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The other man struggled for breath as a trail of blood began to seep from his nostrils. “Tell no one but Lyons.”
Jorn suddenly gripped the sleeve of Barrett’s jacket. “Swear it. Not even Kella can know. None but Lyons can know the truth.”
“None but Lyons,” Barrett agreed, knowing it was a secret he would have to break. There were no secrets from Kella, from his heart. What he knew, his Kella always knew.
“What Kella knows, she’ll tell my lovely Jess. Jess will tell her momma—” He began coughing, blood spraying from between his parted lips.
“I’ll hold the secret, Jorn. No one will threaten my child.”
“My Khi,” Jorn wheezed again, his blue eyes desperate and filled with such aching sadness and fury that for a moment, Barrett was certain sheer will would hold his friend to earth.
Then his eyes closed.
“I swear Khileen as well, Jorn. I’ll protect her as I would protect my own. I swear it.”
A tear slipped free—how could it not, now?—this was his dearest friend, the brother he’d never known until Jorn came into his life.
A peaceful expression filled Jorn’s face then. “Aye then, I can go now,” he whispered. “I can go.”
“Jorn, please God, not yet—”
And just that quickly—
Barrett clenched his teeth, baring them in a snarl of naked agony before quickly gathering his daughter to his chest and rising to his feet.
He and Jorn had practiced this escape a million times over the past days. Getting in, getting the child, then getting out. They’d practiced getting out together, and they’d practiced escaping alone.
Had Jorn somehow known they’d never escape together?
Holding his daughter close to the warmth of his body, Barrett ran quickly for the other side of the room and the steel wall. Once there, he quickly pressed his hand against the Genetics Council symbol emblazoned on the wall and waited impatiently for the entire wall to move and reveal the hidden exit.
Sliding through the narrow opening, he pressed his hand against the matching emblem on the other side, waited for the door to close, then rushed through the hidden tunnel.
All the while, the child he carried slept deeply, untouched by the horror that echoed in blood-curdling screams on the other side of the room. Or the snarls and animalistic fury that caused them. All that mattered was getting his child out of there, and hiding her. Hiding her secret.
A recessive Wolf Breed.
Perfect human looks, straight, perfectly human canines, her animal genetics so deeply recessed that even the most advanced genetic testing hadn’t picked up the fact that she was a creature of science rather than of nature.
The files Jorn had found had been stamped TOP SECRET, SINGLE COPY. There were no duplicates. Hopefully, there were truly no other copies, no other information to label her as a Breed rather than a human.
As far as the world would know, she was the daughter of Kella’s cousin. Orphaned, alone in the world, and now adopted by the O’Sullivans.
His and Kella’s.
Rushing into the dreary rain and fog that surrounded the underground labs, Barrett ran to the ground-hugging all-terrain vehicle he and Jorn had hidden the night before.
The armored Sergeants Dragoon sat low to the ground. It was built for speed and agility, with minimal onboard weapons. It was parked exactly where they had left it, buried beneath the natural hearty evergreen boughs of the Lawson’s Cypress they’d covered it with.
Throwing open the back passenger door and hurriedly lifting the seat to reveal the padded hiding space beneath, Barrett placed his daughter inside before replacing the cover. Closing the door quietly, he moved to the driver’s seat, slid inside and started the vehicle.
Before pulling out, his gaze slid to the hidden back entrance of the labs and for the briefest moment, he could have sworn he saw Jorn.
Just as quickly, the shadow of his friend was gone, the fog parting to reveal the straggled growth of a bare tree instead.
It wasn’t Jorn.
His boyhood friend was gone forever.
* * *
The young woman standing next to him bore most of his weight, her strength all that kept him on his feet.
“I’m dyin’, lass. Let me go in peace,” he whispered, regret piercing him as he stared into the wild neon color of those incredible amber eyes. This wee lass who had risked her own life, her own secrets, to tell him of the child they had ordered to be terminated. The child of the man he owed so much to.
And now he’d done gone and done it, as his wee Khileen was wont to say. Aye, he’d done gone and done it. For good this time.
God, the pain was hell. His chest felt as though it were split open, his heart exposed, a raw gaping wound and now exposed to air.
“I can’t do that,” she whispered, all but dragging him along a worn path until he stumbled, nearly taking her to the ground with him.
Suddenly, stronger, broader hands caught him, dragging him into a sheltering darkness before laying him out on a padded floor.
Jorn stared around at the Breeds—he knew they were Breeds. Breeds unlike any he’d ever seen before. These Breeds, they were the stuff of rumor, of horrifying tales of slow, agonizing deaths. They were the ones whose genetics had never fully progressed past the animal state.
“Nephilim,” he whispered.
Men who were animals.
Animals who were men.
There was no true description of these men. The myth of the Breed Nephilim was that they were the product of experiments gone awry that the Genetics Council had studied, experimented upon, then lost control of.
They were crouched around him as he felt whatever they had dragged him into suddenly moving. Lifting?
“Why?” he whispered, directing his question to the one he knew was the leader. There were such legends of these creatures. Greater even than those of the winged breeds in the Americas that groups of soldiers and scientists hunted with such dedication.
One of the creatures gripped his arm, turned it palm outward, while another pushed an old-fashioned syringe into the vein. He could feel the burn of whatever medication was shot into his system as it began to speed through his veins. He tracked it. Through his arm, his shoulder—
“What are you doing? Why are you doing this?” he rasped, directing his question to the leader as he crouched at Jorn’s side.
Nephilim, he thought again. The true terror of the Breeds.