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Alpha: A Rough Shifter Romance by Sara Fields – Sample

Chapter One

Dawn

The day I was taken changed my life forever.

They didn’t even let me say goodbye.

When the government came for me, I was in the cell culture hood, splitting another flask of overly sensitive immune cells that I was planning to use in my next experiment. They stormed into the room in their black suits with their official-looking badges and guns on their hips, and they told me that I had to come with them right away. I didn’t even have a chance to finish working with my cells.

They wouldn’t identify what branch of the government they were associated with, but there was no question in my mind that they were quite high up. Maybe they were part of a CIA black site FBI team or the NSA or even some other group way up the ladder that normal people like me didn’t even know about. One thing was for certain though, they meant business.

They’d cleared out my lab and sent my students, technicians, and post-docs home. It was empty as I was led out of my lab and back into the university halls with my very own security detail of at least a dozen different people. There wasn’t another person in sight.

“What do you want with me?” I asked quietly. The government officials circled around me in a protective ring and not a single one of them answered as they corralled and forced me down the back stairwell in silence until we reached the ground floor. The University of Connecticut campus was uncharacteristically quiet on this Wednesday afternoon and I had a feeling it had everything to do with the men and women escorting me out of my lab and into a tinted black SUV. There were at least six other vehicles parked waiting for us and as I was coerced into one of them, the rest pulled up alongside us.

“Where are we going?” I asked again and one of the women stared back at me.

“You will be informed of your new position once we arrive at our final destination,” she said, and I was at least grateful for a human voice.

“How long till we get there?” I questioned, knowing I was probably pressing my luck.

“A few hours. The jet is waiting on the tarmac as we speak,” she answered evasively, and she didn’t say anything more after that.

True to her word, she led me to a small airport that was under guard with soldiers in black-ops gear, all of them with rather heavy-looking assault rifles. There were several heavily armed soldiers surveying the area, but none of them seemed to be focused on threatening or intimidating me. Instead, everything and everyone seemed focused on protecting me.

Once we filed onto the runway, I got a look at the plane waiting for us. It wasn’t huge but its surface was covered in sheets of a strange-looking metal, likely to prevent anyone from being able to see it flying high in the sky. I assumed that it probably interfered with radar, making the aircraft virtually invisible to anyone looking for it.

High level government indeed.

I couldn’t really get another look because I was led onto the plane at record speed.

In no time at all, the plane was up in the air. We were heading to wherever these people decided I needed to be.

I was led to a small table with leather bench seats on either side. There wasn’t any other option but to take a seat, so I did. Then I waited for what would come next.

A tall woman with blonde hair slid into the seat across the table from me. Her austere demeanor spoke to her position and that she wasn’t afraid of anyone or anything. Her hair was slicked back into a bun and not a single strand had fallen out of place on her head. Hazel eyes stared back at me, no nonsense and quite serious. Everything about her was somber and rigid and I knew at once that I was about to speak to one of the leaders of whatever organization had decided that I’d needed to be taken.

“Dr. Lowe, it is nice to finally meet you. My name is Amy Warren,” the woman began.

“It’s nice to meet you, Amy,” I answered carefully.

“Now that we are in a contained airspace, it is safe to speak. What you are about to hear is intel of the highest classified level. It is dangerous information that could spark panic and paranoia throughout the United States, but not only that, it could terrify the rest of the world,” she continued. My ears perked up and my brow furrowed with both confusion and concern.

I wasn’t unused to the idea of keeping things secret. I’d worked in a number of institutions over the years and all of them had differing levels of secrecy. Competition amongst universities and private industries was vast, an underlying issue that I’d experienced in every single place I’d conducted my research. Working for the government would be something very different though. That much was quickly becoming obvious.

“What do you people want with me?” I replied. She ignored my aggressive tone.

“Dr. Lowe, you are one of the most respected stem cell biologists in the country. Not only that, but your work on both transformative mutations as well as your research into genetically modified organisms makes you an asset to the United States government. As such, your experience and especially your profile make you an ideal candidate to help us solve an issue that’s been plaguing the country for several months now.”

“This is a job interview then?”

“No. Not quite. Your cooperation is appreciated, but it is also compulsory. It is your duty as a scientist and as a United States citizen to do your due diligence and complete the task assigned to you,” she replied curtly.

There was zero sarcasm or humor in her tone. She meant every single word and as I looked around at the serious faces around me, I knew that I was going to have little choice in what I had to do next.

“Am I going to be required to do anything illegal?” I questioned. “I won’t take part in anything that might kill someone.” My entire career had been focused on improving the human experience, using my research to help develop potential treatments for cancer, lupus, and especially in the handling of sickle cell disease, and I wasn’t about to change that.

If they’d brought me in to work on weapons, they had another think coming. I wouldn’t have any part of it.

“You won’t be required to kill anyone,” she replied. I noticed that she hadn’t really fully answered my question.

“How did you come by my name and my work?” I asked next.

“Dr. Livingston recommended you.”

I narrowed my eyes at her with suspicion.

Dr. Robert Livingston was my advisor from graduate school. I hadn’t talked to him in a number of years, but I kept up with his publications here and there when I had a free afternoon. His work in stem cell research was world renowned and was one of the reasons I’d chosen him for my mentor in the first place. His findings laid the foundation of what I worked on today.

“Will I be working with Dr. Livingston?” I asked carefully.

“Yes. Your work with transformative mutations though will be especially useful to the research we are conducting and the answers we’re looking for,” she replied tersely.

“What exactly am I going to be working on?” I pressed. It was time to get down to business. It was clear that I didn’t really have a choice from this point forward. Whatever it was, the work was important enough to be entirely classified and protected from public knowledge. In any case, it piqued my curiosity and I wanted to know more.

Amy took a deep breath and sighed.

“What I’m going to tell you next is a level of classified information that only a handful of people are aware of including the president and his closest advisors. Everyone else is kept almost entirely in the dark and only fed as much intel as they need to perform their jobs. Should you repeat this information, it will be considered treason under United States law and your immediate termination will follow,” she warned.

She didn’t elaborate on the definition of what termination might be, but there was little doubt in my mind that it meant that I would be assassinated if I opened my mouth.

My mouth went dry and I started to grow nervous.

“You’ve heard of the Department of Defense or the Department of Justice and the other various sectors of the United States government, but you haven’t heard of the one I lead because on paper, it doesn’t technically exist. The funding for my work has been stricken from all public record. There are very few people in the world that know of its existence at all,” she continued.

I sat back and folded my hands into my lap.

“What is the name of your department?” I asked.

“I lead the Department of Paranormal Activity,” she answered. Everything about her body language said that she was completely serious.

“Paranormal,” I echoed. She had to be joking. Those things weren’t real.

“Yes,” she replied.

“As in ghosts and monsters and vampires and that sort of thing,” I said, my disbelief more than obvious at this point.

“Our work very rarely deals with ghosts. Vampires hardly ever make waves as they are mainly solitary creatures unless they come together as a bonded pair. The list of monsters runs long though and would require much more of an explanation than you need,” she explained.

“You’re telling me these things actually exist, that they aren’t just stories,” I replied, my voice almost a whisper.

“I am,” Amy nodded.

I tried to swallow my disbelief. I wouldn’t have believed her if not for the technologically advanced plane we were currently traveling inside or the fully armed individuals sitting in the cabin with us and the fact that their organization had shut down the UConn campus, which was certainly a feat all by itself. As much as I wanted to disregard her explanation, I couldn’t.

I should have been afraid at finding out this knowledge, but I wasn’t. Instead, I was curious. All this time I’d thought these creatures were tales of folklore and myth, but as it turns out, parts of those stories may well be very true.

“It’s your job to keep the public ignorant of the existence of these creatures and to handle them whenever they fall out of line,” I said.

“It is,” she replied.

“So, what do you need me for?”

“I assume you’ve heard of werewolves, yes?”

“I have.”

“There are a group of creatures out there that are related to werewolves, we refer to them as Lycans, only they aren’t constrained to changing under the moon. They’re very strong and quite fierce, although not wholly invincible, and they’ve managed to kill a number of our soldiers. They shift into oversized wolves, probably at least double the size of a wild wolf. For several hundred years they’ve been a very docile group, but only very recently they’ve begun to act out. Once compliant and tame, they’ve become more aggressive and increasingly protective of their territories. They’ve begun to organize themselves into packs and that’s only the ones we’re aware of right now. My department has managed to capture a fair number of them, but several of them have managed to escape confinement. They’re becoming a problem for us and we want to stop it before it gets out of hand. Your job is to find out why their behavior has suddenly changed,” she explained.

“You want me to examine if there is a molecular reason for their changed behavior, if they’re evolving,” I replied carefully.

“Yes. We’ve collected a fair number of samples and have quite a few more banked, but the experimental procedures are sensitive and Dr. Livingston has assured me that you would know how to proceed, that you have the very best hands for the job in the world,” she responded.

I paused for a moment, processing everything she’d told me so far.

“You mentioned that you captured a few of these shifters?” I asked next.

“Yes. They refer to themselves as betas. According to our previous research, they are wolf-human hybrids, which is the reason we’ve been resistant to wiping them out before, especially since they haven’t caused any large-scale problems for us. It’s become difficult to handle those we have in captivity though and there is evidence that those in the wild are becoming much more brazen and aggressive as well. There’s been quite a few that have broken out of our facilities. There’s been deaths on the outside. We’ve had to explain a number of casualties as animal attacks, placing blame on mountain lions or coyotes or wolves instead.”

“Where are you taking me?” I pressed. There was no more need for secrets from her.

“We’re heading to a black site in the forests to the west of Helena in Montana. It’s run by my department. Once we arrive, you’ll be introduced to our labs and you’ll be able to begin your research immediately. Dr. Livingston has been preparing for your arrival and has assured us that you can start right away,” she replied.

I chewed my lip.

“You mentioned that the betas are not docile anymore. Is it safe to work with them or ask them questions?” I asked next.

“Yes. As long as you keep yourself out of their cages,” she answered.

The black site location was well hidden within the mountains. Once the plane landed on the ground, I was funneled into yet another black tinted SUV that drove off into the countryside. At least ten others just like it surrounded us. After that, we drove off the road and into a tunnel that cut through a tall cliff side. The cars pushed onward through the northern Rockies and emerged onto a dirt road on the other side, well hidden from any eyes above that may be watching. The trees were thick as we wove in and around the mountains.

When we finally arrived at our destination, I barely had any time to appreciate how well concealed the facility was amongst the trees before I was led inside. What appeared to be a building only a couple of stories high descended well beneath the ground, hiding several floors of labs, offices, and meetings rooms underneath. It was really quite incredible.

Amy led me into an elevator at the back of the ground floor. We descended several levels to B6 where it stopped, we exited and climbed into a freight elevator that went even deeper. The screen indicating the floor went black and I no longer could tell where they were taking me. Amy scanned in with a keycard and the door finally opened, revealing the most magnificent lab I’d ever seen. I couldn’t contain my surprise and my resulting gasp was quite audible between us. She led me out of the elevator after that, thankfully not commenting on the heated blush I could feel all over my face.

We walked into the most advanced scientific setup I’d ever encountered. The room was massive, practically the size of a warehouse, and segmented by bays of equipment. The closest bay was lined with a multitude of sequencers. The second had a number of flow cytometers and sorters and the third had mass spectrometers, as well as some machines that even I didn’t recognize. There were a number of bays that I couldn’t see down, but I had no doubt they were filled with the fanciest and newest tools that money could buy and probably a great deal more that weren’t even available on the open market yet. There seemed to be billions of dollars’ worth of scientific equipment hidden here deep underground in the northern reaches of the great Rocky Mountains.

It was a biologist’s dream. Instead of waiting weeks to perform an experiment, I could do it myself in a matter of days. All in one centralized location.

I could get used to this.

Off in the distance, I saw a man working under a large clear plastic hood and I grinned, recognizing his thick white hair. It was Dr. Livingston. Amy led me over to him and he turned his head, smiled back, and put down his pipette. He had such a friendly face that always left me feeling comfortable, no matter if we were talking about life or arguing over differences in our hypotheses and that hadn’t changed one bit in the time since I’d last seen him.

“Dr. Dawn Lowe, it’s been a few years,” he started, his eyes glowing with joy.

“It has been, hasn’t it,” I replied. I smiled in return and his grew even wider.

“I’d love to sit down for a coffee to catch up some time, but Amy here is a workhorse and she wants answers, so why don’t you come with me,” he said. “I’ll take it from here,” he told Amy and she nodded in agreement.

“Anything you two need, you just let me know,” she replied. “It was nice to meet you, Dr. Lowe. I’ll look forward to working with you.” With that, she handed me a keycard. It had both my name and face on it. Apparently, they’d been prepared for my arrival long before today. I clipped it onto my lab coat and thanked her politely, even if nothing about this had been my choice.

She didn’t say anything more, turning on her heels and returning to the freight elevator. Once it closed, I sighed.

“Well, it’s been a day,” I started, swinging my gaze to meet Livingston’s soft brown ones.

“I bet it has. Why don’t you and I go into the specimen hold and I can introduce you to the creatures we’re studying. I imagine you have your doubts about the truth of what Amy has told you so far, so let’s get that out of the way first,” he suggested.

Of course, he was right. Even though I’d seen all this circumstantial evidence to suggest that paranormal life existed and was worth protecting in secret, it still didn’t feel quite real or tangible in any way. It felt like a story and the fastest way to make it a reality would be to see it myself.

“How did they find you?” I asked as he led me down the bay of sequencers to the back, where there was a large metal door. He swiped his own keycard and it slid open. The two of us walked inside. We were greeted with another pair of doors. After walking through those, we were met with a third set before we walked down a long hallway. Finally, we passed through a fourth set of doors before the hallway opened up into a much larger room, only instead of scientific equipment, this was lined with large glass cells.

I froze. Inside each one of them was a person.

“These are the shifters you’re going to be studying, Dr. Lowe,” Livingston said.

“Call me Dawn,” I answered.

I looked around and they didn’t appear as dangerous as Amy had led me to believe. In fact, many of them looked far too human.

“Come, let me introduce you to Rebecca. She’s the most docile of the bunch and the only one that I’m comfortable with going into her cell. As long as she isn’t threatened, her ability to keep her instincts at bay is second to none amongst her kind,” he added.

I followed him down the row of individual enclosures. They were all standalone glass cages, situated next to each other with at least three feet in between each one. It was clear that the glass was reinforced, perhaps bulletproof or strong enough to contain a bomb, but I wasn’t certain. As we walked through the cells, I assessed the creatures kept inside and I began to notice a few things that definitely weren’t human. The males were quite a bit larger than normal human men would be. The females were slender and sized similarly to human women, but they appeared strong in their own right. All of their irises were flecked with yellow, perhaps an indication of their human-wolf hybrid status. Some of them met my eyes with open hostility, others with indifference, and only a few looked back at me with curiosity.

The whole thing was quite disconcerting.

The very last cell in the block held a petite woman. Her eyes were brown and unlike the others, only slightly flecked with yellow. Long chocolate brown hair hung in waves down to her waist. She looked at me suspiciously, studying my face as I did hers. Livingston scanned his card outside her cell and the glass door slid open. We walked inside and the door slid closed behind the two of us.

I couldn’t help feeling slightly uneasy at being trapped inside a cell with a beast.

“Rebecca, it’s good to see you again,” he offered, and she smiled, if a bit coldly. She turned her head toward me, and her eyes narrowed slightly as she evaluated my presence more closely. Then she sniffed the air and her eyes opened a bit wider. Her expression grew inquisitive after that. I couldn’t sense any hostility.

“Dr. Livingston,” she greeted, all while keeping her eyes locked on me.

“This is Dr. Dawn Lowe. She’s come to work with me. If you’re willing, I’d love for you to show her what you’re capable of,” he said gently. He didn’t demand anything or make a move in her direction. Instead, he just simply made a suggestion to her as if he was talking to a friend instead of a prisoner deep in a secret government prison.

“I would, but I want to do it with her here with me. Alone,” Rebecca replied, staring right into my eyes. She didn’t shift her gaze to Livingston, not even for a second. Instead, she remained focused entirely on me. I had to repress the shiver of nervous fear that threatened to race down my spine.

“Why is that?” he pressed cautiously.

“Because I think Dawn and I are going to be great friends,” she answered evasively. To her credit, I sensed no aggression. If anything, she was curious or maybe even cautiously friendly. Nothing in her demeanor suggested that she wanted to attack me, but I did feel like she wanted to tell me something and that she didn’t want Livingston to hear what she had to say. I wanted to know what that was.

I just hoped that in this instance, curiosity didn’t kill the cat.

“Dawn?” he asked me, and I turned to look back at him.

“It’s fine. Why don’t you return to your experiments? I’ll talk with Rebecca for a little while and then I’ll come find you so that we can finish our little chat.”

There was an armed guard walking by at that moment with a massive gun that looked a lot like a flamethrower, so even if it did prove dangerous, I had faith that he’d rescue me before Rebecca ripped out my throat. At least, I hoped he would.

“Are you sure? The shift can be quite shocking when you see it for the first time,” he said carefully. His face tightened with concern.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine,” I smiled. He sighed, nodded, and scanned his card again before exiting the enclosure. Rebecca and I watched as he left the room, the surrounding silence oppressive in its intensity.

When he was out of sight, I sighed and sat down in a wooden chair that was by the card table in the corner. Rebecca sat across from me, the movements of her body graceful and still cautious.

“Now that he’s gone, he won’t be able to hear what we say,” she said softly, sitting back in her chair. She cocked her head to the side, sniffing the air once more.

“Why do you want to talk to me alone?” I asked as nonthreateningly as I could.

“Your scent is very unique. I’ve only smelled something like it once before and it’s further confirmation of what I already knew was happening,” she answered.

“What is happening?”

“The alpha has finally returned for us and he’s going to be coming for the betas and his mate. Once he scents his omega, he’s going to take her as his,” she responded.

“And who is this omega?”

“Oh, Dawn, that omega is you.”

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