Rule breaker, p.31
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       Rule Breaker, p.31

         Part #20 of Breeds series by Lora Leigh

  “Then start talking.” Younger, but by no means less determined, her sister stared back at her furiously, the tears in her eyes threatening to fall at any minute.

  “He knows.” She nodded to Loki. “That’s why he distracted you and held you back when you arrived with Mom and Dad. Isn’t it, Loki? You already suspected what they were going to do. Why didn’t you tell Kandy before she warned me that they were here?”

  He looked up at her through the generous length of gold-tipped lashes, his features impassive, his dark gray eyes flat and deliberately cool.

  “How was I supposed to know, Gypsy? I intended to take Kandy out to lunch when your parents arrived with her, concerned about the rumors that Rule had kidnapped you from that bar. They had already requested the meeting with Jonas after they were called and assured of your safety. Assured you would contact them later. They wouldn’t wait for Kandy and me to talk a minute; they didn’t even acknowledge that she had stopped to speak to me. They just stalked to the elevators and demanded to see the director,” he told her quietly, his eyes shifting with such a slight movement to the Breeds behind her that she doubted they even knew he’d done so. When they came back to her, there was a warning in them before he then allowed the shift to move in Kandy’s direction.

  The message was clear. Drop the subject or Kandy could become involved as well.

  He’d deliberately delayed Kandy, there was no doubt about it, just in case her parents were stupid enough to pull the same stunt they had pulled the last time they had arrived at the hotel to speak with Jonas.

  “Gypsy.” Flint drew her attention as he stepped from his position against the far wall, his gaze solemn as she felt her throat tighten apprehensively.

  Shoving her hands into the pockets of her jeans and hunching her shoulders protectively against whatever bad news he might be delivering, she faced him anxiously.

  “Assistant Director Brannigan is on his way up,” he informed her, watching her warily now. “Now listen to me, he’s not Jonas. Jonas knows you. He feels protective toward you, and that’s allowed you to get away with a hell of a lot since he arrived here, things Brannigan’s not going to tolerate.”

  It was more than clear that he was worried as Gypsy frowned, glaring back at him. “What the hell are you trying to say, Flint?” Her hands came out of her pockets, crossed over her breasts.

  She watched him militantly, suddenly angry at the implication that she didn’t know how to be polite.

  “I believe,” a familiar, imposing voice spoke before Flint could answer her, causing her to whirl around in surprise, “that you’re a bit rude, Ms. McQuade, unless it suits you to be polite. Which, as I understand it, it rarely does.”

  Mr. Freaky from the bar.

  Just what she needed, another smart-ass Breed.

  His smile was all teeth and curved canines.

  And a Coyote to boot. Just what the hell she needed. Other than certain ones, she did not get along with Coyotes very well.

  “Loki, could you please escort Ms. McQuade the younger to your suite until I contact you?” It might have been phrased as a request, but it was clearly an order.

  Loki gave a sharp nod as he straightened, his gaze meeting the frozen, Celtic green gaze of the assistant director warily before he turned to Kandy and extended his hand to her.

  “Gypsy, please tell me what’s going on,” Kandy whispered tearfully, breaking Gypsy’s heart. “I’m scared.”

  “I want to go home,” she whispered as Mark stared back at her, his eyes filled with sorrow. “I’m scared, Mark.”

  Don’t cry. Be brave, Peanut, he mouthed, his gaze boring into hers, and she knew he was trying to tell her something. Something she didn’t understand. “Don’t cry. Be brave, Peanut.”

  “Ms. McQuade? If you’re going to come with me, then now is the time.” Brannigan’s tone hardened in demand.

  “I promise I’ll explain everything later, Kandy,” she swore. “Go with Loki, I’ll be there soon. I swear.”

  She turned back to Brannigan, staring up at him directly, refusing to quail beneath the icy regard as he watched her knowingly.

  “Neither Jonas nor your parents are in his suite,” he told her then as he turned and started down the hall. “Come with me. Jonas is in one of the conference rooms on another floor, while your parents are in the one next to him. I believe you might recognize the title they gave it. The blackout room.”

  She swore that she felt as though she were going to pass out. A wave of sickening realization swept over her as a cold sweat suddenly popped out on her forehead and a sense of unreality threatened to blanket her entirely.

  Shaking it off wasn’t easy.

  Reaching out, she steadied herself as she followed him by bracing her palm against the wall as she walked, certain she didn’t want to fall in this Breed’s presence.

  He would instantly take advantage of the sign of weakness.

  He didn’t even glance behind him as he led the way to the private elevator in the next hall and stepped inside, waving her in.

  Gypsy moved into the narrow cubicle, waiting as he stepped inside with her, remaining silent as the doors closed behind them. The elevator didn’t begin moving immediately, though.

  First, a strange hum filled the area as a dim, white light began moving over both of them.

  Her eyes closed for a second in acceptance. When she forced them back open, he was watching her, his arms resting comfortably at his side.

  This would take forever, she thought fatalistically. The scanner was no doubt one of the new ones her contact had warned her about weeks before the Breeds arrived. Designed to pick up any anomalies whatsoever.

  “I have never betrayed the Breeds,” she whispered. “And I would never have aided anyone else in doing so.”

  “But you’ll do everything you can to protect your parents, no matter the actions they’ve taken? Correct?” The clinical, considering gleam in his gaze had her stomach tightening in dread.

  What did he expect her to say? “If there’s any way possible.”

  He nodded to that. “I think that’s perhaps the hardest part of this job in some ways, from enforcers on up to Jonas’s position. Understanding that loyalty to parents when we don’t even have foster parents as a guidepost, siblings or children. But we do try our best to take that into consideration when needed.”

  Gypsy held his gaze, knowing he could read the fear rising inside her clearly. “Just tell me what I need to do. Don’t play with me.”

  His lips quirked, his eyes darkening assessingly.

  “And you would do whatever you have to?” he asked, his voice low, warning.

  Gypsy steeled herself for the coming battle with her own conscience. “I will do whatever I have to do, Mr. Brannigan.”

  “Even if it means sacrificing your mate?” He tilted his head to the side as he leaned against the side of the elevator. “The one man, perhaps the only person in this world, who would be willing to give his life for you?”

  The elevator began a slow descent as the scanners continued their work.

  “That’s enough.” She forced the order past lips that were suddenly numb from the accusation.

  He nodded slowly. “Tell me, have you heard much of Breed Law?”

  “Some,” she admitted, suddenly wary of the question. “Why?”

  “Have you heard of Self-Warrant?” Something seemed to flicker in his gaze at the question.

  Gypsy shook her head slowly. “I haven’t.”

  “It’s a part of Breed mating law,” he admitted. “Perhaps you haven’t. I believe those mandates are kept within secure Breed hearings if needed.”

  “Then why ask?”

  “Self-Warrant is a onetime get-out-of-jail-free card that a Breed can use for his mate, or child, should one of them break Breed Law seriously enough that the sentence they face is more than the Breed believes is bearable. It can also be used in other situations. Such as a mate’s parents facing an enraged director of the Bureau o
f Breed Affairs who’s considering using the fullest extent of Breed Law against them for the crimes they’ve committed.”

  “I don’t understand,” she whispered, but she was very much afraid she did. “What does this have to do with me?”

  His brow lifted lazily. “Listen and you’ll know what it has to do with you. To ensure that the human doesn’t suffer the full effects of Mating Heat, she would be taken to her Breed monthly. It would be enough to keep both of them sane, barely—though the female has options with the hormonal treatments our scientists and doctors have come up with that the male does not. Other than that, the Breed is locked in a cell similar to that of the labs he was created in, because the need for freedom would soon make him enraged. As long as he is calm, he can have his mate once a month. But for the rest of his life, other than those few short hours, he speaks to no one. No letters from home. No television, no weight room, library or computer privileges,” he sneered. “Breeds don’t suffer idiocy well. And if another Breed willingly gives up his life for the protection of his mate, to serve such a sentence for parents who obviously have no love for his mate to begin with, then why should we show him mercy? It would teach others that came after him the foolhardiness of such a decision.”

  “What are you trying to say, damn you?” She snapped, tired of this game. “What has Rule done?”

  Oh God, he wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t sacrifice himself in such a way, would he?

  “It’s what your parents have done, Ms. McQuade,” he snarled. “And what that Breed is willing to do to save you the pain of their judgment and punishment. Under Breed Law, any human or Breed attempting to bring a nano-nit device into any area marked as Breed Secure invites punishment by death under Breed Law. What would Rule do to save you the pain of watching your parents die for attempting to threaten the infant child of the director of Breed Affairs when they brought in a nit programmed to activate, and record, upon the sound of a child’s innocent voice?”

  No. No, her parents would not do that.

  But they had. She knew her mother, and she knew her mother would do anything if Kandy were threatened, to protect her. And everyone knew Kandy was her parents’ weakness.

  What would Rule do?

  She stared up at the Breed in horror, watching his green eyes go from frozen to fiery in a heartbeat before they once again iced over as though the heated fire of rage had never touched them.

  “What would your parents do, if they believed you would face that punishment rather than your mate?” he asked then.

  The elevator doors slid open into a conference room filled with Breeds. Across from her, Rule stood as a wide flat screen monitor showed her parents, amplified her mother’s voice and the pain-filled accusation that opened Gypsy’s soul like a scalpel and left her emotions, the anger, fear and self-rapacious guilt, to flood her system like a tidal wave that destroyed everything in its wake.

  “Mrs. McQuade, did you not admit to bringing a stealth device into—”

  “I did,” Greta cried out painfully. “I told you I did.”

  “And if I told you that your daughter will be punished—for the rest of her days, she will know a hell unlike anything you could imagine in payment for your crimes unless you divulge the name of the person or persons who aided you in this—would you then give us the information we require to prosecute them instead?”

  “What? What are you saying?” Hansel shook his head, obviously fighting to understand the implications of what Jonas was saying.

  “I am saying, Mr. McQuade, that should your daughter accept a statute of Breed Law that allows her to bear your punishment for your crimes, would you willingly allow her to do so? Would you allow her to suffer, in pain, in isolation, for the rest of her life to protect whoever set you on this course of action? Or would you give us the answers to the questions that were submitted to you when you were first detained for attempting to bring that damnable device into what is effectively my damned home and risking not just my life, but my wife’s and my child’s?” he demanded, the rage building in his voice with each word.

  “No . . . you can’t do that,” Hansel whispered in horror and disbelief.

  “She hasn’t been our daughter since the night she helped those bastards kill my son,” Greta sobbed, her expression twisting in agony as each Breed watched her in shell-shocked silence. “My daughter died with him that night.”

  “No, Greta.” Hansel stared at his wife in horror as she voiced the rage she carried toward a child who had played no part in the horror she had suffered as well.

  “You know it’s the truth,” Greta sobbed, all but hysterical. “All that mattered then was the next party, and that’s all that matters to her now. The next party, the next wild drunken night and trampy two-bit Breed she can fuck. That’s how she honors the brother who died because of her stupidity.” Her eyes suddenly shot past Jonas, horror filling her face as Hansel McQuade’s followed. Her father’s eyes suddenly filled with tears as they met Gypsy’s through the two-way video monitor.

  She felt frozen. Locked into place as all eyes turned to her, staring at her in varying degrees of pity.

  “Fuck!” someone whispered, a male voice, low, a hiss of raw fury a second before Rule roared out in rage, lifted an object from the conference table in front of him and hurled it at the screen.

  It shattered, throwing shards of glass outward as Jonas ducked, and those nearest turned their heads quickly to avoid the sharp projectiles.

  Something stung her forehead, her cheek, but she wasn’t certain what.

  The sickening realization that her parents believed the act didn’t surprise her; she had been damned good at her job over the years. But to have them voice it to these men who respected her enough to see through her party-girl act destroyed her. To know that they might suspect or even privately blame her was one thing, but to have her mother accuse her so virulently with such disgust and lack of warmth, she had to admit, laid her soul bare.

  That was her mother.

  The woman who had raised her . . .

  No, her parents hadn’t raised her, she finally admitted.

  Mark had.

  They’d been busy building their business, or playing with Kandy, the girly-girl of the two sisters who liked to dress up, and didn’t get dirty and didn’t beg to go hunting with her beloved brother.

  It had been Mark who had taught her how to ride her bike, to roller skate, to hunt, and to race dirt bikes over the desert. He’d taught her how to spy while making it a game, how to be quiet, how to slip out of the house and how to pick a lock.

  He had been teaching her how to know what he was thinking with just a look . . .

  Her eyes met Rule’s as she felt that paralyzing fear she’d felt nine years before, the first time she’d seen his eyes go feral like that. All blue with no whites, the pupil retracting with rage.

  He’d been there then, she realized, her eyes locked with the naked rage and pain in the brilliant, too-sharp blue of his eyes. With the same look in that oddly colored gaze, the same wild fury she could see there now.

  And the same warning.

  The same warning that had been in Mark’s eyes just before he had died.

  “ Don’t cry. Be brave, Peanut.” His lips moved slowly, making certain she knew what he wanted her to see, staring at her, his gaze locked on hers, intent, warning. A message she couldn’t read no matter how hard she tried. “Don’t cry. Be brave, Peanut.”

  She was rarely called Peanut, she realized in that second, and never by Mark. He had never given her pet names. She was his Gypsy Rum, baby sister or baby girl. Never, ever had he called her Peanut.

  And baby sisters didn’t have to be brave, he’d told her over and over again, that was a big brother’s job. He could be brave for both of them, and she could cry all she needed to.

  And still, she couldn’t cry. She was brave, foolhardy even. She had taken on her brother’s work, protected her sister as she had been told over and over again that Mark would hav
e wanted her to.

  Mark died for you . . . How many times had that accusation been leveled at her in the form of a chastisement?

  It wasn’t your fault, Gypsy, they knew Mark’s weakness . . .

  She was his sister, but everyone had remarked as she grew older how Mark had always treated her more as his child than a sister.

  “I’m supposed to be brave,” she whispered, nine years of unshed agonizing pain scraping over her throat.

  Rule shook his head slowly as a tormented grimace tightened his face. “You’ve been brave enough for all of us, for far too many years.”

  Slashing, agonizing, the wave of pain that swept through her, jerked her head to the side as she closed her eyes against the stone-cold reality of choices she couldn’t control, nearly had her losing control of that inner scream of denial she wanted to let free.

  When her eyes opened, it was to meet the tormented features of Jonas Wyatt’s expression. The pain he shared with her, she imagined. Choices and decisions that had perhaps not gone as planned, lives that were lost because he hadn’t been Superman that day. She could see it all in his face.

  The director who had fought for more than ten years to build Breed awareness and ensure the survival of his people. The friend who had watched over the Breeds under his command and who grieved as no one but his mate could understand when he lost one.

  And the father.

  The father forced to stand by and watch as his child possibly died in front of his eyes.

  These Breeds together had saved her life. Jonas, Lawe, her mate Rule, Flint and perhaps even Loki. She now knew he had been there that night. They had been there, and without them she wouldn’t have lived. Mark’s sacrifice, no matter how undeserving she was, would have been in vain, just as her mother believed.

  “As his mate, I refuse to accept his demand for Self-Warrant and ask that you do the same.” The words left her lips before she was even aware she intended to say them. “The crime isn’t his, and the punishment would be not only undeserving but also lacking in gratitude.”

  Her mother would never understand Rule’s sacrifice. But Gypsy did. He wasn’t making the sacrifice for them, but for her. He was doing what everyone had imagined Mark had done. Giving his life for her.

  “Dammit, Gypsy,” Rule growled as she swore she heard Lawe mutter, “Thank God.”

  “And,” she continued. “I request leniency for the crime committed by my parents until an explanation is given and possible exoneration based upon circumstance is heard by the Breed Ruling Cabinet.”

  Jonas’s eyes widened. She had just given herself away and she knew it. She shouldn’t have known about this law, any more than she had known about the one Brannigan had informed her of.

  Jonas nodded slowly as she watched Rule moving from the corner of her eyes, prowling, stalking closer to her as though she would bolt at any second.

  And God knew, she wanted nothing more than to bolt.

  She wanted to sink into the pit of pain and rage that she’d held back for nine years, but first she had to finish what she’d just started.

  “Agreed, Ms. McQuade.” It was the Prime Alpha, Callan Lyons, who accepted her request.

  “Agreed,” Jonas repeated.

  “And I request their release and a gag placed on any announcement of their crimes until that hearing can be held, with an offer of information in exchange for such and a promise to ensure that they arrive promptly at the hearing to answer for their crimes should exoneration not be made after they’re questioned.”

  “I’m not much of a liar,” she whispered, remembering her brother laughing at how easily she gave herself away. “It’s better if you just make certain no one knows what you’re doing; then they don’t have questions you can’t answer, right?”

  “Stop this,” Rule snarled furiously as she edged away from him, the intent in his gaze assuring her that he would stop her now if he could. Stop her, until he learned what she had to exchange before anyone could have a chance to hold her to it.

  “I won’t let you destroy yourself for me.” Her gaze blurred from the tears that filled her eyes, Gypsy pressed her clenched fists into her stomach, nearly heaving with the pain tearing through her. “I won’t be the cause of it. Never again, Rule.”

  He snarled furiously as Lawe suddenly caught hold of his arm, pulling him to a stop before he could reach her and quickly whispering in his ear.

  She turned back to Jonas quickly. “I don’t know the identity of my contact,” she stated, trying to breathe past the tightness of her chest. “But not very long ago, I saw the two men he met with outside my apartment. Give me forty-eight hours, Jonas, and I swear if you don’t have what you’re seeking to save your daughter, then I’ll give you the identity of those two men and you can ask them yourself.”

  “No.” The fury in Rule’s voice surprised her, causing her to jerk in protest as fear began to surge inside her again at the sight of Jonas shaking his head.

  Oh God, she was sure he would take the offer. Certain she could save her parents another way.

  “Do you actually believe I saved your life nine years ago to watch you throw it away by meeting with only God knows who and possibly getting both yourself and your mate killed?” Jonas snarled then, allowing the blood, and the breath, to rush back to her head in a dizzying wave. “I believe I’ve had enough experience with headstrong mates and their stubborn-assed Breed males to know for a certain fact that a mess like that is nothing I want a part of this year, thank you very much. Think again, Whisper.”

  She knew that code name she was given was a very bad idea.

  She shook her head desperately. “All I have to do is send a message.” She was giving that message now, and she and Dane Vanderale both knew it. “Give me forty-eight hours. I won’t leave Rule’s suite, and you can fill the damned place with Breeds if that’s what you want. But I swear to you, Jonas, one way or the other, you’ll have what answers I can give you when that time is up. Please,” she whispered, knowing she was losing her grip on the tears that had been building for so many years. “They’re still my parents. And I still love . . . both of them.” Her breathing hitched as the regret slamming through her system nearly stole her breath and weakened her knees with the uncertainty of what he would do now. “Jonas, please, they’re still my parents.”

  She didn’t dare glance at Dane or at Dog where he sat near the South African. And she sure had no intention of meeting Rule’s eyes as he stood stock-still by his brother, Lawe. If she did, she would give them all away and she knew it. The second she did, Rule would know it. He knew her too well, she realized.

  And knowing both Dane and Dog as well as their reputations, they would find a way to ensure that Jonas was satisfied without once sacrificing their own identities.

  And she needed to do this without sacrificing the promise she had made to the man who had trusted her brother so implicitly that he had given a fifteen-year-old on a fast track to death’s door a reason to live.

  But more importantly, she had to do it without placing the burden of her parents’ punishments on the chance she was being given to finally have a life of her own. A life outside the guilt, outside the lies and outside the traitorous acts of a man who had attempted to destroy it to begin with.

  The same man who had betrayed her brother nine years ago and used her to ensure his death.

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