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    " You were created. Created to give your lives to the Genetics Council at any time deemed appropriate. You are animals. Nothing more. You have no sire. You have no bitch mother. You have only us. And we will decide if you are strong enough to live or die."

    The dream was merciless, stark in the memory of who and what he was as he watched the scientist point out the procedure that had created him.

    The genetic enhancement of an unknown sperm and ova. The fertilization, the development before it was ever placed within a human womb. And finally, the death of the vessels that had carried each Feline Breed babe to term.

    Nothing was hidden from the immature creatures. They sat on (he floor of their cells and watched the graphic video daily. They saw it nightly in their dreams.

    "You are not human. No matter your appearance. You are an animal. A creation. A tool. A tool for our use. Never imagine you will ever be anything different…"

    Tarek tossed within the nightmare, years of blood and death passing by him. The lashes of the whip biting into his back, his chest. Hours of torture because he had not killed savagely enough or because he had shown mercy. The pain of knowing that the dream of freedom might be no more than a fantasy, quickly lost to death.

    He came awake in a rush, the blood pounding through his veins, sweat dampening his flesh as the horrors he had fought so long to distance himself from returned.

    Breathing roughly, he rose from the bed, pulling on a pair of boxer briefs before leaving the bedroom.

    He inhaled deeply as he left the room, his brain

    automatically processing the scents of the house, sifting through them, searching for anomalies. There were none. His territory was uncorrupted, as secure now as it had been when he settled into his bed.

    He rubbed his hand over the ache in his chest, the almost ever-present remembrance of that last beating, and the whip running with a current of electricity that sent agony resonating through his body.

    He was created, not born.

    Those words echoed through his mind as he opened the back door and stepped onto the porch. Created to kill. Not human…

    He stared into the bleak emptiness of the late-fall Arkansas night as he let the memories wash over him. Fighting them only made it worse, only made the nightmares worse.

    You will never know love. Animals do not love, so before you ever imagine this is a benefit due you, forget it!

    The trainers had been quick to destroy any flicker of hope before it drew breath, took form, or hinted at an end to their tortured suffering. The psychological training had been brutal. You are nothing. You are a four-legged beast walking on two. Never forget that…

    Your ability to speak does not mean you have permission to do so…

    He stared into the star-studded night.

    God does not exist for you. God creates His children. He does not adopt animals…

    The final destruction. A silent snarl curved his lips as he glared into the brilliance of a sky he had never been meant to see.

    "Who does adopt us then?" he snarled to the God he had been taught had no time for him or for his kind. "Who does?"

    Chapter One

    Wasn't there some kind of law that said a man wasn't allowed to look that damned good? Especially the tight, hard bodies who persisted in mangling a perfectly good lawn at the wrong time of the year.

    Lyra Mason was certain there had to be such a law.

    Especially when said male, Tarek Jordan, committed the unpardonable sin of whacking down her prized Irish roses.

    "Are you crazy?" She ran out the front door, yelling at the top of her lungs, waving him away from the beautiful hedge that was finally managing to achieve reasonable height.

    That was, before he attacked it with the weed-eater he was wielding like a sword.

    "Stop it. Dammit. Those are my roses," she wailed as she sprinted across her front lawn, skidded around the front of her car, and nearly slipped and broke her neck on the strip of lush green grass in front of him.

    At least he paused.

    He lowered the weed-eater, tipped his dark glasses down that arrogant nose of his, and stared back at her as though she was the one committing some heinous act.

    "Turn it off," she screamed, making a slicing motion across her throat. "Now. Turn it off."

    Irritation and excitement simmered in her blood, heated her face, and left her trembling before him. He might be bigger than she was, but she had been maneuvering big, brawny men all her life. He would be child's play next to her brothers. Maybe. He cut the motor, lifted a brow, and flashed all that bare, glorious muscle across his chest and shoulders. As though that was going to save him. She didn't think so.

    The man had lived next door to her for almost six months and never failed to totally infuriate her at least once a week. And she wasn't even going to admit exactly how much she enjoyed razzing his ass every chance she got.

    "Those are my roses!" She felt like crying as she rushed to the broken, ravaged branches of the four-foot-high hedge. "Do you have any idea how long it took me to get them to grow?

    Have you lost your mind? Why are you attacking my roses?" He lifted one hand from the steel shaft of the weed-eater and scratched his chin thoughtfully.

    "Roses, huh?"

    Oh God, his voice had that husky little edge. Dark. Deep. The kind of voice a woman longed to hear in the darkness of the night. The voice that tempted her in dreams so damned sexual she flushed just thinking about them.

    Damn him.

    He tilted his head to the side, staring at her roses for long moments behind the lenses of his dark glasses.

    "I can't believe you did this." She flicked him a disgusted glance as she hunched in front of the prize bush and began inspecting the damage. "You've lived here six months, Tarek. Surely it occurred to you that if I wanted them cut down I would have done it myself."

    Some men just needed a leash. This was obviously one of them. But he was fun—even if he was unaware of it. It just wouldn't do for him to know how often she went out of her way to come down on him.

    "Sorry, Lyra. I thought perhaps the job was too large for you. It looked like a mess to me."

    She stared up at him in shocked surprise as he said the blasphemous words. Only a man would consider roses a mess. It was a damned good thing she liked that helpless male look he gave her each time he messed up.

    She could only shake her head. How long did the man have to live beside her before he learned to leave her side of the yard alone? He needed a keeper. She considered volunteering for the job. "You should have to have a license to use one of those. I bet you would have failed the test if you did."

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