The Elect. They aren’t human. They’re the next step in evolution and they’re hiding in plain sight. They’re senses are sharper, finely honed. Stronger. Smarter. Faster. Nature has created the perfect predator. Welcome to the top of the food chain.
Carter Owens is new to the Elect. A former special forces soldier, he’s a born warrior, and now he’s using those skills to protect the son he has just discovered. When Kaden’s mother, who is supposed to be dead, is found Carter doesn’t hesitate to add her to his protection.
Jamie Wade spent months in a madman’s captivity. She’s stunned to wake and find herself liberated, but it’s clear that if Carter has anything to say about it she will never be free.
Jamie awoke groggy and afraid, waiting for the nightmare to start over again. Her tormentors never left her any respite—never gave her time to recover—and punished her when she refused to cooperate. The fury directed at her lately had been so much worse than the beginning. She was sure she wouldn’t live much longer, and that sucked. Regrets. She had so many.
As her mind started to clear and no orderly rushed in to drug her up again, she realized something was different. It took effort to pry open her eyes, which wasn’t so unusual, but the surroundings were. The first thing she noticed was the small body tucked up next to her. Kaden. Her son was safe and with her. Hope and loved filled her, making her chest hurt the relief was so intense, but her sense of well being was quickly replaced by fear.
Was Kaden safe or were they both prisoners now? Where were they? The room they were in was spacious and bright. She could see a balcony outside the double doors at her right and rolled her head to look at what was on the left. The impossible. Carter Owens—the man she’d never been able to forget. She was reminded of him every time her son smiled. She hadn’t heard from him in seven years, and there he sat sleeping in a chair. Her mind might have been clearing, but this was too unreal. She just couldn’t believe it. Had her tormentors added hallucinogens to their drug cocktail?
“Carter,” she tried to say, but it was more of a croak. Her throat was dry, parched and hoarse from weeks of screaming. It didn’t matter, though—he was awake in an instant, then on his feet and moving toward her with a smooth masculine stride she still dreamed about.
“Good morning, Jamie. How are you feeling?”
“I’m alive? I’m really here with you and Kaden?”
“Yes, sweetheart, you’re alive and with us.” Something in his expression made her think it had been a damned close thing too.
“Where are we?”
“Someplace safe. No one will get to you here.”
That didn’t tell her anything, and she shifted into cop mode. Moving hurt, but she managed to sit up. As the sheet fell to her waist she saw she was wearing a man’s T-shirt and nothing else, and had an IV in her arm. She kept Kaden tucked to her side—protecting him—and watched Carter. She was wary—suspicious. She was all for being free, having her son back, but it seemed too sudden and Carter too secretive.
She’d always had an uncanny ability to read people, to know when they were lying or telling the truth, and she reached for that talent now. Focused on the man she hadn’t decided yet was real or apparition.
“Okay. How did I get here, then? How long I have been here?”
“I went in with a team and brought you and my mother out two days ago. We just moved you out of our infirmary last night, once Esme was convinced you were stable.”
She knew Esme was his sister, but she’d never met the woman. She’d ask about that later. Right now she was more concerned with her injuries and how long it would take to recover.
“I was out for two days?”
His eyes darkened with fury, then narrowed on her when she flinched. “The last injection they gave you would probably have killed you. We got you here just in time.”
She wasn’t surprised. The more she’d fought that sadistic bastard Dr. Stine—the more she refused to cooperate with him—the more insane and rabid he’d become. He had to be stopped.
“The hospital. That place needs to be shut down. I need a phone. I need to call my supervisor and make a statement.”
“That’ll be a little hard to do, baby. You’ve been officially dead for six months.”
That was crazy, but her talent for truth reading had her believing it. That talent had made her an excellent detective and it didn’t fail her now. But her memory was full of holes. She’d lost six months? And for what?
“I think you need to start at the beginning, but can I have some water first?”
“Of course. Are you hungry?”
Surprisingly, she was. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt real hunger. The drugs had kept her body numb along with her mind. She nodded as Kaden stirred at her side.
His eyes opened and he gave her his pure innocent smile. “I told Dad you were alive. I told him to bring you home.”
“And he did.” She smiled back at her son—the joy of her life. He looked happy and healthier than he ever had. She blinked. “You’re not sick?” she asked carefully.
“No.” He shook his head. “Dr. Zach said as long as I take my medicine I won’t get sick again.”
She shot Carter a questioning look. “We’ll explain everything, I promise. Let’s get breakfast first,” Carter said. She didn’t want those answers delayed, but she guessed by his warning expression a lot of the answers shouldn’t be shared with a six-year-old. “Okay.”
“I’ll go see what I can find. Kaden, why don’t you come with me?”
Her arms tightened around her son, unwilling to let him go yet. Afraid this was all just a dream. He snuggled closer and the terror began to recede a little. He tilted his head back to look at her.
“I’m glad Dad brought you home, Mom. Everything is okay now.”
God, she hoped so. He wiggled out of her arms and bounced across the room to take his father’s hand.
She was stunned seeing them standing together. They looked so much alike and so in-accord. Not for the first time, she thought she should have told Carter when she discovered she was pregnant.
“Don’t worry, sweetheart. We’ll get to that.”
She blinked. Surely she had not just heard his voice in her head. Maybe she was still at the hospital. Maybe this was a delusion. Stine had kept insisting she was a telepath and didn’t believe her when she said she wasn’t. God, she was imagining things now.
“You aren’t imagining anything, Jamie,” Carter said from the doorway. “We’ll back in a few minutes with food.”
“And clothes,” she called after him, but that wasn’t what occupied her mind.
Had she really heard him mentally? It seemed insane, but… She could hear the truth in his voice and sometimes Kaden just knew things he shouldn’t. The same intuition she had. Or something more? She spotted a stack of gauze on the nightstand and picked a few up. Then she yanked out the IV and pressed against the welling blood. Sighing, she swung her feet over the side of the bed and rose cautiously. She needed to use the facilities and was desperate for a shower. She also needed to get a look at how badly injured she was. Every inch of her body hurt, but nothing felt broken or cut.
There were two doors on the wall to her right. She checked out the first—a deep closet. It was nowhere near full. There were a couple of Army uniforms, boots, jeans and shirts. A duffle bag was pushed into the back corner. Nothing of Kaden’s. He must have his own room, which meant she’d slept in Carter’s bed. That shouldn’t have pleased her as much as it did.
She backed out of the closet and went through the second door. The bathroom was huge—a dream come true. It was decorated in warm, gold tones. It had a long vanity with double sinks, private toilet, a huge soaking tub, and a walk-in shower. She dug around in the drawers and found some medical tape for the gauze. She took a deep breath before pulling the shirt off and looking at her body in the mirror. Most of the bruises were fresh, but it was the purple and black that stretched down her left side that was the most tender. She probed it gently with her fingers. Her ribs weren’t broken, thank God.
She headed for the shower. Inside she turned the knobs so the water was almost scalding and moaned in pleasure when she stepped under the spray. When was the last night she’d enjoyed something as simple as a shower? As good as it felt, she didn’t linger. Months of abuse and malnutrition had left her weak. Her body was in a constant state of fatigue. Unfortunately, it would take more time to recover her strength than to heal the bruises.
She reached for the soap and washed her body quickly before moving onto her hair. She had dried off and was wrapping a towel around her head when she heard them return. Carter appeared in the open door like a ghost. No one should be able to move that fast or quiet. She jumped.
“You shouldn’t be out of bed,” he said disapprovingly.
“I’m not an invalid.” She ignored the pain in her body—tried to pretend the bruises and weakness were no big deal.
“Come into the living room, then,” he said, wearing a smooth expression. His tone was remote, but she swore she felt his fury vibrating with every word. She sighed. She deserved it for not telling him he had a son, but she didn’t like the emotional distance. Of all the ways she’d imagined being reunited with him, this had never come close. She’d waited too long to expect forgiveness. Someone must have tracked him down after her alleged death.
She followed him into the common room. There was a tray on the low coffee table, but no sign of her son. “Where’s Kaden?”
“He stayed downstairs with the other kids.”
There were other kids here. That was good. But she had to admit she was nervous being alone with Carter. He was sexier than she remembered and she couldn’t believe that was possible.
“Sit down, Jamie. See if you can eat something.”
She sat and he took the chair across from her. The thought of food suddenly made her feel queasy, but he just stared at her until she reached for a piece of toast. She recalled that look, too. Determined bossiness. He was used to being in charge and wouldn’t accept anything else. It had driven her crazy. And also kind of turned her on.
“You’re not eating,” he chided.
She took a bite and another, but when she finished with the slice she didn’t reach for another. She sipped at a cup of coffee instead, closed her eyes in bliss when the hot beverage hit her tongue. He’d put just the right amount of sugar in it. She shouldn’t be surprised.
“You haven’t asked me why I didn’t tell you. About Kaden,” she said softly.
His eyes sharpened with anger. “Why didn’t you?”
She sighed. “I didn’t want you to give up your life for a woman you barely knew. I’ve seen how that goes firsthand.”
“Really? How is that?”
“My father made it very clear we ruined his life,” she said bitterly. “He finally left when I was ten. We were much better off.”
“You really thought I’d come to blame you?”
She spread her hands. “I had no idea what to think. When you left I was so upset. I made myself sick with it. I found out I was pregnant about the time I thought I’d gotten over you. I know that’s not an excuse. I’m just trying to explain where my head was at.”
“Okay.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t like it and I’m still pretty pissed, but I don’t want to live in the past.”
She exhaled a sigh of relief. Not that everything was fine now, but at least it was out in the open.
There was a knock on the door before she could ask him more about her rescue. He stood and looked her over. He tossed her a light blanket from the back of the couch then he moved to let in his guests. She covered her legs as two men and one woman came in. The woman was holding a shopping bag and smiled at Jamie.
“We picked up a few things before the rescue. I forgot about them in all the excitement.” She stepped forward and held out her hand. “I’m Esme. Carter’s sister?”
“He spoke of you.”
“I bet,” she said dryly. “All lies, I promise.”
Jamie laughed and stood, wrapped the blanket around her waist and escaped into the bedroom to dress hurriedly. She dumped the contents of the shopping bag on the bed and arched her eyebrows. There were jeans and T-shirts—no big deal. But the sexy underwear and bra? She rather doubted Carter’s sister would buy those for a woman she didn’t know. Which meant he had. Was he planning—assuming—they’d resume where they’d left off? No, that was crazy. Unfortunately, her gift didn’t allow her to read minds—only the truth or lie in a statement. She pushed the thoughts away for now, yanked off the tags, and got dressed.
She could hear the murmur of voices in the other room. The quiet conversation came to an abrupt stop when she returned, and four sets of eyes turned on her. She felt like a bug under a microscope. Finally, one of the big men stepped forward. “I’m Zach, one of the doctors here. You shouldn’t have removed the IV,” he said, not quite snapping but definitely disapproving.
“Knock it off, Zach,” Carter growled, and led her to the couch. This time he sat next to her. The doctor took a seat across from them and leaned forward.
“How do you feel?” he asked.
She shrugged, reluctant to answer him. He was a little scary and a lot asshole. “Like I got run over by a truck.”
His lips curled with the slightest hint of amusement and she relaxed a fraction. “You should feel better in a few days. I can give you something to help with the pain, if you like.”
She shook her head. No way in hell would she be drugged up again. “I can cope.”
“I figured you’d say that. Anyone who can handle Carter has to be stubborn as hell.”
She didn’t respond to that. Her way of coping with Carter had been to cut off their non-relationship.
The last man in the room sat on the other chair and Esme perched on the arm. Jamie didn’t need to see the rock on her left hand to know they were together. It was clear by the way they looked at each other.
“What can you tell us about your captivity?” the man asked.
She looked at Carter, wondering how much to share and suspecting they knew more than she did.
“That’s Brax,” Carter said. “My soon-to-be brother-in-law and the boss around here.”
“I remember signing in at the hospital in Tampa and waking up at the hospital y’all took me out of. After that…” She shook her head. “It’s kind of one big blur.”
Brax pinned her with a look she was hard-pressed not to squirm under. “I understand you don’t know us or if you can trust us, but lying about it won’t help matters.”
Carter wrapped his arm around her shoulders and leaned in to whisper in her ear. “You know you can trust me. Let us help, sweetheart.”
“For some reason,” she started, not quite believing she was going to tell them. “Stine, the doctor in charge, got it into his head that I’m a telepath.”
She waited for everyone to laugh and her stomach twisted when they didn’t.
“Are you?” Brax asked.
“I get rescued from one madman to get handed off to another, is that it?”
Unbelievable. They couldn’t really believe in telepathy, could they? That one person could read another’s mind? Sure, she knew when someone was lying to her, but she had to focus on them—study them carefully. That was just a lifetime of observation, right? Of watching facial expressions, listening to speech patterns and cadences. But…she knew there was more to it than that. Knew she was lying to herself. Still, telepathy? It seemed so farfetched. Crazy. If she didn’t feel like shit she’d get up and pace.
“No. I’m not,” she snapped.