Rule breaker, p.32
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       Rule Breaker, p.32
 

         Part #20 of Breeds series by Lora Leigh

  CHAPTER 26

  LOBO REEVER’S ESTATE

  THAT SAME NIGHT

  “I know who you are,” the Breed hanging from the wall, his toes barely touching the floor, hissed with what he must have thought was an intimidating sound.

  Gideon, Graeme to those at the Reever estate, smiled. It meant playtime.

  And he sorely did enjoy playtime.

  He ignored the Coyote for the moment, laying out a few tools he would need later. A few pliers of differing sizes and uses, a heavy hammer, ball gag—sometimes the bastards just didn’t stop screaming.

  He was searching for a particular knife he’d lent Khi—Khileen as others called her—Lobo’s stepdaughter, during the interrogation of the Coyote’s partner two weeks before, when the satellite phone he carried at his hip vibrated insistently.

  Pulling the phone from the holster, he stared at the number and grimaced in irritation. He really wasn’t in the mood to deal with this right now, but damn if he wasn’t fucking obligated.

  Finding his mate might have started the process of returning his sanity, but a few individuals had been instrumental in completing the process and making certain he found his way to Lobo Reever’s ranch with enough credentials and references to ensure he was hired on the estate.

  “Yeah?” He answered the call, hoping it wouldn’t take long. A useless hope in most cases where this hybrid was concerned.

  “The jig is up, old chap.” Amused and inherently irritating, that foreign accent cloaked in a lazy drawl never failed to raise his hackles.

  This time, they didn’t just rise, they started doing a little jig on the back of his neck.

  “What jig?” he growled, though he had a feeling he knew exactly what the “jig” was.

  “Contact Jonas,” he was ordered, the voice firming with the demand. “Or we’re all going to be in damned hot water, with more Breeds after our asses than we know what to do with. And I’m sincerely not in the mood to have to explain getting caught to my sire.”

  Graeme snorted at the order. “Let me guess, you managed to fuck this up before I could finish saving that kid’s life? Why doesn’t that surprise me, you little prick?”

  Why didn’t that surprise him?

  This wasn’t the first time he’d worked with the bastard, and though the hybrid was usually damned competent, there were times, highly inconvenient times, when he had a habit of throwing a monkey in the works and letting it play hell with the plan.

  Graeme always thought it better to just shoot the fucking monkey, but what the hell did he know? He was just the Breed who managed to hide right under everyone’s nose. And how did he accomplish that, he asked with silent sarcasm. Let’s see, he stayed the fuck out everyone else’s business maybe?

  “When’s the next injection due and how many before we’re finished?” Hell, now the accent had managed to completely disappear; that didn’t bode really well for him. That meant he could possibly get sacrificed as a useful but regrettably required casualty. And that wasn’t a part Graeme had any intention of playing.

  “Final injection is due within the next eighteen hours.” And he was damned glad it was the final one. Hearing that baby’s pain-filled cries and the patient, unwavering love and pain in her mother’s voice was taking a toll on his hard-won sanity.

  “We have forty-eight hours,” he was told imperiously. “Get Jonas the information he needs or my partner and I are history here. Someone witnessed a meeting we had with our contact in the Unknown. If you don’t give up the secrets, my friend, we’re all screwed.”

  A snarl escaped before he could control it. Dragging his hand over the dance of nerves being played out over the back of his neck, Graeme checked the mirror he kept hanging on the wall next to his work area.

  Fuck. Fuck. Was that a shadow of a stripe coming across his face? He was going to kill the little bastard on the other end of the call before it was over with.

  “You’re the one who was caught,” he reminded the other man coldly. “Unlike you, I’m not into the damned games and machinations you and your brother so enjoy. I keep my nose out of everyone else’s business and get along damned fine. If I contact Jonas before that final injection, there’s no way in hell I’ll get in there to finish it. And I’m not quite so willing to sacrifice that child’s life for yours, asshole.”

  “Finish it, then contact him,” he was ordered. “But have it done in the required amount of time, Graeme. Because if our witness identifies me and our partner, then we’ll give up the goods on you to save our own asses. Never doubt it.”

  “So take care of your fucking narc,” he grumped, rolling his eyes and catching sight of the prisoner he’d dragged into the Reever cells less than an hour ago. “I have things to do. Dealing with Wyatt isn’t one of those things.”

  “Then make it one of your things. Our narc is Whisper. Exactly how do you expect me to take care of that one?”

  Son of a bitch.

  Pinching the bridge of his nose, he swore he could feel the stripes that once marred the flesh of his face beginning to shade his skin again as fury rose inside him. He couldn’t touch Whisper and they both knew it. Hell, he didn’t just owe her his life, he owed her the life of his mate. Whisper was the child who had overheard the plot to kill Judd, Honor, and Fawn before the Unknown had managed to hide their identities. Had it not been for her contacting the man her deceased brother had worked with, then Fawn would have died. And Gideon—Graeme—would never have found his sanity.

  He’d kill for her, but he’d never consider killing her.

  The bastard on the other end of the call was another story, though.

  “I’m going to take this one out of your hide, asshole,” Graeme warned him.

  “Stand in line.” The suggestion was amused and filled with a confidence that his safety was assured.

  Graeme wasn’t so certain about that.

  “You actually have forty-six hours,” he was told then. “I expect to hear the roars of rage long before that deadline is actually up.”

  Yeah, he just bet the bastard did.

  Disconnecting the call, he turned to the soldier staring back at him malevolently, wondering how pissed Lobo would get if he just beat the shit out of the bastard instead of wrapping him up nice and pretty for Lobo’s stepdaughter.

  She’d gotten to him, Graeme admitted. The little toddler slowly becoming a Breed. Once he’d explained it all to her in a way she could understand, she had warmed to him. She knew it was going to hurt at first, bad enough that she wouldn’t be able to stop crying maybe. That she would feel really bad, but once it was over, she would be her daddy’s little girl for sure.

  The first injection Brandenmore had given the baby had begun the process of changing her DNA. Almost overnight her ability to understand and to reason began rising exponentially. If one knew how to communicate with the child, then seeing the world through her eyes, through her observations, almost made a Breed believe in miracles.

  Now, four injections later, the last and by far the most painful was coming. What Brandenmore had done should have destroyed the child in the same manner in which he had died himself. What no one had known, but Graeme had found in the blood and tissue samples Phillip Brandenmore had taken that night, was that Amber would soon have been diagnosed with the same type of leukemia that had nearly killed Honor Roberts.

  Had the scientists begun injections in Honor sooner, then the pain of reversing it would have been much lower, closer to the levels Amber was experiencing.

  But hearing that tiny child cry, seeing the pain in her eyes as he’d returned for each follow-up injection, was killing him.

  He believed himself to be a monster. What did that make the scientists who had created and tortured the Breeds for so long?

  “Got problems, Gideon?” The name that fell so easily from the Coyote’s lips had Graeme turning slowly, the monster that existed within him making its presence known.

  Graeme felt the burn of his flesh, the primal response
that ignited a genetic code and flashed the dark stripes across his face, his hips, alongside his left leg.

  As quickly as he lost control, he snagged it back, holding on with a desperate grip before it could escape forevermore as it had before.

  The Coyote saw it, though. His eyes widened, he swallowed tightly and an instant later Graeme was in his face, canines bared, his eyes picking up hues of color, differences in body temperature and the fear the Breed had been fighting to hide as claws gripped his neck, exerting just enough pressure to pierce the tough hide and threaten the large artery in his neck as the sound that rumbled from his throat echoed in the caverns like a lost nightmare.

  “Say that name again,” Graeme suggested, “even think it, and we’ll see how easy it will be to skin you.” With the other hand he used a razored nail to lay open the thin layer of skin and slice between it and red meat.

  He knew what it felt like. He carried his own scars from the scalpels the scientists had wielded.

  “Then I’ll dissect you as they did the fine Gideon. Living. Screaming. Your bowels bloodied as the waste of it seeps from your body like liquid terror and you piss yourself from the pain. And that’s just the beginning,” he hissed, feeling his eyes begin to redden. “Within seconds you try to beg for mercy, but the pain is such that no words can form, your brain no longer recognizes the need for speech, the need to rationalize—it only knows one thing. The agony, the horror of it and the inability to move. The stark realization that you can’t tighten a muscle, can’t jerk a limb. You can’t even control your own heartbeat as they reach in and touch it, slicing into your brain with such a brutal punch of agony as they do so that those animal genetics of yours tuck their tails and start howling for death.”

  A second later he scented the wash of the Coyote soldier’s urine as it began seeping from his body.

  Fuck, and here he thought he had a soldier of better mettle than the others. The scent dragged him back from where he’d slipped once again, though. It jerked the sanity back to his mind, the logic and ability to think, to reason flooding back into his senses.

  “Don’t test me,” he growled, stepping back from the obviously terrified Coyote Breed. Casting him a sneer, he asked in disgust, “You bastards used to have more iron in your spines. What did we do? Kill all the crazy ones?”

  He was starting to think it was possible.

  ...

  This was a complication.

  Dane inhaled the sweet, black cherry taste of the slender cigar and considered his next move.

  It wasn’t that he enjoyed this particular game, and God knew he didn’t. It was that he knew his brother far too well, and their parents were certain at the time that there were no alternatives.

  Dane had even suggested to Jonas that if the message went out to Gideon and Judd that the injections rather than the code itself were needed, one or even both would help. Both Jonas and Rachel had instantly rejected such an action, though.

  And Ely, the Breeds’ doctor, wasn’t yet in a place where her confidence could match Jonas’s will as it had once done. That had left Dane to do the dirty work, as it usually did.

  He didn’t care to get his hands dirty, but if Gideon, or Graeme as he was called now, didn’t give Jonas what he wanted within forty-eight hours, then Dane could kiss his entire American family and friends good-the-fuck-bye, because Rule’s little mate would tattle on him like a five-year-old.

  “Remind me to stay the fuck out of your little games from here on out.” Dog sidled next to him, struck a match and lit the tip of his own cigar. “I’d heard conspiring with you could get dangerous. Strange, never heard of you getting caught before, though.”

  Dane threw him a careless, confident smile. “I’ve got this, my friend,” he drawled with far more assurance than he felt, he admitted. “All will be well.”

  “Let’s hope Leo’s ready to welcome me home when Jonas puts out that execution order on me,” the other Breed sighed in response. “I’ve been getting rather bored with America anyway.”

  Dane almost snorted at that one. Dog? Bored? He rather doubted it. Dog lived for the games he was able to play within the Breed societies here. Like all the Leo’s protégés, Dog was a master manipulator and a calculating son of a bitch in the bargain. So much so that when Leo realized Dog was in America working at freeing the Breeds and not just helping them to set up their societies, but encouraging it in a fashion, he’d been livid and dared the Coyote to return.

  Leo was still a bit upset over that one.

  The patriarch worried incessantly about the safety of the American branch of the family, and still swore that the world simply wasn’t ready for Mating Heat, and keeping it a secret much longer would be impossible.

  Dane shuddered to consider what his father would do if he ever learned that his son, his legitimate heir, had been bankrolling the Coyote’s little venture at the time. He often wondered if Leo, as he often threatened, would actually disinherit him.

  He was afraid his father just might do so.

  “You worry too much, Dog,” Dane informed him absently as he drew on the cigar and considered the night thoughtfully. “You should relax a bit.”

  “This is why we were never friends, Dane,” Dog reminded him with that ever-present mockery. “Hell, this is why I just stayed the fuck away from you. You cause havoc no matter where you go.”

  Of course he did, that was his job, Dane thought as his gaze narrowed on a flash of long auburn hair and a particular turn of the head.

  When the female turned back to him, the face was wrong, the slender body too soft, without the play of well-honed feminine muscles beneath her flesh.

  Would he ever stop searching for her, he wondered a bit somberly. Each time he was even near the area he would watch, wait, certain at some point that he would catch a glimpse of her.

  Yet he never did.

  He prayed he never would.

  Letting her go had been the hardest thing he’d ever done in his life. Allowing her to have the mate she longed for, the life she had dreamed of, had shattered his heart even though her happiness was all he’d ever asked for.

  Sadly, he’d forgotten to include himself in the wish.

  He breathed in slowly, heavily.

  “We were never friends because we truly never knew each other,” he retorted to the Breed’s earlier statement. “Father was smart enough to ensure that one of us was always gone whenever the other was there.”

  The Coyote had come to the compound ragged, filthy and suffering from dehydration and juvenile primal fever. Dane had been in London at the time overseeing several of the Leo’s properties, but he’d heard of the bedraggled Coyote youth, more wild than trained, who had gone in search of the fabled compound of the first Leo at the tender age of six.

  “Leo’s going to have both of us killed if he finds out about this one, Dane,” Dog assured him.

  Dane shook his head. “He’ll regret it. He’ll hate the need for the deception, but he’s as aware as we are that the child would have died without the assurance we gave Gideon of protection if he would aid the child. We never specified how he was to do so.”

  Dog grunted at that.

  “What now?”

  “Now, we wait,” Dane informed him, crossing his arms over his chest as he leaned against the rough stone of the outer wall and continued to watch the guests of the hotel arrive and depart.

  “You do that a lot,” Dog observed.

  “What? Wait?” Dane grinned.

  He did rather do that a lot.

  “No, tense whenever you see a particular color and style of hair,” Dog pointed out just as Dane tensed further, cursing silently as the black military-reinforced SUV pulled slowly beneath the hotel awning.

  Several Breeds sat in the front; behind them, he knew the small family.

  He waited, hungry for the sight of her. Watching as first Lance Jacobs stepped from the SUV before lifting the toddler into his arms, then helping his mate, his treasured wife, from the ve
hicle.

  Jacobs made her a good mate, though, he admitted. And that boy, he was a combination of both. The child who had finally tamed Death. Auburn hair, a little long and a bit shaggy. Loose jeans and a blue T-shirt. He looked like his father, thankfully, though the boy had his mother’s eyes.

  Then she stepped out.

  God help him, how beautiful she had become over the past years. Still regally graceful, as exquisitely beautiful and more dangerous and . . . His throat tightened, his chest aching at the sight of her rounded tummy beneath the pretty gold silk blouse she wore with her jeans.

  Pregnant.

  Once again, she was with child, and just as before, it gave her a glow to her features that made her incandescent. Made his chest swell with such emotion that once again he wondered if hybrid Breeds had the ability to find their mates, or if the natural age retardation once they reached adulthood also signaled that they, like their human counterparts, risked losing the very hearts that could come to mean so much to them?

  Just as he had lost this heart.

  “Harmony Lancaster,” Dog murmured. “Son of a bitch, what’s she doing here?”

  “Amber,” Dane whispered as he felt his stomach pitch with the pleasure of hearing her laughter. “She became very close to Amber the last time she and her family were in Sanctuary.”

  “There are too many high-ranking Breeds here, Dane,” Dog protested then. “Someone’s going to become a target. Her mate’s already taken two bullets. I wouldn’t imagine he’d survive very many more.”

  The fucking bastard was healthy as a horse, Dane thought furiously. As though having nearly met his maker twice had only strengthened his resolve to ensure that his mate and children were never left unprotected.

  They would never be unprotected, though, Dane knew as he watched the two dark-colored vehicles pulling in behind the SUV. The six hard-eyed, steel-cold Breeds who exited the vehicles and stood watchfully in place were her permanent shields.

  Hers and her mate’s.

  They were rushed into the hotel as Dane watched, dipping his head as she seemed to pause for a moment, looking behind her as the guards surrounded her and her mate urged her inside.

  And Dog was right. There were far too many upper-hierarchy Breeds here and one more important to him than all the others.

  “I heard the rumors,” Dog stated then. “But until now, I never believed them.”

  “And what rumors would those be?” Stilling the anger that threatened to bloom inside him wasn’t easy.

  “The rumors that you used to be in love with her.”

  Dane straightened slowly. “That will teach you to listen to rumors.”

  Tossing the cigar into the narrow disposal unit, he strode quickly away from the Coyote and the hotel, heading to the parking lot and the vehicle he kept parked there.

  He didn’t “used to be” anything, he thought furiously as he shoved his hands into the pockets of his slacks and let the darkness enfold him.

  He loved her then, he loved her now, and he feared he would always love her even more in the future.

  She was his weakness, and he didn’t dare allow anyone to learn that secret.

  Not again.

  CHAPTER 27

  Rule would have missed it if Lawe hadn’t forced him to stop, forced him to use his senses and the knowledge he’d gained over the months where his incredible little mate was concerned. And Lawe wouldn’t have known if Cassie, God bless her heart, hadn’t contacted him just before Rhyzan had allowed Gypsy to overhear the cruel, destructive words that had spewed from her mother’s lips.

  As Gypsy had stood still, her gaze locked on the shattered screen, the soul of the woman he realized was more than just his soul ruptured in such agonizing knowledge that Rule wanted to howl with fury. Riding quick on its heels was something far more dangerous, more destructive than her pain, though. The link he hadn’t known he’d established within the stubborn, independent little hellion snapped quietly, so naturally going into effect that if Lawe hadn’t forced him to wait for it, he might not have realized it was there until too late.

  And he would have missed perhaps the second most important moment of not just his life, but also Gypsy’s.

  Gypsy had realized something far more than her mother’s belief that the daughter had been the cause of the son’s death.

  She had realized something far more dangerous, to herself.

  Turning down the hall to their suite nearly an hour later, Rule watched with narrowed eyes as Lawe stood outside his door with several other Breeds.

  He could feel Gypsy tensing, uncertainty rising within her as Lawe nodded to the nearest enforcer. The Wolf stepped to the door, unlocked it quickly and pushed it open.

  “I need to talk to Kandy,” Gypsy protested, though only halfheartedly, he realized as he dragged her into the room.

  The door closed behind them.

  “To tell her good-bye?” Using his hold on her wrist, he swung her into his embrace, one hand going to the back of her neck to ensure that his gaze met hers as she stared up at him in surprise.

  And in an undercurrent of nervous suspicion.

  “Good-bye?” Bravado suddenly gleamed in her eyes. “Why would I need to tell her good-bye?”

  “What did you remember, Gypsy, that has you steeling yourself to die?” he asked, rather than answering her question. “Why did I suddenly sense the fifteen-year-old child you once were, filled with such guilt and self-hate, suddenly still, before she winked away as though she had never existed? Did she finally realize that what happened that night wasn’t her fault?” His head lowered, his lips pulling back from his teeth furiously. “Did she finally figure out that the same person might have betrayed her and her brother both?”

  ...

  How had he known? How could he know?

  Gypsy stared back at the Breed whose presence in her life had changed so many things, too many things too fast; she felt a part of her soul that lay so undefended, so raw and bleeding since the moment she realized who and what had taken a child’s only security, fill with something so much stronger, so much more intuitive than anything she had ever known.

  Suddenly everything was more intense, more intent.

  Each sound,
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