Bengal’s Heart

Breeds Book 19

Reporter Cassa Hawkins has always supported Breed rights, believing they should be allowed to live free of fear and prejudice among the humans. A reasonable woman couldn’t think otherwise, especially in the presence of Cabal St. Lawrence, a spectacularly muscled specimen of the Bengal breed. The epitome of the male animal, his sensuous growl can fire up Cassa’s vulnerable body faster than a flame. Yet neither can ignore the nightmare unfolding around them…

The Breeds have been incriminated in a series of violent murder, and accused of hiding a vicious serial killer. It’s left to Cassa and Cabal to discover the truth. But as hunter becomes prey, are trust and passion enough to keep them alive through the night?

Read an Excerpt »



It was a scene out of a nightmare. Something so horrific, so bloody, as to defy the imagination and leave Cassa gasping in shock.

“We have to find the release,” she screamed in horror as her husband stood beside her, the camera on his shoulder trained on the viewing area of the rumored death pit.

It was more than a pit of death. It was a place of such torturous agony and evil that Cassa struggled with the ramifications.

A dozen Breeds, nude, tiger stripes gleaming against their flesh, moved frantically to escape the long, lethally sharp blades that played a horrendous game of hide-and-seek with them.

Blood sprayed against the steel walls, pooled on the floor beneath the bodies of those who’d had the misfortune of not moving quickly enough. And still the others fought to survive and to protect.

A savage roar of rage tore from the tallest, the most powerful of the Bengal Breeds doomed to die, and echoed through the intercom. He fought to shove the others aside, to save them, to find some way to stop the mechanical thrust and parry that sliced into vulnerable flesh.

“Douglas, help me,” Cassa sobbed as her husband stood silent and still, the camera recording the brutality of the Genetics Council and their so-called progressive training.

How had this happened? She flipped a switch and slammed her hands onto the release plungers, but the blades continued to slice and dice their way through even more Breeds in their path.

The roars of fury crescendoed, the raw animal rage sending shards of terror racing down her spine as she grabbed her husband’s arm and jerked him toward her.

She saw it then. Frozen, immobile with shock, she saw the morbid pleasure in his gaze and the satisfaction on his face.

Like a key finally releasing the lock on months of suspicion, Cassa blinked at the truths that finally slammed inside her head. The group of men and women who had come to this small country to find this particular lab and rescue the Breeds here had suffered through too many unfortunate accidents and false trails. For days now, the commander, Jonas Wyatt, had treated the group as a whole with icy suspicion. Because of one man.

“You.” She felt herself shaking apart. Felt something breaking inside her at the realization that she too had played a part in the deception that was now killing the very men and women they had been sent to save. “What have you done?” She screamed the accusation at him, watching the smirk that curved at his lips as his pale blue eyes glittered with fanatical anticipation.

“What have I done? No, Cassa, what did you do? I couldn’t have gotten on this team without your help.” He laughed in her face. She felt the amusement, the hated, mocking arrogance in his tone, as more cries echoed through the control room.

He was her husband. He had used her connections, her friends, to ensure that he was chosen as her cameraman to document the rescue of the rarest of the Breeds ever created. The Bengal Breed.

“Help me release them,” she shrieked, her palms slamming into his shoulders, knocking the camera loose and jerking it free of its mooring on his shoulder.

The crash of the equipment to the ground was only a distant sound of destruction as Douglas used his fist to send explosions of brutal pain tearing through her head, and she fell to the cement floor.

Agony lanced through her, and Cassa couldn’t stop the whimper of pain that fell from her lips. Okay, she could forget getting any help from him.

She pulled herself up to the control panel, tears spilling from her eyes now as she began to press, punch and slap any lever or button she could find.

Sirens began to blare, strobe lights flashed in red and blue. A mechanical voice began spitting warnings and directions in a coded gibberish that made the pain in her head intensify.

“You damned, stupid bitch!”

Cruel hands latched onto her hair and jerked her to her feet.

Cassa didn’t bother to scream. There was no one to hear her cries, there would be no one to care. Her hands jerked to the hand gripping her hair as she began to claw at his fingers with her nails.

Struggling, she was only dimly aware of the enraged, horrific roar that sounded too close, too furious.

“You ignorant little whore!” Douglas yelled again, his expression twisted into lines of rage as he shook her by the hand in her hair. “Do you know what you’re doing? They’re abominations. Fucking animals pretending to be human.” His free hand slapped her across the face, causing her head to ring with explosions of light as another warning blared through the control room, followed by a roar of animalistic rage unlike anything she had ever heard.

Cassa cringed at the sound as Douglas suddenly stilled.

“You knew,” he snapped as he flung her away from him.

Her legs wouldn’t hold her up. Her head was filled with clashing cymbals reverberating with agony. She collapsed to the floor, shaking her head. “I didn’t know,” she cried out, forcing herself to stare up at him. “You’re a monster, Douglas.”

The smile that curved his lips was one of triumph. “You told me the plans to get in here, Cassa. You told me the animals they were going to free, and you told me, dear wife, of the repercussions to the Council if they were freed.” He kicked out at her, laughing as the toe of his boot connected with her side and sent her scrambling in an attempt to crawl from his reach.

“Ten million dollars, Cassa, in an overseas account. Who the f**k needs you or your connections now? You gave me the means to betray these crackpot idiots that want to suck up to animals. Now you can live with it.”

A piercing animal scream exploded through the room. Through the veil of her hair and the tears filling her eyes, Cassa watched as Douglas paled, glanced to the sealed doors to the pit, then turned to run.

It happened so fast and yet Cassa swore she watched each detail of movement as though in slow motion. She saw the only Bengal still standing, his enraged, demonic eyes spitting amber fire. Blood dripped along his body. His face, his shoulders, the stripes that extended from his buttocks around his thighs—blood flowed over the heavy muscle and lean lines of his golden body. He lifted a broken steel stake and hurled it past the slowly opening cage door, swashing through the control room windows with deadly force.

The wickedly sharp blade buried itself at the base of Douglas’s spine. He screamed as he went down and his head arched back on his shoulders as he screamed again.

The stake protruded from the base of his spine as blood spurted around the wound. He convulsed, agonizing sounds of horror and twisted pain escaping his lips, as Cassa watched the only Bengal to escape the pit.

He was the one the others had fought to save. She had seen that much. She had watched as they had sacrificed themselves to save this one.

A mechanical warning sounded through the room. “Alert! Alert! Enemy forces are now entering level zero corridor. You have fifteen seconds to evacuate. Fourteen. Thirteen.”

Cassa stared at the creature that turned on her now. Long, once golden hair was streaked black with blood. It hung limply to his shoulders as the golden flecks of rage gleamed in a backdrop of forest green eyes.

His lips drew back on a snarl, exposing the wicked canines at the sides of his teeth.

She shook her head. He would kill her now. He’d heard everything Douglas had said, every charge he had made. She had betrayed the very creatures she had fought so hard to save. It didn’t matter that she had done so unwittingly. It didn’t matter that she would have died to protect them.

“I’m sorry,” she cried hoarsely as he paced closer. “Oh God, I’m so sorry.”

“Sorry is a weak man’s excuse,” the creature growled, his voice filled with dark purpose.

Her shoulders shook with the sobs she fought to hold back, the terror that cascaded through her. Blood dripped to the floor in front of her, each small droplet a brilliant, enraged red, as he paced closer.

It dripped to the toe of her boot, the hem of her jeans. The next splattered on the jersey material of the T-shirt that covered her breasts.

She swore that small droplet seared her flesh as she stared up at him, grief and pain racing through every nerve in her body.

“Twenty-four Breeds dead,” he growled, the sound of his voice so rough, dark and rasping it scraped over her senses. “Bengals. Each one fought every second of their miserable existence for freedom.” His lips lifted into a snarl as he glanced to the pit, then back to her. “All dead.”

A sob tore from her throat a second before his fingers were latched around her neck, pulling her to her feet as she struggled against the knowledge of death.

He didn’t hurt her, when he should have. She had been responsible. She had trusted. She had betrayed.
“I should toss your body in there with them,” he roared in her face as she screamed in fear.

His lips curled back from his teeth, and she could almost feel the sensation of those wicked incisors tearing at her neck.

She wanted to excuse the betrayal. She wanted to explain, but there was nothing she could say, nothing she could do to excuse it. She had told her husband. She had discussed it with him. She had overlooked the fact that he wasn’t the man she once believed he was; she had tried to believe in that last vestige of humanity she thought he possessed.

Her hand lifted. She touched the blood that ran in a slow, crooked stream down his hard cheek. She touched it, fingers trembling, and bringing it to her lips, closed her eyes.

She tasted the blood she had spilled. Her father had said before his death that men should be made to taste the blood they spill, to experience death, to know the horror they perpetuate.

She knew. She accepted her fate. She tasted his blood as another sob tightened in her throat yet never fell past her lips. She hung in his less than gentle hold, expecting the pain at any moment. Expecting death. She had trusted the man she had given her heart to, and she had learned the cost of that trust.

“I own you.”

Her eyes jerked open to see his, too close, glaring back at her. Nearly nose to nose, the heat of his breath caressing her cheek, the sharp canines too close to her flesh.

“What?” the question was instinctive.

“I own you,” he growled again. It was the animal, not the man, that she faced. This Breed was nothing like the civilized Breeds she had been following for so many months for the newspaper she worked for.

“No.” She tried to shake her head, but the fingers wrapped so cruelly around her throat refused to allow her to move.

“I know your secrets,” he snarled. “And I’ll know more. This.” He looked around the control room, rage flashing in his face as his gaze landed on the entrance to the pit once more. His eyes flashed back to her. “You owe me for their lives. You owe me for his sins.” His gaze returned to Douglas’s fallen form.

She tried to shake her head again, but his hands only tightened mercilessly, as his expression became harder, colder.

“Brothers and sisters,” he snapped at her. “My family, not my pride, and they lie dead because of his perfidy.”
More tears slipped free. Guilt was a ball of flame in her chest. Grief was the knot of agony in her throat that his fingers clenched into.

She was going to die here. She could feel it, and perhaps a part of her would even prefer it. If she lived, she would have to face this, she would have to deal with it. She had seen the blood, the lives wasted in that pit, and she didn’t know if she could bear the weight of knowing they had ended because of her ignorance.

Dear God. She might as well have killed them with her own hands.

Cabal St. Laurents. They were named in these labs. They were given an identity when it would have been far kinder if they hadn’t been. It was a reminder of what they were not. Never free. A reminder of what they were, always tied to their creators.

He was a Bengal, and the animal inside him refused to relent. It rejoiced in the blood of the enemy. It plotted with his humanity, planned and sought the death of every creature that would stand in the way of escape.

Now the man was ready to kill. The human wanted to taste the blood, and the animal held back.

His captive was female. It was the most corrupt of any species. It was the reason those that shared his blood now lay in that same blood that had gushed from their bodies. He held her now, his fingers gripped around her throat, his teeth aching, his tongue nearly tasting her flesh. And he couldn’t harm her. The animal drew back, the feral intensity that had driven him to escape the pit receding.

He released her slowly, watching as she crumpled at his feet. She wasn’t sobbing for mercy. Her head bent, her long, burnished, dark blond hair flowed around her. It touched the floor, and his blood stained the ends of it.
An agony of rage shuddered through him. The roar that raced through his throat and exploded from his lips brought an unwilling sob past the female’s lips. But still, he didn’t strike. The animal stood back, watched, waited. For what it was waiting, he wasn’t certain, but he admitted he had no desire to take this woman’s blood.

She had been foolish. He could smell the scent of her husband on her body, knew the pain that tormented her. She had betrayed them unknowingly, but how could he ever forgive the death of those he had held dear?

“I own you,” he repeated, stepping back from her as he felt the weakness of blood loss creeping through his system. “When I call you, you’ll come. Whatever I ask of you, you will give.” He reached down, and gently, so gently, when rage and the need for violence poured through his system, he gripped her chin and lifted her head until he could see into the dove gray of her eyes, inhale the scent of her and know her forever. Know her and always remember this day. The day a woman had destroyed everything he had held dear.

“And one day,” he swore, “you’ll pay.”

He stumbled. Weakness rushed through him.

He’d lost too much blood. His strength was depleted. There was nothing left but the aching rage, the agony of loss and the taste of defeat. He had sworn to save them, and because of this woman’s thoughtlessness, because of her trust in the wrong man, he had lost everything.

He stumbled again, going nearly to his knees before he caught himself. Swaying, he forced himself upright as the sliding metal doors into the control room were pushed open, and the scent of Breeds filled the room.

There was no threat, no feeling of danger. The animal inside of him recognized the animals rushing in. The rescue forces the scientists had been so worried about. Headed by a Breed that even the Genetics Council was rumored to fear, Jonas Wyatt.

Cabal lifted his head and stared back at them, noting their expressions of disbelief at the sight of the male dying on the floor and the female staring up at him with equal parts fear and anger.

She recognized him for the animal he was and she knew he had stamped her with his ownership. She would walk his line and by all that was holy, he would ensure that she paid the price if she ever allowed another to touch her.
He almost stopped in shock at that thought. He would have, except one of the men stepped up for the woman. His hand reached out to grip her arm, to pull her to her feet. And Cabal was there.

He locked his fingers around the man’s wrist and snarled out a warning. A primal, feral sound that had the female flinching.

What was this imperative need inside him? What had the animal driving forward once again in rage where this woman was concerned? He should want her out of his sight, out of his mind. Never did he want to have to think of the horrors he had faced here or the mutilations that had occurred within that devil’s pit of death.

He could still smell the blood of his family. They shared his blood. Each of them, created of the same DNA from the same Bengal, created of the sperm from the same donor. They were true family. Blood family. And he had lost them all.

“Mine,” he snarled back at the other Breed male, ignoring the arrogance, the dominance in the swirling gray eyes that stared back at him. “Her debt belongs to me.”

The male looked from his wrist, where Cabal held him firmly, back to Cabal’s eyes. There was an edge of danger in the stranger’s silver eyes. An edge of pure, primal command. The scent of it was in the air and Cabal was aware that even at full strength he would be hard-pressed to defeat the strength and power of the animal.

“You’re wrong.” The dark, even tone had the hairs at the back of Cabal’s neck lifting in warning. “You’re hurt, and weak, Bengal,” he said softly. “I’ll let this one go. But she’s not one you can use, and she’s not one you can harm.”

“Her debt is mine,” Cabal hissed again, baring his canines as he pushed his face closer to the other Breed’s. Nearly nose to nose now, the battle of wills was one Cabal feared he might well lose if pushed. But he would fight. He would fight to his last drop of blood.

“She owes no debt,” the other warned him, his voice lowering further. “Don’t make this mistake.”

Cabal’s gaze moved to her husband and back to the Breed male determined to stand in his way now.

“She trusted him.” His tongue felt thick, awkward. “She touched him, followed him. He betrayed you all.” There was a sneer in his voice now. The bastard would have never betrayed him. Cabal would have smelled the scent of his deceit from the first meeting. He would have never allowed such a creature to live.

“Her debt is not his,” the other repeated.

“She is mine!” Cabal snapped in reply. “Interfere with this Breed and you’ll die.”

He could smell the weapons trained on him, sense the other Breeds as they watched the confrontation.
“Please.” Her voice stroked over his senses. Weak, rough with tears, shaky with fear. “He’s right, Jonas,” she whispered then. “Let it go. Please.”

Jonas. The Jonas Wyatt. The Bengals had rated him the most commanding of the Breed generals, one of their strongest strategists. Well, wasn’t he just feeling satisfied? Wyatt had strategized an entire race of Breeds into extinction.

“Yeah, Wyatt, let it the f**k go,” he growled viciously, even as he swayed on his feet.

He damned the weakness of his own body. He damned Wyatt to hell for not planning better and as he stared at where the woman gazed back at him, tears and regret mingling in her eyes, he damned himself for not killing her, just as he had killed that bastard of a husband she possessed.

He inhaled roughly. She stank of that human. The smell of him was an affront to Cabal’s senses, an affront to his sense of justice.

“Remember me.” His whisper was more of a hiss. “Never forget, woman, because I won’t. And the day will come . . .” Darkness swirled through his vision then. His knees buckled. He’d lost one ounce too much of precious blood.
He was unaware of his body crumpling to the floor or of the cry the woman gave as she tried to catch him. He didn’t feel her hands touch him, he didn’t feel the racing of her heart or the tears that touched his neck.

“Cassa, we have him.”

Cassa was only barely aware of Jonas lifting her away from the fallen form and handing her to another Breed. She felt numb inside, even as the fear exploded and ricocheted through her. She felt cold, yet she was flushed with heat. She felt dead, yet she knew she was still living.

Tremors worked through her body as the Breed that held her helped her out of the room. He lifted her into his arms as he stepped over her husband’s body. Cassa wanted to feel remorse. She should have felt grief. But instead, she felt only hatred and a sense of freedom.

Douglas was dead. He had been the instrument of his own death, just as he had been the instrument of her fears for so many months. God, she should have known. When he was chosen for this team, she should have warned the Breeds that she no longer trusted him as a husband. The problem was, she had trusted him as a supporter of the Breeds. He had been there with her when news of the incredible creatures first hit. He had been there during the first of the riots against Breed Law, and had expressed his outrage, his concern on their behalf. And all the while, he had been selling them out.

She should have suspected. It wasn’t the first assignment they’d had that had gone horribly wrong. Each time, the blame had fallen to others. Just as the blame would fall to her now.

She had trusted him, as the Bengal had stated. She had led him here, she had allowed him the opportunity to deceive and to plot against the Breeds. He’d tried to profit from their deaths, and he had paid for it.

As they exited the room and headed along the corridors, she was aware of the majority of the Breeds staying behind. They were like that. They cleared out those who weren’t Breeds, and they grieved for those lost before wrapping their bodies and carrying them to a safety that would be eternal. The Breed cemetery in Virginia, not far from Arlington, was a testament to the dedication that the Breeds felt for one another. They had fought for it, won it, and they carried out their own ceremonies without the benefit of any humans in attendance. As at Sanctuary, the Feline Breed compound, they grieved the loss of their own and buried them with all the gentleness and humanity that they hadn’t known in their lives.

“He won’t let me live,” she whispered, more to herself than to the one who sat her slowly back to her feet and began leading her through the corridors she had raced through earlier.

Her life was forfeit. Once that Breed healed and regained his strength, she would die. She had seen it in his eyes. Hell, she had tasted it in his blood. She could still taste it. Dark and feral against her tongue. She was marked, and she knew it.

“Breeds have an amazing sense of justice,” the one that led her through the facility stated softly. “You’ll live. But only because he knows you’ll suffer more for it.”

She looked up at him. There was an edge of wisdom in his amber gaze, a sense of regret. Mercury Warrant. His lionlike features were stoic and solemn, his gaze understanding despite the fact that she feared she didn’t deserve such a thing.

“I have no doubt he’s right,” she said tonelessly, forcing herself to walk, to place one foot in front of the other, to leave the facility and to face the blood and death that awaited outside as well.

Breeds and humans alike had died here, because the labs had been warned of the rescue force’s arrival. The Coyote and human soldiers that had awaited them had shown no mercy. Not that the rescue force hadn’t expected it once they realized what they were up against.

Many had known they would die. It had been par for the course in the past months, as betrayal after betrayal had marked each facility they had breached. It seemed there were as many willing to kill the Breeds among the humans as there were those willing to save them. And telling the difference between the two would never be easy.

“He was my husband,” she whispered.

“They’re usually the ones you can trust the least,” he responded.

She almost laughed. And how would he know? How could he ever understand that even though Douglas hadn’t been a good husband, still, he hadn’t been one she had seen as evil.

Abusive? Yes. A killer? No. She would have never imagined that he could see death in terms of profit.
“I’m so screwed,” she whispered painfully.

“I have no doubt,” he agreed, his voice cooler now. “It’s the price you pay, Cassa. And it’s not always a kind one.”
No, the price she would pay wouldn’t be a kind one.