Rule breaker, p.36
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       Rule Breaker, p.36
 

         Part #20 of Breeds series by Lora Leigh

  years where one of his children is concerned. And this was before we learned of the reports he’d acquired that Jonas’s maternal genetics were from Mother rather than Madame LaRue, as we had believed. Since he learned that piece of information, his anger at himself often worries Mother.”

  “Leo doesn’t seem to be the type to stress over past mistakes,” Rule offered. “Or children who were created rather than conceived by him.”

  “Ah, but how little all but I and Mother know him,” Dane retorted mockingly. “Father suffers for past mistakes, decisions that resulted in less than the situations he anticipated, and the children who carried his genetics. His pride in Callan is absolute. But his pride in Jonas is ever growing, my friend. A pride that demands that Jonas acknowledge that choices are often made with a knowledge of the outcome and its tragedy, but they are never made without regret and without grief.”

  “Jonas understands that.” Hell, of all people, Jonas knew that better than anyone Rule could think of. “Leo has amends to make, Dane. Many of them.”

  “Jonas resents Leo for leaving him in the labs when he feels he could have gotten him out.”

  Rule shook his head, staring back at the other man in surprise. “Is that what he thinks?”

  “That’s what Jonas states. Often.” Dane’s look sharpened.

  “No, Dane.” Rule was the one to breathe out roughly now. “It wasn’t that Leo left him in the labs. It was that Leo left Harmony there. That Harmony suffered as long as she did and that he was forced to turn on her to ensure her survival. He will never forgive the Leo for the price he paid when he lost his sister’s love. A condition that continues, even now.”

  Silence stretched between them now. For the first time since he’d known him, Rule watched as Dane appeared saddened. No manipulation. No calculation. Just unaccountably saddened.

  “It would seem, then, both Jonas and I have a particular grudge against our father,” he finally said softly before turning and spearing him with a sharp, fierce look. “Take that as a lesson, my friend. Don’t wait for your mate to declare her love. Don’t wait for her to realize her love. Give of yourself first if you must. Perhaps when you do so, she’ll realize what she’s refusing to allow herself to see for fear of losing once again that which sustains her.”

  Rule narrowed his eyes back at the hybrid as Dane turned and moved away from him, heading back to the bank of elevators, his shoulders not as straight, his head not thrown back as arrogantly as normal.

  He knew Dane had feelings for Jonas’s sister Harmony, just as he knew damned good and well Harmony’s love for her mate, Lance Jacobs, was absolute. A mate she had been given a chance to find through Dane’s and Jonas’s machinations, separately, though no less effectively.

  He almost smiled.

  He could smell the true affection and sense of loss and regret Dane felt, but the love . . . no, it wasn’t love. It had been close. Perhaps the closest Dane had ever come, or ever would come. The man jumped across continents like other men traveled across town. The chances of finding his mate, or of finding love, wasn’t going to be high.

  Rule had a feeling when and if it happened, though, Dane would be thanking his father for whatever hand he’d had in taking Harmony from his son’s life rather than resenting it.

  Straightening as the Dragoon shot in beneath the hotel awning, Rule strode quickly to the doors, Dane’s comment running through his mind.

  Let her know how he felt. Let her feel it, he thought. Maybe, just maybe, she’d realize she didn’t have to hide her tender heart from him. Nor her fears.

  He had her back, and he was about to prove it.

  Dane wasn’t the only one to whom Gideon owed a favor or two.

  ...

  The heavy iron door slammed closed with enough force that the cavern itself seemed to shudder from the impact.

  A roar ripped through the underground space, sinking into stone before echoing back, only to be followed by another.

  A glass beaker shattered against the doors, spilling a dark liquid that instantly turned to mist and filled the area with a hint of sandalwood and a male genetic scent that would have fooled any Breed living but the one who had made it.

  “Motherfuckers.” The roar was nearly incoherent as the animal lent its voice to the explicit curse.

  Another beaker shattered, this time, the scent evocative of desert nights with a hint of a rose. Poison should smell sweet, he’d always claimed.

  His head tipped back, his lips curled back from his teeth, and this time the roar all but shook the rafters and might have actually caused dust to rain down from the cavern’s roof.

  “Oh really, Graeme, what the hell did you think would happen?” Khileen propped her hands on her hips and watched the primal Bengal with a healthy dose of amused wariness. “Did you really believe you had us fooled? That we weren’t very well aware of exactly where the Bengal Gideon was hiding?”

  Propped against the curve of the far entrance, she tilted her head and let a smile curl at her lips when he swung around to her, his head lowering, his amber eyes morphing to the most incredible green color.

  It really was too bad she couldn’t stand another man’s touch, she thought regretfully, because Gideon was no doubt hell in bed. He was simply too much male, too much animal, not to be.

  “Leave.” The order was ground out with the hoarse snarl that only an animal could have made.

  She crossed her arms over her breasts and narrowed her gaze back at him. “No. We simply have to discuss this. Because I know what you’re going to do . . .” She gasped as she suddenly found herself face-to-face with the primal stripes and glittering, bloodthirsty gaze of a Bengal tiger staring back at her from the man’s face.

  “Now.” The rumbled, deep-throated growl almost had her obeying.

  “The show is quite impressive,” she promised him with an air of boredom. “But if I leave, then you’ll just pack up and disappear, and I can’t allow you to do so. It’s simply not in your best interests, nor is it in mine. So pull back that very savage, very impressive creature you’re trying to set free and let’s discuss this, shall we?”

  Astonishment glittered in his eyes as they widened. A second later his hands shot up, clawed fingers raking through his hair as a truly horrid-sounding growling snarl erupted from his parted lips as he turned away from her.

  She grimaced at the sight and sound of it. “Lobo does that rather often, you know. Is it just me?”

  Tiberian had once done so as well, when he had been there. Before her life had gone to hell in a handbasket and he’d begun chasing the bitch who had destroyed them all.

  “You are certifiable,” he snapped, turning back to her. “No wonder Tiberian left. He’s likely running for his life.”

  “No doubt.” She nodded slowly, silently agreeing with him.

  No doubt that was exactly what Tiberian was doing, in a way.

  “Fuck!” A glass bowl shattered on the other side of the room as she lifted her brow at the rage inherent in the destruction.

  “Really, Graeme-Gideon?” Her brows lifted in amusement. “It’s not so bad,” she chided him. “It’s not as though we turned you in or anything. No one knows you’re here.”

  “You have got to be the craziest fucking female I have ever laid my eyes on,” he yelled at her, turning back to stare at her in amazement. “Fucking insane, Khileen.”

  She had to laugh at that. “You haven’t met my good friend Claire yet,” she told him. “So sweet she’d give you a toothache until she dons this racy black little skin suit she wears whenever she tracks rogue Coyotes in the desert. It’s really quite amusing.”

  He stilled, his head swinging back to her. “Who?”

  “Claire Martinez.” A sudden thought struck her. “Oh, do tell me the two of you haven’t been after the same rogue? Let me guess, she beat you to him?” She had to laugh at that. “She’s exquisitely well trained, you know. I wish I were half as vicious as she can be when she’s tracking them
. I love watching the show.”

  Something glittered savagely in his eyes.

  Oh dear, perhaps it wasn’t a joke to the surly feline. Well now, just imagine that.

  He lifted the side of his lip in an insulting little sneer before turning away from her. “No female outtracks me, Khileen, and you know it.”

  “I can’t outtrack you,” she admitted with a light laugh. “But trust me, Claire has mad tracking skills. I’m very proud of her. If the Unknown actually existed, then I would say she’s their next candidate as a warrior.”

  “I’m leaving.” His stride became determined as he began moving for the exit leading to the mountains beyond.

  That fast?

  “No explanation?” she questioned him sharply. “Well, isn’t that a fine thank-you for all the trouble we’ve gone through to hide your cute little ass here.”

  He swung around again, the clawed fingers curling as though he wanted nothing better than to claw for blood.

  “Hide my ass?” he snarled again. “Like fuck, little girl. I was hiding myself just fucking fine when your daddy”—he sneered the word—“decided he needed a little side work done, with his baby brother out chasing your momma and all after she so conveniently faked her death.”

  Her eyes narrowed. “Watch it, Gideon,” she warned him quietly. “I owe you several debts, but none of those debts give you leave to treat me so disrespectfully. Because never have I treated you with less than utter respect.”

  And he couldn’t deny it.

  “What the fuck do you and your damned family want from me?” he roared back at her, muscles bunching, shifting dangerously beneath the fine white shirt and fawn breeches he wore.

  He was truly an exceptional male, though she knew one more so . . . She cut that thought off quickly.

  “Your friendship,” she answered sincerely, stilling the anger that could have risen inside her, reminding herself that friends were something Gideon, the Breed who now called himself Graeme, had very few of. “You owe many debts; consider the request Rule made merely the absolution of one of those debts. The request isn’t too onerous, and you gain a favor from the Breed slated to become the division director of the Western Division of the Bureau of Breed Affairs.” She gave a little laugh. “Say that three times quickly. I dare you.”

  He glared at her rather than sharing her amusement as he once would have.

  Straightening, she dropped her arms, tucked her fingers into the pockets of her riding breeches and faced him squarely.

  “Fine, Rule would owe both of us a favor then. You for taking care of this matter for him, and for allowing him and his mate to be a part of it. He would owe me for ensuring there was a safe place to have the matter dealt with, and that no other eyes or ears are aware of the event. I may have need of that favor in the future.”

  “When your mate is brought up on charges of violating his agreement with the Bureau when he covered up his brother’s crimes, you mean?” he sneered. “Really, Khileen, do you think this favor is that big? Big enough to save the man you—”

  “Don’t.” She kept her voice soft, firm, though the well of pain that rose in her chest was like a brutal white-hot poker searing her soul. “Don’t make us enemies. You’re only angry because I realized your secret and was smart enough to follow you and ensure your escape.”

  “I had my escape covered, little girl,” he bit out. “And I’m angry because you made me break the promise I gave your mate to ensure you stayed out of danger. You are fucking danger waiting to happen in capital fucking letters.”

  “And the vulgarity so does not become you,” she sighed. “Now, back to the original question. Yes, this favor will garner quite a large amount of brownie points with the division director. I promise you that. After all, he contacted you, didn’t he? Jonas isn’t here demanding you show yourself.” She fanned her arms to indicate the estate as a whole as well as Lobo Reever’s home. “You’re simply in a snide mood because you know this last injection will make the child cry for you and you won’t be able to go to her. I understand that. And I did tell you once that if you ever needed help in your ventures, I would be there to aid you as well, didn’t I?”

  He blinked back at her.

  He turned from her, looked over his shoulder in disbelief, then raked his fingers through his hair again before stalking to her favorite recliner, the one he hadn’t returned to the storage room, then threw himself in it, sprawling out with such disrespectful slouchiness that she could only shake her head at him.

  “You amaze me,” he said, his voice a bit more normal now. “Absolutely-fucking-amaze me, Khi.”

  At least he was calling her Khi again.

  “Why, thank you, Graeme.” She smiled back at him with all the charm her mother had beaten into her when she was younger. “I’m rather proud of my ability to do this to such a strikingly intelligent man, you know.”

  He blinked back at her again before narrowing his eyes, that brilliant light green color gleaming back at her with a hint, a promise of retribution if she wasn’t extremely careful.

  She didn’t do careful really well, though.

  “Call him,” he growled. “Put your ass on the line with mine if you’re so fucking sure of him. Call him, tell him he’ll find the coordinates buried in the programming of the nano-nit currently attached to his e-pad. Time will be at thirty minutes before the time Mark McQuade was killed. If he doesn’t know the exact time, he can ask his mate. I’m certain she remembers.”

  She nodded slowly. “That doesn’t give you much time.”

  Gideon shrugged, breathed out roughly, rose to his feet, shifted his shoulders restlessly, then stalked over to a secured metal door on the other side of the room.

  Khileen followed, curious when he stared back at her as though impatient with her lack of haste.

  Swinging the door open, he allowed her to stare inside the darkened room, tiny to the point of claustrophobic, and holding a single bound, gagged and blindfolded male. The same male Rule Breaker was searching for.

  Lifting his hand and crooking his finger in a “come here” signal, he then led the way to the bank of security monitors on the other side of the room, flipped one on and surprised her yet again.

  “The wife?” she glanced up at Gideon’s gaze questioningly. “Why kill the wife?”

  “Kill her?” Gideon smiled. “Honey, I’m not going to kill her. I’m going to let her hear the bastard’s confession when he starts spilling his guts. Now make that fucking call before I do what I was going to do when I arrived. Kill the bastard, release the wife outside town and get the hell out of Dodge.”

  She had to laugh at that. “And leave the mate you’re obviously well aware exists close by?” she asked softly.

  He stilled. Not a muscle moved, and even the pulse at his neck seemed to still.

  She smiled gently. “I told you, I’m no fool. But neither am I your enemy. Think about it, think very very closely, and you’ll realize, Graeme, I’m probably the dearest friend you’ll ever hope to have.”

  With that, she turned and walked slowly away from him, showing him her back, giving him the chance to take her out if that was what he wanted to do.

  Hell, he’d be doing her a favor if he did.

  CHAPTER 30

  FOUR HOURS LATER

  The cavern was dark, shadowed. It had obviously been used for more than simply holding one gutless bastard beneath the glare of an uncovered bulb. It worked for that, though. Very well actually.

  Gypsy stepped toward the light slowly, aware of Rule, Lawe and Diane at her back, ensuring her protection.

  Was it the same, she wondered, not bothering to censor her thoughts as she felt Rule’s presence inside her. Was it the same as the hunt, the heady rush of adrenaline once he would have been caught?

  He wouldn’t have run.

  No, she thought as a whisper of certainty touched her mind. He wouldn’t have run. He would have lied. He would have turned to Thea and her parents and they would have
believed him, no doubt.

  “That’s far enough.” The voice came from the darkness, drawing her to a hard stop as her gaze jerked to the darkness behind the light.

  Gideon.

  “He’s not at his most presentable.” The voice was amused and filled with disgust, the primal rasp of sound had Jason Harte flinching, a whimper leaving his throat as the scent of urine became decidedly stronger.

  A heavy sigh sounded from the disembodied voice a second before broad fingers curved over his shoulders. Where his nails should have been, strong, sharp claws stained with dried blood extended instead.

  “He doesn’t hold his water very well,” Gideon drawled then. “I remember when we were in the labs fighting for the fucking Council. The bastards they sent us up against didn’t piss themselves so easily, did they, Commander?”

  “No, they didn’t,” Rule agreed as Gypsy felt the heavy weight of sorrow, remnants of remembered fury and pain echoing from him as she tried to find a way to comfort him as he did her.

  She reached for him with her hand, feeling his fingers enclose hers as she continued to stare at the terrified Jason.

  His brown eyes were bloodshot, pupils enlarged with terror. The tanned flesh of his face was strikingly pale, the once immaculate shirt and slacks hanging on his frame, torn, smeared with dirt and blood.

  “Mark was brave when he died,” she whispered, seeing none of that quality in the friend he’d so trusted. “He wasn’t afraid for himself, just for me.”

  She remembered that. Remembered the pain and regret, the sorrow and how his gaze had been so heavy with the lack of hope.

  The hand on his shoulder moved.

  Another whimper left Jason’s throat, filtering through the gag tied across his lips just before it was released.

  “Gypsy?” Frantic, terrified, he searched the shadows where she stood. “God, Gypsy, honey, what are you doing here?”

  He tried so hard to seem sincere, confused. He wasn’t confused, not in the least.

  “Mark always told me to cry when I needed to,” she mused, feeling a heavy, dark fury filling her. “He said it would heal my heart. He said I didn’t have to be brave, that was what big brothers were for. And he never gave me nicknames. But you always laughed at me. Told me to be a big girl when you caught me crying over something. You always jeered at me because you said I wasn’t brave. And I fucking hated being called Peanut,” she spat out at him. “It’s over, Jason. I remembered what Mark was trying to tell me when he told me to be brave, not to cry, and called me Peanut. But even more, I remember what I saw when I watched Grody whisper the name of the friend who betrayed him in his ear. The pain.” It tore through her, ripping at her soul. “He loved you like a brother.”

  Jason’s nostrils flared as he stared back at her, despite the darkness surrounding her. His gaze searched the darkness for some sign of weakness, for a way out. She recognized that look. The look of guilt, calculation and pure fear.

  “Gypsy, you’re wrong—”

  “Save it,” Rule snapped. “She’s not alone, Harte, and the stink of your lies makes me want to rip your throat out myself.”

  “Gypsy, please . . .” Jason cried, only to whimper as that claw-tipped hand landed on his shoulder again.

  “I have a better idea,” Gideon rasped, amused despite the anger she could feel pulsing from him. “You want the truth, but this man will never give you such a thing without a little help. And with men like this, they never give such things willingly.”

  “No,” Jason whispered, shuddering, whimpering as the claws bit into his shoulder.

  Blood seeped into the shirt from the points where the sharpened nails bit into his flesh.

  Gypsy inhaled, fury beating at the edges of her brain despite the shield she felt Rule throwing between her senses and the ragged, raging emotions clawing at it.

  “Stop,” she whispered to him. “Don’t make me hide from it.”

  “Gypsy, you don’t have to hurt like this,” he growled, the sound powerful, commanding.

  “Me and my emotions are old friends, Rule,” she told him then. “I’ve waited nine years for this moment. I don’t want to lose a single emotion, a single second of it.”

  Lawe murmured something to him, and though the shield was suddenly gone, she felt Rule with her more strongly than ever.

  She could handle that, though. It kept her moored, kept the agonizing rage from poisoning every particle of her being as a low, enraged cry parted her lips.

  “Dammit, Gypsy, I loved Mark like a brother . . .”

  Grody leaned to Mark, but his gaze was on her as he whispered the words. She watched his lips, saw the words form and her gaze jerked to her brother’s eyes.

  Resigned sorrow and rage had filled her brother’s eyes.

  “When Grody whispered the name of the friend who’d betrayed him, Mark had one last minute to tell me something in a way that if Grody were to have mercy, he’d never know what Mark told me. ‘Be brave. Don’t cry, Peanut,’” she spat back at him. “You miserable bastard. Only you ever told me that. Only you.”

  His jaw clenched, fury gleaming in his gaze as his lip curled in disgust. “He treated you like you were his fucking child . . .”

  “He treated you like a fucking brother,” she charged furiously. “You had him killed, Jason. You tried to steal his family, you stole his fiancée, were you really that jealous of him?”

  “You’re crazy,” he yelled back at her. “I tried to help your family . . .”

  “He’s lying,” Gideon stated with an air of boredom. “I have a wonderful little drug that will ensure he tells you the truth, though.”

  “You fucker!” Jason screamed, spittle flying from his lips as the Breed chuckled behind him.

  “Tell her the truth or I give you the drug. It will make you certifiably insane, but we’ll get the truth. And it is rather painful. Agonizing, from what I remember myself. You choose.”

  “Fuck you.”

  “I’d rather not. You stink of piss.”

  Jason dropped his head.

  “I can be merciful, Mr. Harte,” Gideon said softly. “Especially when I really have no desire to compound one tender young woman’s nightmares. But I’m also rather selfish. I want the truth, as does she. However bad it hurts her, or you, I’ll get it.”

  Gypsy took a step forward. “Why did you betray him, Jason?”

  He shook his head, his breath hitching as Gideon growle
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