Never Let Go Preview
She could hear the sound of his strong, steady heartbeat as it filled her ears.
“How am I, doc?” Sawyer Cage asked as he flashed her a wide smile. The dimple in his left cheek winked at her and his dark blue eyes flashed.
Dr. Elizabeth Parker licked her lips as she pulled the stethoscope away from his bare chest. Her fingers slid over his skin, and she felt his warmth like an electric spark against her. “Your vitals are good.” Her voice was crisp, and her back was ramrod straight. She put down the stethoscope and moved to grab his chart. “Good…despite the fact that you returned from your latest mission with a gunshot wound to your shoulder—”
“It’s barely a graze. Didn’t even need stitches—”
“A stab wound to your right arm—”
“Okay, so that needed maybe…four stitches. Five, max.”
“And bruising on your ribs that indicate—”
“Things got a little…intense.” His smile dimmed. “Nothing that my team couldn’t handle, though.”
His team. Right. Because Sawyer Cage was one of the bad asses of the world. A SEAL leader who took his team on missions that most folks would never know about—because those folks just didn’t have the clearance to know. But she knew. Elizabeth knew everything about his missions, and they terrified her. On most days, he terrified her, too. “Intense is an understatement,” Elizabeth muttered as she dropped the chart and returned to the exam table. His legs were spread apart and she slipped between them as she shined her light in Sawyer’s eyes, checking to make sure his pupils responded appropriately.
He inhaled. “You smell good, doc. That a new lotion? Strawberries?”
She froze. The light was still shining right on him, but not aiming straight in his eyes any longer. They were in her exam room, just the two of them, and as per the requirements of his job—and hers—she was running a post mission check on him. He never said anything personal to her in the exam room. They’d been doing this same routine for over a year. He barely spoke to her at all when she checked him out.
She jerked her hand back from him, all too aware that her heart was racing. Sawyer was big, he was muscled, and he was sexy as hell. Tall, dark, and drop-dead handsome perfectly described the guy. And this was not the place or the time for her to be having any of those thoughts.
His fingers—with rough calluses on the tips—curled around her wrist. “You okay?”
He had to feel the mad rush of her pulse beneath his touch. Elizabeth notched up her chin and pretended that she was one hundred percent, completely okay. “I’m not the one coming off an adrenaline high. You’re the one crashing.” She stared straight into his eyes. “And my lotion isn’t really your concern.”
One jet-black eyebrow rose. He didn’t let go of her wrist. He did caress her lightly with his thumb. Their gazes held.
“Do we have a problem?” Elizabeth asked him. Her voice was still crisp, and her heart was still racing so hard she feared it would start to make her whole body shake. No, he’s the one doing that—he’s making my body—
His hand slid away from hers. “Not at all.” Sawyer’s half-smile came and went again as his dimple flashed. A man as tough and dangerous as Sawyer shouldn’t have a dimple. That dimple made him seem charming, easy. Total lie.
“Good.” She turned her back on him. Elizabeth could feel the heat stinging her cheeks. It is way too hot in here. Maybe the air conditioning wasn’t working. Yeah, right. “You’ll need a few days to recover. Try to avoid any strenuous activity. If you need something for the pain—”
“No dice, doc. I can handle the pain just fine without any drugs.”
Of course, what else would a guy like him say? He thought he was Superman.
She tucked her hands into the pockets of her lab coat. “Then you’re done here. You can get dressed.”
There was a faint rustle behind her. She reached for the door handle.
“I like the new scent, doc. It’s nice. But then, I always think you smell nice.” The faintest hint of his Texas accent slipped through Sawyer’s words.
Elizabeth glanced back. He was standing near the exam table, and he’d pulled on his button-up shirt. She could see the edge of the bandage on his shoulder, peeking beneath the cotton material. Sawyer had been right. The guy hadn’t needed stitches for the bullet graze, but she’d still cleaned the wound and covered it. And she’d thought about what would have happened if that bullet hadn’t just grazed him, if it had instead lodged in his heart. Killed him. Her gaze darted up to his blue eyes.
His stare was locked on her.
And Sawyer’s eyes burned with an intensity she hadn’t seen before.
Fumbling, Elizabeth yanked open the exam room door. Then she shut it, fast, as she stumbled into the hallway and—
And she ran right into the last man she’d hoped to see at that particular moment. She staggered when their bodies hit, and Dr. Landon Meyer grabbed her arm to steady her. Behind his glasses, his dark brown eyes narrowed with apparent concern.
“Are you okay, Dr. Parker? You’re flushed—”
The exam room door creaked open. The tension in the air suddenly seemed to rocket way up, but Elizabeth hoped that was just her imagination.
Landon’s gaze jerked over her shoulder.
“There a problem?” The question came from behind her. That was Sawyer’s deep, rumbling voice—a voice that contained a decided edge.
Elizabeth shrugged away from Landon. She pasted a smile on her face as she turned to Sawyer. “Just a clumsy moment. I’m glad Dr. Meyer was here to help me out.”
Sawyer’s face remained tense. “Yeah. Good thing he was here.” He sounded anything but thrilled. He moved forward, pushing right in the middle of Elizabeth and Landon. His gaze raked over the other man. Landon was a few inches shorter than Sawyer, and nowhere near as menacing. Landon’s features were handsome in a generic, non-threatening kind of way. The clean-cut guy.
“How are you feeling, Cage?” Landon asked immediately. “I heard about the firefight that broke out—”
“No big deal. Everything was under control. It always is.”
Cocky. Arrogant. That was Sawyer. But…
His fingers slid over her wrist. Such a careful caress. Then he gave a little salute to her and Landon. “Think I’ll go crash now. It’s been one hell of a day.” He sauntered away from them, moving with a lethal grace. That was the way he always walked—controlled, careful, but as if he were poised to attack at any moment.
Because the man is a weapon. And Sawyer is completely aware of just how deadly he is. Again…cocky? Or just confident?
“Don’t forget the event tonight!” Landon’s voice boomed after Sawyer. “We’ll need you and your team there! The boss wants to talk with you all.”
“His wounds—” Elizabeth began.
“I’ll be there.” Sawyer’s voice floated back to them as he paused near the elevator. “You said I had to avoid ‘strenuous’ things, right, doc? A boring black-tie ball won’t exactly make me sweat.”
Jumping into a warzone probably didn’t make the guy sweat, either.
Landon’s stare turned to Elizabeth. “I’ll need you there, too.” His voice dropped as he stepped closer to her. “Our boss is insisting on seeing you tonight. He’s excited about Lazarus, and he’s ready for action—”
Now Elizabeth was the one to grab his arm. “Landon. Not here.” Her gaze immediately jerked toward the elevator, and she found Sawyer staring right at her. His gaze glittered. She swallowed and let go of Landon. “Look, let’s talk privately, okay?”
“That’s why I was coming to get you,” Landon shot back, but his voice was low—only for her ears. “For a private talk.” Then he turned on his heel and headed for his office. Elizabeth straightened her shoulders and followed him, but with every step she took, she could have sworn that she felt the weight of Sawyer’s gaze on her. Her back seemed to burn from the intensity of his stare. She didn’t glance over her shoulder, though, not even when she heard the ding of the elevator.
Then she was in front of Landon’s office. He stood just inside the doorway, frowning at her. “Is there something wrong?” Landon asked this question as she slipped inside. He hurriedly closed the door behind her. “Did something happen with you and Sawyer during the exam? Because you came running out of that room—”
“Nothing.” An immediate denial. “Nothing happened. He checked out fine.” Her lips quirked in a faint smile. “He always does.”
Landon crossed the room and sat down behind his wide, cherry wood desk. “Of course.” His voice was flat. “He’s the leader of the Pack, isn’t he? Our superstar.” There was just the faintest touch of anger in his voice.
The Pack. That was the name given to Sawyer’s group. Their team wasn’t on the books, not officially, anyway. That way, the government could always have easy deniability if any of the missions ever went wrong.
But what even Sawyer and his team didn’t know…the covert facility that she was currently inside of wasn’t just used so that the elite team could be mended after their missions. The place was also heavily involved in military research.
She was heavily involved in military research. And Uncle Sam was a very demanding employer. “You shouldn’t talk about Lazarus so freely,” she chided, and even though it was just the two of them in that office, her voice was hushed. “The program is far from ready for implementation.”
Very slowly, Landon removed his glasses. He sat them near the edge of his desk. “That’s not good news.” The overhead light gleamed on his perfectly cut blond hair.
A rough laugh escaped her. She did that. Laughed when she was nervous. Flushed when she was scared. Her body was always giving her away. Truth be told, Elizabeth wasn’t particularly comfortable around other people. She’d always preferred the security of a lab to the randomness of the real world—and to the emotions that bombarded her when she was surrounded by people.
“I thought you’d had positive results with the experiments.” Landon tapped his fingers on the desk. A slow, steady tap.
“I have experienced good results. But we are talking about working with lab rats, not humans. The rats reanimated, they came back, even stronger than they’d been before, but…some of them were showing serious aggressive tendencies—”
“They. Came. Back? Stronger?” His fingers had stopped drumming. He stared at her, unblinkingly for a moment, then Landon surged to his feet. “Why didn’t you tell me immediately?”
She actually didn’t have a ready answer for his question. Why hadn’t she told him? Technically, Landon was her immediate supervisor but…I was scared. I was sitting in a lab and I was playing God and I was realizing I was in way over my head. “We’re only beginning the experiments. Those subjects were rats, not people. We have a very, very long way to go before we could possibly—”
In a flash, he was around the desk and right in front of her. “We need to test on a human subject right away.”
What? Was the guy crazy? “We can’t. There are protocols in place, you know that. Federal regulations. There is no way we could possibly risk hurting—”
Now he was laughing. Hard. And she didn’t like the sound of Landon’s laughter. “Oh, my dear Elizabeth…” He smiled. “We’re talking about testing on the dead. How can we possibly hurt them?”
For a moment, Elizabeth didn’t speak. Project Lazarus was absolutely top secret. Only a handful of individuals knew of its existence, and the project was her brain child. She’d been the one to first make the breakthrough that allowed her to reactivate the brain cells of dead lab rats. The formula had taken her years to create, but she’d done it. Her last series of tests proved that her theories had been correct. She’d finally had her breakthrough. She’d done what so many had said was impossible. And why had she done it?
Because I wanted to stop death.
Only…A shiver slid over her skin. Only maybe death shouldn’t be stopped. Maybe I’ve been wrong. “Human trials are a very long time away. We are not even close to that point.”
The smile stayed on Landon’s face. “You know that our team doesn’t play by the rules that others have to follow.” He leaned in closer to her. “In fact, we can make our own rules.” Another laugh slipped from him. “Remember, we’re talking about the dead, Elizabeth. The dead. You can’t hurt them.”
Yes, you can. “I think you didn’t hear everything I said before.” Maybe he’d gotten distracted by the whole reanimated part. She’d try explaining again. Slowly. “The rats are exhibiting improved reflexes and strength, but there are other effects that are not so positive. Some of the rats that reanimated displayed aggressive behavior.” Behavior that made her nervous. “We must study them, we have to see exactly what short and long term effects could be happening—”
His phone rang, cutting right through her words. It wasn’t the phone on his desk that was ringing. Instead, his pocket was vibrating. Landon hurriedly pulled out the phone and frowned down at the screen. “That’s all for now, Elizabeth. We’ll talk tonight.” He waved her toward the door. “I’m very pleased with our progress.”
Our? Her eyes narrowed on him. “Lazarus isn’t ready yet.”
Landon put the phone to his ear and turned his back on her. Obviously, he was done with her. “Sir!” His voice was far too loud and jovial. “I’ve got excellent news for you. The recent batch of test subjects reanimated…”
And she knew exactly who was on the other end of that line. Their boss. The man who could make a president sweat. The man who knew every secret in the world and who never hesitated to use his power. Wyman Wright.
“Lazarus is on target,” Landon continued brightly. Without looking at her, he waved toward the door once more, tossing his hand over his shoulder in an impatient gesture. “Everything is exactly on target.”
Elizabeth flipped her middle finger at him as she marched for the door. A few moments later, she was in the hallway, her body tight with tension. She kept her head down as she walked, and her hands were fisted in the pockets of her lab coat. When she reached her lab, she fumbled with the door, and actually managed to unlock it on the second try. Once inside, Elizabeth immediately headed toward her test subjects. The rats were where she’d left them and—
Elizabeth stilled. She’d left three of the Lazarus rats together in one cage. But now, only one rat was still alive in that cage. Its red eyes stared unblinkingly up at her. Around him, she could see the ravaged bodies of the other two rats. It looked as if they’d been ripped apart.
Her breath froze in her lungs.
Everything is exactly on target. Landon’s words rang in her ears.
The hell it was.
The rat kept watching her.
The ballroom was filled with the rich and the powerful. Men wore elegant tuxes while women smiled as diamonds glittered at their ears and long, elegant dresses clung to their bodies.
A band played some soft jazz music. Waiters drifted through the crowd. Some offered champagne, some carried plates of hors d'oeuvres. Men and women danced. Flirted. And in the background, deals were made. Lives were changed.
“Same fucking shit, right?” The question came from Sawyer’s right. “Just a different night.”
Sawyer turned his head, and he saw his buddy Flynn Haddox. Flynn was staring at the crowd, disgust tight on his face. Flynn was a member of the Pack, and like Sawyer, the man would far prefer to be in the field, in the middle of a white-hot battle…than to be in that damn ballroom.
But being there was a part of their job. This wasn’t some typical event, and they weren’t typical employees of the United States government. The charity ball was a sham, as was so many of the other events like this they’d attended in the past. His boss—Wyman Wright—was at that ball. Making plans. Destroying worlds. The usual course of business for the guy.
And private donors were there, people who gave Wright money off the books. Sometimes, those people liked to come face to face with the team who did the dirty work. The rich got a rush from being in the same room with the dangerous.
He didn’t get a rush. He just got pissed off.
“Did you get your turn with the big boss?” Sawyer asked Flynn, nodding toward the closed door on the right. Sawyer had already gone inside that room and talked to the man who was supposed to be only a myth.
“Yeah, I did my part. Checked in. Said I was still good to go for whatever mission comes next.”
Sawyer had done the same. It wasn’t often that he was required to have an up-close interview with Wright, but when he was called up, Sawyer always handled the meetings with brutal honesty. Yeah, we needed at least five more men. We still got the job done. But we aren’t fucking miracle workers. We need more power.
Wright had promised him more power. Usually, the guy delivered on his promises. Wyman Wright. Probably a bullshit name. Wright looked like a pencil pusher, but he wasn’t. Though he wasn’t listed on the books anywhere, Wright was the backbone of D.C., the puppet master who’d seen plenty of FBI and CIA directors come and go, and he was always ready for action, no matter who might be sitting in the Oval Office.
“Since I’ve done my face time,” Flynn added with a slow incline of his head. “I’m ducking out of here. I’m sure I can find just the right something special to help me relax.” His gaze was directed across the room. On a pretty blonde woman in a long, red dress.
Sawyer lifted his glass—still full of champagne because he didn’t drink the stuff—in a small salute. “Have fun with that.”
“I intend to.” Flynn slapped him on the shoulder. Flynn was just an inch shorter than Sawyer’s own six-foot-three frame, and they were both built along the same rough, muscled lines. While Sawyer had jet-black hair, Flynn’s was brown. They’d both spent their adult lives working for Uncle Sam, in one form or another. Hunting was second nature to them. Killing… that was far too easy.
Flynn cleared his throat. “Maybe you should look for some fun, too.”
Sawyer found his gaze drifting around the ballroom. “Maybe I will.”
The door to Wright’s office—well, his office for the night, anyway—opened. And there she was. The star of Sawyer’s frequent fantasies. Dr. Elizabeth Parker. Her long, dark hair was loose tonight. Normally, she kept it secured at the nape of her neck. Every single time she gave him an exam, Sawyer had to fight the urge to pull down her hair. To touch the soft silk.
Her hair was down, and her habitual lab coat was long gone. Instead, Elizabeth wore a black dress that fit her like a glove, revealing far too much about the curves his hands itched to touch.
“Uh, right…not happening,” Flynn announced with a laugh. “You know Dr. Parker wouldn’t look twice at you.”
Sawyer’s gaze snapped back to his soon-to-be ex friend. “What the fuck? Why would you say that?” Now he was legitimately insulted. Shit.
Flynn held up his hands. “Sorry, bro, but I don’t think she likes fighters. She’s more into the…intellectual type, I’d say. I mean, not that you aren’t but…” He shook his head. “She’s delicate, you know? Dude, you’d break her in two if you got her in the sack.”
The hell he would. “Get your ass out of here. Your blonde is getting away.” He didn’t wait to see how Flynn responded. Sawyer strode through the crowd, his focus on the prize he wanted.
At that moment, Elizabeth looked up. Her gaze landed on him—such a dark, deep gaze. Chocolate. He fucking loved chocolate. Her lips were painted red, and they were sexy as hell. Those lips trembled for a moment when she saw him, but then Elizabeth spun on her heel and headed out onto the balcony.
“Told you man…” Flynn’s annoying voice called from right behind him. “Not interested.”
The asshole had followed him. “Fuck off.” Sawyer rolled back his shoulders. “I’m not going to screw the doc. I know the rules.” And rule number one in their program was no fraternizing. That had been made clear to him and his team as soon as they had agreed to join Wright’s covert group of operatives.
Sawyer shoved his champagne glass at a nearby waiter. He yanked at the neck of his dress shirt and jerked at his tie. He hated having to put on fancy clothes, and he hated having to act civilized at these stupid events. Sawyer was far more comfortable in the field. Working a mission. Holding a gun in his hand and stalking his prey. He hated being in this freaking circus of a ballroom.
He slipped onto the balcony. The doc was the only other person out there. Her hands were curled over the wrought-iron railing, and the wind lightly teased her thick, dark hair. He stilled for a moment, just staring at her. Did the woman have any idea just how beautiful he thought she was? Did she know exactly how many times she’d starred in his dreams? He’d fucked her in them, endlessly.
She glanced back at him. The moonlight fell on her face. To him, she was utter perfection. Oval face, sweet cheekbones and that stubborn little chin. Her lips were sin, and he’d spent far too much time thinking about her mouth. When he’d been in the exam room with her earlier that day, she’d been standing between his thighs, and he’d wanted to lean forward and take her mouth with his.
“You look good.” Her voice drifted to him. “Your injuries don’t seem to be slowing you down any.”
He moved closer to her. The woman drew him in. Moth to a flame. “Nope. Not slowing me even a little bit.”
Her lips curved in a faint smile. “Do you think you’re Superman?”
“Only some days.” Only when I’m close to you.
Her smile faded. “No one is immortal.” She bit her lower lip, and her gaze seemed to look right through him. “I don’t…I’m starting to think no one should be.”
An odd thing to say.
“Guess it depends on who you are living forever with.” He took up a position right next to her on the balcony. His shoulder brushed against hers. When she didn’t speak again, he tried to figure out what the hell to say to her. And, of course, Flynn’s asshole words rang in his ears. She’s more into the…intellectual type, I’d say. He should have punched his jerk of a friend. “Big crowd here tonight. Aren’t you supposed to be inside? Charming everyone so that the funding keeps going to our program?” The people back in that ballroom were the power players in D.C. Wright liked to take donations from private parties who shared his interests. It was easier to keep his activities out of the government—and media’s—spotlight that way.
“I’m not good at charm.” Her voice was soft and husky. “That’s not why I’m on Wright’s staff.”
“You do a good job of charming me.” He moved even closer to her.
Immediately, she slid away. “Sawyer—”
A man’s sharp laughter cut through the night. Sawyer turned his head and saw that a fellow in a tux had wandered onto the balcony. The guy was laughing it up with some redhead. Dammit.
“Meet me downstairs,” Sawyer rasped to Elizabeth. “Five minutes. We need to talk. Privately.”
Then, taking his time, Sawyer strolled off that balcony. He didn’t look back. Maybe Elizabeth would come to meet him. Maybe she wouldn’t. But what he had to say to the doc—it couldn’t be said with someone else’s eyes on them.
He needed her alone.
And that’s how I’ll get her.
She hated wearing heels. She hated the confines of her too tight dress. She hated having to make small talk and act interested in the conversations that arrogant assholes were having. Elizabeth just hated the whole scene. Landon had said the event was a necessary evil. Wright doesn’t function alone. He needs backers. Not that those backers knew the truth. Wright was keeping the true nature of his program—the truth about Lazarus—secret.
Landon liked the wining and the dining and the charming, and since he enjoyed it so much, she figured he could handle the rest of the night all by himself. Her heels clicked on the stairs as she hurried down to the bottom level of the historic D.C. building. The staircase was spiral, huge, and the air chilled her skin as she descended. At first glance, no one appeared to be on the lower level of the old building. Why would anyone be? The party was upstairs.
Sawyer was down there. Somewhere, waiting in the shadows. Waiting for me.
The event was being held at an art museum on the edge of D.C. The first floor was full of artwork—high-end pieces of abstract art. Each piece was connected to a security system and when she finally reached the first floor, Elizabeth caught sight of a few security guards patrolling the area. Not deserted, after all.
The museum was their cover for the night. If reporters got curious, the story would just circulate that the rich and powerful had been at that location for an art gala—a fundraising ball. And some money would be donated to the museum.
More money would go to Wright’s pet project. A lot more.
In D.C., what you saw was never the real story.
The first-floor galleries were open, though, as part of the cover, so people could walk in and admire the work. No one was doing that, though, not while the real action was upstairs. She gave a weak smile to one of the guards and headed into the gallery on her right. She really wasn’t sure exactly where on that first floor Sawyer was. The guy should have been more specific with his meeting plan.
Instead, he’d been mysterious. Demanding. And sexy in his tux.
She walked past two long, red curtains—
A hand flew out and wrapped around her wrist. “It’s been ten minutes, doc. Ten, not five.”
Her lips parted, but in the next moment, he’d yanked her through the curtains. Through the curtains and into what she saw was actually a small office. Before she could make a sound, he’d shut the door of that office, locked it, and then Sawyer had pinned her between his rock-hard body and the wooden door.
“You kept me waiting.” His words were a growl.
“Gonna have to make you pay for that.” And his right hand moved down to grab the material of her dress. He pushed it up, and his fingers stroked her thigh. “Feels like fucking silk…”
Her mouth had gone absolutely dry, and her heart was about to burst right out of her chest. She knew he wasn’t talking about the material of her dress. He was talking about her.
“Are you wearing panties?”
He didn’t give her a chance to reply. Instead, he shoved the fabric of her dress up even higher, and then Sawyer’s fingers were pushing between her legs and discovering that no, she wasn’t wearing panties.
Because I knew I’d be seeing him. Knew, hoped, same thing.
“Fuck, baby, what you do to me…” His fingers slid over her sex. Elizabeth’s head tipped back against the door, and she had to press her lips together to stop herself from moaning.
“You’re already wet.” One finger caressed her clit and her whole body jerked. His mouth pressed to her throat, kissing, licking, and then he gave a little nip. “Did you miss me as fucking much as I missed you?”
More. Her eyes opened, and all pretense dropped. “I need you, Sawyer. Now.” It had been torture, absolute torture, to exam him earlier that day and not give in to her need. To pretend that nothing was happening between them. To ignore the wild, desperate desire that she felt for him. A need that had swept her up into a dark obsession of lust and sensual craving months ago. The attraction had always been there, burning just beneath the surface for them both, but then one night…
She’d heard a knock at her apartment door. When she’d opened the door, Sawyer had been standing there. His stormy blue eyes had been filled with a stark hunger.
Two minutes later, they’d been in bed together. They’d wrecked her bed.
Her hand angled between them. She stroked his cock through the fabric of his pants. He was big and long and heavy, and she didn’t want to wait. Her body was in a fever pitch, and she needed him inside of her. “Sawyer.”
He pulled back. Dammit, he pulled back. But then she heard the hiss of his zipper. A wide smile crossed her face. Yes. He came back to her in a rush, his strong hands curled around her waist, and he lifted her up. Her back shoved into the wood of the door even as her legs wrapped around his hips. The head of his cock pressed against the entrance to her body. And—
He sank deep. Her breath choked out, and then he kissed her. His tongue thrust into her mouth even as his cock drove into her body, again and again. He used his iron-hard hold on her hips to lift her up and down, moving her quickly over the length of his cock. And every sensual movement had her clit sliding against him. Her eyes squeezed shut even as her nails bit into the fabric of his tux. Her climax was coming. Already. That was how desperate she was for him. Her body was so primed. The climax was building and charging her entire body.
He tore his mouth from hers. “No sound, baby. Remember…”
She wanted to scream. Her sex clenched around him and pleasure burst through her. She bit her lower lip, hard, holding back the cry of release even as she felt him erupt inside of her. His cock jerked, his body shuddered, and Sawyer held her so tightly Elizabeth wondered if she’d bruise.
And she didn’t even care.
Gradually, her heartbeat went from a thunder to a slow thud. He was still inside of her, and Sawyer’s hands gripped her waist. She licked her lips, cleared her throat, and managed to whisper, “Did I hurt you?”
His head lifted. Oh, jeez, but he was handsome. Not in some clean-cut, carefully styled way. But in a dangerous, predatory way. Bad boy to the core. Hard jaw, glittering eyes, razor-sharp cheekbones.
“Hurt me?” Sawyer repeated. “Not even close, baby.”
“When I’m in you, doc, the only thing I feel is pleasure.”
Her sex squeezed him. Totally reflex. And it totally felt good. Amazing. But… “W-we should go. Someone could come by and find us.” Having sex at the museum had probably been a colossal mistake. She’d just—needed him. Missed him.
I lost my control.
Sawyer was the only man who’d ever made her lose control.
“Right. Time to go back to being your dirty little secret.” He withdrew from her. His words had held a definite edge. Danger.
Her heart stuttered as her feet slid down and touched the floor. She’d lost her shoes. Shit. Where were they? “You know it’s not like that.” She could still feel him, on the inside.
And outside. All over her skin. His scent seemed to cover her.
Maybe she liked it. It was primitive, basic. Like carrying a mark for a mate. She wanted her scent on him, too, and she liked having his scent on her.
He zipped up and straightened his clothes. Sawyer’s dark hair wasn’t even out of place. Meanwhile, she felt like a wreck.
Elizabeth caught sight of her shoe—one shoe. A good five feet away. She hurried toward it.
But Sawyer caught her arm before she could pass him. “I’m sorry.” His words were gruff. “Didn’t mean to sound like a dick.”
Her gaze cut back to him.
“I want the whole world to know about us. You’re mine, Elizabeth. You’re in my fucking blood.”
And just like that—her heart was racing too fast again. “If our relationship was discovered, Wright would separate us.” She knew they’d broken the rules by getting involved. No fraternizing—no sexual relationship—was allowed in their division. No mixing under Wright’s command. She was the doctor, and Sawyer was the Pack leader. Nothing more. That was the way things were supposed to be, but… “I may be going strictly to research soon.” The words tumbled from her. Wright had told her that news when she’d gone in for her face-to-face meeting with him. He’d been so impressed by the work she’d done with Lazarus. He’d been practically crowing, but meanwhile, the knot in her stomach had just gotten worse. “Or maybe, um, I’ve actually been thinking about getting out of Wright’s group altogether.” Perhaps doing a whole new kind of work. “If that happens, there won’t be a need for secrets any longer.”
He pressed a kiss to her lips. “Baby, I’ve been thinking the same thing. Maybe it’s time for a change. Time to let go of the battles and focus on something else.”
His stare was on her. What was he saying? What did he—
“You, baby. I want you. If I can’t have you and the team, then you’re my choice. Always. Know that.”
Warmth spread through her. A giddy warmth that made her want to smile and laugh. She’d never felt this way about anyone. A guy like Sawyer—so intense and dangerous—he wasn’t her normal type. Not at all. But something had clicked between them.
The attraction had been too strong. The need too fierce. And the connection? She could swear it went soul deep.
“Now get those sexy shoes back on, doc, because I want to get you home. I want you in a bed.” He kissed her. “The first climax took the edge off, but I’m gonna need a whole lot more from you.”
She’d need a whole lot more, too.
Elizabeth pulled away. She grabbed one shoe. Sawyer found the other. Her knees only wobbled a bit as she hurried out of the room. Her shoes rapped over the gleaming floor as she headed back to the main lobby and the spiral staircase. Sawyer didn’t follow, not right away. Another tactic they used. They never left places together, they tried not to stay together too long, and—
And Landon was waiting for her near the bottom of the stairs. Sweet Jesus. She put a hand to her chest, startled. Why did the guy just keep popping up in her path?
Landon looked over her shoulder. “Where’s Sawyer?”
“I-I don’t know.” I can feel him on my skin.
Landon kept peering behind her. “I saw you two on the balcony together.”
Wait, he’d seen them? Her cheeks flushed, but…Landon hadn’t seen anything earth-shattering. Just two people talking. We did nothing wrong. At least, not on the balcony, they hadn’t.
“I thought you’d come down here together.”
“No.” Her voice was flat. “We didn’t.” Was her hair a wreck? Was her dress twisted? “I’m tired, Landon. I’m going home.” She inclined her head toward him. “Goodnight.” Elizabeth walked around him and headed toward the glass doors that would take her outside and to the safety of her car.
But he followed. He followed her out of the building, away from the guards, and to the parking lot. He was silent behind her as the valet brought her car around, and every moment that passed made Elizabeth nervous. Her breath came a little too fast. Tension stretched inside of her, until she just snapped. Elizabeth spun around. “What is it?” His silent follow routine had unnerved her.
Landon blinked. He shrugged. “I was just…I wanted to make sure you got to your car safely.”
Oh. Crap. That was nice. And also, very unlike him. He’d never cared before. The valet arrived with her SUV, and she forced a smile for Landon. “Thank you. I’m good, though. Everything’s okay.”
Still, he hesitated.
The valet handed Elizabeth her keys and hurried away. As soon as he was gone, Landon moved closer to her.
“We’ve got the go-ahead,” he whispered, his words coming rapid-fire, as if he just couldn’t contain them any longer.
Her brows lifted.
And still, he came even closer. “Wright just gave me approval. He wants Lazarus used on human subjects.”
Her heart stopped. Stopped, and then started racing like mad. “It’s not ready. I told you, it’s not ready for human use yet. And the testings don’t work like—”
Landon caught her arm. “Wright doesn’t follow the rules. He makes them. Our division is off the books, and he wants human testing. Now. Before someone else makes the same breakthrough that you did. Increased strength, faster reflexes, and reanimation? Are you kidding me? Of course, he’s ready to jump on this. We just need the right candidates—”
A motorcycle’s roar filled the night, cutting right through his words, and then a blinding light was shining on them.
Cursing, Landon snatched his hand away from her and shielded his eyes. Elizabeth didn’t move. The motorcycle’s growl grew louder as it headed straight for them. She knew who was driving that motorcycle even before the bike braked, and, over the growl of the engine, she heard…
“There a problem out here?” Sawyer drawled.
Landon shook his head, but he’d taken a step back. “Of course not. I was—I was making sure Elizabeth got safely to her car.”
Sawyer turned off his headlight. Immediately, the scene plunged into darkness. Elizabeth knew her eyes would adjust soon, but she experienced a few disorienting moments as she stood there.
“Glad you’re looking after the doc.” But Sawyer didn’t sound glad. The guy sounded pissed. Just as he’d sounded earlier that day when he talked to Landon. “Wouldn’t want anything to ever happen to her.”
Her shoulders straightened. “Yes, well, I think I can manage to get into a vehicle by myself. But thanks.” She gave a crisp nod to them both. “Goodnight, gentlemen.” But she hesitated. Her head turned toward Landon. He hadn’t been walking her out because he was being nice. The guy had been working his agenda. He was waiting until we were clear to tell me about his talk with Wright. Landon wanted the Lazarus trials to start immediately. She didn’t. “We will talk more. Lazarus isn’t ready.” Her low voice was just for him.
She hurried to her SUV. Elizabeth climbed inside and drove away moments later. When she hit the main road, Elizabeth glanced into her rearview mirror. She expected to see the light from a motorcycle behind her.
But there was only darkness.
Sawyer’s grip was too tight on the handlebars. He needed to settle the hell down, and he knew it, but…
Landon had followed Elizabeth out of the gallery. The guy had put his hands on her—for a second time that day. The prick was pissing Sawyer off to a dangerous degree.
“She doesn’t want you touching her.” Sawyer’s words came out low and hard and deadly.
Landon stiffened. “Excuse me?”
“The doc.” He turned off his motorcycle and slid off the bike. For this talk, he wanted to be up-close and personal. Sawyer took his time heading toward the guy who’d been sniffing around Elizabeth far too long. “She doesn’t like to be touched. You’ve worked with her for months. Surely you’ve noticed that trait before now, right?”
“I—yes, I know that she tends to avoid touching unless it’s part of an exam or—”
“So why…” Sawyer’s voice was clipped. “Why in the hell have I seen you touching her twice today?”
Landon stiffened. “Why does it matter to you?”
“Because she takes care of me and my team. And I don’t want anyone or anything making Elizabeth—the doc—uncomfortable.” Because I don’t want your hands on her, got me?
“You’re misunderstanding the situation.”
Sawyer stalked forward, not stopping until he was toe-to-toe with the bastard. He’d never liked Landon. The guy always had his nose in the air. He treated Sawyer and his team like they were weapons, not people. Didn’t ever seem to care about what was happening in their lives. Patch us up, get us out. Aim and attack. Landon wasn’t like Elizabeth. Elizabeth was considerate. She cared. Elizabeth talked to the team. She smiled, she teased but…
Elizabeth doesn’t like to be touched, not unless I’m the one doing the touching. “Then let’s make sure there are no more misunderstandings. Keep your hands off her.”
“You’re awfully protective.”
You have no clue. “Part of the job description, right? You want me and my team to protect and defend. It’s what I’m doing.” I’d protect Elizabeth with my last breath. He towered over Landon, and he entertained the awesome image of knocking the bastard out with one punch. “It’s important for us to be clear on a few things.”
Elizabeth was long gone. He should go now and get to her place. He’d park his motorcycle a few streets over and be back at her building in moments. Then he’d be in her—
Sawyer turned away from the jerk who was just slowing down his night. He’d taken three steps toward his bike when Landon called out, freezing him.
“What if Elizabeth wants me to touch her?” The words were a taunt, and they were one hell of a lot bolder than Sawyer had ever expected the prick to be.
Very slowly, Sawyer turned to face Landon.
“What if…” Landon lifted his chin. Chin-in-the-air-asshole. “What if she wants me to touch her?” He actually repeated his idiotic question.
Sawyer laughed. A deep, rumbling laugh. “Never gonna happen.” He jumped on the motorcycle. “But that was funny as shit.” He turned on the motorcycle and revved the engine.
“How do you know?” Landon snarled.
“Easy. You aren’t her type.” I am. “Remember, hands the fuck off.” Then he blasted out of the parking lot and went after the woman he wanted. The only one.
“I fucking hate that SOB,” Landon muttered as he watched the motorcycle vanish. Sawyer and his Pack—they thought they were the rulers of the world. That they could do anything they wanted. Anytime. Anywhere.
They had no clue. They were the brawn, but he was the brains. Without him—without Elizabeth—Wright’s whole unit would flounder.
And did Sawyer think that Landon didn’t know the guy was hot for Elizabeth? Every time that bastard looked at her, Sawyer’s eyes burned. If he could, Landon knew that Sawyer would fucking eat Elizabeth alive.
But you’re not her type. You’re not, Sawyer. Because Elizabeth would never want a killer. She wouldn’t want a weapon. She was meant for more. Elizabeth and her absolutely brilliant mind deserved more.
She’d graduated med school when she was twenty. She was the leading expert on bio genetics and cellular manipulation. Hell, she had more degrees than any person he knew. The woman’s brain never stopped, and he’d been thrilled when Wright lured her into his program.
Elizabeth was going places, and Landon intended to be right at her side the whole time. She was the perfect partner. An asset that he couldn’t afford to lose.
So, no, he didn’t plan to screw with her. Sawyer could relax on that score. Landon didn’t want Elizabeth for her body, though it was passable enough. He wanted her for her fucking fantastic mind.
We’re going ahead on Lazarus. Turning away from the lot, he headed back toward the gallery, whistling as he went. Lazarus would change the world.
It would be unforgettable.
They just had to find the right test subjects…
His knuckles tapped on Elizabeth’s front door. He’d rushed up the stairs at her building, eager to get back to her. His body was burning from the inside. Heavy with need and lust—for her.
The door opened. Elizabeth stood there, still in her sexy-as-hell black dress, but minus her shoes. Her eyes widened when she saw him, and Sawyer didn’t even hesitate. He stepped inside, slammed the door shut with his foot, and then his mouth was on hers.
Elizabeth was so sweet. She tasted so damn good. He loved her mouth. Her tongue. Loved the little moans she made when she got turned on by him. His hands curled around her waist and he lifted her up, holding her easily. She wrapped her legs around him and her sex pressed right over his aching cock. He’d had her once that night, but that one time had barely taken the edge off his need. Truth be fucking told, he could probably have her a dozen times, and he’d still want her just as badly.
With one hand, he reached back and locked the door, and then Sawyer was heading through her home. He knew the place, inside and out, just as he knew her. He maneuvered down her narrow hallway, and he kissed her deep and hard. He nipped her sexy lower lip and felt her shudder against him.
Too many clothes. He wanted her naked. He wanted a better taste of her. He wanted everything she had to give.
He carried her into her bedroom, not even feeling the pull of his wounds. Like pain would have slowed him down any. He saw that she’d lit a few big, thick, white candles. She’d been preparing for him.
Elizabeth did things like that. Little romantic, feminine touches that made his chest ache. Things that showed they weren’t some random hook-up. They were more.
The big, four-poster bed was waiting for him. She’d actually bought that bed just a month ago. The full-size one she’d had before just hadn’t been big enough for them both, and he liked staying in bed with her. Liked having her body wrapped around his as he slept.
It was the only time he truly felt at peace.
He lowered her to the floor. Her feet touched the lush carpeting and he backed away, moving so that he could strip. He yanked at his tie. Threw his jacket across the room. Sawyer kicked off his shoes and shoved away the rest of his clothes as fast as he could. He wanted to be flesh to flesh with Elizabeth.
She smiled at him as she reached back and unzipped her dress. It slid down her body. Pooled at her feet.
His breath hissed out. “No underwear at all.” The fact that she hadn’t worn panties had been sexy as all hell, but now he saw that she hadn’t been wearing a bra, too. Fuck. The woman wanted to bring him right to his knees. “Get on the bed, Elizabeth.”
Her smile came, slow and sexy, lighting up her dark eyes, and he wondered if she knew…did she have any clue just how much she owned him?
She eased onto the bed. “As your doctor, I have to say that you need to take things easy. Why don’t you lay down, and let someone else do all the work?”
His cock jerked. He could feel pre-cum on the tip. She was already pushing him to the edge. He climbed into the bed and spread out, and then she climbed right on top of him.
“I can do the work,” she said as her hands flattened against his chest. “Why not just enjoy the ride?” And she took him in. She was wet and hot and his dick slid deep into her. Elizabeth moaned, but caught herself, muffling the sound.
“Screw that,” he snarled as his hips shoved up against her. “It’s you and it’s me, and I want to hear every sound you have to make.”
Her eyes had closed, but at his words, they flew open. Her gaze zeroed in on him, and then she leaned forward. Her mouth opened and his tongue slid inside. His fingers rose to stroke her perfect breasts, teasing the tight tips, even as he felt her sex squeeze him in a white-hot grip.
He’d thought the first time with her had taken the edge off. Sawyer realized he’d just been wrong.
His hands clamped around her waist. He lifted her up and down, and she was arching to meet him, driving in the same wild rhythm. His heart pounded in his chest. The walls of her sex clamped greedily around him. His climax bore down on him, but Sawyer held back. There was no way he’d let go until she came for him.
His fingers slid between their bodies. He touched her clit, stroked her softly, then harder, just the way he knew she liked. He knew every damn thing about her body. Knew what made her moan. Made her shiver. His thumb and forefinger squeezed her clit, and she erupted, giving a sharp scream of his name—and he didn’t give a shit if her neighbors happened to overhear.
As soon as the pleasure overtook her, Sawyer tumbled Elizabeth back on the bed. He thrust into her, even as he lifted her legs high, spreading her even wider for him so he could plunge deeper. Faster and faster, he drove into her. The bed shuddered beneath him and her climax rippled along the length of his cock. Then he was coming—growling her name and holding her tight. So fucking tight.
Sex with Elizabeth. It was the best sex in the world. Because she was the best.
Sawyer’s eyes flew open. He came awake instantly, as was his habit. No slow awareness, no grogginess. Just a flash and he was fully awake and aware.
Aware that Elizabeth is gone.
He jerked upright in the bed, straining to see in the darkness. The candles had been blown out hours ago, and his eyes took a few precious moments to adjust to the darkness.
Then he saw Elizabeth. She stood in front of her window, gazing into the night.
“Baby?” He shoved away the covers and climbed from the bed. “What happened? Bad dream?” She had nightmares, dark dreams that she didn’t talk about with him. She’d cry out in fear. She’d cry out and say—
Don’t die! Don’t! Don’t leave me!
But her cries hadn’t woken him that night. Her absence had.
He reached out and touched her shoulder. She flinched but kept staring into the night.
“I think I’m Frankenstein.” Her voice was low and husky, and her words didn’t make any sense to him.
His hold tightened on her. “Doc, I’m the one covered with over a dozen scars. If anyone looks like a monster—”
She turned toward him. “Frankenstein was the one who made the monster. I don’t…I don’t even remember…did his monster have a name?”
He couldn’t see her eyes in the dark. And her voice held an emotion that he couldn’t decipher. “Baby, why are you up at…” His stare cut toward the clock on her bedside table. “At 3 a.m., talking about monsters?”
“Because I think I’m Frankenstein. I think people shouldn’t play God because you don’t know what you’re going to get.”
His body tensed. He knew Elizabeth was working on research efforts for Wright. Classified intel that he wasn’t supposed to be aware of but…
Landon had a big mouth. The guy talked too freely, and Sawyer had picked up enough to know that something very serious was happening in the labs back at headquarters.
“I’m scared of what I’m doing. I’m scared of what I am.”
His hand moved from her shoulder to her throat. He could feel the frantic beat of her pulse beneath his fingers. She was scared. “You don’t need to be afraid. I’ll protect you from any threat out there.”
“Even if I’m the threat?”
“You’re not. I know that. You’re good, Elizabeth. The best thing in my life.” Surely she understood that. He was blood and death and battles, but she was the hope that kept him going. No matter what shit-hole he was in, Elizabeth was his light. He came back from every mission because he was coming home to her.
“I…I can’t do it. I worked so long and so hard…” Her head tipped forward and her dark hair slid over his wrist. “The formula isn’t right, and I’m afraid of what will happen. I wanted to change the world. But I’m afraid—so afraid—it’s just going to get worse.”
He didn’t like her fear. Never had. Never would. “What can I do?” Simple. Something was wrong, so he’d fix it for her. His hand slid up her throat, and he curled his fingers under her chin. He tipped back her head and once again felt the soft slide of her hair over his skin. “I’ll make it better.”
“You can’t. Only I can.” She gave a soft sigh. “I will.”
He leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Come back to bed.” Because the mission had been a bitch, death had been too close—far closer than he’d let her know—and he wanted her in his arms.
Elizabeth didn’t argue. She walked with him to the bed. Slid under the covers, and then she curled her body against his. Sawyer was always amazed at how well she fit him.
Like she’d been made just for him.
Or maybe he’d been made just for her.
“I think Frankenstein wanted to help. I mean, that’s why he started making his monster in the first place, isn’t it? To help the world?” Her voice was sleepy and a little sad.
Sawyer made a mental note to read that freaking book, ASAP. He’d read it before, of course, back in high school—what felt like a million years ago.
“I want to help,” she whispered.
“You do.” You help me, baby. You make the world better just by being in it.
“Everything is just so wrong.”
The hell it was. “Nothing about us will ever be wrong.”
She didn’t speak again, and he realized that her breathing had evened out. She’d drifted to sleep. He kept holding her, and he stared up at the ceiling. He knew what would come next. What always came…
“Don’t!” Elizabeth’s voice was sharp. Desperate. Terrified. “Don’t die! Don’t! Don’t leave me!”
Sawyer pulled her closer to his body. “It’s okay. Just a bad dream.”
He stiffened. She’d never called for anyone specific before—certainly not her mother. The dreams had never gone this far.
“Dad! No! Stay with me!”
The pain in her voice gutted him. Sawyer shook her. “Elizabeth, wake up. It’s a bad dream.”
She gave a gasp and shuddered. “Sawyer?”
“Right here, baby. Always here.” Only, he wasn’t always there. When he was out on missions, he’d often think about her. Worry about her waking from her nightmares, all alone.
She’s not alone now.
“I had a bad dream.” Those, too, were words that she always said.
“I know.” His voice was gentle. With her, he found a gentleness that he hadn’t realized he’d possessed.
She cuddled close to him, and the sound of her breathing was ragged. She usually drifted back to sleep, and the nightmare didn’t come again, not until the next night.
But this time, her body remained tense.
“It wasn’t a dream.”
He swallowed and kept his light hold on her. “I know.” He’d suspected the truth for a long time, but she’d never talked with him about the nightmares, not even when he’d asked as carefully as he could.
“They both died.”
His hand was on her back. He stroked her spine.
“There was so much blood. I didn’t know how to save them. I was left with their bodies…for two days.”
“Two days at the bottom of that ravine. Two days while they stared at nothing, and I stared at them.”
His jaw ached because it was clenched so tightly.
His head turned. He pressed a kiss to her lips. There was so much pain—in those two words.
She didn’t speak again, and he didn’t let her go, not until dawn came.
One week later—just one week!—Sawyer sat on the exam table. Elizabeth stood in front of him, the stethoscope gripped in her hands, and anger fueling her blood. “This is ridiculous. You haven’t fully healed from your last mission. You cannot go out again now.” She knew her voice held a furious edge, but Elizabeth couldn’t control herself.
It was too soon. She’d just gotten him back. He wasn’t supposed to disappear into the field again. Too soon.
But his blue gaze just held hers. “I won’t be the one doing the ground work. I’ll be giving orders, safely away from the line of combat. Flynn will be the one leading in the field.”
His words didn’t make her feel better. There was an ache in her chest, and it wasn’t going away. The ache came each time he left, and it stayed until he returned.
Fumbling, she put the stethoscope to his chest. She listened to his heartbeat. Strong, fast. It was a beat that seemed to match her own.
“Don’t worry, doc, I’ll be back before you know it.”
She slid away from him. His hand flew out and curved around her wrist.
“I’ll always come back to you,” Sawyer told her, his voice low.
I love you. Those words were on the tip of her tongue. Elizabeth wanted to say them to Sawyer, but he was leaving. She had a job to do and, dammit, she hadn’t even told Landon or Wright that she was quitting. And now she couldn’t quit. Not until Sawyer was back. She had to stay there so she could remain updated on his mission. If she left now, she’d lose her link to Sawyer.
I can’t do that. I have to know he’s safe.
While he was gone, she’d continue working on Lazarus. Maybe…maybe she could fix the formula. Maybe it would get better.
When Sawyer returned…then she could plan. They could plan. They’d stop hiding their relationship. No more secrets.
She pulled her hand away from him. “I’ll need to run a few more tests before I give my approval on this mission.”
He smiled at her. His dimple winked.
“Be careful,” she told him, her voice barely a breath. “I want you returning back to me in one piece.” Then she turned on her heel and headed for the door. A nurse was waiting outside, and Elizabeth gave her a list of orders.
Her heart kept racing. Far too fast.
I’ll always come back to you. Her lips curled in a smile. One thing she’d learned about Sawyer—he kept his promises.
“Lazarus is a go.”
It took a few precious moments for those words to register in Elizabeth’s mind. She was bent over a microscope, her eyes on the slide, and she hadn’t even been aware that Landon was in the lab with her, not until—
“Did you hear me, Elizabeth?” Excitement sharpened Landon’s voice. “Lazarus is a go. Right the hell now!”
She spun toward him, nearly falling off her stool. “What?”
His cheeks were flushed. His eyes were almost wild behind the lenses of his glasses. “We’ve got test subjects. They’re on the way to lab five now. The bodies are being prepped for the injections.” He licked his lips. His breath came in little pants. “I figured you’d want to do the honors yourself, since this is your discovery—”
She bounded toward him and grabbed his lab coat, fisting it in her hands. “I told you the formula wasn’t ready yet.”
His gaze hardened. “Wright said it’s time. We have the perfect subjects. Lazarus is a go.”
No, no, Lazarus couldn’t be a go. For the last three weeks, she’d been working frantically on the project, but while the rats had reanimated and some had exhibited stable behavior, there were a million unknowns still at work. “There is no way we can experiment on humans—”
“They are dead, Elizabeth.” That was the argument he loved to throw at her. Impatience flashed on his face. “You can’t hurt the dead.”
She just stared at him. This isn’t happening.
Landon raked a hand over his face, then he smiled. “You can’t hurt them, but you can try to bring them back to life. These bodies were donated to science—that means these bodies are ours. And Wright gave the order. Lazarus is a go. So either you administer the injection…” His chest puffed out. “Or I will.”
She didn’t think her heart was beating. The whole world seemed to have stopped spinning. Landon’s voice was too loud. He was too close. She was still holding his lab coat too tightly.
“You worked on this for so long—long before Wright found you. Hell, it’s the reason he found you in the first place. He’d heard whispers about your early research. He gave you every resource that you could possibly want, and now you’re hesitating? Now?” His tone indicated Landon doubted her sanity.
And, yes, she was hesitating. “Because Lazarus isn’t ready.” How many times did she need to say that line? “The formula has to be perfect. It’s not yet. I’ve told you that. The test subjects—forget them. We can get others, later. We don’t need to rush.”
His gaze glittered down at her. “These are the perfect subjects. Wright wants us to begin the process now, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.” He turned away from her and marched from the room.
For a moment, Elizabeth just stood there, rooted to the spot. The formula was not ready. Why was Landon doing this? Why was Wright in such a damn hurry?
Breaking from her stupor, Elizabeth chased after Landon. “This is insane. You don’t rush something like this!”
“We’re not rushing a damn thing. You and I both know you’ve been working on Lazarus non-stop for years. Long before Wright. Long before me.”
Truth. But Lazarus isn’t ready. Maybe it should never—
“I’ve read over all your work, reviewed everything you’ve ever done…” He kept walking, but slanted a glance back her way. “And I know it’s ready. Despite what you say, I know.”
He didn’t. “No, it isn’t, I—”
“You’re worried about aggression. Right. Got it. But aggression isn’t a minus, not for Wright.”
She grabbed his arm, stopping him before he could walk into lab five. “Some of the rats killed each other.”
He offered her a grim smile. “They’re rats. Not people. But, for the record, humans kill each other plenty, too…and they don’t need Lazarus to do it.”
Outrage had her shaking. “My work—”
“Actually, it’s our work. Everything you create at this facility belongs to Wyman Wright, and you know it.” He pointed toward the lab door. Lab five. “Now, are you coming with me? Or do you really want to miss the single most important moment in your own life?”
He was an asshole. An absolute ass. “Landon—”
He strode inside lab five. She scrambled after him, and when she entered the lab, she stopped short at the sight of the armed guards. Four armed guards. “What’s happening? Why are they here?”
Landon picked up a chart. “Because in case any of that aggression that you mentioned manifests with these test subjects, I want to be prepared. I am taking precautions. I’m not some amateur. I am being careful.”
A dull ringing filled her ears.
Landon nodded as he read the notes in the chart, and then he looked back up at her. “This is your moment, Elizabeth. Don’t back away now.”
Her hands clenched at her sides. She eyed the exam tables. Two of them. Two tables with test subjects. She could see the bodies—they were covered with plain, white sheets. The syringes were already out—out, prepped, and waiting on a surgical tray next to each subject.
“There can’t be any degeneration to the tissue,” she heard herself say. “The subjects—”
“Their bodies were protected,” he assured her. “Exactly per your preservation protocol.”
Her right leg slid forward. She lurched toward the first patient.
“Glad to see you’re getting on board,” Landon murmured.
Her hand lifted and reached for the sheet. She wanted to see this man, she needed to see him—
Elizabeth stopped breathing as the sheet slid away from the first test subject’s head and revealed his face. Only she wasn’t staring down at a stranger.
That dark hair…that hard jaw…the high cheek bones…the lips…Lips that have kissed mine. No. No!
“S-Sawyer?” Her finger slid over his cheek. Ice cold. ”Sawyer!” Elizabeth yelled his name because Sawyer…he couldn’t be on that exam table. Sawyer couldn’t be cold, he couldn’t be lying there with his eyes shut. Sawyer couldn’t be dead.
“He was killed on the mission.” Landon’s voice was brisk. Totally devoid of any emotion. Like he was discussing the freaking weather. “Both he and operative Flynn Haddox didn’t survive.”
Flynn? Flynn, too? Dazed, feeling numb, she watched as Landon pulled the sheet off the second test subject’s face. Flynn.
“Wright knew these two men would be prime candidates for Lazarus, so he immediately ordered the preservation process to be utilized with their remains.”
No. No, no, no, no, no, no. “Flynn’s…dead. Sawyer’s… dead.” And she was breaking apart on the inside. She was touching Sawyer’s cold cheek and shattering because this—this was Sawyer. Her Sawyer. He’d said he would come back to her. He’d said he would always come back. But his eyes were closed, and his body was like ice. Tears slid down her cheeks.
“Obviously, they’re dead.” Now Landon was annoyed. “But if Lazarus works, they won’t stay that way. We’ll start with Sawyer first—”
His words pierced straight to her core. She whipped toward him. “Sawyer…no! We can’t use Lazarus on him!”
Landon frowned at her. “Why not? He’s the perfect specimen.”
He wasn’t a specimen! He was Sawyer. He was her lover. The man who held her when she had nightmares. The man who flashed his dimple to charm her. The man who—
He’s dead. He’s dead!
“His body is strong, he’s a warrior, exactly the kind of test subject that Wright wants in Project Lazarus. Sawyer is the ideal candidate. With his background and training, he’ll be the alpha for this group.”
She swiped at the tears on her cheeks. “Lazarus isn’t ready. You can’t—you can’t do this to him!”
“Do this?” Landon repeated as he blinked owlishly at her from behind the lenses of his glasses. “Sawyer Cage is dead, Elizabeth. We can either let him stay that way, or we can try and bring him back.” His jaw hardened. “You’re crying. Look, I get that it’s…difficult…because this is someone we both know—”
“But you had to realize the men here would make perfect subjects for the program. And if they died on a mission, well, isn’t this the natural next step for them?”
There was a nervous murmur from the nearby nurses. Two men and a woman. Both looked very, very uncomfortable. They should. Elizabeth realized her mouth was hanging open in shock. Sawyer is dead. He’s next to me, and he’s dead, and I’m breaking apart.
Landon edged closer to her. “Sawyer is dead. What we’re doing…we’re bringing him back.”
“What if he comes back wrong?” The question burst from her. “The Lazarus formula is not perfect and it’s—it’s Sawyer!” Pain crashed through her as more tears slid down her cheeks. “No, no, this is not happening. I can’t do this to him! I won’t—Sawyer isn’t some lab rat. He’s—”
Landon stared at her a moment longer. His gaze seemed cruel. His face too hard. And… “I feared you might respond this way,” he confessed as he lifted one brow and studied her assessingly. “Once you saw it was him. Unfortunate, but…it is what it is.” Then he motioned with one hand. “Guard, escort Dr. Parker out of the lab. She’s done here.”
Wait—what? The guard grabbed her, locking Elizabeth’s arms behind her. He yanked her back, hauling her toward the lab’s door.
“Stop it!” Elizabeth yelled. “Let me go, right now!”
But the guard only tightened his hold.
Landon reached for one of the pre-filled syringes. He shoved the sheet farther down Sawyer’s body. There would be two injections…one in the heart and one in the base of the brain. That was the protocol she’d created. “Don’t!” Elizabeth screamed. “Not to him!”
But… I want him back! Sawyer said he’d come back to me!
Landon put the long, sharp syringe needle over Sawyer’s chest. Then he plunged it into Sawyer’s heart.
The guard had dragged Elizabeth to the door. “Sawyer!” She dug in her heels, fighting with all of her strength.
Landon was already reaching for the second syringe. He moved behind Sawyer, placing the needle at the back of his head—
“Sawyer?” Elizabeth whispered. This was so wrong.
Landon looked up. “Don’t you want him back?”
More than anything. But I can’t—
Landon gave Sawyer the second injection.
“Stop! Let me go, please!” Elizabeth begged the guard.
Landon was frowning as he peered down at Sawyer. “Nothing is happening.”
The guard hauled Elizabeth into the hallway. A nurse slammed the door shut as soon as they were clear. But Elizabeth could see through the nearby glass viewing window of the lab. Landon was glaring down at Sawyer, and her lover—he was so still on that table. Dead.
“Stop,” Elizabeth whispered to the guard who kept pulling at her. “I need to see…”
The blonde nurse brought more needles to Landon. Landon grabbed one and injected the formula into Sawyer’s heart again.
No! Leave him alone!
The guard’s hold eased. Wrongly, he thought she wasn’t a threat any longer. She broke free, rushing as fast as she could and ripping the lab door open once more. “Don’t give him too much!” Elizabeth yelled. “Don’t—”
Landon administered another dose to Sawyer. “He’s not fucking moving. This doesn’t work.” Sweat covered his forehead. “I have to tell Wright this doesn’t work!”
The guard grabbed her again.
Sawyer was unresponsive. Sawyer was…dead.
Her heart felt like lead in her chest. The nurse shut the lab door once more, glaring, and the guard led Elizabeth down the hallway. His grip didn’t ease this time. Instead, it bruised. She looked back through the viewing window, staring at the inside of the lab, desperate for one last glimpse of Sawyer—
He sat up.
“Holy fuck,” the guard said as his hold on her tightened even more.
Her mouth dropped. Sawyer—back. I’ll always come back for you.
Landon was smiling. He was reaching for Sawyer. And Sawyer—
Sawyer threw Landon across the lab. Landon’s body smashed into the glass viewing window right near Elizabeth’s face.
The guards inside that lab room lunged to attack. They pulled their weapons. They fired.
But Sawyer didn’t stop. He ran right at them. He attacked, punching, kicking, taking their weapons—firing on them.
The nurses were racing for freedom. They screamed as they fled into the hallway.
Sawyer was still attacking the guards.
No, no, this couldn’t be happening! “I can stop him!” She glanced at the man who still held her, frantic. “I can stop him! Just let me go!”
The guard had gone absolutely white. He released her, not even bothering with a token fight. She ran back into that lab. Landon was trying to crawl for the door, and Sawyer…Sawyer had just fired once more at a guard who was on the floor.
“Sawyer!” Elizabeth yelled his name.
His head lifted. He still held the gun in his hand. His eyes immediately locked on her. But there was no recognition in his stare. No emotion. Nothing at all.
“Sawyer, put down the gun,” Elizabeth told him, her voice shaking.
He looked at the gun in his hand.
She crept closer to him. Behind her, Landon continued crawling toward the door.
“Put it down,” Elizabeth urged Sawyer. Her whole body trembled. “I know…I know this is confusing and scary, but I can help you. I will help you.” He’s not dead, not anymore. It worked. My formula worked. Sawyer is alive.
He glanced back up at her…and he…he aimed the gun at her.
Elizabeth froze. “Sawyer? It’s…it’s me.”
His eyelids didn’t so much as flicker. He stared at her with zero recognition.
“Shoot him!” Landon suddenly bellowed.
Her head whipped back as she looked over her shoulder. The guard who’d dragged her from the lab now stood in front of Landon. The guard’s quivering fingers held a gun—and that gun was aimed right at Sawyer.
“No!” Elizabeth cried.
But the guard’s fingers were squeezing the trigger. Elizabeth threw her body forward, trying to protect Sawyer. She’d just gotten him back. She couldn’t lose him…even if…
Even if he’s a monster?
I’m Frankenstein, and I made the monster…
Pain hit her, burning right through Elizabeth. She called out Sawyer’s name as she fell.
I’ll always come back for you.
Sawyer was the last thing she saw. He was staring down at her with his stormy blue gaze—a gaze that held zero recognition…and no emotion at all.
Wyman Wright smiled as he watched the video feed. “Excellent test run.” He nodded to his guards. “Release the gas. When everyone is knocked out, you can remove the first test subject. Sawyer Cage should be transferred to the Lazarus facility immediately.” His fingers tapped against his desk. “Go ahead and move Flynn Haddox, too.”
In the live feed, Sawyer was still holding the gun. He was also still staring down at Dr. Elizabeth Parker. Landon and the guard who’d just fired were trying to back out of the lab.
“Sir…” The man behind Wyman cleared his throat. “Should we…should we go ahead and inject Flynn Haddox before removal? His body did go through the preservation process.”
Wyman smiled. “We are absolutely going to inject him.” Elizabeth had done it. She’d brought back the dead. Talk about a fucking miracle.
And a perfect weapon.
Elizabeth didn’t know that he’d altered her formula, just a bit. Landon had been only too happy to make the changes, per Wyman’s instructions. He’d needed a soldier who came back with a strong desire to hunt. To destroy.
A soldier with no emotions.
Smoke began to fill lab five. Not smoke, though—gas. A very powerful gas that would knock out the newly risen Sawyer Cage.
The gun fell from Sawyer’s fingers. He staggered forward, and then he sagged to his knees…right beside Dr. Elizabeth Parker.
Elizabeth’s shirt was soaked with blood.
“I might need her,” Wyman said, frowning. Her mind would be a terrible thing to lose. “Get medics in there.”
Sawyer reached out to Elizabeth. His hand pressed to her chest. He shuddered.
Then he collapsed, his body falling on top of hers.
When the medics rushed into the lab, their faces covered by masks, they dragged Sawyer off Elizabeth. Surprisingly, he roused enough to fight them…
And to try and hold tight to Elizabeth Parker.
Wyman leaned toward his monitor, watching the feed avidly. “Now isn’t that interesting…”
As far as Wyman was concerned, the experiment had been a full success, and things were truly just getting started.