“My poor baby,” she cooed. “That crack to the head must have done more damage than we thought.” She stroked his chin, her touch light, comforting. The scent of jasmine and female spice drifted from her and should have acted as an aphrodisiac. Did act as an aphrodisiac, and yet, it also chilled him to the bone. Why? “I’m just glad you’re alive.”


She hadn’t answered his question, he realized, but he didn’t press her. Something continued to grate in the back of his mind, something terribly wrong with this situation. Yet, at the moment, nothing seemed more important than simply enjoying Tabitha.

His gaze slid over his wife, past her neck where her pulse hammered wildly. Was she excited? Aroused? She wore a white lace nightgown with thin straps that revealed the creamy expanse of her shoulders.

For some reason, he couldn’t recall what her br**sts looked like. Whether they overflowed in his palms or fit perfectly. Whether they were tipped by little pink berries or darker rosebuds. Flat stomach or curved? Lean legs or shapely legs?

He should know his own wife’s body.

The arm closest to her was wrapped in a cast, so Jaxon used the other to reach over to her, wincing in pain and trying to brush aside her hair. Before he made contact, she jerked away.

He frowned. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. You startled me, that’s all.” Slowly she leaned toward him.

Contact. Sighing contentedly, he sifted several strands of those dark tresses through his fingers. Silky. That fit his memory. But her ear was bare, and he frowned again. He’d expected earrings, he realized. Lots of them, silver and round.

“What are you thinking about?” Her warm breath fanned his face, minty fresh and a little intoxicating. That, too, was familiar.

His arm dropped to his side, the muscles relieved. “You. I’m thinking about you.”

Slowly her lips lifted in a smile. “I’m glad.”

She only wanted to make him happy, he thought. She cared about him, would die for him. She’d even helped him pick up the pieces of his shattered life when Cathy left him.

Shattered life? His brows pulled together in confusion. What the hell? That wasn’t right. Cathy had left him, and he’d been grateful.

Cathy had been high maintenance to an unbearable extreme. “What are you thinking?” she’d asked a thousand times a day. “Why didn’t you answer my call?” “I didn’t want syn-chicken, I wanted syn-fruit!”

God, I was dumb, dating her so long. He liked to tell himself he’d stayed with her to build and fortify—and then refortify—his inner resilience. What failed to kill a man would only make him stronger and all that shit. But he knew the truth. Or at least, he thought he did.

Cathy hadn’t pushed for more from him than he’d wanted to give, hadn’t cared about his ungodly hours or his emotional distance. And, to be honest, a warm body was a warm body and a man had needs. So he’d tolerated her bouts of obsession until she’d left.

After that, there’d been no warm body at night, but he hadn’t cared. The only pleasure he’d experienced had come from his own hand, but he’d hadn’t cared about that, either. He’d been happy, not shattered.

“You were chasing a group of aliens,” Tabitha continued, petting his chest and shoving Cathy from his mind, “and they ambushed you. Beat you pretty badly.”

Yeah, he remembered fists flying at him, connecting, and booted feet pounding into his middle. He remembered laughter and taunts, blood and pain. And rape? He shuddered, not even wanting to delve down that path. Just in case. Some things were better off buried. “Damage?”

“A lot. Broken arm, broken ribs, broken ankle. Concussion.”

“How long have I been out?”

“You spent a few weeks in the hospital. When you were discharged, Dallas and Mia helped get you here. Here is home, by the way. You’ve only been here a few days, but already you look better.” She shivered in cold. And concern? “I thought I’d lost you. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you.”

“I’m here. I’m fine.” He reached up again and caressed her cheek. For a second, only a second, panic filled her eyes and she flinched. Then her expression smoothed, and she was once again staring down at him, innocent, relieved.

Damn it, something wasn’t right. For the life of him, though, he still couldn’t pinpoint what. Maybe because everything seemed out of place, wrong. That scent, that glove. Why did they bother him?

“In your sleep, you were muttering about a virus,” Tabitha said.

Shit. Shit! “Was probably afraid I’d come down with a cold. You know a man in pain is nothing more than an overgrown baby.”

Her lush, red lips edged into a frown. He recognized that frown, though it had no place in his memories. “No. You also mentioned something about the…Schön. Yes, that’s it. The Schön. Who or what are they and what do they want with you?”

He never, no matter how sick, how drugged, would have mentioned a case so blatantly. He’d been trained to keep quiet, even under the direst of circumstances.

Actually, before he’d even been accepted as an agent, A.I.R. had tested his ability to keep quiet. He’d been given a folder and told to read it, which he’d then done. Afterward, he’d been questioned for hours. He’d stayed quiet and he’d been beaten. Still, he hadn’t revealed a single thing he’d read. He’d been drugged—nothing. Locked up—nothing.

Why would his wife lie? How would she know even those details?

The answer popped into place like a light had been switched inside his mind. And with the light, false shadows were chased quickly away.

She wasn’t his wife.

Genuine memories sprang to the surface, and he gasped in pain as the implanted ones were dislodged. Delenseans, the cell, the slaughter. No wonder he didn’t know this woman’s body. He’d never had the pleasure of sampling it.

She’d claimed to be an A.I.R. agent, as well as his partner. She’d drugged him, tried to trick him.

His lips peeled back from his teeth, and he scowled up at Le’Ace. His hand dipped to her neck. The action hurt, but he didn’t let go. He jerked her forward. He was growling low in his throat, unable to halt the sound.

All hint of emotion faded from her eyes. “Where’d I mess up?” she asked flatly.

“The happy-to-give-blow-jobs memory. Sweet, but not altogether realistic. Tabitha. Unless, of course, you want to prove otherwise.”

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