Authors: Lora Leigh
They were created, not born. They were trained, not raised. They weren’t meant to be free, to laugh, to play or to love. They were men and women whose souls had been forged in the fires of hell.
Jonas Wyatt stared at the files in front of him, the reports of the Breeds and their mates; men and women who had found something unique. A Mating unlike anything most humans could know or understand. One that may very well turn world opinion against them now.
They were Breeds. Genetic alterations that had somehow found the grace of God, or whatever deity existed. They had survived, not just the genetic alterations, but also the cruelties their creators had heaped upon them for decades.
The Genetics Council.
He ran his fingers over his short, military-cut hair and breathed out roughly as the tattoo on his scalp tingled beneath the short spikes of his hair. F2-07. His lab designation and birth ranking that the Genetics Council had assigned to him.
The Genetics Council had been created nearly a century ago, a group of the greatest scientific, biological, physiological and genetic experts in the world at that time. They had funded the first Lab, started the first experiments. Monsters with no conscience, no remorse and no compassion.
He grimaced as he pushed himself from his chair and stalked to the wide window on the other side of his office. There, he stared out onto the perfect, precise lawn of the federal building the Bureau of Breed Affairs was located in.
He pushed his hands into the pockets of his slacks, staring at the image he cast in the glass. Military straight, his shoulders thrown back, the silk gray slacks and white dress shirt hung comfortably on his broad frame. He didn’t look out of place. On a good day, he didn’t feel out of place.
Today wasn’t a good day.
Below, traffic eased along the street next to the perfectly manicured lawns and the wrought iron fence. Carefully tended trees dotted the lawn, small white cement benches sat in the lazy shade they cast. Summer was blooming across the landscape, causing waves of heat to pour from the sidewalks and streets beyond.
The capital was as brisk as ever, the political mire he had been traversing so effectively in the past months no thicker than it ever had been. But he could feel it pulling at him now in ways it hadn’t before, tugging at his loyalties, reminding him of his limitations. He didn’t like being reminded of those.
He was a Breed himself. Two hundred and fifty pounds, six feet, six inches of solid Lion Breed muscle and honed instincts. He had been created to kill, not to negotiate. But he had learned early in life the fine art of politics, of maneuvering, of lying within the truth. He had learned it so well that he had taken to this position with an ease almost worthy of concern. Was he what he had fought to escape? A monster living as a man?
Perhaps he was.
The Lion Breeds had been the first created. The male sperm and female ovum selected had come from strong, fierce bloodlines. American Indian-mostly Apache or Navajo-Irish, Scots, German. The list sometimes seemed never ending. Once chosen, they had been altered. Geneticists had thought they had finally isolated the DNA that controlled certain aspects of behavior or weakness. Human weakness was replaced with animal strength and instincts.
Exceptional hearing, sense of smell and primal awareness. Advanced strength, endurance and muscular perfection.
They had created what they believed was the perfect disposable soldier. And then they began to train them.
From birth they knew no love, no compassion. They were tested, experimented upon, pushed to the limits of the spirit and then beyond.
He ran his hands over his face, remembering the cruelties, the horrors of the Labs. Breeds killed for the slightest infractions, abused to the point that many died screaming in agony, their blood staining the hard stone floors of the Labs. What they did to the men was bad enough. What they did to the women…
Jonas shook his head, spun from the window and paced back to his desk where he threw himself into the chair.
A century of hell was now behind the Breeds. And if he wasn’t extremely careful, they would all be thrown back into it. The Feline Breeds, the Wolves, the small majority of Coyotes who had managed to retain the humanity science had attempted to remove from their genetics.
The Lion Breeds were the forerunners. Their Pride Leader, Callan Lyons, had opened the door to freedom more than seven years ago with his Mating to Merinus Tyler, the daughter of an influential journalist and newspaper owner. Of all the species, the Lions numbered highest, though those numbers were pitiful in the extreme. All totaled, all Breed species, there were less than a thousand.
And Nature, though kind in her determination that they would survive, had created a problem that could well see them all exterminated.
He picked up the file sent that morning from Sanctuary, the results of the latest tests on the Mated pairs. There were under a dozen. And all those consisted of Breed and human.
Procreation was complicated, involving periods of sexual heat and, for the females, debilitating need. Felines conceived easily, but the results of those conceptions would be unknown for years to come. What was known was the result of the Matings.
Neither male nor female, Breed nor human had aged so much as a day once the hormones that bound them were balanced within their bodies.
Callan and Merinus had Mated seven years before and physically, their bodies had yet to show the stress of those additional years.
The Breeds were screwed if knowledge of this leaked into the general public. He could hear the Blood Supremacists screaming now, demanding their incarceration, their separation from the general public.
And to add to the problem, they had a disappearance at Sanctuary. A Breed couple suspected of having Mated, the female of which Jonas had been very interested in.
As he stared at the file, a slight knock on the oak door separating his office from his assistant echoed through the dark-paneled room.
He lifted his head as the door opened and his assistant, Mia, stepped in, closing the panel behind her.
“Senator Cooley is here to see you about the National Breed Registry, Mr. Wyatt.” Her lips lifted in a little snarl, a short incisor gleaming briefly. “Should I tell him you aren’t in?”
Mia’s opinion of the National Registry was well known. The Breeds had been fighting it for months. The private registry held within Jonas’s office was all that was needed for now.
“You can send him in.” He laid the file on the desk as he leaned back in his chair. “And Mia, I need all the information you can pull on Mark and Aimee. Cross-check them against other Breeds for any shared assignments or tests as well as non-Breed contact.”
“Yes sir. I’ll get on that now. You also have lunch at one o’clock with Senator Tyler and his brother, and a cocktail party tonight at Drey Hampton’s. Neither appointment can be canceled.”
Jonas nodded; Mia was as competent at her job as he was at his. “Send Cooley in and get Braden Arness on the phone the minute the senator leaves. I have a job for him.”
She nodded briskly before turning and stepping smartly back into her own office.
Jonas pulled the file on the Bill for Breed Registry free from the others on his desk and opened it casually. He had no intentions of agreeing to any part of it, but sometimes…Sometimes it was better to play the game.
He looked up as Senator Cooley entered the room, middle-aged, his naturally narrow eyes and sharp nose gave the appearance of a rat. A thin smile stretched across the senator’s face, pretending to be jovial, to be comfortable.
Jonas contained a weary sigh. Another game. Another lie. And he knew, to survive, the lies could never end.
Southern New Mexico,2023
was blaring from the speakers of the four-wheel drive Range Raider, the new wave of law enforcement vehicles specially built for the rugged desert terrain. The gentle rock of the vehicle, attributed to the separate suspension on each tire, allowed it to traverse the terrain easily and was also a soothing comfort when added to the pulse-pounding music flowing through the interior.
The music was old, but it fit her mood. Dark, filled with energy and a quest for life. But beneath the beat, Megan Fields could feel threads of emotion weaving around her, pricking at her mind. Others’ emotions, someone else’s pain. The empathic talents she possessed were her curse; the desert was usually her salvation. Until now. Now the two had somehow managed to collide.
Desert patrol was never fun, and only on the odd occasions did it become dangerous. She knew that. It was the perfect area for the criminal element. Easily crossed and nearly impossible for law enforcement to adequately patrol, it was the perfect habitat for the two-legged variety of scavengers that preyed on innocent human beings.
Megan Fields ignored the music blaring around her as she adjusted the dark glasses that protected her eyes from the blazing sun and surveyed the land around her. Stark, with a blend of russets, golden-hued browns and darker tans with intermittent splashes of green, the land seemed empty, broken, forgotten.
Sometimes she wondered if she was the only one who could see the beauty in the land that surrounded her. The caverns hidden in shadowed buttes, the small, well-hidden areas of grassy splendor. It was a wonderland, secreted away amid the brush and bramble that first caught the eye.
And if she wasn’t mistaken, she just might have company in her desert wonderland. She could feel the snaking sensations of disturbance tightening her skull, sending tension racing through her body.
She braked at the edge of a deep gully, her eyes narrowed at the tire tracks that led into it. They were fairly recent, cutting deep into the sandy soil, like a wound carelessly inflicted. A chill raced over her flesh at the sight of it, cutting through the peace that had previously filled her.
She turned her gaze to the report log scrolling across the small screen to the right of the steering wheel. There was a report of a missing hiker from Carlsbad, various APBs and stolen vehicles.
She scratched at the top of her nose thoughtfully before muting the music and flipping down the microphone that was attached to the transistor at her ear.
She couldn’t ignore it. Adrenaline pulsed through her, heightening the already sensitive receptors in her brain.
Something was in the gully. Something she could battle, could face without the presence of others. A chance to still the restless, driving energy that rarely had an outlet.
“Control, I’m at Gully B-4. There are signs of recent passage heading into it. Do you have a mark on any vehicles in or out?”
“Negative, Fields,” Lenny Blanchard, satellite stats officer and general gopher answered with a lazy drawl. “We have no tracked movement in or out for the past month. GPS shows your vehicle only.”
She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel, her lips in a thoughtful pout as she stared at the tracks.
It wasn’t unusual for owners to disengage their GPS unless they wanted to use it, though it was heavily frowned upon and in certain areas could result in high fines. This was one of those areas.
Danger almost shimmered in the waves of heat that drifted over the vehicle.
Making up her mind quickly, she exited the Raider, moving to the front of it and bending down to inspect the tire tracks more closely. They cut deep into the ground, the off-road tires leaving a distinctive mark as they made their way down the steep slope into the narrow valley below.
She reached out, her fingers brushing over the tracks as she tried to focus on the impressions coming from them.
Fear. Determination. She could feel the emotions from inside the vehicle on the impressions in the loose sand and dirt.
Staring at the area, she moved farther to the right, her fingers running over the edge of another print. Mountain boots. Someone had followed the vehicle in on foot. And they weren’t there for the scenery either.
She rubbed at her chin, frowning as she tried to remember the lessons her grandfather had given her in tracking as a young girl. The tracks were at the least twenty-four hours old, no more than forty-eight. The mountain boots were more recent, within the past eight to ten hours.
She tilted her head then, her eyes narrowing at the lack of emotion or sensation that came from touching the tracks. They were calm, centered. As though whoever made them had known no fear, no anger, no emotion as they made their way into the gully.