Laurann dohner - new species 05 - brawn

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  • Thanks Imogen916! Do you by chance have New Species Tiger? I saw it on here but it was the Spanish version.
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Laurann dohner - new species 05 - brawn

  1. 1. Brawn Laurann Dohner Book 5 in the New Species series. One look at Brawn, and Becca is wondering how he’d look without his clothes. He’s also instantly attracted to her, but has sworn never to touch a human female. They just aren’t sturdy enough for the type of rough sex Brawn enjoys most. When he learns he’ll be living under the same roof with Becca, Brawn simply sees it as a chance to broaden his knowledge of humans. Hopefully he can do so while keeping his hands off her… His good intentions go astray when they’re both kidnapped and locked together in a cage. Brawn finds himself reliving a nightmare when he’s once again subjected to breeding experiments at the hands of New Species’ enemies—who will use Becca to get what they want. Brawn and Becca will have to depend on each other if they hope to survive. Ellora..s Cave Publishing www.ellorascave.com Brawn ISBN 9781419938269 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Brawn Copyright © 2011 Laurann Dohner Edited by Pamela Campbell Photography and cover design by Syneca Model: Angelo Electronic book publication December 2011 The terms Romantica® and Quickies® are registered trademarks of Ellora’s Cave Publishing. With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.® 1056 Home Avenue, Akron OH 44310-3502. Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the publisher’s permission. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000. (http://www.fbi.gov/ipr/). Please purchase only authorized electronic or print editions and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted material. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
  2. 2. This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously. The publisher and author(s) acknowledge the trademark status and trademark ownership of all trademarks, service marks and word marks mentioned in this book. The publisher does not have any control over, and does not assume any responsibility for, author or third-party Web sites or their content. BRAWN Laurann Dohner Dedication As always, I’d like to thank Mr. Laurann for all of his love and support. My heartfelt thanks to Kele Moon for not only being the best critique partner but for loving this series as much as I do. A special thanks to my mother, Donna, for always encouraging me to read. Books are amazing things that open up new worlds, take us on adventures, and broaden our imaginations. Chapter One Becca Oberto glared at her father, resisting the urge to yell. “You what?” Tim shrugged. “I need you to move in with me right now. In less than an hour someone else will be moving into your house. I put clean sheets on your old bed.” “No.” She shook her head vehemently and leaned against her car. He’d just announced he had agreed to allow some man to move into her home but it was hers. “You can’t just order me to live with you or give permission for someone else to take my home. Grandpa left the main house to you and the guesthouse to me. He’s your guy so make him stay in your house.” “That won’t work. He’s, uh, different. He needs his own space, Rebecca.” “So do I. I don’t care how different he is or what the situation may be. He is not getting my home. I love you dearly but I’m twenty-nine years old, a widow and way too old to live with my daddy again.” She took a breath. “Plus, you drive me nuts. You treat me as though I’m ten years old and I’ve lived on
  3. 3. my own for far too long to revert to that. No way in hell. Is that clear enough? Give him my old room.” Her father shifted his stance. “He’s New Species, Rebecca. He needs his own space and he’d have a problem with how close the main house is to the street. I was told he needs quiet living accommodations or the sound of traffic will keep him awake. The guesthouse is all the way at the back of the property and it’s got all those trees to make it secluded. He’d love it there. I swore to the NSO that I’d give him safe, quiet living and your place is perfect. It won’t be for that long. Please?” Stunned, Becca just glared at her father. He headed some secret task force that directly worked with the New Species Organization—NSO for short. She’d never met a New Species but she’d seen a few of them on television and featured in newspapers. Her father kept her fuzzy on what he did at work but she guessed it probably was dangerous. Her father had been with the military for twenty-five years, had retired nearly two years before and was an adrenaline junky. He lived for being shot at or to shoot at shit. He found and saved New Species who were still being held captive. That’s about all she knew. “Why would one of them need to be here? All of them either live here at the NSO Homeland or they live up north at the NSO Reservation. I’m not stupid, Dad. I read the papers and none of them ever live outside those gates. It would be too dangerous with all the morons who bug them.” Tim frowned. “I don’t have to explain this to you, baby.” “You do if you want me to let someone live in my house for awhile.” A curse broke from his lips. “Fine. Do you remember Jessie Dupree?” “The wild redhead? Sure. She’s the only woman on your team and I met her a few times when you had them over for drinks for team morale. What does she have to do with some guy wanting to live in my house?” “She was hurt on the job and had to be replaced. The NSO offered us one of their people to fill her position. Jessie did the first contact stuff for us
  4. 4. when we recovered a New Species POW alive. We thought—I thought—that since we don’t have Jessie then we should have a New Species do first contact. The thing is that he’ll have to live here or we’d have to send our only helicopter to get him for every mission. It’d waste funds and resources when we have few to spare. This way he’s on the spot when we need him and have to move fast.” Becca let that all that information sink in. “POWs? You call them prisoners of war?” “What would you call them? My job is to find imprisoned New Species and free them. They aren’t there for fun and games. They are prisoners and it’s usually a fight to get them free.” He shifted his weight again. “Anyway, now that you know the situation, I expect you to get with the program. I’m going to go change my clothes while you pack your belongings. I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes to help you move. He should be arriving within the hour.” He paused and his eyes narrowed. “I want you to stay away from him. That’s an order, Rebecca Marie Oberto.” “This is why Mom left you and why you’re still single eight years after the divorce.” Becca was pissed. “Do not tell me what to do. I’m a grown woman. You get with the program. I can talk to whoever I want, even hang out with him and I don’t take orders from you.” “You will not.” His voice deepened and took on a stern tone. “I am your father and you will do what you’re told. I have spoken.” Her eyes widened in astonishment. Her hands fisted as she shoved them against her hips. “Wow! Really? You’ve spoken? I’m having flashbacks of my teens and we both know that didn’t go so well for you. I sneaked out of the house plenty of times when you refused to allow me to have a life. It didn’t work then and it sure as hell won’t get you what you want now. I’ve spoken.” “Damn it, Rebecca Marie. Stop being childish.” “Listen up, Dad. I’ve been married and I survived burying a husband. I grew up. I’m not the kid whose diapers you sometimes changed when you were
  5. 5. home on those rare occasions between the wars you couldn’t wait to go fight. Do not treat me as though I’m still a child. I love you but I swear to God, I’ll stop speaking to you if you continue with this line of bullshit. I’m not one of your military guys who jump when you say boo. Yes, you have spoken but so have I. Deal with that!” “You’re still mad that I wasn’t around much when you were a kid? I was working.” “You were always volunteering! Don’t think I didn’t know you asked for the toughest assignments that would keep you out of the house the longest just because you and Mom didn’t get along. You were hardly there. I am not angry anymore because I grew up and got over it. What makes me mad is that you were hardly there to tell me what to do as a kid so what makes you think you can pull this crap now? I would rethink it. Stop telling me what to do, where I can live, or who I can talk to.” “He’s New Species, Rebecca. You’ve learned enough about them to know why I don’t want you near him. They were locked up all their lives as test subjects and they were prisoners who suffered physical and emotional abuse. No one could be completely right in the head after that. They are all big and were shoved full of altered shit. He’s going to be part man and animal. You’re a goodlooking girl and he will notice that. I don’t want you near him and that’s an order you will follow. You are not to talk to him or hang out with him.” That did it. Becca laughed. “You don’t give me orders. I still haven’t said he could stay in my home. I get why he needs to but that doesn’t mean you have the right to lend out my home or make me move back in with you. It’s not happening.” “You will do as I say.” Her good humor fled. “That’s it. I’m done. Here’s the program you’d better get with. He can stay in my guest room—there are two. I’ll give him the one down the hall from my bedroom. I’d hate to live in your house so I would never subject anyone else to that. While he is here, I can talk to him if I want. Hell, I
  6. 6. can hang out with him. I can do anything I want with him and you can’t do a thing about it.” “What would you like to do with me?” The voice behind her was a deep rumble. Becca started and turned to gape at the owner of that masculine voice. He was really tall and his straight black hair fell over his broad shoulders to his waist in a silky curtain of hotness. He had to be a good foot taller than her five-foot-five height. His catlike blue eyes met her shocked ones. His cheekbones were prominent, his nose flatter than normal and a set of full lips were curved downward in contemplation. Overall, he was strangely goodlooking and really big. The hair was just sexy as could be—a bonus. His skin was a golden tone and she could see a lot of it since he wore a red tank top stretched tightly over a broad chest. Thick, muscular arms were displayed to her appreciative eyes. The guy was built like a body builder or a male stripper. Becca instantly imagined him moving to music and her stomach clenched. She’d definitely put some bills in his G-string. Her focus lowered to a trim waist and the black cargo pants that molded to bulked-up thighs on those long legs. They were the type of pants a lot of her father’s men wore and she’d have pegged him as military if it weren’t for the fact that he was obviously New Species. She silently wondered if her father or a member of his team had handpicked the guy’s attire. Oh yeah, she decided. I’d definitely want to see him strip out of his clothes. “You’ve arrived already.” Her father didn’t try to hide his annoyance. “This is my daughter, Rebecca. She’s moving out of the guesthouse that you’ll be staying in while you’re here.” He moved forward and held out his hand. “It’s good to see you again.” “I’m Brawn.” The large man’s gaze flicked away from Becca’s and he dropped his navyblue duffel bag to the ground and shook hands with her father. “I remember,” her father admitted gruffly. “You’re one of the council members and we were introduced recently at a meeting. I just didn’t want to be
  7. 7. forward by calling you by your first name without permission. I wasn’t informed if you’d taken a last one.” “I didn’t. I’m just Brawn.” Boy, is he. Becca swallowed and stepped forward, smiling at the large male and decided he was totally hot. It might take some time getting used to his strange features but his attractiveness captivated her. She held out her hand. “I’m Becca Oberto. It’s nice to meet you.” Brawn turned his attention her way again and she stared up into the darkest blue eyes she’d ever seen. They reminded her of a night sky, so dark, but with just a hint enough of blue to be striking. His eyelashes were extraordinarily long and black, matching his hair. The feline shape of his eyes was remarkable and beautiful. His irises weren’t round like a human’s. They were oval, similar to a cat’s and they were breathtaking. She was so caught up in studying his features that she didn’t notice anything was wrong until he smiled and amusement sparked in his gaze before he glanced down. Becca followed where he looked and heat warmed her cheeks. She’d forgotten they were supposed to shake hands, too caught up in gawking at him. A laugh bubbled up as she gripped his large palm, taking note of how warm his skin felt and the rough texture of calluses on his palms and fingers. Her gaze jerked up to his again as their hands clasped. “Sorry. Your eyes are amazing.” His smile widened. “I take it I’m the first of my kind you’ve met? You seem…fascinated.” “Yes and yes, I am. You have the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen.” She refrained from wincing, realized she probably sounded idiotic and had babbled about his eyes twice. The grip tightened on hers as his fingers curled to encase her entire hand and some unknown emotion flickered in his eyes. “Thank you for saying so.” “You can release her now.” Her father ground out the order through clenched teeth. “You’re supposed to shake, not hold hands.”
  8. 8. Becca laughed and released the guy. “Sorry.” She took a step back, still peering into his eyes, unable to stop. “It’s fine. I am grateful that I do not frighten you. Some human females are terrified when they meet us or they freeze up and just stare.” She stared. Damn. Becca laughed lightly. “I admit I’m guilty of it. I’m sorry.” She forced herself to glance at her father. He looked livid as he glared back. “Go pack up your things and move into your old room now, Rebecca.” Her smile faded. “Dad, back off. I’m not ten anymore. Let’s not yell in front of Mr. Brawn. It wouldn’t make a good first impression of us, now would it? We should at least allow the man to get settled in before he realizes we’re a dysfunctional family.” “You have to move because of me?” Brawn’s shock sounded in his voice. “It’s not a problem,” Tim assured, sounding less angry. “The guesthouse my daughter owns is located at the back of the property and is more remote from the street traffic. There are a lot of trees and it’s quieter. I’m having groceries delivered to you and I know someone asked your clothing sizes. Your new uniforms will be here within a few hours. Nothing is planned for today to give you time to unpack and adjust to your new living quarters before you start the job. You’ll be riding with me every day. I’ll pick you up in the morning at eight o’clock and I’ll give you my number in case you have any questions or need help.” Brawn nodded. “Fine. Thank you but I’m sure I can manage.” Tim jerked his thumb in the direction of the larger house. “You can come home with me while my daughter goes to the guesthouse to pack her clothes. It shouldn’t take her long.” Becca glared at her father as she fully faced him. “I have a better idea. I’ll take Mr. Brawn to the guesthouse and show him around. He can start moving into the guestroom immediately.”
  9. 9. “Now, Rebecca—” Her spine stiffened when she recognized his temper flare and knew they were about to argue again but his cell phone rang. Saved by the bell. She blew out a relieved breath as he dug the phone from his pocket, glanced at the front of it to see who called and softly cursed. “It’s work.” Becca waved, all the tension leaving her. “Bye. I know you have to rush off to answer it. Classified shit and all that so we don’t overhear you say yes and no to someone.” She turned and smiled at Brawn. “Let’s go. I’ll give you the tour and show you which room will be yours.” Brawn hesitated before he bent to lift his duffel bag. “Thank you. I’d appreciate that very much. Please just call me Brawn. I’m not a mister.” Becca grinned over how polite his manners were as she walked down the path with Brawn following close behind. Her father would have her believe the guy was dangerous but she didn’t feel threatened in the least. She led him through a gate that separated the properties and grinned when her home came into view. It was her pride and joy. “This is it. It’s two stories, as you can see, a little big for a guesthouse but my grandfather had a lot of family money. He had it built twenty years ago after his brother suffered a stroke.” She paused, feeling a little similar to a real tour guide but Brawn’s keen, interested look urged her on. “He didn’t want him to live in a convalescent hospital so he had men working around the clock to build it in record time. They put it up in five months which is pretty fast but it’s a great house. There are three bedrooms, three and a half baths and there’s even an elevator.” Black eyebrows lifted as they paused in the front yard. “I never use the elevator but my great uncle was in a wheelchair and he needed constant care. Two nurses lived here with him to cover different shifts. That’s why it has the extra bedroom when most guesthouses only have two. He was here for six years before his health took a turn for the worse and they
  10. 10. hospitalized him. He died a few weeks later and the home sat empty until my grandfather died four years ago. He left it to me and the main house belongs to my father.” She started walking again, fished out the keys from her purse and unlocked the front door to push it wide open and wave Brawn inside first. He shook his head and indicated she should precede him. It made her like him even more and she entered the house, glanced back and noted he barely cleared the doorway. It made her grateful that the entire house had high, vaulted ceilings so he wouldn’t feel closed in with his taller-than-average height. He stepped inside and paused. His gaze traveled slowly over the living room and she wondered what he thought of her home. She glanced around too, happy she’d cleaned recently and that everything looked tidy. His gaze finally met hers and he smiled. “It will do nicely. Thank you. You have a lovely home and it smells good. I can pick up the scent of wood and some unknown pleasant lemon scent.” She remembered then that Species had keener senses. “There’s a lot of wood flooring and carved details in the house. My grandfather might have wanted it built quickly but he wasn’t willing to cut corners on craftsmanship. The lemon you smell is from the oil I use when I mop the floors. It keeps them clean and shiny without being slippery. Twice a year I have someone come in and actually do the stair railings and the built-in shelving in the family room. It’s too much for me to keep up with on my own.” He just peered at her, saying nothing. She nodded. “Let me show you the rest of the house.” He followed her as she walked through the kitchen and dining room. There was also a half bath and the laundry room on the first floor. The family room came last. She led him upstairs to the first door on the right, the smallest bedroom and bath. Becca opened the door to show him her office. “This is mine but you’re welcome to use the computer.” “I hardly use the things. I’m still learning but thank you.”
  11. 11. She turned, almost brushed against him and noticed how good he smelled. He carried a spicy, masculine scent, perhaps his aftershave. She inched around his big bulk to open the door across the hallway. “This will be your room and it has a private bathroom too.” Her focus drifted to the bed before she looked at him with a frown as her gaze raked up and down his body. “We’re probably going to have to switch the beds. That’s just a full size and I think you’re going to have problems with it since you’re so tall. I have a California King in my room.” Her gaze roamed over his body one more time. She nodded and met his stare. “You’re definitely going to have to sleep in my bed.” His gaze narrowed and a small sound came from his throat. It surprised her. If she didn’t know any better, she’d think he had just softly growled at her. Of course she had to have heard wrong because he was so polite. “What was that?” “Clearing my throat,” he explained softly. “Sorry. So we need to exchange the beds?” “Definitely, unless you want your feet dangling over the mattress.” “We can change the beds.” “Drop your bag and follow me. We’ll make sure you fit on it first. If not, I’m sorry. Maybe Dad can order you a longer bed.” She walked out of the room and led him to the last bedroom, down the hallway. She walked inside and was glad she’d remembered to make her bed before leaving for work, a habit she’d formed from having a military father. “Here we are. Do you think you can fit in my bed?” Brawn stared at the huge mattress. “That will be fine. Thank you.” She smiled, amused at his stiff stance and it was obvious that he wasn’t comfortable inside her feminine room. “You might want to lie down first to make sure. I’d hate to move them and then realize it won’t work.” Brawn kicked off his shoes and climbed onto the bed without protest. It was low to the floor. He seemed at odds with how to get on at first but as he
  12. 12. stretched out on his back his feet didn’t fall off the end—just barely. If he angled himself a little across it, he could sleep comfortably. His gaze met hers and he gave her a sexy smile. Damn. Becca swallowed hard, thinking how incredibly appealing he looked on her rosecolored bedspread, the reddish-pink hue of it making him seem even more masculine if that were possible. The sight of that big, impressive body of his stretched out made her wish he wasn’t wearing clothes. The urge to climb onto the bed naked with him arose and she clenched her teeth to avoid sighing. She really needed to get laid since a stranger had her body tied in knots. She’d tried to be intimate with the few guys she’d dated but had always ended up thinking of her late husband, Bradley, and the guilt had eaten her up. As her attention wandered across the man’s body the only thing that ate at her was the desire to test out her new mattress with him. “It’s great.” She had to remember he was talking about the size of her bed, not her wanting to jump his bones. “Terrific. Let’s get to it then.” He rolled gracefully and stood. Between the two of them, it didn’t take long to switch the beds. Becca glanced at the king-size bed in the guestroom when they were done. It was a little too big for the space but there was a small walkway at the end of the mattress to allow access to the bathroom. She bent over to remove the sheets from the bed, wanting to give him fresh, clean sheets. “It’s going to be a tight fit but I think you can squeeze in without too much effort.” Brawn growled loudly, an animalistic sound that surprised her. Becca jerked her head around to stare at Brawn, only to find him a few feet behind her with his legs planted apart and his hands fisted at his sides. His gorgeous eyes were fixed on her ass as she bent in front of him. Her last sentence replayed in her head and she laughed, straightening. “I was talking about you being able walk between the end of the bed and the wall and squeeze through the bathroom door.” She grinned.
  13. 13. Brawn met her gaze. “What else would you have been talking about?” He arched an eyebrow at her and hid his hands behind his back in a relaxed stance that seemed forced. She laughed. “I didn’t realize you were right behind me when I said that. You growled, which made me aware of how that sounded and looked. I assumed I needed to expand on what I was talking about since otherwise it just sounded like an invitation of a sexual nature.” His gaze narrowed. “You’re very direct.” “I am. I appreciate that in people. It cuts down the bullshit.” “I like directness too. I did take it wrong at first and mentally agreed it would be a tight fit. You’re small. For a second, as I admired your bent form, I forgot why I’d never touch a human female and I growled in appreciation. My kind do that when we’re aroused. You have a nice form.” He glanced at the dresser in the corner. “May I use those to store my clothes?” “Of course. The closet is empty too. This is your room while you’re here and please feel free to make yourself at home.” She paused. “May I ask you something personal? I am curious.” His gaze returned to her. “Ask.” “Why wouldn’t you ever touch a human female?” “Do you want a polite answer or a direct one?” “I like direct.” He hesitated, seeming unsure. “I won’t take offense.” She reached up to cross her finger over her heart and smiled. “You can’t say something like that without me wanting to know why. I’m a bit nosey and with my father being who he is, there are enough secrets I’m not allowed to know. You don’t have to answer but I’d appreciate it if you would.” “I’m bigger and stronger than human males. I like rougher sex than human females could handle. I’d end up hurting her without meaning to.”
  14. 14. She let that sink in. “I see. Well, it’s kind of muddled but I think I have the idea. Thanks for answering.” “What part is muddled?” “The rough-sex part. There are a lot of ways to take that.” He nodded. “I do not hit, nor am I into bondage or toys. I’ve seen some of your human pornographic videos. I like to bend my females over and take them from behind. I do not like to be gentle during the sex, the way your males are, but I am not into choking or harming them the way I’ve seen your males do in those films. “I just like to take a female hard, fast and deep. Species females are bigger and more durable than most human females and I would hurt a human since they are fragile. There is no pleasure for me in that. It would be pointless to have sex with a female like you because I’d end up accidentally bruising her or taking her too rough. As I said, I’m larger and stronger than your males. When I say large, I am not just talking about my height and weight. I’ve seen your males naked and I’m thicker and longer.” He glanced down his body before meeting her gaze again. “Do you understand or do I need to specify the body part I’m referring to?” Becca was shocked at how blunt the man had been with his answer but she’d asked for it. She let all that information sink in and hid a shiver of fear. Yeah, he could definitely hurt a woman if he didn’t restrain himself at all. All the sexual attraction she felt for him died a quick death on that note. She wasn’t into pain and that put him off the hot list for her. “Now I totally understand. Thank you for the clarification.” “You are welcome. Do you need help stripping?” Becca laughed suddenly. “I thought you said I wasn’t your type?” She wiggled her eyebrows at him, unable not to tease him a bit. “You opened yourself up to that one.” He sighed. “Stripping the bed.”
  15. 15. “We’re a pair, aren’t we? We keep saying things that just sound wrong.” She laughed again. “I’d love for you to help me strip.” “What the hell?” her father shouted, his heavy footfalls rushing down the hallway closer to the guestroom. “You’d damn well better not.” Becca watched her father barrel through the door and come to a screeching halt when his shoulder slammed into the frame. She knew he’d obviously just entered her house and heard the last part of their conversation. “Oh, so you’re going to help me strip? Great, Dad. You go on the other side of the bed and yank out the sheets over there.” “Sheets? I thought…” He frowned. Becca arched her eyebrows. “You thought what?” She blinked at him innocently. “Nothing. Proceed. I just came to check…I mean help you move your things. I’ll go in your room and pull your suitcases out of the closet.” He fled. Becca winked at Brawn when they were alone. “I love to mess with him. It’s so easy.” “Why?” “He is bossy and always treats me like I’m a kid. I have some fun at his expense whenever given the chance. It evens us up a little.” Chapter Two Becca paused at Brawn’s closed door, heard the sound of running water and knew he showered. She had calmed after the argument with her father and now wanted a stiff drink. That always helped her get over hurt feelings after they had a verbal spat and there was the fact that she had a sexy, yet offlimits stranger living in her home. The family room contained a fully stocked bar, something she’d appreciated when she’d taken possession of the house and had replaced every bottle of liquor, not sure of how old they’d been. She poured herself straight vodka and guzzled the shot. It burned down her throat all the way to her belly. A
  16. 16. breath hissed out when she set the shot glass on the bar, straddled the chair and poured another. Her father drove her crazy and living on the same estate was a really bad idea. It wasn’t as though she were stuck there though. She had the money to move but the idea of giving up her oasis on the property left her feeling a bit fearful. She’d lived in the outside world with Bradley and that hadn’t gone well. She poured and downed a few more shots when the sound of the doorbell pulled her from her depression. She yanked open the door expecting her father but instead someone else stood on her doorstep. She gave him a genuine smile. “Well, if it isn’t Trey Roberts. Don’t you look good!” He grinned. “I brought groceries and uniforms for the new guy.” He held two large bags and had a thick garment bag draped over his shoulder. “Point me to the kitchen. Is he here yet?” She nodded and led Trey into the kitchen. She assessed the man who was her father’s favorite. If her dad had ever had a son, she knew he’d wish Trey were it and he’d shoved her at Trey for years hoping she’d marry the guy. She flirted with him but wasn’t interested. He was too similar to her father, except Trey was nice and had a sense of humor. “He’s actually upstairs showering.” Trey glanced up at the ceiling before studying Becca. “What is he like?” “His name is Brawn. He’s huge, has gorgeous eyes and he’s nice. He looks like he’ll fit right in with you guys. I wouldn’t arm wrestle him though. He’d kick ass.” Trey nodded and started to unload the bags. “Where’d your old man go?” “He has a date.” Trey laughed. “Uh-oh. I wonder how long this one will last.” “Probably two weeks. That’s about the limit. He starts barking orders at them and they run for the hills. I’m waiting to see what kind of idiot stepmother
  17. 17. he eventually finds. She’s going to have to be a first-place winner of the total-moron championship contest if she thinks his bossiness is cute.” “Now I see why you won’t date me. I like giving orders.” “I’m too smart.” She helped him unload the groceries until she took notice of what was going into her fridge and freezer. “What the hell?” He grinned. “We were told by the NSO to make sure he’s stocked with a hell of a lot of red meat.” “I think he’ll be happy then. You must have bought fifty pounds of steaks and roasts.” “I’m just following the list we were given. I was supposed to find out if you have any cast-iron skillets. They like to sear their meat in one.” She pointed. “Right there.” He opened the lower cupboard and peered at the set. “That should do.” He set the largest one on top of the stove to make it impossible to miss. “Anything else?” “No. If he needs anything, he’ll tell us. Let me grab the sodas from my truck.” Becca held the front door open and her mouth dropped open. Trey brought in three cases of soda. “Were they having a sale?” “New Species have a fondness for caffeine.” Trey unloaded it all and leaned against the counter. “So, who are you dating right now?” “I’m not.” “Do you want to go out to dinner with me?” He smiled. She smiled back. “Nope. But thanks for the offer.” He winked. “Do you want to at least have awesome, mind-blowing sex?” She laughed. “I’ll pass.” His smile faded. “Have you gotten past it? It’s been over a year since his death.” Her grin died too. “I went out a few weeks ago with a guy I met through work and I had fun. He kissed me but all I could think about was how it wasn’t the way Bradley did it. That kind of killed the moment and I sent him home. I refused a second date. He was a nice guy and I didn’t want to string him
  18. 18. along.” “I won’t kiss you.” He suddenly grinned again. “I could do you right here.” He pointed to the wall. “I bet that wouldn’t remind you of him. I can’t see him lifting and holding you in place while he screwed you blind.” “Go home.” She shook her head at him, laughing. “That kind of talk is probably why you’re still single. Does that work with women?” “Sometimes. I’m just trying to help you.” “Right. You want to help me right out of my clothes.” All humor faded from his intense brown eyes. “It might be the kind of help you need. You have heard that saying that to get over someone, you need to get under someone, haven’t you? It really works. I worry about you, honey.” He reached up and brushed back a lock of her auburn hair. “I’m here any time you want to talk, if you need someone to hold you or just a really great fuck.” He smiled. “My body is at your disposal.” “Go home.” She gave him a nod. “But thanks.” “Do you want to talk?” “Not about that.” “Are you sure? It might help.” “I appreciate it but I’m doing well. I promise to call you though if that ever changes.” “You can call me any time.” He leaned closer to brush a soft kiss on her forehead. “If you change your mind you know my number. I’m not opposed to a two a.m. booty call.” Becca laughed. “I bet you aren’t.” “I’m good at it.” His hand dropped away from her and he wiggled his eyebrows in a comical way. “At least that’s what I’ve been told. You could take me for a test drive and rate my performance.” “Not a chance! Don’t you have somewhere else to be and someone else to annoy? Move it, soldier. You’ve been given your marching orders.”
  19. 19. He walked away. “I keep trying to move, damn it, but you aren’t letting me show you the motion of the ocean.” He chuckled, waved and closed the door behind him. His truck started a moment later and he drove away. Becca put her hands on the counter and stared out the kitchen window toward the large tree, enjoying the sight of birds flittering around the thick branches. She appreciated Trey’s concern, he’d known her for a lot of years, but she would never take him up on his offers of having sex or getting too close to her. He had enough stress in his life without adding her burdens on his broad shoulders. “What is a booty call?” She grabbed her heart and spun to face her houseguest. “You scared me. I didn’t hear you come down the stairs. They creak a little.” Brawn stood in the doorway of the kitchen. His hair was wet, pulled back in a ponytail, and he’d changed clothes. He wore faded, snug jeans with a black, heavy metal band T-shirt. His feet were bare. “What is a booty call? I’ve never heard that before.” She grinned. “It is a term for calling someone to just come have sex with you and they leave afterward. There’s no attachment or emotional involvement in the sex.” He nodded. “I’ll remember. Is that a normal human custom?” “For some but not me. He was just joking.” “That man who was here is your lover?” She shook her head. “He’s my friend. He will be working with you on the task force. He’ll be your team leader if you are replacing Jessie Dupree. You should like him. He’s got a good sense of humor so hopefully you appreciate that in a person. I know I do. Your food and uniforms are here. He also brought you lots of soda.” “Thank you. Human friends offer booty calls to each other? I’m trying to learn about human interaction. I’ll be working with them and need to try to
  20. 20. understand your customs.” “No. Most friends don’t offer booty calls. Trey offers because he is trying to talk me into sleeping with a man again and he’s partly teasing, trying to cheer me up. He thinks if he gets me into bed that I’ll find it easier to do when I go out on a date with someone, that it will result in sex.” “He wants to share sex with you so you will have sex with another male? Is the male a good friend of his? I have seen those kind of situations in the pornographic videos but didn’t believe they were real representations of human sexual habits. Is this a common practice amongst human males? I don’t want to make friends if it means they will offer to share their women.” He grimaced. “I don’t mean to offend you but that is disgusting. I don’t want to see another male mount someone. It wouldn’t make me desire her and the last thing I want to see or smell is another male while sharing sex with a female. It would kill my arousal and I don’t want a human woman.” Becca laughed hard at his interpretation. It cracked her up and she hugged her stomach. “I apologize if I’ve insulted your sexual preferences but I’m Species and it doesn’t take two of our males to satisfy a female’s sex drive. Your males don’t have our stamina during sex. I’m afraid one of your females may be overwhelmed by one of us, if she could even handle the roughness of sharing sex.” Those bits of information killed her sense of humor and she sobered. “It’s complicated but don’t believe what you see in the skin flicks. Those are actors with really bad scripts for the most part, not true situations and that’s not his motive. He doesn’t want to talk me into having a threesome with him and one of his friends. I was married but I’m a widow now. I kind of stopped dating after that and Trey thinks I’ll stop being hung up on my husband if he gets me into bed. He thinks if I just have sex with someone—anyone—that I’ll be more likely to get on with my life. You can make friends and they won’t ask you to sleep with their girlfriends or wives.”
  21. 21. “What is a widow?” “My husband had a defective heart. A widow is a woman whose husband died.” Brawn leaned against the wall. “I am sorry. Our people were put down too if they were found to be defective physically by Mercile Industries.” She felt punched in the gut. “They did that? Those assholes killed anyone with physical defects? Jesus. No. My husband wasn’t murdered. We don’t just end someone’s life if they aren’t healthy. He had a heart defect and died when a large vessel inside his heart ruptured. It happened very quickly. He just grabbed his chest, gasped and passed out. He probably didn’t know what happened before it was over. The doctor I spoke to assured me that he wouldn’t have suffered and death happened within minutes.” “The doctors could not fix his defect before his death?” “We didn’t know about it. It was a rare defect they only discovered afterward when they performed the autopsy.” She took a deep breath to prevent getting choked up. She usually did that when she remembered Bradley and avoided discussing the grim details. A change in subject was needed to avoid tears. “Are you hungry?” “Starving.” “I’ll get out of the kitchen and let you fix your meal. Trey said you needed cast-iron skillets and he put one on the stove for you to use. There are more under that cabinet there.” She pointed. “Make yourself at home.” He nodded. “Are you leaving now?” She inwardly flinched, realizing he didn’t understand the situation. “Actually, about that…” She took a breath. “I’m not moving into the main house with my father. He’d drive me nuts and trust me when I tell you that you’re better off here than living with him. He’s kind of a jerk sometimes and tends to be super controlling. I am staying here. You’ll hardly see me and I keep a pretty busy schedule.” She pulled air into her lungs. “It’s a big house and we’ll make it work. It will almost be as if I’m not here.”
  22. 22. He gawked at her. “I’m to live with you?” A frown dipped his lips. “I’m really sorry that this isn’t what you expected but no one asked me before your living arrangements were made. My father had no right to offer you my house but I’m willing to share it with you. There’s a spare house key hanging from a peg on the right side of the front door. Take it and use it.” His chin lifted and his shoulders braced back enough to puff out that massive chest of his. “I understand. I’m here to learn about humans and to adjust to being around them. This will be a good experience to share a house with one. You’ve taught me a lot in such a short time and I look forward to learning more. Thank you.” She had to give him a lot of credit for taking the news better than she expected. “Good. I’ll leave you to cook your meal now. I’m going to return to the family room and get shit-face drunk. You’ll discover that I do that after I have a blowout with my dad. He drives me to drink.” She spun and walked away before he could question her further. All that talk about her husband left her feeling sad and vulnerable. Intense pain squeezed her heart as she walked into the family room, sat at the bar and poured another drink. The shit part was that her father had been right about Bradley but she couldn’t ever admit that aloud because her dad would never allow her to forget it. He’d rub it in and use it as an example in every argument they had. That would be so often that it wasn’t funny. She downed another shot, closed her eyes and hissed from the burn of the booze sliding down into her belly. Brawn watched Becca leave the kitchen and sighed. He knew what shit-faced drunk meant. She planned to drink to excess, get completely inebriated and he hoped his new house mate wasn’t one of those humans who did it often. He hated the smell of alcohol and he’d seen movies of drunk people enough to wish to avoid them. This was not going the way he had thought it would. Not at all. He’d been promised a secluded home, privacy, yet instead he lived with a human
  23. 23. woman. Worse, he found her attractive. The memory of her bent over the bed he’d sleep in later would stick with him for a while. She had a curved, lush body, very unlike Species women. She appeared supple, fragile and would probably scream if he ever unleashed his desire on her. Her hand had been small and very soft when he’d held it after their introduction. The idea of having her touch him with them made his cock twitch. Of course the thought of pinning her under him only made it worse. He’d probably crush her under his weight or accidentally break her somehow. He softly growled as he moved around the kitchen to familiarize himself with it. He pulled out a few steaks, heated the skillet and found a plate, then got the tongs to turn his steaks as he seared them. He sat at the island eating while thoughts of Becca Oberto plagued him. She was a complication he wasn’t sure he wanted to deal with. He could ask her father to allow him to live in the bigger house near the road. It would simplify things but that would be cowardly. He lifted his gaze to the fridge, studying the photos that were stuck on it—Becca with different humans. She smiled in all of them and appeared happy. It was a confusing contradiction if she had turned to drinking a lot of alcohol. He wasn’t too sure of his human facts but it implied she had serious issues. Her mate dying would do it. He finished his dinner, cleaned up the mess and washed his dishes. He heard music when he turned off the water and dried his hands. It was too early to go to bed and his room didn’t have a television. He’d need to ask for one, he missed his cable channels already and regretted volunteering to take the mission for his people. Someone needed to work with the human task force though. A Species female would have been perfect for the job but he hadn’t wanted to expose any of them to human males. Everything he’d learned so far about them made him believe they’d harass her. It was a man’s world outside the NSO gates, or so he’d been told. Females were to be protected at all costs. The idea of allowing one to go into danger made his entire body stiffen. He’d tough it out
  24. 24. and would deal with whatever came his way. Better him than one of the females. He worried about Becca as he put his foot on the bottom step to return to his room. She wasn’t a big female and a memory of a movie he’d watched made him turn back. She could drink enough to become violently ill and he wanted to check on her health. He followed the rock music and paused in the archway to the family room. Becca sat at the bar with a bottle and a tiny glass in front of her. She seemed to sense him and turned her head. The wide grin she gave him and her overly bright, blue eyes assured him that she’d drunk too much. She waved him over, her movements clumsy. “Hello, handsome. Wanna drink?” Her voice slurred a little and it shocked him that she’d called him that. “My name is Brawn. I don’t know of any Species who chose to be called that.” A giggle made her shoulders shake and she snorted softly. “I know your name. You’re good-looking but you know that, right?” She found him attractive. That fact left him speechless. She patted the seat next to her. “Wanna drink? It doesn’t burn going down anymore.” He inched into the room. “I don’t drink alcohol but thank you for the offer. How many have you had?” “I don’t know.” She nearly slipped off the chair as she adjusted on the seat. “Not enough. I’m still conscious.” “Drinking alcohol inebriates you, slows your response time and makes logic difficult to practice.” She laughed. “You are so cute.” His eyebrows lifted. No one had ever called him that before. Ferocious, a bastard and other choice names but never something that implied that definition. Worry ate at him more over her mental state. “Perhaps you should go to bed and sleep. I’ve heard a saying that things always look better in the morning.”
  25. 25. “It’s early.” She patted the barstool next to her. “Come over here. I won’t bite.” “Aren’t you afraid I will?” He couldn’t resist opening his mouth and showing her his canines, curious why she didn’t seem to fear him. Human women always did. “Nope.” She patted the barstool again. “Come closer.” Her eyes narrowed. “You’re kind of blurry.” She giggled. “I don’t drink often but when I do, wow boy, do I do it right.” He’d never heard that phrasing before and approached her cautiously. It was a bad idea, he should go to his room, but worry kept him there. She needed someone to look out for her. Her mate wasn’t around anymore to do it and her father wasn’t living inside her home. It was up to him to make certain she didn’t have any misadventures in her defenseless state. He sat on the barstool, too close to her in his estimation—and hoped she didn’t throw up the way he’d seen women do in movies. “I don’t understand why you would purposely do this to your body.” “You mean the calories?” She glanced down. “I could lose some weight. I sit on my butt too much at work but it’s not as though I have to impress anyone anymore.” “Calories?” “You know, because I’m a little overweight.” He studied her body. “You’re very small. You can’t weigh much.” “I’m a hundred-and-sixty pounds.” She laughed then clasped a hand over her mouth and giggled before lowering it. “I usually lie.” She leaned closer to him. “I say I weigh twenty pounds less than I really do.” “Why would you do that?” “Lie?” She reached out and pressed her palm to his chest. “It’s what women do. We lie about our weight, our age and our sexual history.” Confusion gripped him again and he tried to ignore the warmth of her hand soaking through the thin cotton of his shirt. “Why would you do that?”
  26. 26. “You want to know about humans? They lie. We’re sneaky bastards or bitches sometimes. If our mouths are moving, well, expect some bullshit. It’s just human nature. In my case, I hate admitting that I’ve only slept with two men. It sounds pathetic and I lie about my age because I’m coming up on the big three-o. Thirty. That’s a bad thing to women. As for the weight, we wear stuff, trying to hide the flab.” “Flab?” “You know, those extra little unsightly bulges.” He glanced down her body, paused on her breasts and frowned. His gaze lifted. “There is nothing unsightly about you.” Her free hand reached for his and he allowed her to move it to her side. She pressed it against her waist. “Squeeze.” He gently did as she bid, amazed at how soft she felt through her clothes and the give in her skin. She smiled at him. “Feel that? Love handles. I’ve got them.” He opened his hand and released her. “You feel nice.” “It doesn’t look so hot.” She patted his chest. “You’re so nice. I hope the guys on my dad’s team don’t rub off on you. Men can be real lying jerks but you’re different.” “I’m honest.” Her eyes narrowed and she licked her lips—her pink tongue darted out to wet the lower one and her hand slid a little lower to press over his heart. “Stay that way.” “I don’t like deceit.” “Me neither.” She inhaled deeply, leaned back, removed her hand and faced the bar. “But it’s necessary.” “I don’t understand. You have secrets you need to protect?” She wrapped her hand around the glass, lifted it and took a sip. A grimace twisted her features and she put it down. “The burn is gone but it tastes
  27. 27. like shit.” He inhaled, the vile smell of alcohol there, but nothing to indicate it would taste of excrement. “Don’t drink it.” “It helps.” She stared at the bar. “Sometimes I want to forget stuff and when I’m hurting it helps numb me.” Worry gripped him. “You need medical attention?” He sniffed again, leaned a little closer and tried to get an in-depth take on her scent. She smelled of strawberries, oatmeal and laundry detergent but he didn’t pick up any trace of illness. She turned her head and smiled. “What are you doing?” “You don’t have the chemical smell of humans who take medications. It sweats out of the pores. You’re ill?” “No. I just had horrible taste in men and my father drives me nuts. I think my grandfather left me the guesthouse because he knew I’d never talk to my dad otherwise. We don’t get along.” “Is having a parent challenging?” She released her drink and turned to face him. “You have no idea! He drives me nuts.” She put her hand on his thigh near his knee and he glanced down to see it curved over his jeans. “He’s such a dick sometimes, so controlling and judgmental. I always had to be perfect or he lectured me about it. He’s not, but I’m supposed to be.” His gaze lifted. “Are humans always so into touching people when they talk?” She looked down, laughed and squeezed his leg. “Sorry.” She lifted her hand and peered up at his face. “Your eyes are really amazing. Did I tell you that? I think they are so beautiful. Can you see colors and everything?” “Yes. My vision is perfect.” “My dad thinks you’re mixed with a lion or a panther. Do you have a tail?”
  28. 28. Chapter Three Becca woke with a start, confused at first about where she was, before memory surfaced. She winced, remembered most of her drunken discussion with her houseguest and promised to apologize to Brawn first thing in the morning. She glanced at her nightstand clock and took note it was nearing three in the morning. The reason she had jerked awake sounded again. She frowned, listening to the persistent barking from Boomer, her neighbor’s beloved pooch. It wasn’t normal for the little dog to be noisy, especially in the middle of the night. She shoved off the covers to get out of bed. She crossed the room, gripped the curtain and pulled it back a few inches to stare over the wall that separated her property from the one behind it. She could see Mel and Tina’s house from the second floor of her bedroom and frowned at the sight that met her sleepy gaze. The house was lit up brightly, every room illuminated and that wasn’t normal either. They were in their late forties, worked nine-to-five jobs during the week and she usually only saw a few lights on at any given time. It was highly doubtful they’d throw a huge party mid-week, if ever. Boomer barked rapidly, a shriek came from him and it grew eerily silent. Becca’s heart dropped and she spun, rushed for her closet and jerked it open. Her fingers traced the upper shelf, found the drawstring, silky material and dragged it down. She rushed to her window with Bradley’s beloved opera glasses and lifted them to her eyes as she pulled back the curtain with her elbow. A quick manipulation of the glasses brought her neighbor’s house into sharp focus. At first she didn’t see anything unusual. Mel and Tina didn’t have curtains or blinds on the back of their house. The houses were too far apart for them to ever worry about needing them. All the house lots were large so people who lived in the neighborhood naturally had privacy, unless someone directed binoculars their way.
  29. 29. The living room was empty. She moved the glasses until the kitchen came into view, still not spotting any movement. She moved on to the family room where Tina sat in a chair. The woman’s platinum-blonde hair was hard to miss, as was her frantically shaking head and the sight of something silver over her lower face. “What the hell?” Becca was confused by what she saw over the other woman’s face and then it sank in. “Oh my God!” Someone had covered her neighbor’s mouth with duct tape. She needed to call 9-1-1. They were being robbed! As she started to turn away to lung for the phone, someone large, dressed in black, stepped into the room with Tina. Though his back was to her, she knew it was a man by his size. His hand lifted. A slight popping sound reached her ears right as Tina jerked backward in the chair. “Oh fuck,” Becca hissed. Tina’s face was destroyed. Blood, gore and a misshapen mass with platinum blonde hair was all that remained. The burglar had murdered her neighbor, shot her in the face. Becca spun, threw the opera glasses aside and ran for her bedside table. Her leg hit the bed and she nearly fell in the dark room but found the phone on her bedside table. Silence met her ear instead of a dial tone when she yanked the receiver up. She was afraid to turn on a light, didn’t want to risk the burglar being alerted if he happened to look out into the backyard when it came on. She tapped the cradle. The damn thing was dead. Don’t panic and think! My cell phone! She’d left her purse downstairs somewhere near the front door. She eased open the drawer first, her fingers searched and found cold metal and she grabbed the gun. It felt heavy in her hand but she’d be damned if she let that asshole get away with killing Mel too. She could still be alive and might not have but a few minutes for the cops to arrive. She stumbled for the door, hit the wall next to it and yanked it open. Becca ignored the hallway light switch, knowing the burglar would see the lights come on if he were looking out those curtainless windows toward her yard. A sob tore from her throat.
  30. 30. She tried to hold it together as she rushed down the dark hallway, misjudged the table and slammed into it. Becca cursed softly and gripped her knee. She hopped a few steps and clutched the gun tighter to avoid dropping the damn thing. Motion made her gasp as a dark shape moved ahead of her. She opened her mouth to scream but remembered Brawn was in her house. The dark shadow stood in front of his room. Relief hit her big-time as she limped closer. “I just saw my neighbor being murdered,” she whispered. “Don’t turn on the lights. The guy might see them and take off. I’m calling the police.” “Are you sure?” “He shot her in the face.” Becca gulped in air and felt hot tears streaming down her face. “Didn’t you hear that sound of…” She made a sobbing sound. “She’s dead. Her face was mush and there was blood. My cell phone is in my purse downstairs. The phone line is down in my bedroom. I don’t want the guy to get away.” She edged around him toward the stairs. A pair of hands suddenly gripped her upper arms. “The phone line is down?” “Yes.” He growled. “Let me go. I have to get my cell phone and be careful, I have my gun. That asshole isn’t going to get away if I have to shoot the fucker to keep him there for the cops to arrest.” “How many men did you see?” “One. Let go. I have to call the police and get over there before the guy gets away.” “Don’t you think it’s alarming that your lines are down and your neighbor was just murdered?” His voice was soft. “Stay here. I have a cell phone in my room. Do not move.” She leaned against the wall, realized her emotions were scrambled from sleep and shock and it probably wasn’t a bright idea to go climb the wall to face a burglar with a gun. As long as he didn’t realize someone had seen him, he’d take his time stealing from the house and she hadn’t seen Mel. She’d
  31. 31. have been with Tina or she was already dead. “Okay.” His hands released her and he backed into his room. She stood there gripping the gun, trying to pull herself together. She wiped at tears, calmed enough to realize she was still a little drunk and Brawn was right. Calling the police was paramount. Brawn’s soft voice soothed her frayed nerves as he approached her. His dark shape halted inches from her. “Send the police and help,” he ordered then the faint light of his cell phone died as he closed it. “I contacted my people and they will have help to us soon.” “Give me your phone. We need to dial 9-1-1.” “They are doing it now. They are sending us help.” “We don’t need help. You need to give me the phone. The police need to get to Tina’s house. Mel is there and she might still be alive. Give me the cell phone. He can’t get away with this. They need to catch him and I’m still a little drunk. I want to go over there to blow the bastard to hell the way he did Tina but I’d probably go to prison for killing him while inebriated. I can’t believe this is happ —” “Be quiet,” Brawn suddenly hissed softly. “I know I—” A hand clamped over her mouth and he spun her around, just yanking her body tightly against his. One of his arms looped around her waist and his breath fanned her ear. His long hair tickled her arm. “Someone is downstairs,” he whispered. Terror slammed into her…but it might be her father. Maybe he’d heard Boomer bark or the sound of the gun going off. Boomer never barked at night and while the gunshot had sounded faint, unlike anything she’d ever heard, her dad was an expert with weapons. He’d know how all of them sounded when fired and would have identified it instantly.
  32. 32. He’d check on her first and come armed, since he slept with weapons in his nightstand drawer. Hell, he’d put the gun in Becca’s in case anyone ever broke in the house. It was always loaded, the safety off, ready to fire. She wanted to tell Brawn who it could be but his hand over her mouth prevented that. Becca jumped when a noise came from below, a weird one that she’d never heard before and she had no idea what would cause it. It was kind of a soft motor sound and then there was a squishy sound, not a good one. Her father would have pounded up the stairs, searching for her. He would be worried sick and come after her like a charging bull to protect her. Her heart hammered harder when it sank it that it wasn’t her father down there making the noises. Brawn’s hand over her mouth tightened and so did his arm around her waist. Her toes left the floor as he hoisted her higher up his tall body, backing them both inside his room. “Don’t make a sound,” he breathed. Becca kept her lips tightly sealed when the hand released her mouth. He used it to very quietly close the bedroom door and twisted the lock. He moved then, spun fast enough to make her dizzy and lifted her even higher as her legs brushed the side of his bed when he maneuvered them into the small bathroom. “I smell four males inside your house.” He kept his voice low so that only she would hear him. “I smell blood too but I think it’s from an animal. I want you to sit on the floor in the corner and be very quiet. Do not make a sound. Do you understand me? Nod if you do. Do not speak or shoot me by accident.” He paused, one hand wrapped around hers and he tore the gun from her fingers. “I’ll keep this. You are still inebriated.” She nodded, not sure how he knew that but couldn’t protest. He eased her down his body and metal clinked when he set the gun down. Both his hands clutched at her, twisted her to face him, before he let go to grip the top of her head. He gently pushed, urging her to get down.
  33. 33. Her hands brushed hot, naked chest when she used his body to steady her trembling one. Adrenaline and the alcohol still in her system made her movements unsteady. She lowered, her hands sliding on his skin until she hit the cotton of his sweats and she realized that in any other circumstances this would probably be indecent as she crouched before him until her face was even with his groin. Her back brushed the walls, it made her realize he’d cornered her near the sink and wall rack for towels. He released her scalp as he backed away. She lifted her chin and barely detected his dark shadow move until he reached the doorway where faint light from the main house’s floodlights, which her father always kept on, made him easier to see, illuminated somewhat even through the closed bedroom curtains in his room. She crouched there, realized her nightshirt was wadded at her waist and her bare legs were exposed. If a light was on Brawn would be able to see her underwear and it was an undignified position with her legs spread apart. She didn’t move though, afraid she’d fall over or make a sound. Help was coming and Brawn was close. She wasn’t alone. New Species had amazing hearing and night vision. Her father had told her that once. The other thing he’d told her was that they had bloodhound scent capability. That’s what he called it. He said most of them could smell things that others couldn’t. Brawn had said he’d smelled four men inside her house. How does he know they are male? She bit her lip to prevent her from whispering the question to him. He had said he’d also smelled animal blood. Boomer. He’d made that horrible sound before the barking had halted. Does he smell Boomer’s blood? That thought sobered her a lot. She kept her gaze locked on the shadowy form of Brawn while he bent over, grabbed something from under his bed and backed into the bathroom. He remained there, as if he guarded her and it made her feel better until a creaking noise reached her ears. She knew it was the third step from the top. It
  34. 34. always made that sound when stepped on and that meant someone was coming up the stairs. Nothing made sense. Why would the man who killed Tina be inside her house? Brawn said he’d smelled four. If he said it, it was probably true. The man who’d killed Tina couldn’t have broken into her house that fast, which meant there were at least five of them. It might be a burglary ring targeting the neighborhood. She wanted to warn Brawn but feared making a sound. The bedroom door suddenly exploded open with a loud crash as something struck it hard. Wood splintered and Becca threw her hand over her mouth to stifle the scream. She did jump, pressed her back tightly to the wall and managed to keep her terrified gaze locked on Brawn. He didn’t move, the sound didn’t seem to startle him but then something dropped on the wood floor. Whatever it was sounded metal and it rolled—a distinctive sound. That got the big Species to move. He reared up to his feet, spun and her eyes widened as his body hit hers before she realized what was happening. The air was shoved from her lungs by the force of his heavy body slamming into hers. She hit the floor on her side and his weight crushed her mercilessly when he covered her. A blast of painful, earsplitting proportions stabbed through her head and bright light blinded her even though her eyelids were closed. The floor even shook under her back and thighs from the force of whatever had exploded. A roar tore from Brawn, further deafening her since his mouth was inches from her ear, and he rolled away. The weight was gone from her body, her eyes jerked open and she fought to suck air back into her lungs. She caught sight of him rushing out the bathroom door as the lights in the room were turned on and smoke hovered near the ceiling. It was white and billowed fast. Brawn opened fire, the sound of the shots made her flinch and she gaped at the sight of him in just a pair of dark-gray sweats, a Berretta clasped in
  35. 35. his hand. The muzzle flashed as bullets were discharged. Someone screamed, barely distinguishable in the melee. Brawn roared again, a fierce, terrifying sound, and threw his body backward into the bathroom. Weird metal things slammed into the bathroom door inches from him. At least six of them, a few inches long, dug into the thin wood. Brawn lunged out of the bathroom, threw his big body at the bed and opened fire again. He only got off two shots before the gun either jammed or ran out of bullets. Becca panted, too shocked to move and her eyes widened as three men in all black suddenly threw themselves on top of the New Species. He used his legs to throw one of them up off his body as she watched in horrified shock. The man hit the ceiling hard enough to make it rain plaster before he crashed to the bed, hit the side of it and bounced to the floor. Move! Her mind screamed and she somehow scrambled to roll over. Her limbs felt heavy, disjointed from her brain and her ears rang from the loud noises. She was dizzy as she pushed up and slammed her palm painfully on the sink countertop. Metal brushed her fingertips and propelled her to struggle harder to rise to her knees. She turned her head to stare at Brawn. Another of the attackers was thrown off him toward the bedroom door and the hallway. Brawn twisted his body, flipped his legs and sprang off the bed in the blink of an eye with the bed now between him and the bedroom door. He backed up, growled viciously and roared. His fingers curled clawlike at his sides and he bared sharp teeth. The man who’d hit the ceiling sat up and struggled to his feet. Becca gripped the gun, swayed on her feet and stumbled closer to the bathroom door as she put her finger on the trigger. Brawn was defenseless without a gun, trapped between the bed and the windows and faced danger. She knew how to shoot and damn well would. Her father had raised her to never fire a gun unless she was ready to kill with it. She was. She nearly reached the door when the stupid bastard who’d just risen from the floor tried to tackle Brawn. She froze as she watched the Species
  36. 36. swipe his big hand at the guy in black, hit his throat then shoved hard with his other. The guy flew her way. Something warm and wet sprinkled her face as the man Brawn had slashed collapsed on to the floor between the bed and the bathroom door. The attacker’s face was turned her way and there was no missing the horrifying sight of his slashed open face, from his ear to his mouth. The stranger’s eyes were wide open, terrified and he blinked. Blood flowed from the horrible wound, pooled on the floor under his mouth and he made a hissing sound. Lifeless eyes stared at Becca after he took his last breath. Time froze. It was surreal, too shocking for her mind and her responses shut down until the blood slowly spreading across the floor nearly touched her toes. That yanked her to the present. Only seconds had passed, but she realized the wetness on her face was blood too. Something metal hit the wood floor in the next room and rolled. She twisted away, hunched, trying to protect herself from the stun grenade. She was sure that was what made the sound. Brawn roared again but then she couldn’t hear anything over the loud explosion that tore through the bedroom and seemed to pierce her brain. Even with her eyes tightly closed and her back to it, she was blinded for a second by the white, searing light. She managed to stay on her feet, recovered fast and spun back around as she straightened. The gun in her numb hands jerked up to point at the doorway and she gaped at the sight of Brawn sprawled motionless over part of the bed. He’d just fallen to his knees, his upper body rested on the mattress and his hair was spilled over the sheets. He didn’t move but she did notice his chest moving slightly and was assured he breathed. Someone stepped in front of the doorway, obscuring her view of Brawn and she stumbled back. The guy wore all black, his face covered in a mask and goggles even hid his eyes. They were round tinted ones, not night vision gear, but smaller. Her hand shook as she remembered to keep the gun aimed at him.
  37. 37. “Easy,” he demanded gruffly. His hands slowly lifted away from his side, straight out, and she saw a strange, weapon in his hand. It wasn’t anything she’d ever seen before. It was bulky with a wide barrel, a longer version of a handgun, with a round cylinder at the base of it. She glanced at the metal things sticking in the door before her attention jerked to his covered face and eyes. That thing shot those. She knew it, though not what they were. “Don’t move.” Her voice shook. “I will fire.” “Easy,” he repeated, not moving a muscle. “You have no chance of survival if you kill me. Pull that trigger and my men will take you out. Do you understand me?” Terror gripped her. She knew there were more of them, that he wasn’t bullshitting, but they’d killed Tina. They’d kill her too. They weren’t burglars. That fact sank in fast and hard. They dressed the way her father’s men did for covert operations. She’d seen enough of her dad’s laundry to know military issue when she saw it. What the fuck is going on? “We came for the New Species.” He kept his voice low and calm. “That’s all. Lower the gun, miss. You’re not our target.” “You can’t have him.” Her voice came out a little stronger. “I’m not stupid and I’m not lowering this gun. I won’t miss you.” She adjusted the aim to make sure he knew she pointed it at the center of his skull. “Tell your men to get the fuck out or I’ll be cleaning your brains off the walls for weeks. I called 9-1-1. The police should be here any second.” “Fuck,” a male voice hissed from the other side of the wall, telling her that another man was inches from the door and within reach of the asshole who filled the bathroom door. “Tell your guy to back off.” Her finger tightened on the trigger. “I’m scared, freaked the hell out, and I might shoot you if I see the slightest movement.” “Back off,” the guy who seemed in charge ordered. “She’s got a Berretta pointed straight at my head.”
  38. 38. “And I know how to use it,” she said for good measure. She glanced at the space between the guy’s head and the doorway and spotted Brawn still motionless. Her attention focused on the threat. “Move real slow and drop your weapon.” His hand opened and the weird weapon landed on the dead guy on the floor. “Are you a cop?” “No, but I won’t miss you.” He cleared his throat. “Are you his security detail?” “No but I’ll kill you to protect him. You aren’t taking him. Order your men to leave my house but you don’t move. You’re my insurance that they don’t try anything stupid. They do and you’re dead.” “Your house? He lives with you?” “Shut up and do what I said. Order your men out.” He hesitated. “Fine.” The fingers of his open hand jerked at his side in a wave motion. She relaxed slightly, a mistake on her part, thinking he’d silently ordered his men to leave with the hand signal. Instead bullets blasted through the walls. She pulled the trigger and threw her body to the floor. Weight slammed down on her back. She couldn’t even scream from the pain of being crushed and the gun was torn from her fingers. Whoever had slammed into her shifted his weight and a hand fisted painfully in her hair, forcing her head back. She gasped in air and screamed then. An elbow nailed her in the back, cutting the sound off from the fresh pain and the body lifted. She spotted her gun near the toilet, too far to grab before she was hauled up by the vicious grip fisting her hair at the base of her neck. She swayed on her feet, clutched at the gloved hand and realized she’d missed killing the son of a bitch when he spoke. “A couple inches off your mark but you clocked my cheek.” He sounded pissed. “You’ll pay for that, bitch.”
  39. 39. He shoved her hard. She slammed into the wall and groaned. She turned, knew she would die and prayed her father had gotten lucky with his date. He’d have heard the explosions and gunfire from the main house. The bastards had either killed her dad before they’d attacked her house or he was spending the night elsewhere. Otherwise he’d have come after her by now. She glared at the son of a bitch who had her trapped. It was satisfying to see the tear in the black material near his ear, red showed from the bloody wound the bullet had inflicted and she hoped it left a hell of a scar. Her chin rose as she glared at him and her fingers fisted at her sides. “Fuck you.” Two more black-clad figures entered the bathroom, weird weapons drawn and they pointed them at her. One of them spoke. “You okay, Randy?” “Fine,” their leader sighed. “She nicked my cheek but I dodged for the most part.” She looked up and realized they’d shot through the wall separating the bedroom and bathroom too high to have hit where she’d been standing. It was confusing since she’d been sure they were trying to kill her. “Who are you?” Randy reached out suddenly and grabbed her by her throat, yanked her away from the wall and fisted her hair again. He pulled hard enough to jerk her head back as he pulled her tight against him. She could detect cigarettes on his breath, which fanned through the material over his mouth. “Is she one of them?” One of his men stepped to the side of her. “Nope. Human. I’m sure. She’s not a New Species. Her eyes are normal.” Someone else entered the bathroom. “We’re picking up chatter. Our second team just intercepted the cops. They are coming. We’ve got four minutes.” “Fuck,” Randy hissed. He let go and shoved her against the wall. He grabbed his uninjured ear and tapped it.
  40. 40. “This is alpha dog. We have a female inside the male’s bathroom. She’s obviously screwing him since she admitted it’s her house and they are both locked in his room.” He paused for seconds. “She’s alive. I checked and she’s not one of them—she’s human.” He paused again. “Understood. I’ll bring her in with him.” He tapped his ear to cut the transmission. He grabbed her hair, jerked her away from the wall and fisted the back of her shirt too as he spun her around. “It’s your lucky damn day. You get to live. Move. You try anything and I’ll hurt you bad. My orders are to bring you in breathing but nobody said I couldn’t make you suffer.” He stopped her at the bathroom door. The dead guy was inches from her bare feet. She felt wet heat on the floor like warm syrup. She didn’t look down to verify she stood in blood. She didn’t need to see it to know. Nausea roiled up and she made a gagging sound. The hand tightened on her shirt and the man jerked her. “You puke and I’ll break your damn jaw.” Becca frantically fought to thwart the urge. She watched helplessly as two men lifted Brawn off the bed. They gripped him under his armpits and dragged him toward the door. Who are these assholes? She was terrified. Any law-enforcement agency would have identified themselves before attacking. That left the opposite of law enforcement. Maybe mercenaries? Becca quaked at the thought. Her father said the difference between one of them and a soldier was that his men would only kill when issued orders. Three more black-clad men, their faces and hair concealed, walked into the room. One of them pulled another of the unusual weapons, aimed at Brawn’s leg and fired. The dart embedded in Brawn’s upper thigh but he didn’t flinch, still unconscious. “That’s two,” the man who had shot him sighed. “Let’s keep track. We don’t want to kill him. In fifteen minutes we’ll dose him again.” “Fuck,” another man softly swore. “That won’t kill him? That’s a hell of lot.”
  41. 41. “They have high drug tolerances from all those years of testing and they have a fast metabolism. You don’t want this bastard to wake up until we get him in a cage. It would be the last mistake you ever made.” “It wasn’t so hard getting him.” Randy chuckled. “It was easier than I thought.” The man who’d shot Brawn with the dart shook his head. “It was the female. He couldn’t flee so he had to fight. If it wasn’t for her we wouldn’t have caught him. He would have been out the window and miles from here before we reached the room. He locked the door and was waiting for us when we attacked, to protect her. He heard us coming.” Becca felt bad. Brawn wouldn’t have been captured if she had spent the night at her dad’s house. Shit. “Let’s move out. The police will be here soon.” Randy shoved her from behind. “Walk.” Chapter Four Becca felt hope that perhaps the cops would arrive and save the day until she was pushed into a waiting black van parked in Mel and Tina’s driveway. She saw a white logo sticker across the side of it advertising security. They were smart, the cops probably wouldn’t stop them, figuring they were there to respond to a silent alarm. Her optimism died. Randy shoved her inside the back of the well-lit interior of the van and straight into a large cage. She landed on something warm. Brawn was sprawled under her, not moving, his eyes closed. A loud sound behind her made her jump as the cage door slammed closed, locking them inside together. Becca watched men pile into the front half of the commercial-sized van. The front driver door and passenger door opened to admit two more men. There were seven in all. The driver’s face wasn’t covered and she was pretty sure from the back of his head that it was the prick who’d shot Tina. He turned to glance at the back.
  42. 42. “Let’s roll, people.” He chuckled. “That was some easy money.” The van engine started and it rolled forward, taking her away. Laughter sounded around the van after one of the men closed a curtain partition from the front so they could keep the lights on without anyone seeing them. “Well, not for Smitty.” More laughter. “He was a prick anyway.” “Maybe we should have taken his body with us.” “Naw. It will confuse the cops. He’s got a list of burglary raps.” Becca couldn’t tell who was talking with their mouths covered. She shifted her body to ease her weight off Brawn. The cage was large, designed for a big animal, but not big enough to keep her from having to press against him a little. She settled on the cage floor on her butt and leaned against his chest. She studied his face with concern and touched two fingers to his neck to feel a weak but steady pulse. “Look? It must be love. She’s touching him.” Another one snickered. “I wouldn’t mind her touching me.” “Me neither.” Becca ignored them as she brushed Brawn’s hair back from his forehead after spotting a scratch above his eyebrow. It wasn’t deep, didn’t bleed much and she slid her fingers through his tresses to feel for any hidden lumps. She noticed the silky texture as she examined him but she didn’t find any signs of head trauma. “Think she’s going to get it on with him?” A few of them laughed. “Well, if not him, maybe one of them.” More laughs. “I think I’m going to volunteer monitor duty when we get back. I want to see this if the Doc wants them to fuck.”
  43. 43. More laughs. Becca gritted her teeth and looked up. She glared at the heads turned her way and met the eyes of the men watching her since they’d removed their goggles while she tended Brawn. “You’ve made the worst mistake of your lives. My father is going to hunt down and kill everyone involved so I hope you spend your money fast.” One of them snickered. “And who’s your daddy, piece of ass?” “He lives in the big house on the property you just invaded and hates mercenaries.” She said it to see if they’d respond. She needed answers and every word might clue her in to what kind of mess she was dealing with. “I hate to break this to you but no one is going to find you in the hole you’re going to. Your daddy was probably cowering under his bed when he heard those gunshots. Assholes are all talk to their kids.” More laughter. Becca didn’t know why these men wanted Brawn and she wasn’t sure why they hadn’t just killed her. They obviously had no qualms about killing innocent people since Tina was dead. Relief washed through her because she’d learned one thing for sure. Her father would arrive at her house at eight in the morning to pick up Brawn. He was alive. Tim Oberto would move heaven and hell to find his only daughter. It might take time but it’s what he did. He tracked down and found New Species who were being held captive. Her gaze lowered to stare at Brawn. He looked different asleep—vulnerable and less intimidating. Her father and his team would come for her and Brawn. She just had to keep them alive long enough. Will it take hours? Days? Weeks? She fought tears, refused to give the assholes watching her the satisfaction, but it wasn’t easy. She could survive hours but days or weeks? What if Dad never finds us? She pushed that thought away. He was good at what he did. There was a dead body in her guestroom and while the men who’d kidnapped them
  44. 44. might think leaving it would confuse the cops, it would be a clue for her dad. He’d do more than a background check. He’d tear the dead guy’s history apart to find every single asshole in that van and make them talk and reveal what had happened to her. “Has anyone called the bitch to let her know we have the male and we got his girlfriend? Maybe we’ll get a bonus.” “I did,” Randy’s voice was recognizable. “She’s excited. She really wants a test subject without the drugs. She thinks the drugs will ruin the experiment. She believes it might be the key to success. It was the happiest I’ve ever heard her.” “Maybe she should climb into one of the cages with one of the males. She’s such a horrifying bitch he’d be too terrified not to do what she wanted from him.” “She’s too dried up to do anything wet,” one of them laughed. “Or she might have thought of that. I know if she glared at me and told me to drop my pants I might want to eat my gun but I’d be too terrified to refuse. I’d be stiff with fear.” Laughter erupted from the van. One guy hit the van wall. “Image that bitch bending over.” He roared with laughter. “How about imagining her bent over in front of 358? Who would be more terrifying a sight? Him going at her or her face?” “Forget Doctor Elsa’s face. How’d you like to see her stripped naked? Good thing I skipped dinner.” They laughed. “Imagine her talking dirty. Or worse, her having a brat? I don’t care who knocks that bitch up, that will be the ugliest damn baby ever if it looks like her.” They were all laughing but Becca felt dread. Whoever this Doctor Elsa was, she wasn’t liked by the men she controlled. The things they said were giving her information though, she kept her gaze on Brawn, hoping they’d keep talking. The more they said, the more she learned. Number 358 was a person. All New Species had been given numbers instead of names when they’d been experiments at Mercile testing facilities.
  45. 45. She guessed that number used to be assigned to Brawn, which meant the assholes had come after him. If they know his lab number then…shit. They must work for Mercile Industries for sure. That kind of information was highly classified. Her father couldn’t even get clearance. He’d also told her Mercile staff had set fire to their medical records and had destroyed the computers by the time the assault teams had penetrated those areas when they’d served search warrants to find New Species. Why does Mercile want Brawn alive? It made more sense if they’d just wanted to kill him. The NSO slammed the company with lawsuits almost monthly trying to destroy them financially. For every New Species found and recovered, another lawsuit and criminal charges were filed against them and more arrests made. The New Species Organization was smart that way. They were making sure Mercile never recovered enough to restart their research. “Hey!” one of the men yelled. Becca jerked from her thoughts to glance up. One of them scooted closer, staring at her with narrowed blue eyes. “You might want to move away. We have to shoot him again. Doc Elsa wants you awake and alert when we get there. Besides, one hit of this shit and you’d die from an overdose.” The man pointed the gun and Becca edged away as far from Brawn as she could get. She yanked the dart out of him and dropped it behind her the second that she hid the area with her body when she leaned against him again on the off chance it prevented him from getting a full dose of the obvious tranquilizer. They shot him a few more times as time passed. She removed them as quickly as possible without rousing suspicion and worry set in. They were going to kill him with an overdose. She tried to talk them out of it but they refused to listen. His pulse remained steady and she pressed her ear to his
  46. 46. heart, reassured when it continued to beat strongly under her ear. His big body kept her warm as the miles passed, taking her far from home. Fear was instantaneous when the van finally stopped and the engine died. She sat up and felt pain. The thick bars of the cage under her ass made her backside hurt after no movement for an extended time. The feeling of pins and needles spread across one side of her ass and up her hip. The men exited the van to leave her alone with Brawn. She reached for his face, cupped it and rubbed. “Brawn? Can you hear me? Wake up!” She made sure she kept her voice low. He didn’t stir at all and she started when the van doors were thrown open behind her. Her hands left Brawn’s face as she turned to glare at the five men who stepped close to the back of the cage door. One unlocked and yanked it open. He withdrew one a dart gun and pointed it at her chest. “Get out,” he ordered. She had to fight the stiffness in her body to move. She climbed out and her bare feet touched cold, hard concrete. She peered at the large room that reminded her of a warehouse with the super-high ceiling and exposed metal beams. There were a few large windows near the ceiling along the sides. A hand grabbed her arm and led her away from the van. She turned her head to watch the four men lift Brawn by each of his limbs. He dangled in their hold, his long hair brushed the floor and they carried him toward a stairwell across the room. To see Brawn, a man his size, that helpless, drove fear right back into Becca. She swallowed and wondered what kind of hell she would face. The man gripping her arm jerked hard, forcing her to follow Brawn and she hurried her step. She didn’t want to lose sight of him. The stairs were wide and metal, leading down into a near darkness below. Her gaze flashed upward to the windows. The sight of sunshine assured her they’d traveled for at least three and a half hours.
  47. 47. Claustrophobia batted at her as they traveled down at least three dark flights of stairs, going deeper into the bowels of the warehouse. Only a few light bulbs illuminated the way for her to see the steps. The air grew noticeably cooler at each landing. She hated that—it notched up her fear but Brawn remained in sight. The bottom level ended in two big metal doors that the men pushed open while carrying Brawn between them. The sight that met Becca’s fearful gaze made her halt in her tracks. The room was large but bright, long lights hung from the ceiling. They showed two large cages clearly in the center of the room, set about ten feet apart. The things were massive, something that should be found in a zoo instead of the basement of a warehouse and the guy gripping her arm yanked hard. “Move.” She got a better view of the room as she entered the double doors. Other cages were set up along the walls and it horrified her to see a few inhabitants inside them. Someone lay on a bunk while another man paced the length of the bars. His head whipped around and she gasped, identifying a New Species face. They had more of them. That realization left her cold. Concrete walls separated those cells along the walls—they were bigger than the ones in the middle of the room and much longer. The guy holding her led her to a cage, opened the door and shoved her inside. He let go to slam the door and lock her in. Brawn was dumped inside the second cage to her right, his body made the cot creak when it took his weight and the four men fled. They not only locked the door but used chains to wrap around a few sections with chunky locks securing them. The kidnappers removed their masks as they walked out of her sight through a twin set of double doors near the ones she’d entered. The silence in the huge room was spooky, absolute and she turned to study her prison.
  48. 48. A cot had been set up, a camp toilet placed in the corner and folded blankets had been left on the long bed. She stared at the metal floor under her feet, lifted her chin to look up at the bars overhead and fought tears. Think. Remain calm. Those silent orders helped as she carefully took stock of her surroundings past the bars. It wasn’t hard to spot the cameras aimed in her direction once she scanned the ceiling. They were larger models, geared for outdoor security and a concrete wall blocked her view of whatever was behind her prison. It wasn’t that high, maybe ten feet of divider, but more than enough to keep her curious about what she couldn’t see. Her hands gripped the thick, cool bars and she studied them. No signs of rust showed at the joints and she doubted they’d ever seen the outside to be exposed to the elements. She inched to the door, saw the gap was nearly nonexistent and it had been well built. A metal plate covered the section far enough to make it impossible for her to reach around and attempt to pick the lock. The inside part of the door lock was totally sealed, without any key access. It told her one thing for sure. They hadn’t been designed to hold animals. A shiver sliced down her spine. Becca got as close to Brawn’s cage as she could, staring at his facedown form. His chest rose and fell, assuring her that he still lived. The drugs they’d dosed him with worried her. She couldn’t see how anyone wouldn’t overdose on all those tranquilizers. “Brawn?” She cleared her throat. “Please wake up! Can you hear me?” A growl from across the room jerked her head in that direction to see the pacing male had moved to the corner of his cell, gripped the bars and glared at her. He had really long black hair to his waist—a wild mass of tangled, silky strands—but she couldn’t make out the color of his eyes. Just the shape of them and those pronounced full lips and wide cheekbones assured her of his altered DNA. “I’m Becca,” she got out, hoping he’d talk to her. “How long have you been here?”
  49. 49. He growled again, a scary, deep sound. He wasn’t exactly the talkative type, she decided. Not real friendly either. She wasn’t about to give up though. The more information she gained the better the chances of figuring a way out of the nightmare she was living. “Can you talk?” She released the bars and touched her chest. “Becca.” She pointed to him. “What is your name?” He spun away, snarled and kept pacing. She gave up instantly on trying to learn anything from him. She did study his clothes—white pants with wide, thick seams running down the sides and that’s all he wore. His chest was massive, his arms thickly muscled and his fingers were clawed at his side. Something seemed to have agitated him from the way he stalked back and forth. Her focus returned to Brawn. “Brawn!” Her voice rose sharply. “Wake up, damn it!” His arm twitched, gave her hope and she pressed tightly to the bars. “Brawn? Open your eyes right now! I’m worried about you. You’ve been heavily drugged and need to fight it. Can you hear me? It’s Becca. Remember me? We live together. Brawn!” He was sluggish as he rolled, fell right off the cot and she winced when his big body sprawled onto the metal floor. That seemed to rouse him though as he snarled, pushed up with his arms and his eyes opened. Fury twisted his normally handsome features as he stared at the bars and lifted his chin to take in the cage roof. Every muscle appeared to tighten with strain. “Brawn?” Becca softened her voice. “Are you okay?” His head jerked in her direction, confusion crossed his face. The anger receded and he paled. “No.” “We were attacked. Do you remember?” He rose to his feet slowly, rubbed at some of the marks from the darts he’d taken to his thighs and stared around them. His gaze stayed on the cages across the room where the two other prisoners were kept. He moved fast though, hit the side of the bars and growled at the pacing male.
  50. 50. The other guy ignored him, kept walking the length of his cage and Brawn sniffed loudly. “Fuck.” “What?” He turned his head. “We’re in a lot of trouble.” “No shit!” She bit her lip and glanced at the cameras. “They are watching us.” He followed her gaze and turned her way, came to the corner closest to her cage and studied her body slowly. “Are you harmed? Did they drug you too?” “No. I think they are from Mercile.” She whispered that part. “I overhead enough to know they are working for some woman doctor and they know your number. That’s classified, right?” “My number?” “358.” “That’s not me.” She stared at the Species pacing. “Maybe it’s him.” Brawn glanced at the other male before staring at Becca. “I can smell drugs heavily in the room and suspect he’s drugged. I’ve smelled those chemicals before and he’s mentally gone if it’s coming from him. Has he talked to you at all?” “No. He growled a bit but no actual words. I tried to ask him how long he’s been here but he just began pacing again. He’s done that since we came in.” “How long have I been out?” “About four hours, best guess, but it could have been longer. I saw sunlight before they brought us down here. We were in that van for at least three and a half hours because that’s how long it would have been until the sun rose when we were attacked. They drove us here in a commercial van with a home security logo on it but I’m pretty sure they don’t work for that company. I got a good enough look at it to see it was one of those magnet signs affixed
  51. 51. to it and a real company would have them painted.” “We are in serious trouble.” “You think?” She gaped at him a little. “What I can’t figure out is why they wanted us alive. Wouldn’t Mercile employees want you dead? You guys sue the shit out of the company and my dad said that they are tracking down anyone who worked at that company to show the victims pictures to try to identify the ones who abused your people.” He sniffed the air. “Hope my memory is wrong.” “What does that mean?” He hesitated. “I smell the drug they used on us for breeding experiments.” Her knees weakened. “What does that mean?” “They developed a highly stimulating drug to force us to desire sex and dosed us when we refused to mount our women sometimes when they were trying to figure out why we weren’t able to get our females to conceive. The room reeks of it and that is very bad.” No shit. “I don’t see any of your women. There’s the guy sleeping on the cot and him.” She glanced at the pacer who hadn’t slowed inside his cell. “I smell another Species male, at least twelve different human males and two human females. You are one of them.” That was seriously disturbing. Becca knew the doctor the mercenaries worked for was a woman so that just left her on the wrong side of the cage bars. The blood drained from her face at the implications. “You don’t think they brought me here to…you know.” She slowly mouthed the next words she hoped he’d understand after lifting her hands to cover her profile from the cameras. “They think I’m your girlfriend.” Brawn spun away with a snarl, obviously able to read lips. He walked to the cage door, studied it and gave it a kick with his bare foot. Becca winced, knew that had to hurt and the metal didn’t budge. He lifted his leg, rubbed his toes and snarled again. He dropped the leg, spun and stormed back to the

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