“Please stop, Daddy. Please!” The little girl twisted and struggled desperately against the thick straps that held her down on the cold, metal table.
“Now, Cassie, be a good girl and don’t fight.” Her father loomed above her, wearing his white lab coat. He had a mask over his face, and all she could see were his glittering eyes. “This is going to make you stronger. Don’t you want to be stronger?”
He was going to put the medicine in her again. She could see the needle. It glinted under the bright light. So long and sharp.
“I-I don’t want to be stronger,” she whispered. She wanted out of that room. Away from him.
Far, far away.
“There are monsters in the world, Cassie. We have to stop them.” His voice had hardened. His voice was always hard and cold.
He looked like a monster. With the light all around him. With the white mask over his face. White gloves on his hands.
Tears leaked down her cheeks as he pushed the needle into her arm.
She screamed. It felt like fire was pouring into her veins. Her body started to thrash and jerk on the table.
He sighed. “That’s why I had to use the straps. I couldn’t have you hurting yourself.”
Her screams grew louder.
“Don’t worry. We only have a few more weeks of injections to go.”
She kept screaming. She couldn’t stop. She was burning. Her head banged against the table. Over and over. Black dots danced before her eyes.
“Once the transformation is complete, you’ll be our weapon. So perfectly cloaked in a child’s innocence.”
Her screams stopped. She choked, trying to pull in a breath, but she couldn’t get air. Her gaze flew around the small lab. Her daddy’s lab. He usually made her stay out of the lab. But he’d brought her in today—even when she’d begged to go outside.
He was staring down at her. His eyes…looked worried. He never looked that way.
“Breathe, Cassie,” his voice snapped.
Machines started to beep around her.
“The dose was too high!” her father yelled.
The light seemed to be fading.
He’d injected her with something else. She had just made out the glint of another needle before it was shoved into her arm.
“Her heart has stopped beating.” A woman’s voice. A nurse. Mrs. May. She sometimes gave Cassie lollipops when her father wasn’t looking. Mrs. May had always seemed so nice.
But Mrs. May had strapped her down minutes before. Usually, one of the men would strap her down. Not sweet Mrs. May. Not…
“Cassie!” She couldn’t see her father anymore, but at least the fire had stopped burning her body. She didn’t feel the fire anymore. Didn’t feel anything.
Cassie heard nothing more.
Cassie sucked in a desperate breath. Then she screamed because she hurt.
“She’s back! Dammit, she’s back!”
That was…Daddy’s voice. She tried to see him, but the light above her was too bright. So Cassie looked down and saw the blood that covered her body. “Dad…dy?”
Then he was there. Lowering his face toward hers. “It’s going to be all right, sweetheart. I took care of you.”
She’d never seen him smile like that before.
“You’re going to be so strong now. So strong.”
She didn’t feel strong.
“You’ll change the world. You’ll change the world…”
Cassie could only lay there and feel the wet warmth of her blood. The straps cut her, but they didn’t hurt nearly as bad as…as the stitches that her father was putting into her skin.
But Cassie didn’t cry out again. There was no point. Daddy wasn’t going to let her go.
She turned her head. More nurses were around her. Mrs. May even brushed a soft, gloved hand over her cheek.
Cassie held her body as still as she could and wished, so very badly, that her father hadn’t brought her back.
Because in those few moments, she’d enjoyed death.
Cassie crept quietly down the hallway. Someone new had been brought into the facility. She’d heard the raised voices. The thud of footsteps.
Her daddy had said that his program was growing.
Her daddy scared her.
When she saw him leaving the room at the end of the hall, she ducked back into the shadows. He passed her, flanked by two big men with guns, and he never looked her way.
Her hands were shaking so she balled them into fists. Then, her bare feet making no sound, Cassie slipped down the hallway.
She opened the door to the last room, but no one was inside. Stairs were in the corner. Stairs leading down below.
Cassie bit her lip. She wasn’t supposed to be there. Her daddy had said…
Daddy’s bad. He hurt me.
She went down the stairs. Then she saw him.
Big, dark. In a…cage?
His head jerked up, and he spun toward her. “Who are you?” A fierce demand from the man in the cage. His voice frightened her. It was like an animal’s rumbling growl.
But she crept closer to him.
He stiffened as his dark gaze raked over her. “Why is there blood on you?”
“He killed me.” She understood exactly what had happened. And what would happen. “He’s going to kill you, too.”
The man came toward the heavy bars that separated them. “Do you want to help me, little girl?”
“Go back upstairs. See if you can find a key to open the cage and—”
Her fisted hand opened. She’d already taken the key.
Sometimes, her daddy didn’t realize how smart she really was.
She put the key in the lock. Heard the snick. “I don’t want him to kill anyone else.” Soft, sad.
The man came out of the cage. He bent before her. Stared into her eyes. “Who are you?” he asked again.
His eyes were so dark. Just like the darkness that had claimed her when she died. “Cassie…Cassandra.”
“Come with me, Cassandra. We’re both getting out of here.” His fingers wrapped around hers.
His hand felt too warm.
“I want to get out,” she whispered, nodding quickly. “Please, help me.”
His hand tightened around hers. “I will.”
She heard the thud of footsteps coming down the stairs.
“Cassie!” Her father’s shout. “Cassie, what have you done?” He bounded toward her. He wasn’t alone. More men with guns. Always…the guns.
“Shoot him,” her father ordered as he glared at the man beside Cassie.
“No!” Cassie yelled.
But they didn’t listen to her. They never did. Bullets flew by her. They thudded into the body of the man who’d been caged.
Hard hands reached for her and yanked her away from him even as his body fell.
“No!” She kicked and twisted and clawed, but she couldn’t get back to him. “Stop!”
“Move away. The fire’s coming.” Her father’s words. Heavy with an edge that sounded like he was excited. His smile made her stomach twist.
Her eyes returned to the man—dead now. Just like she’d been on her daddy’s table.
“Don’t worry,” her father told her, finally glancing her way. “He’ll come back, too.”
A few minutes later, the man’s body began to burn right in front of her eyes. Fire raced across his skin.
“I told you, Cassie,” her father said as he stroked her hair. “Monsters are real.”
The man continued to burn.
He was right. There was a monster in the room. But it wasn’t the man who was starting to rise to his feet even as he burned. No, Cassie knew the real monster was the man smiling and hugging her.
And one day, she would stop him.
It was hard for Cassandra Armstrong to love a man who didn’t remember her.
It was even harder to walk into the seediest paranormal bar that existed on the backstreets of Chicago and discover said man in the arms of some trashy vamp.
Cassie’s eyes narrowed as she stared at Dante. He was in the back corner, probably trying to hide in the shadows, except the guy wasn’t exactly the type to blend well.
Too big. Too dangerous. Too sexy.
And that vamp had her fangs way too close to his throat for Cassie’s peace of mind.
Cassie shoved her way through the crowd, muttering apologies as she bumped into the various paranormal beings—and the humans—who filled Taboo. A few years ago, the paranormals had stopped pretending they didn’t exist and gotten wild with their coming out party. Since then, clubs like Taboo had popped up in all the major cities in the U.S. and around the world.
Dante stood against the back wall. The vampire—a woman with long red hair and a way-too-short skirt—had her hands all over him. Blood-red nails, of course. Typical. The redhead was arching up on her toes and putting her mouth next to Dante’s neck.
“Okay. You’re just going to need to get away from him,” Cassie snapped as she closed in on them.
The vampire froze.
Dante tilted his head to the side and glanced curiously over at Cassie. Was there any recognition in his dark gaze?
Of course, not. To him, she could have been any stranger off the street.
Don’t let it hurt. Don’t. Dante couldn’t help what he was. But he could get the hell away from that trashy vamp.
The vampire spun toward Cassie and hissed.
Wait. Hissed, really? Cassie barely controlled an eye roll.
“Get lost,” the vamp told her, baring her fangs. “He’s mine.”
Think again. Cassie’s hands were clenched into fists, and it took all of her self-control not to swing out at the vamp. “No, he’s not.” Said very definitely. She looked past the vampire. “Dante, we need to leave.”
That’s right. I know your name. Why, oh, why can’t you know something about me? Anything?
But that was the way it always was for them.
Cassie kept holding Dante’s gaze. “Trust me on this. You don’t want her sinking those fangs into you.”
His blood was special and rather addictive to vampires. If the redhead got one sip, she wouldn’t be backing away from him anytime soon. Then I’d have to stake her. Oh, what a pity.
“Dante, we can—” Cassie’s words ended in a gasp.
The vampire had lunged forward and wrapped her hand around Cassie’s throat. With that one hand, the vampire lifted her off her feet. “Maybe I’ll just sink my fangs into you, bitch.” She leaned her head in close to Cassie and rasped, “Because no one gets between me and my meal.”
“You…don’t…want …” Cassie tried to choke out the words, but it was hard to speak, um, what with the vamp actually choking her and all. She was trying to tell the redhead…You don’t want to put your fangs in me. That would be a huge mistake.
But the vamp wasn’t giving her the chance to talk.
“Let her go.” Dante’s voice. Cold. Flat. And as deliciously deep as she remembered.
The vampire’s eyes narrowed as she stared at Cassie with a mix of disgust and rage. “You’re right. We don’t need her. We don’t—”
“I said…let her go.” The threat in Dante’s voice had goose bumps rising on Cassie’s arms. “And I meant do it now.”
The vamp dropped her.
Cassie landed on her ass. Figured. She’d never been the graceful type.
The redhead turned toward Dante. “Ready to leave?” she purred to him.
Purring. Hissing. The vamp was so annoying.
“You leave.” Dante sent her a look that could have frozen a desert. “I’m not done here.”
“And I’m not your fucking meal,” he added, a touch of heat whipping through his words.
So he had heard that part. Cassie had thought his enhanced hearing would pick it up.
The vamp glared at Dante, then at Cassie. There was a promise of retribution in her eyes.
Ah, yes, another day, another enemy. Cassie swallowed and rose slowly to her feet.
“I’ll see you again,” the vampire murmured. The words were directed at Cassie, and they sure sounded like a threat.
Wonderful. As if she needed any more threats in her life.
Then the vampire was gone. Probably off to find another meal.
“Who are you?” His voice was a low rumble of sound, one that sent a few more shivers dancing over her skin. Maybe some people—okay, most people—would find that deep rumble scary.
To her, it was sexy. Because of Dante, she’d always had a thing for men with deep voices.
She squared her shoulders and stared up at him. “Did you burn again?” She’d seen him just a few months before in New Orleans.
He’d saved her life then. Had actually seemed to remember her…
But there was no recognition on his face now.
She took a moment to study him. Those high cheekbones. That square jaw. The firm lips that she’d never seen smile, despite all of her attempts to make him happy. His eyes were dark, so dark they appeared almost as black as the thick hair that hung a little too long and grazed the back of his shirt.
Those eyes of his were watchful, guarded, as they swept over her. “Burn?” Dante repeated carefully.
In the next second, he sprang forward—his move faster than the vamp’s had been. His hand—big, strong, hot—wrapped around her arm and pulled her close against his chest. “Now just how the hell would you know about that?”
Cassie wasn’t as tall as the redhead. Not even close. She was barely skirting five foot five, so she had to tilt her head back to hold his gaze. Dante was at least six foot three, and he was built along some very muscled dimensions.
His hold tightened. “Answer me.”
His fingers seemed to heat even more, and she knew his power was coursing through his blood. If she wasn’t careful, he might burn her. Just how much control would he have then?
“Please.” Cassie kept her voice even with an extreme effort. “I’m not here to hurt you.” No, she was there to beg for his help. If he’d remembered her, even a little, that begging would have gone over much better.
Since he seemed to not know her at all…
His gaze swept over her face, then narrowed on her mouth. His left hand lifted, and his index finger reached out and lightly touched her lower lip.
Cassie stopped breathing. Her body was far too tuned to his. Not that he realized it, but he had pretty much ruined her for any other guy.
Not that Dante was a man. He was much, much more. The Immortal. That was the name he’d been given during his captivity. A captivity that she had been a part of.
His finger lightly grazed across her bottom lip. Just that touch had her nipples tightening and her whole body aching for him. But it wasn’t the time. Definitely not the place. She had a mission to complete.
His head bent toward her, and Cassie wondered if Dante was about to kiss her. She even arched up to meet him halfway.
But he shook his head, and his hand fell back to his side. So much for the tender moment.
Cassie cleared her throat. “The burn must be fresh. Your memory usually comes back within a week or so after your rising.”
His face seemed to turn to stone.
Usually was the keyword. Dante had been through so much in the last few years that his memory was a very brittle thing. So was his sanity, a situation that made him a walking, talking nightmare for many.
“You must have been attacked,” she whispered. Attacked and killed. Because death was the only way—
He lifted her up and tossed her over his shoulder.
Cassie yelped, totally not expecting that move. She shoved her hands against his ass—um, a very nice ass—and pushed herself up so she could see around her.
Some of the club’s patrons were looking at her with amusement clear to see on their faces. They weren’t exactly the kind to help a lady in distress. The redheaded vampire was staring her way. Glaring her way, rather.
And Dante was stalking away with her. His grip on her legs seemed unbreakable.
Okay, so that was one way to get his attention.
She heard the sound of shattering wood. Had he just smashed a door? Sounded like he had. Cassie tried to crane around and see where they were going. It looked like they were headed inside some kind of back room. Stacks of boxes and bottles of alcohol lined the shelves.
“Get the hell out of here!” Dante’s snarled order.
Three men ran past her, fast.
The world spun a bit, and Cassie found herself sprawled on top of a wooden table. Dante held one of her wrists in each of his hands as he stood between her legs.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
“My name won’t matter to you.” She barely breathed the words. “If you rose recently—”
“Cassie Armstrong. Cassandra…”
His eyelids flickered. “Cassandra.” He said her name as if he were tasting it.
Please, remember me. There had been so many times over the years when she was sure that he did remember her, but then the tortures would start again. Torture and death.
He’d lose the memory of her, and she’d have to try so hard to get close to him again. To make him remember.
An endless cycle that left her hurting inside.
“I’ve dreamed about you.” His hold tightened on her wrists.
At his confession, her heartbeat picked up as hope blossomed inside of her. Finally, finally, he’d—
“In my dreams…” A muscle flexed along his jaw. “You kill me, Cassie Armstrong.”
Oh, hell. “I told you, I’m not here to hurt you.”
“But you have killed me before, haven’t you?”
Cassie knew she had to be careful. She wasn’t like him. Dante could die, again and again, but he would just come back from each death.
He’d rise from the ashes and be born again.
While she would just—well, die. There would be no coming back for her.
With a thought, he could incinerate her. The heat that warmed her skin could turn into a blazing inferno at any second.
“Last night, I dreamed about you.” His words were a low growl as he leaned closer to her.
The noise from the bar drifted into the room. The blaring beat of music. The scents of sex, blood, and booze.
“You stared right at me, then you stabbed me.”
His bad memories weren’t going to make things any easier.
“So maybe you need to tell me why I shouldn’t just pay you back for that right now.” His breath blew lightly over the sensitive skin of her neck. “And end you.”
She shook her head, sending her long hair sliding over her shoulders. “Please…”
“Oh, I like it when you beg.”
Actually, he did. But that was another story.
“So you’ve had dreams,” Cassie started explaining as quickly as she could because she had seen him incinerate a man before. She didn’t want that same fate. “Well, I’m your key. I know you. Every dark spot in your mind? I can shine the light and show you—”
His mouth was just inches from hers. Inches? More like an inch. “What are you going to show me?”
“Everything,” she whispered. Promised. “I can tell you the secrets of your life. I can tell you who you are, if you’ll just trust me.”
His gaze searched hers. Some people thought that his eyes were just dark—mirroring his black soul—but those people were wrong. There were flecks of gold hidden in Dante’s eyes. You just had to look hard and deep enough to see them.
“Why should I trust a woman who’s killed me before?”
“Because I’ve saved you, too.” She’d risked so much to save him. “Believe it or not, you actually owe me.”
“I don’t believe it.”
Her lips trembled.
His gaze dropped once more to her mouth.
He kissed her.
She hadn’t been expecting the kiss, and when his lips closed over hers, shock froze her for an instant. Then she realized—Dante.
Her lips parted eagerly for him, and the wall that she’d built to hold back her need for him started to fracture. His tongue pushed into her mouth. Not sampling, but taking, and it was just like she remembered. He kissed her, and she wanted him. Lust tore through her, and her wrists twisted in his grip because she needed to touch him.
His head lifted. His eyes blazed down at her as the gold started to heat in the depths of his gaze. “I remember your mouth. Your taste.”
She’d never been able to forget his kiss. He’d been the first man that she ever kissed. The first to make her feel like she belonged to someone.
A someone who sometimes seemed to hate her.
“You can trust me,” she said. Cassie was desperate to make him believe her.
Dante gave a hard shake of his head. “No, that’s the last thing I can do.” He lurched back.
For an instant, she didn’t move. His eyes were on her, sweeping from the top of her hair down to her small sandals. He seemed confused. Yes, well, so was she.
Don’t kiss me and jerk away. She didn’t have the damn plague.
“I woke up a week ago,” he told her quietly, his voice still making her ache. “In an alley that had been scorched. I was naked, and there were ashes all around me.”
Her heart beat faster as she straightened on the table.
“What happened to me?” he demanded.
“Is that my name?”
The memory loss seemed more severe than it had been in the past. “Yes. That’s what you told me to call you.” But was it really his name? She wasn’t sure. He’d never confessed too much about his life—at least, not his life before he’d come to be a prisoner.
“How did I get in that alley?”
She pushed away from the table. Her knees were trembling so she locked them as she faced him. “I don’t know. The last time I saw you, you were down in New Orleans.”
A faint furrow appeared between his brows. He appeared to be a man in his prime, maybe close to thirty-four or thirty-five, but the truth was that Dante was much, much older.
There was a reason he’d been called the Immortal at the facility.
“New Orleans?” He yanked a hand through his hair. “What was I doing down there?”
That was an easy answer. “Saving my life.”
His hand fell. Suspicion was clear to see on his face as he asked, “Are you sure I wasn’t trying to kill you?”
Actually, no, she wasn’t. But she was still breathing, and if he had truly wanted her dead, she’d be ash.
His enemies had a way of ending up as ash drifting in the wind.
“What happened to me in the alley?”
Okay, if she was going to get his trust, she was obviously going to have to share with him. “I think you died.”
He laughed. The sound was bitter and hard, just like the laughter she’d heard from him a dozen times before. She’d tried for years to get a real laugh from him. That hadn’t happened.
“If I died,” he asked, “then how am I breathing now?”
That was the tricky-to-explain part. “Look, Dante—”
Shouts erupted from the other room. High-pitched, desperate screams that were immediately followed by the rat-a-tat of gunfire.
They found me. Cassie’s heartbeat froze in her chest then, in the next breath, she was the one leaping forward and grabbing Dante’s hand. “We have to go. Now.” She yanked him, hoping he’d follow with her.
He didn’t move. Not even an inch. “I don’t run from anyone.”
Yes, that was true. He didn’t.
She did. When you weren’t a paranormal powerhouse, you learned to flee pretty quickly.
More screams. More blasts from guns. “If they catch me,” Cassie said, voice soft, “they won’t let me get away.”
His gaze held hers.
“If they catch you, they’re going to toss you back in a cage, and you won’t see daylight again anytime soon.” Her heart seemed to thunder as loud as the gunshots. He had to believe her. “They’ll keep you in that cage, and they’ll torture you again and again.”
“How do you know this?”
She licked her dry lips. “Because that’s what they did to you before.”
His jaw hardened. “Then I think it’s time I faced these bastards.”
Wait—what? Hadn’t she been trying to sell Dante on running?
He pulled from her and rushed toward the broken door. Dante headed right toward the sound of gunshots and screams.
As she watched him run away, her heart iced. She’d tracked Dante to Chicago because she’d needed him. She’d hunted for him, searching desperately, and, in the end, she’d led his enemies right to his side.
Dante, I’m sorry.
But he wouldn’t believe that apology. He never did.
Men wearing black ski masks had rushed inside of Taboo. The drumming music had died away, and only the screams of those still trapped in the club remained.
Most of the patrons had run away. Those wounded on the floor appeared to be mostly vampires. It seemed they were fine with walking amongst the humans these days. There were shifters, too.
He hadn’t felt even mild surprise when he’d seen a man shift into the form of a fox just the night before. Maybe it was because his memories were gone that he felt no surprise. It seemed that vampires and shifters were a normal part of the world.
Or at least, they felt normal to him.
A male’s voice called out, “You, there! Stop!”
A big, black gun pointed at his chest.
Dante. She’d said my name was Dante. The name had felt right in his mind. Just as the sexy brunette had felt right in his hands. Cassie. Cassandra.
“Are you a human?” the voice snapped out from behind a mask. “Or a Para?”
He’d learned yesterday that Para was the slang for a paranormal being. He didn’t quite know what he was, so he just stared back at the man, not particularly feeling the urge to answer him.
“What are you?” The man advanced.
“I’m someone you don’t want to piss off,” Dante replied. A fair warning.
“That’s him,” another masked man said, his voice breaking with excitement. “The one from the video feed. He’s the one who torched that den of vampires in the alley!”
“Holy hell,” said the fool who still had his gun pointed at Dante. “It looks like we’ve got big game today.”
“No,” Dante stated very definitely. “You don’t.” He let his gaze sweep the club. Men and women were cowering under the upturned tables, but Paras were supposed to be stronger than that.
No one makes me cower. The knowledge was there, pushing inside him. He feared no one and nothing.
I make others fear.
“Get out of here now,” Dante told the men. “While you still have a chance at life.” He counted a dozen men in the black clothing, complete with heavy, thick vests that covered their chests. They were all armed to the teeth. He didn’t care about their weapons. He’d learned that he had a weapon of his own. One that always seemed to be at the ready.
He lifted his hands, and he let the fire burn through him. The power started as a warm pool within him, then it heated, going molten, and seeming to spread through his veins. Soon the fire was bursting from his fingertips—rising right over his hands and swirling in a thick ball. Red, gold, and orange—those flames flared higher and brighter.
The men swore and jumped back. But they didn’t flee. Idiots. They lifted their weapons. Aimed at him.
He would incinerate them.
It was her scream. His head whipped to the right, and Dante saw the woman with the thick, dark hair running toward him. Her face was paler than it had been before. Her green eyes seemed huge. Her red lips were trembling and—
“Dante, get out of here! They’ll drug you!”
The men fired their weapons. Except they didn’t aim at him.
A bullet blasted and slammed into Cassie’s shoulder. Her eyes widened as she stumbled back. But she didn’t go down. “Run!” she yelled at him. “Get out of here!”
He wasn’t running anywhere.
They’d shot her.
The fire raged hotter and fury had him snarling—and letting that fire go.
They’d shot her.
The flames flew from him, and the fire raced right for the gunmen. They screamed—yes, now it’s your turn to scream—and dropped their weapons.
Falling to the floor, the men rolled over and over as they tried to put out the flames that licked greedily along their clothing.
“Dante…” A whisper. Her whisper.
The woman who’d haunted him. Obsessed him.
She was on her knees, struggling to get to him, and he…found himself running to her side.
“It’s a drug,” she whispered. “They were…trying to take us in…alive ”
The men weren’t taking anyone in. They were running out and dragging their wounded with them. The other paranormals rushed for safety, too.
“Go,” Cassie told him. “Before they’re back with…reinforcements.” Her eyelids were sagging closed. The drug she’d spoken of was knocking her out. “Go,” she urged again.
What was he to do with her? Leave her there? She’d just said the men would come back with reinforcements. When they returned, they’d take her.
No. No one takes her from me. The thought made him tense. It was—though he did not know why—the first thought he’d had when he’d looked up and seen her coming toward him in Taboo.
No one takes her from me.
He scooped her into his arms. Rose with her held tightly against his chest. He worried—too late—that the heat from his hands might burn her.
But there were no burn marks on her delicate skin.
Her head fell back against his shoulder, but her eyelashes were still flickering, and Dante knew that she was fighting to stay awake.
“What will they do if they take you?” he asked her.
An image flashed in his mind. Thick, metal bars. A flickering fluorescent light. A dirty, stone floor.
He could taste ash rising on his tongue. He didn’t want to taste the ash. He wanted to taste her again. Sweet, light…Temptation. “You’re not going in a cage,” he promised.
His arms tightened around her. He’d thought she was a phantom from his mind. Someone else to torment him. Not real. Then he’d looked up and seen her in the bar. She’d come to him.
Flesh and blood.
He strode from the wreckage of Taboo and hurried into the night. Sirens wailed. Voices cried out. He ran faster. Held her even tighter.
Cassie Armstrong was the key to his life. The key to finding out just who—what—he was.
And he had no plans to let her go.
No one takes her from me.
Lieutenant Colonel Jon Abrams marched into the wreckage of the paranormal club. Tables were overturned. Chairs smashed. The doorway still smoldered from the flames that had been unleashed on his men.
“You had him here?” Jon demanded, turning to the guards who stood behind him. Burned, beaten, those men were so useless to him. “You had him, and you let the bastard just walk away?” What part of priority containment had they missed?
“He shot fire at us!” Kevin Lysand said, straightening his shoulders. “No one said the Paras could—”
“He’s a phoenix. What did you think he was going to do, just stand there and let you drug him?” Jon spun away from the men as his fury nearly choked him. After all those months. To be so close and have those idiots let his prey escape…
“I…it was the woman.” Kevin’s voice was softer.
Jon glanced over his shoulder. “What woman?”
Kevin’s Adam’s apple bobbed. “The one from Genesis. Cassandra—”
Jon lunged and grabbed Kevin’s shoulders. He lifted him up, forcing Kevin to look him straight in the eyes. “Are you telling me that Cassandra Armstrong was actually here, in Taboo?” He’d been ripping the country apart looking for her.
A grim nod. “That’s when the big guy attacked. When we shot at her.”
They’d shot at her, but she wasn’t there. Hell, no one was there anymore. Those who hadn’t ran out before the infiltration had crawled out when his team had retreated.
“He went wild when we shot at her,” Kevin told him with a quick nod.
Jon forced himself to release the other man. “Did he take her out?”
Kevin didn’t speak.
Because he didn’t know?
Fucking incompetence. Jon heaved out a sigh. “You didn’t see them leave, did you?”
Kevin wet his lips. “I was on fire then, sir.”
Like a little fire should have stopped him.
Jon whirled away. “Tell me that you had a tracker in that tranq you fired into Cassandra.” A new invention, one that Uncle Sam was rather proud of—a drug and tracking combination bullet all in one. Some paranormals could flee even after the drug hit them. They had the strength to run, for a time.
But sooner or later, the drug got to them. And when it did, the tracker came into play. It would light up in their system and lead Jon and his men right back to their prey.
“Tell me,” he demanded without looking back. If the dumb bastard hadn’t done his job and gotten a tracker in Cassandra, Jon might just shoot the fool himself.
“There was a tracker in there,” Kevin said, his tone growing more confident. “She won’t be getting away from us.”
Hell, yes. But Jon didn’t smile, not yet. The tip that he’d received about the phoenix—and Cassandra—had been right. He’d have to be sure and reward his informant. First, though…“Burn this place to the ground.”
Taboo was far enough away from the hub of the city that most folks wouldn’t have heard or seen the attack. Just in case, he was used to covering his tracks.
The paranormals might be out in the world, trying to blend with humans, but they were also still hunted. Still targets, especially the walking, talking nightmares that stalked the earth.
Nightmares like the phoenix.
Some beings were too dangerous to live. Some needed to be stopped, by any means necessary. In this instance, the means was one Cassandra Armstrong. A weapon had never looked so innocent.
“Burn it.” The fire could always be blamed on the phoenix. “Then get me the tracker info on Cassandra.” She’d led him on a chase for months, but he’d have her soon. She wasn’t getting out of the program. She was too vital. Too useful as a weapon.
He began to whistle as he walked out of the club.
Kevin and his men were pouring out alcohol and smashing the bottles, soaking the scene for one fine blaze. They wouldn’t make a fire that burned as hot as a phoenix’s flames, but they’d come close enough.
Jon kept whistling. I’m coming for you, Cassandra. She’d run from him, but their little cat and mouse game was almost at an end. Cassandra should have known there would be no escape. Her father had brought her into the program years ago.
And once you were in, death was the only way out.