Chapter OneONE Exit 38S, The Northway (I-87) Plattsburgh, New York HIS DOCTOR, THE one who'd been keeping him alive, was dead. As Daniel Joseph gunned his Harley up the Northway, he swerved around a semi, played hopscotch with a pair of sedans, and then eyed an upcoming break in the woods in the median and prayed there wasn't a cop hiding in the pine trees. He had bigger problems to worry about than speeding tickets and hey-where's-your-helmet citations: No weapon. No backup. No intel. But hey, at least the woman he loved more than anything else on the planet was with him. Which was the precise offensive strategy you wanted when you were rushing into a crime scene that hadn't been cleared, that no one in conventional law enforcement could know about, and that you were bringing no weapons, no backup, and no intel to. And it had started to fucking snow. The shit that had begun to fall halfway through the rocket ship ride was only a non-issue, mid-November squall in the morning--but that was if you were in a car or had a visor. As the flakes hit his face, they were shards of glass, on his cheeks, in his eyes, up his nose-- Thank God , he thought as their exit appeared and he pared off at the same speed he'd been going. At the top of the ramp, he didn't slow down for the stop sign before merging onto NY 22S, and as he and the bike zoomed into the turn, Lydia Susi tightened her arms around his waist and ducked her head into his back. During the twenty-minute, breakneck roar from that apple orchard in Walters to this road leading into Plattsburgh, he had taken the brunt of the cold air, and he was feeling it. She was warmer, though. He hoped she was warmer. Goddamn it, he wished she weren't with him-- "We need Route Twenty-six," Lydia shouted in his ear over the din. "Toward the bay." "Roger that." He turned his head to the side. "You okay?" She gave him a squeeze. "Yes." As he looked ahead of them again, all he could think was, Don't do it. Don't ask back. She didn't. Lydia was a master navigator, not that finding the condo development in question was all that hard, and once they were inside the ring-around of fifty or so white-sided, black-shuttered, Lego-like two-stories, the unit they were gunning for was easy to locate on the far side. Pulling into the shallow driveway, he opened his mouth to tell her they had to stick together-- His woman ejected herself off the back of the Harley, landed on a lithe run, and raced up the front walk. "Wait! Stop--" He tried to catch his breath. "Lydia--" She all but attacked the door, twisting the knob, jerking, yanking. "Gus!" Back at the bike, Daniel put his hand on his chest and tried to inflate his lungs, but for some reason, they weren't responding to the command. It was like he was suddenly breathing water-- "Around back," he wheezed as she pounded on the panels. "Go 'round..." While an old guy from the unit next door stopped in the process of checking his mailbox, she took off again, jumping over some short-stack bushes, sprinting past the garage door, and disappearing around the far corner. The idea that she might find some bad news in the rear gave Daniel the energy he needed to dismount, but as he stumbled, he couldn't feel the asphalt beneath his boots. "Everything okay?" the neighbor with the envelopes and the flyers in his hand called out. Daniel coughed into a fist. "Oh, yeah." He cleared his throat so he could get more volume in his voice. "Cat on the loose." "Dr. St. Claire doesn't have a cat." Great. Just what he needed. "He was cat-sitting ours." "Then why'd you come on a bike?" Daniel narrowed his eyes, noting the cardigan, the reading glasses on the end of the nose, the salt-and-pepper gray hair trimmed Father Knows Best fifties style. For a split second, he almost asked whether the guy had seen anything suspicious around Gus's place. But then he thought of Lydia, and decided the well-preserved grandpa was a gossip grenade best kept with the pin in. "Thanks for checking on us," Daniel said. Then in a lower tone, he muttered, "And if we need a hostage, I'm volunteering you." Raising his hand in a little wave, he started off in the direction Lydia had gone--and holy fuck, he felt like he was dragging the Harley behind him: He was out of energy, a marathoner who had pushed too hard and was collapsing right before the finish line. "Why don't I have a gun," he mumbled as he shambled his way along, batting away the gnat-like flakes. "Why am I unarmed..." As he emerged onto the quilt-sized grass patch that passed for the backyard, he answered himself: "Because you'd been about to pop the question. And who brings a--wait for me! Christ!" Lydia was at the back sliding glass door and in the process of opening things. "This glass door is unlocked--" No shit. "Hold on." As she looked back at him, he grabbed the railing and hauled himself up onto the postage-stamp porch. He wanted to stop for a second to try to breathe again, but he knew her halt had a timer on it-- Bingo. She launched herself into the condo without him. "Sonofa bitch ." On his own entry, Daniel tripped the tip of his boot on the lip of the slider, and as he pitched forward into thin air, he had a quick impression of a messy, nothing-special kitchen: clutter on the granite counter, trash bin overflowing with crumpled take-out bags, a GE stove with the Home Depot plastic sticker on the front like the oven part had never been used-- He caught himself on an Ikea-like table, and the thing screeched over the tiled floor, his forward momentum transferring to the inanimate object and making it live for a good yard or so. After the bumpy ride, he stayed where he was, draped as a human doily, grunting through his open mouth. "Be careful..." he said weakly. "Lydia, you gotta... be... careful." Out in the front of the condo, she was racing from room to room, and he pictured her, so graceful, so strong, bouncing on the balls of her feet as she went around. Holy hell, he loved her. With everything that he was, all that he had... and what little time he had left. "There's blood here on the carpet..." she said off in the distance. "Here where the mail is. Oh, God ..." "Don't touch anything." "Where is he?" More footsteps. "I'm going upstairs." He opened his mouth to throw another wait-stop-slow-down onto the bonfire of good advice she was ignoring. But she was already halfway to the second floor--and with the drumbeat of her boots ascending, he followed her vertical example, pushing his chest up off the table. Getting to his full height was a process, and to give himself something to focus on other than how dizzy he was, he assessed the empty take-out containers and packets of sauce over by the refrigerator, and the empty Coke cans that were, well, everywhere. Like Gus St. Claire had a breeding program for the damn things. He glanced back at the four-top. Yes, the chairs were out of place, but he was the one who had messed them up--so this was normal living chaos he was looking at, not ransacked shit. And as he one-foot-after-the-other'd out toward the open living space, that opinion didn't change. The colorful collection of psychedelic concert posters from the late sixties and seventies were on the walls in their frames at right angles, none of the glass broken, nothing off-kilter. The TV was set properly on a low-slung table, the couch cushions were undisturbed-- As he tripped on something, he managed to catch his balance by flapping his arms, and when he saw what had caught his boot, he cut the bird stuff and frowned. The stack of paperwork was fanned out around its staple, as if it had been dropped or thrown. And he might have ignored whatever it was except for the fact that he recognized one of the signatures on the last page with all the notary stuff. His own. As Lydia strode through the upper level, he gingerly lowered himself down to his knees. His hand was shaking as he reached out, and he made a mess of the pickup, the papers flip-flopping, fluttering, justifying their need for that staple. As he started to go through the document, he couldn't believe what he was reading. So he went back to the beginning and gave it another shot. Because surely this wasn't what it looked like-- WHEREBY the party of the first part, Catherine Phillips Phalen, does intend to transfer the ownership of the compound "Vita-12b," its predecessors in development, and all relevant data to Dr. Augustus St. Claire... "What the fuck ..." His eyes continued to sift through the words, the operant meaning refusing to process. "What did you do, Phalen." Was this what Gus had been taken for? As if the condo itself could answer that question, he looked around--and saw what had caught Lydia's attention. In the midst of a messy pile of unopened mail on the floor by the front door, there was a pattern of dig-deeps in the wall-to-wall carpet and some bloodstains that were turning brown. So whatever had happened had gone down some time before. Like maybe twelve hours ago? "He's not here." Daniel was careful pivoting in his crouch toward the stairs. Lydia was halfway down them and finally stalled out, her hazel eyes wide, her cheeks windburned and bright red against a base of pasty white panic, her grown-out, blown-out, blond-streaked hair frazzled from the wild ride in. With her gray trail pants, and her black turtleneck and heavy fleece, she was wearing what he thought of as her uniform--and he wished she were covered head to toe in Kevlar. "Where is he," she whispered in despair. For a split second, silhouetted on that staircase, she was all he could see, all he could think about--even with the urgency of what certainly appeared to be a kidnapping at best, a beatdown-and-disappear-forever at worst. Remember this moment , he told himself. Imprint this and store it with the hoard. At the end, when things got really bad for him and he was just a flicker of consciousness trapped inside the husk of his body, he was going to need to remember what she looked like. Sounded like. Smelled like. His beautiful wolven. An evolutionary masterpiece, two sides inhabiting the same body, both human and lupine. A shifter that was very real, instead of some Halloween myth. A miracle he still did not completely understand, but that he no longer questioned. How could beauty like hers be defined, anyway. "Daniel... are you okay?" I love you , he thought at her. During the frantic ride in, with all his focus on getting them here, he'd slipped back into the black ops soldier he'd once been, and the return had landed him in such a familiar place that amnesia had wiped out reality. Everything was back now, though, from the rolling nausea in his gut to the god-awful wobble that dogged him--to the goodbye that was coming for them, sure as if they were stalked in the shadows, his killer closing in. Fuck it, his killer was already here, inside of him. He put up his palm as more alarm hit her face. "I'm fine. Don't worry." Liar . And yet it was a truth. He was no more worse off than he had been, and when you had terminal cancer, no change was the new getting-better. "What do we do?" she asked. For a brief moment, a flare of intention reignited his body, purpose and sharp thinking tingling through him. But it was just a pilot light that flared and faded-- The sound of a vehicle screeching to a halt brought both their heads to the front door, and through a part in the drapes of the window seat, the blacked-out Suburban that had pulled in behind the bike was like a presidential detail rolling up. He glanced back at Lydia and held out the documents. "I don't know where he is. But we may have the 'why' of all this right here--" The loss of consciousness came with no warning. One moment, he was up on his granted-they-were-loose legs. The next, the carpet was coming at him like a rugby player who felt his momma had been insulted. The last thing Daniel was aware of was the graceful wings of the paperwork as the legal document that transferred ownership of a potentially billion-dollar cancer drug rippled to the floor ahead of him. Goddamn it, he needed Gus more than ever right now. And someone had gone and killed his fucking oncologist. Excerpted from Mine by J.r. Ward All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.