The breed guaranteed Mica no harm would come to her, but they never allowed for her sensual fascination with Navarro, or his unstoppable need to claim her as his mate, in both body and soul.
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Thunder crashed, lightning blazed and sheets of rain poured from the sky as though rage itself were given a physical presence. It slashed through the windswept streets and tore through the back alleys as most inhabitants of the city watched from indoors. There were few brave enough to venture into the streets and face the wrath of the storm pounding furiously outside their windows, but they were very few and very far between.
The streets were all but deserted at four in the morning. New York might never sleep, but it definitely rested for a while, especially during the furious, driving rains that descended on the city that night.
Pouring moisture that saturated hair and clothing, washing it into Mica's eyes, mixing with the tears and washing away the blood that had eased from her scalp after the initial attack that had come earlier. An attack she couldn't have expected, that she'd had no warning was coming.
She stumbled through the alley, breath shuddering, chills wracking her body as she fought to find a haven, a business, an opened door, a cabdriver.
And there was nothing. There was no one. She was alone in a city that was sleeping when it wasn't supposed to, amid a storm she should have been safe from, comfortable and warm in her own bed.
She wanted to be in her bed.
She wanted to pull the blankets over her head and dream those hot, erotic dreams she'd been having lately of a Breed she shouldn't dream about.
She didn't want to be here.
A sob tore from her chest, ripping through her ribs in agony as terror had tears mixing with the cold rivulets of rain pouring down her face.
She wanted to be home.
She should have never left her apartment, she should have never trusted that bastard little mouse of a waiter who claimed to be in trouble. After leaving the office, she should have just gone home and ignored the message on her phone that he had important information for her.
She was just an accountant; she wasn't a reporter. But she often ate at the little café where he worked, and he called her, he said, because he didn't know who else to call.
He had drawn her right from the restaurant bar and into the grip of a damned Coyote.
The son of a bitch had tried to knock her out.
She touched the side of the head, biting her lip at the tenderness there.
With her arm wrapped around her ribs, she leaned against the brick wall of a tightly closed restaurant and fought to catch her breath.
She'd been kicked after she was thrown in a van. She remembered the feel of a steel-toed boot ramming into her ribs before she could protect them.
Assholes. She hated Coyotes.
Except Brim Stone. And Del-Rey.
Well, she didn't hate Ashley, Emma or Sharone.
She hated Council Coyotes. Every damned fucking one of them, and now she was hiding in a dirty alley as she tried to escape them.
She didn't dare venture out to the street to hopefully flag down one of the few cabs trolling for the few passengers that could be found. Cabs weren't the only ones out there.
There was more than one black SUV. There were men with communication ear sets, and there was a Breed. Sharp-toothed, eyes black and spitting evil as he'd leaned over, a twisted smile contorting his scarred face just before she'd slammed her heavy hiking boots into the ugly, sneering expression of Marx Whitman, the Coyote that had already betrayed the Breeds once.
The vision was one that nightmares were made of.
Shuddering, shivering, she forced herself from the wall and eased to the shadowed entrance of the alley she'd ducked into. Keeping low, staying close to the dark, sodden walls of the buildings, she rushed down the sidewalk, quickly making her way through the streets and fighting to keep an eye on the vehicles moving slowly behind her.
There was no way to hide from a Breed. There was no way to still suspicion if the men in the SUVs caught sight of a lone figure moving down the sidewalk.
Ducking into the next alley, she moved quickly through the sinister shadows, her stomach heaving with fear as lightning flared overhead and thunder rattled the very air around her.
A scream erupted from her throat as she stumbled against a garbage can, causing it to crash to the ground as a shadow erupted from her side.
Like an emerging, vengeful beast, it came at her. A sound like a demented growl, a whip of cold air, arms outstretched… Mica screamed again, falling backward as the shadow followed, whipping against her, knocking her to the ground despite her attempts to stay upright.
"Dammit, Mica!" Harsh, animalistic. She should know that voice, but hysteria was tearing through her, pain a blazing sensation of agony in her ribs as she fought to get free.
The stench of urine, the feel of filth on the alley beneath her palms, and a nightmare of sensations she couldn't process. Instinct had her rolling, finding her feet, slipping, then finally gaining traction to force herself into a run.
The sound behind her too closely resembled a curse. Demonic, sending a flash of terror racing through her as a sob left her throat and she rounded the corner of the alley into a side street.
"Mica." Rough, a fierce rumble, and it didn't sound in the least friendly.
As she caught herself against the corner of the wall, lightning split the skies, illuminating a tall, broad form, eyes like hammered gold, a face savage, too fierce and unknown.
In the next breath Mica turned, running in the opposite direction, only to face another shadow, taller, darker. Throwing herself to the side, low, nearly skidding along the street, she went beneath an outstretched hand, skidding, only to have her back pushed against a brick wall as hard male arms surrounded her.
"Dammit, Mica, stop fighting me before I have to knock your ass out!"
Her gaze flew up, breath suspending in her lungs, relief and weakness shuddering through her all at once.
He was the animal whose voice had sent her running once again. Black eyes glittered with rage as lightning lit up the world around them.
The scene seemed surreal. The lightning, the rain sheeting around them. His exotic, fierce expression framed by heavy, ribbon-straight black silken hair that fell around his face and wet from the rivulets of rain running over it.
Eyes wide, shuddering, she could only stare up at him as his hand lifted, palm cupping her cheek, the intense warmth of his touch rushing through her as his thumb stroked softly over her lips.
"Amaya." He spoke so softly she barely heard, the dark, Asian flavor of his tone shocking her as he whispered the nickname he had given her years ago. "Are you ready to get out of the rain now?"
"Navarro." His name was a harsh gasp, relief pouring through her, weakening her as the warmth of his hard body began to seep through the saturated clothing between them.
"Navarro, we have to move." Harsh, a male Feline growl rumbled in the night.
Mica tried to swing around, her heart dropping to her stomach as fear suddenly tore through her again.
"Can you run?" The harsh question was a grating, furious sound that seemed suddenly to rumble in Navarro's powerful chest.
For a Breed it was said didn't growl as others did, that came awful close to a growl.
A quick nod as he caught her hand, turned and began pulling her through the rain-lashed night.
Shadows reached out from the buildings around them, twisting fingers of darkness colliding with the rain-dimmed glow of sparse streetlights interspersed with the shadows through the alleys.
Mica was aware of the figure moving behind them, though she'd only managed to catch a quick glimpse of a dark figure. Features were impossible to see or to recognize through the sheets of moisture.
She could feel the presence at her back, a prickling awareness that kept her nerves on edge.
"We're almost there," Navarro assured her, as though he could sense, could somehow feel, the fear that continued to rise inside her.
Damp weather was supposed to affect a Breed's sense of smell. If he could still smell her fear, then there was the chance the Coyote that had attacked her, or any working with him, could catch her scent as well.
Forcing herself to tamp down the emotion, to bury it in that same dark, hidden corner of her mind where she tried to hide things from Cassie, wasn't easy. Terror was like an oily, vicious specter shadowing her, one that seemed to refuse to allow her to escape.
She was with Navarro now though. She wasn't alone. That was the lifeline she held on to, the fragile thread of awareness that kept her centered as she began to push the fear to that enclosed place where it couldn't be detected.
He was the one Breed she should be wary of personally, but she'd always known, from the first day their eyes had met, that he would never allow anyone to hurt her.
I'll protect you, Mica. I swear, as long as I breathe, I'll keep you from harm.
That promise made, as explosions ripped through Haven's central courtyard on a night meant to be celebrated, echoed through her mind.
He had sworn to protect her. Covering her body with his own as Breed traitors attempted to kidnap Storme Montague, one of the newly mated women within Haven, and Cassie, he had sheltered her from the danger.
How many times had she replayed that night in her nightmares? Each time though, the terror turned to something else, to something softer, hotter. To something that only frightened her more, on a deep, intensely personal level.
He made her want him. Nightmares turned to erotic fantasy whenever she dreamed of that night. To the sensation of his lips caressing her ear, then her cheek. To the feel of his lips at first only brushing against hers, then taking the curves with a hungry, primal passion she couldn't seem to deny.
"Fuck!" The furious curse had Mica jerking her head around, desperate to see what had caused the exclamation.
She had only a second to catch a glimpse of lights turning into the alley before Navarro pulled her quickly into a deep, sheltered recess between two buildings, before pressing her into the brick wall.
"Sons of bitches couldn't have picked a warm night for this bullshit, could they?" he growled at her ear as Mica felt his arms sheltering her, the long leather coat he wore wrapping around her as he tucked her head against his chest.
Beneath the coat, he was heavily armed, an arsenal strapped into the lining of the leather covering and holstered beneath his arm, at his waist and thigh.
She could feel the cold metal of the automatic submachine gun holstered at his side by a leather harness. An automatic handgun was holstered at his lean hips, while he carried one of the lightweight, powerful laser-powered defense weapons holstered at his left side.
A knife was strapped to each thigh, and God only knew what else he was armed with.
"Cougar, do you have visual?" she heard him murmur, no doubt speaking into one of the small, secured ear sets the Breeds used for communication.
"I have him. Just what the hell we needed, Farce's little brother, Loki, on our asses," he grunted a second later.
Farce, a Coyote that had been working for the remaining members of the Genetics Council, had ended up dead weeks before, when he had gone against another Wolf Breed. His little brother, Loki, who carried the mythical name with pride and did his best to live up to it, was rumored to have sworn vengeance for his brother's death.
"Coyote's night out," she said, trying for weak humor as a shudder raced through her.
She could often trap the emotions inside, but that didn't mean they didn't still affect her.
"You have no clue, baby," Navarro sighed as she felt his hand stroke up her back.
That motion, such a small, almost insignificant caress, had Mica dropping her head fully against his chest and breathing in roughly as he continued to talk quietly to whatever Cougar was on the other end of the comm link.
Several times lights passed by the entrance to the narrow lane they were hidden in. They stopped long enough to have Navarro lowering his hand from her, shifting her just enough to the side that he could get to the laser-powered sub-shot burst, a laser version of the compact submachine gun, strapped to his side. Finally, after tense moments, the vehicle eased forward once again, moving slowly, obviously searching intently for something.
"They've stopped a few feet from the entrance," he whispered in her ear as thunder crashed overhead and the rain seemed to fall faster, harder. "Cougar's watching them from his point outside. He has a vehicle and he's ready to roll as soon as they're out of line of sight."
She nodded against his chest, her fingers curling into the shirt she was pressed against as she breathed in his scent and concentrated on keeping her emotions locked away.
"Cassie said you were good at holding back your scent." His hand stroked down her hair. A large, warm hand that spread a sensation of warmth along her neck. "I can barely smell you at all, sweetheart. You've been around nosy Breeds too long, huh?" There was an edge of amusement in his whispered observation.
"You learn," she breathed out with an edge. "Especially around Cassie."
Cassie could make her crazy. Self-defense had created whatever gift Mica had adopted to keep her emotions so carefully contained that even animal senses couldn't pick them up.
"Cassie could make a saint curse," he agreed, then his hand stroked to her hip and tightened there. "Get ready. The SUV has pulled out. Cougar will be easing in within seconds."
"I am so ready to get out of the rain." She held back the hard shivers that threatened to shake through her as she turned her head and watched the entrance.
There were no lights. She wouldn't have known a vehicle had pulled up if she hadn't been watching carefully and seen the dim lights in the alley glittering on the black sheen of paint.
"Move." He was right there, his arm going around her waist and pulling her against him as he began to race for the vehicle.
The passenger door was thrown open as they neared, a dim flare of light revealing the hard, scarred face of the Breed in the driver's seat.
She had to bite her lip to cut off an agonized cry as Navarro lifted her and all but threw her into the backseat before following behind her. The vehicle was moving before the door slammed behind them, Navarro coming over her as the SUV began moving through the alley.
"Stay down," he warned her when she would have tried to push against him and straighten. "They obviously suspected we were in the lane; they could be watching the alley in case you tried to run at some point."
She couldn't breathe.
The pain in her ribs was like fire, biting at her senses with jagged teeth as she fought to hold back the weakness.
It was habit. She'd been practically raised among the Breeds after Cassie and her family had come into their lives. She'd learned early never to show a weakness, to never let them suspect she wasn't as tough as she pretended to be. And she could pretend to be damned tough.
But with Navarro lying over her, the heat of him seeping through her cold flesh, she couldn't contain the pain building in her ribs.
"Please," she finally gasped, unable to lie against her side much longer, or to bear the pressure on her tender ribs.
He stiffened, easing back just a moment as a growl sounded from the front seat.
"They're behind us, man. Sensors are showing heatseeking radar. If you so much as shift the wrong way, they're going to get a lock on body heat. Stay put."
She tried to breathe.
Each indrawn breath was agony, tearing at her chest, sending waves of pain surging through her system.
She didn't know if she could bear it. Her ribs weren't broken, she doubted they were cracked, but the bruising would be extensive. She could feel it, spreading across her side, around her back, into her chest.
"Get a safe distance from them," Navarro snarled. "She's in pain. She won't be able to hold this position for long."
"Look, the bastards are damned suspicious," the other Breed argued. "They've been on my ass since we pulled out. We need to troll nice and easy to the hotel. We'll take the underground parking garage. Without a pass, they can't follow us."
"Navarro, just a little bit." She couldn't hold back the plea any longer. "Please, it hurts."
"Move so much as an inch and they're going to have us before we're close enough to the hotel to be safe," the driver bit out furiously. "Just a few more blocks, Navarro. You don't have a fucking inch to spare. You're already all but crawling into the front seat here."
Navarro could feel the impulses raging inside him, tearing at his senses as he fought to hold his place. Another part, a more primal, intent part of his mind demanded he move, that he ease the pain he could more than feel. He could smell it. A thick, rich scent of heat, like wood burning. In Mica, it was stronger than that of an ember, but not yet a blaze.
Scents were odd; different emotions, different levels of sensation or feelings could inspire the body to radiate far different scents.
With Mica, a woman he knew could bear, and hide, a certain amount of discomfort, the fact that he could scent the heat of the pain so clearly was telling. She was hurting, and the longer he lay there, the pressure of his body against hers, the more the pain increased.
He could sense it. The knowledge of it had his muscles tensing, had him fighting to keep his weight from her as much as possible.
"We're almost there," he assured her as he turned his head to catch a glimpse of the buildings they were passing. From between the front seats he could glimpse the towers, watching as each passed by and counting off the streets left to go. "There's a nice warm room awaiting us, Mica. A hot meal, a hot shower, then I'll check your ribs and see the damage those bastards managed to do. I'll care for you. Haven't I always cared for you whenever you needed?"
"Yes." The tightly worded response destroyed him.
He'd never wanted anyone's trust, especially a woman's, but he wanted hers.
She made him wish, when he'd learned years before not to wish. She made him hunger, she made him want to learn how to dream.
The contradictions were often disconcerting because he couldn't ignore them, and emotions were something he'd learned to ignore as a child.
With Mica, he found it impossible to ignore anything she forced him to feel. Especially the arousal.
"I remember the first time I saw you," he whispered against her ear as he felt her trembling beneath him, the scent of pain growing stronger as it wafted from her. "Do you remember, Amaya?" Night rain. She reminded him of the dark peace, the gentle touch of a summer rain at night.
"I was fifteen." Stress filled her voice, pain tightened it. "They were calling Cassie names."
Some of the younger Breeds, those who had been rescued from the labs while still in their teens. They had dared to stand before Cassie and call her a freak when they detected the slightest hint of her Coyote genetics.
They had made Cassie cry before they even realized who she was. They'd known only the scent of her, Wolf and Coyote mixed. And at that time, Coyote had been a hated scent.
"You pushed in front of her and blacked Josiah's eye." He closed his eyes tight as he fought against a wild, impulsive need to tell the men following them to go to hell and lift his weight from her immediately.
"Josiah deserved it." Her voice was tighter, a hint of a sob, the scent of tears ripping at him.
"Josiah deserved it," he agreed before turning his head. "Cougar, dammit, tell me we're in safe territory."
"They're still on our fucking asses and that body heat sensor is still active," Cougar snarled back. "Five more minutes, Nav. She's not dying, it just fucking hurts."
The scent of her pain was affecting Cougar as well. The other Breed was hard-core, cold to the pit of his soul where males, human or Breed, were concerned. But he hadn't quite learned that women were just as strong, and a hell of a lot more dangerous in some cases than any man could ever hope to be.
Women were Cougar's weakness. Mica was Navarro's. And it made no sense. She wasn't his mate. He'd pushed that limit, tested her response to him; he'd kissed her, and still, the mating hormone hadn't risen inside him.
"Navarro please…" she whispered again, her breathing shallow, the scent of her tears destroying him. "I can't breathe."
The soft heat of an ember that indicated her pain was now beginning to glow brighter, threatening to blossom to a full flame.
"Three more minutes," Cougar assured him, his voice tighter. "Bastards are still on our asses."
"I'm going to kill them," Navarro promised. "Find out who it is, Cougar. They're dead."
Mica whimpered beneath him.
Son of a bitch, he hated hurting her.
"We're coming up on the hotel," Cougar stated. "Once we turn in, we should be home free."
"Just hurry the fuck up!" It was Mica's voice, vibrating with pain now, thick with tears but heavy with anger.
"I thought you said she was sweet and shy, Nav," Cougar snorted then. "She sounds like a brat to me."
"I see a black eye in his future too." Clenched teeth, feminine ire and that damned pain.
"I know how to duck," Cougar assured her. "I always was better at that than Josiah was."
"But Josiah also knows how to keep his mouth shut now. A lesson you need to learn," Navarro stated warningly, a flare of jealousy he couldn't have expected rising inside him at the flirtatiousness in Cougar's voice.
He shot a glare toward the other Breed and found himself biting off a growl.
"If he doesn't hurry, I'm going to kick his ass," Mica promised painfully.
Navarro wanted to grin at the irritation in her voice, and he would have, if he hadn't known it was caused by pain.
She didn't make idle threats. He'd seen her go nose to nose with Breeds before, and they didn't always back down simply because she was protected by Dash Sinclair.
"Here we go," Cougar murmured.
As he made the turn, Navarro was suddenly thankful Mica was on her stomach, not on her back. If she had been on her back, staring up at him, he wondered if he could have withstood the temptation of her kiss, despite her pain.
She made him hot. She made his dick damned hard, and she made him feel, whether he wanted to or not. He couldn't help it. No matter how he fought it, she made him as hungry as a damned rabid Wolf and as off balance as a human teenager after his first love.
"We're clear." The relief in Cougar's voice had Navarro realizing the tension that had been tightening inside him.
Navarro shifted back quickly, his hands moving to her back, one easing against her side to check for injury.
Her clothes were sodden, chilled against her flesh, but he could feel the heat of her beneath the clothing, indicating a deep, painful bruise.
There was no scent of broken bones, of blood or internal bleeding. Just her pain, and the wounding of the flesh clear to the bone. The knowledge of the pain she must be feeling had an effect on him that he couldn't have anticipated. Regret that seared him, and a fury toward her attacker that assured his death if Navarro ever learned his identity.
"The elevator goes straight to the penthouse suite," Cougar informed them as Navarro clenched his jaw and helped Mica sit up in the seat.
Gripping her ribs, she eased up with his help, her golden green eyes almost the color of a Breed's. Almost. That gold was sparse, like small flakes of glitter that peeked in and out of the soft green.
"Let's go." The moment the SUV pulled up to the underground elevator, Navarro was out of the vehicle, moving around quickly to throw Mica's door open and help her from the seat.
"I can walk. I'm just not in the mood to have your heavy ass laying all over me." She almost slapped at his hands as she glared up at him while moving gingerly from the backseat.
He almost winced at the biting tone. He'd learned young, though, to never back down, no matter the strength of his adversary.
Ignoring her glare, he gripped her arm and steered her quickly to the elevator as he pulled the electronic key card from the inner pocket of his coat.
Sliding it into the security strip, Navarro glanced around quickly, his gaze narrowed, his senses on high alert as the door slid open.
"He man," she muttered as he pushed her gently inside the small cubicle.
"Brat." Affection rose inside him as he chose the penthouse suite from the digital menu.
"Jonas went all out, I see." A delicate, feminine sound of ire was sniffed from her delicate little nose. "And all for little ole me."
Glancing down at her from the corner of his eyes, he wondered exactly how to diffuse the temper he could feel brewing. He hadn't been trained in this particular combat situation. The war of the sexes wasn't exactly on the list of training assignments the Genetics Council scientists and military advisors had approved.
"All for you," he finally agreed. "Once we realized a team had been sent to capture you, your team was ordered to bring you in. Unfortunately, they had already been identified by the men sent for you. They took your team out before the Coyote tried to grab you. Cougar and I were here on another assignment when the distress signal went out and we came to help."
They had been there to meet with someone Jonas had been searching high and low for. Years of investigative work had gone into locating this particular scientist. The moment Navarro had caught the call on the comm link that Mica's team had been hit, he'd left the assignment immediately.
He could still hear Jonas screaming through the link and Lawe and Rule's amused laughter as he and Cougar sped away to the heart of the city.
"I had a team?" She sounded faintly surprised.
"Of course you had a team," he informed her as the elevator slid to a smooth, soundless stop. "You've always had one, Mica. Since the day Cassie declared you were her best friend and informed her father that her 'fairy' said she needed you, you've had a team covering you."
He felt her stiffen, as though that information had somehow surprised her, or upset her. The faintest scent of anger, a heat more like a volcano preparing to erupt than the embers of pain, drifted to him.
"That long?" Her voice was faint, disappointed.
Without waiting for the doors to fully open, she stepped into the penthouse, obviously ignoring every rule of entry she had ever been taught.
Shaking his head, Navarro stepped in front of her with a sharp growl, his gaze slicing back at her in warning and, thankfully, bringing her to a stop as he moved ahead of her.
"Anger is no excuse for ignoring the rules," he snapped.
The thing about Mica? A man had to take control immediately. Begin as he intended to go on. She could push right over anyone who thought she should be spoiled or treated gently.
"Being male is no excuse for arrogance, but I've noticed Breed males have it in abundance," she retorted without an ounce of the sweetness displayed in her voice.
She would make any man a hell of a woman, mate or wife. She wasn't weak, but neither was she a shrew. She could be gentle, she could soft, or she could be an explosive, as unstable as hell in the wrong hands.
She would be a handful, Navarro had always known that, but there was a part of him that looked forward to the challenge. A part of him that was glad she wasn't his mate, while another part mourned it.
Thankfully, so far, as he seemed to be safe of the dangers of mating; he refused to marry, and he wouldn't allow himself the convenience of a mistress or a steady lover.
He was created for deception, created to deceive and to lie, and trusting a man, or a Breed, created and trained for such things, wouldn't be easy for any woman. But even more, he was one of only a few such creations, and his gifts, or his curse, was needed for the survival of the Breeds at large. Mating would change that. It would change him. And Navarro wasn't certain if he was ready for that.
He knew well what he couldn't have, no matter the desires that haunted him in the darkest hours of the night. And this woman, sharp and so very prickly on the outside, heated and warm on the inside, was the very thing he couldn't allow himself.
He ignored the arrogance comment and opted instead to draw the sub-shot burst from beneath his jacket before checking the suite carefully.
Cougar would be back soon with the equipment to ensure there were no electronic or video bugs, while Navarro knew Jonas was currently working on a plan to get Mica out of the city as secretly as possible.
The team they had bypassed earlier wasn't the only one sent for her, scouring the city to locate her even now.
At last count, there were twelve teams searching high and low for Mica. Twenty-four men determined to take her. There were surface-to-air, handheld missiles in the city, and plans to waylay anyone who tried to drive her out or any heli-jet that dared to fly her out. If they could catch sight of it.
Find a hole and stay put, Jonas had warned them, until he found a way to get her back to Sanctuary or to Haven. Keep her under wraps. Keep her safe. And do it all while trying like hell to stay out of her pants had been Navarro's warning to himself.
Unfortunately, the last part was the very order he was truly afraid would never be obeyed.
Getting in Mica's pants was one of the first things on his list of things to do while Jonas and Stygian searched for an escape route out of the city. He didn't have to change to fuck her.
He almost winced. No, he could never fuck her. A woman like Mica, a man, no matter his species, could only make love to such a woman, whether he allowed himself to love her or not.
And this would be his only chance to have her; it might well be his last chance to know exactly what he was leaving behind. It was time for him to go before nature caught up with him and gave him a mate. It was time to return to the life of lies and illusion he'd been a part of before taking the mission to search for Jonas's scientist.
Besides, Mica was a weakness that could get them both killed.
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