Mercury's WarBy: Lora Leigh
I owe a debt to my passionate early readers: Judith Grossman, Wilton Barnhardt, Geoffrey Wolff, Margot Livesey, Phil Hay, and Michelle Latiolais. As well as the workshop at the University of California, Irvine.
To those who joined the party late but brought the most awesome refreshments: Teal Minton, Joy Johannessen, and Karen Joy Fowler.
To the pros: Henry Dunow, Jennifer Carlson, Bill Contardi, Ursula Doyle, Michael Pietsch, Asya Muchnick, Ryan Harbage, Laura Quinn, and Heather Fain.
Abiding thanks to: Sarah Burnes, Sarah Crichton, and the glorious MacDowell Colony.
A smarty-pants badge of honor to my informants: Dee Williams, Orren Perlman, Dr. Carl Brighton, and the essential facts-on-file team of Bud and Jane.
And to my continuing troika, whose sustaining friendship and rigorous reading and rereading are, next to tapioca and coffee, what keep me going on a day-today basis: Aimee Bender, Kathryn Chetkovich, Glen David Gold.
And a woof! to Lilly.
BUFFALO GAP, VIRGINIA BREED COMPOUND, SANCTUARY
He was a beast, an animal. He was a creation, the blending of man and lion, and the beast was caged within him. Powerful, strong. The ability to run, to hunt, to scent the enemy on the wind and taste it in the breeze was chained in the dimmest part of the man’s subconscious.
How was it fair that it was locked away? it roared. The man was given leave to walk the land, and yet the beast was forced to hide. It stared out of the man’s eyes, it pumped the blood in the man’s body, and forever it was leashed, restrained.
But it was growing stronger. The drugs that had kept it leashed had worn off; the years of freedom that the man had known, the false sense of security that the man had developed, would aid the creature hiding inside him.
The beast waited. It prowled. It roared out in nightmares as it bided its time. The man was certain of his control. Certain that the drugs the scientists had given him in those labs, and his own control, had killed the animal that fought with such ferocity to survive.
But it wasn’t dead. It had never left. For a time, it had slept. A forced sleep. A sleep that built the anger growing inside it, and now it was awake. It was awake and clawing to be free.
But it was patient, or so the animal thought. It could hold on until the man let it free. It was part of the man, part of who he was, what he was. The man would release the animal soon. As soon as the animal was strong enough. It was tired. The attempts to kill it had nearly succeeded. Only by slipping so deep within the man’s primal unconsciousness that even the most vital parts of it were hidden, had it managed to survive.
But when it slipped back, the drugs had built an unbreakable fortress of bars around it. They pressed into the animal. Drove spikes through its soul and filled it with pain. And weakened it.
Weakened it as surely as a fatal wound would have killed the man.
And the man stayed diligent. The man had no reason to give rein to his heart, or to open his soul.
For the man believed his soul lost. Only the animal knew better. And the animal waited . . .
Waited for the man to find his soul.
“Have you finished the tests?” Jonas stepped into the small lab, as Jackal trailed behind him. Damned security personnel. Callan had given the order that with Jonas’s own force of men now protecting Vanderale’s glorified clerk, Jonas had to have a bodyguard. A human bodyguard at that. It was a damned good thing he could at least get along with the other man.
He stared at Elyiana Morrey’s back as she tensed, her hand lifting to rub the back of her neck. The muscles stiffened beneath her white lab coat as the scent of her irritation began to bloom around her.
She was doing that a lot lately. As soon as he found the time, he would remind her who was the boss here. He didn’t have time to engage in power plays with her.
“I finished the tests.” She picked up a folder, turned and strode to the counter beside him before slapping it down and returning to whatever she was working on before. Completely ignoring both him and his bodyguard, Jackal.
Silence filled the lab as Jonas stared at the file, quirking his brow at her obvious ill temper. Breed females didn’t have PMS, so he couldn’t explain her mood swings as well as he could those of the few non-Breed females in the compound.
He had decided months ago that Ely was just contrary.
He liked that about her though. Sometimes. He understood it and could deal with it. But she was being unusually contrary and that didn’t set well with him.
“Would you like to explain the tests you ran?” he finally asked her.
“It’s in the file.”
“I don’t want to read your scientific gibberish.” He allowed a primal growl to vibrate in his throat. “Tell me what I need to know.”