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    PROLOGUE

    GYPSY RUM MCQUADE, AGE FIFTEEN

    Gypsy stared at the file her Coyote abductors had possessed. Stained by dirty fingers, the edges wrinkled, pictures half sticking out of it. The file lay on the wood box in front of the rough pallet of sleeping bags she sat on, its very presence a testament that what had happened had not been a mistake.

    Atop the pictures sticking out of the manila file was the most loathsome. The weak link, they had called her. The one their contact had assured them would do something stupid enough to allow her to be caught.

    It was a picture of her.

    A picture of her, then one of her brother, Mark.

    Laughing Mark, with his dark green eyes, light brown hair and everready smile.

    His picture was beneath hers, along with pictures of her sister, Kandy Sweet, and her parents, Hansel and Greta McQuade. Thank God they were out of town, out of reach . . . out of danger. Now she wished she had gone with them, wished she had begged her parents to take her with them rather than staying behind because of that damned party.

    Her abductor, Grody, had snickered and told her that she was known to be her brother’s only weakness. Poor Mark, he’d sighed. To have such a liability must be a terrible curse.

    She wouldn’t have been such a liability if she had just gone with her parents as they had asked.

    “Gypsy?” A Breed, taller than the others who now filled the cavern, spoke her name softly.

    Jonas.

    He was Jonas Wyatt.

    He was the director of the Bureau of Breed Affairs.

    He and his Breeds had saved her.

    In those seconds just before the Coyote would have raped her, she had seen the Breed who had come in with him and fired the shot that killed Grody as other Breeds fired on Grody’s companions.

    But they hadn’t arrived in time to save Mark.

    She stared up at Jonas, her eyes sore, her throat raw from screaming.

    Her face hurt where the Coyote had hit her, and the rest of her body was bruised and aching, but none of it compared to how bad it hurt inside her heart. There was no agony that could come close to the agony of losing the one person in the world who had loved Gypsy Rum McQuade, just because she was Gypsy Rum McQuade.

    Gypsy knew she should thank Jonas and his Breeds for coming when they did, but at that moment, all she wanted to do was hate him for not being there sooner.

    She couldn’t hate him, though.

    She had seen the grief, the pain in his eyes as he and the other Breeds had torn the dead Coyotes from where they had fallen around her.

    At least she was covered now.

    The Breed who had killed the Coyote preparing to rape her had been there when the dead Breed had been dragged from her. He’d obviously stripped off his T-shirt quickly. He was bare chested beneath his tactical vest, the black shirt normally worn with the mission uniform in his hand. He’d shoved it into a female Breed’s hands and ordered her harshly to get it on her as his mesmerizing gaze had touched hers, the blue spreading across his eyes, filling even the whites for the briefest second before they were normal once again.

    Or perhaps she had just imagined the completely blue orbs. She wished she had just imagined the rest of the night.

    The shirt was way too big for her, but it covered her. And it was warm, warm enough that her teeth weren’t chattering anymore. The scent that clung to it wrapped around her, and it comforted her. She wouldn’t have thought anything could comfort her now, let alone a long black T-shirt with the Bureau of Breed Affairs insignia on the left breast that smelled a little bit like chocolate and peppermint.

    It was like invisible arms wrapped around her, and she imagined it was all that kept her from just drifting away and not existing anymore.

    The warmth of the shirt, the softness of it, enclosed her. Like a wall around her. A shield that kept away the world.

    At least for now.

    Maybe, in this shield, she thought, she could find a way to just slip back to that time when the nightmares didn’t exist anymore.

    “I want to go home.” She hadn’t meant to say the words. They seemed such a travesty. But maybe, there she could find a way to make it better.

    She wanted to find a way to make this night not exist and to bring her brother’s laughter back.

    She wanted to just go to sleep and not have to ever wake up again. Maybe then, she could just dream. She could dream of what life was like before she’d slipped out of the house to go to a party that didn’t really matter.

    Distantly, in some unfocused part of her mind, she wondered if that was how these Breeds had felt when they were held captive? Tortured?

    God, how had they kept fighting? Kept trying to survive?

    Had they just found a place in their heads where the pain hadn’t happened yet? Could she do that too?

    “You can go home soon, Gypsy. A heli-jet’s picking your parents up now,” Jonas assured her.

    The news jerked her out of her numbness for a moment. She flinched at the surge of agony that pierced her soul.

    Oh God, how was she going to face her parents?

    The fact that they were coming wasn’t of any comfort to her. They would come here to get her.

    They would see Mark’s body in the dirt outside the cavern.

    They would see the blood that had soaked into the ground and stained the hands of the huge Coyote Breed who had killed him.

    The blood that had been smeared over her face and br**sts as the Coyote’s laughter shredded her soul.

    Those Coyotes were all dead now, she reminded herself desperately. They couldn’t come back. They couldn’t hurt anyone anymore.

    It wasn’t enough compensation for the loss of her brother, though.

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