It had been almost two months since they'd become what they were. Long months. But it had taken the four SARAs much less time than that to figure out that, with the change, each of them had gained different abilities. Working on a classified base for a super-soldier project had given them all a sound working knowledge of the concept. People came in, got shot up—not always voluntarily—and they changed. If they survived the process, they ended up with a range of abilities that were definitely not human.
One virus created werewolves, another had created vampires, or Bloods, like the ones they were chasing. Yet another, one that was supposed to help soldiers regenerate and heal fatal wounds, didn't work quite as expected.
It killed its subjects for a start, which was never good for any sort of clinical trial. But it had been when those same subjects had re-animated and eaten a mortuary worker that it really freaked people out.
Reanimated dead. Undead. Zombie.
Even the names gave Brett the creeps. Except that was his reality now. Had been ever since the mission that had put the four of them in the sick bay and they’d all been shot up with something new. A new version of RA17. Something the Project hadn’t tested before.
Until it had tested it on them.
Now Brett and the others were something more than human, something less than technically alive, and he ran easily through the night, his body like a machine. There was no muscle soreness, no fighting for breath. Hell, he wasn’t even breathing as he ran, and unless he concentrated, his heart didn’t beat. He just... was.
The four of them had spread out as they ran. At first they’d needed Kelwood to pick up the scent. Of all of them, his sense of smell was the best, almost as sensitive as a Lycan’s. Brett’s was the worst, only barely above what it had been before his conversion. Unless live blood was running, he was nasally blind. When blood ran though, he was a predator. Not just run of the mill either. The four of them were stronger, faster and more agile than anything they’d come up against, even Lycans and Bloods.
They were apex predators.
Now the scent of blood was strong, easy to follow, as though more of the enemy joined the first two as they travelled. Under the multiple scents was another one Brett could only just make out. Light and delicate, it was the kidnapped human. There was more than one. Another human scent, one mixed with new blood, and so strong that even Brett could tell it was female.
“They’re taking more women.” Kelwood’s voice cut through the darkness as the four of them slowed. Following the scent, they’d gone from fields upon fields of crops, into scrub-land, and finally into the woods where they stood. “Some are injured.”
They all turned toward him as he hunkered down, folding up in that weird way they’d all adopted since they’d been changed. It was as though their bodies didn’t have to follow the same laws of movement as before. The pose reminded Brett of a spider, which made no sense since none of them had eight freaking legs.
“They must be close.” Kelwood frowned as he ran a hand over the dirt in front of him. Now that he was moving, and they were under pressure, his manner had snapped back to totally professional. It was only when they stopped, and he had time to think, that he folded in on himself, his grief at losing his wife and child palpable. “I’m picking up the same scents overlapping, as though they’re coming in and out. No humans coming out, though.”
Fredericks went to say something, but a scream from deeper in the woods cut him off. Brett snapped his head up, the sound hitting him deep in the gut. Feminine, it held a note of terror that stripped away everything in him but the need to protect.
Without a thought, he launched himself into a run. He didn’t have Kelwood’s sense of smell, Frederick’s sense of strategy or Dom’s ability to take on a whole pack of Lycans and come out of it with little more than a scratch. Wha t he did have though, was speed. Of them all, he was the fastest.
He could hear them crashing through the undergrowth behind him as he ran. No need for a sense of smell. The screams had died down to whimpers, then nothing, but his hearing was excellent.
Certainly good enough to hear another voice call out softly. “Where are you, pretty one? Don’t hide from me now; I’ve got a little surprise for you.”
The voice was male. Cruel. The harsh tone in it that said bad things would happen when he got hold of his prey.
Brett reached the edge of a small clearing and stopped dead. That was another thing about their new natures that impressed the hell out of him. The ability to go from something approaching light speed to nothing. Absolute zero, total lack of movement.
Ahead of him, where the trees thinned out to reveal a narrow path, was a Blood. Of all the project’s creations, they were the most recognizable after the original Re-animates. Pale skin, black on black eyes.... The only things they could conceal were the fangs that punched through their gums so they could feed, and the retractable claws hidden beneath their fingernails.
His lips curled back; it made no difference what this guy tried to hide. They’d fought and killed enough Bloods for Brett to know exactly how to take one down. Staying as still as a statue, he tracked the other male’s movements as the creature stalked down the path. The Blood turned his head to the left and to the right as he moved. Scanning for movement. Trying to sense where his prey had hidden. Like SARAs, Bloods could see excellently in the dark.
“Come on, pretty one. Don’t hide from me, or you’ll make me mad.”
Make him mad? What happened then…? Did he turn green or some shit like that? Brett clenched his jaw until his teeth ground together. Asshole. Even the Blood’s voice grated.
Brett spotted movement and his world paused. A woman was tucked into the side of a tree trunk. Small and delicate, she looked like she’d break in two at so much as a hard gust of wind. Masses of hair surrounded her, obscuring her face. Her position hid her from view, where her tormentor couldn’t see her.
But Brett could. More than that, he could sense the hot rush of blood through her veins. Slower than he’d have expected for someone terrified out of their minds, but there all the same. And if he could sense her, it wouldn’t take the asshole hunting her long either.
Fuck. He had to do something.
The woods had gone silent behind him, but he knew the others were there. Watching. Waiting. Their presence pressed like static at the back of his mind. Normally it was Fredericks who made the decisions, but in a situation, they followed the lead of whoever made the first move. Here and now, that was him. When it came to this terrified woman, it would always be him.
Stepping out of cover, he moved closer.
Power coiled in his muscles, an anticipation and jolt that was something like adrenaline filtering through his cells as he stalked the creature. All the Blood had to do was look over his shoulder, and Brett was right out there in the open.
He wouldn’t turn and see Brett though. There was no reason he should. Bloods hunted by tracking heartbeats, sensing the movement of blood in their prey’s circulatory system. Brett’s heart wasn’t beating, so there was no way for the Blood to track him.
Creeping closer, he kept himself in the woman’s line of sight to try and provide some sort of reassurance. Her face was drawn, terrified, and her eyes were wide. Blue. They were blue, just. The pupils were so wide in her fear that the color was almost all swallowed up.
Stay still, sweetpea. He willed her to hear his thoughts as he crept up on the Blood. I got this, just as long as you stay there out of harm’s way.
She nodded, as though she heard his words and clung closer to the bark. He didn’t have time to ponder whether or not she could hear him, or how that would be possible.
“I can smell your fear, little one,” the Blood whispered, a sibilant hiss underlying the words.
Something, Brett had no idea what, must have tipped the creature off about the woman’s hiding place, because he turned toward the tree she hid behind. Shit, it could sense her heartbeat.
Decision made, Brett restarted his heart. The organ thudded into action, sending blood and adrenaline around his body to join the power already threading through his undead tissues. The Blood’s head snapped around at the second heartbeat, eyes narrowing as it saw him.
Brett snarled and launched himself forward onto the enemies creature’s back. They tumbled to the ground together. The creature fought desperately to turn, but Brett was bigger and heavier. Stronger. Pulling his arm back, he slammed his fist into its side twice. Ribs cracked and the creature screamed in pain. He reared up, trying to slam his head back, but Brett twisted to the side, easily avoiding the blow.
“What are you?” The Blood managed to ask before Brett wrapped an arm around his throat.
“Your worst fucking nightmare.”
Claws erupted from beneath its fingernails, and it sliced at his forearm in panic. So it should; it still needed to breathe. The claws cut deep, blood oozing from the rent flesh of his arm, but he ignored the pain. Pain was optional; this asshole’s demise was not.
Parting his feet for balance, he grabbed the Blood’s opposite shoulder and twisted once. The sharp crack of snapping bone echoed around the woods, bouncing from the trunks. The body fell with a dull thud at Brett’s feet.
“No more in the area, but that could change at any point with how fast the damn things are,” Fredericks moved to stand next to him, looking down at the body with contempt. They’d only ever met one decent Blood, and she was half-Lycan now anyway, a hybrid. Brett nodded to indicate he’d heard and stepped over the corpse, heading for the tree and what it concealed.
Keeping his movements less than stealthy, he kept his hands out to the sides and moved around in an arc so the woman could see him. Her gaze, wide and dark, latched onto him the instant he stepped into view. She panted, her heartbeat as rapid as a bird’s. The terror in her eyes twisted his heart into little knots.
“Hey there.” Making sure his voice was low, he took a wary step forward and hunkered down. While nowhere near as big as Dom, he still wasn’t a small man. Plenty big enough to terrorize a tiny little creature like this if he wasn’t careful.
She didn’t say anything but swallowed, her body tense as he got nearer. She didn’t run, even though her whole posture said she was ready to flee.
“Don’t worry, sweetpea. You’re safe now.” He added a smile. Whatever other shit his conversion had done to him, thank fuck he didn’t have fangs. Slowly he extended a hand, palm up, to show that he wasn’t armed.
“I’m not one of them.” He crept a little closer, trying to keep his movements as human as possible. He could have been all over her within a heartbeat, but he didn’t want to freak her out. “I promise. I’ll look after you.”
Her gaze flicked to his hand, and back up to his face. He swept a quick glance over her, taking in the torn and dirty pajama pants and vest top. Not military, and her scent was familiar now that he was close up. She was the woman they’d tracked here from Greenwood.
“I know.” Her voice was soft and melodious. A light brush of sound that, with the alluring scent which rose from her, wrapped around him and had his cock hard in a second. His heart pounded to power the erection, and he couldn’t have shut either down without a battle against his male instincts. Instincts that wanted to haul her closer, wrap her up in strong arms and protect her.
He frowned. “You do?”
She nodded, her heart slowing down as her body relaxed, and she motioned to her face. “Your eyes. They’re not black. They’ve all got black eyes.”
“That’s right. They do.” He didn’t add anything. How the hell could he explain to someone who didn’t know about the Project that monsters now walked the earth because of their experiments?
She shivered even though sweat beaded on her brow. Brett frowned, his hand still out, and he got within an arm’s length of her. It wasn’t that warm.
“How about we get you out of here, sweetpea? Get you checked out… you’re not looking so hot.”
Nodding, she reached out and put her hand in his. Electricity arced between them at the first touch of her fingers. He gasped, the air snatched from his lungs as the darkness, the non-human part of him that craved blood and death, surged forward as though pulled toward her.
A gasp that was matched by her. Her eyes darkened as she looked up at him in shock, then rolled back in her head as she folded up into a dead faint.
“Shit.” He caught her just in time, hauling her close to his chest before she could hit the ground. Once he had her there, he couldn’t help but look at her. Curled up in the safety of his arms, she fit perfectly against his chest. She was light, weighing far less than he’d thought, but it was her skin that was cause for concern.
“Crap. She’s burning up.”
Instantly Fredericks was by his side, Dom and Kelwood standing guard. The other man reached out to touch her forehead, and Brett had to bite back a snarl. Fredericks shot him a glance, his hand in midair and his eyebrow raised. Brett nodded, not at all sure where the sudden possessiveness had come from. She was a victim, for fucks sake, not someone he needed to get attached to.
Frederick’s brow snapped tight as he brushed the back of his hand over her temple. Brett bit back annoyance with himself. He should have checked that. Luckily, they’d all had some battlefield medical training. “Okay, that’s a hell of a temperature for a human to be running. She needs a hospital.”
“No!” The snarl burst free before he could stop it, anger spilling over as he glared at the other man. “No hospitals. I’ll look after her.”
“Whoa, okay man. Calm down.” Fredericks stumbled backward, his hands out to the side in the universal gesture of surrender as all three watched Brett warily. Like he was dangerous. Which he guessed he was, because if any of them tried to take her from him, there would be bloodshed.
She whimpered, moving fitfully in his embrace, and his anger was chased away by concern. He flicked a glance around at his teammates and sighed heavily. “Sorry guys. I guess I’m a little keyed up.”
“No problem. It’s been a rough couple of weeks.” Fredericks returned to his side, reaching out to touch the woman again. Not before casting a glance at Brett for permission. He nodded his consent, watching carefully as Fredericks checked the unconscious woman over. She moaned, trying to move away from his touch. Brett clenched his teeth. Evan wasn’t hurting her. He was just making sure she was uninjured.
“Hmm.... Take a look at this.” Gently, Fredericks turned her head to the side to reveal marks against the pale skin of her neck. Her lips brushed Brett’s bare shoulder, his shirt torn away during his scuffle with the Blood, and his breath punched out of his lungs. Lower down, his body responded to the stimuli, his cock punching to full mast.
Fredericks looked up, his pale gaze sharp. “Problem?”
“Ahh. Umm....” Brett shifted from foot to foot. Because his heart was beating, he blushed, which made the three others look at him in surprise. “Fuck. She’s female and I haven’t had it for a while, alright?”
As one, all tilted their heads to study his crotch. Dom whistled. “Way to go, brother. Packing some serious heat there.”
Brett’s cheeks burnt. “For fuck’s sake…. Are you serious? You’re checking out my package now? When we have an injured woman? Really?”
Dom shrugged, his expression unrepentant. “Just nice to have confirmation that the old tackle still works, even like this.” He motioned toward himself, indicating the new muscle and the healing wounds that were hallmarks of their new natures. “I tried jacking off the other day, but nothing.”
“Gotta start your heart first. Found out in the shower a couple of days ago,” Fredericks commented, which earned him a look from the three others. Of all of them, he was the last one Brett would suspect of a quick five-knuckle shuffle in the shower.
Fredericks ignored their astounded looks though, instead reaching out to peel one of the woman’s eyelids back. Even in the darkness of the woods, branches rustling overhead and blocking out what little moonlight there was, Brett could see perfectly. Certainly well enough to make out that it wasn’t her pupils that were wide and dark, as he’d thought, but that black was creeping into her irises as well.
He froze. T he pull he’d felt when he first touched her making a sick sort of sense. Like the undead part of him was fascinated, felt a kinship. Black eyes, the slow, barely-there heartbeat despite her fear. He looked up, caught Frederick’s eye and read the truth there. The other man’s slight nod confirmed it.
“Shit. They infected her.”
At his words, she gasped, eyes wide as she arched back, her spine in a hard curve. Brett was forced to change his stance to hold onto her. Her heartbeat thundered, then stopped. Three beats later it started again, so fast he was sure it would burst out of her chest. She began to heave and he dropped to the ground, turning her and holding her while she retched. Black blood splattered across the undergrowth.
“Not just infected.” Dom was by his side, a water bottle and cloth in his hand to help clean her up. “She’s still going through conversion.”
A howl of rage ripped through the night air. All the SARAs snapped their heads up as the voice was joined by another, then another and another until the air was filled with the horrible symphony.
“At least twelve,” Fredericks murmured, crouched and ready for action. “No way we can take them all on while protecting her. Bug out, and we’ll go to ground until we can get some intel out of her.”