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To Tame an Omega

By Lisa Gray

Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

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Copyright 2018 Lisa Gray

ISBN 9781634867528

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Published in the United States of America.

* * * *

To Tame an Omega

By Lisa Gray

Chapter 1

“Hey, Rafe?”

Rafael Vargas popped the three capsules into his mouth and choked them down. Ignoring the lump in his throat, he concealed the open bottle in his palm as he turned around to answer.

The newest intern at Caldwell Cyber Security was leaning against the door frame of the break room, watching him. Cute little girl—at five foot nothing, wearing over-sized glasses, she looked all of twelve years old. Of course, from his lofty perspective of twenty-eight, all teens looked like babies.

She scowled as if reading his condescending thoughts and said, “Caldwell’s about to pop. Wants you in his office—like now. Must be something big.”

Probably not. Rafe’s blustery boss lived for melodrama. “Okay, thanks. By the way, do you need help with the Gaston Industries project?” Over time, Rafe had found himself in the position of mother hen to the interns who rotated through the company. Janet was his favorite. Maybe because the judge had sentenced her to probation and arranged an internship after they caught her hacking the police computer network. Lawbreakers should stick together.

She rolled her eyes at his offer of help. “Of course not. That project was way too easy.” A smile of pure mischief brightened her face. “Maybe you should find something a little more challenging for me. I’m kind of dangerous when I’m bored.”

Rafe chuckled at the girl’s rock-solid self-confidence. “Don’t get too cocky. You’ve still got a ways to go to beat me.”

She treated him to a low, mocking bow and murmured, “I salute your greatness, oh digital god,” as she backed into the hallway and fled. Smart ass. And very skilled. She might well outdo him in the next few years. But at least for now, he was the resident expert.

He filled a paper cup with water and drank enough to send the capsules on their way. Thank God his late mother had been the resident expert in the biochemical compounds of herbs. Without her teaching him what worked to help dull his omega hormones and how to prepare it, he’d have been snatched up long ago. Or he’d be half insane from so many years of full-strength chemical suppressants.

He took an appreciative sniff of the pill bottle before replacing the cap. Another benefit of the pungent herbs was to mask his omega scent from any overly curious alpha nose. The perfect pill. Too bad she’d never found a cure for the loneliness that went along with hiding who he was.

He tucked the bottle into his pocket, poured a cup of coffee, and headed to his boss’s office.

Rafe stood in Caldwell’s doorway and watched as the man dug through a file drawer, breathing hard. Janet was right—the boss did look like he was going to pop.

The man glanced up from his task. “There you are! I sent that new girl—what’s her name?—to fetch you ages ago.” Frowning, he added, “You know, I’m still not comfortable having her doing her community service in my company.”

Before Rafe could yet again reassure his boss of Janet’s value, the man continued, “But that’s not important now.” Caldwell straightened, took a deep breath, and announced, “We have a situation.”

Rafe sat down in one of the guest chairs, idly wondering what had prompted this summons. Most often, a “situation” was nothing more alarming than a client postponing a scheduled service visit. Caldwell never failed to overreact to little things but seemed oblivious to the important stuff.

When Rafe first started work there, he’d been extra vigilant. The boss, despite being laughably dramatic, was an alpha. Even with the suppressants and the herbs, any other alpha might have seen through Rafe’s masquerade. Not this one. This one was too wrapped up in himself and his business to pay much attention.

Rafe offered what he hoped was a calm smile. “Who needs help, boss?”

“It’s the government.”

A trickle of unease seeped through him. Anything to do with the people who fifteen years ago had confiscated all omega children to be raised on breeding farms scared the shit out of him. Keeping his tone casual, he asked, “And what do they need?”

The man pointed a chubby index finger at him and said, “You.” Grinning, he added, “It’s about time.”

The trickle burst its dam. They must have found out he was an omega—a wild, unbroken, unmated omega. Damn. Damn. Damn. Fighting the impulse to run, Rafe took a moment to breathe—and think—before he did something stupid. If Caldwell knew, the man’s reaction would have been explosive. So they hadn’t identified him as omega.

But had they found out Rafe was the hacker responsible for the raid on the omega breeding farm? Rafe swallowed a panicked laugh. Didn’t really matter. If they arrested him, the suppressants would wear off in a matter of days. Then he’d be headed to his own omega farm for training in how to be a submissive little breeder for some grunting alpha.

He cursed the bad timing. Sure, his luck couldn’t last forever. But did it have to all go to hell now? When the activist group recruited him, he’d at last found the means and the courage to fight for his fellow omegas instead of hiding and ignoring their plight.

Taking a sip of coffee that burned its way down his throat like pure acid, Rafe cast a surreptitious glance toward the hallway. No armed guards. The window revealed only a rain-drenched parking lot. No prisoner transport van. Okay. Maybe he was panicking for nothing. “The government wants me for what?” Rafe cringed at the thready sound of his voice.

Caldwell chuckled. “Your skills, of course. And let me tell you, this could be quite a bonanza—a make-or-break opportunity.” He gestured to the disarranged file drawer. “I was going to bring the complimentary letters I’ve gotten about your work. A little bragging never hurts.”

So they didn’t know anything! Rafe forced down a shout of glee and concentrated on keeping his expression neutral. All he had to do was dodge this government assignment and keep out of sight—and out of scent range. He set the coffee cup on the desk and sorted through the bouquet of excuses blooming in his head while Caldwell kept talking.

“I haven’t told you the best part. Care to guess who’s asking for our help?” A broad smile of anticipation lit Caldwell’s doughy face. Like a high school girl revealing a nugget of hot gossip, the man leaned forward and whispered, “Grant Tenereth.” He eased back in the chair with an expectant look, no doubt waiting for awed admiration.

Well, Rafe could provide the awe part all right—shock and awe. He choked. On nothing or on something—it sure wasn’t spit because his mouth had gone dry as a summer day in Las Vegas. Grant Fucking Tenereth? At the tender age of thirty-four, the youngest, most hard-assed alpha bastard ever to be appointed to run the Omega Council? According to rumor, the reason the man didn’t have a mate yet was he was too busy making love to the rulebook.

An urge to fly out of there and never look back seized Rafe. Only by wrapping his fingers tight around the arms of the chair could he hold himself down. He had to stay in control—omegas who panicked and ran always got caught. His long term success was due to years of hiding in plain sight. No, he had to think his way out of this.

Maybe Caldwell’s ego was the key—a little manipulation might work. He arranged his lips in a smile. “That’s quite a coup for the company. And for you. You’ll want to be hands-on with this, so I’ll stay in the background and let you get the credit you deserve.”

“Nonsense. He told me to deliver you personally.”

Oh, God. The alpha had custom-ordered him. Was that when the restraints would be brought out?

“Tenereth picked you because you’re the best in the field. And because you’re a beta.” He gave Rafe a conspiratorial wink. “Probably doesn’t want to butt heads with a tough old alpha like me.”

Tenereth wanted a beta? Too bad there wasn’t one available. Could this get any worse?

Caldwell stood and plucked his pond-scum green suit jacket from the coat rack. “Let’s go. The meeting’s in half an hour. Can’t make a good impression if we’re late.”

“What? Right now?” Rafe was thirty minutes away from being presented to Grant Tenereth? A helpless whimper rose in his throat as behind the terror, his damned omega hormones perked up at the prospect of meeting a prime alpha. If he couldn’t shut them down fast, even his heedless boss would recognize a blossoming omega scent. “But I’m still in the middle of the Donaldson program.”

“Let what’s-her-name handle it. A government contract like this could mean millions.” The man rubbed his palms together as if feeling the arousing touch of money already.

Scrambling for excuses, Rafe protested, “But I won’t make a good impression. I’m not prepared.”

“No way you could be—he hasn’t told us yet what the assignment is. Very hush hush—we’ll be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement.” Caldwell had moved out from behind his desk and stood towering over Rafe. “Now, up and at ‘em—I want to get there before the storm gets any worse.”

What was he supposed to do now? More herb capsules? Not strong enough—not to ward off an alpha in his prime. He needed a suppressant injection. And that meant a trip to the employee locker room—without Caldwell. What excuse would work? He picked up the coffee, and pretending to take a last sip, dumped it on his shirt. Leaping up, he cried, “Damn, what a mess.”

Caldwell backed away to protect the awful suit, leaving enough room for Rafe to escape.

Now or never.

As he shot into the hall, Rafe called over his shoulder, “I’ve got a clean shirt in my locker. Won’t be a minute.” He bolted before his boss could open his mouth to protest. But the heavyset man’s footfalls followed him as Rafe ran. Damn it.

He pushed open the door and skidded to a halt in front of his locker. Breathing hard, he spun the combination, jerked on the lock, and flung open the door. From far in the back, he dragged out his shaving kit. Fingers fumbling, he dug into the hidden side pocket and pulled out a syringe of clear liquid—enough for one more injection. He pulled his coffee-drenched shirt over his head, undid his pants to expose his hip, and jabbed the needle in. In an instant, slimy cold seeped through his veins. Shivering, he shoved the empty syringe into the kit, grabbed his clean shirt, and turned around.

Janet stood at the end of the row of lockers, watching him with a troubled look on her face.

Double damn. What if she thought he was using drugs—the recreational kind? Would she say anything to the boss? He hoped not, but that would be one sure-fire way to get Caldwell to remember her name. Well, they were about to find out.

Caldwell pushed his way through the door. “There you are. Let’s go.” The stern voice made it clear the man wouldn’t tolerate any more delays.

With no options available, Rafe finished dressing and donned his jacket. Using his body to block Caldwell’s view, he slipped the bottle of herbal pills inside the locker before he closed the door. No point having anything on him that might raise questions.

He glanced toward Janet, but she’d melted into the shadowy corner. Good. Maybe she wouldn’t report him after all. He nodded to her, hoping to convey his thanks as well as a promise they’d talk later—if he made it back. Wearing a grim smile, he followed Caldwell through the hallway and out into the storm.

Time to be served up to the hungry, unmated alpha who would likely destroy his life.

* * * *

Chapter 2

Sitting in the lobby of the soulless, bleak government building, Rafe welcomed the numbing cold of the suppressant. A shroud, dark and smothering, had crept over his true self. It was just what he needed—somewhere safe for his omega to hide. He could handle the chill, but the metallic taste coating his tongue turned his stomach. On the bright side, vomiting on the prime alpha might convince the man to keep his distance.

In the next chair, Caldwell harrumphed every few minutes at being kept waiting. He might not be the typical alpha, but the man still possessed that arrogant self-importance so common in them. At least the ones Rafe hadn’t been able to avoid.

After twenty long, uncomfortable minutes, a young woman dressed in conservative business attire arrived and guided them to the office of the Director of the Omega Council. She knocked on the door, opened it, and gestured for the two to enter, closing the door behind them.

Rafe caught himself edging behind Caldwell, instinctively seeking protection of an alpha—any alpha. Berating himself for his weakness, he moved to stand next to his boss and face Grant Tenereth head on.

A gasp threatened to escape Rafe’s throat as the alpha rose. My God, the man was magnificent—tall, muscular, with wavy brown hair rebelling against the careful combing. Almost drooling, Rafe watched the prime specimen stalk around the huge mahogany desk and extend his hand to Caldwell.

“Thank you for coming, Mr. Caldwell. I appreciate your prompt response and what I hope will be your cooperation.” The voice was low and pleasant. Rafe could have listened to it for hours.

When the gorgeous alpha turned toward him, Rafe had to fight the urge to sink to his knees in submission. The man exuded power—not bluster, just quiet, confident authority. Wishing the suppressants dulled his instincts as well as his hormones, Rafe stiffened his legs and accepted the offered handshake, letting himself revel in the strength and the dizzying intimacy of skin-to-skin contact.

“So you’re the cyber wizard.” The man’s gaze scorched Rafe from head to toe, leaving him panting. A lazy smile curved those generous lips. “I think we’ll work well together.”

Melting under the power of that smile, Rafe couldn’t form words. It needed Caldwell jabbing him with a sharp elbow before he managed to respond. “Um, sure, anything you want.” Inwardly, he groaned. Anything you want? Why not just bend over and be done with it?

Tenereth cast a puzzled look at Rafe, then gestured toward the black leather guest chairs. “Please make yourselves comfortable.” Returning to his seat behind the desk, he announced, “Gentlemen, the Omega Council needs both your assistance and your discretion. As to the second, you’ll have to read and sign nondisclosure agreements before we go any further.” He slid a prepared document and a pen to each of them and waited.

Rafe skimmed the agreement, which said nothing other than he’d be facing severe penalties if he revealed information from this assignment. Shrugging, he signed, as did Caldwell.

Tenereth collected the documents and set them in his out-box. “Welcome aboard.”

Caldwell asked, “So what’s all the secrecy about?”

“I’m sorry to say, but our omegas are under attack.”

Caldwell stiffened and demanded, “Who dares to threaten them?” He gripped the arms of the chair like he was preparing to hoist his bulk upward in defense of the helpless, cowering omegas.

“That’s what I want Rafael to help me discover.”

Rafe shifted in his chair. When Tenereth had said his name, the man elongated the syllables like some kind of Italian endearment. On the alpha’s lips, the name had music.

“Two days ago the local facility that houses young omegas was raided. Twenty-two children were kidnapped.”

Caldwell’s face turned florid. “How could this happen? Where was security?”

Across the desk, the director’s handsome features narrowed. “I’m sorry to say, security officers inside were watching a looped video showing nothing wrong. The guards outside left their posts to investigate various perfectly targeted diversions.”

Despite the danger he was in, Rafe almost smiled at the tone of disgust on the word “diversion.” He was proud of the time he’d spent digging into the guards’ personal lives and crafting the right lure to attract them: a garbled phone call from Thompson’s ex-wife, a whimpering puppy for Clark, and last, for Cavelli, the aroma of home-baked sausage-basil lasagna straight from his Italian mama’s recipe.

“The attack was planned and executed by a team of skilled professionals. I need a cyber security expert to backtrack the hack.” The prime alpha growled, “I want these bastards found!”

Rafe’s pulse jumped at the man’s harsh tone. This was no self-absorbed preening alpha like Caldwell. This was an intense, dedicated man. Deceiving him was not going to be easy.

Caldwell bobbed his head in agreement. “What are their demands?”

“Nothing.” Tenereth’s hands curled into fists. “Not a damned word yet. They could be doing anything to those innocent children, and we’re helpless.”

Rafe read the pain and fear in those storm gray eyes. The man truly cared about the omegas—and not as breeding stock.

“And it’s our fault. The council never should have relinquished control and contracted with Synergenics for the security and care of our omegas. We’ve been trapped in a hands-off policy for the last fifteen years.” Rafe wondered if the man’s jaw would crack from the pressure being applied. “Now look where that got us.”

“Homeland Security has no suspects? No leads?”

“Homeland isn’t involved yet.”

A stunned Caldwell, for once, had no comment to offer.

Well, it was good news for Rafe, but why the hell wasn’t Homeland involved?

“I received orders to investigate quietly—anything to avoid publicity.” The man’s bitterness and frustration with that constraint were unmistakable.

Ignoring Caldwell’s open-mouthed look of shock, Tenereth appeared to regain control of his emotions and stood. “So, we have to move now. Mr. Caldwell, any information you might be able to glean—with discretion—would be useful. But no word of this attack can be leaked. People cannot know our omegas are vulnerable.”

Caldwell nodded his agreement.

“In the meantime, Rafael will come with me to the facility to examine the computer security.”

About to be left out, Caldwell protested, “But shouldn’t I come, too?”

The director shook his head. “We limit the number of people who know the location of the facility—alphas, in particular. I, myself, have never visited. The remaining omegas at the facility are in distress, so there’s a slight chance the presence of multiple alphas might trigger a premature heat.”

Puffing his chest out, Caldwell said, “Of course. Wouldn’t want to overwhelm the poor little darlings, would we?”

Rafe clamped his lips shut to keep from commenting. The day Caldwell would cause any omega to go into heat would be the first Friday after never. As for Grant Tenereth, the quiet, commanding holy grail of hotness? Well, that was something else entirely.

The three of them stood, and Caldwell turned to Rafe and patted him on the shoulder. “Do the company proud, son. I’ll be expecting a full report when you return.” He walked out the door, leaving Rafe to face a cozy little drive for two to the crime scene to investigate his own illicit handiwork.

Dreading being in such close quarters with the powerful alpha, Rafe had to force himself to follow Tenereth to the man’s government-issued black SUV. His inner omega, however, merrily skipped along behind the alpha, wallowing in the submissive role.

When they reached the vehicle, Rafe hesitated, his fingers poised on the door handle. As he urged himself to get a grip and assume his customary mask of a beta, a gust of wind spat raindrops at his face. Shading his eyes with one hand, Rafe looked to the west. A second storm front was building while the first one refused to move on. He watched the dark, churning clouds collide and roll. The wind was fighting itself for dominion.

He could relate.

Damned hormones.

Damned fucking alphas.

* * * *

Chapter 3

Grant Tenereth shifted in his seat as he merged the SUV into highway traffic on the way to the omega facility. Something was making him itch. He glanced at the man in the passenger seat—nothing but dead silence from the moment they’d started this journey. There was something unusual about Rafael Vargas. Something Grant couldn’t pin down. The only thing he was sure of was the desire to know the man better.

Much better.

Intimately better.

Grant hadn’t had a reaction like that toward any man in ages. Oh he’d had pragmatic sexual encounters with betas—a means to an end on both sides. But Rafael was different. He smelled different. A pleasing masculine scent, even though it was sadly marred by some odd metallic note. Confusing.

Grant hated confusion.

He tried again to engage the man in conversation. “What do you think your chances are of finding the hacker?”

“Depends on his skill.”

Silence followed that unsatisfactory response. So much for discussing work.

Maybe flattery would make him open up. “Tell me, did you have to learn your craft from the bottom up, or are you one of those ‘naturals’ I envy who were born to make a computer sing?”

The silent interval was long enough Grant was close to assuming the man was ignoring him.

“I do have a natural affinity, but my mother taught me a lot of what I know.”

“Your mother’s a computer expert?”

“Computers were only one of her interests. Her true passions were botany and biochemistry.”

“Sounds like a brilliant woman.” Grant had noted the man’s use of the past tense. “She’s no longer with you?”

“She died when I was in high school. Breast cancer.”

“I’m so sorry.” How hard that must have been for Rafael. Grant couldn’t imagine losing a parent at such a young age. “Well, she must have taught you well. No offense, but you seem young to be such an expert in the field.”

At least Grant’s naiveté garnered a slight chuckle and a response. “The raw talent in the field is in the young people, like our new intern, Janet. She’s incredible.”

Trying to lighten the atmosphere, Grant smiled and said, “Well, you must be relieved to know someone’s ready to carry on your legacy as you suffer through your dotage.”

Rafael responded to the sad attempt at a joke by turning his head and staring at the raindrops rolling down the side window.

Message received. Conversation over.

But that didn’t stop Grant from covertly studying the man. The closer they got to the facility, the more Rafael’s tension seemed to rise: his shoulders tightened, and his hands fidgeted. Maybe that was it—maybe he was uncomfortable with the whole idea of sequestering omega children to protect them.

Grant, too, had had enormous doubts about it when it was first proposed. He still did. The prospect of surrendering his sweet omega sister to one of the farms had left him weak-kneed and gibbering. Thank God his family had been spared that trauma.

But in its defense, the plan had sprung from true desperation. Only omegas gave birth to omegas and alphas. When the number of omegas declined year after year with no apparent explanation, alphas had panicked. Their natural protective instincts flared to extremes to safeguard those omegas left. That instinct, combined with the alphas’ fear they might never find a mate and never reproduce, had demanded a solution.

From the outset, the protected isolation plan had provoked heavy, sometimes violent protests. Conspiracy nuts launched outlandish claims about the government trying to destroy gender identity or the betas plotting to prevent new alphas from being born. Pockets of protesters still cropped up from time to time, but, for the most part, they weren’t well-organized enough to cause a problem.

Rafael might be a sympathizer.

Hoping to reassure the man, Grant offered, “You don’t need to be anxious about the facility. It’s geared to be a wonderful, nurturing experience for these children.”

The sole response was a pitying glance before the man turned his attention straight ahead.

So, that was the problem. Rafael believed the anti-government propaganda. “Truth is, the facility has the best of everything. It’s a safe environment where they provide training tailored to each child’s particular talents.” Grant cringed. Seriously? He sounded like a damned recruiting poster. Wanting to get off the canned rhetoric and make it personal, he continued, “Take my baby sister, for example. She’s an omega and a fabulous artist. That kind of talent—” Grant’s words died as a pair of lethal green eyes targeted him.

“You sent your own sister to be warehoused and sold off as a breeding sow?” The caustic tone of contempt burned.

Unaccustomed to being on the defensive, Grant scrambled to justify himself. “Of course not! We were granted a waiver to raise Mandy at home because she was already promised to a dear friend of the family.” He felt a twinge of guilt at omitting the fact it was his family’s wealth that had ensured approval of that waiver. People of lesser means would have had no choice but to surrender their child. “My point is that talent such as hers would have flourished at an omega farm. Free from the distractions of mixed society, she could have devoted her time to it.” Summoning his job title’s air of authority, he used his best official voice to state, “I assure you the farms aren’t warehouses, and no one is sold off.”

“Oh? I thought you’d never been there.” The pure smug couched behind Rafael’s sweet smile stung deep, damn it.

“It’s true I haven’t visited in person—the alpha presence thing, you know. But I receive detailed reports quarterly. And I review the expenses to see the taxpayers’ money is well-spent and the children get what they need.”

Grant didn’t need Rafael’s quiet snort of derision to know how lame that sounded. Was he that much of an ass, defending a system he didn’t wholly approve of and had never even seen the inside of? He should have instituted better oversight protocols. He should have demanded access. Well, during this visit, he’d have a firsthand view of conditions at the facility at its darkest hour. If there were problems, he’d root them out and fix them.

Despite the nasty weather, he pressed hard on the accelerator, and the car shot forward. The sooner he got there, the quicker he could ease the nagging thought he’d badly neglected his duties.

* * * *

The final few miles had been hell. Sheets of rain slammed into the windshield, hailstones pummeled the roof in a chorus of tiny dents, all punctuated with sizzling shafts of lightning. A wooden bridge marked the edge of the facility’s property. It had Grant worried. They’d rattled over it and could see the creek swelling its banks. They’d have to rush their visit if they wanted to cross it again on the way out.

Grant stopped in front of the imposing steel gate spanning the road, the only opening set in a high stone wall. A sodden mustard-colored flag Grant recognized from the company’s letterhead drooped over the gate. A metal sign fixed below the flag read: Synergenics—No Admittance. The whole setup screamed distrust and secrecy. As they waited, a violent gust bowed the sign into a sharp curve straining toward his windshield, before snapping back flat to rattle against its bolts. Grant couldn’t help flinching.

At last, a man swathed in a bright yellow slicker exited the gatehouse and fought his way to the SUV. Grant opened the window just a crack to pass the man his government identification but still got slapped with icy rain.

The guard checked the ID and, over the howling wind, yelled, “Drive straight through, and follow the signs to the administration wing. No phones or electronics allowed inside. Leave them in the vehicle. Superintendent Lowther will meet you.”

The man ran back to the shelter, and a moment later the gate opened.

Grant drove where he’d been directed, parked, and looked with dismay at the distance they’d have to cross. A series of waterlogged grassy medians lay between them and the door. No options, though. He deposited both their phones in the console and turned to Rafael. “You ready?”

The man’s eyes were huge as he nodded his agreement. Worried? Or just afraid to get wet?

They both opened their doors and ran. Grant was crossing the last muddy median when a yelp sounded behind him. He glanced over his shoulder.

Rafael was face down in the thick ankle-deep soup of dirt and icy water.

Grant reversed course and grabbed an arm, hauling him up. Fighting hard not to laugh at those spring green eyes peeking out of a mask of mud, he dragged the poor man to the entrance.

The door swung open, and a short, thin man in a pinstriped business suit motioned to them to hurry. “Come in, come in. I’m Superintendent Mitch Lowther. Bad luck about the weather—you’ve arrived at the height of it.”

Squelching their way inside, the two of them left a trail of water and dirt on the polished lobby floor. The alpha held out his hand. “Grant Tenereth. And this is my associate Rafael Vargas, a computer expert.”

The superintendent shook Grant’s hand, then turned to Rafael but jerked back at the sight of the black sludge the man was covered with. “Sorry. Let’s get you cleaned up.” He signaled the security guard. “John, show Mr. Vargas to the showers and get him some dry clothes.”

The guard cocked his head toward the hallway on the left and led the way. Rafael trudged after him, shedding clods of black mud in his wake.

“Now, Director, let’s go to my office. I’ve had fresh coffee sent from the cafeteria. We can discuss what measures you’ve taken to retrieve our inven…our poor little omegas.”

Grant bristled. The man hadn’t just referred to the omega children as inventory, had he? So much for professional courtesy—time to take charge. “We’ll have to skip the coffee. I want a tour of the facility right away. I need a better idea of the way things work here if I’m going to understand how such a glaring security breach could have happened. When Rafael has cleaned up, he’ll try to trace the hack.”

Apparently unused to having his position challenged, Lowther’s face flushed. After clearing his throat, the man said, “We don’t normally allow alphas to wander around here. There’s a risk of—”

“Yes, the risk of triggering a heat. However, I believe very few omegas are left here, so the risk is minimal.” Grant folded his arms and loomed over the much shorter man. Loading his voice with as much grim command as he could, he said, “Let’s get started. Oh, and tell your guard to conduct Rafael straight to your computer room.”

After a short but intense staring contest, Lowther huffed out a sigh and surrendered. “Very well. This way.” He pulled out his radio, issued the command regarding Rafael, and stalked through the hallway.

Grant hid his smile as he followed his reluctant host. Sometimes the whole alpha power play thing could be useful to get what he wanted.

An image of a desirable, though mud-covered, green-eyed beta rose in his mind. Might turn out to be quite useful indeed.

* * * *

Chapter 4

Grant concentrated on slowing his breathing as he fought yet another urge to punch Lowther. How could one man be such a heartless bastard? Sure, the man was a beta—he didn’t understand the alpha’s instinctive need to protect omegas. All omegas. And these children needed protection, not from outside dangers, but from crass indifference.

During the man’s grudging tour of the facility, each new section had revealed a greater lack of caring and empathy. The classrooms were grim, functional settings. No children’s art projects proudly displayed, no colorful posters to break the somber monotony, no decorations at all. The whole place was ruthlessly tidy—devoid of the happy chaos of carefree children. Why were they operating this as a military installation? Where was the joy, the make-believe, the silliness?

The next stop on the tour gave Grant his answer.

The young girls’ dormitory had him near to tears. The few children still left after the kidnapping were huddled on their beds. All dressed in the same gray uniform of shapeless hospital scrubs, they sat wrapped in separate silence, heads down, alone. A chilling thought struck him. So far his sister had given birth to two robust alpha sons. What would happen if her next child was an omega? Would his niece or nephew end up in this awful place?

Aching for the children’s sorrow and loneliness, Grant could no more stop himself from offering comfort to the nearest little girl than he could stop the storm raging overhead.

Shrugging off Lowther’s restraining arm, he approached the girl, who must have been no more than four or five years old. Her soft blond hair was long enough to hide her face, but not to disguise the tremors in those thin shoulders. He knelt next to the bed. “Hello, sweetheart, my name is Grant. Is the thunder scaring you?”

She raised stunning crystal blue eyes filled with loss. Her lips moved as if she was trying to form words, but none came. Past caring what Lowther was urgently clucking to him about, Grant sat on the bed and pulled the girl to him, wrapping his arms around her. He tucked her head under his chin and placed a soft kiss on the silky hair. “Don’t be afraid, I’ll protect you. Can you tell me your name?”

The girl pressed closer to Grant. After a minute of silence, a tiny sob surfaced. Rubbing her back, he murmured, “Hush, sweetheart, everything will be all right.”

Lowther shifted from one foot to the other. For the first time on this tour of misery, the man looked uncomfortable. “No, it won’t.”

Grant held the girl for a few more minutes until her breathing evened out and she fell asleep. He eased her onto her side on the bed and stood. Seeking a toy for her to hold, he glanced at the nightstand. It held three items: a small brown teddy bear, a plastic baby doll, and a puzzle. He picked up the teddy bear and tucked it under the girl’s arm.

He scanned the row of beds, and—what the hell? Each nightstand held the identical three toys, all placed in a row, all in the exact same order. Grant had seen the expense reports, the line items for toys, clothes, books, playground equipment. He wasn’t sure where all that money had gone, but it sure as hell had been way more than needed to buy the pathetic trio of toys and those awful uniforms. Something was very wrong here. Kicking himself mentally for his complacency in having abided by the no visitation rule, he swore he’d find the money and put it to use where it had been intended. And he’d unleash hell on those who’d stolen from children.

He moved away from the girl’s bed and lowered his voice. “What did you mean when you said things wouldn’t be all right for her?”

Looking toward the other end of the room, Lowther signaled to a silver-haired caretaker who was sitting with another child, brushing her hair. The old man set down the brush and approached with his head bowed.

Lowther ordered, “Tell him about the twin.”

The caretaker raised sad eyes, and the pull of need enveloped Grant. An omega without an alpha. The man’s voice leaked sorrow as he said, “Elia’s twin sister was stolen in the raid. Elia has been too terrified to speak or eat or sleep. The separation is literally killing her.” A small relieved smile formed on the man’s lips as he looked at the sleeping child. “Thank you for this. She needed to feel safe, even if it’s only for a few minutes.”

Grant sighed. The man was right—it wouldn’t last. In her distress, the girl had instinctively clung to an alpha for protection, but it was a stop-gap measure. “Has she had medical attention?”

The caretaker’s smile faded. “The doctor says there’s nothing he can do for her other than pump her full of drugs. But that might kill her, as young and as stressed as she is. She needs her sister, or she won’t survive.”

That beautiful little girl dead? No! Not going to happen. He would get the children back and put every one of those bastards responsible behind bars for life. He thanked the caretaker and turned to Lowther. “Take me to Rafael. I want to know what progress he’s made toward finding the kidnappers.”

On the way to the security office, Grant asked, “Are all the caretakers here omegas?”

“Yes. They pretty much work for room and board.” Lowther grinned. “It’s not like they have other options. Either they’re too old to be bred or their alphas have died or abandoned them. Here they make themselves useful, keeping the children quiet and obedient. It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Grant fought hard to restrain himself from lashing out against such insensitivity. No need to alert the man to the shit storm headed his way. Instead, Grant played the arrogant bureaucrat, interested only in the money. “Very efficient use of funds.” That netted him a satisfied expression in return. Pumping the man for more information, he added, “Say, I haven’t seen any of the older children. They weren’t all taken in the raid, were they?”

“Oh, we got lucky there, let me tell you. That morning, we induced the five oldest.”

Please let him not mean what Grant feared. “Induced?”

“We managed to trigger a heat just in time. We’ve had over a decade to perfect the drug cocktail—it works like a charm.

A drug-induced heat. Good God. Even a natural first heat for an omega was a difficult time. The hormones raging, the aching need demanding to be met. Coming to terms with their sexuality in the normal course of growth was stressful and exhausting without having it forced on them. Almost afraid to ask, Grant ground out the question from between clenched teeth. “And what happened to them?”

Lowther waved a hand airily. “Oh we packed them off to rich rewards as soon as they exhibited. By now, they’re mated, with a bun in the oven.”

Those children actually had been sold to strangers—and at a time of greatest personal turmoil in their sad little lives.

The despicable man rubbed his palms together. “Yes, a fine day for us, and for the alphas on the waiting list.” Pausing outside the security room door, Lowther cast a quick glance down the hall in both directions and leaned toward Grant. “I noticed your name wasn’t on the list. I believe we could remedy that, depending on the outcome of your visit here.”

Son of a bitch. Lowther was offering him an omega in exchange for keeping his mouth shut. Unbelievable. It took ninety percent of his dubious control not to smash his fist into that smug face. The other ten percent he used to wall off the involuntary spike of excitement at the idea of finding a mate. He pasted what he hoped was a greedy leer on his face—he needed to appear corrupt enough to be complicit in the plan. “I like the way you think. I’m sure we can come to an agreement.”

God, Grant felt dirty.

And powerless.

Had his life’s work all been for nothing?

Grant had been nineteen when the plan to sequester omegas went into effect. He’d been a closet romantic, daydreaming of joining his perfect omega in a life bond like those described in love stories. At least until his father had explained the new protocol. Omegas would be matched with only the very best alphas—geniuses, innovators, artists whose genes, for the good of society, must not be allowed to die out.

Grant would never have a mate.

His fantasies crushed, he’d reacted by shoring up his self-control and vowing to do all he could to protect omegas. Fifteen years later, he’d reached a position of power in the care of omegas and believed he’d accomplished something worthwhile.

Yet men like Lowther had perverted all his efforts.

Terrible questions swirled through his mind. Had Rafael been right about the omega operation as a whole? Could the members of the Omega Council—people Grant trusted and had worked with for years—know what went on here? Could they be involved?

No. he couldn’t accept that. It had to be Lowther who was corrupt—a single bad apple. The other facilities must be run by kind, caring individuals.

Grant would make sure.

He’d start with Lowther and work his way through every omega facility in person. Regulations be damned—no more oversight from a distance.

One final question insisted on surfacing despite his efforts to quash it. The raid—had it been a kidnapping or a rescue mission? In the end, it didn’t matter. The responsibility for keeping the omegas safe did not belong to some misguided band of rebel activists. It belonged to Grant. And he was damned well going to fulfill that duty, no matter whom he had to bulldoze into the ground in the process.

The children at last had their champion.

* * * *

Chapter 5

That prick!

Colluding with Lowther to snag himself a choice omega? And after pretending to be so concerned about omega welfare! It was a good thing Rafe had listened in on the hallway conversation.

He willed the rush of blood climbing his neck to abate. Getting pissed about Grant Tenereth’s perfidy wouldn’t do him any good. The man was nothing more than another corrupt government parasite out to exploit omegas.

As the anger faded, a wave of raw disappointment rolled through him. Grant had seemed different. Despite the danger, Rafe had been close to making a fool of himself, responding to the man’s gentle flirting. Good thing the truth had come out.

With a long sigh, he shut down the audio on the surveillance feed to the hallway and pretended to be deeply involved in tracing the hack.

He scratched his neck for the umteenth time and cursed. All they’d given him to wear while his muddy clothes were laundered was an omega uniform. Gray. Itchy. Terrifying. Maybe it was all in his head. But putting on those shapeless scrubs had sounded an alarm in his mind, screaming for him to haul his omega ass to the nearest exit. He was still adjusting the uniform, trying to make it stop itching, when the door opened and Grant and Lowther came in.

“How’s it going?” Grant asked. That beguiling voice still sent an involuntary shiver of attraction down Rafe’s spine.

Schooling his expression to neutrality, Rafe raised his eyes to the treacherous alpha. “It doesn’t look like I’ll be able to trace it, at least not from here and not without better equipment. The hacker’s damned good—didn’t leave any digital footprint I can find yet.”

“Damn.” Grant’s eyebrows drew together. “The matter has become even more urgent—life and death. Make copies of all the security video from that night and any files you think might help. If there’s any equipment you need to analyze them, let me know—the resources of the Omega Council are at your disposal.”

Rafe would take advantage of that offer. If he scored some advanced government tech for Caldwell’s company, it might mitigate his boss’s disappointment when Rafe failed to solve the mystery hack.

Up to then, Lowther had been silent. He looked around the room and frowned. “Where’s Nordstrom?” At the blank looks he received from Rafe and Grant, he clarified, “The security officer who’s supposed to be here?”

Rafe shrugged. “He got called out to check on the storm damage.”

“He shouldn’t have left you in here unsupervised.” Just as the man opened his mouth to say more, the computer screens flickered off, followed by the lights.

A few seconds later the electricity came back on, and Rafe could hear the sound of a generator powering up somewhere. In those moments of darkness, Grant had moved closer, positioning himself between Rafe and Lowther. Rafe sniffed in disdain. So typical of an alpha, thinking everyone needed protection and couldn’t handle things on their own.

“Damn.” Lowther was heading for the door when it opened and the missing security guard entered, water dripping off his rain slicker.

“Yup. We’re down. The bridge is flooded—road’s impassable. And the gasoline supply wasn’t refilled after last week’s storm. Not sure we’ll make it through the night.”

Lowther’s face flushed crimson, and a vein in his neck pulsed hard and fast.

The guard cleared his throat and tilted his head toward Grant and Rafe as a reminder who was listening.

The superintendent took a moment to compose himself before turning to Grant. “You’ll have to stay the night. We can put you up in the teen dorm rooms.” He checked his watch. “Dinner is being served now in the cafeteria. You should grab some while we still have power for a hot meal. Nordstrom can take you there. When you’ve finished eating, ask one of the caretakers to show you to your rooms. Now, you’ll have to excuse me.” He hurried out the door.

“Gentleman?” the guard said, “Come with me, please.”

Rafe managed to produce a calm, resigned smile and followed the guard. But inside he was sweating. Trapped overnight with Tenereth, the man who’d just admitted to being in the market for an omega? Thank God for the suppressant injection—he’d be okay. He’d keep his distance, claim exhaustion, and hide in the dorm room until morning.

* * * *

In the cafeteria, the few remaining children sat with their caretakers at a cluster of tables they’d pushed together.

With a hand at the small of Rafe’s back, Grant guided him to the line of servers. The alpha placed their meals on trays, frowned, and switched plates to give Rafe the larger portion. He led them to a private table, well removed from the omegas, and asked, “Is this okay?”

The thoughtful behavior left Rafe feeling special, cared for. But after that double-crossing chat in the hallway, he knew better than to fall for it.

Seated across from the alpha, Rafe kept his head down and shoveled food into his mouth. He glared at the bottle of water. A stiff shot of tequila would have been very welcome to drown his disappointment.

They ate in silence for a few minutes, then Grant spoke. “So tell me, what do you think of the food?”

Rafe hadn’t paid much attention to what he’d been eating, but that in itself was revealing. “Um, it’s bland, dull, and dotted with mystery meat. You know—prison food.” He smiled sweetly in answer to Grant’s frown.

“This isn’t a prison.”

“Look at me, Tenereth, I’m wearing a prison uniform.” Rafe couldn’t stop himself from scratching his neck. “And it itches.”

Grant leaned forward. “I’m serious about asking for your impressions of this place. Do you think it’s receiving top of the line services and supplies?”

With a hefty helping of snark, Rafe replied, “Doesn’t matter what they feed the livestock as long as you can buy an omega.”

Grant’s eyes darkened. In a voice flat and harsh, he said, “I will never have an omega—they’re too scarce, too precious to waste on me.” He straightened his shoulders. “I’ve accepted it.”

Rafe had to give the man credit for acting ability. The desolation flashing across his face looked real enough. But the conversation in the hallway confirmed it was a lie.

Rafe threw down his fork in disgust. “Right. And Lowther isn’t adding you to the top of his list of buyers.” Oh, yeah, he was making a tactical error revealing what he knew. But the need to wipe the expression of noble sacrifice off Tenereth’s face was too tempting to pass up. “You can drop the holier-than-thou routine. I heard you make a deal with him.”

Grant captured one of Rafe’s hands in a strong, confident grip.

Damn. Even though the man was a liar, the warm touch had the omega in him quivering in pleasure.

Meeting Rafe’s gaze straight on, Grant said, “What you heard was me accepting Lowther’s bribe so he’d think I’m as corrupt as he is. I don’t want to scare him into hiding the evidence. Believe me, Rafael, I am going to bring down that man, as well as anyone else who profits off the omegas.”

While he was speaking, Grant’s thumb had been doing wonderful things to Rafe’s hand, softly massaging the palm.

Pulse rising, resistance dropping, Rafe tore his gaze from those beautiful, undoubtedly sincere, gray eyes. Disengaging his hand, he murmured, “I believe you.” Maybe it was that pesky biological imperative pushing him to trust an alpha, but it didn’t feel like it.

Besides, wasn’t the goal to gain a better deal for omegas? So even if Tenereth wasn’t going to free them, at least he could improve their lives. Deciding he should trust himself as well as the alpha, Rafe went all in. “What can I do to help?”

Grant’s instant smile was blinding. Irresistible. Rafe tingled under the power of it, and yearned to be the one worthy of receiving it again and again.

“First, I wish you’d call me Grant.” The man’s eyes held warm welcome.

Rafe sure as hell didn’t need to get any more intimate with the alpha, but he didn’t dare answer the man one way or the other. The silence continued until Grant dropped his gaze.

“The second thing might well be considered illegal. I’ll understand if you refuse.” The alpha’s hand tightened on Rafe’s. “But I need you.”

Well, that was easy to resist, now wasn’t it? Rafe had to hold his breath to stop his traitorous omega side from offering—no, begging—to do anything the alpha wanted. Reining in his runaway eagerness, he stalled. “Just what did you have in mind?”

Oh, the sparkle in the man’s eyes was dangerous. Rafe fought to keep his mind on the alpha’s words.

“From the beginning, the Omega Council authorized the best of everything. We trusted Synergenics to provide it: food, clothing, books, toys—anything these children needed to make their lives better.”

Anything except a normal life with their families. His frown must have communicated his opinion, and Grant released his hold on Rafe’s hand.

With a rueful smile, he said, “I know, I know. You think sequestering children is wrong. And after what I’ve seen today, I’m inclined to agree with you. But I can’t change that. What I can do is make certain they aren’t victimized by opportunists like Lowther.”

Grant picked up his fork, speared some soggy green beans, and held them up. “We pay for fresh fruit and vegetables. Does this look fresh?” He let the fork fall. “And the toys.” His brow furrowed. “You should see the pathetic excuse for toys these children make do with. It’s heartbreaking.” He took a long, slow breath and continued. “I’ve authorized expenses each quarter for books, games, dolls, toy cars, playground equipment. And computers for every student. I didn’t see any of it on my so-called tour. There must be a separate accounting with the real numbers. I want you to find it for me.”

Sticking it to Lowther? Now that was an agenda Rafe could support. “I did take a pretty thorough tour through the database this afternoon. Nothing out of order. The shipping manifests and the invoices look legit.” Rafe leaned in. “But that could just mean Lowther’s being careful. He could have his own accounting system on a device not connected to the network.”

“So how do we find it?” The alpha’s eager anticipation was charming. Rafe warmed to the idea of working for once on the same side as the government—as long as the government was an attractive and decent man.

“I’d say start with his office. He doesn’t strike me as very imaginative, so he probably does his side business on a device in there. As isolated as this place is, he must think he’s safe.”

“He’s not going to invite us in.”

“Well, if you keep him occupied, I’ll let myself in.” Hoping the alpha’s reaction to his all-access pass would be positive, Rafe reached into his shirt pocket and halfway pulled out the key card he’d programmed. “I thought it might be useful.”

Grant paused wide-eyed for a moment, then let loose a bark of laughter that had the omegas across the room looking up in surprise. “Well, aren’t you a clever guy to have around!”

Rafe ignored his pleasure at the alpha’s approval.

The grin on Grant’s face dimmed as he said, “There’s something else.” A wistful note of vulnerability had crept into his voice. “Do you think you could find out where the omegas go once they leave here?”

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