Excerpt Chap 5 – William 874X (Cyborgs: Mankind Redefined #5)

Chapter 5

 

“I wonder if Kingston would teach me how to make his Happy Cyborg Juice. That stuff would sell like crazy to the proper market. Cyborgs would pay top dollar, though I think I would sell it in smaller bottles with a warning to limit intake. Goddess, I can’t believe I’m having these thoughts. This might be the first legitimate business I’ve ever thought of starting.”

Aja lifted one brow and stared. “You want to learn to make it so you can drink a whole bottle alone again and spew it all back all over the bathroom floor. We have one bathroom, Meara. You will not defile it again with your overindulgence. I will lock you in a closet to sober up before I let that happen.”

“Look, Ms. Perfect, I cleaned my mess up afterward, didn’t I? My system cleared right out when I got rid of the excess. I was only a little over my limit with a whole bottle.” Meara rose and carried her now empty breakfast plate to the kitchen. “Thank ya for the food, Aja. I’m much steadier after it.”

“You’re welcome,” Aja answered flatly. “And don’t forget you owe Captain Talon an apology.”

“For what?” Meara asked, befuddled by her friend’s statement. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard ya apologize to anyone but me and Lucy.”

“I’m being serious, Irish. You forced the man to feel your tatas.”

Meara thought of Will’s hard, possessive grip on her breast and laughed. “Guilty, I guess. I made the eejit kiss me too. What do I owe him for that?”

“An even bigger apology,” Aja said firmly.

“Save yer breath, Aja. I can’t apologize to him,” Meara said. “But I appreciate yer advice on the matter. It shows you honestly care about Will’s feelings and that’s real progress for yer cold, unfeeling heart.”

Aja snorted and glared. “Can your wicked tongue not form the simple words to say you’re sorry for acting like a drunken idiot last night? You’ve said the words to me often enough. It has never killed you to admit being wrong.”

“Yeah, but I’ve truly meant I was sorry when I’ve said it to ya, Aja. I wouldn’t be meaning it with Will. That’s a form of dishonesty I’m not willing to indulge in with him.”

“You’re being unfair about this,” Aja declared, knowing Meara hated unfairness.

“Am I, Ms. Expert On Men? Have ya kissed Nero yet?” Meara waited until her friend dropped her gaze. “Ya see, that’s the difference between us. I’d rather have a little something from a man I lusted for than nothing at all. Denial does not feel righteous to me, Aja. It just feels lonely. Will is lonely too. Now he knows he doesn’t have to be.”

“Didn’t it ever occur to you that maybe he likes his life like it is? Not everyone is looking for a hearts and roses relationship. Maybe he’s not lonely at all.”

“Not bloody likely since the man…” Meara stopped abruptly, unable to mention Will’s reluctant and surprising rise to the occasion while they were kissing, not even with the woman who generally heard her every thought. She read in his file that his programmer had rendered him impotent which was why he’d been shocked by it happening as natural as it did. If she’d had explained it to Aja, her friend would have been all sympathetic, but she also would have known far more about Will than Meara wanted anyone to know but her.

For the first time since she was a young woman, loyalty to a man was going to trump over her loyalty to the women in her life. It was a startling revelation… and a bit unsettling.

She met Aja’s glare with one of her one. “William Talon is living in a past he’ll never get back. The worst he can say is no to any offer I might make him. And I’ve made none, in case ya were wondering how depraved I got in the two minutes Lucy, Eric, and ya watched us making out. Perverts. None of ya turned your backs, now did ya?”

Aja threw up both hands. “Fine. I will let karma teach you this lesson.”

Meara rolled her eyes at the threat and stomped out the door. Aja and her indignance were taking up the entire apartment these days.

Maybe it was time for her to get her own place.

***

Nero tucked the portable com close to his chest. “We have to be careful not to damage the AIs we’re using for our test. They are the most sophisticated guard bots Norton makes. They’re on special loan to us…”

Meara chuckled at the phrase. “Ya mean ya borrowed them from their charging docks and are intending to return them later when no is around to see ya.”

Nero rounded on Marcus. “Is that where we got them? You stole these AIs?”

Marcus shrugged. “Peyton asked me to procure a couple of the most advanced bots for the tests. It wasn’t like the awake ones were going to come with me because I asked. No direction was given about who to contact for your special loan, Nero. So yes, I pulled the most charged-up set I could find.”

Meara smiled at Nero’s near outrage. “It’s okay, Dr. Bastion. We won’t hurt them… or at least I won’t.”

“Perhaps I am not as sure about that as you are,” Nero said tightly.

“Oh, relax, Nero. Ya can trust me,” Meara said. “I’ve been practicing already.”

“When?” Nero demanded, hating that his voice went so high when he was agitated. “You were only upgraded yesterday, Meara.”

Meara winced. She saw Marcus grinning at her tongue slip. “Well, ya see… I sort of procured the guards in my apartment building to test my new powers. When Will visited last evening, I think he tested his powers on them too, but ya should check with Will for exact details. I was slightly inebriated when he stopped by so everything’s a bit fuzzy to me today.”

Nero glared fiercely “You experimented on Norton’s most sophisticated guard bots when you were drunk? Have you lost your mind, Meara?”

“No,” Meara said firmly. “Ya had my head open just yesterday. If anyone knows the state of my mind, I would think ya would be the one who did.”

Which is precisely my argument,” Nero declared.

Meara looked at the AIs. “Keep calm and watch this. Maybe it will make ya feel better. I’m turning them on.” The AIs went from lifeless heaps on the ground to rigid robots with their complete attention directed at her.

“Fine. What else can you make them do?” Nero asked.

Meara grinned and shrugged. “How about this?” She sent them the code she’d kept from the previous evening. They began step dancing to it immediately.

What is that?” Nero exclaimed. “What in the world are they doing?”

“It’s called dancing,” Meara said. “Surely, you’ve heard of it, Nero.”

Nero waved at the bots. “How is this helpful?”

Meara thought about it and shrugged. “Helpful, I’m not sure, but it’s highly entertaining.”

“Turn them off,” Nero ordered flatly. “Turn them off now. We’ll wait for Will before doing anything more. Perhaps his more logical mind will inspire you to take this training seriously, Meara.”

Sighing, Meara sent the command to stop. The AIs fell to the ground in metal heaps. “Now yar mad at me, aren’t ya? I can tell because yar sounding like Shiva’s handmaiden.”

“I will not discuss Aja with you,” Nero declared.

Meara crossed her arms. “Then let’s get the feck back to yer important testing then. What’s the holdup with Will this morning? Where is he?”

Nero slapped his tablet across his jacket to glare. “How is that any of your concern?”

“I don’t know if I need to be concerned—that’s why I asked. Is he ill? So far as I know, he wasn’t imbibing last evening as I was,” Meara demanded.

“No. He received an unexpected visitor. I think it must be a family member because they share a last name. Meara, where are you going? We’re not finished yet. I’m sure Captain Talon will be here shortly. Come back here.”

Meara didn’t answer… or obey. She activated her advanced tracking mechanism—the one she’d read had been upgraded—and quickly located Will in a nearby building.

Something was flashing warnings against the back of her mind but those she ignored.

Her instincts were singing. She’d obey those over her cybernetics any day.

***

Will walked into the room, his insides instantly clenching in a kind of emotional pain he hadn’t felt since Kyra had first attempted to restore him. He’d been insulated then by the extreme pain he’d suffered daily. After that had been resolved—or mostly resolved—the rest of discovering his human reality was like reading a sad story about some stranger.

The moment he’d stepped through the door and saw the woman he’d once loved and married, all their human life together returned in a rush to torment him with the magnitude of his loss. His human mind had obviously been suffering from denial on some level.

His military career always had been tough on their relationship, but he’d loved Cassandra and the kids as much as he’d been able to. If he hadn’t volunteered for the cyborg conversion, he and Cassandra would probably still be together. Yet not volunteering had never crossed his mind as an option. Winning the war had been his primary focus when he’d made the decision, and his side had won that war, so he’d been right.

Every soldier paid a price for his or her service in the military. Will had accepted—was trying to accept—that losing Cassandra and the kids had ended up being his. He’d brought this emotional pain on himself with his past choices. However, choosing not to feel it today seemed beyond any ability he had.

“Hi, Will. I’m sorry it’s been so long. Considering all you’ve been through, I have to say you’re looking pretty good. I’m thankful for that. Truly.”

“It’s the cybernetics,” Will explained, not bothering to greet her.

It was odd, he thought. They could have been talking about anything. He wasn’t even following the conversation yet. He was trying to get a handle on her being physically present. Cassandra, on the other hand, was looking nervous and like she’d rather be anywhere but where she was.

“Cyber scientists can fix pretty much anything in your body,” Will added to break the uncomfortable silence.

What he didn’t say, but could have, was Kyra could also rid him of some of his memories of her if he wanted. He would never do that because he’d traveled that flushed memory road once too often already. Kyra was willing to try for a complete dump but Will was not willing, even if he did frequently wake with alarming heart palpitations and sweat pouring out of him.

He watched Cassandra nod and look away. It was like she couldn’t bear to look at him for more than ten seconds. Her apprehension filled up the room and seeped into him with a body language he’d long ago learned to read. Hoping to be wrong for once, or to learn something additional that would give him closure, Will listened to every nuance as the woman he’d once promised to love and cherish cleared her dry, raspy throat to speak.

“Look… I know me being here is probably a shock to you after all this time. I’m sorry I haven’t been to see you before now. I intended to come months ago, right after Dr. Winters informed me you’d been found, but I didn’t know how to explain myself or the decisions I’d made over the years. And I’ll be honest, Will… I didn’t know how I’d feel seeing you again after what the UCN showed me. It’s just…it’s hard to deal with what they turned you into.”

Will nodded, thought about it, and then shrugged. “Recordings like the one you were shown were designed to get the average human to think cyber soldiers were extremely dangerous. Most of them were hoaxes and have been proven false since the restorations. I conceded that any soldier—human or cyborg—is only as sound as their mind though. That’s always been true. It’s not only the case with cyborgs.”

“Was your recording a hoax?” Cassandra asked bluntly.

Will could have lied to her about it. His cybernetics would have punished him for lying, but he handled that pain before and survived. He deliberately and willfully chose not to lie to Cassandra today because part of him knew it would hurt worse when she discovered the truth down the line. The outcome would always be the same. He’d be the same monster to her no matter at what point she learned the truth.

“No,” Will said flatly… and as unapologetically as he could. “I wish I could say differently, but my recording was not a hoax. When I was captured after the war, whoever had me programmed me to be an assassin. Killing is what I did for a living. Dr. Winter’s efforts at restoration broke that coding and freed me as much as she could.”

His gut clenched again when the mother of his children dropped her shocked gaze from his and looked longingly at the door behind him. Eventually, though, Cassandra forced her eyes to return to his once more. Her expression was that of a sympathetic stranger—not the person he once considered to be his best friend in the world.

“What are you doing now that you’re… freed from your captivity?” she asked softly.

He could tell Cassandra had forced herself to ask the polite question. Unfortunately, Will had no answer for it yet. Like others who’d been tortured and tweaked, he was still occupied with trying to survive long enough to acknowledge he had anything close to a normal life.

But that wasn’t really what Cassandra wanted to know.

Will drew in a breath and said what had to be said. “I’m still a cyborg—if that’s what you’re wondering. I will always be one, Cassandra. A full restoration wasn’t possible because of my severe damage, so recently I’ve been further redefined instead. That’s cyber scientist speak for the changes they made to my original cybernetics. They tell me I’m in transition now to some new normal that Dr. Winters is convinced I can find. In layman’s terms, I’m still traveling the road back to finding my humanity.”

Cassandra nodded. She seemed too overwhelmed to respond. His wife—or rather former wife, he acknowledged—was every bit as beautiful as Will remembered her being. Cassandra was aging well even as haggard and stressed as she was today. Her body also showed multiple signs of sleep deprivation and poor nutrition. Her adrenalin was spiked and staying high.

Will could appreciate the kind of nerve it must have taken for her to physically come here to face him in person. He would have liked to think Cassandra was putting herself through this hell for his benefit, but he knew better. If she had been concerned about his return, she would have come months ago when his release from capture was first made public.

Since a straight analysis didn’t seem to be working, Will pondered how disappointed knowing that fact made him. No matter what he did, the cybernetic stats on it were unclear. He had generic human sadness over all his losses, but specific sadness wasn’t traceable yet. His feelings were still sporadic and random. It afforded him a bit of emotional insulation, but Kyra had cautioned him that a lot of suppression was happening as well.

“So, Dr. Winters called you about me?” he asked, wanting to get Cassandra talking again.

She nodded before speaking. “Yes. Dr. Winters said you had been in a POW camp the whole time you were missing—both during and after the war. Once I knew for sure you’d been out there somewhere the whole time, I felt ashamed of myself for giving up on you, and more ashamed for moving on. But I had the kids and I was alone. Since you never came up in the Cyber Husband program, what was I supposed to think? Maybe I’m just a weak woman. Eventually, I stopped hoping and had our relationship dissolved.”

Will nodded at her explanation. He worked on summing up a smile, but his mouth refused to comply with his order. “It’s okay. Giving up was a reasonable action to take in the circumstances. You and the kids needed someone who could give you a normal human life. The human part of me is grateful for any happiness you found for yourself.”

Will hadn’t known Kyra had called Cassandra. He was guessing Lucy probably made it happen. He should have contacted Cassandra himself, but like her, he hadn’t known what to say or how to explain where he’d been all the time they were apart. If he had called her though, this awkwardness would be over by now. Or at the very least, the knot of agony inside him would have maybe loosened.

There was no getting around his human side grieving the loss of his family, even though his cyborg side had concluded the loss to be part of the inevitable cost of conversion. He certainly wasn’t the only cyborg to ever lose family. Marcus Kells had lost just as much as he had and had managed to move on.

Will cleared his throat hoping to dislodge the emotion clogging it. He was going to give Cassandra a complete pass. It was the right thing to do for the mother of his children. No part of him was confused about that necessity.

“The advantage of still being mostly a cyborg is that I’m not feeling any of the resentment a human ex-husband might feel in a similar situation. My cyborg side respects and agrees with your actions. You made the only logical decision you could in my extended absence, which was to get on with living your life. I researched your new husband. He seems to be a good man. I approve of your choice.”

“Researched him? You approve of Rio?” Cassandra repeated as she stared.

Will noted her silence. Why had that shocked her? Had she expected him to not care who was spending time with his children these days?

Cassandra lowered her gaze and then sighed. “You’re right that Rio is a good man—a very good man, but…” She swallowed hard. “God, this is so surreal. I can’t believe we’re having this conversation. I dreamed of seeing you again so often, but now that we’re here… I… God, I don’t know what to even say to you.”

Her confession sent his tension to an all-time high. Will schooled his expression into the blank one he’d frequently used with his tormentor. He’d had a lot of practice keeping his real feelings private. “Since you legally divorced me many years ago, I never expected you to contact me at all, Cassandra. Does your new husband know you’re here today?”

Cassandra swallowed again and shook her head. “No. Rio hasn’t been home in four months. He also hasn’t called me or sent any communication to let me know why he’s been delayed from returning. I don’t know where he is, Will, and he’s not the kind of man to make me worry. Not that you were intentionally that kind of man either, but I always knew the military came first with you. But Rio isn’t a military guy—he never was. Rio’s just a regular guy. We had a great life together until he took a work promotion. Then he disappeared with no word of what’s going on.”

Will nodded without letting his surprise show. “If you’re truly worried about him, you should probably contact the authorities and share your concerns. That would be the next logical step to take.”

Cassandra shrugged as the tears leaked out of her eyes. “I tried doing that already. Rio works for a special labor division of the UCN. They have their own security group. When I talked to them about Rio’s lack of contact with me, they said he was out of contact range and not to worry. No one is looking for him but me.”

Will’s old processor spun when she Cassandra paused for a deep breath. Thankfully his neural one seemed to be unaffected.

“Will… I made myself come to see you today because I can’t lose another man I love. I just can’t. I looked for you until they took all hope I had of finding you away from me. I saved every cent I could to buy you. I hope somehow you can forgive me enough to understand why I came to see you after all this time. I’m desperate.”

Will ran a hand through his hair. For the longest time, he’d believed no one was looking for him. Because of Kyra, he now understood he’d been kept places no one would ever find him even if they’d had the time, motive, and means to look. Lucy said Cassandra had looked for him for years. Didn’t he owe her something for that at least?

“Are you actually asking me to help you find your new husband?”

Will watched her eyes fill with tears as she nodded. He felt nearly nothing about the fact she was crying. Instead, a cold numbness crept along his nerve endings and down his arms. He’d never felt so alone in his life and yet he hated seeing evidence of the pain life was causing Cassandra. They’d once been everything to each other. Now she was worried about another man. Will meant nothing to her outside her hope for his help in searching for him.

“I know it isn’t fair of me,” Cassandra said, the words choking her. “The main reason I put off coming to see you was that it seemed callous of me to come to ask you to look for Rio. There’s probably no way for you to ever see this request as anything but a betrayal of what we were to each other, but still, I hope you somehow find a way. I’ll beg. I’ll plead. I’ll do anything you want—but please, Will, please help me find him. I don’t know who else to ask.”

Will stared blankly at the woman who’d given up on him, unable to respond to any request from her. Maybe his cybernetics were overloading. Did she really think he’d rush to her new husband’s rescue?

“Ya can save yer tears. Of course, we’ll help ya.”

Will spun at hearing the firm, determined answer and watched Meara stride into the room uninvited. Ignoring him, except for one long questioning glance, she walked straight over to Cassandra.

He blinked and watched Meara take both of Cassandra’s trembling hands in hers. Though shorter and smaller in stature than Cassandra, the cyborg female could easily crush Cassandra’s fingers with the slightest increase of pressure. Meara came across as strong, determined, and her redheaded appearance stood out in vivid color next to his former wife’s pale blondeness.

His timing in seeing her after last evening couldn’t have sucked worse, but that was nothing new for him. Their hungry kiss from last night suddenly flashed through his mind and he recalled how tightly Meara had held on to him during it. Would the irritating cyborg woman hurt Cassandra out of some kind of misplaced jealousy? He had no way of knowing. Meara seemed to be part trickster and he wasn’t sure what game she was playing with him yet.

“Who are you?” Cassandra asked, peering down.

“I’m a restored cyborg like Will. He and I were both soldiers in the Army.” Meara didn’t look at Will while answering, but she could feel his new processor spinning madly in irritation over her little stretch of the truth. It was meant to make Cassandra Talon trust her. She needed to ask Nero for a strategy to tune out the annoying shit Will was doing to her. “My name’s Meara McDonald. I’m Will’s partner. We work together.”

“Oh. It’s good to meet you then, Meara,” Cassandra said.

Meara nodded, letting go of Will’s wife’s hands. The woman was tall, blonde, and perfectly built. She didn’t need enhancements done to any part of her. It didn’t surprise Meara in the least that someone as handsome as Will had married someone as beautiful as this woman.

“Ya may want to hold yer good wishes until after I confess I was listening at the door. I heard ya say yer current husband is missing and I couldn’t stop myself from intervening.”

“Yes, Rio is missing. I came to ask Will to help me find him,” Cassandra said cautiously, looking back at Will.

Meara nodded and pretended not to care that Will looked devastated by his former wife’s words. Poor fecking bastard. She felt sorrier for him at that the moment than she did for Cassandra.

“If ya say yer husband would never go away without telling ya where he was, then I believe ya. I think yar being wise to suspect something is very wrong. The fact that he works for the UCN is reason enough to be concerned. They’re fucking bastards—the whole lot of them.”

“Thank you,” Cassandra said sincerely. “I hope this isn’t a rude comment… but I didn’t know there were female cyborgs. I thought it had been done to only men.”

“We were a long-kept secret, but it’s not one anymore,” Meara said tightly. “Now… let’s get back to yer problem. Can ya send us all the details of yer husband’s disappearance and maybe a recent photograph? I know someone who’s a genius at finding people.”

“Meara…” Will began, intending to stop her.

Meara lifted her head to meet his irritated gaze. She wasn’t about to let him do the wrong thing. “Her new husband’s not a cyborg, Will. The UCN is involved in his disappearance and they’re unconcerned about his wife being worried. Does anything about that situation sound right to ya?”

She turned away from Will’s former wife and walked back to where Will stood. Once she was close enough, she tilted her head and looked up into his serious face. “Let’s bring this guy home for the sake of yer family. It’s the right thing to do for everyone. Ya know it as well as I do.”

Will glanced at Cassandra who was listening intently to their exchange. He returned his gaze to Meara. “You know we can’t commit to this.”

“Why fecking not?” Meara demanded, ignoring Cassandra’s indrawn breath over their loud arguing… or maybe it was over her swearing. Guess Will’s ex wasn’t the swearing sort. A woman as beautiful as Cassandra probably charmed her way through life, but that sort of ease had never been part of Meara’s existence.

Will’s gaze shifted from Cassandra to a glaring Meara. “We can’t commit because we’re not cleared to do searches on our own,” he said sharply, giving the first excuse he could think of.

His voice altered with his anger at Meara so it was no surprise when Cassandra quickly stepped as far away as she could from both of them. Cassandra’s heartbeat accelerated greatly and Will realized they were scaring her. Meara seemed oblivious.

Meara lifted a hand to Will’s chest to keep his attention focused on her and not his nervous human ex-wife. “Listen to me… Aja and I weren’t fecking cleared to find Lucy, but that never stopped us from looking. Eric, Marcus, and Peyton weren’t cleared to look for Seetha either, but they went. Ya know fecking well that without them finding Seetha, no one would have found ya either, Will. If everyone waited for fecking permission to do what was right, no one lost would ever get found. We need to do this for Cassandra. This is yer family we’re talking about here.”

Will looked at Cassandra who was keeping her distance but listening. He lifted his chin and met her worried gaze. “We’ll talk to the people we report to. We’ll let you know if we’re able to investigate the matter. This may take a while.”

“That’s all I can ask. Thank you,” Cassandra said quietly. She walked carefully around the two them, her gaze taking them both in. “I’ll hand deliver back the information you’ll need about Rio. I think my communications are being monitored. I can’t risk sending it electronically.”

Meara looked at Cassandra and nodded. The woman was smarter than she looked. “Yer being smart in trusting yer gut on this one. The UCN probably is monitoring ya. Get that info back to us as soon as ya can.”

Nodding at Meara’s order, Cassandra left quickly and closed the door firmly behind her with a relieved click. Turning his head Will read her body stats as she left and could see her respiration and heart rate both drop significantly the moment he and Meara were out of her sight.

He turned back and glared at Meara for stirring everything up. He’d been close to sending Cassandra out of his life for good.

“You had no right to tell her we’d help,” Will stated.

Meara searched his angry gaze. He wasn’t seeing what she saw. That much was clear. “This is yer perfect chance and it may be the only one yar going to get, eejit. Don’t ya see? Ya need to be the one to find the fecking man. He’s probably out of range like the guards told her. And when ya bring the bugger back to yer beautiful, blonde wife, she’s going to see the two of ya side-by-side and realize her fecking mistake in replacing ya.”

“Get the fuck out of my business,” Will said through gritted teeth.

Meara tilted her head. “No. I’m pushing on ya because my instincts are singing, Will. There’s still a spark between the two of ya. I don’t think ya’ve lost her for good yet.”

Will snorted and glared. “I don’t fucking believe this. Why are you trying to help me get my wife back? That’s crazy. I don’t want her back.”

“Did ya hear what ya called her just now? She’s still yer wife… or at least, she is in yer mind that’s getting restored.”

Maybe if the red-haired troublemaker hadn’t kissed him so intensely the night before, Will would be laughing at this now instead of getting more and more pissed. Why was he so pissed about the situation? He should have felt nothing but irritation over Meara’s high-handedness. The female cyborg wasn’t worth all this emotion.

Meara poked Will’s chest with her finger when his attention drifted off. “I guessed yer feelings from the way ya spoke to her. I didn’t need to see the state of yer body and all the hormones running around in yer blood because of love madness. It would take a more cold-hearted bitch than I am to not want to see ya get back with the woman who owns ya that way.”

“Cassandra divorced me and married someone else, Meara. My children consider another man to be their father. There is no going back to anything with them.”

Meara glared over how hard he was clinging to his stubbornness. “Ya seriously need to rethink this and stop being a fecking eejit. Her mixed-up feelings are for both the men in her life, Will. Ya heard what she said about the UCN. Cassandra thinks yer a killer and she’s afraid of ya—that’s her real problem.”

“Cassandra is wise to be afraid of me. I’m a killer,” Will said with finality.

Meara snorted. “Yeah, so am I—that’s not going to be changing for either of us—and it’s true of all soldiers coming out of that last fecking war,” she replied matter-of-factly. “But we’re also a whole lot more than that. Strip away the cybernetics and what ya find inside us is a human soul as fragile as any other. Yer trying to pretend ya don’t have a soul anymore and that’s fecking bullshit. I watched Aja try to do it over the years, and trust me, it never works.”

“But I’m not Aja,” Will said tightly.

“You. Aja. Lucy. Me. It’s all the fecking same. I’ve seen a lot of broken cyborgs, William Talon. Yer only ever as broken as ya choose to be. Don’t let those programming bastards win.”

“You don’t know what my old life was like,” Will said flatly. “Stop pretending you do.”

Meara buried the hurt of his insensitive comment. She’d tolerate his lashing out for now. “Perhaps yar right from a certain perspective. Aja and I escaped the fate of dying like most of our fellow female cyborgs. And Lucy escaped a cybernetic hell that no one thought she could.”

Meara put her hands on his arms. Will was stiff under her hands. “I’m sorry if ya think I’m diminishing yer specific hurt with the comparison, but Lucy was subjected to far worse things than simply being made to kill people. Men violated her body over and over on a daily basis. On top of that, they made her kill… and then they tortured her for surviving the fight. When none of that shit broke her, they bashed her fecking head in trying to destroy her processor. Lucy even survived that. So let go of yer fecking self-pity about those controlling bastards making ya their murder puppet. At least ya weren’t turned into a manwhore too. In fact, I read they did the opposite to ya.”

“I didn’t say a damn thing against Lucy,” Will said through clenched teeth. “How do you know what they did to me? You had no right to read my file.”

“Yeah, well, excuse me for giving a shit,” Meara said. But what she really wanted to say was ‘yar being an emotional coward’, but she didn’t want to alienate Will completely. So she snorted at life’s irony and started walking away. “Guess yar just going to have to stay pissed at me forever because even if yar not going to help yer wife, I am. The woman’s been through enough hell. Ya both have.”

“Stop calling Cassandra my wife. She’s not my wife any longer… and why do you care what she’s feeling about anything?” Will demanded.

“Obviously for no reason ya seem capable of hearing and accepting at the moment, so chalk up my willingness to ease her emotional pain to being more of my nonstop nonsense,” Meara yelled, slamming the door closed with a loud bang as she left.

Will glared at the metal separating him from the most frustrating female he’d ever come across. And he wasn’t talking about Cassandra.

Despite Meara’s idiotic attempts to help him reconcile with his ex, Will had seen the truth in Cassandra’s eyes. She’d come to see him out of love for a man all right, but it wasn’t love for him any longer. It was exceedingly clear that she’d given up on him the moment she’d seen the recording of him killing someone… and who the hell could blame her? Normal soldiers lost their families for similar reasons. He’d seen it a lot as an Army captain.

But he had some new fucking limits for being personally used and abused… and for dealing with the emotional pain his past still managed to cause him. Looking for the man who’d replaced him in his family sounded completely insane to his human side and totally illogical to his cyborg one.

Even someone as wildly irrational as Meara ought to be able to understand that. But she didn’t seem to. So what choice did he have now except to forge ahead? Meara had yanked control of his life away from him just as easily as Creator Omega had.

That shit had to stop.

He didn’t care if Meara was the only woman who’d made his dick hard in years. The frustrating female cyborg was fifty kinds of crazy. Will refused to ride that train.

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