Justice – Laurann Dohner

Jessie watched Justice North from the far corner of the room and bit her lip. She really wanted to work up the nerve to approach him. He’d been on the news often but he appeared even taller and better-looking in person. Not too many people intimidated her but the man who had been appointed the leader of the New Species Organization by his own people was one of those rare few. She respected strength and courage, something he seemed to have in abundance. She debated the wisdom of having a conversation with him. Justice gave orders to her bosses and held the power to change some of the task-force policies that she didn’t agree with. The chance of finding another opportunity to have a chat with him was slim to none. She wasn’t allowed to attend briefings her team leader held with the tall Species leader. Her opinion was irrelevant to him but the issues were important. She hesitated, considering the ramifications. Tim Oberto would haul her ass into his office if he found out she’d gone over his head. He’d be his normal loud self and tear her to verbal shreds. Her gaze swept the room, studying the New Species. They were brave for all they’d endured, every single one of them a victim of big business screwing them over.

A pharmaceutical company, Mercile Industries, had created genetically altered humans using animal DNA, had reared them inside secret facilities and forced them to endure decades of horrendous testing on their tortured bodies. They’d done it to make money and worse, they’d been funded in part by the government. My tax dollars, she grimly acknowledged and clenched her teeth over how deeply that pissed her off. Mercile had pitched proposals to come up with miracle drugs that would help injured US soldiers heal faster, become physically stronger and enhance their reflexes. Those idiots in DC had eaten it up and signed the checks to pay for the research but later denied having knowledge that live test subjects were involved. She gave them some credit for acting immediately to discover the truth when rumors surfaced of the illegal practices. Once officials had proof, military and police forces had worked together to rescue any survivors imprisoned by Mercile Industries. New Species were created with US tax dollars and born on American soil, which made them citizens. The first facility had been raided and the survivors had been rescued—freed. Locations of three more hellish places were discovered after employees were interrogated.

The teams had hit them hard and fast, rescued more victims and all hell had broken loose. Hundreds of victims needed to be housed. They’d been placed in secure locations and the blame game began. The US had given the New Species a newly built military base, which they turned in to Homeland, a Species-run community to 6 Justice keep them safe from the outside world. Under pressure from the government, Mercile Industries was quickly settling claims brought by New Species. With some of that money they’d bought a second large section of land they named Reservation. A big body bumped Jessie, drew her from her grim thoughts and she smiled up at the male. New Species were easily identified by their animallike features. They weren’t completely human but weren’t all genetically altered with the same genes either and dubbing them with that title spanned all the differences. Some had been mixed with large-feline DNA, some with canine and some with primate.

“Sorry,” he grumbled as she peered into a pretty set of catlike eyes. Feline, she silently identified his mixed species. “No problem.” He moved on and she sighed in disappointment. Not many of them wanted to talk to humans. She couldn’t blame them after all they’d been through. Mercile Industries had labeled each one with a number and called them experimental prototypes. The staff had treated the children as if they were subhuman, lab rats, without souls. They’d led cold, harsh lives, only leaving their cells for training or testing. The new race they’d created wasn’t docile as Mercile had projected in their grand scheme.

Some of the growing Species rebelled and killed the humans who had spent years harming and torturing them. Instead of lab rats, the company had hundreds of angry, bitter, really strong prisoners who’d had enough of their shit. That fact made Jessie smile. Good for them. I hope they took out a bunch of those bastards. Mercile decided to see if they could produce children from the males and females. It was a faster process for a female to give birth to another altered child than it was to spend millions of dollars to replicate the procedure that created them. Mercile had wanted to be rid of the originals, start over and learn from their mistakes. Their attempts to breed the unfortunate victims were unsuccessful. The males and females were unable to procreate.

That’s when Mercile started selling the other experiments they’d created. Jessie felt rage thinking about the Gift Females the drug company used to lure in more investors. They purposely made smaller females with nonaggressive-animal DNA and used drugs to control their growth rate to make certain the females never reached over five foot four. The board members of Mercile Industries and all the rich contributors to the secret projects were given Gift Females when enough money exchanged hands. Jessie wondered if that was why the original scientist walked out on Mercile. The doctor who had designed the New Species had destroyed her research and disappeared, taking the knowledge with her. It was bad enough they’d created people as test subjects but to hand them over to sadistic perverts seemed a hundred times worse. Gift Females were sold into sexual slavery. They’d been locked up, hidden away and grossly abused. Those were the females that Jessie helped recover and the ones that kept her up at night, unable to sleep.

7 Laurann Dohner She pulled her thoughts back to the present and stared at Justice North across the room, deciding she could do her job better if she could get him to hear her out. Tim can be pissed but this is about making it easier for those poor women. She’d never seen Justice in jeans and a tank top before. He usually wore business suits at his press conferences. His bare arms revealed thickly muscled biceps, golden skin and he stood with a relaxed ease that made him more approachable. She took a deep breath, blew it out and advanced. More tiny details became apparent as she drew closer to the tall leader of the New Species. His hair was auburn with streaks of blond. On television and in pictures it seemed a dull, universal brown color. His catlike eyes were exotic and darker, almost black.

He possessed the distinctive wide cheekbones that jutted outward more than a typical human’s and his nose flattened, seeming more animal than not. It always fascinated her that so few of them had facial hair and she wondered if they shaved to fit in more. Her breath caught when he suddenly laughed and it was a husky, sexy sound. His full lips were the kissable kind that she enjoyed nibbling on. That realization brought her to halt. Bad, Jessie. Don’t go there. He’s the boss of your boss and of limits. I totally need to find a man. I’m to the point where I’m fantasizing about guys I work with.

Big mistake. She took note of his perfectly white, straight teeth, which were revealed when he laughed. She didn’t see any fangs but it was possible he was one of the rare few who didn’t have them. Of course, she also noticed he smiled with his lips close together. Mr. North might have trained himself to hide them since he dealt with the public. She’d overheard Tim say some of them did that and he’d know since he spoke to so many of the Species males on a daily basis. Justice spoke to another Species male who was a few inches shorter and their conversation seemed intense since he never glanced her way. After a quick assessment of the Species leader, she pegged him at about six foot four. Tall.

She had nearly reached his side when a rough hand gripped her forearm and jerked her to a standstill. Jessie masked her alarm as her gaze dropped to the big hand on her arm, his hold nearly painful and lifted her chin to peer up. She wondered if he was one of the guards who protected Justice. She’d learned to hide her fear of the New Species when she came into contact with the fierce-looking guys. All of them were big, muscular and scary. This one was no exception. It was the animal facial features that made them seem so frightening…and their sharp teeth and ability to make threatening sounds. He growled deep within his throat while his green eyes narrowed to glare at her. His jet-black hair fell past his shoulders and his clothes were so new they hadn’t been washed. Shit.

Jessie knew hatred when she saw it in his glare. The night before a fifth testing facility had been raided and approximately ninety prisoners had been freed from their hellish existences. She had a pretty good idea this was one of them. He looked too 8 Justice rough around the edges to have calmed from his experience. He obviously hated anyone human and that spelled trouble for her. She quickly assessed the situation, knowing it had the potential to turn into a nightmare. He was a big bastard, obviously super irate and while his hold on her arm wasn’t too painful, the look he gave her seemed deadly. He had issues with her kind and she was the one in front of him. Not good. “Please release me,” she softly ordered.

“Human.” He snarled. Jessie tried to tug her wrist out of his hold but his fingers only tightened until the bone threatened to break. She didn’t gasp aloud from the intense agony of being squeezed, fought that reaction and instead allowed her training to take over before he snapped her arm. He could easily if he applied more pressure. He didn’t seem reasonable and she didn’t want to wear a cast for weeks. She quickly stepped into his body, almost touched his chest and jerked her arm hard downward. He had no choice but to release her or it would have twisted his wrist painfully. Jessie jumped back, put space between them and tensed. He would either attack or stay in place.

Being smaller helped. At five foot four Jessie had the advantage as she tucked her body when her attacker sprang at her with an enraged snarl. He hadn’t expected that move and his hands only grasped air when his fingers grabbed where she’d been. She spun to the side, straightened and kicked out with her boot. She caught the off-balance man in his hip and he crashed to the floor, sprawled on his side. Jessie backed up to put more space between them. The Species male jerked his head up, gaped at her with astonishment and used his arms to launch to his feet. He opened his mouth and growled inhumanly, revealing some sharp, lethal teeth. He lunged again, this time faster. Jessie thought one word before she dived to the side to avoid his clawed fingers.

FUCK! She tucked into a ball, rolled on the floor and came up on her feet the way she’d been trained to do. She needed to stay out of his reach and knew it would be over if he got his hands on her. They were physically no match if it came down to hand-to-hand combat. He’d pulverize her. She caught him lunging at her again out of the corner of her eye. She kicked out, bent to press her hands on the floor to brace and caught the man with a violent up-kick. The impact of her boot with his body hurt her leg but it had to be more painful for him. He staggered back with a loud gasp and it sank in that she’d managed to catch him in the groin. She twisted around after straightening to her feet, watched him grip the front of his jeans and double over. Jessie winced.

She hadn’t meant to kick him in the balls but it was effective. She’d been aiming for his stomach but the guy was too tall and her legs weren’t long enough. His head snapped up and she had no doubt he wanted her dead. Pure rage was displayed on his harsh features. 9 Laurann Dohner “Calm down,” Jessie demanded, trying to sound composed when she wasn’t. “I wouldn’t have done that if you’d kept your hands and temper to yourself. I won’t hurt you if you don’t try to hurt me.” Jessie knew all hell broke loose around her. She didn’t dare take her attention away from the large male who glared at her, still bent over, gripping his injured crotch. It was only luck that she heard a warning growl and twisted her head to check out the new threat.

Another large Species male sporting new clothes, shoved other males out of his way who were frozen in stunned shock. The new threat stormed toward her and she only had seconds to assess the situation. A few Species snapped out of their stupor and tried to stop him but he easily shoved them to the side. No one was able to prevent him from reaching her. “Shit,” Jessie gasped as his fist launched at her face. Instinct alone shot her arm up to knock his fist to the side and deflect a direct punch that would have been dead center to her face. His knuckles brushed her ear and pain shot through the side of her head. He gripped her shirt with his other hand. She hadn’t seen that move coming. Her sole priority had been avoiding the fist.

He jerked her off her feet as if she weighed nothing and terror struck. He would probably either throw her into something or smash her bones by slamming her down onto something hard. Either way, it would be very painful. Two hands gripped Jessie’s hips firmly from behind. Shit. I’m so screwed. Two of them had her. She could only hope that some of the Species would come to her aid before the males turned her into a wishbone. Though she was human, she doubted they would allow her to be killed before they stepped in. How hurt she got before being rescued was anyone’s guess.

The hands on her hips yanked hard. She was torn away from the one in front of her and the sound of tearing material registered. She’d seen him haul back his fist to attempt to nail her again but now she was out of his range. Her back slammed into a rigid body and the large male—she assumed it was one— twisted away from her attacker. He put his body between her and the incoming fist, taking the punch himself. Jessie felt the impact through the man holding her and it sent both of them flying forward. She saw the wall coming and turned her head away, guessing it was going to hurt when they hit. He’d squish her between it and his body. The male holding Jessie twisted again at the last second and his shoulder and hip slammed brutally into the wall instead of her. He dropped her onto her feet, moved lightning fast to position her against the wall gently and she bumped the plaster.

It left her gawking at the wide back of the Species male who’d come to her rescue. He braced, his body tense as a loud snarl tore from his throat. He’s protecting me. Jessie relaxed instantly. The guy was huge and stood between her and anyone who wanted to do harm. Who says chivalry is dead? 10 Justice “Back off,” her protector roared—a harsh, brutal sound. Jessie carefully studied his back and it sank in that he wore jeans with a black tank top. His muscular arms were well displayed and his fingers curled into fists, lifted at his sides to fight. Her gaze roamed higher to the back of his head and identified the auburn hair with blond streaks. It hit her then that Justice North was the male who’d saved her ass.

“She’s human,” another voice barked. “That doesn’t give anyone the right to attack. She is a guest here.” Justice snarled the words in obvious anger. “We are friends with humans and don’t attack them. We especially,” he shouted now, “don’t attack females.” “I’m sorry, Justice,” a new male voice panted. “We should have had more officers present.” “I want every one of the new ones rounded up and taken into the cafeteria immediately.” Justice gave the order with harsh authority.

“This is going to be settled immediately. This is the second attack on a human female since this morning and there won’t be a third.” Justice growled those words. “Even the new females?” The out of breath male spoke. “No. Just the males. The females seem to know better. I want to see every new male inside that cafeteria in ten minutes.” “We’re on it,” another man stated firmly. Jessie stood perfectly still and waited for the tension to ease.

Justice still appeared ready to do battle since he didn’t budge from his position in front of her. She heard movement in the room, soft voices, a few growls and finally silence. Justice relaxed his stance. His arms lowered to his sides, his fists unfurled and he slowly turned. Jessie stared up into Justice’s handsome face. Breathtaking fits him, she thought, as she realized she’d stopped breathing. She sucked air into her lungs and met a pair of furious cat eyes framed with long, black eyelashes. They were a huge contrast to his blond-streaked auburn hair. On television and in photos his hair appeared much lighter and the camera didn’t begin to capture his beautiful eyes. They were so exotic that they were probably the most beautiful sight she’d ever seen.

“Who are you?” he growled softly. “How did you get past security?” Jessie frowned. He should have known who she was and why she was there. She took a deep breath. “I’m Jessie Dupree and I work for the task force assigned to the NSO. I’m their female ambassador to your retrieved Gift Females. Last night I was on the raid in Colorado and I came here with the females who were recovered.” She paused and watched his intense eyes. It was amazing to see them transform. The color changed as his anger dissipated.

There was some blue in those dark depths. For a moment she was so distracted, she forgot she’d been talking. “Tiger gave me permission to be here. I rode in on the helicopter with your females and have been assigned a room on the third floor of the hotel. Tammy invited me to her wedding so here I am. Didn’t you see me during their ceremony?” 11 Laurann Dohner “No. I was distracted by a long voice message from the president. I had an earphone—was listening to it—and I had to text my reply to him.” He took a deep breath and held out his hand. It was a big one with long, strong fingers and those nifty calluses covered both his fingertips and his palm.

“I’m Justice North. It is a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Dupree.”

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