In the three years since Project Dawn disbanded, Zack and Ace continue to fight the good fight. Now civilians, their squad--Circe's Recruits--works for a private organization bent on cleaning up the mess left in its wake. Pearson Labs continues to create Circs, people who have been genetically changed. When needed, these Circs take on an altered form neither man nor animal, but something in between. Unlike Zack and Ace's squad, the Circs coming out of Pearson Labs aren't sane.
Zack and Ace have been dancing around their "just friends" relationship for years. Being Circ means unavoidable intimacy when the mating heat strikes, and it's putting a strain on their friendship. They're finally nearing an understanding about what they truly mean to each other when they're stunned by Kelly, the woman they've been lusting after for years. Suddenly she's available to both in a way she's never been before. Lust and love confuse the issue, until wounded emotions pull the threesome apart and Kelly is captured by the enemy. Can Zack and Ace come to grips with their differences in time to save Kelly, or will their difficulties lose them the loves of their lives?
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January 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Zack and Ace by Marie Harte
Kelly Malloy stared in horror as the team carried Ace past her toward the elevator leading to Doc's underground lab. Though she normally had no part in the Circ aspect of life here on the compound, she refused to ignore an unconscious and bloodied Ace.
Roane, Hale, and Derrick looked grim as they held him between them. Zack had shut down, his face a mask of stone as he forced his way to Ace's side
"Kelly," Roane, the leader of the group, said as he hedged. "Ah, you might want to steer clear --"
"Don't give me any bullshit." Angry, and knowing it stemmed from fear, she took a deep breath, fought for calm, and tried again. "Please. Tell me what happened. What can I do to help?"
"Doc's waiting for us," Hale answered. Normally the easygoing charmer, he didn't seem able to summon a smile. Kelly saw the worry in his light blue eyes. She felt her stomach drop. This wasn't good. "We ran into some trouble on this last mission. It got ugly, and Ace took the brunt of it."
"He'll be okay," Derrick repeated again and again. He lightly jostled Ace. "Wake up, jackass. You still owe me from that stupid bet you placed on the Knicks." The giant African American reminded Kelly of a stuffed bear. A grizzly on the outside, he rarely allowed people to see the softy he really was on the inside. Right now, she sensed him on the verge of panic, though he masked it well.
"I'm coming with you." Kelly wormed her way between Zack and Ace, sandwiching herself between the two men she could never stop thinking about. She touched Ace's hand, panicked at how cold he felt.
"Me too," Caitlyn Chase said as she met them by the elevator doors. "I'll take the next one down."
Kelly saw her look at Roane and could see relief on her face that her lover was all right, mingled with anxiety because Ace had been injured.
Hale and Roane maneuvered Ace into the elevator. Zack and Kelly stepped in while Derrick, unable to fit in the space, waited with Caitlyn for the next one.
As the elevator connecting the first floor to the lab dropped, Kelly couldn't stop touching Ace, needing to reaffirm that he still lived and breathed while they raced him down to Doc.
"In here." Doc held open the door to one of his lab rooms. "Put him on the exam table. Roane, remove his clothes. Kelly, I'll need your help."
"Tell me what to do."
She gathered the supplies Doc asked for as Roane and the others stripped Ace's clothes from him by changing their fingernails into claws. Kelly watched in both awe and fascinated horror, having never witnessed them change before.
Circe's Recruits, the five men who all lived here with Doc, were members of an elite fighting unit. Once members of the United States military, they'd undergone some experimental drug therapy. Or so Doc had told her. In the process, they'd become super soldiers. Each could shift into a tanned, Hulk-like person, with enhanced senses and a physically imposing body. She'd once seen Caitlyn, their newest Circ, transform her hand into a claw. That had been for show. Kelly'd never personally seen the damage it could do.
She leaned forward. Were those claw marks in Ace's ragged flesh?
His lower body seemed undamaged; she thanked God for small favors. Doc laid a white sheet over that exposed part of him and got to work.
Kelly sucked in a breath as she watched Doc furiously labor to clean and patch Ace's wounds. The stomach injuries required stitches. Doc patched the hole in his shoulder with a large bandage. The teeth marks on Ace's hand, however, commanded a more serious focus. Doc lifted Ace's palm toward the light.
"Most of these wounds are superficial. Nothing's punctured -- nothing vital, anyway -- so why is he still unconscious?" He glanced up. "Zack, tell me again how you found him."
Zack remained motionless as he stared at Ace.
"Zack," Roane barked. "Tell Doc what happened."
Zack blinked at Roane, looked back at Doc, and answered in a soft monotone. "I caught scent of the bastards too late. One of them set a trap for me in the woods. Took me a while to get through it. By then I scented Ace's blood." His raspy voice deepened. "By the time I came on the scene, one of the bastards was dead, shot twice through the head and several times through the gut. The other fucker was on top of him. He..." Zack paused, glancing at Kelly.
"Tell him," she said softly. "Doc needs to know to help Ace."
Zack cleared his throat. He was pale, probably in shock, Kelly noted with dismay. Nothing much ever bothered Zack. He looked at Ace, then returned his attention to Doc. "The rogue was on top of him, caught in what appeared to be an odd type of mating heat."
"Shit." Roane wiped a hand over his face.
"Hell, no." Hale swore.
"Penetration?" Doc asked, his voice calm.
Kelly's eyes widened as she realized what Zack had said. The mating heat, a circumstance that befell the Circs at odd times, caused them to spiral into an out-of-control lust. She didn't know much about it, only that Doc had warned her repeatedly to stay away from the team when it happened.
"No." Zack gritted his teeth and fisted his hands by his sides. Kelly couldn't look away as his nails changed into claws again, into inhuman weapons. She was mesmerized by this side of Zack she'd always wondered about but had never seen. His gaze remained glued to Doc's, but as if he sensed her stare, he flexed his hands, and they were once again normal.
"I pulled the rogue away before he could do anything. Ace had lost consciousness. The rogue did some damage to his stomach and shoulder, but that wound on Ace's hand concerned me. The fuck bit him. This rogue was anything but a normal Circ. His skin was black. Not brown, but tar black. And his tongue was split down the middle with barbs on either tip. Like a goddamned mutant snake." He glanced at Ace and studied his lifeless body. "I think he might have injected Ace with something."
Doc frowned. "I'll do some tests on Ace's blood, but it would help if I had --"
Zack tossed a baggie at him. To Kelly's disgust, it looked like the tongue they'd been talking about. Holy crap. Zack had cut a man's tongue out! She stared at the tongue, then at Zack, but he was oblivious to her shock as he continued to watch Doc.
"There it is. I made sure to keep it free from dirt as best I could." Zack wavered on his feet and blinked.
Kelly noted the blood pooling at his feet and darted to his side, just as Hale met her there. "Zack! What happened to you?"
Doc swore, which he didn't often do. "Hale, Derrick, get him into the next room and let's find out where he's bleeding."
"We've got him." Hale moved under Zack's arm. Derrick took his other arm, and they walked him slowly to the door. "What the hell, Zack?" Kelly heard Hale hiss at him. "Why didn't you tell us you'd been nailed?"
"Booby trap in the woods. Not a serious wound. I just lost a lot of blood is all." Zack tried to move out of their hold, and Derrick snapped at him.
"Dammit, stay still! You obviously tried to patch yourself up, but it didn't close." Derrick lifted Zack's shirt and tossed a blood-sodden bandage to the floor. "Now you'll get help, whether you want it or not. Stubborn bastard," Derrick mumbled as they made it to the door.
"Caitlyn, dear, help me with Zack, would you? You have a gentler touch." Doc ignored the glares Hale and Derrick shot him.
Kelly started. She hadn't heard Caitlyn arrive. Then again, she hadn't realized when Derrick had entered, either.
"It's already closing up," Caitlyn said over her shoulder as she followed the guys out of the room.
Doc considered. "Then this shouldn't take long. Roane, bring that tray into the other room. I'll run Ace's tests in the lab after I see to Zack."
Kelly stared from Ace to Zack, not sure where to go. Ace wasn't bleeding anymore, but he wasn't conscious, either. Zack looked terrible, pale and needing attention. But he had the entire team to help him, Doc included.
"Kelly?" Doc watched her, his gaze understanding.
"Will Ace be okay?" She couldn't contain her anxiety. Her voice trembled, and it was all she could do not to cry. "Will Zack be all right?"
Doc frowned. "I'm not sure. Of the two of them, I'm more concerned with Ace at the moment. I'd like you to stay with him while I see to Zack and run those tests on his blood. Ace's pulse is a little high, but his breathing seems normal." Doc shook his head. "I just don't like that he's still unconscious," he said as he started moving away. "I need to look at his blood."
In moments, only Kelly and Ace remained in the room. Wanting to help him, Kelly filled a small pail with warm, soapy water and grabbed a cloth and towel. His shoulder-length, blue- black hair was dirty. Dried blood streaked his face and body. She couldn't do much more than sit and wait with him, but at least she could see to his comfort.
She washed him gently, removing the grime from his skin with sweeping strokes. Under her touch, she imagined that he shined with health. Kelly willed him better, praying like she hadn't prayed in years. She sighed. As if thinking it would magically make it happen.
More than once as she cleaned him, she stopped to stare. Even more than his incredible biceps, pecs, and six-pack abs, his wounds intrigued her. They seemed smaller now. As she watched, they actually started to heal. Skin knitted around the stitches Doc had just sewn. Ace's shoulder wound pulled together until only a pink scar remained. His abs no longer looked an angry red, but instead sported large purple and blue bruises.
"Amazing." Kelly shook her head, full of wonder as she stroked the warm washcloth around his injuries. When the sheet over him tented, indicating life in that part of him she'd done her damnedest not to think about, it caught her off guard.
When the others had stripped off his clothes, she'd noticed everything. In addition to his wounds, she'd caught an eyeful of the perfect male body. He had a wide chest, muscular arms that tapered to large, graceful hands, a flat stomach, and strong thighs. Between those thighs lay a long, thick cock nestled in black hair that she'd had to fight not to touch.
Flushing and feeling embarrassed to be so aroused in front of an ailing man, she didn't know what to make of his erection, other than to ascribe it to a normal physical male response to touch. She eyed the sheet. Good God, but he was huge!
Kelly leaned over to better study his face. A hand caught her wrist and scared a soft shriek out of her. She was helpless to resist as he brought it to that hot, pulsing part of him.
"Kelly," he slurred. "Yeah, baby, that's it."
She unconsciously squeezed him, lured by the husky note in his voice. What am I doing? Horrified at the thought of anyone coming in to find them like this, or worse, that she might inadvertently hurt him, she tried to take her hand away. He wouldn't let her. He wrapped his hand around hers and pumped it up and down. She stared hard at his face, trying to ascertain if he was joking, but this was no ploy. He was semiconscious and horny.
"Please," he rasped and thrashed his head on the table. "I...need..."
She couldn't help a small smile. If Ace was healthy enough to need sex, he'd surely recover. Wouldn't he?
Then what he'd said hit her, shocking her to her toes. "You said my name." She licked her lips, suddenly hungrier for Ace than she'd ever been before. Which made no sense. He was semiconscious, for God's sake. Perhaps that rogue Circ's mating heat had infected him. Was he -- could he -- be passing it on to her?
He moaned. Under his hand, she pumped him harder, wanting to give him the release he craved. Something to ease her mate in so much pain.
Mate? Where the hell had that thought come from?
Raspy breathing alerted her to pay strict attention to her "patient," the man she was currently giving a handjob. I am so going to hell for this. She blushed, though she couldn't stem the pleasure she felt at touching Ace. She wanted badly to hear his voice.
"Ace, are you okay?" Any thought she had about ending this right now disappeared as Ace tightened his hand around hers. Before she knew it, he gave another groan, and his abs clenched. Milky fluid shot from his cock, hitting his belly and sliding over their joined hands. To her surprise, he sure had a lot of it. The urge to lean down and taste the sweet-smelling cream drew her for a moment before common sense prevailed.
She yanked her hand away and quickly used the warm rag to clean up the mess, being careful to be gentle. What the hell was I thinking? Licking up his cum? Sweet-smelling cream? What's happening to me? Kelly tucked the sheet back around Ace's waist, relieved he no longer had an erection. If she wasn't mistaken, the tension she'd sensed in him also seemed to have eased.
An orgasm -- for all that ails you. "I should hang out a shingle," she murmured, feeling feverish and unlike herself. Standing, she continued to soothe Ace, running her fingers through his hair. Such soft strands, and probably the only part of him that wouldn't ache when he woke.
Caitlyn walked in the door minutes later and stopped at her side. She was the one person who knew exactly how much Kelly cared for both Ace and Zack. "Kelly, are you okay?" Kelly nodded. Caitlyn gave her a quick hug before turning to Ace. She frowned, then leaned closer and sniffed.
"What?" Kelly asked, praying the Circ couldn't tell what she'd done. Kelly loved Caitlyn like a sister, but even sisters had their limits. She had no intention of telling her best friend she'd just jacked off an unconscious man.
"He seems better. Smells healthier." Caitlyn shrugged. "For what it's worth, Circs heal really fast. Just look at his wounds. They're already much better. Even Zack's doing well. Doc says he'll be on his feet in a day or so, after he gets some rest."
"And finds out how Ace is doing." Zack glared at Derrick and Hale, who stood sentry on either side of him just inside the doorway. They glared right back.
"You're going to pull it apart again. The skin just fused," Hale said. "You need to take it easy."
"Yes, Dad," Zack drawled. He slowly made his way to Ace's side and smiled. Kelly's heart raced, but her tension eased. She stepped aside to give him some space. "He looks much better." Like Caitlyn, Zack sniffed at Ace. He shot Kelly a sharp look but said nothing. Thank God.
"Zack, are you okay?" Kelly eyed him with worry.
"I'm fine. Nothing a little rest won't cure. Hey, Doc," Zack yelled. "We're good."
Doc and Roane reappeared. "More good news. I saw nothing noxious in Ace's blood. There's a small anomaly, but nothing to preclude Ace from healing." Doc leaned over Ace and touched his scars. He nodded, appearing pleased. "Good. In a few days, he should be fully healed. Even his hand looks better.
Kelly exhaled a huge sigh of relief. Ace and Zack were fine. Roane hugged Caitlyn, and Derrick and Hale peppered Doc with questions as he continued to study Ace.
"You okay, Kelly?" Zack asked quietly. She turned and stared into his light gray eyes, captivated by his nearness, his scent...
His scent? A headache suddenly throbbed at her temples. "I'm fine. Just tired." Alarmed that her medication was wearing off so soon, she turned too quickly and knocked into Zack. He put his hands on her shoulders to steady her, and fire raced toward her womb. Okay, that was never a part of my symptoms.
"Shit. I've gotta go." She ran from the room, half praying he wouldn't follow. Half praying he would.