Shock widened Aiden’s eyes. “Three hundred,” he bit out. “Last count is three hundred.”

“Ah.” Keegan nodded.“Over six hundred known to me then. My count is of course more accurate I can assure you. But that is neither here nor there. Humans are naturally predisposed to female children. It will not be so for Breeds, who will be predisposed to males. What would you make of this, Aiden?”

Shit. He bit back a stream of curses at the information. Not that he wholly trusted theWinged male’s knowledge. Unfortunately, he suspected the man knew exactly what he was talking about.Which only complicated things further.

“More trouble than we need,” he sighed roughly. “Our males will mate with full-human females. The Purists that will arise will go crazy.”

“Yes.” Keegan nodded slowly. “But not more than the Breeds can manage.”

He would have said more, Aiden thought, if one of the Enforcers hadn’t chosen that moment to call his out his name as he approached them.

“Aiden, Armani needs you back at the tent. The girl is bleeding again and she’s frightened she may need another transfusion.”

He flinched, turning back to Keegan with a flash of worry.

“Her life is in your hands, Aiden,” he said softly. “It is your choice now if she lives or dies. Now is the time to make it.”

Aiden narrowed his eyes in frustrated fury. “You know, Keegan, I could grow to hate you,” he snarled.

“Quite easily.”

He didn’t give the Winged Breed a chance to respond. He turned and rushed back to the camp, heading for the medical tent and the woman, Nature, in all her supposed wisdom, decided was his mate.

* * * * *

“And I could grow to hate you as well, Aiden, quite easily,” Keegan murmured as he watched the other Breed rush from the darkness toward the well camp.

“Is this not the way of all alphas?”a soft voice asked him with gentle amusement, touching his mind with a light, feminine touch.

He snorted. “There are alphas and then there are fools. Which, I wonder, will he ultimately be?”

“You have not seen this yet?”the voice asked softly. “It must be because you have refused to look.”

He shrugged defiantly, as though the voice could see such a movement. “I would prefer not to regret what I can not change.”

He had a fondness for Charity. Not alove, or a jealousy of what Aiden possessed, but a fondness. Her soul was gentle, her heart filled with warmth. She was the only human he had met who possessed such qualities.

“And if you do not look, how do you know it cannot be changed?”the voice asked. He sighed wearily. “Are there not duties for you to attend to? Surely wherever you are, there are things you must do other than harass me.”

“Actually, my duty is to harass you more often.”Her laughter filled his mind. “I have been accused of being quite lazy where you are concerned.”

“Who would dare?”he mocked her patiently then.

She laughed again.A whispery little chuckle that tempted him to smile.

“Will you be leaving there soon?”she asked.

“Within the hour.We are preparing to fly now. They will be upset at our absence.”

“There are things you must do, Keegan. They will survive without your knowledge. Remember, what comes easy is not near as important as those things you must fight for.”

And there was much, he thought, left to fight for. Shaking his head at the cruelties of man and the fickleness of fate, he moved farther into the jungle for the clearing he had landed in earlier. Unfurling his wings he lifted them to the breeze coming behind him and took a running leap into flight. Charity would suffer for the desertion, but he had seen enough to know that her trials were those she must face alone. He had his own destiny to conquer, his own trials to endure. And it must all begin now.

Chapter Four

Breed Compound

Colorado Mountains

Charity came awake with a moan of pain. How she had managed to sleep, to escape the blinding pain of the drugs, she wasn’t certain. How she came awake in the unfamiliar room was even more confusing. She blinked weakly up at the rough beamed ceiling wondering where she was, what had happened. A spasm of convulsive reaction shook her womb, taking her breath, as she moaned harshly. She could feel the dampness between her thighs, the ever-present arousal that spiked through her body. The sexual need she could tolerate, she had learned to accept it over the years. It was the blinding pain of the attempts at forced fertility that weakened her mind.

When the contractive shudder eased away she looked around the room. The bedroom was large and almost homey. On the other side of the room an open fireplace burned cheerily, the flames warming the rooms with heated comfort. The bed was canopied, the thick flannel curtains tied back along the rough wood posts. Several comfortable chairs sat on the other side of the room, beside a large chest and dresser.

To her side a door was open to another room, obviously a bathroom. Thank God, she needed one. She checked carefully, she wasn’t restrained in any way. Her wrists weren’t sore, though her feet felt like hell. She pushed the quilts from her body, finally realizing she was dressed in a large T-shirt, but nothing else. She wasn’t going to bitch; she hadn’t been allowed to wear clothes in six months. She moved weakly to the side of the bed, biting her lip at the pain in her legs and ankles as she swung them from the bed. She dreaded putting any weight on her feet. She could feel their tenderness, the pain awaiting her.

She bit off her cry of agony as she gingerly stood up. Tears filled her eyes and within moments dampened her cheeks as she shuffled to the small room. Once there, she used the toilet, washed her hands and face and glanced longingly at the tub before shaking her head. If she got in, she would never pull herself out.

As she washed her face, she found a clean toothbrush still within its box and worked it free quickly. She felt almost freshened after brushing her teeth and forced herself back to the bed. Her breaths were panting whimpers by the time she sat down on the mattress and managed to pull her legs onto the bed. She collapsed across it, breathing heavily, trying to relax through the contractions in her abdomen. She felt along the incision, surprised that no blood was leaking free. It was bandaged, obviously stitched closed. She blinked in confusion toward the fireplace, trying to remember, to understand the abrupt changes around her.

No cells, no scientists, no restraints. She breathed in deeply, knowing there was something she had forgotten, something she needed to remember. Shadowed images flickered through her mind.Flames and fear, a blinding heat as she fought to escape. She shook her head, trying to make sense of it.

“You shouldn’t be out of bed. If you had called I would have helped you.”

Fear shocked her system. The breath lodged in her throat as she stared unblinkingly at the fire, trying to deny the voice that had spoken. It wasn’t possible, she assured herself. Not now. Not after all these


His voice was colder than it had been in the Mexican Labs.More savage and controlled than she remembered. She licked her lips nervously, wondering if she would survive the savagery she glimpsed in his eyes.

“You can’t ignore me forever, Charity.” Smooth, mocking amusement raked across her nerves as leanly muscled thighs came into her line of vision. Between the jean-clad columns, a thick, hard erection bulged against the snug, low-slung cloth.

Charity swallowed in tight reaction as her nipples peaked, hardening with increased arousal. She fought to breathe through the welcoming shudders in her womb. As though her body had instinctively recognized its sexual master, it began to hum in joy. A joy her mind rejected, the intellectual part of her aware that she may have well escaped the physical pain, but the emotional agony to come could well be worse. Muscles flexed, his abdomen tightened as he bent his knees, lowering himself until he could stare at her from the bottom of the bed. Her breath hitched in her throat. He was older, his features honed, harder. His eyes were a silver-gray, merciless,as cold as ice.

Black hair fell shaggy and thick around his face as he propped his forearms on the mattress, watching her silently. Satisfaction lined his expression, tormenting, knowing.

“Well,” she cleared her throat weakly.“Out of the frying pan and into the fire.” She commented on her apparent rescue from the Labs, only to find herself now held by the one man she had fought to escape for years.

A thick black brow arched questioningly.“An interesting analogy. Would you like me to contact the Council and return you?”

She flinched. He would, she thought, and likely do so gladly. But which was really worse?

“How did you find me? Did you find the Winged Breeds as well?” she finally bit out when she couldn’t answer her own question. The pain in her womb only fed her anger, fed her sense of desperation. His expression darkened. “We found them. Do you remember the attack at all?Your escape from the Labs?”

Escape? There had been no rescue? She forced herself to shake her head negatively. “What happened?” Not that she cared at this point. She was free of them, and she would die before going back.

“You somehow managed to escape just before the explosion brought the mountain down. We had already rescued Keegan and the others, but had been unable to get to you. I found you afterwards, nearly unconscious in the jungle.” He watched her closely. The look was so intent she dropped her own gaze.

“How did you find me?” Shards of memory flashed through her mind, making more sense as the seconds passed.

“Keegan led me to you.” His voice was calm, holding little, if any, emotion. The very fact that he appeared so emotionless was more frightening than his anger could have been.

“He should have left me to die,” she grunted sarcastically. “It would have been far kinder.”

“Not to mention less complicated.” Aiden surged to his feet, causing her to flinch in dizzied reaction.

“Our doctor has examined you and found no lasting injuries. You’ve been washed, disinfected and stitched. You should be well soon.”

Disinfected.Morbid amusement filled her.As though she had somehow been contagious. She closed her eyes, fighting the overwhelming futility of fighting further. Unfortunately, something inside her refused to allow her to give in.A spark of rage, of anger. Not just at the Council, but at Aiden as well. Had it not been for him and his determination to die too soon, she wouldn’t be in this mess right now.

“Thank you for the update,” she gritted out as she closed her eyes, fighting to breathe through the surging contractions in her abdomen. If he would just go the hell away then she could be miserable in peace. She heard him sigh roughly. “I can smell the scent of your arousal. You’re horny, Charity.” His voice was edged with frustration.

“Poor me,” she sniped as she gritted her teeth against the pain.

“The scent offends me.” He sounded angry, as though she expected him to relieve the pain.

“Poor you.”She wasn’t about to ask him for anything, even if it was his damned fault. “If it offends you so damned bad then get the hell away from me!” She shot him a look that she hoped showed her rising fury.Like she needed a damned update concerning the state of her own body. She tensed then as a particularly agonizing bolt of pain tore through her womb. It was getting worse. She fought to control the scream building in her throat, but couldn’t stop the whimper that escaped her lips. Before she could do more than gasp, Aiden flipped her to her back, holding her down, increasing the pain that radiated like a cascade of fireworks through her body.

“Stop,” she wheezed, desperate to curl back into the fetal position she had assumed when the pain first started.

She could feel the cold sweat breaking out on her face, the screams building in her throat. She hated being this weak in front of him, in such pain she was helpless against whatever cruelty he would inflict.


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