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“What the hell is going on?”
“You’ll find out soon enough.” Taber jerked away from him and strode to the door. He jerked it open then slammed it behind him.
Callan turned his back on him. Kane shook and lowered his head.
“Dawn’s the same as his sister,” Jonas said then. “You’ve made your intentions clear where Dawn is concerned. We’re going to show you, Mr. Lawrence, the battle you have ahead of you. Every soldier should be prepared for the war he’s going to face. Wouldn’t you agree?”
He pressed the remote, and the viewing screen on the wall behind the desk flared to life. Jonas kept his back to it and watched Seth.
There was no need for an explanation. He saw the number that flashed on the screen, the date, time, subject. Cougar Breed Female, six years of age. Listed number 7.036. They held the child to a cold metal table and branded the numbers on her hip.
The screams that filled the room had Seth stepping back, his fists clenching, rage shattering through his head. But if that was hard to watch, what came later would scar his soul for life. He couldn’t turn away. He wouldn’t turn away. She had endured hell and he loved her to his last breath. She had lived through it, he could do no less.
He loved her. He already knew he loved her. He ached for her. He would kill for her, and he would have given his own life to have saved her from the dark brutality the monsters that created her had taped. Number 7.036. Age six. Age ten. Ah, God. Ah, God. Age thirteen. So tiny. So f**king tiny she looked like a doll as those bastards raped her. Sweet merciful Jesus. His guts cramped with pain, everything inside him howled with rage, and hopelessness filled him.
They strapped her to a cold, steel table. Metal restraints at her neck, her arms, her thighs and ankles. She strained against them, she fought them until blood seeped from beneath the edges and ran down her fragile limbs.
She screamed. She begged for God, and they laughed at her. Laughed at her and told her God didn’t care about Breeds, and then they tore into her helpless, fragile body. The images flickered through those first thirteen years of her life in a matter of minutes. A collage of brutal, horrifying flashes. Of abuses that should have killed her. Twenty minutes of the most horrific nightmares that could be inflicted on the female body. On a child. When they winked off, no one moved. No one spoke. Seth continued to stare at the now-dark screen, seeing the child she had been in the woman she was now. The dark eyes flashing with nightmares, with pain each time she looked at him, each time she realized what he wanted from her. What he needed from her.
He tried to swallow, and couldn’t. He blinked back moisture. Fuck, tears. He hadn’t shed a tear in more years than he could remember. And he hated his father more than he ever had in his life. His father and Lawrence Industries had helped fund those monsters before Seth took over. They had helped pay for the brutality committed against the woman who held his soul. The woman he could never have.
Seth finally managed to work up enough saliva to swallow, to force his vocal cords to work. Callan turned back from the closed window, his expression heavy with grief as he watched Seth. And now Seth understood why Taber had refused to stay.
He had never felt pain so deep, so intense as he felt it now. Agony that resonated through every part of his soul, that tore through his heart, his very spirit, like a jagged dagger, ripping pieces of his being to shreds.
“I love her,” he whispered.
“And we’re aware that an anomaly known within Breed physiology called ‘mating heat’ has begun showing in both of you. Dawn’s blood is already showing the presence of minute quantities of the hormone released during this. It’s like an aphrodisiac, Mr. Lawrence; it creates an arousal so strong that the mating pair can’t deny it. It’s something we’re desperate to keep quiet until we can understand it and find a way to control it. In Dawn, it could be destructive, mentally and emotionally. You saw the images. You saw what they did to her, both with the drugs and without. At this time, none of us believes it’s something she can endure. Had the atrocities ended there, perhaps she could have healed. Perhaps. But once Callan rescued them, unknown to him, their pride brother, Dayan, festered the memories inside her to control her. She was brutalized within the labs, and later, outside them. She’s had less than a year to come to grips with true freedom, and she’s making incredible progress. None of us want to see that progress experience a setback. None of us who love her, that is.”
Seth stared back at Jonas, feeling the icy knowledge that what the other man said was no less than the truth.
“Should Sanctuary require anything of Lawrence Industries, you have only to contact my assistant.” He moved to the door, opened it and stared back at them. “Should Dawn need anything, I, personally, expect to know immediately.”
He moved from the room, closed the door carefully behind him, then came to an abrupt stop. The child who stood before him was the same one who had run so courageously from the estate house months before and thrown herself into the back of the limo Seth had been riding within. Little Cassie Walker Sinclair, with her thick black hair and too-solemn little face. There was a smidgen of chocolate at the side of her mouth, and her big eyes stared up at him sadly. She had just returned to Sanctuary, coming ahead of her mother and stepfather in advance of her mother’s release from the hospital.
He couldn’t speak to her; instead, he moved to go around her.
“Seth.” Her little girl voice was eerie, filled with compassion, heartbreaking in its gentleness. Seth turned back to her, cleared his throat and tried to speak. He couldn’t.
“She’ll come to you,” Cassie whispered then. “When she awakens.”
Seth shook his head, watching her, seeing the odd glow that came to those spooky eyes.
“Who, Cassie?” She was a strange little girl, but adorable. Innocent.
“Dawn,” she said softly. “Let her awaken before you give up on her.”
Fuck. He’d heard rumors, whispers of this kid’s strange knowledge, her sometimes spooky advice. He shook his head, believing them now.
“She’ll come to you.” Her smile was sad. “And you’ll both hurt. Remember that, Seth. You’ll both hurt. But she’ll be whole then.”
Then she turned and walked slowly down the hall to the curved staircase and down the stairs. Seth felt a chill race up his spine, freezing his insides with the knowledge that Dawn would never come to him. He waited, then followed slowly, moving to the marble foyer and turning to stare back at the entrance to the stairs that led to the infirmary. Where Dawn was under the doctor’s care. Where she was hurt. Where she lay alone, wounded, without him.