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    Fiery red hair surrounding a gently sculpted face, added spark and fire to her eyes, and the look of her had his back teeth clenching as he fought unsuccess-fully to drag his gaze away. Back to her feet. Where the tip of one small black shoe peeked out beneath her dress. The dress flowed around her, drifted and moved like a whisper as though teasing him, tempting him to brush it from her legs to see all the pale, beautiful flesh he knew it hid.

    Damn, if she didn't draw his gaze like a hidden flame, one he was certain would erupt into a conflagration. He forced his gaze away then, far away, not even looking at her feet but at her slender, graceful fingers. She wore no rings. No adornments. As though proclaiming to the world no ties and no bonds. She was as free as the wind yet restrained by some force inside her.

    And she was moving toward him.

    Noble let his gaze move to her face once again, a frown edging at his brows, a sense of foreboding rasping at the back of his neck at the look on her face.

    Perhaps he should have paid more attention to her face. Because there was an edge of fear in those odd, blue-ringed gray eyes and the pinched line of her lips. Her face was pale, but her chin was lifted in determination and purpose.

    His gaze moved around the room then. She had come out of the hall and into the ballroom no more than minutes after Phillip Brackenmore and Horace Engalls had entered, the two pharmaceutical and drugresearch magnates.

    "Noble." She all but whispered his name, and he heard the sound, that soft hint of longing he wondered if she even knew was in her voice, at the same moment he glimpsed the entrance of the ballroom from his peripheral vision.

    He gripped her arm and jerked her behind him, ignoring her soft little cry as orders began to snap into the communications link at his ear.

    "You stay!" He jerked her to the corner and pushed her into the little alcove created by the fronds of several potted plants. He pushed her to the floor and pointed his finger to her pale face. "Stay till I come for you. Understand?"

    She nodded quickly even as he turned away and began snapping orders to other guests, herding them quickly from the confrontation brewing at the ballroom's entrance and into the buffet room.

    Why he hadn't pushed little Miss Haley McQuire into the more secure room, he couldn't explain. It was something about her eyes, that edge of fear, and the fact that she had entered after Bracken-more and Engalls more than anything else.

    Or it could have been that niggle of insanity that he had been trying to ignore for months.

    "Librarian Haley McQuire is secured in the far left corner of the ballroom, leave her in place," he spoke into the small mic that curved along his cheek as he helped secure the ballroom.

    "She's a hazard in the ballroom," he was told, Rule's voice cold. "Get her with the others."

    "Negative," he refused the order. "Something isn't right with that, Rule. I want her separated for her own safety."

    He heard the tension in the line. "For now," Rule finally snapped. Moments later, several things happened at once. A breed female enforcer distracted Dr. Ely Morrey, and Jonas jerked the gun from Ely.

    "Move in on Brackenmore and Engalls," Rule ordered through the comm link. "Secure them and get ready to move them out."

    Noble moved toward the two, staring back at them with cold, brutal determination. They were involved with whatever was going on. Involved in trying to control and kill breeds. The bastards needed to die now, not later.

    "Please come with me, Mr. Brackenmore, Mr. Engalls," he requested, his voice carefully bland, unemotional. He wanted to kill rather than react politely.

    Those damned animal genetics. He could feel the blood he needed to spill for the threat this man represented to the breeds.

    "What the hell is going on here?" Brackenmore blustered, as Noble gripped his arm and began to move him, his wife, and Engalls to the entrance, waiting for the final go-ahead from Rule to escort them from the estate.

    "Director Wyatt will discuss this with you soon I'm certain." Noble flashed his canines in a tight, hard smile as he watched the other breeds filling the room, keeping a careful barrier between the guests and the clean-up of the situation that had just arisen.

    Felines weren't the only ones in attendance. Noble watched as Wolf Gunnar, pack leader of the wolves, conferred with Del-Rey, pack leader of the coyotes, to direct their own security forces in concert with the felines'.

    The pre-Thanksgiving party Sanctuary hosted every year had never been so exciting. Now if they could just make certain they kept the damned journalists contained.

    "Noble, give Brackenmore and the others to Mordecai. I want you to contain your librarian and get her sequestered," Jonas said into the link seconds later. "We have a security report from surveillance that she may have been close to a meeting between Brackenmore, Engalls, and one of the lab assistants earlier in the hallway."

    Noble's head jerked in her direction. He could still see the very edge of her skirt peeking out from where he had pushed her.

    The Coyote breed, Mordecai, his face scarred, his icy blue eyes filled with death, took Brackenmore and the others, and Noble strode across the ballroom quickly.

    Haley was still huddled there and stared back at him, her eyes wide and touched with courage and trepidation. He held his hand out to her and watched as she lifted hers, her fingers trembling as he gripped them.

    "They're monsters," she whispered, and though her eyes were dry, sorrow filled them. "Noble, they're monsters."

    The fine hairs along his body lifted in warning, but even worse, the spots along his shoulders began to tingle in foreboding. She knew something. In that moment he knew, she had seen or heard something that could possibly get her killed.

    Chapter 1

    THREE WEEKS LATER

    DECEMBER 7

    The winter storm heading for the Virginia mountains is €slated to pile on the snow. We're looking at up to ten inches possible before nightfall, with another ten to fifteen over the next two days. The moisture we're tracking . . ."

    Haley turned off the television and stared at the black screen in satisfaction as she forced herself not to smile in glee at the thought of snow.

    She tugged at the snug cuffs of her cheery red cotton blouse instead and turned to her assistant, Patricia. Nearing fifty, but as spry as a woman fifteen years younger, Patricia looked displeased over the weather forecast. Dressed in dark brown tailored slacks and a matching sweater, Patricia had a smile that always brightened the darker hues of the clothing she wore.

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