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By Nancy Allen
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The ties that bind may be the ties that kill as these extraordinary women race to beat the genetic time bomb that is their birthright….
With enhanced senses and superspeed and strength, this retrieval specialist can breach any security—but has she been working for the wrong side?
DECEIVED by Carla Cassidy
This powerful psychic’s secret talent could make her the target of a serial killer—and a prime suspect for murder.
CONTACT by Evelyn Vaughn
Her superhealing abilities make her nearly invincible, but can she heal the internal wounds from years of deception?
PAYBACK by Harper Allen
ATHENA FORCE: The adventure continues with three secret sisters, three unusual talents and one unthinkable legacy….
Books by Harper Allen
Silhouette Intimate Moments
Protector with a Past #1091
The Man That Got Away #468
Twice Tempted #547
Woman Most Wanted #599
*Guarding Jane Doe #628
*Sullivan’s Last Stand #632
*The Bride and the Mercenary #663
The Night in Question #680
McQueen’s Heat #695
Covert Cowboy #735
Lone Rider Bodyguard #754
†Desperado Lawman #760
†Shotgun Daddy #766
lives in the country in the middle of a hundred acres of maple trees with her husband, Wayne, six cats, four dogs—and a very nervous cockatiel at the bottom of the food chain. For excitement she and Wayne drive to the nearest village and buy jumbo bags of pet food. She believes in love at first sight because it happened to her.
E-MAIL MEMO—URGENT & CONFIDENTIAL
To: Cassandras<Alexandra Forsythe, Darcy Allen, Tory Patton, Samantha St. John, Josie Lockworth>
From: Lt. Kayla Ryan
Re: Lab 33 assassin Dawn O’Shaughnessy
Phys. Description: 22, 5’7”, blonde, green eyes
Capabilities: Extraordinary strength, agility; possibly other enhanced capabilities
Skills (partial list): Weaponry, martial arts, hand-to-hand combat, stealth, B & E
Background: O’Shaughnessy conceived in vitro with egg retrieved from former Athena Academy student Rainy Miller, whose recent murder by Lab 33’s Lee Craig, code name Cipher, is being investigated by the Cassandras. Retrieval conducted by Dr. Henry Reagon under guise of an appendectomy. Actual purpose: genetic manipulation experiment headed by Dr. Aldrich Peters of Lab 33. Eggs fertilized with sperm from Navy SEAL Thomas King, whose sperm sample was stolen from a fertility clinic. Neither Rainy nor Tom King were aware of procedure carried out by Peters. Fertilized egg implanted in surrogate mother; child taken at birth to Lab 33 in New Mexico to be raised under Peters’s supervision. Subject has no knowledge of her true background; believes her black-ops instructor, Lee Craig, is her uncle.
Note: Subject actively working against the Cassandras; must be considered extremely dangerous.
Update: Subject has been told the truth about her parentage. Her failure to kill Thomas King as per Aldrich Peters’s instructions and her elimination of Dr. Carl Bradford to save Kayla and Jazz Ryan’s lives indicate that O’Shaughnessy is no longer an immediate threat. In fact, she has vowed to take down Lab 33 by herself. She will be given this memo and other documentation in the hope that learning more of the truth will encourage her to join forces with the Cassandras against—
The memo police lieutenant Kayla Ryan was holding—the memo she herself had written and securely e-mailed to her best friends, the Athena Academy graduates known as the Cassandras, and that she had updated only two days ago—had been torn in two at that point. On the back was a handwritten note, unsigned, asking Kayla to meet the writer at the Athena Academy gymnasium, which was usually deserted over Christmas break. Taking a deep breath, Kayla pushed open the double doors of the gym and saw a lithe figure pummeling the hell out of a workout bag.
She approached, noting the dampness darkening the honey-blond hair that had been secured into a thick braid, the sheen of exertion gleaming on the tanned midriff revealed between the low-rise sweatpants and the racer-back top. The only thing impossible to see was what was going on behind Dawn O’Shaughnessy’s gold-green eyes.
Kayla held up the scrap of memo. “You read this?”
A volley of punches slammed into the workout bag. Dawn stepped back. “I read it. It sums up everything you told me at your house a few days ago.” She paused. “It’s not every day a girl finds out her whole freakin’ life has been a lie.”
Kayla frowned. “You understand now why Samantha St. John had no recourse but to take down your uncle two months ago?”
“If I’d known then what I know now, I would have done it myself,” Dawn replied. “And I’d appreciate if you didn’t refer to Lee Craig as my uncle. He lied to me. He killed my biological mother. He let me go on an assignment to kill my biological father. What I felt for him is as dead as he is.”
Kayla’s gaze sharpened. When Kayla had told Dawn about her parentage three days ago, Dawn had shown no emotion. But now…. Unless she was mistaken, there were pinpricks of moisture glittering at the corners of those brilliant green eyes. I knew Lee Craig as the Cipher, she thought, the world’s most deadly assassin. But he was the only family Dawn had. Knowing he lied to her is tearing her in two—and until she deals with that conflict, she’s a ticking time bomb.
She kept her tone conversational. “There must be a part of you that wishes you could see him one more time, if only to ask him how he could betray you so terribly.”
Without warning, Dawn faced the workout bag again and exploded into action, her gloved fists a blur. Kayla started when the bag split asunder, the sand it was filled with pouring out in a stream and the chain securing it giving way, solid steel links spilling to the floor like broken teeth. She’d hoped to get through to the woman, Kayla thought. Instead she’d set off a powder keg.
Dawn looked down at the destroyed bag. “Yeah, I’d like to see Lee Craig once more. Because it should be him lying here. If there were any justice, his death should have come at the hands of the woman he raised to follow in his footsteps.” She backed away. “I’ll have to content myself with going after my darling Uncle Lee’s boss, Dr. Aldrich Peters…but for my own reasons, not the Cassandras’. I want payback.”
Compassion filled Kayla. “Payback won’t erase the pain. You should talk to someone—”
“No offense, Ryan, but I don’t need advice on how to deal.” Dawn’s expression was shuttered. “You and your friends think you know everything there is about me. Want a demonstration of something that didn’t make it into my file?”
Swiftly she reached down to her ankle. She straightened, and Kayla saw the small, snub-nosed automatic she was holding as Dawn flicked off the weapon’s safety and jammed the muzzle against her upper arm.
“No!” Kayla grabbed for the gun, but too late. The shot’s explosion echoed deafeningly. “Dammit—why?”
Even as the shocked question left her she was wrenching the weapon away and grabbing a nearby towel. “Stanch the blood with this while I get help.”
“I told you, I don’t need help with the healing.” Dawn looked down at the wound. “Already reconstructing,” she said, her smile oddly bitter. “Hurts like hell but that’ll pass, too.”
“Already recon—” Kayla’s horror turned into bafflement. “Your body’s knitting itself back together!” she gasped. “Your arm…it’s as if—as if—” In silence she watched as the last traces of the wound disappeared, leaving only a few smears of blood. “It’s as if you were never shot,” she said unevenly. “We guessed that Peters was doing genetic experiments, but this is—”
Dawn’s smile thinned. “Freakish?” she suggested. “When I believed my regeneration was a gift of nature, I thought it meant I was special. Lee Craig lied about that, too.”
“I wasn’t going to say that,” Kayla denied hotly. “Your impressive demonstration aside, I still think you should seek help with the healing process. You’ll never be able to move on till you do.”
“I’ve already moved on.” Dawn picked up a sports bag by her feet. “Like I said, I’m going to take down Lab 33.”
“The Cassandras have another assignment we’d like you to consider first.” She’d wanted to broach the subject less bluntly, Kayla thought, but from the start this meeting hadn’t gone the way she’d expected.
“Find someone else. Aldrich Peters is my business. He has been since the day twenty-three years ago when he played God with my genetic makeup.”
“Not only yours,” Kayla retorted. “We believe there was at least one other child born from Rainy Miller’s egg. A baby girl. She was kidnapped at birth, possibly because Carl Bradford leaked Peters’s plans to an interested party. Don’t you want to find your sister before turning your attention to Peters?”
“A sister like me?” Letting go of the sports bag, Dawn gripped Kayla’s arms fiercely. “Another woman who was manipulated by Peters the way I was?”
“We have no idea whether her abilities would be like yours,” Kayla explained swiftly, shaken by the raw emotion in the younger woman’s tone. “Or if she even has any. That doesn’t change the fact that, if she’s alive, she’s your—”
“So I’m still alone.” Dawn’s arms fell to her sides. “I guess it was crazy of me to hope…” Her movements stiff, she started to pick up the bag again, but Kayla stopped her.
Dawn faced her directly. “That I’d found someone to share the nightmares with. When I was working for Lab 33 I told myself I was on the side of the good guys, but that doesn’t change the fact that I was judge, jury and executioner. Lee was the only one who understood how I felt.”
“The only difference being, he carried out every assignment Peters gave him,” Kayla reminded her sharply. “He deliberately chose the dark side, Dawn.”
“And so did Aldrich Peters.” The younger woman’s features tightened. “The Cassandras want me to find my sister before I turn my sights on Peters. Fair enough, but if you’re hoping she’ll be able to help me in this healing process you say I need, forget it. I heal just fine all by myself.”
Without another word, she strode to the exit, her posture ramrod-stiff. Instead of following her, Kayla watched her go.
“That’s just it, O’Shaughnessy, I don’t think you will heal all by yourself this time,” she said under her breath. “If you don’t…” She glanced at the shattered steel chain, the destroyed workout bag. “If you don’t, neither you nor the Cassandras have a chance of walking away from this alive. And from what I know of him, that’s exactly what Aldrich Peters will be counting on.”
Status: twenty-one days and counting
Time: 0900 hours
Any second now the man sitting across the desk from her could give the order to have her killed.
Dawn smoothed her palms on the gleaming leather of the skintight catsuit she was wearing, but as Aldrich Peters leveled an emotionless look at her she realized her mistake. She schooled her face to blankness, knowing there was nothing she could do to control the trip-hammer beat of her heart. After a long moment he bent his head again and resumed his perusal of Lab 33’s report on her.
Her few days AWOL from Lab 33 last December had stretched into nine months—longer than she’d anticipated, but then, her assignment for the women of Athena Academy had resulted in locating not one lost sister, Lynn White, but a second sibling, Faith Corbett, who had also been a victim of genetic manipulation and who’d had no knowledge of her true origins. Together the three of them had been introduced to the man who was their biological father, Navy SEAL Thomas King…a meeting she hadn’t wanted to attend. What was I supposed to say to him, dammit, she thought as she waited for Peters to finish reading. “Hey, now I know you’re my dad I’m kinda glad I missed when I had you in my rifle sights a couple of months ago when I was working for the bad guys?”
At the time she’d almost been glad she had the excuse of returning to Lab 33 to explain her hasty departure. But as the complex’s steel doors had begun sliding closed behind her yesterday evening, cutting off her last glimpse of the arid New Mexican canyons and foothills, a sense of complete isolation had overtaken her. And with her first breath of the recycled air supplying the massive underground bunker, a Cold War emergency command center secretly built in the 1950s that had never been utilized, but for years now the site of Aldrich Peters’s shadowy organization, her time away had seemed suddenly unreal.
For a moment she’d felt a terrible certainty that it had been unreal. There was no such group as the Cassandras; she hadn’t found Lynn White and Faith Corbett, her biological sisters; she’d never learned the truth about her existence. She was a Lab 33 assassin. She answered to Aldrich Peters. She was in a nightmare where nothing had changed.
In near panic she’d whirled around with the half-formed notion of darting back through the closing doors. At her unexpected movement the nearest guard—a commander, as she’d noted from the dull red flashes on the collar of his field-gray uniform—had jerked his weapon up into firing position, at the same time scrambling clumsily away from her. Behind his face shield she’d seen his eyes, open so wide that rims of white circled his pupils.
They’re scared of me, Uncle Lee! A long-buried memory flashed into Dawn’s mind. I wanted to play tag with them, but they shouted at me to go away. One of them called me a freak. Am I, Uncle Lee? Am I a freak like they say? In Dawn’s memory, the six-year-old version of herself felt arms scooping her close, smelled the somehow reassuring mixture of harsh tobacco and gun oil, heard a voice whose undertone of anger she knew wasn’t directed at her. They’re the freaks, Dawnie. You’re special, and don’t you ever let the sons of bitches convince you otherwise. They’re scared because they know you’re stronger than everyone here, and I don’t mean just lifting-things strong. Your strength comes from inside you. You understand what I’m saying? Her sobs had subsided by then but she’d stayed in the circle of his arms, happy just to be held by him. I guess. But you’re stronger than the sunsa bits, too, right? The arms around her had tightened. For a moment she’d thought the unthinkable had happened and Uncle Lee was mad at her, but when he’d answered his tone had been filled with such pain that she would have gladly traded it for anger. Maybe once, Dawnie. Now I’m no better than they are. But I promise I’ll always stay strong enough to keep them from owning you—even if staying strong costs me everything I care for in this world.
Aldrich Peters laid aside a sheet of paper, the crackle as he did so sounding like a gunshot in the oppressive silence. Dawn didn’t flinch. Her nervousness had disappeared in the past few seconds, she realized. She supposed she should be glad it had, but all she felt was anger.
When the hell are you going to stop falling into the same stupid trap, O’Shaughnessy? she berated herself. Every memory you have of Lee Craig is tainted. Be glad you’ve got something truer than your memories of him to give you strength.
She had payback. No matter that Kayla Ryan had seemed to think revenge wouldn’t set things right for her. No matter that in the conversation she’d had with her sisters on the subject, Lynn and Faith had both agreed with Kayla. She had no intention of delivering Peters to justice. For one final time, she intended to be judge, jury and executioner herself.
She concealed a faint wince as the dull throbbing that signaled one of the headaches she’d recently been experiencing set up a low tattoo behind her temples. As if he sensed her momentary vulnerability, Peters slid the papers aside.
“You passed Section Eight’s tests with flying colors.” His austere features seemed carved in stone. “The lie detector, the bio-and neuro-feedbacks, the psychological workups by Drs. Wang and Sobie. Apparently you were telling the truth when you contacted me yesterday and said you wanted to take up your duties again.”
A rush of triumph raced through her. Of course she’d passed their tests. She’d grown up here, dammit, and there wasn’t a test invented that hadn’t been run on her. By the age of eleven she’d known how to bend them to her advantage without even try—
“I would have been shocked if you’d failed,” Peters added brusquely. “After all, if anyone could manipulate the results it would be you.”
Dawn fought to keep her regard steady. She’d underestimated him, she thought tensely. Whatever his tests and his experts told him, Dr. Aldrich Peters preferred to rely on his own instincts…and those instincts were telling him she was lying. With seconds to revoke her own death warrant, she needed to go on the offensive—now.
“Maybe I’m being paranoid, but I get the feeling you don’t fully accept my explanation for my disappearance from Lab 33 last winter,” she said, allowing anger to creep into her voice. “At the risk of sounding more paranoid, I also get the feeling you’re making up your mind as to whether I should even walk out of here alive. Am I right?”
The thin smile that appeared on Aldrich Peters’s lips did little to soften the remoteness of his expression. “I don’t call that paranoid, Dawn, I call that astute. You’re right, I’ve got serious doubts about your story of going into an emotional tailspin after your Uncle Lee was killed. Lab 33’s ultimate killing machine, the protégé Lee Craig was grooming to take his place, falling to pieces like any ordinary woman? I don’t buy it.”
- On Sale
- May 16, 2023
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Grand Central Publishing