Authors: Tatiana Caldwell
calm!” But why did his voice sound so loud and angry?
“Okay okay, here-give me your arm and just —”
The sight of the needle aiming for his flesh sent Jaxon’s blood into a boil. “No fucking needles. No fucking tranquilizers, just give me the cure!” He meant to just shove Dr. Ashni out of the way, but his strength was at least triple what it was normally. The sixty-something-year-old doctor went flying backwards, his head crashing into the counter with a loud thump, and he slumped onto the floor, motionless. Dr. Victor Morhamer rushed to Sri’s side to check for a pulse, and looked up at Jaxon with wide eyes.
Jaxon stared down at his own outstretched hands in confusion and disgust. “What did I do? What did you guys make me do? You were supposed to make me better, ‘a physically perfect human,’ you said, not turn me into a fucking killer!”
“He’s just unconscious. You didn’t kill him. We can fix this—”
“Then fix it! Now!”
“It’s going to take some time to find out what went wrong. Then we’ll have to create a solution to reverse this.”
“I don’t know. First we have to figure out why —”
“How the fuck
The thin man shrank back slightly. “There’s no way to guess. Could be months, could be weeks.”
“Get out.” Jaxon’s voice was nearly a hiss. “Get out and don’t come back until you tell me you have a clue how to fix me.”
“Just let me examine you, Jaxon.”
“You aren’t fucking touching me right now.” The rage in Jaxon was uncontrollable. His face was hot and flushed, his fingers automatically flexed and un-flexed as his entire body seemed to burn with his rage. “Get out now because I’m having a really,
hard time not choking the life out of you right now.”
Victor sighed and a dark expression crossed his face, but half-dragging and half-carrying Sri along with him, he quickly left the room, slamming the door behind them.
Alone in the room, Jaxon turned again to the mirror and gasped at what was reflected. He barely resembled himself. His five foot ten inch frame was now closer to six and a half feet. In minutes he’d put on at least another thirty pounds of pure muscle, mostly in his shoulders, arms, chest and thighs. His hands were big and swollen, almost like paws. And when he moved closer to the mirror, instead of the brown eyes he’d been born with, yellowish-green eyes with thin, oval-like pupils blinked back at him. Lizard-like, foreign and frightening.
He was a monster.
He slammed his fists against the mirror and a crack spread from the top of it all the way to the bottom.
What had they done to him? What had he allowed them to do?
He heard the lock latch on the door, informing him that he’d been contained in the room. Fear and rage welled up in his chest, burning him, tearing at him. And Jaxon felt himself grow more and more inconsolable by the minute.
Just as she began fiddling with her hair in the mirror, Celise Belderon caught herself. There she was, in a women’s bathroom of Cyclone Laboratories, fussing with her appearance before going upstairs to the lab to work. When was the last time she had even bothered to use a mirror when doing her hair or putting on lip gloss at all? Never. So why was she so concerned with how she looked now?
Because Officer Jaxon Wentworth was upstairs, that’s why.
Celise didn’t know what it was about Jaxon that made her so self-conscious, only that he did. It wasn’t like she hadn’t been eyed up by big, handsome, sexy men before. She had. And it wasn’t as if she cared what she looked like to men. She didn’t. Not that they seemed to care either—men looked at every woman merely as a potential play thing. Didn’t really matter what she was wearing or how her hair was, if they liked the size of a woman’s tits or the way her ass poked out behind her then they were interested. Otherwise, they weren’t.
Such simple creatures men were.
But Celise was not as simple as a man. And she had not the desire to complicate her life right now by dealing with one. However, Jaxon Wentworth didn’t seem quite so simple. What kind of man volunteered his body as a living test subject for months? Sure he ogled her in the way a simple man would, but the way he made her feel whenever she caught him looking at her with those hypnotic brown eyes of his … was anything but simple. He aroused her, made her feel tempestuous. He uncovered aspects of herself that she’d never fathomed revealing, even though his behavior was always that of a composed and gentle man who seemed carefully reserved even while blatantly flirting. She smiled as she recalled the way he’d posed a dinner invitation to her as a hypothetical situation. “Suppose I asked you to join me for dinner tonight,” he’d said, staring directly into her eyes. “What would you say?”
For a moment, she couldn’t respond. His full lips glistened from the stroke his thick tongue had given them just before he asked the question. She’d had to muster up all of her will power in order to tear her eyes away from the seductive gravity of his gaze and decline him. “Well, I suppose I would have to say no. Both because I’m not interested in dating anyone right now and because I already have plans tonight.”
He’d smirked and nodded his head. “Good thing I didn’t ask you out for real then. Would have been a real bummer to get turned down.”
Yes, Celise thought, he was definitely a bit on the careful side. But the way he would eye her completely from head to foot, staring at her as if she were inside out, with that curve on his lips and gleam in his eye—made her sense the passion within he was holding back, which was smoldering just under the surface.
What was he thinking exactly when he looked at her like that? She wished he would just come right out and say it.
She shuddered and shook her head. She was here to work, and nothing more. She was here for the medicine and the science. Jaxon was just a test subject.
A brave, attractive subject of mixed race with dark, thick, curly hair and big brown eyes with whom she could easily talk to, shared an obvious mutual attraction with, and who stopped crime and protected the innocent for a living.
Boy, the kind of experiments she
wanted to perform with him. Experiments with them both fully undressed and the lights off. Was he the silent type or a moaner? Did he talk dirty? Did he like having his nipples licked? He was always asking for a peach—did he taste as sweet? The man inspired all kinds of delicious curiosities. But she couldn’t allow herself to even think of satisfying any of them. Work and men didn’t mesh well for Celise.
Hell, Celise and men didn’t mesh well for Celise.
How many times had she thought a guy was just right, got with him, only to end up later realizing he was oh so very wrong for her? She needed to take her time, get to know a guy. No jumping head-first into a big boiling pot of lust.
But damn if Jaxon Wentworth didn’t make her want to just strip off her clothes and take a running dive. Doctor Morhamer’s voice infiltrated the bathroom and her thoughts through the building’s PA system.
“Attention all staff, this is an urgent announcement. Everyone—including all staff members—must evacuate the building immediately. A dangerous contaminant has been released, and for your safety it is pertinent that you gather your belongings and leave the vicinity of this building immediately. Do not report back to this site until you have been contacted that it is safe to do so. Decontamination could possibly take weeks. Again, all personnel and guests must evacuate the building immediately. The building will be locked down in four minutes.”
Celise’s inquisitive nature subdued any sense of alarm she might have felt. What kind of contaminant could Victor Morhamer have been referring to? Most of the staff in the building were only recently hired within the week, in preparation to produce the formula en masse—once completely tested and approved for production—and therefore should have been only using materials approved for the project. And there were no hazardous materials or biochemical products that would endanger everyone in the building that Victor and Sri were working with.
At least not that she was aware of. Fact was, Celise did not have as much knowledge of the project as Sri and Victor. She was not part of the team when the initial development of the Titan Formula began over half a year ago. She was hired specifically to help procure a test subject and to assist by monitoring said subject’s health. For all she knew, Jaxon could have just spontaneously combusted in the lab. She snatched up her big, baggy purse and hurried out of the bathroom in time to see the small crowd of employees rushing towards the front entrance. Even the guards were fleeing in terror.
But Celise was no dodger. She was a doctor, and if there was a contamination, someone could be hurt and in need of help. She took the elevator up to the third floor and scurried down the hall to the lab, her navy blue heels clicking loudly against the linoleum tiled floor. Less than a second before her fingers reached the knob, the door reverberated with a loud, jolting bang as some force on the other side slammed into it, splitting it in half from top to bottom.
She gasped and stumbled backwards just as the remains of the door came crashing down and a nearly seven-foot tall, burly beast-of-a-man stood in its frame.
His lack of a shirt revealed a massive torso cut like a comic book hero. Around his pelvis were the stretched and ripped remains of what appeared to have once been grey sweat pants. He stood within the remnants of the doorway, heaving and snarling like a rabid creature. Behind him she could partially see the half-destroyed remains of the lab, but no sign of Victor or Sri.
Her breath caught in her throat as she froze. When he turned his head and landed his beady, yellow eyes upon her, the silent scream ringing inside Celise’s brain extended down her body and finally reached her legs and feet.
She turned and began to run, and was acutely aware that the beast man was running, too. Their opaque reflections on the windows that lined one side of the hallway confirmed how frighteningly close he was to catching her.
Celise eyed the elevator she’d just rode up in. Mental calculations of his pace told her there was no way she was going to make it inside the elevator and close the doors before he caught her, so she kept going past it and flung open the door to the stairwell. Had four minutes gone by already? The building used to be a mental institution and if it was already on lockdown, all the exits and windows on the first floor would be barred and bolted. But she had to try.
She bounded down the steps, practically flying out of her shoes so that she could increase her speed and friction down the three flights of stairs. But it was all in vain—the beast-man simply flung himself over the railing and came down on the floor of the landing right next to her, the thunder and wind of his leap and weight knocking her into the wall. Before she could contemplate what to do, he rushed her and trapped her between his massive body and the wall.
Again, Celise screamed only in her head. Her throat clenched and unclenched and she scraped her back against the wall in a panic, as if with enough friction she could meld her molecules with the wall and pass through it and escape. But moments went by and all the big thing did was hyperventilate and stare at her, pressed uncomfortably close to her but not touching her. And did it look—familiar? Confusion began to saturate her terror.
“What do you want? Please don’t hurt me.”
Not until he spoke did she recognize him. “Trust me, doc, I’m trying my best not to.”
Shock shook her as she glanced at the long, thick, curly brown hair that now brushed against his bare shoulders. How had she not noticed those curls before? “Officer Wentworth? Is that you?”
“Please, Celise. Help me.”
“God didn’t do this,” he said. His eyelids fluttered and his black, oval pupils rolled up until there was nothing to see but the yellow of his corneas.
Celise moved out of the way as the transformed and expanded Jaxon slumped to the floor face down, revealing the sedative needles stuck in the center of his back.
The three doctors stood outside of the padded room in the psych ward that securely held Jaxon inside. It had taken all three doctors to move the three-hundred pounds of unconscious muscle into it. They hadn’t even gotten a chance to strap him down and examine him because as soon as they’d got him into the cell he woke up—angry, wild and violent, forcing the three of them to retreat before they could even check his blood pressure. Celise stood with her arms folded, both hands tucked under as she half-listened to Dr. Victor Morhamer and Dr. Sri Ashni argue.
Victor shook his head. “It just isn’t possible. None of the control groups had a reaction like this.”
“They did not; however, this subject did. Did you find any sign of potential contaminants that could have caused the deviation?”
“You mean something that accidentally mutated our
mutagen? Nothing that would cause such a rapid reaction and the abnormal hostility he’s displaying. Plus, did you see his eyes?”
Sri gave a quick nod of his head. “There was a slight probability the eyes would alter as well, yes, but the rate and extent of the transformation was not expected. Perhaps it is possible that the conversion rate you used was incorrect?”
“Not likely,” Victor scoffed. “I did the calculations. My math is never off. Maybe you measured wrong.”
“No no, that is highly unlikely. There has to be something we missed.”
“Most likely something
With a dismissive wave of his hand, Sri clicked his tongue. “Son, I’m almost twice your age and experience. I have been at this before your parents even conceived you. I have neither the need nor desire to argue. I’m an old man, Morhamer. You may have time to recover if your name gets dragged in the mud; however, I do not.”
“Neither of us has time to fool around, Sri. In a few weeks Garret has an audience with the Marines. He’ll be looking for an update on the Titan Formula soon.”
“At which time we will have nothing to report that will make him happy if we don’t put our heads together.”
“I don’t care about him being happy. You’re the one looking for glory, old man. I just want to be paid.”
“Ha,” he snorted. “As if you aren’t hungry for the recognition of being a part of the scientific effort to create the perfect soldier.”
Celise sighed audibly and scowled at both men. “I don’t suppose either of you can find motivation in actually helping the patient simply because you’re the reason he’s sick?”
“Test subject,” Victor corrected. “We didn’t make him sick. We’re experiencing unexpected results, which we will soon correct.”
“And the outcome of your unexpected results is a damaged man. Whom I for one intend to help purely because he is a human being who needs and deserves help.”
Victor placed a hand on top of Celise’s. “One of the many things I respect about you, Celise.” He tightened his grip on her hand, massaged it, looking at her as if she were a hypothesis he’d like to test. That expression combined with the sweaty touch of his palm made Celise feel queasy.
She snatched her hand back. “Just tell me what I need to do to help, Dr. Morhamer.”
“Perhaps you should go home,” Victor said. “Jaxon is unstable and dangerous. You’re not safe here.”
“Actually, Belderon is perhaps more safe here than you or me,” Sri remarked, ignoring Victor’s deep frown. “She said he asked her for help, even after he refused it from either of us.”
“He also rendered both of us unconscious. He’s unstable.”
“But he was angry with us. He has tolerated us but has never liked us; however, he’s always been fond of Belderon here. We may need her help in getting him to cooperate.” He turned to her with the tilt of his head. “Befriend him. Get him to calm down enough for you to examine him. If you can, draw his blood.”
Celise looked through the one-way glass of the room Jaxon was locked up in. She watched as he paced back and forth, grunting and stomping. Objects went flying around the room. Every once in a while he ran up to the window, smashed his fists hard against it, raging about how they needed to fix him.
Celise pressed a palm to the side of her forehead and shook her head. Jaxon was a wreck, and nothing like the man she was beginning to know and like. It was frightening and scary, but heartbreaking at the same time. This was a man who was suffering, and needed help.
“I’ll stay. He’s my patient, and if he’s stuck here then I am, too. I’m not afraid of him.”
She turned on the speaker that allowed those standing outside of the cell to communicate with the occupant.
“Hello, Officer Wentworth. It’s me, Dr. Celise Belderon.”
He didn’t answer.
“I brought up a tray of food from the cafeteria in case you’re hungry. I’d like to come in and give it to you.”
Jaxon’s reply was gruff and morose. “You should just go away, doc.”
“You’ve been here all day and you haven’t eaten anything. I really think you should put something in your stomach.”
“I know you want to examine me. I’m sorry, but I can’t deal with any more doctorly shit today.”
“No, I understand. I already figured you could use a break today. I just want to bring this food to you. There’s even a peach on the tray.”
“Have someone other than you send in the food. I’m dangerous.”
“Are you less likely to attack the men if they opened the door than me?”
He paused for a moment, ran a finger through his hair and paced. “Fine, bring it. Just make it quick.”
She looked at Sri and Victor who nodded their heads, gesturing that they were going to stay right there to make sure she got in and out of the cell intact.
She pushed her glasses upon her nose, grabbed the tray and entered the cell slowly, allowing the door to close quietly behind her once she was inside. She placed the food on the counter and turned to study Jaxon.
So much about him had changed. The man who was just an inch less than six feet was now just half a foot away from seven feet. He easily weighed fifty percent more than he did a few days ago. His skin was tight and appeared bruised, having recently been stretched over his newly mutated muscular structure. He looked like a living, breathing, chiseled statue of an idolized model man.
So was this their definition of a super soldier? A seven-foot tall body builder?
He was no longer pacing the room; he now kept to a corner with his back against the wall, watching her. Studying her with the usual intense, intimate examination of his that always made her feel naked and exposed. So some things about him hadn’t changed. That penetrating stare, the unique texture of his hair, the intoxicating sound of his voice, the seductive curve of his lips. Her desire to caress and taste those lips had not changed, either. Celise cleared her throat. “Are you in any pain?”
“Some. It was much worse when I first started changing.”
She nodded. “Good that it’s subsiding, at least. Is there someone you need to get in contact with?”
“To let them know where you are, and that you will be here for a while? Any family or friends?”
He shook his head, eyeing the floor hard. “I was the only child of my adoptive mother, and she died some time ago. The couple of friends I have wouldn’t be too worried about not hearing from me for a while.”
So he had no one. Celise wanted to tell him she would be there for him, that she would remain at his side until he got through this. But she didn’t have that kind of relationship with Jaxon. They weren’t even friends, really. He had no idea how much she thought about him, or how much she admired him. Would he mistake her genuine concern for pity? She withheld her thoughts and nodded. “What about work? When are they expecting you back at the precinct?”
“I’m out on medical leave and could potentially extend it to disability leave if necessary. I told them I was going to be getting ‘revolutionary medical treatment and physical therapy,’ so I have some time.”
“I’m sorry, Officer Wentworth. About what’s happened to you,” she said, approaching him. She wanted to stand right before him so that he could feel the sincerity of her apology. “I don’t know if anybody’s apologized to you yet, but I’m sorry that you have to suffer because things went wrong.”
He looked directly at her then. She tried to keep her composure, but more frightening than the change of his body was how different his eyes appeared now. Greenish-yellow, with elongated black ovals centering them. More creature-like than human. So unlike Jaxon’s. She flinched a bit and looked away.
Almost immediately she wished she hadn’t. She could feel the tension in the room rise as his frustration seemed to pour out of him.
“So you’re smart enough to be afraid of me after all.”
“No, that’s not it, it’s just –”
He hulked over her, menacingly. “You should go, Dr. Belderon. Now.”
“Can we talk?”
“Not like this,” he grunted, clenching his fists, and his chest rose and fell rapidly. He stood just inches away from her, close enough to engulf her in the heated charge of energy which radiated from his heaving body. Something was obviously surging inside of him.
“What’s wrong? Is the pain getting worse? Please, just tell me what you’re experiencing. I’d like to try to help you.”
“Woman, get out now,” he punctuated his command with a single, booming stomp of his foot against the floor.
Celise was certain his rage was due to his stress over the situation, and her heart squeezed with the need to comfort him, to touch his pained face and assure him that everything was going to be alright because she would see to it. Her brain, however, told her it would be wrong to offer promises she did not know if she could keep. She huffed with disappointment, but left the room and closed the door behind her. She eyed the two male doctors still standing outside of the room, who had been watching the interaction, and gave them a weary look.
“Perhaps we can try to check his vitals later,” Sri suggested. “We can just tranquilize him for now.”
“You’re not going to try to get a blood sample at least?”
“No. I think being poked or prodded is the last thing this man needs today. Let’s just let him eat in peace.”
“That’d be wasting time. We need a sample now to test his DNA and check his blood for any anomalies that could explain the affect the formula has had on him.”
“It can wait a day,” she said. “Besides, the lab in the R&D wing is trashed. We need to get setup again in order to do any more thorough testing anyways. Might as well get to that in the meantime.”
The men grumbled, but they walked away. Celise exhaled noisily and glanced at the glass of the cell, startled to find Jaxon standing right in front of it, seemingly staring at her. But there was no way he could see through the one-way glass. She stared back for a moment, amazed at how even in his present state he managed to draw her to him. She pressed the button on the intercom.
“Is there something you need, Officer Wentworth?”
“I just wanted to thank you.”
She wasn’t sure if he was thanking her for the food, the apology, or for leaving when he asked. But he sounded grateful, and appeared more composed than she’d seen him all day.
She smiled, relieved to see some improvement at least. “You’re welcome.”
Then she watched as he seemed to calm right before her very eyes, the scowl on his face disappearing as he went to the counter and grabbed the peach.