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She lifted a brow mockingly, causing his cock to twitch at the implied defiance. “I’m weak, Aiden, not stupid.”

He sighed wearily. “No, you are not stupid, just incredibly stubborn. That stubbornness makes me horny, Charity.”

“Well gee, Aiden, why not just be romantic about it,” she snorted as her face flushed with arousal and shyness.

He couldn’t help himself. He knelt before her, took her face in his hands and laid his lips on hers. He felt the silken curves tremble as they parted beneath the touch. And he waited. He went no further, just the gentle stroking of lips against lips until her tongue peeked out and stroked timidly at him. Her hands rose to his shoulders, slid to his neck as he fought to keep the kiss soft, comforting, despite the heat that rose between them. He could feel her in every cell of his body as her kiss stroked the fire in his cock brighter. Finally, in desperation he pulled back.

His thumb slid over the moist curves.

“Perhaps I missed the romance classes during training,” he said regretfully, moving away from her as a knock sounded at the door. “That would be the good doctor,” he sighed then and headed for the door. He had promised himself he would allowthis, that he would tamp down his possessive instincts, his fury that somehow she would be weakened further. He strode quickly for the door and swung it open. Armani stood there, that damned mocking glint in her eye, a smug smile about her mobile mouth.

“You trained her too well,” he bit out as he moved aside for her to enter. She didn’t enter. Instead she watched him closely.

“Before I see her, I want to know if you have taken her anally yet.”

Sometimes the damned woman could be too nosy. He often wondered if she didn’t do it deliberately, just to keep the rest of them off balance.

Aiden clenched his teeth. “No,” he finally bit out. “Not yet.”

She nodded abruptly.“Another thing. Physically, how is she holding up?”

Why the hell was she asking him?

“See foryourself ,” he growled.

She shook her head.“Your opinion first, Aiden. I don’t ask lightly.”

He breathed in deeply. “She’s trembling, even now. She’s pale and weak, and the arousal is draining her strength. I worry…” And for that reason he had allowed the testing to begin. She nodded abruptly and forged into the room, breezing past him as though he was no longer there. Aiden shook his head and closed the door. He knew that as far as she was concerned, he was no longer there.

Now, did he leave, or did he stay? He turned and paced to the kitchen table and sat down to wait. No way in hell was he leaving.

* * * * *

“Charity, it’s good to see you.” Nikki’s smile was wide, her black eyes filled with humor and more knowledge than she likely needed, Charity thought as the other woman walked into the room.

“’Bout time you got here,” she griped. “I can’t believe you let Aiden hold you off that long.”

She knew Nikki. She could have easily steamed right over Aiden at any given time. Nikki shrugged.“Stubborn man. Breeds are not always logical, Charity. Of course, we’re talking the male Breeds here. Often the females show a bit more sense.”

“How often?”Charity asked in amusement.

“Hmm, sometimes,” Nikki laughed as she dragged the chair from the wall over to the bed. “There.” She sat down heavily, leaning back in the padded comfort of the seat. “Tell me.”

Charity sighed. Nikki didn’t have to say what she wanted to know; Charity knew the drill by now.

“Keegan knows much more than I do,” she sighed wearily. “All I really know is that the incision made

into the womb was to apply the drugs directly and to view certain changes within the womb. They didn’t check the ovaries, though, which is where I believe the change is occurring. Those tests were scheduled to begin soon. They were beginning to suspect many of the conclusions I’ve come to myself.”

Nikki nodded. “I have tracked it that far myself, with Hope and Faith’s help. The blood, saliva and vaginal samples I took while you were unconscioussupports this. The changes are much more advanced in your body, though.”

Charity nodded then glanced at her friend. “They had samples of Aiden’s semen, Nikki. They had the records from that last night in the Labs. I don’t know what’s going on, but when they matched the anomalies in my blood to his semen, the injections began. After that, there’s very little that I can tell you. I just don’t remember.”

“The how isn’t as important as figuring out what they accomplished,” Nikki sighed.“Bastards. They never were very smart.”

“Nikki, we have to find a way to reverse it,” she whispered. “Soon, before I actually conceive.”

Nikki rubbed her brow worriedly as Charity watched her.

“Does Aiden know you love him, Charity?” she finally asked her curiously. Shock shot through her. “It’s the drugs…”

“Charity, even I knew, six years ago, that you loved this man. Does he know?”

Charity shook her head. “It wasn’t love, Nikki. It really wasn’t. I didn’t want him to die.”

“Hmm.”Nikki watched her for long silent moments. “Okay, let’s get started then.” The other woman picked up the thick black bag she carried with her as she rose to her feet. “You know what I need, Charity.”

Charity glanced at the doorway.

“He knows better.” Nikki didn’t follow her gaze. “He won’t come in here unless we call him, or you cry out.” She looked at her. “Can you stand for me to touch you?”

Charity drew in a deep breath as she rubbed her arms. Already her body seemed to be rejecting the very idea of it. She could feel her skin crawling, prickling at the thought of what was to come. Bad memories, she tried to tell herself. That was all. But somehow she knew that wasn’t entirely true.

“Is it normal?” she asked cautiously.

“Very normal, it would appear,” Nikki sighed.“Makes it damned hard to get any kind of samples at all during the first phases of the mating. Hope couldn’t bear to be touched in any way for weeks after Wolfe first took her. Faith had only been marked when I first tested her, so it wasn’t so bad. By the time she returned with Jacob, she had already passed the first phase. I’m hoping I can get the samples I need with you, Charity.”

“It eased for them?” Charity frowned, wondering what miracle it would take for that to occur.“How?”

Nikki grimaced. “As I understand it, it has something to do witha certain strength of climax. Once that’s reached, it eases.”

She was hedging. Charity’s eyes narrowed on her.

“Keep going,” she said softly.

“Nowhere to go.”Nikki shrugged as she pulled a pair of surgical gloves over her slender hands. The band snapped against her wrist as she pulled the last one in place. “Though it seems it occurred in those two during anal sex. I’m hoping to find a mate soon who can achieve it the normal way.” Her voice was carefully bland, though her eyes were sharp as she watched her. Charity blinked up at her, shock rolling through her system. “Let’s hope we can find a cure then,” she said calmly. “Because I don’t think the anal thing is going to work.”

Nikki chuckled as she prepared the syringe for a blood sample. “Yes, well, we can hope.Though I was thinking more along other lines. Now, let’s see if I can get a sample.”

The examination was horrendous. If Charity had thought it had been bad in the Labs, strapped to the gurney, her body protesting every touch, this was worse.

Each touch was agony. Like knives scraping the flesh from her bones as Nikki touched her, no matter how gently.

“Easy, Charity.”The other woman’s whisper, though pitched low, was still concerned nearly an hour later. “We’re almost finished.”

Charity breathed in roughly as the other woman probed at her stomach, checking the inflammation of the ovaries that Charity knew had occurred. She knew her body, knew the changes in it had to be examined, tested, but she didn’t know how much more she could bear.

Sweat covered her body, saturated her clothing. Her fists were clenched in the blankets as she fought the gut wrenching protest each time Nikki touched her. She had started at the mark Aiden had left. A sample of the skin had been taken, the area checked thoroughly as Charity flinched, and the reaction had only grown worse as the doctor moved farther down.

“Charity, I must have vaginal samples,” she said gently, glancing back at the door. “Can you hold on just a bit longer?”

“Hurry.”She was naked, shaking from a chill she knew didn’t truly exist, and terrified she couldn’t hold onto her control long enough.

“Stop.”Aiden’s voice was coldly furious as he stalked into the room, startling the two women. “God damn, Armani,look at what the hell you’ve done to her. Get the fuck out of here.”

“No,” Charity gasped as he moved to her, his expression nearly murderous as he went to jerk the doctor away from her. “Aiden, help me.” She couldn’t stop the shaking in her body, the chill racking her.

“Please, she has to finish.”

He stopped staring at her in surprise. “Charity, it’s killing you. You look like a fucking corpse,” he yelled down at her as she flinched in reaction. “What the hell would you have me to do?”

She stared up at him, knowing what he had to do. “Hold me down,” she bit out. “Let her finish the exam, Aiden. Please, you have to help me.”

Chapter Seventeen

Her screams still echoed in his head. Aiden sat on the porch ignoring the silent doctor who sat in the swing on the other end and stared out at the slowly darkening sky. His hands were trembling. He stared down at them, wondering bleakly if he had ever trembled likethis? Even as a child he hadn’t been a nervous type. His hands had stayed strong; fear had never broken him. Yet now, he trembled like a babe during a hard chill.

Not nearly as hard as Charity had shook, though. And she had screamed. The moment Armani had begun the vaginal examination her screams had torn from her throat. And he had been forced to hold her down, watching her eyes, wild and terrified as her body protested any touch other than his own.

“How long will she sleep?” He cleared his throat, still fighting the reaction that had set in the moment he left the cabin.

“Hopefully, a while.”Armani’s voice was thick, filled with regret.

“Did you get what you needed?” He couldn’t look at her. He was afraid if he did, he would kill her. Then he remembered her tears. The one time he had allowed himself to glance at her, tears had streamed from her eyes.

“I hope to God I did,” she finally bit out. “Dear God, Aiden, I don’t know what’s happening to her. Her ovaries areswollen, her cervix is open as though she were in the last stages of pregnancy rather than the first stages of fertility. Neither Hope nor Faith experienced such pain. How do you bring yourself to take her?”

He glanced at her in surprise. “When I touch her, Armani, her body knows only pleasure. It was your touch that brought her pain.”

She shuddered as he spoke. “God, Aiden. I don’t know how to help her. I don’t know what to do.”

“Don’t touch her,” he bit out. “Until the mating is complete, Nikki, no other can touch her. I tried to tell you this, tried to explain what I felt.”

She frowned. “You knew this?”

He pushed his fingers through his hair in agitation. “Not consciously. The thought of you testing her was abhorrent to me, and I couldn’t explain why. This was why. I knew instinctively…” He paused as he shook his head.“ I knew what it would do to her.”


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