Oh, God. It’s me. I’m going to die.
What would Kira do after he was gone?
She’ll grieve, but she’ll be okay, in time. Nick and the others will take care of her. I know it.
Heart heavy, he went to the bedroom where his mate napped so peacefully. So pretty and innocent in sleep. His angel.
If they were alone, he’d make love to her until they had to leave. As it was, he contented himself with holding her in his arms, settling her head on his chest. Cuddling was loving, too, just as much as sex.
He kissed the top of her blond head. “I love you, baby. Always.”
Mumbling, she snuggled closer. He counted himself a lucky man.
For a few more hours, he’d have everything he’d never known he wanted, until it was too late.
It would have to last an eternity.
Nick and Jax were acting weird.
As the team got ready to move just before midnight, Kira watched the two men speaking only when necessary, avoiding looking at each other directly. A couple of times, though, she caught the boss staring at her or Jax when he thought they weren’t aware. Several times she tried to get one of them alone to learn the source of the tension, but with all the activity around them, it was impossible.
The most she and her sexy mate managed was a quick kiss as they left the suites behind and headed for the vans. In the parking garage, they divided into the same two groups riding together as before, and were off in a matter of minutes.
Jax clutched her hand for the short ride. No one spoke. The nicer, chic area north of Dallas soon gave way to the sparse, depressing run-down south side, with its haphazard mix of old apartment units, single frame homes, and businesses. Kira could see why Chappell and his goons would move at least part of their operation to this location—nobody in their right mind would want to hang out in this place. Even the police.
Hammer pulled onto a side street, parked right behind the first van, and said a quick prayer. “Lord, please watch over our tires and rims. Amen.”
Jax and his friends snorted with laughter, and Kira smiled at the grim humor. Hammer never had too much to say, but when he did, it was either really funny, or really important. In this case, it was both.
She climbed out after Jax and he swept her into a prolonged hug, holding her against him as though he never wanted to let her go. A barrage of his emotions hit her at once—fear, regret, anger, and most of all, love. Pulling back, she searched his face, but his expression revealed nothing of the turmoil below the surface. She opened her mouth to ask him what was wrong, but he cut her off.
“Stay here and stay safe with Melina and Mac,” he said. “I’ll be back before you know I’m gone.”
His kiss eliminated any further protest. She told herself she was worrying for no reason. His powers had returned and this wasn’t his first rodeo. The whole team was there to watch one another’s backs. Her mate would be fine.
“I’ll be waiting,” she said softly. “I love you.”
“I love you more.” His mouth quirked into a grin and then he turned to join his team.
As the hottest group of men she’d ever laid eyes on started out for their destination, the one who owned her heart gave her a wink over his shoulder.
Then he vanished into the night.
“Hey, he’ll be okay,” Mac said, putting an arm around her shoulder.
“Something’s wrong.” The words were wrenched from her soul. She’d never been so certain of anything.
“Trust him. You’ll be snuggled together by dawn, after this is all over.”
“Mac, I feel cold,” she said quietly. “I just watched the love of my life walk away and I didn’t do anything to stop him.”
“But, honey, you couldn’t have. Those guys are closer than brothers and where one goes, they all go. You might as well get used to it.”
“I know. I’m sure I will, eventually.” She gave Mac a brave smile, but wasn’t feeling it. This op was big trouble. She could feel it in her bones.
Bad shit was going down, and she wouldn’t relax until Jax was safely in her arms again.
“I don’t like this. It’s too quiet,” Aric hissed.
Ryon rolled his eyes. “It’s after one in the morning and there’s, like, nobody here except us. You were expecting a marching band?”
“Smartass. I got a bad feeling is all I’m saying.”
“Goes with the territory of breaking and entering. Ready?”
“Shit, yeah. Let’s get this over with.”
“Be careful,” Nick told them.
Ryon gave them a thumbs-up and the pair disappeared around the corner, headed to the back of the building and the fire escape. From there, they’d scale to the roof.
Jax and his group kept to the shadows, pressed next to the building at a side entrance, waiting. Eight minutes later, Ryon’s voice pushed into their collective consciousness.
Roof is secure. Let’s kick ass!
Nick and Hammer positioned themselves on each side of the door, guns drawn. Jax delivered a punishing kick, busting in the door with one try, a feat he wouldn’t have been able to accomplish if he was still human. Nick and Hammer led the team inside. They ran at a fast clip down the side corridor and into the lobby.
Where there was no security guard at the desk.
The group fanned out, circling, eyeing the large space. Nothing moved.
“The alarm isn’t going off,” Nick snapped.
Fear shot down Jax’s spine. They’d lived this scene before. Oh, God, it’s a trap!
“It’s a setup!” he yelled. “Get out—”
Figures burst from the shadows all around them, became armed men bringing up their weapons. Flashes of gunfire erupted, the noise deafening in the open lobby. Nick and Hammer crouched, returning fire, taking out as many as they could, covering for the team.
Jax shifted, not taking precious time to strip off his shirt, glimpsed Zan doing the same, and then he scrambled out of his pants and shoes. Putting on a burst of speed, he leaped for the nearest gunman, taking him down. Before the bastard could shoot again, Jax ripped out his throat. A quick, easy kill. He whirled, seeking his next target, and saw his team had dispatched a number of their enemy, but several more remained.
His boss and Hammer had taken cover behind the guard’s desk and were keeping the goons on the defensive, picking them off. Zan was struggling in wolf form with two men who had him pinned. Kalen stood off to the side of the melee, palms out, chanting. God knows what the kid was doing. Hopefully, turning all the fuckers into toads.
Jax ran for the two men who had Zan, but a blast of heat scored his flank. He spun and attacked the asshole who’d shot him, making short work of this one as he’d done the other. When he turned back, he spotted Zan unconscious, in human form, the two men dragging him to the closest exit.
In that moment, he understood that not all of them were meant to die. At least some of them were slated to be taken captive for use in Bowman and Chappell’s hideous experiments. Just like the ambush six months ago.
Would Grant and the government have lied this time as well, told them Zan was dead?
Taking off across the distance, he launched himself at the man holding Zan’s shoulders. Backpedaling, the guy dropped his burden, frantically reaching for the gun stuck in his pants. Jax was faster, clamping down on his wrist just as he drew the weapon and crushing flesh and bone in his jaws. Screaming, the gunman fell to the floor and, knowing he was incapacitated, Jax faced the other man, the one who’d had Zan’s feet. Who now had his gun pointed right between Jax’s eyes.
His heart stuttered and he waited for the shot that not even a shifter could heal.
The bastard grinned. “I’m gonna enjoy this.”
But the shot never came. The grin became a grimace, his mouth twisting in pain, eyes going impossibly wide in their sockets. Jax watched, frozen by fascination and horror, as the guy just . . . shriveled. Like a grape drying out, turning into a raisin.
And then he collapsed, nothing but a bag of skin and bones. Just like all of his armed comrades, lying everywhere.
What the fuck?
At the edge of the lobby, Kalen lowered his palms and leaned against a support column, clearly drained. “People are mostly made of water,” he informed his stunned team. “Remove that element and there isn’t much left. As you can see.”
Then he slid down the column and passed out.
Jax took a step toward Kalen, but Ryon’s urgent voice pushed into his head.
Need some help up here—we’re outnumbered! They’re trying to take Aric!
Shit! Jax ran for the stairwell, shifted to human briefly just to get the access door open, shifted back and kept going. His preternatural speed was much greater in wolf form and he covered the floors quickly.
He just prayed he was fast enough to avert disaster.
Beside the van, Kira paced, chewing her thumbnail.
“Honey, he’ll be all right,” Mac soothed. “Come into the van and sit down.”
“I can’t. Something’s wrong. This whole evening it’s like the world has been slightly off its axis, and now it’s worse.”
“Trust him. He’s an experienced soldier and—”
Oh, God, it’s a trap!
Kira froze, gasping. “Jax.”
Mac grabbed her arm. “What is it?”
“He said it’s a trap.” The blood drained from her face, and she wrenched her arm from Mac’s hold. “They’re in trouble!”
“Kira, you can’t go! Jax wants you to stay here where you’ll be safe. You know that!” Her friend moved to block her way.
“I’m not cowering out here while my mate is in there and something terrible is happening, so don’t try to stop me,” she warned. The growl in her voice let Mac know she meant it. She’d put her on the ground if necessary.
Stepping around her friend, she sprinted down the street. The building seemed too far away. It took only a couple of minutes to reach the side door they’d broken down to gain entry, but it might’ve been forever. She covered the distance to the lobby quickly, and drew up short at the horrible sight.
Nick and Hammer were bleeding, but were crouched over Zan and Kalen, tending to them. All around them, what must’ve been the enemy were sprawled on the floor. And they were shrunken and dried like prunes. God.
“Where’s Jax?” she choked out. “Tell me!”
“Roof,” Hammer said. “But don’t—”
She didn’t wait to hear him order her not to go. Wouldn’t have done any good. Quickly, she found the stairwell, giving a silent thanks to Kalen for the model they’d studied. Once inside, she stripped and concentrated, calling to her wolf.
The change wasn’t nearly as painful as the very first time. She’d had plenty of practice during her runs with Jax, and she was getting good at it. On all fours, she took a second to adjust to her wolf senses—and scented her mate. Smelled his fear, his determination.
Following in his wake, she bolted up the stairs.
Jax burst onto the roof and into chaos.
His friends were under attack, Ryon in his silver wolf form, battling two men on his own. Two more were dragging Aric toward the waiting helicopter, hands bound behind his back with silver cuffs. Which explained why the red wolf hadn’t been able to change, or even unleash his fire on them. He couldn’t use his telekinesis to move objects while bound, either.
A glance in the helicopter confirmed his fears. Dr. Bowman and Chappell were waiting in the craft, and they weren’t alone. Beryl, Jax’s traitorous former lover, sat in the open doorway, the face he’d once thought so beautiful pulled into an ugly smirk.
He started to bolt for the men dragging Aric away, but pain blasted through his crippled leg. With a yelp, he twisted to see one of the men who’d been struggling with Ryon had turned his attention to taking out Jax, popping off a shot and hitting the injured limb.
Normally his bum leg wasn’t as big of an issue in wolf form, but as he leaped for the new threat, it buckled. He managed to take the shooter down, but the agony in his leg was distracting. Thank God they weren’t using silver bullets. The bastard got in a couple of blows to his head that left his ears ringing.
Just then, a snarl caught his attention. Raising his head, he saw a smaller wolf barrel through the open doorway onto the roof and straight for him. Fear and pride warred within him. She was magnificent, but he was terrified she’d be hurt.
Kira! Go back!
Jax had the man’s shooting arm in his jaws and Kira went for his throat. The gunman’s scream was abruptly cut off. She spun and teamed up with Ryon to quickly dispatch his assailant. Seeing that they had things under control, Jax went for the helicopter. But with his injured leg slowing him down, he wasn’t going to make it in time before the craft lifted off with Aric inside.
Suddenly, a flash of gray and white streaked past him. Before he realized what she was about to do, his mate leaped into the open craft and went straight for the gunman holding Aric. Shouts ensued as she crushed the goon’s throat in a vise. The man fell, letting go of Aric and in an instant, Kira shoved their friend with all her strength.
Aric landed on the roof with an umph, and rolled, wrists still bound. Scraped up but safe.
Jax ran, his limp slowing him down. But the copter was lifting. Kira tried to get to Bowman, who sat on the other side of Beryl. Desperate, Jax shifted to human form and yelled over the noise. “Kira, jump!”
Turning, she saw her opportunity to escape slipping away. Making the decision to let them go, fight another day, she shifted to human form and braced herself in the doorway.
“Jump!” he yelled again. The copter was pulling away, a gap forming between it and the roof.
Kira tensed to make the leap—just as Beryl grabbed her from behind, holding her back. The gap between the building and the copter widened even more. There was no way Kira could make the jump now. Then Beryl raised a booted foot and kicked her hard, between the shoulder blades. Jax could only watch in horror as his mate lost her grip.
She was flung from the helicopter.
Eyes wide with terror, reaching for the lip on the edge of the building.
Her scream pierced the night. Shattered his heart.
Then silence. He couldn’t breathe. Could not fathom what had just happened.
His mate wasn’t dead. She wasn’t.
He took his wolf form and ran. As fast as his injured leg would allow, down the flights of stairs. Past his team who’d regrouped and was on the way up. All the way down, out of the building. Around to the side where she’d fallen.
She lay on the pavement, pale and still. His wolf approached, the animal half scenting and realizing what his human counterpart denied—death.
Shifting back, he gathered her into his arms, cradled her. Gently brushed the tangled blond hair from her bruised face. Her eyes were closed, dusky lashes on delicate cheeks, blood trickling from the corner of her mouth.
“Baby?” His voice shook. Trembled as he fought the knowledge. “Kira? Open your eyes, angel. Please, please . . .”
No heartbeat. No life. Her body was broken, their souls no longer connected.