Sometime between the interminable wars in the Middle East and 9/11, the United States moved forward breeding a race of super humans. Clandestine labs formed, armed with eager scientists who’d always yearned to manipulate human DNA. At first the clones looked promising, growing to fighting size in as little as a dozen years, but V1 had design flaws.
“Sure. What do you have?” She rattled off a series of pies and cakes. He chose apple pie with a scoop of ice cream, and she left with his dinner plate. Roy slumped against the chair. He had to keep going. No choice. Not really. A good night’s sleep, coupled with the first adequate meal he’d had in a couple days might make a big difference in his attitude. At least he hoped they would.
He’d just begun on the pie, which had a surprisingly flaky crust, when a rush of cold air yanked his attention toward the door. A tall woman walked in. Long, dark hair caked with snow swirled around her, and she held her body tightly as if she were really cold. Roy glanced at her feet and was shocked to see a pair of tennis shoes with holes in them. Good God, had she been outside with such inadequate footwear? Didn’t she understand she could freeze to death? Even his stout boots didn’t do much to divert the cold. Keeping her gaze downcast, she made her way to the counter and sat.
“Coffee, hon?” The waitress asked.
“Oh.” The woman’s shoulders drooped, and she swiveled the stool around, getting ready to go back out into the storm.
“No, you don’t.” The waitress’s voice sharpened. “I’ll stand you a coffee. You look about done in.”
The woman’s even features melted into what looked like relief before she turned back to face the counter. “Thank you. That’s really kind and I appreciate it. My wallet was stolen, and—”
“Never you mind.” The waitress patted the woman’s shoulder. “Bet you’re hungry too.” She poured hot coffee into a mug and handed it to the woman, who drew the steaming liquid to her lips.
“Maybe a little,” the woman ventured. She clasped the cup with fingers white from cold. By now, Roy knew he was staring, but he couldn’t make himself turn away. There was something waiflike and alluring about the tall woman with long, black hair. Snow dripped off her, creating puddles around her stool. All she wore against the winter weather was a thick, gray sweater and worn jeans. No scarf. No gloves. No hat. He was close to certain her wallet hadn’t been stolen. She looked more like an abuse victim on the run to him. Maybe he could help her get to her intended destination, if it wasn’t too far out of his way.He pushed his chair back and made his way to the counter. “Say—” he began, but she started and drew away as if she expected him to hit her. I was right. Abuse victim for sure.
Without waiting for an invitation, he took the stool next to hers and called to the waitress. “Bring her the same meal I just had.”
“You got it, hon,” rang from the direction of the kitchen.
“You are not all right,” Roy said. “You’re thin as a rail, and you were shivering when you came in here. In fact, you still are. I’ll bet your shoes are wet clear through.” When she didn’t respond, he ploughed on. “Let me help you.”
She shook her head. “Don’t want your kind of help. It always comes with strings.”
He pushed a little with his enhanced mental ability to get her to look at him. If she did, maybe she’d see truth in his eyes. A shudder ran down her thin frame, but she dragged her gaze upward reluctantly. Roy felt bad for forcing her, but he didn’t have time to soothe her wounded places, which he suspected ran deep. Eyes a shade of green he’d never seen inspected him. Long, thick lashes framed those eyes, and they were set in a face with high cheekbones, a high forehead, and black eyebrows winging a track over porcelain skin.
“Who are you?” The words tore from him. He hadn’t meant to say them. She was nervous as a feral cat as it was.
She shook her head sadly. “No one. I’m no one. You’ll forget all about me when you leave here.”
Something shifted in his mind, but he fought it. Before he could determine if something real had just happened or if he were imagining things, the waitress showed up with the woman’s dinner.
“Here you go, hon. Hope medium’s okay for that steak?”
“Fine, thank you.” Before the words were out, the woman picked up the fork and knife and shoveled food into her mouth.
Roy congratulated himself on a good call. Even though she’d been reluctant to admit it, she really was starving. He had no idea what she’d do tomorrow or the next day, but it wasn’t his problem. While she ate, he observed her from the corner of his eyes. In addition to being hungry and underdressed, she looked young. Maybe twenty. He’d be surprised if she were much more than that.
He shook a mental finger at himself. The country was full of abused women running from the men who used them as punching bags before they raped them. It was one part of law enforcement work he’d never understood: why the women kept going back for more. “There are safe houses for girls like you,” he said, and could’ve kicked himself. What the hell was wrong with his mouth tonight? He couldn’t seem to keep words on the other side of it.
She stopped chewing long enough to glance at him. “What’s a safe house?”
“A place where women like you can go so whoever’s after you can’t get to you.”
“What makes you think someone’s after me?” Color splotched across her white cheeks.
Roy took a deep breath. “I was a cop for a long time.”
Her entire body tightened, and he wondered if he’d been wrong about why she was out in the storm. “You said was.” She swiped a paper napkin over her lips. “Are you still?”
“No. Not anymore.”
She took another bite, clearly thinking about what he’d said. “These people you think are after me. Could they still find me in a safe house?”
He wanted to lie to her, but didn’t. “Sure. Anyone can find anybody with the Internet and all, but the people who run the safe houses won’t let anyone who might hurt you inside.”
She drew her arched brows together and drank some coffee. “I’d have to go outside sometime. Work. Earn my way.”
He nodded. Those things were all true. He scratched his head and pushed too-long hair out of his eyes. “Sometimes, when a man is really persistent, there are ways of setting you up with a different identity in a different part of the country.”
Interest lit her features, and she cut up the last of her steak. “Where would I go to have that happen?”
“I’m not sure, but we could check with local agencies in the morning.”
A blank expression washed over her face, as if someone had shut out a light. She shot him a look she might have given yesterday’s overripe trash. “Morning, huh? You’re just like all the rest of them, mister. Means I’d have to spend the night with you.”
Roy winced. He hadn’t been thinking. Of course she’d make that connection. “No.” He shook his head emphatically. “I’d buy you your own room for the night. You can clean up, get some sleep, and we’ll regroup in the morning after breakfast.”
She narrowed her eyes, and he felt himself drawn into their depths. “My own room with a locked door?”
He nodded solemnly, willing her to believe him. If he could just do one decent deed, it would make up for the last two weeks of beating his head into a brick wall. Maybe it would give him enough juice to keep hunting for the scientists who were a bunch of Houdini fuckers.
“Mmph.” She started on her potato, taking large bites. In between them, she said. “I’m trying to figure out your angle. If I’ve worked my way around to believing you won’t hurt me by the time I’m done eating, I’ll accept your offer.”
It was the best he was likely to get. Roy stood. “Fair enough. I’m going to finish my pie.” It was sitting in a pool of melted ice cream, but he didn’t mind. “If you’d care to accept my help, just stop by my table on your way out. If you walk past, I give you my word I won’t bother you.”
“Deal.” She said around a mouthful of food. Swallowing, she twisted to look at him. It felt as if she were staring straight through him, but Roy held his ground even after he identified a zing of power withdrawing from his mind. What the hell was she, anyway? When she returned to her dinner, he retreated to his pie, thoughts racing a mile a minute. What the fuck was he doing? If he were smart, he’d forget his offer, throw enough money on the table to cover both meals, and run like hell for his car.There was something about the woman, though, an appeal that drew him, snared him, and wouldn’t leave him be. He ate mindlessly, not tasting the pie. He knew the feel of freak mind control. Was that it? Had he inadvertently stumbled onto one of them? Impossible. They’re never by themselves, and whatever she examined me with didn’t feel quite right. Plus, she didn’t resemble the ones he’d killed before. They had dark hair, but animal eyes. Amber, not green like hers. Of course they’d been men, but simple genetics argued they’d all look much the same if they came out of the same petri dishes. Were there other augmented humans beyond those he already knew about? The
thought fascinated and chilled him at the same time.
He scraped his fork over the plate and realized it was empty. Slugging back long-since-cold coffee, he dug for his wallet and extracted what he was certain would cover dinner, laying bills on the table and placing his empty mug atop them. The woman looked almost done with her meal. What would she do? What would he do if she walked by him and out the door? Would he be able to keep his promise and not go after her?…
Honor takes a huge chance and flees her compound one wintry night. A genetically altered woman, she has no memories from before her kin staged a rebellion seven years before. Because of her enhanced physiology, she finds a home working for the CIA alongside four other women just like her. There are still plenty of rules, but they’re different, and she’s figuring out how to blend in.
Milton Reins burns through women and marriages. After the third one implodes, he swears off hunting for a replacement. Running the CIA is a more than fulltime job. There’s no time for anything else in his life, which is fine until Honor comes along.
Training in the gym throws their bodies together and makes him remember the feel of a woman in his arms. Milton aches for her, but she’s a freak—the CIA term for test tube humans designed by scientists.
Honor wants Milton with every bone in her body, but it’s a terrible idea, especially after she delves into his head and sees his ambivalence toward her kind. Need drives them together, but their differences create roadblocks every step of the way. Fueled by anger and fear, she shuts him out. So what if the sex was great, she’s done.
Or is she?
“What if I pull rank and order Charity to stay here?” he demanded, not liking her answer.Honor shook her head. “That’d be a bad idea.” After a pause, she added hastily, “Sir. With all due respect.”
Milton chortled. “You’re learning. Why is it a bad idea?”
Honor closed her teeth over her lower lip. “Like all of us, she’s finding her way. Figuring out where she fits in here. Even though we lived in the western United States, we may as well have been in Bangladesh for all the differences between living here and where we were after the rebellion.”
“You still haven’t told me why it’s a bad idea.”
“She needs to trust you. If you ride herd on her, treat her like the Nameless Ones treated us, she never will, and this…problem of hers will just get worse.” Desperation flared, a glowing nimbus she nipped quickly, but he’d been paying close attention, plus he’d been inside her mind. Milton pushed forward with a combination of intuition and his augmented ability. “You’re worried it will get worse anyway.”
Her gaze skittered away. “Yes. No. Possibly. These things are hard to predict. Please.” She leaned forward this time and placed a hand over his where it lay atop his leg. “Let us handle it our way. I give you my word we’ll ask for help before it gets out of control.”
Her touch was warm, electric. Before he could stop himself, he set his other hand over hers, and turned the bottom hand upward, capturing her flesh between his. His mouth was suddenly dry, and his groin tightened with a rush of sexual energy so intense it stole his breath. Words became a struggle, but he forced them out anyway. “Doesn’t sound very smart to me. Is there any chance she’ll switch allegiance?”
Honor’s eyes widened. “Oh hell, no. You mean fight for the Nameless Ones?” When Milton nodded, she was even more emphatic. “No. That’d never happen. She hates them just as much as we do.”
It was the main thing that had worried him: that he’d been playing host to a double agent—again. Some of the tension drained out of him, and he rubbed his fingers over Honor’s where they lay clasped between his. “I really should go, sir.” She tried to pull her hand back, but he didn’t let go.
“Do you always do what you should?”
Honor looked away. “Not a fair question, sir.”
“Stop calling me that!”
“But you are my commanding officer.” Honor kept her voice soft, but the meaning in her words slapped Milton squarely across his forehead.
He released her hand. “Sorry.” He spoke stiffly. “I forgot myself. You’re free to go.”
The sadness he’d sensed earlier was back in spades. It flowed from her in slow, tired waves. He pushed, surprised when she let him inside her mind. Not far, but enough for him to view the loneliness she’d lived with all her life. Her only safety zone had been the dozen women in her dorm at the compound, and seven of them were dead. No wonder she needed to do everything possible to protect Charity. Milton got to his feet and offered her a hand. She took it and stood too. “Thanks for
helping me understand you a little,” he said.
“You’re welcome. Sometimes that way is easier than talking. Thank you for not insisting Charity stay here.”
“She’s important to you,” he said. “I didn’t fully appreciate how much you depend on each other until you allowed me into your thoughts.”
Milton didn’t know if he moved toward her, she toward him, or both of them simultaneously, but Honor ended up in his arms. He tightened his hold, enjoying the feel of her sleekly muscled body against his. She matched his six-foot height and fit perfectly in his arms. His cock hardened against her belly, and her eyes widened in surprise. “Of course you’d be a virgin,” he murmured, stroking his hands down her back.
“We were off-limits to the Nameless Ones, but we talked about sex among ourselves.”
Arousal flashed deep inside him. Even though he knew he shouldn’t, he asked, “What did you talk about?” He cupped his hands around her high, firm buttocks and snugged her against his erection.
Desire apparently trumped discomfort, and she pushed against him. “Men. We talked about how penises get hard, and how one might feel inside us.” She licked her lips, and heat flickered in her eyes. “Sometimes we’d touch ourselves and mind link, so we could feel each other come.”
He’d never considered that possible use for his enhanced senses. The feedback loop from feeling what his partner felt right along with his own arousal intrigued him and made him hotter than hell. Honor pressed closer against him and kneaded his back. Milton traced her full lower lip with his thumb. “Has anyone told you what a devilishly attractive woman you are?”
She shook her head.
He couldn’t resist the siren call of those lips. Milton angled his head and closed his mouth over hers. He kept the kiss tentative in case he wasn’t reading her signals right, but she ran her tongue over his mouth, tasting him. He licked, nibbled, sucked, and she kissed him back with growing fervor as her body radiated need. Her nipples hardened where they pressed into his chest, and she rubbed against his ridiculously erect cock.
About the time she pushed her tongue into his mouth, and he sparred with it, loving the taste of her, common sense intruded. He pulled back, his breath coming unevenly. He wanted to strip her clothes off, unwrap her, worship the amazing body he’d scuffled with in the gym, but tonight wasn’t the time. Not before a major offensive, and not with her in a direct line of command, with him functioning as her team leader. The women ended up his responsibility to remove Glory from reporting to Roy, but here was the same problem all over again.
Reluctantly, he placed his hands on either side of her head. “Honor, we can’t do this.”
“I know it’s wrong, but I’ve never been kissed before, and I…” She looked away. “…didn’t want it to end. I’m sorry, sir. I’ll do a better job of—”
“Goddammit, Honor. You’re not listening.” Frustration vied with desire and feeling like a shit for letting the situation get out of hand in the first place.
“Yes I am. You said what we did was wrong.”
“No, I didn’t, but the timing’s bad.” He paused a beat. “And you work for me, which means—”
“I know exactly what it means. I may have been sequestered in that compound, but I’m far from stupid.” She wrenched away from him and stumbled toward the door.
She spun to face him. “This was a mistake.” Hurt carved furrows around her eyes. “I’m used to being by myself. Taking care of myself. Don’t worry. I won’t be a burden on
“That’s not what I—”
She turned and fled out the door. Milton considered going after her, but recognized it was a bad idea. The attraction between them was so strong, there’d be no way to have a rational conversation.
Until they’d shared an orgasm or two…
Charity’s luck never ran strong because her original configuration was unstable. Her handlers designed experiments to fix the problem, but only made it worse. Sick to death of living under their thumb, she jumps at a chance to escape her compound. She’s no sooner settled in as a CIA special operative—a role where she can put her augmented mind and body to use—when her wobbly genetics escalate.
Tony’s a freak—a genetically altered human waging war against the government. He snaps up an offer of amnesty, walking away from his role as a genetic researcher to work for the CIA. When Charity collapses in a severe seizure, he labors to save her life, but nothing’s working. In a last ditch effort, he joins his mind to hers and discovers he wants her more than he’s ever wanted anything. Only problem is she hates every single male freak for how they treated women in the compounds.
Knowing all that, why the hell is she considering it?
problems still cropped up.
He’d been close to a major breakthrough—at least he thought he was, but it could’ve been a dead end like so much of his research—when a cadre of renegade freaks, genetically engineered humans just like him, staged a rebellion. They hadn’t cared for the decision to scrap the earlier prototypes, so they blew up every breeding farm they could find. After that, they created hidden compounds, like the one in Keyser, West Virginia where Tony ended up. He hadn’t bought into the violence, but there wasn’t a hell of a lot of choice once it began. Normal humans shot them on sight after the rebellion, so he went along with the program and moved his genetic research to his assigned compound. He didn’t have nearly the access to materials he’d had prior to the rebellion, but at least he was still alive.
“You’re pretty quiet, buddy,” Frank observed.
“Sorry. I was thinking.”
The other man snorted. “Always dangerous. About what? Did you come up with something we missed on those hard drives Milton swiped from our headquarters?”
“Nah. Wish it were that straightforward.”
Frank slugged him in the arm. “Watch that esoteric stuff. Our programming’s not designed for it.”
“Maybe not, but do you ever wonder what will become of us?”
“The probability of that line of thought producing something of value is—”
“Not what I asked,” Tony snapped. “We’ve thrown in our lot with normal humans, V0 as it were. We can’t undo it.”
“So? You and I discussed this before we showed ourselves and requested amnesty. We could’ve remained hidden. They would have found Charity without our help, and then they’d have left. We didn’t take that route. Are you having second thoughts?”
“Not really. We didn’t fit in with the other Nameless Ones—except it was a ridiculous moniker, since we had names, we just didn’t tell them to the women.” Tony slowed when they came to a perimeter fence and turned to face the other man. Because of the physical strength built into his genetics, he wasn’t even slightly winded. Frank stopped and tossed his hood back. Shaggy black hair fell to his shoulders, and he examined Tony through his amber, animal-like eyes with vertical slit pupils. All the men looked very much the same due to shared genetics. Tall, rangy, muscled. Both of them wore
regulation issue CIA field gear they hadn't changed out of yet.
“What aren’t you saying?” Frank asked.
“Not sure. Except I’m feeling like a man without a country. We didn’t fit in there, but we don’t fit in here, either. They don’t trust us. I saw it in Milton’s eyes that night you and I saved Charity’s life.”
Frank grimaced. “Shit, bro. We’re machines. We’re not supposed to have feelings. Who cares if they trust us, so long as they continue to offer us a place to work and live? When did you fall off the wagon?”
Should I? Tony weighed the advisability of confiding in Frank, but if not him, then whom?
“Talk, or I’m going back to my apartment. I’m fine when we’re moving, but I’m getting cold. Can’t be much more than fifteen degrees out here. In fact,” Frank sent a short blurt of power outward, “it’s eighteen point three Fahrenheit, but there’s a five knot wind, which brings the ambient temperature to—”
“Never mind that. I know it’s cold without a weather report. I have a problem that runs deeper than the humans not trusting us. They made a commitment to us, same as we did to them. The odds of them welching on the deal—so long as we don’t fuck them over—is under twelve percent.”
Frank furled his brows. “Okay. So you have a problem. Is it something we could hash out inside where it’s warm?”
“I think better when I’m cold.”
“Fine.” Frank gestured with a gloved hand. “Whatever it is, get it out, so we can chase down something to eat and find our beds.”
Tony unclenched his jaw. It was either spit it out or shut up. Running probabilities about Frank’s reaction wouldn’t alter his choices. He squared his shoulders and began to talk. “I spent a long time—hours—linked to Charity when she was so compromised. I was the one who sent my energy into her.”
“I haven’t forgotten. So?”
“I developed a fondness for her during that time.” Very unmachine-like feelings tightened Tony’s gut.
Frank’s eyes widened. “Oh ho! You want to fuck her. I’m not seeing where that’s a problem. The women were off limits to us at the compounds, but the CIA doesn’t have those kind of rules.”
The unmachine-like feelings intensified, and Tony felt his face grow warm. “Yeah, I want her that way, but it’s more than that. I like her. She’s a bitch, sure, but she’s fresh and funny and spunky. We drummed the spirit out of so many of the women, but not her.”
“Have you talked with her about any of this?”
Tony shook his head. “No.”
“Why not? Seems to me that’d be the logical place to start.”
A snort blew past Tony’s lips. “Yeah, huh? Problem is I got a pretty good look inside her head. She hates us.”
Frank drew back. “Why? She never even met us before she and her group attacked our compound.”
Tony shook his head again. “It runs deeper than that. She hates all of us men—for how we treated her and the other women. Even if that weren’t there, it must’ve been appalling for her when she discovered the V4s slaughtered the females in our compound. Her team planned to rescue them. The V4s figured it out and beat them to the punch.”
“Yeah, but none of that was personal—” Frank began.
“Try telling her that. I’m sure it felt goddamned personal. Christ! The women’s bodies weren’t even cold when Charity stumbled onto them.”
“I’m not sure Charity found them, but the women who did certainly told her about it.”
Frank jerked his chin in the general direction of their apartment building. “Let’s get moving.”
When Tony fell into step with him, he went on. “Seems to me you’ve really only got two choices. One. You suck it up and keep quiet. We weren’t exactly designed to have mates. All our babies were created in test tubes—even after the breeding farms.”
“That was because we were afraid the women would pick our brains during sex, discover how powerful they were, and demand equality.”
“It doesn’t matter why,” Frank replied. “Even though I was a minority, I never believed it would’ve been the end of the world if the women discovered their innate power, but they didn’t. Regardless, over time, we got away from intercourse as a primary source of procreation.”
“We’re getting off course. What’s my second option?”
“Sit down and talk to her. Tell her how you feel.”
Tony rolled the probabilities of how that would go through his brain. “Less than an eighteen percent chance she’d be open to it,” he muttered.
Frank didn’t respond, and they ran the rest of the way to their building in silence.
Once they were inside, Tony said, “Thanks.”
“For what? I didn’t help much. See you tomorrow at zero seven hundred.” Frank turned down the hallway that led to his apartment.
Tony climbed a flight of stairs to his quarters and let himself in. If getting something going with Charity was such a crapshoot, why couldn’t he let go of the idea? When the answer came, he didn’t like it much. He’d broken protocol to save her, blending his energy with hers in an intimate pattern that wasn’t in any of the manuals. Apparently she’d gotten under his skin during the process, and now he was stuck. When he wasn’t busy, she was all he thought about. He stripped out of his heavy field coat and tossed it over a chair. The rest of his clothes ended up in a heap on the floor. Everything could stand a tour through the washing machine, but not tonight. He headed for the bathroom and a shower with his cock standing out like a ship’s prow. He was hard almost all the time now, despite jacking off two or three times a day. Hard because he wanted her.
He pulled the shower curtain aside. Once he got the water going, he stepped over the high rim of the tub. Even though he tried not to, his hands found their way to his engorged flesh, and somewhere between the soap and hot water, he made himself come with visions of what he thought Charity’s perfect, naked body would look like plastered behind his eyes…
Stories always ran around in her head on those journeys, sometimes as a hedge against abject terror when challenging conditions made her fear for her life, sometimes for company. Eventually, she returned from a trip and sat down at the computer. Three months later, a five hundred page novel emerged. Oh, it wasn’t very good, but it was a beginning. And, she learned a lot between writing that novel and its sequel.
Around that time, a friend of hers suggested she try her hand at short stories. It didn’t take long before that first story found its way into print and they’ve been accepted pretty regularly since then. One of Ann’s passions has always been ecology, so her tales often have a green twist.
In addition to writing, Ann enjoys wilderness photography. She lugs pounds of camera equipment in her backpack to distant locales every year. A standing joke is that over ten percent of her pack weight is camera gear which means someone else has to carry the food! That someone is her husband. They’ve shared a life together for a very long time. Children, grandchildren and three wolf hybrids round out their family.