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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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“What the hell went on out there, Lucian?” Adam thundered, charging into the Zodius City hospital where Lucian was placing a soldier on a bed—one of a dozen injured by the Renegades.
“Michael happened,” he said, ready for this confrontation. “And he sent you a message. ‘Fuck off.’ That was right before he took down three of our men with Green Hornets.”
Adam all but roared, his face red, eyes half bugging out. “Which he got from where?”
Ava’s voice shouted from nearby. “Hurry! Get her to the doctor!” Adam stepped inside the doorway as Tad appeared behind him, a female in his arms, rushing her to the care of a doctor.
Ava scanned the room and pointed at one of the injured soldiers. “Him!” she yelled at the doctor. “He is her Lifebond. Save him, or she will die.” She whirled on Lucian, fury in her eyes as she protectively hovered near the female. Tad stood behind her as if he were her guardian. “What have you done, Lucian? Never have we come back from battle with injuries like these. If her male dies, so does she, and so does our chance of breeding them! Already we struggle to replace the lost females.”
Tad settled his hands on his hips. “Looks like your contact double-crossed you and sold Green Hornets to us and the Renegades,” he said snidely.
“He didn’t need Brock West,” Lucian said. “He has Cassandra Powell, his Lifebond.” He cut his attention to Ava. “He wind-walked her to safety.”
“Then he did not care if she lived or died,” Tad declared quickly.
“If there is even a slight chance they are Lifebonds,” Ava said, “we cannot risk killing her, Adam. We need the Lifebonds too badly. Michael is powerful. His children would be powerful. With Red Dart you will control him and his offspring.” She smiled. “Think of the many ways you might torture Michael with both him and his Lifebond in captivity. You can hurt her without killing her. It would be fun. We can do it together.”
Adam cast his Lifebond a half-veiled stare. “Perhaps I should go get him myself. Be done with all of this.”
“No!” Ava insisted, pressing his hand to her belly. “You risk my life and our child’s.” She eyed Lucian. “If Lucian cannot get the job done this time, then we’ll let Tad try.”
Lucian ground his teeth. He was really beginning to hate that bitch.
Cassandra hugged Michael close, refusing to allow him to leave. He stared down at her with turbulent, dark eyes, tormented, hungry—full of passion. And then he kissed her. And it was a kiss that stole her breath, a kiss that made her want to laugh and cry all in one moment.
Michael walked her backwards into the room, kicking the door shut, and turning the dimmer knob on the wall to illuminate the room. But Cassandra didn’t care about the room or about the hell outside the room. Not now. All she cared about was Michael, the man, the moment, the kiss.
He tangled his fingers through her weather-tossed hair, kissed her as if he had never kissed her before, as if he would never kiss her again. Need blossomed inside her, more need than she’d ever thought it possible to feel for another human being. Her hand pressed beneath his T-shirt, skimming hard muscle and warm, taut skin. He reached up and tugged the shirt over his head. Before it ever hit the ground, her fingers were entwined in his chest hair, tracing the lines of his defined pecs. He kissed her again, a long, drugging, perfect kiss that brought her to her toes. Her tongue caressed his with soft, hungry licks. A kiss that deepened as his hands bared her waist, calloused fingers rasping against delicate skin with the promise of pleasure that left her shirt on the floor next to his.
Too soon he tore his mouth from hers, his breathing as erratic and wild as her own, and led her into the efficiency-style apartment.
Cassandra scanned the room as they walked. A granite bar framed the small kitchen overlooking a massive open room, the front half the living area with a couch and two chairs and a big-screen television. There was a bedroom toward the back with a king-sized bed and a black leather headboard. There were no pictures anywhere. No personal items. Nothing that said—this was Michael’s home. Was that because he’d lived in Zodius Nation? Or because emptiness was all he allowed himself? Her heart ached at that thought. She didn’t want that for him; she didn’t want that for either of them.
They crossed the expanse of the living area and stopped beside the bed, facing one another. Michael released her hand, and they stood there in silent communication, in understanding of a decision between them that was profoundly important.
This was the first time since they’d found each other again that they would decisively choose to get into that bed together, rather than allow passion and emotion to drive them there. It was a signal of acceptance between them, of at least trying to find a way over the walls that always rose between them. And yes, there was a chance it could bind them together; they both knew this. Or rather knew the risk of going forward with so many unknowns, so many possibilities about their bond that they didn’t understand.
“I can still walk out that door,” he said softly. “This doesn’t have to happen.”
She reached up and unhooked her bra, tossing it to the side. “Or you can stay.”
For an instant, his gaze held hers before skimming downward in a slow, deliberate inspection of her breasts, stark passion etched in his face. Her nipples tightened, pleasure stealing a path from the tips straight to her core. “You have the most beautiful nipples I’ve ever seen,” he murmured softly.
Instant, wet heat clung to her panties. He’d always said bold things to her, things that made her blush, things that aroused her in a deep way, and now was no exception. “And you,” she said, “have on too many clothes.” Her voice was gravelly with passion, unfamiliar to her own ears.
In response, he unsnapped his jeans. She reached for hers as well, and a frenzy of undressing began. Excitement coursed through her veins, her hands trembling from the intensity. Like the first time they’d been together. Her mind went there now, retraced the path that had brought them here tonight.
Cassandra finished undressing, willing her heart to stop racing, like a schoolgirl on a first date. No one had ever excited her in this way—no one but Michael.
As they faced one another again she admired his body. He was a work of art, the ultimate man in her eyes, rippling muscle and masculine perfection. Her lips parted at the sight of his jutting thick erection; her breath lodged in her throat at the erotic thought of once again having him inside her.
She closed the distance between them, wrapping her hand around the width of him, her eyes meeting his, her free hand going to his chest. He pulsed in her hand, hard, inflexible, veins protruding. “God, I’ve missed touching you like this,” she confessed.
“My restraint is paper thin,” he warned.
Her lips twitched. “Ah, now,” she teased, leaning closer, her breasts pressed to his side, his arms wrapping around her waist as she flattened her tongue on his nipple. “I’m quite confident of your restraint.” She tightened her grip on his cock, and then caressed it with her fingers, stroking the wet liquid tip and sliding it around… kissing his shoulder, his arm.
She pinned him in a seductive stare full of erotic promise and then slowly slid down his body until she was on her knees. Watched the anticipation shudder across his strong features as she made one long lap of her tongue across the bulging head of his penis and then drew it between her lips. She sucked him deeper, harder, the salty-sweet taste of him filling her mouth. She loved the pleasure it represented, the proof that she was stealing just a little of his control. Her free hand went to his thigh, and she could feel him shaking, shaking. Michael was shaking, vulnerable in a way she knew he didn’t allow himself to be at any other time.
And she remembered why she loved this so much—because when she drew him into her mouth, when she was on her knees before him, that was the only time Michael ever allowed himself to really take anything. The only time he ever let go and forgot to hold back.
And so she made sure he didn’t hold back, working him with her mouth, her hand, her tongue. Remembering what made him hot… what drove him wild. His fingers tangled in her hair, a moan escaping his lips, the sound washing over Cassandra like an aphrodisiac, driving her to give more, take more. His hips thrust as she pumped him, his cock sliding back and forth between her lips. She could feel the pulse of his impending orgasm gathering beneath her hand and feel the urgency in the convulsing of his hips. But he didn’t let her take him all the way; his hands went to her shoulders, demanding that she stop. He grabbed her arms and pulled her to her feet.
“When I come,” he said, “it will be inside you.” With the words, he gently lowered her to the bed, went down on his knees at the edge of the mattress, and spread her wide. She rested on her elbows, watching him. His hands trailed up her legs, caressed a slow, teasing path that told her of his intentions.
She fell back on the mattress the instant his warm breath brushed her clit, his tongue sliding delicately around the tip before he gently suckled. It was Cassandra’s turn to cry out as he drew her more fully into his mouth, his fingers stroking along the slick, swollen flesh and then slipping inside her. Her hands grabbed at the surprisingly soft fabric of the comforter, eyes fluttering with the sensation of every lick, stroke, and suckle. At the same time, he stretched to palm her breasts, teasing her nipples.
He gave her everything she could possibly desire, except him inside her. Yes, she so needed him inside her. Whimpering, she felt the flush of orgasm and fought against it. With a Herculean effort, she sat up and tried to move away. He grasped her thighs, held her firmly, stared up at her from that intimate spot between her thighs that only made her ache a little bit more.
“Together,” she whispered. “Please. I really want that.” She pressed her hands to his shoulders. “You lie down.” There was something inside her that said he needed to know in as many ways as possible that this was a choice, being with him, a thought-out decision. There was passion, there was desire, but this wasn’t a mad rush of passion overcoming indecision.
His eyes softened and then flared with newfound heat before he rolled to his back. Cassandra wasted no time straddling him, the wet core of her body pressed to his stomach while she leaned forward and brushed her lips over his.
Possessively, he filled his hands with her breasts and then caressed a path down her waist, holding her steady as she reached between them and found his erection. Their eyes held as she slid the tip to the seam of her body, slipping it past her swollen, sensitive feminine lips. Her breath lodged in her throat at the feel of him inside her as her body swallowed the hard edges of his erection. One slow inch at a time, she slid down the hard, hot length of him, until they were one, merged.
They stared at one another, emotions, passion, a web that captured them and would not let go. He moved suddenly, pulling her lips to his, his hand wrapped around the back of her neck, his tongue stroking hers. Slowly, they began to move, hips swaying in a sensual rhythm that sent splayed pleasure to every nerve ending of her body. The kisses shifted from tender to desperate—passionate, wildly out of control. Michael sat up with her, wrapped his arms around her back, rocked with her in this slow, tilting motion that drove her insane. Their lips were close, breath mingled.
Abruptly, he stopped moving, his fingers brushing the hair from her eyes. “I love you, Cassandra,” he said. “I love you so damn much.”
Her heart skipped a beat, her skin tingled. Those were the words she had longed to hear. The words she needed as much as she needed her next breath. “I love you too, Michael. Even when I told myself to hate you, I knew I loved you.”
His hand framed her face. “There are things about me you don’t know,” he said. “Things I can’t, I won’t, ask you to live with.”
“Stop, Michael,” she whispered, her hands framing his face. “Stop judging yourself and then assuming it’s what I feel too. Have you ever done anything that you didn’t believe was to save innocent lives? Anything you regretted later?”
“It’s not that simple,” he whispered. “Baby, it’s not.”
“I know you, Michael,” she whispered and kissed him before he declared otherwise.
He tasted of rich masculine spice, devouring her mouth with his. His cock began to stroke the sensitive flesh between her legs. They were lost then, forgetting what had brought them there, what might tear them apart. His big hands powerfully explored her body, touched her in ways no other could. His fingers played with her nipples, tugged in a delicious, rough way that made her cry out and buck against him at the same moment. Made her nip his lips with her teeth and kiss a path to his shoulder. She could not touch enough of him, could not taste enough of him, could not get him deep enough or hard enough. There would never be enough. Part of her yearned to push him back against the mattress, then ride him wildly, take more of him. Take control. But that meant letting go; that meant those strong arms wouldn’t cradle her anymore and that was simply not an option.
Instead, she clung to him—with her lips, her arms, her hips. If it could have lasted forever, still it would not have been long enough. Too soon, tension coiled in her stomach, too soon, it spiraled into spasms that milked his cock and left her gasping for air, her face buried in his neck. His grip tightened around her waist, a guttural moan sliding from his lips a moment before she felt his seed spill inside her. They stayed there for long seconds, merged together, as if both were afraid of losing the moment, of losing each other.
It was Michael who broke the silence, sliding to the edge of the bed, still buried inside her. Before he stood up, he brushed his lips over her. “Bath and then sleep for you.”
“Only if you come to bed with me,” she negotiated.
“I’m not going anywhere.” The words rasped across his lips in a hoarse whisper full of torment that seemed to say—not now, but later—later he would leave.
Cassandra clung to him as he carried her to the bathroom. It was true, she’d been afraid of being alone. She’d admitted that to herself. Tonight though, she realized something. She needed and wanted Michael in her life, but he had to want to be there. No Lifebond, no physical connection, would change what was messing with his head. Nor would it bind them together in the most important way—the emotional one.
Michael had to make the choice to allow her inside his life. It could be no other way. Either he gave himself to her all the way or not at all. She might not like being alone, but now that she’d faced that fear, she was prepared to deal with it. What Cassandra wasn’t willing to live with was wondering when Michael would decide he was too dangerous for her, or too duty bound, and leave again.
Michael rested against one end of the claw-foot-style bathtub with Cassandra opposite him, and he stared into her black eyes. God. What had he done? What if they’d fully bonded, and it was irreversible? They didn’t even have his blood work back. He had no idea what it would show. He’d been selfish, desperate for the woman he loved.
Cassandra sank lower into the deep tub, her long, blond hair floating on top of the surface. “This is a little piece of heaven on earth.”
“Your eyes are black.”
Her lashes fluttered to her cheeks, dark circles against pale skin, and then lifted again. “I assumed as much.”
Being with her again made him remember why he’d thought he could be a different man when he was with her, how she made him want to be a better man. How she found softness in him where he thought there was only steel.
It was clear the GTECH injections enhanced what was there in each man—turned those dark into something much darker. That he’d managed to avoid becoming like Adam was nothing short of a miracle. That he’d gained lethal abilities no man should possess with that kind of darkness inside him shook him to the core. Shook him because he was still changing, still growing stronger. When would the changes push him over the edge? And would he take Cassandra with him?
Concern building, he asked, “How do you feel?”
“I’m fine. Tired. A bit nauseous, but who wouldn’t be with hardly any sleep?” She lifted her hand and let water and bubbles drip from her fingers. “I still can’t believe you had bubble bath,” Cassandra teased. “Bubbles defy the entire roughneck soldier image you wear so well, in case you didn’t read that page in my father’s macho soldier handbook.” Her smile wavered a bit, as if it hurt to say his name or compare the two of them.
Michael lifted her foot, her pretty, pink-painted toes poking out of the water as he gently massaged. She moaned instantly, and he smiled inside. She’d always been a sucker for a good foot rub, and he’d been a sucker for those cute faces she made when he gave her one. “Caleb put one of the nurses in charge of the comfort of the soldiers,” he explained. “Emma stocked everything she considered to be the basic necessities in every room, regardless of sex.”
Cassandra laughed. “I like this Emma already. Bubbles as a necessity.” She moaned a little as he massaged. “You’re very good at that.” She grinned. “And a great many other things as well.”
“Careful,” he warned, his cock pulsing with the suggestive tug of her voice. “Or I’ll be tempted to come over there and show you a few of those things. And we both know you have to get some sleep.” She needed rest. He needed her, but her needs came first.
“Sleep is overrated,” she said dismissively and changed the subject, her expression growing solemn. “What are you going to do about your mother?”
He reached for her and pulled her close to his side, under his arm. She was so tiny that she fit beside him easily inside the tub. “I’ll destroy her company and strip them of their ability to help Zodius.”
Several heavy seconds of silence hung in the air before she whispered, “Tell me what happened tonight.”
He drew a deep breath and realized how much he wanted to tell her, even needed to tell her. Though he excluded the parts about her father, the words came easily, rolling from his lips with the relief of a summer breeze rather than the discomfort of a forced wind. She already knew bits and pieces of how he felt about his mother, knew how his mother had shunned him for turning away from the family, from his father. About their long silence. But what Cassandra didn’t know was what he hadn’t admitted to himself until tonight—how much that silence ate him alive. It had not been until he stood in that kitchen and discovered that he couldn’t justify his mother’s actions as just those of a misguided housewife anymore, and that realization had ripped him into pieces.
The water was chilly by the time they stood up and turned on the shower to wash off. Michael turned Cassandra away from him, wrapped his arm around her waist, slipped her wet hair away from her neck, and kissed the mark that linked her to him. For a few moments, he let himself believe he could have all of her, tugging her closer, holding her snuggly against his body. The water sprayed them with peaceful warmth, and Michael squeezed his eyes shut, pretending that tomorrow would be as perfect as this moment and knowing it would not.
A loud pounding sound permeated the haze of Cassandra’s sleep, followed by the jabbing pain in her stomach. Oh God. She blinked awake and quickly squeezed her eyes shut against the agonizing glare of light. Not even natural light. More pounding. She held her head and forced herself to a sitting position, holding the sheet over her naked body.
Michael sat on the edge of the bed, fully dressed in the black fatigues she was coming to know as standard Renegade attire. “You might want to put this on,” he said, offering her an oversized blue robe. “Sterling is here to help you scramble that call to your father.”
“A robe, courtesy of Emma?” she asked, accepting it. “Because I know you prefer au naturel .” She attempted a smile, but her eyes pinched, and it turned into a grimace. “And I like au naturel .”
“Emma is responsible for the robe,” he agreed, planting a solid kiss on her lips, warm and sensual. A little sound of pleasure rumbled from her throat of its own accord as he added, “And yes, I do prefer au naturel … with you.” His mood shifted, darkened. Angst etched the hard lines of his face. “Your eyes are still black.”
Her hand curled on his chest. “And I’m sick again, but every second I’m awake it eases up a little.” She hoped. Another knock on the door burst through her brain. Okay, maybe she wasn’t better. “Please make him stop that incessant knocking.” It was killing her head.
She shoved her arms into the robe, and his gaze swept her bare chest, but he didn’t touch her. He wanted to, though—it was in the raw sexuality that settled deep in his eyes. Suddenly, he pulled her close again, his lips slanting over hers in a deep, passionate kiss that left her breathless and panting as he pushed to his feet and sauntered toward the door. There was a message in that kiss she frantically tried to decipher, but there wasn’t time. He was already at the door, already opening it. Cassandra tied the robe at her waist and scooted to the edge of the bed.
In an instant the room was abuzz with activity as Sterling and Kelly overtook the small space. Michael and Caleb stepped into the hallway, and Cassandra couldn’t help but wonder what they were discussing.
“I have coffee,” Kelly said, floating through the room in a blossom of jasmine-scented perfume, black pants peeking from beneath her lab coat. “And clothes that probably aren’t going to fit well, but they’re better than nothing.” She held up a small bag with handles. “Emma sent a care package of various toiletries.”
“I really need to meet this Emma,” Cassandra said. “She sounds like everyone’s mother.”
“Where’s my coffee?” Sterling asked, stomping to a halt behind Kelly, looking as good as new in his military garb, a computer case over his shoulder. He gave her a salute. “Thanks for hanging out, bedside, last night.”
“I’d say, anytime,” Cassandra replied, “but let’s not make a habit of hospital visits.”
“And no, to the coffee for you, Sterling,” Kelly replied, dropping the bag on the floor and then sitting next to Cassandra. Offering her the paper cup of coffee, Kelly cast Sterling a stern look. “You’re barely off the IV.”
“GTECH, sweetheart.” He set the case down on the coffee table and sat down. “I’ve been off that IV for hours already.”
“That’s Doc to you, not sweetheart.” She cut her attention back to Cassandra, holding up a finger. “One hour off the IV. He thinks he’s Superman. At least Damion is taking it easy this morning. He’s still resting.”
Michael and Caleb returned to the room, the testosterone level in the small space skyrocketing off the charts. They stopped at the edge of the living room, standing side-by-side. Tall, dominant men. Leaders.
“ He’s your Superman,” Sterling said, inclining his chin at Caleb, and then he lowered his voice as he glanced at Michael. “And the Dark One, Batman.”
Cassandra laughed, feeling a little better thankfully, though she discreetly put the coffee cup on the nightstand by the bed. Coffee and her stomach, not so good. Sterling’s observations, terrific. “I can so see that,” she said, her attention snagging Michael’s, a silent message in her eyes that the comparison, silly as it might be, seemed so true—he was Batman. He was the one you went to when no one else wanted to get their hands dirty.
Caleb broke through their line of sight, claiming the recliner next to the couch. “That makes Sterling, Robin, the Boy Wonder.” His mood was light, but a vibe of tension crackled around him. Around Michael, too, Cassandra realized.
Kelly produced two syringes. “The first is to calm the side effects,” she said softly. “And I want to take more blood.” She tilted Cassandra’s chin and inspected her. “Now, while your eyes are black. The sooner, the better. Then I’ll need to take samples every couple of hours.”
Sterling punched a few keys on his computer. “Boy Wonder needs a few minutes to get set up, so feel free to poke and prod Cassandra. I’m happy that the doctor’s attention is diverted elsewhere.”
Cassandra glanced at the clock. It was eight. “As long as I call him in the next hour,” she said. “I’d really like to get dressed, if that’s okay?”
“We have some things to discuss, anyway,” Caleb said. “Do what you ladies need to do.”
“Why don’t we go in the bathroom and give them some guy time,” Kelly suggested.
Cassandra hugged the robe around herself. “Yes, let’s.” Michael’s eyes touched Cassandra’s, dark with concern; remotely, she was aware of Caleb watching them.
“Any results on her blood work?” Michael asked Kelly.
Cassandra took advantage of the shift in attention to inspect Caleb, finding his expression indecipherable, his elbows settled on his knees.
“I’m not prepared to make any conclusions at this point,” Kelly replied and then cast him a “dare you to challenge me” look. She grabbed the bag she’d brought with her and motioned Cassandra to the bathroom.
Cassandra could barely contain her chuckle as she sat down on the toilet cover. “You sure shut him down.”
Kelly shut the door and set the bag down, her hands going to her hips. “I’ve learned to hold my own. They were a demanding bunch as soldiers. And now as GTECHs—they’re like soldiers on rocket fuel, ten times more intense.”
“ Do you know anything yet, Kelly?” she prodded, steeling herself for the answer.
“You’re ovulating. You’re low on vitamin C,” she said, tapping a syringe. “Which is why I’m giving you a supplement along with the nausea medicine.” She glanced at Cassandra’s arm. “Roll your sleeve up.”
Peeling her sleeve up, Cassandra asked, “What does that mean?”
“Nothing yet,” she said, leaning over her and injecting the vitamin C. She set the injection aside and reached for the syringe. “None of the more advanced testing is ready. And I need to compare today’s samples to last night’s.” Minutes later, she finished up. “I’ll leave you to get dressed.” She sighed. “Now, to talk Michael into giving me more blood. Then maybe I can convince him he’s not a monster about to turn you into one.”
Somehow, Cassandra doubted that a blood test would convince Michael he wasn’t a monster. She wasn’t sure anything would.
Michael stared at the tube that hung from the needle in his arm, holding his breath as he had the night before, waiting for the liquid to appear. Letting out a silent “thank you” when it appeared red—not green, not blue, not anything but normal-looking red. Because it really wasn’t normal, not even by GTECH standards. Kelly already knew that, too; he’d seen it in her face when she’d sat down next to him.
With Caleb and Sterling sitting a few feet away in low conversation, Michael lowered his voice to a murmur. “What did you tell Cassandra?”
Kelly’s lashes lifted, her green eyes alight with a knowing look that confirmed she’d already seen something in his testing that he wasn’t going to like. “Nothing yet ,” she replied, a clear warning in her voice. “Come see me when you get done here to talk about your test results.”
Michael’s gut clenched in a tight ball of dread. His blood work showing abnormality wasn’t unexpected, by him or probably anyone else. He’d known it was selfish to touch Cassandra last night, to touch her period without the outcome of that blood work, without knowing what he might be doing to her—but still he’d touched her, still he’d buried himself deep inside her and enjoyed every last second of her.
Kelly pushed to her feet. “See you gentlemen later.” She glanced at Michael. “See you soon.” She didn’t wait for his reply and hurried to the door in a wisp of white cotton before disappearing outside.
Sterling fixed Michael in a gaping stare.
“What?” Michael demanded gruffly, leaning one elbow on his knee, not in the mood for any crap from Sterling. That Caleb and Sterling had been channeling an edgy vibe from the moment they’d shown up didn’t help.
“You gave blood,” Sterling said, an astute gleam in his eyes.
“Really not in the mood to discuss my medical history with you, Sterling,” Michael ground out. He cut a look between the two of them. “What’s going on?”
Caleb and Sterling exchanged a meaningful look of their own, tension crackling in the air. With a go-ahead nod from Caleb, Sterling responded, “I checked out both hard drives, Brock West’s and your mother’s. Not a single reference to Red Dart. And I can’t get into Taylor’s servers without you getting me into the facility.”
“We might as well take a full team in and be ready to sweep the place then,” he said. “The sooner the better.”
“Tonight,” Caleb said.
“Today,” Michael said. “Broad daylight before my mother has time to remove any evidence.”
“I’m not sure that’s a risk worth taking,” Caleb said.
“And why is that?”
The two of them eyed each other again, and Michael grumbled irritably. “Cut the dramatic pauses. What the hell is up?”
Sterling replied, “West manipulated and rerouted outgoing weapons shipments from the base to include Green Hornets, and those shipments never made it to their destination. I see no evidence that your mother sold them to Adam. Your mother may well be innocent.”
“Which means any probe of Taylor Industries should include discretion,” Caleb inserted.
Michael sat there a minute before a bark of bitter laughter escaped his lips. “Holy shit.” He scrubbed his clean-shaven jaw and let out a rough, second cackle of laughter. “This is what you two are walking on eggshells over? You think I’m going to have some emotional seizure over my mother, and you think I need my hand held? My mother is not innocent. If she’s not helping Adam, she’s helping Powell.” His attention slid to Caleb. “I told you that last night.”
“Maybe you were mistaken about last night,” Caleb offered.
“Powell was there,” Michael insisted.
“There’s nothing wrong with selling weapons to the U.S. government for national security,” Caleb reminded him. “We have no proof she believes she is doing anything but that.”
Always one to offer the benefit of the doubt—that was Caleb. “Stop trying to save me,” Michael said. “I don’t need saving. She is what she is, and I know better than anyone what that is. And if you want proof, I’ll give it to you. We have a stock of Green Hornets now. Leave Powell’s supply where it is, and hook a satellite to the location. I guarantee you, now that my mother knows I know about them, they’ll be moved because she’s doing more than selling to Powell. She’s in bed with him in every possible way.”
The bathroom door swung open, and Cassandra appeared in the crest of fluorescent light, her skin pale against the black T-shirt she wore with loose-fitted, black jeans. Her face was scrubbed clean of makeup, her eyes still black and shining like opals. Possessiveness rushed through him, arousing him with an unexpected jolt of pure, white-hot lust. He’d sworn to himself that he wouldn’t touch her today, that he would wait for results on the blood test. How did you not do something as essential as breathing? Because that was what touching Cassandra was to him. How had he survived the years without her?
“I heard you talking through the door,” she announced, before hesitating and then casting Michael a tormented look, the rest of the room fading as she spoke to him and him alone. “If my father has involved your mother in this, he’s manipulating her.” She crossed her arms in front of her chest. “He knows everything about every soldier he involved in Project Zodius. He certainly knows everything about you. Your family owns a weapons manufacturing company that supplies the government. Of course, he knew that when he recruited you. And he knew who your mother was then, and certainly now. There is no coincidence here. I have no doubt that being with your mother is icing on the cake—a message. You were in his world, with his daughter, holding a blade at his throat. Now, he’s holding a proverbial blade at your throat. He has your world in his hands. He has control, not you.” She drew a shuddered breath and let it out. “I’m done convincing myself he’s not the man who would do such a thing. I’ve tried to justify all of his actions, and I won’t do it anymore. And I’m sorry for what he is doing to you and your mother.”
Michael’s heart froze for a moment before skipping into an angry charge. Damn Powell for what he’d put his daughter through. What he’d put all of them through. “Do not apologize for either your father or my mother,” he ordered Cassandra. And it was an order. A fierce, guttural command. He would not let her do this to herself. And he would not let his mother ride under the radar. “We need to operate on the assumption that there is no manipulation of my mother. She knows what she is involved with.”
“You can’t know that, Michael,” Cassandra insisted, closing the distance between them. “Why is the fact that your mother is selling Green Hornets to the government any different than selling them any other weapon?”
His mother knew what she was doing and why—he’d bet his life on it. “She knows,” he said, steel lining the words. “Someone was with her last night. A man.”
Understanding shuddered across her delicate features. “You think it was my father,” she said. It wasn’t a question, but he still offered a nod of confirmation. Her lips parted in a pause, before she whispered, “And you think they’re… intimate?”
“Yes,” he revealed grimly, shadows of the past rippling through his tone, despite his effort to contain them. “It was your father.”
“Do you have any idea where your father’s PMI lab is, Cassandra?” Caleb asked.
Her lips thinned, her arms crossed in front of her in what appeared to be a mixture of both disgust and a bit of withdrawal. “No,” she said. “He kept that from me ‘for my own protection.’ His famous excuse.”
Caleb cursed and ran a hand over his neck. “We need that location. We’re chasing our tails here. He knows we’re onto him.”
“I’ll find the lab,” Cassandra offered. “I’ll get into his hard drive and dig around his personal space, his office, and his house.”
“No,” Michael said, his tone implacable. “Even if I’d let you attempt such a thing, which I won’t, it’s too dangerous.”
She stiffened at that, throwing a fiery glare in his direction, as Michael added, “He has cameras everywhere, Cassandra. He’ll know what you did.”
“And he knows I am nosey,” she said. “If I get busted, I’ll suck up and make up a lie. I can get by him. If anyone can get by my father’s systems, it’s me. And it’s not like you have a long list of options here.”
“We’ll start with my mother’s place,” Michael insisted. “Search it fully. Look for proof that Taylor is involved. Or even a PMI location.”
“Whatever we do,” Cassandra said, “I need to call my father. It’s getting late. He’ll be suspicious if I’m not at work without a phone call.”
Sterling snatched up the portable phone sitting on the coffee table and passed it to Michael. “What’s the number you’re calling from?”
Cassandra recited her cell phone number. Michael handed her the phone as Sterling keyed the number into his laptop. She drew a heavy breath when the line began to ring, nerves fluttering in her stomach. “I’ve never been so nervous calling my father in my life.”
It was all Michael could do not to touch her, but Kelly’s request that he visit her rang in his mind, and he restrained himself. Any further contact with Cassandra until he knew what the doc had to say was nothing more than selfish. But damn, he felt selfish with Cassandra. “You’ll do fine.”
“Morning, General,” she said into the phone. Everyone knew he hated when she called him General, and thus she teasingly did it often. “Reporting in sick.” She listened a minute. “You know how these headaches linger.” Pause. “Yes. Really. I’m fine. I just need to sleep off the haze so I’m going to turn off my phone. I…” She listened a minute. “Yes, I should be in tomorrow.”
Michael grabbed her hand. No , he mouthed silently.
Defiance flashed in her eyes. “Maybe we could have dinner tomorrow night? I feel like we’re disconnected, Daddy.”
Michael glared at her, and she glared right back, saying a few more words to her father before hanging up. “What the hell was that, Cassandra?”
“Smart,” she proclaimed firmly, her spine stiff, resolve steady. “That was smart. No one is closer to my father than me. He’ll make time for me. That means he won’t be at your mother’s house. That means I will go to his house afterward for coffee. I can get his hard drive, and you can get your mother’s. I can manipulate those shipments of bullets the same way Brock did. I can get you your ammunition. I’m all you have.”
“What about your eyes?”
“If they don’t fade,” she said, “then I’ll use contacts like Sterling does.”
“He’s too astute for that.”
Sharp-witted, she said, “He’ll blame the migraine if they look funny.”
“What about the fact that Adam attacked you while I was with you. He knows you are with me, which means Brock will know.”
“All the more reason to do this sooner rather than later,” she countered.
He forgot Caleb and Sterling were in the room, furious at her actions. “Don’t you think you should have talked to us about this first?”
Disbelief shackled her words. “Us? Who is us? Don’t you mean you ? And no, I didn’t consider talking to you. There is no talking to you. You simply blast orders.”
“No, Cassandra,” he said.
“You don’t get to decide for me, Michael.” She cut a look at Caleb. “Does it make sense to use me to help?”
“I am your Lifebond,” Michael stated flatly. He didn’t give a damn what Caleb said. Not about Cassandra.
Her eyes rocketed back to his, Caleb forgotten. “No, you’re not,” she corrected. “And some biological, physical connection does not give you a license to make my decisions.”
Possessiveness ground through his every nerve ending. “The hell it doesn’t.”
Caleb and Sterling stood up, heading for the door, clearly getting the idea they were intruding. Neither Michael nor Cassandra paid them any mind. “You cannot come in and out of my life,” Cassandra ground out, “and then snap your fingers and expect me to obey. You don’t scare me, Michael. You’ve never scared me.”
He grabbed her, spread her out on the bed, and went down on top of her. “You should be scared, Cassandra.”
Her chin lifted, her full lips close, inviting, all but begging him to kiss them. “I’m not,” she declared. “What are you going to do about it?”
What was he going to do about it? Exactly what he’d promised himself he wouldn’t do. He flattened her on the bed and spread her legs. Settled the steely length of his cock against the warm V of her body and kissed her, a long, deep thrust of his tongue, followed by a lavish tasting.
She moaned into his mouth, her arms wrapping around his neck, her body curling into his. One hand traveled possessively over her slender rib cage and roughly caressed the high, full mounds of her breasts. Another soft moan was his reward, and it was a damn delicious one that all but destroyed what little restraint he had left. He tore his mouth away from hers, clinging to a thread of control. “You will not endanger yourself,” he ordered, his eyes boring into hers. “You will not.”
“If I am in your life, I am a part of this war. If I’m not in your life, I am still a part of this war. Nothing you do can change that.”
She pressed her fingers to his lips. “Your bossiness is sexy when you’re inside me,” she warned, her voice laced with a heady mixture of anger and seduction that about had him over the edge. “It’s irritating when you’re not. So either get naked or shut up.”
“I’m not going to shut up,” he said.
“Good,” she whispered. That meant he was going to get naked.
He nipped her lower lip roughly, and she gasped, a sweet little purr following. “But when I am naked and buried inside you, Cassandra,” he said, “the answer is still no.”
A sly smile slid onto her lips. “We’ll see about that.”
Brock woke from the dim recesses of sleep with a hazy out-of-body experience that had him gasping for air and clawing his way through the decay of darkness. He sat up in a blast of energy, hands braced behind him on a cold, hard surface. His eyes fluttered at the light—long, black lines fading in and out of focus. He blinked again and again, refocused. Bars. There were bars all around him. He was in a massive cage. Cage. Was he dreaming?
Slowly, his head tilted downward, and in stunned disbelief he realized he was as naked as the day he’d been born. Another harsh breath and he scanned the area, memories beginning to rebuild themselves. There were cameras pointed at him on either side of the cage. He squeezed his eyes shut and willed the memories to come back to him. The bridge. The injection. Jocelyn. Her sultry feminine curves, those big, blue eyes. The instant her image filled his head, his dick went ramrod stiff.
His hand went to his leg, a grimace sliding across his face as he flashed back to Powell jamming the letter opener into his leg. The pain. He reached down, touched all over his leg. Saw nothing. Laughed with the realization that it was done—he was a GTECH. He’d been transformed.
His heart tripped with another memory. Powell demanding he admit that he’d given Green Hornets to Lucian, which, in retrospect, had been a jug-headed decision. Idiot Lucian. He should have known he couldn’t keep them under wraps. He inhaled, tracing a path back through the pain and fog—had he admitted what he had done? Relief washed over him with the realization he’d stayed strong. He had not admitted anything that would jeopardize his chance to lead the GTECHs or to crush Lucian.
Adrenaline rushed through his veins, licking at his muscles with a sudden burst of energy. He flexed his hand several times—power chasing each movement, strength coursing through his veins. Leveraging his weight on his palms, Brock leapt to his feet. Power surged through his limbs, and he tilted his head back and roared with the pure joy of it. This was what he’d been waiting for. This was the beginning of greatness.
But then, his hands closed around the bars of the cage—a hard thud of reality punching him in the chest. He was locked up. Computers lined the walls. A long lab table faced the cage with electronic equipment. All framing the cage . He was naked. Imprisoned. The high of his transformation churned to a grinding halt.
What the hell was going on? He grimaced. Powell. It was one of his mind games. A control thing. Fine. He’d play his game until he could turn this around—and he would.
A sudden jolt of tingling awareness rushed down his spine an instant before Jocelyn sashayed into the room, a rush of sexy curves and long, dark hair. “I see you’re awake,” she said, setting a stack of files down on the table facing the cage. Her gaze traveled down his body, settling on his cock. Already half hard, it twitched to life.
“And naked,” he said. “You come for the peep show or what?”
“I came to finish what I started,” she said, leaning on the desk, her blue eyes blazing at him.
He arched a brow. “Which is what?”
“To make Red Dart a success, starting with you.”
“What about Red Dart requires I be naked?”
Several seconds passed. “The General wanted it clear you were being reborn a new man.” But she liked it. He could see it in the heavy-lidded stare she cast his way. Something about Jocelyn ripped through him like a raging storm and settled hard in his chest. Suddenly, a memory of Powell and Jocelyn burst into his head.
“You’re fucking him.” He would not allow that to occur again.
Her expression flashed with surprise before she judiciously countered with, “And you want to, don’t you? The minute you’re free—you’re going to turn on him.” Her arms crossed over full breasts.
“If I wanted to fuck Powell I’d have joined Adam,” he said. “But if he touches you again—I’ll do one better. I’ll kill him.” He had no idea why the idea of Powell touching this woman turned him inside out. No clue why he wanted to rip the bars away and go shake her until she knew Powell was not to touch her again. Fire licked at his limbs, at his mind. It eroded common sense, tore at him like a blade slicing muscle and flesh.
She studied him, her eyes narrowed on his face. “Why would you say such a thing?” she asked. “You don’t even know me.”
He pinned her in a tormented stare. “I wanted you before. I want you more now.”
“This must be some reaction to your transformation,” she said. “I’m going to call the doctor.” She reached for a phone on the desk.
Another memory assailed him. “Wait.” His eyes narrowed. Michael had been there. Michael. And she’d called him her son. “Holy crap,” he said in disbelief, tilting his head to study her more closely. “Is Michael your son?”
She set the phone down with a thud equal to a concrete block hitting the ground. “What does Michael have to do with anything?”
Bingo. Hit a nerve. A raw one, too. “Everything, it appears. He is your son, is he not?” The uneasiness that flashed in her face was all the answer he needed. “Powell’s popping you, and your son is popping his daughter. That’s a little freaky, even for me.”
“What?” she said. “Michael is seeing Powell’s daughter?”
“Apparently they have a long history.”
“But Michael is Zodius.” She shook her head. “No. That makes no sense. Powell’s daughter would not be seeing a Zodius soldier.”
“Michael was Zodius. He’s a Renegade. One of the good guys, supposedly, but then no one really knows whose side Michael plays on, from what I can tell. And really, who are the good guys?”
A sharp, stiff reply followed. “Michael isn’t one of the good guys.”
Michael sure had a way of twisting everyone into a pissing, little wad. “And Powell is?”
Her defenses bristled. “He’s trying to protect this country from Adam.”
More like control the world, but Brock didn’t care. Not when he was part of that control. “Guess you know Powell hates Michael then. Suppose it’s expected with Michael getting down and dirty with his daughter and trying to kill him.” He lifted an eyebrow. “You hate him, too, don’t you?” Interesting. “What could he have done to turn his own mother against him?”
“Are we ready to get started?” Powell’s voice ricocheted through the room a moment before he appeared with Dr. Chin by his side.
Jocelyn whirled on him. “Is Michael with Zodius or the Renegades?”
Powell’s gaze flickered over Brock with disapproval before returning to Jocelyn. “He is a GTECH, Jocelyn. They are all GTECHs, and they must all be controlled.”
“But he’s working with Adam,” she said. “You said he’s working with Adam.”
“Don’t go and get a wild maternal hair to save your son, Jocelyn,” he chided. “He’s far more dangerous than his father ever was and failing to deal with him, I assure you, will result in the loss of innocent lives. And we both know you have more blood on your hands from supporting his father than you can bear as it is.” He made a vague gesture toward the computer. “Show me your brilliant work with Red Dart, my dear.”
“I’m not sure it’s safe,” she commented and eyed Dr. Chin. “Brock is having a reaction to the transformation. He’s aggressive. Possessive.” She hesitated. “Oversexed.”
“Whatever he was before the injections, he is more so now,” Dr. Chin informed her. “This is nothing to be concerned about. If he has any adverse reaction, I’m here to intervene.”
Brock clutched onto the bars so hard he thought either the steel or his arms would break. He was not oversexed. He was not aggressive. And he did not want anyone intervening. He wanted this done and over.
“Do whatever you are going to do, and get me the hell out of here!” Brock screamed, shaking the bars. “He’s right, Jocelyn. We are all GTECHs. And I am their leader.”
“Get on with it, Jocelyn,” Powell ordered.
She hesitated. “I need the crystal.”
He pulled a thin silver box from his jacket and opened it. Instantly, a glowing red light emanated from the crystal. Jocelyn removed it and set it inside the electronic device by the computer. Her gaze lifted to Brock’s for a tormented moment. A few keys were punched, and there was a cranking sound near the cameras as the barrel of a gun extended. Brock turned toward the weapon, ready for whatever he had coming. All he wanted was freedom.
General Powell stood behind Jocelyn, arms in front of his chest, one finger pressed under his chin, watching West act like a fool about to rule the world. He knew the man had betrayed him, and West would learn quickly who was in charge.
“Here we go,” Jocelyn murmured and punched a key. A red dot flashed on his chest, painless, silent, followed instantly by another. Brock stiffened. “That’s the tranquilizer,” Jocelyn explained. “It’s a two-second stun he shouldn’t remember.”
Sure enough, Brock straightened and turned back to Powell. “Is that it?” he said. “Am I done? Are we ready to go kick some GTECH ass?”
“Is it done?” Powell asked, glancing at Jocelyn.
She punched a few more keys and turned the computer screen toward him. Powell glanced down at the beeping light on the computer screen. “Walk forward,” Jocelyn called out to Brock. He did as ordered. The signal moved with him.
“Excellent,” Powell said. “It’s holding.” He smiled at Jocelyn. She’d always been Taylor’s research-and-development genius. Though it seemed a miracle that she’d handled the job of CEO over Taylor Industries, considering her recent displays of weakness. No wonder her husband had kept her involvement with Taylor off the grid. She’d have to be dealt with, controlled fully.
Jocelyn punched another few keys and coordinates popped up. “You will now know his exact location.” She keyed again and pulled up a long number. “That is his individual marker. A code we insert along with the tracking material that makes his signal unique. The technology… well… it still amazes me. It is nothing that this planet would have found on our own for centuries.”
“And the torture mechanism?” Powell asked, clamping down on his growing excitement. Jocelyn had inadvertently made the magnificent discovery that when Red Dart was exposed with certain silent sound waves, it sliced and diced the nervous system. Unfortunately, any GTECH within a certain radius would be affected, which meant it would have limitations for individual interrogation. But as a mass military operation, it would be irreplaceable. Spray the GTECHs with rays of Red Dart and then bring their entire force to their knees.
“We simply have to activate the sound wave, and the GTECH should respond.” She held up a compact remote. “We have not tested this on humans. Dr. Chin and I both believe he needs to be on monitors and stress tested.”
“I do have to agree with Jocelyn,” Dr. Chin inserted. “We’ve pulled him from monitoring rather quickly.”
Powell flipped the remote over in his hand several times. “If we give him everything we’ve got, and he survives,” Powell said, “then you’ve done your stress test, and we move on.”
“If he survives,” Jocelyn quipped. “We need to pull back. To test slowly. We’ve come too far to blow it now.”
He arched a brow. “The man gets a hard-on for you, and you suddenly want to pull back and protect him? And yes, I know he wants you. You forget the cameras. I was watching when you entered the room. I saw and heard everything.” He grabbed her and pulled her into his arms, his hand sliding over her ass. She gasped, her hands going to his chest. He yelled out to West. “I’m touching her, West. Who do you want to fuck now? Her or me?”
West screamed in rage, paced the cage, and jerked the bars. “I’ll kill you! Kill you, Powell. Skin you alive!” Animalistic snarls slid from his lips.
Powell released Jocelyn, who quickly scurried away like some pathetic rabbit.
“You sonofabitch!” she yelled. “You’re intentionally trying to upset him. This is not what science and medicine are about!”
Powell ignored her. “What do you make of it, Chin?”
Dr. Chin scrutinized West, who had stopped screaming and was now running in circles around his cage. He cut Powell a look edged with concern. “I’ve warned you that faster administration of the serum could lead to a more primal outcome, especially with the new formula.”
Powell fingered the remote. “Even animals can be trained to obey,” he commented dryly. “With the right discipline.”
Dr. Chin glanced at Jocelyn who was hugging herself. “I suspect there is a lifebond connection between you and West.”
Jocelyn gaped with instant rejection. “I’m not even attracted to that man.”
“A Lifebond would be attracted to her mate,” Chin agreed. “We’ll have to do some testing.”
“I’m not going to become a lab rat,” Jocelyn said. “This is not what I signed up for.”
Powell looked down his nose at her. “I thought you wanted to protect our country?”
She shook her head. “Lifebonding has nothing to do with protecting my country.”
“We must know what makes the GTECHs tick. It is imperative.” Powell considered a moment, his gaze shifted to Dr. Chin, who, unlike Jocelyn, had a stomach for necessity. “I wonder what he’d do if we put her in there with him?”
“What?” Jocelyn grabbed the table. “I am not going in a cage with that… that thing you created.”
Powell grimaced. “Hypothetically, Jocelyn,” he said. “Get a grip on yourself, and be professional. This is a science experiment, designed to save lives.” He walked toward the cage. “Let’s get on with progress.”
Expediting his plans quickly was essential now that the GTECHs knew about Red Dart and Michael was not only inside the Renegades’ operation, but sniffing around in Jocelyn’s business. Powell had to claim control of the GTECHs and do it now, if not with the sound waves alone, then with Red Dart and the Green Hornets combined.
Losing West would be an inconvenience—his connections to Lucian were a fast track inside Zodius, and his readiness for immediate action, the best possible option. But one had to be willing to take losses in war if one was to gain enemy territory. Besides, he had additional recruits en route, soldiers he’d personally selected for their exemplary track records.
Powell smiled, held up the remote. “This is why you’re naked,” he said. “Because I’m going to introduce you to death, son, and you will be reborn my follower or not at all.” He flipped the remote and West’s body began to shake. He turned up the volume, and West slid down the bars and crashed to his knees. Oh yes, he liked this. Easing off the volume, he allowed West to recover slightly.
West lifted himself with his hands, face red, eyes bloodshot. “What did you do to me?” he wheezed.
Powell knelt down to his level. “I didn’t do this. Jocelyn did. This was her invention.” He tilted his head, studied him. “And you said you didn’t mind being under my control. You said you would do what was necessary to be my commander. Now. Why don’t you tell me how Zodius got those Green Hornets?”
He snarled. “ I don’t know. ”
Powell hit the remote. West’s grip on the bars fell away, and he dropped like a rock to the floor, shaking. Powell eased off the remote. “How did they get Green Hornets?”
West pushed himself up on his hands again. “I don’t—”
Again, Powell shocked him, left the sound wave on a slow simmer that kept West flat on his face and shivering.
Jocelyn ran forward. “Enough, General! You see it works. Enough!”
“Control yourself,” he warned Jocelyn, the snap of a whip in his tone. “Our agenda is bigger than one man’s pain.”
Defiance flashed in her eyes. “You have no agenda but playing God.”
Irritation zigzagged through his body. “Careful now, Jocelyn, my sweet,” he said. “You’re stressed and saying things you might regret later. Because if making weapons of mass destruction as Taylor does is not playing God, I do not know what is.” There was a hidden promise behind those words. He’d discreetly made it clear he knew how many American pine boxes Taylor’s foreign relations had created.
He closed the distance between them and stared down at her. “I know how much you want to amend the past. We are a peaceful nation. With super soldiers in our arsenal, we will force peace on others without ever lifting a hand. We are doing a good thing here. Circumstances simply demand we act swiftly.” The challenge in her eyes faded, and he settled his hands on her shoulders. “We must know this man’s physical and mental limitations, so that we properly gauge their effectiveness against the GTECHs.”
She hesitated and then shook her head. “Yes. Yes, you’re right. Okay. I just… I can’t watch.”
“Then don’t,” he said. “Go to the other room, and we will call you when this is done.”
With an inhaled breath, she silently agreed, turning and walking away.
Powell refocused on West, easing up on the remote. West’s body went stiff then limp. Then, abruptly he pushed up on his hands again. Blood trickled from his lips. “I was trying to protect our mission,” he hissed.
Powell arched a brow. “So you did give Lucian those bullets?”
“They wanted proof that I could be trusted. I knew we’d seize the bullets back when we overthrow Zodius Nation.”
“So you did betray me,” he said, hitting the remote and turning it to high volume. West shook violently.
He turned it off again.
“No!” West screamed. “No. I was trying to protect you.”
“What else are you not telling me, Lieutenant Colonel?” Powell demanded. “Because when I capture Lucian and tag him with Red Dart, I will make him talk. He will tell me what you have not, and Lord help you when he does.”
Inhaling sharply, West jumped to his feet, stood there naked and stiff, at attention—prepared for pain. “Right before you called me to that bridge, sir, your daughter left her apartment with Michael of her own free will. Lucian believes she is helping Michael try to find the Red Dart formula to destroy it, and Lucian’s plan was to use me as the middleman. Michael would convince Cassandra to find Red Dart, but I’d give her reasons to distrust him. When the time was right, I’d step in and save her from heartache, and she’d give me the information on Red Dart.”
Everything in Powell’s mind turned red. He hit the remote, and West fell to the ground like a stone block off a high-rise. Lucian would pay in pain for his plan to manipulate Cassandra. When Brock attempted to stand, Powell would drop him again for going along with the idea and allowing Michael near his daughter.
He hated Michael—hated him for taking his little girl from him, for destroying her trust. For holding that knife at his throat and making him beg for his life. But… an idea formed. Strategy was everything. A good general knew how to turn an enemy’s action to benefit. Michael was still a direct connection to Taylor Industries. He was one of the most powerful GTECHs in existence. And he knew both Caleb and Adam well. With the influence of both Red Dart and his daughter, he would be the perfect commander over the GTECHs—on a leash, that was—his leash. He’d break Michael and then built him back up. This was brilliant. Now… he just had to plot how to get his daughter to come back to him, and Michael would surely follow.
Fierce, passionate, hot sex. Three times in two hours. If not for the buzz of the intercom system that had delivered an invitation to Cassandra to attend a lunch therapy session for the women rescued from Zodius Nation, they might still be between the sheets. But that invitation had taken Michael from hot and velvety smooth to distant and reserved, and she had no idea why.
Fifteen minutes after that call, Cassandra inspected herself in the bathroom mirror, applied a little lipstick, and decided she looked somewhat human despite the dark circles under her solid black eyes. She flipped off the light and returned to the main room to find Michael sitting on the edge of the bed watching her, his long, dark hair draped around his shoulders, piercing stare shadowed by half-lowered lashes.
“You should be resting,” he insisted.
Cassandra frowned. “The injection Kelly gave me worked miracles. I feel fine.”
A second ticked by, two—silence that held yet more unspoken words.
Finally, Michael said, “You should wear the contacts Kelly brought for you.”
That drew her back a bit. Her brows dipped. “Why? Everyone else has black eyes in Sunrise City.”
“Not the women from Zodius,” he said. “They are not GTECH, nor are they Lifebonds. And considering I was one of their captors, I doubt your being linked to me will work in your favor.”
“You were the one who saved them, Michael. I don’t understand.”
“I was their enemy and captor far longer than I was anything else.” He pushed to his feet. “We better go if you’re going to make it on time.” And just like that—a wall slammed down between them, a thick barrier meant to end the conversation.
Oh no, you don’t , Cassandra thought, pursing her lips as he started for the door. He could shut out everyone else, but not her.
Cassandra advanced on him with determination in her steps, intercepting him halfway across the room and wrapping her arms around him. “Talk to me, Michael. Tell me what is wrong.”
Instantly, he softened, his hand gliding down her hair, his lips pressing against hers. “Cassandra.” He breathed her name against her lips, and she could almost swear she felt him tremble. Or maybe that was her? “Just please wear the contacts.”
“I’m not hiding my eyes from these women, Michael,” she said. “I want to help these women. I can’t sit back and do nothing. That’s what I did when I ran to Germany. But these women know who my father is. They know he’s responsible for creating Adam. I have to get by that and earn their trust. My bond to you shows them that I am a target for Ava’s fertility testing, just like them.” She kissed him again. “Now take me to my lunch.”
He let out a defeated sigh and shook his head. “You don’t listen, ever.”
She laced her arm through his. “If I remember correctly,” she purred, “I listened pretty well the past two hours.”
“So I have to keep you in bed to get you to listen?”
She grinned. “Do you have a problem with that?”
“If it were possible to keep you there all the time, no,” he said. “But it’s not, and you make protecting you nearly impossible.”
They exited the room and stepped onto the moving conveyor. “I already told you,” she said, “stop trying.”
He leaned against the railing and studied her with one of those soul-deep, twist-her-insides-out-in-all-the-right-ways looks. “That’s like telling Sterling to stop being a smart-ass.”
Cassandra laughed. “It can’t be that hard,” she said.
She smiled, her gaze following the path of the moving sidewalk, taking in the center of Sunrise City with stores and restaurants, afoot with mostly male activity. “Amazing,” she murmured. “All this has been built in only two years?”
“It’s a fraction of what Adam has done with Groom Lake,” he said. “Caleb held back on construction the first year. He felt building Sunrise City meant accepting that this war would continue. But eventually, he decided the comfort of those who called this place home was too critical to overlook. We have a good number of humans here. Many of the scientific staff fear they are targets for the Zodius. They have their entire families under our protection.”
“That’s a huge sacrifice for a family to make,” she said. “Living outside the world they know.”
“Not really,” he said. “Adam has a way of hunting down certain talent and demanding they join him. Many of the humans with us are under threat of Zodius capture. Others… we suspected would be targets and approached before they were in Adam’s sights.”
“That is just frightening,” she said.
“More so when you consider Adam has plenty of powerful people in high places silently in his pockets. We’ve tried to counter that with allies of our own. We can only hope it’s enough.”
They reached the end of the walkway, and Cassandra forced herself to shake off the grimness of what he’d shared. Soon, they stood at the door of a quaint, little restaurant, complete with a full staff, menus, and cute red-and-green tablecloths. “And here I expected a giant mess hall.”
“We have one of those, too,” Michael assured her. “No military base is complete without a mess hall and a stash of rations.”
“I can’t get over how advanced all this is,” she murmured. There was an entire world underground. She tried not to think about how far underground, because it made her feel claustrophobic. There was no sunlight, no cars. No easy escape in the event of a disaster. Cassandra could see why Caleb had worked so hard to create a façade of normalcy. There was a lot to overcome.
Michael’s dark eyes bored into hers, his focus on her, not the restaurant, not the city. “Are you sure you are up to this?”
Cassandra pressed to her toes and kissed him. “I’m fine, and you know it.” She slid her hand along his jaw. He had such a strong, handsome face. Long, dark lashes—eyes that tugged at her soul no matter what the color. “When you left, I questioned if this… us, was real. If you really ever loved me.”
“More than my next breath,” he said softly, shadows edging the vow. “Cassandra.” Her name rumbled off his tongue like distant thunder, low and ominous. “I was Adam’s right-hand man.”
“Pretended to be.”
“Whatever those women tell you I did,” he said, “it’s true. Listen to them. Then finally you will understand what I am capable of doing.”
Challenge bristled within her. “If I listen, and I still love you, Michael—because I will—then what will you do? Will you find another reason to push me away?”
“Listen to what they say,” he said. “Then we will talk.” He pulled her to an enclave next to the building, out of public view, then dragged her hard against his body and kissed her, long and deep.
She shoved at his chest, tore her mouth from his, and gasped at the torment that bled from the depths of his deep, black eyes. “Don’t you dare kiss me like you are saying good-bye,” she rasped, angry now. He had no intention of talking later. He’d made his decision, tried and convicted himself for her.
“I’m not telling you there is no good-bye today, Michael,” she interrupted. “Because if you cannot love me enough to trust me with everything that you are, then you don’t love me enough for me to be with you. And like it or not, you are stuck with me through this Red Dart thing. When it’s over—if it’s good-bye, then damn it, you will say it to my face. Or maybe I’ll be the one to say it to you. Either way, we say it. You owe me that.”
She shoved out of his arms, turned away, and charged toward the restaurant. She felt her heart slide to her feet when he did nothing to stop her. “Damn you, Michael,” she whispered.
Leaving Cassandra at that restaurant, knowing what she would learn—about him and his time inside Zodius—was killing Michael. Only minutes later, ripples of energy blistered through him as he entered the administrative wing of Sunrise City Hospital. The low churn of a storm was brewing deep inside him, threatening to consume everyone in his path.
Heads turned as he passed offices—the lab technicians and various scientific minds staring after his passing form, no doubt wondering why he was here. What was wrong that would bring Michael to the hospital? What menace was upon them? It was the kind of dread people embraced when he appeared. The kind of dread Cassandra would find in those women she was lunching with upon the mention of his name.
He didn’t want her to see that side of him, and reluctantly, pitifully, he recognized the past for what it was. Leaving her for two years before had been easier than the prospect of seeing the love in her eyes fade and become fear. Instead, he’d forced her hatred, her distrust, forced what he expected from her.
With heaviness pressing on his chest, he rounded the corner to the treatment center where Sterling and the others had been the night before and paused in the doorway. Kelly stood at the center counter, her gaze doing a sharp snap upward, as if she too sensed the power waving off him. The same power that, under normal circumstances, he controlled as easily as his next breath.
But not now, not on the day that Cassandra would see through the man to the lethal killing machine. His body pulsed with a low hum of uncontrolled energy. His mind jumbled with memories of Zodius, of stories Cassandra might hear about him.
Kelly started walking, motioning toward an exam room, but not before he detected a hint of quickly banked apprehension. Christ. Did he really want to know what she had to say?
Like one of Adam’s damn wolves, he followed like an obedient pup, entering the cracker-box-sized room and standing, arms crossed in front of his chest, legs planted firmly on the floor as he awaited the bad news.
“Have a seat,” Kelly said, rolling her chair around and motioning to the table.
He arched a brow that silently said she’d lost her mind if she thought he was getting on that table. He’d barely forced himself to come to this room and had done so only for Cassandra. He knew he was an anomaly. He didn’t need a test-tube evaluation to tell him so.
Kelly pursed her lips. “Should have known I was pushing my luck.” She made a vague gesture at the door with the pen in her hand. “You probably want to close that.”
This was the moment, he realized, that he would finally receive confirmation of what he knew was true—that he wasn’t like the other GTECHs. It took him several seconds to muster the resources to reach over and slam the door shut. Returning then to his arms-crossed, unaffected, carefree, if-you-believe-that-bullshit stance.
Kelly studied him with an all-too-knowing look. A look that said—no, she didn’t believe that bullshit for a minute. “I take it you’d like me to cut to the chase, so let’s get to it.” She didn’t wait for a reply, charging forward with the announcement. “You’re still X2 positive, but in addition you have an extra chromosome the other GTECHs do not have. At least, none of the GTECHs we’ve been able to examine.”
She anticipated the question he would have asked once he finally recovered from the blast of shock her words delivered, by adding, “To tell you what that means, exactly, will take time and study, but it stands to reason that this chromosome somehow links to your ability to control the wind. If there are other differences between you and the other GTECHs, it would help if you told me. I can…”
Michael squeezed his eyes closed, shutting out Kelly’s voice as his mind spun into a whirlwind of turbulence. White noise echoed in his ears, clamoring in his head, vibrating through his body. My God, what the hell was he? He jerked his attention back to Kelly’s explanation. “…an MRI and a series of diagnostic—”
Michael’s eyes popped open, and he pushed out the one cohesive thought he could put together in words. “What does this mean for Cassandra?”
Kelly let out a heavy breath. “She hasn’t converted to GTECH as of yet. She does have the documented cellular abnormalities we’ve seen in other females who have the mark on the back of their necks, but hers are more pronounced. But then, none of those women carried the lifebond mark for two years like she has without completing the bonding process.” She shoved her pen behind her ear. “We are in uncharted territory here, any way you look at it.”
Christ. He had a bad feeling about where this was going. “Her second blood sample. Did it show the changes progressing?”
Kelly’s lips tightened. “Yes.”
Guilt ground through his bones. “After we had sex.” It wasn’t a question. He’d known Cassandra was reacting to their physical connection, and yet he’d touched her anyway.
“It’s too soon to be sure without more testing, but yes. It seems that with every intimate contact, you come closer to completing the bond.” Her eyes lit, and she leaned forward, one elbow on her knee. “The intriguing thing here is that when you were tested at Groom Lake, this extra chromosome didn’t show up. It may be why X2 isn’t making you aggressive like it has so many others. And I assume you and Cassandra were intimate while at Groom Lake, and yet she didn’t have the bonding symptoms she’s having now. It’s as if you are evolving, and so is the lifebonding process along with you. It’s really an exciting discovery.”
“I’m glad I’ve excited you, Doc,” Michael said roughly. “Forgive me if I don’t go throwing confetti. We don’t even know what the hell I am. I’m not allowing Cassandra to be linked to that. Fix this. Make it go away.”
She bristled at that, stiffening her spine. “You don’t just ‘fix’ cellular changes of this magnitude, Michael. And leaving her in a flux state between human and GTECH isn’t good for her. Her vitamin C is low which is consistent with a GTECH. Her blood count is all over the place.”
“If I don’t touch her again,” he asked, ignoring the cut those words ripped through his heart. “Will the effects fade?”
It was her turn to act agitated. “Cellular changes do not fade, nor do they ‘fix.’ The sickness she is experiencing most likely comes from the cellular changes taking place. As for her eyes—I’m not sure at what point they will stay black. She may already be there.”
“If the assumption that if one Lifebond dies, the other does as well, is accurate,” he said. “That would only occur if we are fully bound—correct?”
“That’s a hypothesis that remains unproven,” she said. “However, there have been physical links that create that unproven probability. A bullet wound to one causes physical trauma to the other.”
“But she’s safe unless we fully bond,” he confirmed.
“That’s impossible to say,” she concluded. “We’ve never had someone in Cassandra’s physical condition to evaluate. As for the rest of your questions… you’re demanding answers, and I have nothing to go on. I need to run more tests.”
Like hell. He didn’t need any more testing to tell him what needed to be done. Nor did he need it to tell him he’d walked a line between Renegade and Zodius that might yet pull him under and her with him. “Stabilize Cassandra. I’m irrelevant.”
“And if I can’t?”
“I will not take Cassandra into this unknown territory.”
“Look,” she said. “I can’t prove evil is inbred yet, but I’m working on it. Adam was always evil. Caleb was not. They are now what they were before those injections.”
“You have no idea what is inbred in me,” he said. “I do. No lifebonding.”
Disapproval mixed with reluctant acceptance touched her features. “I have to tell Caleb about the extra chromosome.”
“You wouldn’t deserve to be here if you didn’t.” He turned away and reached for the door.
“Michael, wait.” He hesitated, but didn’t turn. “What do I tell Cassandra? She’s supposed to stop by after her luncheon with the Zodius survivors.”
“To stay the hell away from me.”
Ten minutes later Michael stormed into the War Room, the heart of the Renegades’ operational facility, to find Caleb, Damion, and Sterling sitting at the “Round Table” in the center of the rectangular-shaped room. While Damion’s presence wasn’t unexpected, considering his family owned a tech firm and he was a tech whiz, Michael could have done without him for this conversation. The guy wore the all-American, Boy Scout image as perfectly as he did a weapon. Michael wasn’t in a Boy Scout kind of mood, nor did he want Damion putting Caleb in one.
He towered over the table, a dark demand on his lips. Behind him, strategic maps covered the wall, colored pins marking key targets.
“It’s time to stop pussyfooting around with Powell,” Michael bit out. “Screw alliances with the U.S. government. They’re already as much in bed with Adam as my mother is with Powell. Between him and the insiders that Adam has in the government, the Renegades have already been turned into the enemy, or we wouldn’t be targets for Red Dart. That isn’t going to change. It’s time, Caleb. I know all the reasons we approached this conservatively, but we haven’t found Red Dart. There is too much to risk. We have to remove Powell from the position where he can initiate this program before it’s too late. Bring him here, and lock him up.”
Caleb’s lips thinned. “You know how I feel about this,” he said. “Better the familiar snake in the grass than the unfamiliar one. Once Powell is removed, Red Dart will still be out there in Lord-only-knows-whose hands. We’ll be trying to figure out who is in control rather than where Red Dart is located.”
“The clock is ticking, Caleb,” Michael reminded him sharply. “He knows we are onto him. He’ll accelerate his plans—and I might add—we have no idea what they are. We have nothing.”
“Turns out we might,” Damion interjected. “Sterling and I found a way into Taylor’s system.”
Sterling arched a brow. “Care to take a seat and help us get inside the head of Mommie Dearest?”
Michael didn’t ask how they’d done the impossible. Results were what counted with him. He inhaled and forced himself to calm enough to sit down. Powell had bought himself a few more hours.
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