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Bengals quest, p.1
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       Bengal's Quest, p.1

         Part #21 of Breeds series by Lora Leigh  
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  Find your mountain and take the first step . . .

  Climb it.

  Find your song and take that first breath . . .

  Sing it.

  Find your story, pick up your pen . . .

  Write it.

  Find that perfect picture, camera in hand . . .

  Take it.

  Whatever your dream, wherever it exists, reach out for it . . .

  Live it.

  Climb your mountain. Sing your song.

  Write that story. Take that picture.

  Live that dream.

  Do it now, before you realize the time for it has passed.

  • THE WORLD OF THE BREEDS •

  They’re not shifters or werewolves.

  They are experiments in genetic engineering. Created to be super soldiers and the advanced lab rats needed to research new drug therapies for the human population.

  They weren’t created to be free.

  They weren’t even created to live.

  They existed to serve the men and women who created them, tortured them, filled them with rage and a hunger for freedom.

  Now they’re free, they’re living and they’re setting the world, and their mates, on fire.

  • • •

  For a glossary of Breed terms, please flip to the back of the book.

  • PROLOGUE •

  BRANDENMORE RESEARCH

  GENETICS RESEARCH UNDERGROUND FACILITY

  Cat stared at the white wall of the cell she’d grown up in and she cried. She hadn’t cried in a long time.

  It hurt G when she cried, so she’d stopped crying when she was scared, when she was five. She was twelve now, and unless the therapies just hurt so bad she couldn’t stand it anymore, she didn’t cry.

  This hurt worse than the therapies, though. This hurt worse than even when she’d begged G to let her die.

  Because G was gone now.

  At least all the alarms were quiet. It was the alarms that woke her and the only other occupant of the cell.

  First Honor’s momma and daddy had taken Honor home. Now they said G was gone, that he had run away. But G wasn’t a kid and he wouldn’t have run away without taking her and Judd with him. He wouldn’t have. She knew he wouldn’t.

  And her teddy bear was gone too. G only let her have the teddy bear when she came back from their experiments and her whole body felt like it was being torn apart. Then he would let her cuddle it as he cuddled her.

  “He took my teddy bear,” she whispered. “He must have been very scared, Judd. He must have known the men in the black clothes were going to take him.”

  Judd was a Bengal Breed, like G was, but G said Judd’s Bengal was asleep. Dr. Foster had said it was recessed. Sometimes G tried to explain things to her like she wasn’t grown up. She was grown up. She knew lots of stuff. And she knew Judd was making his Bengal sleep. It wasn’t awake because he wouldn’t allow it to awaken.

  Judd was cool, though. With soft black hair and really deep green eyes. He looked like he had a wonderful tan, but that was just his skin color. A soft dark earthy color that most Breeds shared.

  He was as tall as G, though not as hard in his muscles. He watched everything all the time and sometimes G explained things to him, but Cat knew they were things Judd had already figured out.

  “The men in the black clothes didn’t take him, Cat.” He lay on his own cot just staring at the ceiling like he always did.

  He’d told her once that if he stared hard enough then his mind took him away to places where he ran free.

  She had never been able to do that, mostly because G was always talking to her, telling her things he said she had to remember.

  But she remembered everything she heard and everything she saw. G only had to tell her things once.

  Things like, if the men in the black suits came for her, not to be scared. Don’t fight them, just be calm, because he would save her before they put her to sleep. The men in the black clothes had taken all the other older people who had been taking the therapies over the years. Dr. Foster became very sad when they left and she’d heard him tell G that at least they wouldn’t hurt anymore.

  “The men in the black clothes took him, Judd.” She tightened her arms around her knees to keep herself from rocking back and forth. “My teddy is gone.” And she needed her teddy bear when G wasn’t there. She was so very scared. “G wouldn’t do that unless he was scared.”

  “Gideon doesn’t get scared, Cat,” he reminded her.

  He’d told her that many times over the years.

  “He wouldn’t leave us.” She knew he wouldn’t. G loved her, and he knew she loved Judd too. He would save Judd too because she would never be able to leave him behind to suffer.

  “I want G,” she whispered, her breath hitching, the fear that always threatened to overwhelm her dragging her under now. “They took him away from me, Judd. Why did they take him away from me? I need G.”

  Silent sobs shook her shoulders, she didn’t dare let the scientists hear her crying. They would punish her for being loud. They would give her that horrible drug that trapped her inside her own mind and made her crazy with the pain they inflicted.

  “Gideon ran away, Cat.” Judd’s voice was hollow, resigned. “You have to accept that. I don’t know why he took the teddy bear but I know the soldiers didn’t take him.”

  She needed G. He protected her. He made hell bearable and he gave her hope. And Judd was wrong. G wouldn’t leave her. He just wouldn’t do that. G knew she didn’t have anyone else. She had no one but G . . .

  FOUR MONTHS LATER

  They had taken G, now they were taking her and Judd.

  Cat watched the men in the black clothes as they moved up the hall to the cell. There was no one left in the research center now but her and Judd. They would take her for sure, she knew. She was the one they called a disappointment during the last therapy.

  “Remember, Cat, don’t fight. Stay calm,” Judd murmured when he moved to stand beside her. “Don’t say anything. Don’t tell them anything.”

  But G wouldn’t save them.

  Judd thought he would, but how could he, when the men in the black suits had taken him and put him to sleep?

  She wouldn’t fight, though. She’d promised G she wouldn’t fight in the center. She’d wait. She’d watch. If he didn’t come for her, then first chance after they cleared the labs, she would run. He’d promised there would be a chance.

  She would try to run, just like he’d taught her. She would run and hide and grow up and learn the rest of the fighting lessons. When she knew them all, then she would find out who gave the order to put G to sleep, and she would make them suffer.

  Then what would she do? she wondered. Because she couldn’t imagine life without G after that.

  “You hear me, Cat?” His voice hardened, sounding almost like G’s.

  “I hear you.” There wasn’t enough time to say anything else.

  The men in the black clothes were at the cell. Hard faced, their eyes so flat and cold, without mercy or compassion.

  The metal door slid open soundlessly.

  “Come on, you’re in transfer,” the tallest one announced as he moved to Judd. “Turn around.”

  Judd turned, not even flinching as they strapped the hard plastic cuffs around his wrists.

  Turning, Cat put her hands behind her back as well.

  Both men laughed. “Yeah, you’re a real threat,” the shorter one scoffed before slapping her against the head painfully and pushing her to the door. “I’m not wasting my restraints on you.”

  That was a mistake, but she wasn’t going to tell them that.

  She was tiny. She looked frail. But an animal lurked inside her. One they wouldn’t expect and wouldn’t be prepared for. One determined to live.

  FOUR HOURS LATER

  SOMEWHERE IN THE PENNSYLVANIA MOUNTAINS

  Judd wondered if he should be in shock.

  He stared at the guard who had gotten into the back of the van with them. He was sprawled out on the floor, the side of his neck ripped open as he stared up at the ceiling of the van sightlessly.

  Cat hadn’t been messy about it. She’d moved so fast, with such deadly precision and sharp little teeth and claws, that at first Judd was certain he’d imagined what he was seeing. Until she’d reached into the guard’s belt, retrieved the releasing device and loosened the restraints on Judd’s ankles and wrists.

  She’d returned to the narrow bench, huddled in the corner and stared at the narrow window where the scenery passed by in a haze of midnight shadows.

  “G said I had to be ready,” she whispered. “We’ll only have one chance to run.”

  She still believed Gideon had been taken from her. No one had been able to convince her that Gideon had escaped and left her and Judd there alone until he could arrange for Dr. Bennett, the new director of the center, to have them transferred to the euthanasia facility.

  What would she do when she realized Gideon was really alive?

  “Cat, listen to me.” Kneeling next to her, carefully Judd reached out, touched her dirty face and turned it to him.

  Gideon was going to go ape shit. The lab techs hadn’t allowed Cat to properly bathe since Gideon’s escape. Her hair hung in dirty strings and dirt marred her face and hands.

  “Gideon will be here . . .”

  She shook her head fiercely. “He wouldn’t leave me like that.” Tiny fingers curled into fists. “He wouldn’t leave me, Judd.”

  “To save you, he would have left you, Cat.”

  A feral snarl and snap of tiny incisors had him jerking his head back instinctively, staring back at her in shock.

  “G wouldn’t do that!” The pain in her face, in her eyes, broke his heart for her. “He wouldn’t leave me alone. Never. And he wouldn’t take my teddy from me even if he did.”

  But he would have, if he’d hidden dozens of nano flash chips in it that he’d filled with information he’d stolen over the years. Generations of experiments, genetic coding and Breed research had been hidden in that tattered little bear.

  There was no time to explain all that, though.

  He was out of time.

  Gideon’s warning shot sounded and lit the night sky like the fourth of July.

  Throwing Cat to the floor, Judd covered her slight body with his own, remembering Gideon’s warning clearly. If Cat received so much as a scratch, then he’d take it out of Judd’s hide.

  Judd would have preferred she receive the scratch than the disillusionment this kid had coming when she saw who was rescuing them.

  • • •

  G.

  He’d really escaped. He’d run away from her, and now, he was dying.

  “He’s lost too much blood, Judd.” She was frantically trying to stem the flow from his chest and as he stared up at her, even the whites of his eyes turned that eerie jade-flecked amber. “We have to transfuse . . .”

  “No . . .” The snarl in G’s voice was a horrible sound.

  She stared down at him in shock. He’d never been a reasonable Breed, but this was crazy.

  Lifting her gaze to the Breed across from her, she begged him silently to ignore the command of the Breed they’d both freely accepted as their alpha years before.

  “If he dies, I’ll never forgive you,” she sobbed as Judd dropped his head, ignoring her imploring gaze. “Do you hear me, Judd? I’ll never forgive you.”

  “I’ll kill you.” G wheezed, the warmth of his blood still easing over her hands.

  “Don’t do this, Gideon.” Judd stared back at him now, his jade green eyes flashing with an inner flame Cat had never seen there before. “Please don’t make it like this.”

  “You know it can’t happen.” G coughed.

  “G, please. You can’t leave me alone,” she begged him desperately, her tears mixing with his blood as she tried to make him understand. “You lied to me, G. You left me once. Don’t leave me like this. I can’t live if you leave me like this.”

  The sobs were jerking through her body, shuddering through her as she made him look at her. She had to make him understand.

  “They’ll come after us. How can we fight without you? Please, G. I don’t want to fight without you.”

  “My little cat.” His voice was so weak it terrified her as his hand trembled, reaching up to touch the tears falling down her face. “You live, Cat. For me. You promised me.”

  She’d sworn to him she’d live. Sworn she would never give up on living.

  “It doesn’t count if you leave me,” she screamed down at him. “It doesn’t count, G.”

  “It counts . . .” An enraged snarl tore from his throat as he felt the pressure syringe Judd stuck to his neck. “No . . . you bastard!” G cursed him. His gaze turned to her, pure green fury lighting the depths. “I’ll kill him, Cat. Do this and I’ll kill him. I’ll kill both of you.”

  She eased back, watching as his arm fell helplessly to the ground beside him.

  Moving quickly to her feet, she rushed to the other side where Judd was laying out a small pallet of blankets from the supplies G had brought. A medical pack sat beside G’s prone body, the transfusion supplies ready.

  “No,” G demanded again. “There’s no serum, Judd. You know what that means.”

  She had no idea what the serum was and she didn’t care. She knew her blood would help him heal, that was all that mattered.

  “I told you, Foster was wrong,” Judd was arguing as Cat lay down next to G and turned her arm up for the other Breed to apply the transfusion syringe into her vein. “Dammit Gideon.”

  “Cat.” The growl had her turning her gaze to him, staring back at him and realizing far more than he knew. “Do this, Cat, and you’ll die . . .” he snarled.

  “I love you, G,” she whispered. More than anything she loved G, she couldn’t let him leave her forever, no matter how much he might hate her for it.

  Staring back at him she felt the first-ever flash of fear for the Bengal she claimed as her G. Green fire filled his eyes, covering the amber, obliterating the black pupils and the whites of his eyes. It was terrifying.

  “I never loved you,” he sneered back at her as she felt the most agonizing pain of her life strike at her heart. “Why do you think I rescued you? You were an experiment. My experiment. That was all . . .”

  “God, Gideon, shut the fuck up,” Judd snarled.

  Before Cat realized what he intended to do he’d given G more of the paralytic, effectively ensuring his alpha couldn’t curse the smallest of their pack any further.

  But it was too late, the words were already said, the damage was already done.

  “I still love you anyway,” she whispered, hurting so bad that the pain blocked her tears.

  Turning from him, Cat stared up at the starry sky and forced herself away from there. Judd had told her how he forced himself from the horror of the labs, freeing his mind while his body was still trapped. Cat forced her mind back to better memories. Back to the sound of G’s voice, gentle and tender when she hurt, easing her from that horrible pit she always felt awaiting her.

  She forced herself back to the security and protection she’d felt when he was there. When she’d believed she belonged to someone.

  Believed, she had. It had been a lie, just as everything else had been a lie.

  Dr. Foster had said once that she was Gideon’s experiment, and she hadn’t known what he meant at the time. She knew now. She’d known since G left the labs that she had been an experiment all along, just to see if her body could be cured of the disease she was born with.

  But she’d been another experiment as well.

  She hadn’t been born a Breed, she’d been made into a Breed through the experiments. The horrifying wracking pain, the agonies that lasted for days and days. She’d been turned from a regular girl into one with an animal hiding inside her.

  Gideon’s experiment, Dr. Foster had called her when she was younger. G worked with him all the time. He was smarter than anyone at those labs. Dr. Foster had said he was smarter than even himself. And Dr. Foster was a Breed maker.

  G had put the animal inside her. He’d hurt her just as all the scientists had, just as Mr. Brandenmore had. She had just been his experiment . . .

  • • •

  She wasn’t surprised the next morning when she awoke and found him gone. Where he’d lain, a piece of paper was folded with her name.

  Run, Judd, get her the hell away from here. Hide her. When I heal, and I will, I’ll find you. And you’ll die. Both of you will. I’ll peel the flesh from your bones and make you wish you’d never infected me as you have.

  The rest of the letter she left unread. Folding it, she handed it silently to Judd, rose to her feet and began gathering the supplies and blankets together and placing them back into the packs.

  At least G had left them that much.

  “You read this?” Judd asked behind her.

  Cat nodded.

  “You understand it, Cat?” The gentleness in his voice should have surprised her, but she didn’t think she could be surprised right now.

  She shrugged. “I’m not stupid. I’m smart, remember? G made sure of it.”

  He’d always told her that, how he was making sure she was smart, smarter than she would have ever been if she hadn’t been sick when she was born.

  “Yeah.” He sighed. “G made sure of it.”

  He sounded so sad, almost as sad as she felt. Almost. Inside her heart she was so sad that all she wanted to do was just close her eyes and dream it hadn’t ever happened. But she couldn’t do that. They couldn’t stay here. If G came back he would kill Judd, and he would kill her. G always kept his promises.

  “Were you his experiment too, Judd?” She turned to him slowly, never really understanding the part he’d played in the research center.

  A self-mocking smile curled the Breed’s lips.

  “I’m his brother, Cat,” he finally said, sighing heavily. “But I’m damned if I know what I am to him anymore.”

  G’s brother.

  Even Judd had someone, even if it was G.

  She had no one . . .

  • CHAPTER 1 •

  THIRTEEN YEARS LATER

  WINDOW ROCK, ARIZONA

  The world called her Claire.

  Once, her legal name had been Fawn.

  Neither was actually her true name.

  Where it counted, to whom it counted, she was Cat, a carefully hidden, maturing, restless feline Breed ready to pounce. A tigress growing slowly impatient with those around her and the machinations being played against her.

  She’d been growing tired of it for quite a while. The farce of living as a woman who had actually died as a young girl years before, of pretending to be quiet, studious, and without backbone, had worn her patience away.

  She had backbone.

  Once, a geneticist and a Bengal Breed named Gideon, one she had called G, had ensured it.

  She had a backbone of steel and it was getting ready to lock into place.

  “Claire should return to protective custody. With the proof that’s come to light of her father’s crimes against his family as well as the Breed comm
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