, one Powell had seen in the battlefield moments after a soldier was injured, seconds before death. He lifted an eyebrow at Chin.
“It’s an unavoidable side effect of the rapid change,” Chin explained.
“Oh my,” Jocelyn said and rushed to Brock’s side, reaching for the face mask on the portable table. “It must be the light.” She leaned over, and Brock jerked again.
“Holy hell, Jocelyn,” Powell cursed. “You’re going to get hurt.” Brock was tied down, but he was still wild. “You’re not a damn nurse.”
Powell cut Chin a warning look that demanded he act. Powell didn’t give a crap if West was in pain, but Jocelyn didn’t like to cause other people pain, contrary to what one would think about someone who built weapons of mass destruction. That company hadn’t been the same since her husband had died. She could kill indirectly, but couldn’t stomach it up close and personal, and it showed in financial performance. She was annoyingly female, but he humored her sensitivity simply because he didn’t need her doing any last-minute soul-searching, which would do nothing but complicate things.
“Put the damn mask on the man before he ends up hurting her.” Indignation flashed in Chin’s face that said he wasn’t a damn nurse either, but it only served to agitate Powell. “Do it.” The order was low, curt. Chin went into motion, placing the mask over Brock’s face. Instantly, he calmed.
Jocelyn’s brows furrowed with concern. “This is so painful to watch.”
“The cornea should fully adjust in the next few hours,” Chin assured her.
Jocelyn’s concern shifted into a hint of excitement as she pushed off the bed and quickly joined the two men. “Does that mean we can implement the Red Dart application in a few hours as well?” Jocelyn asked, clearly redirecting her sympathy for West into progress. As a scientist and weapons expert, there was no question she wanted to see her work succeed.
“The transformation is the serum’s super-powered effort to rid his body of all weakness,” Chin reminded them. “We have no idea how adaptable it is during that time. We don’t want to risk it building up immunity to the formula you’ve created. Let the transformation fully complete.”
“Cut to the chase, Chin.” Powell wasn’t in the mood for his long explanations. “How much time?”
“Make it twelve,” Powell stated.
Chin shifted uncomfortably. “There’s still a question—”
“Then go find the answer,” Powell sniped. “ Now .” Chin nodded sharply and headed for the door.
Powell had provided all the resources that Chin had utilized at PMI, despite the size limitation of this facility, which was tucked beneath Jocelyn’s home and hidden with military-grade technology. A far cry from the state-of-the-art PMI facility, but it allotted a certain element of discretion he deemed necessary for Jocelyn’s involvement. He only involved those he knew he could control, those he’d gathered ammunition against. He’d certainly ensured he knew Jocelyn’s weaknesses. “Pull it shut behind you,” Powell ordered as Chin reached the door.
Powell had kept things all business with Jocelyn, entertaining his sexual appetites elsewhere, but he no longer found those outlets satisfactory. They shared something that reached beyond the Red Dart program. Michael Taylor had disgraced him—slept with his daughter, and damn near sliced his throat. The man had turned his back on his country as he had on his mother and his family years before. Yes. He and Jocelyn both hated Michael. It was a hatred that had become… arousing.
His gaze raked her curvy figure, traced the line of her hips, the swell of her breasts. He skimmed back to her heart-shaped face. “I do believe it’s time we opened that bottle of champagne we’ve been saving to toast our success.”
“I thought you didn’t consider us a success until Red Dart was implemented?”
He smiled his approval. “Then we will toast the years of brilliant collaboration it took to get us to this point.” He held out his hand. “What do you say?”
She hesitated an instant more, but the resistance slid away, her features softening with the promise of submission. Her lips parted, her eyes glossing over. She lifted her hand, her fingers sliding against his palm. Their eyes met, simmering with the familiar, shared attraction, deepened by the promise in the air—he would have her tonight.
Powell led her several feet away to a leather couch and chairs, a desk in the far corner. This was her workspace, and unlike the adjoining rooms down the hall, he’d taken care to add comfort here.
He urged her to sit on the couch. Tentatively, she sat on the edge, watching him with a heavy-lidded stare, her black slacks hugging slender thighs. He walked to the hutch against the wall and pulled out the bottle of champagne and two glasses, filling them. Joining her, he sat down beside her and offered her a glass.
“To us,” he murmured softly, and what his words did not say, he ensured that his eyes did.
Her lips parted, cheeks flushed. She touched her glass to his. “To us.”
They sipped the bubbly liquid, savoring it. He took her glass and set them both on the table. “Tell me, Jocelyn,” he said, boldly resting his hand on her leg. “Does saving the world turn you on as much as it does me?”
Brock floated into consciousness with the sound of voices in his head; heavy shadows blocking out the bright light were the last thing he remembered. When was that? Minutes ago? Hours? He blinked several times, tried to focus, felt the heaviness pressing against his face. A mask—he had on some sort of mask to cover his eyes.
He opened his mouth to speak, to call out, but his throat swelled with the effort. He dragged air into his lungs to prove that he could. Pushed it back out. He wasn’t dead. A familiar voice pierced the fog. No, they were moans. Female moans.
“General,” came the whisper. “ Oh my, General .” More soft moans and pants. A guttural male growl.
Reality sliced through Brock’s mind, possessiveness coursing through his veins. He had no idea why—no understanding of the reason it had to be—but Jocelyn was his. He tried to sit up. Tried to scream out—Jocelyn!—but there was no sound.
Jocelyn’s voice carried through the darkness. “General, wait. General, stop.” Brock drew a breath and forced himself to calm, clinging to the shattered pieces of her voice. “General, wait!” she repeated. “Brock is awake. General, please stop! He’s awake.”
The General grunted. “I don’t give a damn right about now, Jocelyn.”
“We should check on him.”
“How about I make you come, and then you check on him?” The sound of kissing followed. “How about that?”
“He can hear us,” she whispered.
“Then he can get off when we do,” he said. Brock jerked at his armbands again, fighting through the pain thrusting its way up his arms.
The General silenced her with what sounded like more kissing. And more. The sighs and moans tortured Brock far more than the needles in his veins. Wildly, he fought the restraints, fought to break free and stop those moans and sighs until a sharp pain pierced his brow, and he could fight no more. He was forced to lie there and listen to Jocelyn cry out in pleasure, forced to listen to the slap of skin against skin. It went on for long, torturous minutes until finally, silence fell in the room, and Brock imagined with graphic explicitness that they were lying there naked, wrapped around each other. In that moment, he knew he would kill Powell, hunt him down, and make him pay for everything he had done to him. He wrapped his mind around that vow until a loud siren sounded and then turned off.
“Who would be at my front door at this time of night?” Jocelyn said, a scurry of activity following her words, as if she were dressing.
Door? That wasn’t a doorbell, Brock thought remotely. Where the hell were they?
“I’ll check the monitor,” Powell said. “You get dressed.”
The sound of a keyboard being punched… followed by Powell’s low curse.
“What?” Jocelyn said. “What is it?” She gasped, and Brock imagined she was looking at that monitor. “Oh, my God. My son is here. Michael is here.”
The minute his mother opened the door, the scent of sex lanced Michael’s nostrils, replacing the storm now fading into the distance. While his keen sense of smell had proven useful in battle, today it turned his stomach. Because there was more than sex mixed with that smell. There was something familiar he couldn’t quite identify. Something that screamed of menace and lies, a promise that this meeting was going to prove everything he expected it to be—that she was every bit as malicious as his father had ever been. That she would do whatever it took to be on top, including aligning herself with Adam.
Jocelyn Taylor stared back at her son with the same crystal blue eyes he’d once possessed himself, with the kind of welcome reflected in their depths that one might give a tiger in the wild—a façade of regal indifference meant to show no fear that masked an underlying desire to bolt. He had no doubt that he looked like an angry tiger, ragged from battle, battered by the rain. But he’d come here with a feeling of urgency, out of some sense of obligation to her as her son to confirm whether she was guilty or not, before exposing her to the Renegades. The minute she appeared at the door, he already knew his answer—she was guilty. She’d always been just as guilty as his father.
“And here I thought you’d forgotten I existed,” she replied shortly.
“I’m sure you hoped as much,” he said dryly. “We need to talk.”
She tilted her head, studying him for several long seconds. The years had been kind to her, despite the demands of leading Taylor Industries—a task she’d begged Michael to undertake. But then, she had plenty of money to ease the effects of age.
“Come in,” she said finally, stepping back into the foyer to allow him entry. He entered the house he’d once called home—expensive Italian marble beneath his feet, etched, plate-glass windows lining high ceilings—and wished like hell he didn’t have to be there.
“This way,” she said.
He followed her down the hallway to the kitchen, a room he’d loved as a child, a place where cookies and milk had awaited him after school and holiday meals had been festive. But age had dispelled fairy tale families, and he’d discovered that his mother had been playing house at the expense of right and wrong, ignoring the immoral business practices of her husband, practices that had permitted that fantasy life. Apparently, she’d decided she was willing to take over where her husband had left off.
In a defensive posture, she placed the eight-foot, navy-blue, kitchen island between them. Neither of them bothered with a barstool.
Michael wasted no time getting down to business. He slapped the bullet on the tile counter. The color drained from her face.
“I see you finally managed to make Green Hornets market-worthy,” he said.
“Where did you get that?” she hissed.
“Dug it out of my rib cage,” he said. “I see you’re up to Dad’s old tricks, selling weapons to whoever will buy them regardless of consequence.”
“That’s impossible,” she countered.
“I promise you it’s not,” he said. “And I have friends, good men fighting for their country, who are now fighting for their lives because of those bullets. I want names. Who you sold them to, when, and in what quantities.” He wanted to know how the hell Zodius had even known that Green Hornets existed before they’d approached his mother. But then, Adam was always one to cover all his bases. He’d become like the mob—someone in every operation that might serve his needs.
She laughed without humor, crossed her arms in front of her chest. “That list is short. The U.S. Army. Period. There is no other customer. So if you’re shooting each other up with them, that’s not my problem.”
“You’re lying.” She could barely look him in the eye, but then, it had been a long time since she could—maybe all the way back to after-school cookies. She wasn’t that woman anymore—the perfect housewife and mother—if she ever had been.
She glared at him. “Don’t you dare come in here and pretend honor while you judge me, because we both know you’ve plenty to be judged on yourself. And your day is coming, Michael.”
“I want names,” he demanded, his tone dogmatic, harsh by design. “Who did you sell the Green Hornets to?”
“I’m not giving you anything,” she declared. “You certainly haven’t given a damn thing to me.”
“If even one more of these bullets ends up in one of our soldiers,” he said, “I promise you, I will make destroying you and Taylor Industries my life mission.”
That pale, plastic surgery-created face reddened. “What’s so pathetic,” she said, “is that I believe you. I believe my son would try and destroy me.”
“Your son died years ago,” he assured her. He’d come here for answers and hoped to find the loving mother he’d grown up with, not the enemy she’d become. Jesus Christ, he was a fool. He’d expected Cassandra to give up on her father, and yet he still hadn’t managed to do so with his mother. “Now. Let’s move past the talk. Let’s go to your computer.” He wasn’t about to take her word on anything.
Her eyes went wide. “Why would I do that?”
“Because I want more than the names of who you sold those bullets to. I want every last one stocked in your warehouses.” Alarm slid across her face, and she looked like she might refuse, so he added softly, “We can do this the easy way, Mother , or the hard way.”
She glowered, her gaze skittering to the gun and two knives strapped to his hips before she swallowed hard. Without looking at him, she turned on her heels and marched down the hall, turning to the office on the right that had once been his father’s.
He was behind her solid mahogany desk at the same moment she was, standing over her shoulder. She wasn’t doing anything he didn’t supervise. In fact, he reached over her shoulder and punched the HP notebook to life.
“Already logged in,” he scoffed. “I’m ashamed, Mother. You should be more careful.” He pointed to the visitor’s chair across from him. “Sit.” Her lips pursed, but she did as he said.
He pulled his gun and set it on the desk, reminding her how easily he could use it, and started typing. A second password screen pulled up the instant he typed in Green Hornets.
“What’s the password?”
“Michael,” she said, giving him a “go to hell” glare.
He didn’t miss the inference that she’d made those bullets to kill him and those like him. She hated him almost as much as he hated her. He typed in the password.
The information he needed quickly appeared on the screen, including storage location and past shipments, which indicated sales to only one buyer—the U.S. Army, just as she had said. Or those were the only sales documented.
He pushed the phone on her desk in her direction. “Call your security team. Clear Caleb Rain to pick up a shipment.”
“You won’t get away with this,” she vowed.
“Just dial,” he bit out.
The instant she hung up the phone, he snatched his cell and contacted the Renegade team. Purposely, he set it on the desk next to the gun.
“We’ll wait together while they retrieve the bullets,” he told her. “That way you can help me clear up any trouble they might run into.”
He typed in Red Dart, but came up with nothing. Tried several variations. Considered questioning her, but decided that would only make her bury Red Dart deeper before Sterling could find it. He popped in a backup drive. If she had anything on her computer, he’d get it. And he wanted the specs to manufacture those bullets for themselves.
His nostrils flared with the scent of sex again, and he narrowed his gaze on his mother. It was Powell; he could smell him. “Get up,” he said, grabbing the gun. If Powell was here, Michael was going to find him.
For thirty minutes, he’d torn the house apart looking for Powell—the man who’d taken Cassandra from him the day he’d decided to lock away the X2s. The man who might well give Adam the power to destroy the American dream of a free world if he gained control of the government as he planned. That man had been in his mother’s bed. And knowing that Powell had slept with his mother had sent Michael into a maddening rage. Michael didn’t doubt for a minute that he was meant to know.
“Where is he, Mother?” Michael demanded, standing in the middle of her bedroom that dripped of silk, satin, and sex—with Powell. Or maybe that was just her. She smelled like sex. Damn, his sense of smell. This was torture. Knowing she’d been with him.
She sat on the edge of the bed, a smug look on her face. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“I’m losing patience,” he ground out between his teeth.
A thin dark brow arched. “And here I thought you were a man of control, like your father .”
Michael moved his neck from side to side as he drew a slow, agitated breath. “Make no mistake, Mother,” he said, low, lethal. “I am like my father. And we both know what he would have done if someone crossed him, now don’t we?” His father would have found a way to make them pay. Just as Michael intended to do.
If Powell were still here—and every instinct he owned, including his enhanced sense of smell, said he was—he was going to find him. He’d end this now, once and for all. He’d torture him for the location of Red Dart if that’s what it took. Screw digging through the trenches for his secrets. If Michael didn’t drag it out of Powell, eventually Adam would.
His cell phone rang. Michael snapped it to his ear to hear Caleb speak. “We have the bullets. The men are on the outskirts of Sunrise City waiting for us.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Michael told him, not about to leave until he was certain Powell wasn’t here.
Silence. “I’m on the front porch when you’re ready.”
Shock rolled through Michael. Caleb was here. He’d known Michael would need him. That shook him in ways even his mother could not. It reminded him he was bigger than this anger. Bigger than the past. He ended the call and attached his phone back onto his belt.
He eyed his mother with contempt and walked out of the room. He didn’t stop until he stepped onto the front porch and shut the door. He and Caleb stood there side-by-side for several silent moments. “Everything okay?” Caleb asked, leaning on the banister.
Michael crossed his arms in front of him. “Powell is fucking my mother. Pretty sure he was here when I arrived, but I couldn’t find him. I’m thinking he’s underground. Otherwise, I would have found him.”
Caleb’s brow arched. “And you were going to do what if you did?”
“Beat the crap out of him, make him tell me where Red Dart is, and then kill him.” It wasn’t the answer Caleb, who believed Powell would die before he talked, would want to hear, but that didn’t stop Michael from being honest.
“Not exactly the plan we discussed,” Caleb said dryly. “At least with Powell alive, we know who has Red Dart. He’s the devil we know, as the old saying goes. Better than the snake in the grass we can’t see.”
Michael turned and eyed the house. Caleb seemed to read where his thoughts were going and said, “We’ll bring a team back and do a thorough search.” He pushed off the banister. “For now, let’s go unload your anger and some of those Green Hornets on the Zodius hanging out at our front door. We need to know our men are safe.”
Michael nodded. He was all about a little anger management in the form of killing a few Zodius soldiers right about now. It might be the only thing that would keep him from where he really wanted to be—in Cassandra’s bed. And if there was anything a visit to his mother was good for—it was to remind him of all the reasons he didn’t belong there. Yet, if there was ever a time he needed that little taste of heaven Cassandra was to him—it was now.
“I told you not to use those bullets until after Red Dart was in place!” Jocelyn shouted the minute she entered the lab where Powell waited impatiently. “He’s connected me to you! He’ll connect me to Red Dart if he hasn’t already!” She sucked in a shaky breath, no longer yelling, but still irritatingly shrill. “I told you Michael would know where they came from. We’ve had this technology for years. He was a stockholder. He saw the reports. My son is ten times more dangerous than his father ever was. He’ll help Adam take over the world. He will. And he’s going to come for Taylor Industries. He’ll take my research. I don’t know why he hasn’t already.”
Holy hell, she was crying. He’d wanted her to fear Michael, to see him as a threat, to use her guilt over the discovery that her dead husband had been a monster and she’d been blind to it, even helped him take innocent lives in the name of money. And it had been easy—she’d wanted a reason to feel she hadn’t wronged her son as well by thinking him a monster, by shunning him for most of his adult life. She’d wanted a reason to do something right. And his plan had worked. Maybe too well. A hysterical female was the last thing Powell needed right now. “Control yourself, Jocelyn, and act like—”
“A soldier?” she screamed. “I am not a soldier. I am the woman you promised—”
He grabbed her, shook her. “Get a grip on yourself, woman. I would not be foolish enough to use those bullets and show my hand before we are ready,” he said. “They were part of our plan. A double hit. Kill or control. Think about what you are accusing me of, Jocelyn, and you will see it’s insanity. Someone deceived us.”
“I thought you made sure that couldn’t happen,” she said and repeated frantically. “You said you had ways to make sure.”
Powell needed to think. He set her roughly away from him.
“Shut up, Jocelyn,” he barked. Now, he remembered why he hated involving women in important matters. “I cannot think with your incessant chattering.” A look of shock registered on her face, and he turned away before he was forced to endure the tears sure to follow.
He had no time for this. He’d come too far, too close to the realization of Red Dart to falter now. His mind tracked through the possible ways this could have happened.
Powell turned to the bed where West rested. West was the only one who’d had contact with Zodius. The only one who had access to artillery logged in at the base. And the only man who knew what a certain “top-secret” unit contained.
“It was West,” he said, fury forming inside him. He snatched up a letter opener from the desk and walked through the open glass door framing West’s bed. He stopped by the bed and drove the letter opener into West’s leg. West gasped and tried to sit up, his eyes bugging out of his head.
“Oh my God!” Jocelyn screamed. “What are you doing?!” She grabbed Powell’s arm.
Powell stared down at her. “Control yourself before I have you controlled.”
Shock filtered through her expression, and her grip loosened and fell. Powell turned away and yanked the blade from West’s leg whose face was contorted with pain. “You know what I love about a GTECH?” he asked. “All the pain and damage I can cause without killing you. I inflict injury. You heal. I cut some more.” He slammed the letter opener back into West’s leg. And left it there. “I know you gave Zodius the Green Hornets. Why?”
“I didn’t do it,” Brock gasped. “I wouldn’t do that.”
“Lies make me want to cause more pain.” He ripped the blade out of West’s leg.
“I didn’t do it! Please! No more! I hate Lucian. I want him on his knees begging for mercy. I would not help Lucian! ”
Powell considered him a moment. He would believe him about as readily as he would stick his hand in a tank of piranhas. He shoved the blade back into Brock’s leg, reveling at his grunt. Pain would teach him to control himself. “You might think you’ve buried the records to hide what you did, but I will find proof. You’re lying, and I intend to make you pay for it.”
He turned to find Dr. Chin standing beside Jocelyn. “Don’t even consider stitching him up. And leave the blade in his leg. I want it to heal there. A little reminder about what will happen when he crosses me. Otherwise we continue as planned. We’ll use Red Dart to break him.”
He cast Jocelyn a cold stare. He despised weakness. She’d proven today she was best kept beneath him, not beside him. “You just make sure you’re ready with Red Dart when Chin says ‘go.’”
“What about Michael?” Her voice quavered slightly.
He arched a brow. “What about him?”
“He’ll come back.”
“And we’ll be ready,” he assured her. “In fact, we will welcome the visit. If Michael comes to us, we don’t have to hunt him down. I hope he brings others with him. He will be tagged with Red Dart, then broken and controlled, like all the GTECHs. They will become our protectors, not our captors. It seems only appropriate that Michael be the first to fall, considering the hell he made both our lives.” His lips twitched. “His fall will give us another reason to celebrate.” His attention shifted to Chin. “Call me when we’re ready to begin.” He glanced at his watch, calculating the time needed to test Red Dart and prepare before the next nightfall. He didn’t dare delay longer. “You have ten hours.”
Powell walked away, his mind on his plans. The more he thought about Michael, the more he looked forward to bringing that man to his knees.
Cassandra sat in the soft green recliner between Damion’s and Sterling’s beds, knees under her chin. Finally, Damion was resting. The poor man had been through hell, absolute hell. Throwing up, shivering, and shaking. The same things she’d seen Michael go through, yet Sterling, who had been injured more seriously, had experienced nothing but peaceful sleep.
Cassandra looked up to find Kelly standing in the doorway. “Hey,” she said, smiling, glad to finally get some time with her. Kelly had been so busy earlier. She’d whizzed in, drawn blood, checked vitals, and taken off again.
“What happened to my order for you to rest?” Kelly asked.
“I’ll rest when you rest,” Cassandra vowed.
“Still as difficult as ever, I see,” Kelly teased, claiming the rolling doctor’s chair. “And no, before you ask, I don’t have your blood work back.”
Cassandra smiled. “I was going to ask.”
“I know,” Kelly assured her. “I still can’t believe you were wearing Michael’s mark for all that time at Groom Lake and didn’t tell me. I would have kept it a secret.”
“I didn’t want to put you in that position,” Cassandra said. “And I always thought we’d come forward. Things just… happened.”
“Things,” she snorted. “That’s a good way of putting it.”
Guilt fluttered inside her. “I’m sorry I dropped off the face of the earth.”
“If you mean Germany and the silent treatment,” Kelly said. “I’m not. You should have stayed there. You were safe.”
“Safe is an illusion as long as Adam is free.” Then she changed the subject, asking what she hadn’t been able to when Kelly had been busy. “The final lifebonding process where I convert to GTECH. It hasn’t changed—right? The eye color change. The sickness. My symptoms all seem like I’m converting, but we haven’t done a blood exchange.”
“And these things are triggered by sex, right?” she responded. Cassandra nodded, and Kelly continued, “Could be that his body evolved, and perhaps now the process doesn’t require the blood exchange. Maybe a few sexual encounters will do the job.”
That wasn’t the answer Cassandra wanted. So, no sex or lifelong bonding—there had to be an in-between. Maybe a condom but… “It’s not sex. It’s orgasm,” she said, remembering the restroom encounter in the hotel.
Kelly tucked her hands in her lab coat. “I won’t ask details,” she said. “But I trust you on that one.” She sat there, thought a moment. “It could simply be that you’re ovulating. If you are, it’s quite possible this is simply your body responding to your mate—a natural need to reproduce.”
Cassandra studied her. “I know you, Kelly,” she said. “Stop with the good bedside manner routine. You don’t believe that ovulation thing for a minute. I wind-walked and survived.”
“With Michael,” she said. “There is a physical bond there that, in theory, might have offered some protection.”
“Kelly,” Cassandra warned. “Shoot straight with me. Tell me what I need to know, not what you think will make me feel better.”
Kelly pursed her lips. “You’ve had the mark for two years—which I still can’t believe you kept from me, but nevertheless—Mother Nature has a way of finishing what it begins. And as I said, Michael may well have evolved beyond needing the blood exchange. There’s no denying he has skills with the wind that the other GTECHs do not. Of course, I have no idea why. He refuses to give blood. I think he’s afraid we’ll find out he’s like Adam or something crazy like that. Like we even know what Adam is to compare anyway.”
“Because he’s X2 like Adam,” she said. It wasn’t a question.
“Yes,” Kelly agreed. “But if he didn’t turn aggressive and join the Zodius movement while he was undercover, then after all this time he’s not going to. And if he’d let me take his blood—maybe we’d find out he isn’t X2. Maybe the test was an error. Or maybe he has something that offsets the X2 violence. I can help him get answers if he lets me. He won’t.”
Michael didn’t do anything he didn’t want to do—except bond with her. Panic began to form in Cassandra. She did not want lifebonding forced on her. Or on Michael for that matter. It should be like a marriage—a choice. “If seeing each other again has somehow bypassed the blood bond, can it be stopped if we stay away from each other?”
“Why would you want to do that?” Kelly interrupted. “You love each other. Cassandra. I really don’t believe the X2 gene is a danger to you. If Michael—”
“It’s not that,” she said quickly. “It’s complicated. Too complicated to get into right now.”
Kelly considered a moment. “If you like, tomorrow we can sit and talk. I’m here if you need me.”
Her heart warmed. “I’m really glad I found you again, Kelly.”
Sterling moaned and rolled over, bringing another question to mind.
“Why does Damion have the healing sickness and Sterling doesn’t?”
“I wish I knew,” Kelly said fretfully. “The more developed the GTECH’s evolvement, the more enhanced the healing sickness. And the worse their vitamin C deficiencies as well. A good portion of the men now have to inject themselves daily with high doses of C.”
A sudden tingling sensation trickled down Cassandra’s spine.
“Michael,” Cassandra said a moment before he appeared in the doorway, filling it with his broad shoulders and dominant presence. Dominant. Everything about the man darn sure dominated her senses. His hair was tied back, his face brushed with a light shadow of masculine stubble. His dark eyes seemed to spiral endlessly through her soul. The man stole her breath. She should be mad at him for being such a jerk earlier. Instead, she was simply relieved he was safe. Near. There were things to say, things to understand between them. Now they had the chance. Now they were together.
“Did you get the bullets?” Cassandra asked.
“Not only did we get them,” he said, “we put them to good use on the Zodius soldiers who’d camped out near our entrance. They’re gone. We sent them home to Adam with their tails tucked between their legs.”
“If I never see another one of those bullets in one of our men, it will be too soon,” Kelly said, rolling her chair so that she brought them both into view. “I was just going to find Cassandra a place to get some rest. We took some blood and hope to have some answers tomorrow.” She hesitated and then, “It would help to have a sample from you too, Michael.”
Seconds ticked by, his jaw set in a hard line, his expression indecipherable, before he said, “Where do you want me?”
You could almost hear Kelly’s jaw hit the ground before she jumped up to offer her chair to him, and in the process, cast Cassandra a discreet wink. “Let me get supplies,” Kelly said. “I’ll be right back.”
Kelly thought Michael’s agreement to give blood meant something—though Cassandra didn’t know what. But her stomach was fluttering wildly as Michael walked into the room, nearing her with that overwhelming presence of his and claiming the chair, his eyes locking with hers. “How are they?” he asked.
“Damion has been horribly sick, but it seems to have passed.”
“How are you?” he asked gently.
Better now that he was back, she realized. “I’m okay.” She tilted her head, studied him. Those dark eyes flickered with some unidentifiable something that made her return the question. “Are you?”
A long pause, and then in a barely audible voice he said, “I don’t know, Cassandra.”
Shock charged a path through her body. He’d never said anything like that to her before. Never. She doubted the man had ever said anything like that to anyone. He needed her. She sensed that, and suddenly all her doubts and worries paled in comparison.
Kelly returned, armed, and ready for action. “Okay. Let’s get this done so you two can get some rest.”
Michael’s eyes clung to Cassandra’s for another moment before he turned and offered his arm. Kelly drew the blood—two more tubes than she had drawn from Cassandra—and then packed it all in a pocket. “All set. I told Cassandra I’d have preliminary results in the morning, but really I’d like to keep her for a few more days.”
Michael glanced in Cassandra’s direction as if he expected her to argue, but she didn’t. She was too tired to object. “I’ll have to figure out how to contact my father and make up an excuse for being gone that he will buy.”
Michael arched a brow at her in surprise.
“You gave up your blood,” she said softly. “I’ll give up my time.”
Understanding flashed in his face before he cast an accusing look at Kelly, his tone gently chastising. “I see you’ve discussed my distaste for your needles.”
“It might have come up,” she said slyly.
His expression turned darker. “What’s happening to her, Doc?”
Kelly’s gaze shifted between the two of them. “What’s supposed to happen. I think you both know that.” She let her answer linger and then added in her more official tone, “As for the biology of it all… well, we’ll see what the tests say. As long as you are together though, I suspect your bodies will continue to try to complete what has started.”
“Which means being apart is the only way to stop it,” he said.
It wasn’t a question, but rather a statement, and Cassandra had the instant sense that it was something he’d been thinking on his own. Unbidden, those words ripped through Cassandra and twisted her in knots. There had been no good-bye last time. He’d just disappeared. She couldn’t live through that again.
“If it can be stopped,” Kelly replied, tugging Cassandra out of the wildfire of erratic thoughts. “I have my doubts. But I could be wrong. As I told Cassandra, this could be something as simple as hormonal fluctuations that fade when you two are apart. There certainly are scientific reasons not only to want to understand what’s happening, but to need to do so. Others will experience this same thing. I have no doubt. We need to know if bonding can take place without a blood transfer. We need to know what bonding ultimately means for the couple. We’ll try and find out everything we can as fast as we can.” She shoved her hands in her lab coat. “I’ll go get the testing started and then catch a few winks myself.” Her attention shifted to Cassandra. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow. We can grab coffee between me poking and prodding you.”
Cassandra smiled. “Sounds good. Well… the coffee part.”
A moment later, Kelly departed, and Cassandra was alone with Michael, her heart pitter-pattering against her ribs in a wild, bluesy kind of beat that said heartache was coming.
Michael rolled the chair around to face her. “Ready to get out of here?”
She swallowed hard and nodded. “Yes. I’m ready.” He held his hand out to her, and she tentatively settled her hand against his. Warmth spread up her arm, across her chest. He opened his mouth to speak and shut it. She chose not to press. Not here. Not now. She wanted to be alone with him. To be with him . God, she wanted to be in his arms more than she wanted her next breath.
Hand in hand, they walked through the sparsely populated hospital and exited a door to a narrow electronic conveyor that traveled through a high cavern. Flickering florescent lights clung to ceilings and walls and seemed to travel onward forever.
Michael pulled her close, his big body surrounding hers, his hands tangling in her hair before lowering his forehead to hers. “My mother,” he whispered. “I confirmed she’s a part of all this.”
She pulled back, brushed wayward strands of his hair from his face. “Oh God. Michael. I was hoping it wasn’t true. I’m sorry. Did you see her? Talk to her?”
He inhaled a labored breath, and she settled her hand over his heart, feeling the pounding vibrating through her palm, urging him to calm down with her touch. Finally, air trickled from his lips. “I saw her. She lied and said she sold them to the military.” His hand went to hers on his chest. “I expected you to do what I couldn’t. Give up on your father. I knew what my mother was, but I still went there tonight wanting her to prove me wrong.”
She wanted to cry. The pain in Michael seeped through her skin right to her heart. “Michael—”
His hand tightened over hers. “Hear me out, baby. Please.”
She nodded, instant understanding coming to her. Listening was the most important thing she could do for him. “Of course.”
“I need to tell you I’m sorry. I’m so damn sorry.”
Her free hand went to his jaw. “I’m sorry for both of us.” Their eyes held and locked. For long seconds, they were transfixed, entwined together in past and present, in the anticipation of what lay ahead.
The spell was broken by a buzzer sounding the warning for the end of the pathway. They turned and walked off the conveyor and into the most amazing place Cassandra had ever seen in her life. It was a city underground. Quaint little stone buildings with a red brick path. Stores and restaurants, little outdoor tables and chairs.
“Oh my God,” Cassandra said. “How is this even possible?”
“Money and a lot of care,” he said. “And Caleb wanted this place to feel like home to those who live here. A safe place that wasn’t like a prison.”
“Is this what Zodius is like?”
“Our city is much smaller,” he said. “Zodius City exceeds our population by thousands.”
“How did the Renegades afford all of this?”
“Private money from people like myself and Damion, who had it to give. Caleb struck a funding deal with the government as well when we agreed to support them. We’ve invested with what we have.”
“Amazing,” she whispered. “Just amazing.”
They walked to the left and took another conveyor that led to a tunneled walkway branching left and right. They turned right to a row of doors and stopped at the very end. “This is me,” Michael said, punching in a code and opening the door. He then stepped back and leaned his arm over the door seal. “What’s mine is yours. I think you know that. I’ll come early in the morning, and we’ll get you a phone line to your father, code it to make it look like it’s coming from your cell phone. I’ll bring you some clothes, too.”
She tilted her chin up, stood close, almost touching. “You don’t seriously think you’re leaving me tonight?” she asked. “Do you?”
“I won’t be able to keep my hands to myself if I come in that door,” he said hoarsely. “I can barely keep from doing so now.”
“You heard what the doctor said,” he argued. “If we—”
She wrapped her arms around him and stared up at him. “You aren’t leaving me tonight.”
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