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He slammed his arm into the aluminum bed railing. “I’m not a fucking addict.”

“I have the test results from the lab here in your chart. I understand you run a lab for Mr. Genaro.” The surgeon tossed the folder on the bed. “Read them for yourself.” He turned and left the room.

Lawson picked up the chart and threw it at the door, shouting after the doctor until his voice gave out, and then collapsed and covered his face with his shaking hands. They wouldn’t give him anything to help him cope, and now they were giving him this runaround about fixing his leg. But he didn’t blame the doctor. He might be as much a prick as Genaro, but he was just another workingman, trying to clean up after all the stupid fucking bitches of the world.

Like Jessa Bellamy, the cunt from hell who had done this to him.

Somehow she’d known the worst thing she could do to him was to have her asshole boyfriend cut him up and cripple him. And there was no way in the world Bradford Lawson was spending the rest of his life on crutches or in a wheelchair while that snotty little tramp danced off laughing at him. She was going to be sorry she’d ever thought of fucking with him.

Lawson had to get out of here, now.

His head felt as if it were going to split open, but he forced himself to calm down. He couldn’t risk any more injections; the doctor was probably right about the liver damage. Besides that, the steroids wouldn’t do anything to fix the problem with his leg. But Lawson needed something; he couldn’t stay here and let them fumble around with him, not when every minute he spent on his back was one that Jessa Bellamy didn’t deserve to breathe.

Genaro thought he was too messed up to go after the bitch, but Lawson knew better. He’d limp into hell if it meant he could drag that conniving slut back out and show her exactly how much damage a blade could do. He could call Genaro and find out if they had her yet, and demand he have the extreme pleasure of putting her down, but the old man wouldn’t keep her alive one second longer than he had to, not now.

All Lawson needed was a good leg, and something to knock back the pain. He could steal the morphine from the lab, but the leg …

He sat up, swearing as the sudden movement jolted his leg, and then panting out a laugh. He didn’t need to steal morphine, or anything. The answer to all his problems was back at the lab, locked up in secure storage and guarded around the clock.

A secure storage to which Lawson had the key code. Guarded by techs and security who worked for him.

He eyed the wheelchair, which had a metal frame, and then groped for the phone beside the bed. After getting the dumb twat at the switchboard to give him an outside call line, he phoned a car service he used for special appointments, and issued terse instructions for a car, a gun, and a driver who could keep his mouth shut.

Getting out of the hospital bed took the last of his strength, but every time his vision grayed Lawson imagined the Bellamy woman standing just out of reach and smiling. He managed to drag the wheelchair around the bed and hoist himself into it before he sagged over, trembling and covered in sweat.

The driver slipped into the room a half hour later and, after giving Lawson’s bloodstained bandages a troubled look, silently offered him a Glock, which he tucked out of sight by his hip. The driver then wheeled him out into the hall.

No one stopped them on the way out, but Lawson would have shot anyone who tried. The driver had to lift him from the chair into the back of the car, which nearly made him pass out again, and then drove him from the hospital to GenHance’s downtown headquarters.

Lawson sent the driver away as soon as he was back in the wheelchair outside the main entrance. Delaporte came out personally to open the doors for him.

“Mr. Lawson.” The chief of security wheeled him inside, taking him around the metal detector every employee had to pass through, just as Lawson had hoped. “Mr. Genaro will be out until morning.” His eyes dropped to the red-soaked bandage wrapped around Lawson’s thigh. “Shouldn’t you be back in the hospital?”

“One of my sources called me about Bellamy’s medical history,” he lied. “I have to pass the information along to Kirchner so he can avoid the same problems with the new acquisition.”

“If you’ll tell me, I can—”

“Jonah already thinks I’m washed-up, Don,” Lawson said, keeping his voice low and humble. “Please, let me do this much. It’ll prove to him that I can still be useful.”

Delaporte’s expression didn’t change, but his tone did. “All right. But once you’re through with Kirchner, you’ll let my guys take you back to the hospital.”

Lawson nodded. “Absolutely.” He reached for the wheels and propelled himself to the elevators, gritting his teeth against the fresh burst of pain that erupted from his thigh. Once inside the elevator, he wrapped his hand around the gun, but Delaporte didn’t follow him inside.

On the top floor, Lawson wheeled out, checked the hall, and then rolled down toward the main lab. He knew Kirchner spent every waking hour working on the new acquisition, so he didn’t worry about being discovered.

Only one tech remained on duty at night, and he opened the door for Lawson as soon as he saw him through the window.

“Sir, we just heard this evening what happened to you.” Carl Linder’s eyes widened as he took in Lawson’s appearance. “Jesus, I mean, sir—are you okay?”

“It looks worse than it is. Close the door, Carl.” While the tech did that, Lawson shifted the Glock and tucked it under a front fold of his patient’s gown. “Would you take me back to the storage area? The old man wants a quick count on the transerum.”

“Sure.” Carl pushed his wheelchair back through the lab and stopped by the keypad, where Lawson input the code. It didn’t release the locking mechanism. “Here, let me—they just changed all the codes today.”

If Genaro had changed the codes, it meant someone with access to the lab had fucked up royally and was due for termination—and there was no one else as fucked-up as Bradford Lawson.

His rage swelled as he thought of how the old man had looked at him in the hospital. What he’d read as pity had been contempt.

Lawson waited until the tech input the correct code and opened the massive reinforced steel door before he wheeled himself inside. The chilly interior of the storage unit smelled sharply of the alcohol and formalin used to preserve the various tissue and bone samples collected from previous subjects. But Lawson had eyes for only one case containing four shelves of glass vials, each filled with colorless liquid.

“Do you want me to get you an inventory form, Mr. Lawson?” Carl asked.

“Who put this in the case?” Lawson demanded, pointing at the middle shelf.

Carl wandered over and peered in. “I don’t see what—” He stopped as he felt the muzzle of the Glock touch his ear. “Mr. Lawson, don’t kill me, please. I’ll do whatever you want.”

“Take this.” Lawson shoved a syringe into Carl’s hand. “Fill it with the transerum.”

Carl fumbled a little, but after a moment he had the needle ready. “Now what?”

“Inject me in the left thigh.” Lawson kept the pistol against the younger man’s head, and when he didn’t move, he shouted, “Now.”

“You can’t take this stuff,” Carl pleaded. “We haven’t tested it on the brain-dead guy’s wound yet. You don’t know what it’ll do to you.”

“Inject me,” Lawson said calmly as he pulled back the edge of the gown to expose the bandaged surface of his leg, “or I’m going to make you his twin brother.”

Carl’s hand shook, but he managed to plant the needle in the muscle, and slowly depressed the plunger. The transerum felt hot as it poured into Lawson’s tissues and spread out with a beautiful glow.

“Yeah,” he breathed as the pain diminished. “That’s it. That’s what I need.” The heat grew more intense as it wrapped around his leg. “Fuck, that burns.”

“Let me call Dr. Kirchner,” Carl suggested. “He’ll know what to do. He can give you something, you know, to make you more comfortable.”

“Comfortable.” Lawson looked at him through half-closed eyes, smiling a little. “Do you know what this will do to me? What this will make me?” He laughed as the burning sensations tightened around the huge stitched gash in his flesh. “I’m gonna be like a god. They’ll all crawl to me now. Every one of those sluts.”

“Sure, Mr. Lawson.” Carl began backing toward the door. “I’ll get some clothes for you, huh?” He turned, and then crumpled forward as Lawson shot him three times in the back.

The heat became the world for a time as the transerum worked quickly up through his torso and down his arm. But Lawson endured the burning sensations, knowing that this was his trial by fire, and that with each passing moment every weakness, every flaw in his body was being systematically destroyed. He could feel the residual glow the transerum left behind, swelling in his muscles as they regained their perfection, knitting together every fiber and sinew that had been damaged. The center of his chest blazed, and he laughed helplessly as he realized that even his damaged liver was being regenerated.

Finally the blaze inside died, and his senses expanded, bringing the world to him in infinitely minute detail. The rush of the air through the ceiling vent, the faint whir of the centrifuge in the next room, the dripping of the blood still oozing from Carl’s wounds—his hearing had become so sensitive he could probably hear a pin drop from a mile away now.

Slowly Lawson got up from the wheelchair and felt the bloody bandage stretch across his newly healed muscles. He reached down and ripped it away, running his palm over the unmarked surface on the back of his thigh.

“Better than new,” he murmured, and did the same to the bandage on his wrist. The transerum had erased everything, leaving nothing behind, not even a scar. When he took a step, power spread through his limbs, eager and limitless, as if every muscle in his body had been changed into coiled steel. On a whim he jumped over Carl’s body and landed on the other side of the door.

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