The Offspring, Book 3
Avon Books (April 27, 2010)
ISBN-13: 9780061690372 ♦ ISBN-10: 0061690376
They live ordinary lives, but they are extraordinary. They are the Offspring, children of a mysterious experiment gone awry—and they are in terrible danger.
Nicholas Braden has an uncanny psychic talent for finding things—which is why he’s been recruited for a covert government program designed to hunt down terrorists. While his work for a shady controller named Darkwell is leading him down some very questionable alleyways, it’s also bringing him closer to Olivia, Darkwell’s stunning young assistant. A “good girl” with a wild, secret side, Olivia tempts Nicholas in ways he never believed possible—and in his business, a loss of control could prove fatal.
But there is something not right about the operation. And as Nicholas and Olivia’s passion reaches a white-hot intensity, chilling reversals of good and evil, of right and wrong, suddenly threaten their very survival.
Read an Excerpt
Nicholas returned to the estate, his head buzzing with what Zoe and Rand had told him. He’d been shocked at seeing the faces to match the pictures he’d been working on finding for weeks now. More shocked because they hadn’t looked or acted like terrorists. They were in their twenties, like him, and aside from their obvious distrust and wariness, a lot like him.
He knew something for sure: Darkwell had lied about their intentions. If they’d gone to his house to kill him, why had they not taken him out then?
From the beginning, Darkwell hadn’t lived up to his side of the arrangement, making excuses and promises. Dishonesty was usually a deal-breaker, but he understood that the government sometimes had secrets it couldn’t share with the general public. This program was one of those secrets. But now…now he knew he was being lied to personally. He’d walk, screw the money and his obligation, forget that he always saw a job through to the best of his ability. Before he could do that, though, he had to find out the truth. Not because it involved him; it involved his father, a man he had no memory of. A man whose death had shattered his mother’s heart.
He waited until the armed guard opened the gate. The mansion was a hell of a lot better than that creepy asylum. Darkwell had paid him a lot of money to participate in this program, more to reside on site. Nicholas wanted control over what jobs he worked, whose stuff he retrieved. He wanted more time to help Bone Finders, a non-profit that pulled mostly law-enforcement resources to find the remains of the missing. He could only do so many of those missions a year, though. Finding lost ships, equipment, even the remains of classified experimental aircraft was simple. The more emotions that were tied to the missing article, the more of a toll it took on him. Finding a child’s bones, for instance, sucked out his energy for a week. It was worth it, though.
He nodded to the guard at the front door and drove inside. The place had the smell of old wood and older money. Rich mahogany paneling and trim, a winding staircase, leather accents. He couldn’t imagine living in a place like this permanently. He’d take his place in the Eastport section of Annapolis any day, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a nice little yard where he could work up a sweat mowing and trimming.
He sprinted up the enormous staircase that wound up and then split halfway to the right wing and the left wing, where the offices and his suite of rooms were. He spotted Olivia in the hallway and felt that odd ping in his chest he did whenever he saw her. Since they’d moved to the estate, and she now lived there, too, he saw her a lot more. Her face, a perfect oval framed by long, shiny dark hair, transformed into a smile when she saw him. She tamped it down, though, and he suspected that had something to do with Darkwell spotting them talking in the hallway the other day. The man had glowered.
Nicholas paused a few feet from her. “I’m surprised to see you here on a Saturday.” Their first weekend here she’d gone back to her apartment.
She gave him a soft smile. “I had things to do here.”
“Can we talk? Alone?”
Her mouth moved without sound for a moment, conflict on her face. “I, uh…maybe it’s not such a good idea.”
“Is that because of Darkwell? He say something to you?”
She nodded, her mouth tightening. “He doesn’t want us, uh, socializing.”
He felt both gratification that the order seemed to bother her and annoyance. “This is about work.”
“Oh.” Her face flushed in that sweet way that told him she had been way too sheltered as far as men were concerned. An intriguing thought in itself. “Of course.”
He wondered if she’d been sheltered by her parents. Maybe she’d lived in a remote house for the first several years of her life. He knew the feeling, and being stranded out in the boonies for his first twelve years had left him more comfortable being alone.
He leaned in close, inhaling the faint scent of her rose perfume. “I’d love to socialize with you, but I don’t want you to get into trouble. Where can we talk?”
Her face flushed again, but she quickly turned. “Come this way.”
He walked beside her, their hands accidentally brushing. He stole a glance at her as they passed a large, framed mirror in the hallway. They passed Jerryl Evrard’s room, where he and Fonda were noisily going at it, as usual. Olivia’s face flushed again as she studiously avoided his gaze. Oh, yeah, he’d love to socialize with her, to make her moan and cry out too, but he respected her adherence to the policy prohibiting staff/contractor relations.
Besides, Olivia was too classy for a one or ten night stand relationship, and he wasn’t into being tied down. He liked being alone, in his home, or in the middle of a forest tracking down bones, or a hundred feet down in the ocean looking for shipwrecks, without having to feel obligated to call the little woman and promise he was thinking about her every minute.
And the fact that he was probably going to die sometime in the near future made getting involved with anyone even more wrong.
They walked into the room at the end of the hallway where he and Jerryl undertook their missions and closed the door behind them. A look of both trepidation and anticipation crossed her face at that. The balcony had been closed in as a sunroom, but Darkwell had installed a heavy, dark curtain to block out all light. Olivia pulled it open, letting the sun stream in to burnish her straight hair with red highlights.
She dressed nearly as conservatively as she did during the week, wearing black pants and a yellow, button-down shirt. It was unbuttoned just low enough, though, to show a hint of cleavage and the creamy smooth skin of her collarbone. She had incredible hazel-green eyes, the kind that made him forget he was there on business and not pleasure. He walked to the curved glass that overlooked the courtyard. Across the way was where Olivia stayed.
He placed his hand against the warm glass. “Darkwell signed me onto DARK MATTER with the promise that I would be helping the government by locating hostages. So far all I’ve been doing is finding this group of what he calls Rogues, who are supposedly terrorists. What do you know about them?”
A shadow crossed her face. “He hasn’t told me much about them, either. I…I took care of Lucas Vanderwyck when he was here. He had a fever and I talked Peterson into putting him into a tub of water to cool him down. I remember thinking that he must have done something pretty bad to be there. But you saw what the Rogues did when they broke in. They shot our people. They’re ruthless.”
He didn’t even know he was going to reach out and touch the side of her temple where one of them had cold-cocked her two weeks ago. The bruise was gone, but there was a faint scar where she’d been cut. Eric Aruda was a bastard, no doubt about that. Her eyes widened at the touch.
He dropped his hand. “He could have killed you.”
“I know.” Her voice quivered, and the shadow of the violence still haunted her eyes. “Look what he did to Carl.”
“No, I mean, he could have killed you. Easily. But he only knocked you out. They broke in to rescue their friends, not to attack. Carl was holding Eric’s sister at gunpoint.” Then he realized just what she’d said. “So there were prisoners.”
Now her face paled. “I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. Please don’t say anything to Darkwell.”
“I overheard him talking about the prisoners right after it happened. You only confirmed it. He denied that there were prisoners at the asylum. I don’t like being lied to.”
“We have to trust that he’s doing the right thing. He has his way, but he’s a good man.”
Nicholas narrowed his eyes. “You’re not…involved with him, are you?” He did seem a bit territorial about Olivia, and she seemed both reverential and obedient toward him.
A half laugh-half bark erupted from her mouth, which she covered. “No. God, no. He’s just…been my boss for a long time.” She tilted her head. “Please don’t let him know that I told you about the prisoners.”
He moved closer, his voice lowering. “Only if you tell me what’s really going on here.”
“I’m strictly administrative. All I know is Darkwell brought in three people with special skills to break up terrorist cells. You obviously have some kind of skill.” She paused, as though to let him add what that skill was. When he didn’t say, she continued. “The Rogues are one of those cells. They’re trying to sabotage the program.”
“I don’t know.”
“Why were they going to kill me?”
“Darkwell has your best interest in mind. If he thinks they’re a danger to you, I’d believe him.”
She definitely believed in the man. Maybe a little too much.
A man’s voice stopped them both. “If you want answers, ask me.”
They both jerked around to find Darkwell standing in the doorway.