The line between hunter and hunted thins, blurs, and finally shatters.
Sometime between the interminable wars in the Middle East and 9/11, the United States moved forward breeding a race of super humans. Clandestine labs formed, armed with eager scientists who’d always yearned to manipulate human DNA. At first the clones looked promising, growing to fighting size in as little as a dozen years, but V1 had design flaws.
Seven years ago, a rogue group turned on their creators, blew up the lab, and hit all the other breeding farms, freeing whomever they could find. In the intervening time, they’ve retreated to hidden compounds and created a society run by men. Women are kept on a tight leash because the men fear if they discover their innate power, they’d launch their own rebellion.
Being a genetically altered human without a name grew old, so Glory named herself. Surrounded by a maze of unpleasant alternatives, she makes a bold choice and ends up a fugitive in the midst of a Minnesota winter. Once she’s on the run, she discovers how unprepared she is for life outside her protected compound.
CIA agent, Roy Kincaid, devoted his career to hunting super humans who staged a rebellion seven years before. He’s not making much headway, so he goes deep undercover. One blustery night, a striking woman staggers into the café where he’s catching a late meal. Part waif, part runway model, the half-frozen woman arrows straight into his heart.
Glory’s flat out of alternatives, but death in the storm might be preferable to telling the tall stranger looming over her anything. Sensing Roy is dangerous, she pushes into his head seeking clues and discovers he hunts those like her. Maybe she can fool him, just for tonight. Get a hot meal and dry motel room out of the deal. If she’s lucky, he’ll never find out she’s on the run from the same group he’s targeted for death.
The thing she didn’t count on was falling in love.
“Dessert, hon?” The waitress sidled back over to him, and Roy realized he was her only customer.
“Sure. What do you have?”
She rattled off a series of pies and cakes. He chose apple pie with a scoop of ice cream, and she left with his dinner plate. Roy slumped against the chair. He had to keep going. No choice. Not really. A good night’s sleep, coupled with the first adequate meal he’d had in a couple days might make a big difference in his attitude. At least he hoped they would.
He’d just begun on the pie, which had a surprisingly flaky crust, when a rush of cold air yanked his attention toward the door. A tall woman walked in. Long, dark hair caked with snow swirled around her, and she held her body tightly as if she were really cold. Roy glanced at her feet and was shocked to see a pair of tennis shoes with holes in them. Good God, had she been outside with such inadequate footwear? Didn’t she understand she could freeze to death? Even his stout boots didn’t do much to divert the cold.
Keeping her gaze downcast, she made her way to the counter and sat.
“Coffee, hon?” The waitress asked.
“How much is it?” the woman inquired.
“Oh.” The woman’s shoulders drooped, and she swiveled the stool around, getting ready to go back out into the storm.
“No, you don’t.” The waitress’s voice sharpened. “I’ll stand you a coffee. You look about done in.”
The woman’s even features melted into what looked like relief before she turned back to face the counter. “Thank you. That’s really kind and I appreciate it. My wallet was stolen, and—”
“Never you mind.” The waitress patted the woman’s shoulder. “Bet you’re hungry too.” She poured hot coffee into a mug and handed it to the woman, who drew the steaming liquid to her lips.
“Maybe a little,” the woman ventured. She clasped the cup with fingers white from cold.
By now, Roy knew he was staring, but he couldn’t make himself turn away. There was something waiflike and alluring about the tall woman with long, black hair. Snow dripped off her, creating puddles around her stool. All she wore against the winter weather was a thick, gray sweater and worn jeans. No scarf. No gloves. No hat. He was close to certain her wallet hadn’t been stolen. She looked more like an abuse victim on the run to him. Maybe he could help her get to her intended destination, if it wasn’t too far out of his way.
He pushed his chair back and made his way to the counter. “Say—” he began, but she started and drew away as if she expected him to hit her.
I was right. Abuse victim for sure.
“I’m not going to hurt you.” He kept his voice low, soothing. “Order whatever you want, and I’ll pay for it.”
She kept her gaze on her hands clutching the coffee cup. “I can’t let you do that, sir. I’m all right. Truly I am.”
Without waiting for an invitation, he took the stool next to hers and called to the waitress. “Bring her the same meal I just had.”
“You got it, hon,” rang from the direction of the kitchen.
“You are not all right,” Roy said. “You’re thin as a rail, and you were shivering when you came in here. In fact, you still are. I’ll bet your shoes are wet clear through.” When she didn’t respond, he ploughed on. “Let me help you.”
She shook her head. “Don’t want your kind of help. It always comes with strings.”
He pushed a little with his enhanced mental ability to get her to look at him. If she did, maybe she’d see truth in his eyes. A shudder ran down her thin frame, but she dragged her gaze upward reluctantly. Roy felt bad for forcing her, but he didn’t have time to soothe her wounded places, which he suspected ran deep.
Eyes a shade of green he’d never seen inspected him. Long, thick lashes framed those eyes, and they were set in a face with high cheekbones, a high forehead, and black eyebrows winging a track over porcelain skin.
“Who are you?” The words tore from him. He hadn’t meant to say them. She was nervous as a feral cat as it was.
She shook her head sadly. “No one. I’m no one. You’ll forget all about me when you leave here.”
Something shifted in his mind, but he fought it. Before he could determine if something real had just happened or if he were imagining things, the waitress showed up with the woman’s dinner.
“Here you go, hon. Hope medium’s okay for that steak?”
“Fine, thank you.” Before the words were out, the woman picked up the fork and knife and shoveled food into her mouth.
Roy congratulated himself on a good call. Even though she’d been reluctant to admit it, she really was starving. He had no idea what she’d do tomorrow or the next day, but it wasn’t his problem. While she ate, he observed her from the corner of his eyes. In addition to being hungry and underdressed, she looked young. Maybe twenty. He’d be surprised if she were much more than that.
He shook a mental finger at himself. The country was full of abused women running from the men who used them as punching bags before they raped them. It was one part of law enforcement work he’d never understood: why the women kept going back for more.
“There are safe houses for girls like you,” he said, and could’ve kicked himself. What the hell was wrong with his mouth tonight? He couldn’t seem to keep words on the other side of it.
She stopped chewing long enough to glance at him. “What’s a safe house?”
We have to trust to fight side by side, but love’s so unexpected—and so irresistible —it trumps everything.
Honor takes a huge chance and flees her compound one wintry night. A genetically altered woman, she has no memories from before her kin staged a rebellion seven years before. Because of her enhanced physiology, she finds a home working for the CIA alongside four other women just like her. There are still plenty of rules, but they’re different, and she’s figuring out how to blend in.
Milton Reins burns through women and marriages. After the third one implodes, he swears off hunting for a replacement. Running the CIA is a more than fulltime job. There’s no time for anything else in his life, which is fine until Honor comes along. Training in the gym throws their bodies together and makes him remember the feel of a woman in his arms. Milton aches for her, but she’s a freak—the CIA term for test tube humans designed by scientists.
Honor wants Milton with every bone in her body, but it’s a terrible idea, especially after she delves into his head and sees his ambivalence toward her kind. Need drives them together, but their differences create roadblocks every step of the way. Fueled by anger and fear, she shuts him out. So what if the sex was great, she’s done.
Or is she?
“How about this?” Honor finished her drink and twirled the glass between her hands. “The other women and I are on top of things. We’ll make sure nothing…unexpected happens.”
“What if I pull rank and order Charity to stay here?” he demanded, not liking her answer.
Honor shook her head. “That’d be a bad idea.” After a pause, she added hastily, “Sir. With all due respect.”
Milton chortled. “You’re learning. Why is it a bad idea?”
Honor closed her teeth over her lower lip. “Like all of us, she’s finding her way. Figuring out where she fits in here. Even though we lived in the western United States, we may as well have been in Bangladesh for all the differences between living here and where we were after the rebellion.”
“You still haven’t told me why it’s a bad idea.”
“She needs to trust you. If you ride herd on her, treat her like the Nameless Ones treated us, she never will, and this…problem of hers will just get worse.”
Desperation flared, a glowing nimbus she nipped quickly, but he’d been paying close attention, plus he’d been inside her mind. Milton pushed forward with a combination of intuition and his augmented ability. “You’re worried it will get worse anyway.”
Her gaze skittered away. “Yes. No. Possibly. These things are hard to predict. Please.” She leaned forward this time and placed a hand over his where it lay atop his leg. “Let us handle it our way. I give you my word we’ll ask for help before it gets out of control.”
Her touch was warm, electric. Before he could stop himself, he set his other hand over hers, and turned the bottom hand upward, capturing her flesh between his. His mouth was suddenly dry, and his groin tightened with a rush of sexual energy so intense it stole his breath.
Words became a struggle, but he forced them out anyway. “Doesn’t sound very smart to me. Is there any chance she’ll switch allegiance?”
Honor’s eyes widened. “Oh hell, no. You mean fight for the Nameless Ones?” When Milton nodded, she was even more emphatic. “No. That’d never happen. She hates them just as much as we do.”
It was the main thing that had worried him: that he’d been playing host to a double agent—again. Some of the tension drained out of him, and he rubbed his fingers over Honor’s where they lay clasped between his.
“I really should go, sir.” She tried to pull her hand back, but he didn’t let go.
“Do you always do what you should?”
Honor looked away. “Not a fair question, sir.”
“Stop calling me that!”
“But you are my commanding officer.” Honor kept her voice soft, but the meaning in her words slapped Milton squarely across his forehead.
He released her hand. “Sorry.” He spoke stiffly. “I forgot myself. You’re free to go.”
The sadness he’d sensed earlier was back in spades. It flowed from her in slow, tired waves. He pushed, surprised when she let him inside her mind. Not far, but enough for him to view the loneliness she’d lived with all her life. Her only safety zone had been the dozen women in her dorm at the compound, and seven of them were dead. No wonder she needed to do everything possible to protect Charity.
Milton got to his feet and offered her a hand. She took it and stood too. “Thanks for helping me understand you a little,” he said.
“You’re welcome. Sometimes that way is easier than talking. Thank you for not insisting Charity stay here.”
“She’s important to you,” he said. “I didn’t fully appreciate how much you depend on each other until you allowed me into your thoughts.”
Milton didn’t know if he moved toward her, she toward him, or both of them simultaneously, but Honor ended up in his arms. He tightened his hold, enjoying the feel of her sleekly muscled body against his. She matched his six-foot height and fit perfectly in his arms. His cock hardened against her belly, and her eyes widened in surprise.
“Of course you’d be a virgin,” he murmured, stroking his hands down her back.
“We were off-limits to the Nameless Ones, but we talked about sex among ourselves.”
Arousal flashed deep inside him. Even though he knew he shouldn’t, he asked, “What did you talk about?” He cupped his hands around her high, firm buttocks and snugged her against his erection.
What does it take to move past a lifetime of hating?
Charity’s luck never ran strong because her original configuration was unstable. Her handlers designed experiments to fix the problem, but only made it worse. Sick to death of living under their thumb, she jumps at a chance to escape her compound. She’s no sooner settled in as a CIA special operative—a role where she can put her augmented mind and body to use—when her wobbly genetics escalate.
Tony’s a freak—a genetically altered human waging war against the government. He snaps up an offer of amnesty, walking away from his role as a genetic researcher to work for the CIA. When Charity collapses in a severe seizure, he labors to save her life, but nothing’s working. In a last ditch effort, he joins his mind to hers and discovers he wants her more than he’s ever wanted anything. Only problem is she hates every single male freak for how they treated women in the compounds.
Charity recovers from her medical crisis, but all she can think about is Tony. Furious, determined to never let anyone like him near her, she blocks him from her mind, but he seeps back in anyway. Loving someone like Tony is a huge risk, a gamble that could throw her already precarious genes into a tailspin.
Knowing all that, why the hell is she considering it?
Tony dialed his night vision up another notch and paced Frank as they ran hard around Langley’s perimeter. After being cooped up for hours in a plane, both men needed to burn off some steam. As Tony ran, scenes from his computer-like brain flashed before him.
After his petri dish birth on one of the breeding farms set up by the U.S. government, he’d been groomed from adolescence to work as a genetic researcher. None of them attended school; their knowledge was downloaded directly from huge mainframes operated by government scientists. He lived a comfortable life at his breeding farm near Portland, Oregon, but it blew up in his face seven years ago. He was twenty-two then and knee-deep in research to perfect those like him. Each successive strain was a bit better than the last, but problems still cropped up.
He’d been close to a major breakthrough—at least he thought he was, but it could’ve been a dead end like so much of his research—when a cadre of renegade freaks, genetically engineered humans just like him, staged a rebellion. They hadn’t cared for the decision to scrap the earlier prototypes, so they blew up every breeding farm they could find. After that, they created hidden compounds, like the one in Keyser, West Virginia where Tony ended up.
He hadn’t bought into the violence, but there wasn’t a hell of a lot of choice once it began. Normal humans shot them on sight after the rebellion, so he went along with the program and moved his genetic research to his assigned compound. He didn’t have nearly the access to materials he’d had prior to the rebellion, but at least he was still alive.
“You’re pretty quiet, buddy,” Frank observed.
“Sorry. I was thinking.”
The other man snorted. “Always dangerous. About what? Did you come up with something we missed on those hard drives Milton swiped from our headquarters?”
“Nah. Wish it were that straightforward.”
Frank slugged him in the arm. “Watch that esoteric stuff. Our programming’s not designed for it.”
“Maybe not, but do you ever wonder what will become of us?”
“The probability of that line of thought producing something of value is—”
“Not what I asked,” Tony snapped. “We’ve thrown in our lot with normal humans, V0 as it were. We can’t undo it.”
“So? You and I discussed this before we showed ourselves and requested amnesty. We could’ve remained hidden. They would have found Charity without our help, and then they’d have left. We didn’t take that route. Are you having second thoughts?”
“Not really. We didn’t fit in with the other Nameless Ones—except it was a ridiculous moniker, since we had names, we just didn’t tell them to the women.” Tony slowed when they came to a perimeter fence and turned to face the other man. Because of the physical strength built into his genetics, he wasn’t even slightly winded.
Frank stopped and tossed his hood back. Shaggy black hair fell to his shoulders, and he examined Tony through his amber, animal-like eyes with vertical slit pupils. All the men looked very much the same due to shared genetics. Tall, rangy, muscled. Both of them wore regulation issue CIA field gear they hadn’t changed out of yet.
“What aren’t you saying?” Frank asked.
“Not sure. Except I’m feeling like a man without a country. We didn’t fit in there, but we don’t fit in here, either. They don’t trust us. I saw it in Milton’s eyes that night you and I saved Charity’s life.”
Frank grimaced. “Shit, bro. We’re machines. We’re not supposed to have feelings. Who cares if they trust us, so long as they continue to offer us a place to work and live? When did you fall off the wagon?”
Tony weighed the advisability of confiding in Frank, but if not him, then whom?
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ann Gimpel is a mountaineer at heart. Recently retired from a long career as a psychologist, she remembers many hours at her desk where her body may have been stuck inside four walls, but her soul was planning yet one more trip to the backcountry. Around the turn of the last century (that would be 2000, not 1900!), she managed to finagle moving to the Eastern Sierra, a mecca for those in love with the mountains. It was during long backcountry treks that Ann’s writing evolved. Unlike some who see the backcountry as an excuse to drag friends and relatives along, Ann prefers solitude. Stories always ran around in her head on those journeys, sometimes as a hedge against abject terror when challenging conditions made her fear for her life, sometimes for company. Eventually, she returned from a trip and sat down at the computer. Three months later, a five hundred page novel emerged. Oh, it wasn’t very good, but it was a beginning. And, she learned a lot between writing that novel and its sequel.
Around that time, a friend of hers suggested she try her hand at short stories. It didn’t take long before that first story found its way into print and they’ve been accepted pretty regularly since then. One of Ann’s passions has always been ecology, so her tales often have a green twist.
In addition to writing, Ann enjoys wilderness photography. She lugs pounds of camera equipment in her backpack to distant locales every year. A standing joke is that over ten percent of her pack weight is camera gear which means someone else has to carry the food! That someone is her husband. They’ve shared a life together for a very long time. Children, grandchildren and three wolf hybrids round out their family.
@AnnGimpel (for Twitter)