"Time to go, baby."
She tried to dig in her heels, but he was bigger and stronger. He tossed her bag to her and dragged her back through her lab to the private stairwell, figuring it was there to escape chemistry experiments gone wrong. He pulled the key from the deadbolt on one side and relocked it on the other. Hopefully, the lab occupants on the floors below kept their doors secured. They'd gone from the sixth floor to the second when she jerked to a stop.
"I'm not going anywhere with you."
"There's where you're wrong, Esme," he snapped. "You aren't going anywhere without me."
She crossed her arms over her chest and stepped away from him. He was fucked. Short of tossing her over his shoulder, he couldn't budge her.
"Why would I agree to that?" she asked.
Her demeanor had completely changed. If he didn't know better, he'd think he was dealing with a hard-nosed street cop. Her eyes were narrowed, her lips pressed tight. She'd taken on an aura of determined calm that made him realize she'd give him hell if he tried to force the issue. She'd try a different tactic if she knew how intriguing he found that.
"You want to wait and hang around for whoever just broke in?"
"You broke in," she reminded him.
His earpiece gave a warning click before Mason Cole, his security director, spoke. Brax had forgotten he was wearing the damn thing. "Unfriendlies in the front, Brax. The back is clear for now, but hurry."
Damn it. "Look," he ground out, "I can't explain anything here. I'll take you to Zach. You trust him."
Four floors above them, the door rattled and they both looked up as the intruder fired two fast shots.
"I'm not the one shooting at you," he pointed out.
"He's shooting at the lock," she snapped back, already hurrying down the stairs. "But, point taken."
They exited on the bottom floor and Brax pulled her at a dead run with him to the back doors. He was impressed as hell when she kept up, but he wasn't taking any chances. He flipped the mic down and spoke softly while peeking outside. It looked clear. "Pick-up," he ordered.
"Not good enough, Mason."
"It's okay," Esme whispered, tugging at his sleeve.
She held up a set of keys. Her smile was tight and angry, but she was cautious when she stepped out the door as if she'd run into the night many times before. She set off into the parking lot with an efficient, smooth gait that was fast but unhurried. If anyone drew the attention of unwanted eyes it was him, but he couldn't help himself. The need to protect her was riding him hard. He stuck close to her side, one hand on the small of her back, the other holding his pistol next to his thigh. She hadn't even batted an eye when he pulled it out. Who was this woman? She wasn't only the cerebral scientist he'd imagined her to be, for sure.
They stopped next to a new Camaro, and he bit back a curse. The damned things were not designed with six-foot-four men in mind. She unlocked the door with the key instead of the remote, silently, so there were no flashing headlights to alert anyone to their presence. She'd either done this before or planned in advance. He took the keys from her, reached in to hit the unlock button for the other door and escorted her around.
Seconds later, he backed out of the space and checked the rearview mirror in time to see a man bursting from the door they'd just exited. He lifted his weapon but didn't fire as Brax accelerated. Instead, he lifted his wrist to his mouth. If Brax had to guess it would be he was calling in the rest of the team Mason had seen enter the building, or a backup follow team. It seemed like a lot of work and effort for one lone researcher. Brax had a bad feeling the situation was a hell of a lot more complicated than he'd first believed.
He keyed the mic on his earpiece. "Follow us to the compound."
Esme didn't speak until they were off the small college campus and on the highway heading out of the city. "Care to explain what the hell is going on?"
"I'm saving your pretty little ass," he hissed, spotting their tail. He'd guessed right about the second team. He would have had a team standing by to follow in case his prey escaped too. Acting without intelligence and a plan was a mistake he wouldn't make again. He accelerated, whipping around slower cars while she gasped and grabbed the oh shit handle.
"Seems more like you're trying to kill me the hard way."
He loved that flash of waspishness. He grinned, punching it when a stretch of clear lane opened on the left and watching in the rearview as the SUV behind them smoothly moved in to block their pursuers.
"Baby, I have no intention of killing you."
Unless it was with ecstasy. Damn. He didn't know what the hell had come over him, but he was staking his claim. He'd have her in his bed within the next twenty-four hours.
It wasn't going to be as hard to lose the tail as he'd feared. Traffic was heavy and he remembered there'd been a big concert and baseball game that evening. One or both must had recently finished. He saw an opening in traffic in the right lane and slid into it just in time to take the next exit. There was no pursuit in the mirror when he checked, so he keyed the mic.
"You still got them?" he asked Mason.
"Yep. By the time they realize they lost you and circle back, it'll be too late," he said. "Get her safe. Zach is waiting."
He didn't bother with a response. He flipped the speaker up and turned off the earpiece.
"Tell me what you think you found, Esme, and who you shared that information with." He needed to know who to kill.
"Dr. Durand," she said primly. Grinning, he glanced over at her. She sat straight, hands clenched together in her lap, and stared out the front window.
"Esme," he crooned. "If you don't consider this situation enough for a first name basis, I promise to change your mind at the earliest opportunity."
There was no mistaking his meaning. The look she flashed him was full of awareness. Shock and disbelief, but also interest and desire. Her scent was lush with it. He wanted to drown in her, and it would be hours yet before he could.
"The tests?" he reminded her, desperate to retain some semblance of control before he pulled to the side of the road and took her with all the finesse of a horny teenager.
The silence stretched, a not-so-subtle sign of defiance. The primitive core of him rose to the surface. He wasn't human. He was something more. More advanced. More evolved. A predator. And his woman was defying him. Disobeying him. It didn't matter that she hadn't realized yet he'd claimed her. He was the hunter. She was the prey.
"Esme." It was a snarl, a demand full of menace and promise of retribution. Her hand convulsed on the door handle. "Don't even think about it, baby. You'd never survive the fall."
That she considered trying to escape him pissed him off. That she'd do it in a way that guaranteed her death enraged him. Was she always so damned careless with her life?
"Answer me. What did you find in the blood tests?"
"It isn't human," she answered softly, her voice still vibrating with anger. "It's close. About three percent variation, but it isn't human and it isn't in any database of recorded genetic samples. It's something...new. Or more accurately something that hasn't been discovered yet."