Coyote Marked (Wounded Warriors #3)

When Lex is taken from her teammates, she expects to be eliminated or harvested for Project Enhanced. Instead, Lt. Col. Jasper Caswell, leader of the black ops group pursuing them, has marked her as his mate. It’s a fate worse than death, and she is desperate to escape. The mysterious and handsome Aidan, who works in support services, seems like her best chance of doing so. With his help, she discovers what the group really wants from the shifters who have eluded them. She thinks she has also found her mate, but Caswell is determined to claim her. To have any kind of future together, they’ll have to find a way out of the secret base—and counter the mating bite on her neck that allows Caswell to track her…

“Coyote Marked” picks up just shortly after events in “Relentless Tiger,” and it’s highly recommended you read that before reading this book. I attempted to make this book function as a standalone, but reading all parts in order will enhance your reading enjoyment.

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They had arrived at the safe house less than an hour ago, and now gathered in the living room around Loris. Lex hovered nearby as Malcolm gently questioned Loris about her experience at the base. She could see her former commanding officer’s tension increasing with each question she asked, because Loris had no answers.

“Do you know what they did to you?” That was the third time Malcolm had asked the question, interspersed between others.

Loris shook her head, her confusion obvious. “I don’t know. I don’t remember anything.”

“What’s the last thing you remember?” asked Malcolm.

Loris appeared to be thinking on it deeply before she let out a small sigh. “I remember snow.”

“That was probably the Bullhead Reserve,” said Devon. “Do you remember them taking you?”

For just a moment, there was a note of recognition in her face, but it quickly faded back to a confused expression. “I’m sorry, but I don’t remember. I don’t really remember much of anything.” As she spoke the words, Loris rubbed her head.

A pang of sympathy shot through Lex as the bite on her neck throbbed forcefully where Lt. Col. Caswell had gotten hold of her earlier. She’d shifted three times already, which should have healed the wound, but she could still feel it there below the surface, burning slightly and occasionally twitching as though it had developed its own pulse. It had to have something to do with his hybrid DNA, some foreign component that her shifter system couldn’t recognize as an invader to heal.

Tianna stifled a yawn, and it seemed to spread like a contagion around the room. Lex bit back her own yawn as fatigue surged through her. The long day was catching up with her.

It was obvious questioning Loris wasn’t getting them anywhere, and she was relieved when Malcolm said a few minutes later, “Let’s all get some rest. Maybe Loris will remember more in the morning.”

***

After a quick shower, she had settled in her room and quickly discovered she had the misfortune of sharing a wall with Devon and Tianna. Listening to them make love sent a surge of envy through her. She wasn’t jealous of Devon having a mate, because he was like a brother to her. She was simply envious that he had found his mate.

She wanted to be lucky and do the same, though the timing certainly wasn’t ideal, with the super soldiers from Project Enhanced chasing them down to kill them and remove all evidence of Project Shift in the process. Judging from their cries of passion and occasional giggles, neither one of them were considering the implications of introducing another target into this mess, and she envied them that too. They had the ability to lose themselves in each other and escape the reality of their situation, at least for a little while.

By curling the pillow around her ears, Lex was finally able to fall asleep, but her nightmares were no place of refuge from either reality or her desire for her own mate. Twisting, disjointed images danced behind her eyes, and she woke with a scream trapped in her throat as panic surged through her.

At first, she thought it was the nightmares that had woken her, but a furtive scraping sound caught her attention, and her coyote growled in her head. She inhaled deeply, immediately recognizing Loris’s pheromone signature. She rolled over and clicked on the light as she turned to face her former teammate. “What’s the matter? Can’t you sleep?”

When Loris didn’t answer, Lex drew in a deep breath and held it for a moment, analyzing the various scents pouring from her friend. Her hackles rose, and the coyote surged to the surface as she recognized the stench of artificial intelligence underlying her friend’s previous pheromone signature. She leapt from the bed with grace, placing it between herself and Loris as she studied her friend.

The blonde hair and blue eyes were the same, but what was in the eyes indicated the problem. Or rather, the lack of anything in her gaze. Her eyes were unfocused and blurry, and her expression was slack. She seemed to be totally without emotion, and she was moving as though on autopilot.

“Loris, can you hear me?”

Loris suddenly lunged at her, jumping on the bed and over it nimbly. Lex moved away as Loris joined her on that side of the bed, opening her mouth to shout for help. As she waited for the others to arrive, she eyed Loris warily. Her former teammate held a syringe in one hand, and Lex wasn’t certain what was in the clear fluid inside, but she had a feeling Loris wanted to inject her with it.

Loris matched her step as Lex backed away from her. Not knowing what was wrong with Loris, she didn’t want to engage unless she had to. A moment later, Loris took the decision from her by rushing forward and knocking Lex to the ground. Loris was taller and more muscular than she was, but Lex was lithe and flexible, like her coyote. She contorted herself enough to scoot away from her friend, not wanting to hurt Loris, but certainly not willing to accept the injection of whatever was in the vial.

Loris came at her again, but Lex had gotten to her feet and headed to the door. It opened before she reached it, and Wyatt spilled into the room, followed quickly by Malcolm and Devon. Tianna hovered in the doorway, clearly uncertain how to help, or what to do with herself.

“She attacked me, and she was trying to inject me with something. I don’t know what’s wrong with her, but if you look into her eyes, it’s like she’s not even there.”

No one answered her, other than a nod from Devon, because they were all focused on taking down Loris as easily as possible without hurting her. The three of them moved closer, tightening their position until Loris had nowhere to go. She still tried to push past them, but she didn’t even glance at any of the three men. Her unfocused gaze seemed to be pointed solely on Lex, though it was questionable how much she was actually seeing or processing.

“She smells wrong,” said Devon with a growl.

“Like those super soldiers,” agreed Wyatt.

“I think it’s artificial intelligence,” said Lex. She winced a moment later when her friends moved as one to tackle Loris, bringing her to the floor and positioning her so they could zip tie her hands behind her.

As Loris continued struggling, Malcolm pried the syringe from her hand and studied it for a moment. After that, he turned and slipped the syringe into her neck, filling Loris’s veins with whatever was in the syringe.

Lex gasped. “You shouldn’t have done that. What if it’s something lethal?”

He shook his head. “It isn’t. It’s marked with the contents, and I ordered it myself. She must’ve gotten it from the medicine cabinet in the main bathroom.” He capped the used syringe before getting to his feet. “The question is, why did she go looking for it, and what did she plan to do with it?”

“She was trying to give it to me,” said Lex. “I’m certain of that by her whole demeanor. She was stalking me, like a predator with prey, but I don’t think Loris had any clue who I was, or who she is. I think she was implanted with the artificial intelligence chip before we rescued her.”

Wyatt looked regretful as he got to his feet, having maintained his watchful posture until Loris had stopped twitching and now lay silently due to the effects of the sedative.

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