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    PROLOGUE

    General Cyrus Tallant sat in his office with only his desk lamp for light, his gaze trained tearfully on the picture he held in his hands.

    His daughter. His little Schemer.

    His lips turned up in a sad smile as he thought of the name. It had been his idea, of course, to name her Scheme. He’d been unable to help himself. The moment he held her tiny body in his arms, he had known she would be a little manipulator.

    And he had been proud. Proud of the chocolate brown eyes, the thick sable hair, the way she stared up at him as though wondering, even then, how she could maneuver this male to her benefit.

    A watery chuckle whispered through the room. She had been quick and calculating, just as he was, just as her mother was. Unfortunately, perhaps she was too much like her mother.

    Sweet Dorothy. She had conspired against him. She had helped those nasty Breeds escape. The ones who tormented him now. Callan Lyons and the small pride he led. She had aided their escape and the destruction of the New Mexico labs when Scheme was barely ten.

    He should have known then that his child had been corrupted by Dorothy’s sudden attack of scruples. Dorothy had spent much time with Scheme. She had bonded with her as only a mother can. He admitted he should have suspected his daughter had inherited that lack of the mental strength that it took to do what must be done. To force the Breeds to heel to their masters.

    And now Dorothy’s legacy had carried over to his precious child.

    He wiped at the tear that fell slowly from his eyes.

    She meant to destroy him. And if she managed to actually contact Jonas Wyatt, then she would destroy him. He couldn’t allow that to happen. He couldn’t allow her to escape to the creatures she had obviously been secretly helping for years.

    Luck had aided him this time. He had managed to draw Wyatt out of Washington; all he had to do now was take care of his daughter.

    Kill her.

    He gazed around his office. He should have taken care of it before she left for the party where she intended to betray him, but he just hadn’t found the strength.

    He couldn’t kill her in the home she had grown up in. Where he had played with her as a toddler, laughed with her before the years she spent at the Academy.

    He couldn’t spill her blood in the home where she had been born. It wasn’t right.

    He lifted his head and gazed across his desk at the man still awaiting his orders.

    Chazzon St. Marks was an excellent assassin. Stealthy, never leaving evidence, and always following orders. One couldn’t ask for a better killer.

    And it was because of this man that his daughter so hated him. Perhaps he had been wrong, he mused silently, to order Chaz to become her lover all those years ago. To steal his daughter’s heart and learn her secrets.

    Not that Chaz had learned much. Just her suspicion that Cyrus had murdered her mother, her regret that she had grown up without that bitch’s influence. Her dreams of a life away from him.

    And then she had conceived.

    Chaz was a good killer; he wasn’t heir material though. And Cyrus couldn’t allow a grandchild to be born of him. Especially a grandson.

    As her father, he had made the decision to have the child aborted.

    She had never understood, Cyrus realized now, that he was looking out for her. That he was trying to guide her, to lead her.

    “Do you regret the child?” he asked Chaz.

    Cold, cold blue eyes stared back at him as hard lips tilted mockingly. “I drugged her for you. If I had wanted the brat, I would have taken her and run.”

    Yes, he would have. Chaz gave his loyalty freely. He wasn’t above taking anything if it suited his whims. It was one of the things Cyrus respected about him.

    “Do we have proof?” Grief weighed on him.

    He had punished her many times over the years in his efforts to train her, to strengthen her and teach her the value of giving him her loyalty. He had been hard on her, he admitted. Once, he had even killed her, to teach her the meaning of death. The punishment should she betray him. He hadn’t had proof then, only suspicion, and the weight of remorse had grown inside him each time Scheme stared back at him with accusation in her eyes.

    He couldn’t kill her permanently without proof. Those accusing brown eyes would haunt him for eternity if he did such a thing. He needed to know for certain.

    “Her ID was logged into the message relay system. She took great pains to erase her tracks, but I found proof of it.” Chaz handed him the ID log.

    It was there in black and white. Her attempts to erase her presence from the relay system and to destroy the message that they knew had been sent to the Bureau of Breed Affairs earlier that day. A message requesting asylum from Jonas Wyatt. It had been sheer luck that his spy had been in the offices in Washington when that message came through. Cyrus restrained his sigh, his regret. “She obviously didn’t have the time to do the job right,” he murmured. He knew well that she could have done it, given time.

    “And I would suspect she knows that. She thought she had destroyed enough of the internal memory to give her the time she needed instead to get to Jonas Wyatt. She’s our spy, Cyrus. It’s time to admit it. The question is, what information did she take with her? Do you think she knows about the kidnapping of the Breed child?”

    Admit it. He had suspected it several times. He had tortured his own child to force the admission out of her, only to fail each time. For years he had hated himself, felt flayed by the guilt of it, only to learn she had been more deceptive than even he had believed possible.

    The beatings he had ordered. The times he had buried her alive. The one time he had allowed her to die before quickly reviving her. Because he suspected her. Because he was desperate to turn back the tide of her possible betrayal and to avoid the need for her death.

    Cyrus lifted his gaze to the oil painting on the far wall. His Scheme, resplendent in fiery silk, curled in his office chair. Long sable hair cascaded over her shoulder, dark lashes shielded the expression in her eyes. He pretended often that she hid her love for him there. Her understanding.

    “It doesn’t matter what she knows. Our agent is in close enough now that taking the child will be no problem. She won’t know the exact date, only an approximation. Telling them won’t affect the outcome.”

    But she knew other things. Things she might not have proof of, but that could destroy him anyway.

    “She’s a liability now, Cyrus. You’ve made the right decision,” Chaz assured him.

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