“This story is mine.” Merinus stared down her family of seven brothers as well as her father, her voice firm, her determination unwavering.
She knew she didn’t present an imposing figure. At five feet five inches, it was damned hard to convince the males of her family, all over six feet, that she was serious about anything. But in this one instance, she knew she had no other choice.
“Don’t you think this is a little bit much for you to take on, Squirt?” Caleb, editor-in-chief of the National Forum and her second oldest brother, smirked with an edge of superiority. Merinus refused to give into his baiting. She looked down the long table, directly into her father’s thoughtful expression. John Tyler was the one to convince, not his moron upstarts.
“I’ve worked hard, Dad, I can do this.” She fought to put the steely determination in her voice that she often heard her oldest brother use. “I deserve this chance.”
She was twenty-four years old, the youngest child in a family of eight and the only daughter. She hated makeup, despised dresses and social functions and she heard often how she was a disappointment to the female race, according to her brothers. She wanted to be a journalist; she wanted to make a difference. She wanted to stand before the man whose picture lay on the table before her and see if his eyes were really that brilliant amber. Perhaps she was more woman than they knew. She was obsessed. Merinus silently admitted to it, and knew she would play hell trying to hide it. From the moment she had seen the picture of the man in question, she had been nervous, panicky, terrified that his enemies would get to him before she could present her father’s offer.
“What makes you think you’re the best person for this job, Merinus?” Her father leaned forward, clasping his hands on the table before him, his blue eyes serious, thoughtful as he watched her.
“Because I’m a woman.” She allowed herself a small smile. “You put that much testosterone in the same room with just one of the behemoth seven here, and you’ll have an automatic refusal. But he would listen to a woman.”
“Listen to her, or try to seduce her?” one of her other brothers questioned harshly. “This idea is unacceptable.”
Merinus kept her eyes on her father and prayed Kane, the oldest brother would keep his mouth shut. Their father listened to him where she was concerned and if he decided it was too dangerous, then there was no way John Tyler would allow her to go.
“I know how to be careful,” she told him softly. “You and Kane trained me well. I want this chance. I deserve it.”
And if she didn’t get it, then she would take it on her own. She knew her brothers couldn’t make contact, but she could. She suppressed a shiver at the thought. Some would say the man wasn’t even human. A genetic experiment conceived in a test tube, carried to term by a surrogate and inheriting the genes of the animal his DNA had been altered with. A man with all the instincts and hunting abilities of a lion. A perfectly human looking male. A man bred to be a savage killer. Merinus had read the notes, experiments and the thirty-year journal of the scientist who carried him within her body. Dr. Maria Morales had been a friend of her father’s in college. It was she who had the box ready to be delivered to John in the event of her death. It was his decision who would carry out the woman’s last request.
He was to find her surrogate son at the location she had given. Help him defeat the secret Genetics Council by convincing him to come forward, making a way for him to find safety. She had enough proof to get them digging. Kane had done the rest. They had names of the Council, proof of their involvement, everything but the man they created.
“This is too dangerous to trust to her,” Caleb argued again. The others were silent, but Merinus knew they would voice their opinions soon enough.
Merinus took a deep breath.
“I get the story, or I follow whichever moron in this room gets it. You won’t have a chance.”
“This coming from the woman who refuses to wear makeup or a dress?” another brother piped in with a snicker. “Honey, you don’t have what it takes.”
“It doesn’t take being a whore,” she bit out furiously, turning on the youngest brother. “It’s simple logic, dunce. A woman, whether in pants or a dress will draw more attention from a man than any other man will. He’s careful, he doesn’t trust easily. Maria’s notes state that plainly. He won’t trust another man. The basic male threat.”
“And he could very well be just as dangerous as he was created to be,” Caleb argued for Gray as he swiped his fingers through his short brown hair. “Dammit, Merinus, you have no business even wanting to be anywhere near this bastard.”
Merinus took a deep breath. She lowered her eyes, staring down at the bleak loneliness reflected through glossy paper. His eyes mesmerized her, even in the picture. There were decades of sadness reflected there. He was thirty years old now, single, alone. A man without a family or even a race to call his own. How terrible it must be, and to be hunted as well was a tragedy.
“I won’t stay here,” she said loud enough for them all to hear. “I’ll follow whoever goes out there and I won’t let you hound him.”
The silence was heavy now. Merinus could feel eight sets of eyes on her, varying degrees of disapproval reflected in their expressions.
“I’ll go with her. I can handle the research part, Merinus can make contact.” Kane’s voice had Merinus jerking her head up in surprise.
Shock echoed along her body as she realized that the brother who suffocated her the most was actually willing to help her in this. It was hard to believe. Kane was arrogant and ninety percent of the time, the world’s worst jerk. He was an ex-Special Forces commander as bossy as any man ever born. For the first time she looked directly at him. His expression was cool, but his eyes were angry. Deep and hot with fury, the dark blue orbs met hers without their usual light of teasing mockery. The intensity in his look almost frightened her. He wasn’t angry with her, she could tell, but Kane was pissed. And a pissed Kane was not a good thing.
Merinus was aware of her father sitting back in his seat, watching the eldest son now with surprise.
“You’ve put a lot of time in this already, Kane,” John remarked. “Six months at least. I thought you would be ready for a rest?”
Kane glanced at his father, shrugging his shoulders with a tight movement.
“I want to see it through. I’ll be close enough to help her out if she needs me, but also able to do the research that could be too damned dangerous for her. If she can be ready to leave tonight, then we can do this her way.”
“I’ll be ready.” Her response was instantaneous. “Just tell me what time.”
“Be ready at four. We have an eight-hour drive ahead of us and I want to do some recon before morning. Damn good thing you don’t care if you chip a few nails, brat, because you’ll be doing just that.”
He came to his feet abruptly as the men around him erupted into a furious argument. Merinus could only watch him silently, amazed at his decision. What the hell was up with this?
He ignored the heated protests of his other brothers. The arguments of Merinus’ safety, the lack of assurance that ‘some damned hybrid animal’ wouldn’t infect her. Merinus rolled her eyes, then bit her lip nervously as Kane’s face tightened into a mask of dangerous fury. His eyes went dead. She couldn’t describe it any other way. As though no life or light resided inside him. It was a scary look. The room silenced. No one but no one messed with Kane when he looked like that.
“Be ready, baby sister,” he said evenly as he passed by her. “And if you pack one damned dress or a single tube of lipstick, then I’ll lock your ass up in your bedroom.”
“Ahh, Kane,” she whined sarcastically. “There goes my luggage quota. Asshole.” He knew better than to think she would pack either one.
“Keep your nose clean, brat.” He flicked the ends of her long brown hair as he walked by her. “I’ll pick you up this evening.”
Sandy Hook, KY
That was not a sight for virgin eyes. Merinus trained her binoculars on the vision below her, stretched out in the warming rays of the sun, as naked as a man could be and more than a little aroused. That gorgeous, heavily veined shaft of male flesh rose a good eight inches—no less, could be more—from the base below his flat abdomen. It was thick and long and mouth-wateringly tempting. She blew out a hard breath, lying flat on the rock she had found, the only viewpoint into the small sheltered back yard. She couldn’t take her eyes off him.
Callan Lyons was tall. At least six feet, four inches, muscular, broad chested and narrow hipped, with
powerful thighs and the most gorgeous damned legs she had ever seen. This just wasn’t a sight that a nice, prudish little journalist like herself should be seeing. It could give a girl ideas. Ideas like how it would feel to lie next to him, rub over him, kiss that smooth, golden skin. She shivered at the thought. She and Mr. Lyons had been playing an amusing little game for over a week now. She pretended not to know him, who he was, where he could be found, and he pretended she wasn’t snooping around town asking questions about him and his deceased mother and where he lived. It had gone so far as direct conversation several times. Like she hadn’t come prepared, she thought mockingly. Papers, notes, memos, pictures, the whole nine yards. She had studied the man for weeks before demanding this story. She still couldn’t believe Kane had stood by her and brought her with him to contact Callan. Not that he wasn’t breathing down her neck half the time. He would be now if he hadn’t had to run back to D.C. to talk to a scientist they thought might have been involved with the original experiments. And Merinus was supposed to be finding out about Callan’s mother and making contact with the elusive object of her fascination.
So here she was, on the story of her life, and instead of the investigative reporting she should be doing on the man below, she was watching him sun himself. But what a sight. Tanned, muscular skin. Long, golden brown hair, the color of the lion that was supposedly infused into his DNA structure. A strong, bold face, gorgeous, almost savage in its planes and angles. And lips, full male lips with just a hint of a merciless curve. She wanted to kiss those lips. She wanted to start with his lips and kiss and lick her way down. Across that broad chest, the hard, flat stomach to the erection rising from between his tanned thighs. She licked her lips at the thought.
She jerked as she felt her cell phone vibrating at her hips. She grimaced impatiently. She knew who it was. It had to be her oldest, most aggravating brother.
“What, Kane?” she hissed as she flipped the phone open and settled it against her ear. She was rather proud that her eyes never once strayed from all that male glory below.
“It could have been Dad,” Kane reminded her, his voice flat and hard.
“It could have been the Pope too, but we know the averages on that one,” she muttered.
“Bitch,” he growled almost affectionately.
“Why Kane, how sweet,” she simpered. “I love you too, asshole.”
There was a brief chuckle over the line, making her smile in response.
“How’s the story going?” His voice turned serious, too serious.
“It’s getting there. I have an appointment later today with a woman willing to talk about the mother. She was murdered in her own home. Dad doesn’t know that.”
Maria Morales, known as Jennifer Lyons in the small Southern California town had died at the hands of an attacker, not a thief or a random victim, but someone who wanted only blood.
“What do you think you’re going to learn researching the mother?” Kane asked her. “You need proof on the son, Merrie, don’t forget that.”
“I know what I’m after, big shot,” she bit out. “But to get to the son, I need information. Besides, someone’s trying to give me the runaround on Morales. You know how I hate that.”