scroll down for excerpt Book 13 in the Heart & Soul series
When predator meets predator, they wipe each other out.
Bounty hunter and ex-space pirate/part mutant. They have unfinished
business…a fight to the death. But first Shaque and Elyse have to
work together, going deep into the Outlaw Sector, each with their own
agenda, both with one goal – life. But the consequences will
Sitting at the table, Shaque sipped at the hot cup of una while listening with half an ear to the talk of his pack. His gaze slid around the room, taking in the number of bounty hunter packs that took shelter here from the teeming rain outside.
The Hunter’s Hole was a safe place. On the edges of the Lawful Sector, near the outskirts of the Outlaw Sector, it was one of several bounty hunter gathering places where the packs could drink, rest, catch up with other packs, share news, relax away from their spaceships, and recuperate without fear of being attacked by vengeful outlaws.
Only an idiot would attack a hunters’ resting-house, for to do so would bring the wrath of all the surviving packs down upon the stupid person or persons who did so.
Leaning back against the wall, Shaque let the heat of the una seep through the thick china of the mug to warm his palms. Not that he needed the heat, for it was warm in the Hole. Heavy music filtered quietly through the speakers above the bar. The smell of cooking food came through the door beside the bar. The packs sat around tables talking, laughing, the odd swear word peppering the air.
He allowed the familiarity of it to seep into his senses, trying to relax as much as he could, something he didn’t come by easily.
There was something in the air tonight, a feeling of expectation that slid with a silent threat through his veins. He didn’t know what it was, but something was coming. Or someone.
The lights flickered overhead as the storm outside thundered through the valley. Electricity in several parts of the settlement was already out, the emergency lighting keeping the lights on in the taverns and some of the homes.
Abra, his pack’s leader now that Cormac had wed the witch and retired from bounty hunting, was easily picked out from the throng at the bar. His Mohawk, and long ponytail that ended it, was dark in the light. Ricna turned, the shadows cast on his face picking out the sharp features in the smooth, tanned skin.
The rest of his pack sat with Shaque at the table. Vane, Nat, Jarvis and Menac talked quietly, laughing now and again, enjoying the brief respite from the hunt for outlaws and risking their lives for dinnos.
The prickle of sensation went through Shaque again, and he lifted his gaze to fasten it on the door on the other side of the room.
The lights flickered, dimmed, and then came back on just as the door opened, the sound of the rain loud in the room almost immediately, only to be muffled again as it shut behind the figure that entered.
Every sharply-honed sense that Shaque possessed snapped to attention, and his eyes narrowed.
Every sound in the room stopped, except for the music. Every hard-eyed gaze went to the woman who stood calmly in the room looking around. Every bounty hunter knew who stood in their midst.
Ex-pirate, ex-prisoner, and part mutant. Once one of the most wanted women in the Outlaw Sector…
Her grave, brown-eyed gaze slid around the room, not a hint of fear or any other emotion on her smooth, pretty face. There was an unnatural serenity about her, and the invisible but tangible threat that seemed so much a part of her aura.
The tension in the room was escalating. Dislike, distrust, curiosity, fascination, the acknowledgement that a predator, who was possibly still on the opposite side of the law to the bounty hunters, was standing in a roomful of similar predators.
“She’s mine.” The words hissed through the room.
There was one predator in particular who claimed this woman as his prey, one predator that every hunter there knew and therefore did not make a move towards her.
Not one bounty hunter made a sound of disagreement as Shaque pushed his mug away, his words fading in the silence.
Unerringly Elyse’s gaze met his, and one fine brow arched faintly. Without looking away, she started towards him. Her stride was lithe, her legs long in close-fitting pants that were tucked into low-heeled boots. The shirt she wore was loose, the belt cinching it at her trim waist so that the hem of it came down over her rounded hips and stopped just below the curve of her bottom. A short jacket was atop it, the sleeves coming down to her wrists. A laser was strapped to each shapely thigh, a dagger sheathed at the waist.
Shaque’s gaze lifted to the brown hair that fell to her shoulders in thick waves, the light catching the richness of the colour. Her full lips didn’t smile, didn’t grimace, but were simply softly closed.
Even though his attention was focused solely on her, he was dimly aware of Abra and Ricna falling into step behind her. She seemed to notice, for a faint gleam of amusement flickered in her eyes.
Coming to a stop at the table opposite him, her posture relaxed, hands brushing the holstered lasers, she drawled, “I’ve been looking for you, Shaque.”
He couldn’t explain the sensation that went through him. Anger. Danger. Anticipation. He was always watching for her wherever he went, not consciously seeking her out, but watching for her nonetheless. “I’m here.”
“I have something for you.” She reached into her back pocket and almost immediately there was the sound of a laser being half drawn from a holster somewhere behind her.
“Stop.” Abra’s voice was quiet in the silent room. “She belongs to Shaque.”
Elyse kept her fingertips in her back pocket, her eyes calm. “We’ll have to settle this between us one day, hunter.”
“Maybe it’ll happen sooner than you think,” Shaque replied softly. “Is today the day?”
“Mmm.” She studied him for several seconds before her gaze dropped to where his arms rested on the table.
With his shirt sleeves wound up to his elbows, the scar on his forearm stood out sharply. It matched the one on her forearm. They’d given the scars to each other during a furious fight when they’d fought to kill each other with daggers over a year ago, yet Shaque could see it almost as though it happened yesterday.
Elyse’s gaze rose again to lock with his. “Unfinished business.”
“Unfinished business,” he agreed quietly.
The silence in the room was almost heavy. One thing bounty hunters knew how to do well was wait. They waited now to see what was happening between the famed adversaries.
Thunder crashed overhead, the lights went out briefly, plunging the room in darkness, and a flicker of lightning showed through the window, lighting up the room in an eerie, white glow.
It picked out the red in her eyes, a red glint that Shaque knew shouldn’t have been there. It didn’t surprise him to know the danger was still inside her, that she was the danger, for the scent of it was almost tangible to him. The dangerous part of him recognized the danger in her, responded to it.
The lights flared on again.
“But not today,” she said, and pulling her hand from her pocket, she dropped a small bag onto the table.
Picking it up, Shaque’s gaze lifted as Elyse turned and started to walk away. He didn’t want her to go, yet perversely, he also didn’t want her to stay, for blood would possibly be shed between them.
Something fluttered out of the bag and he looked down at the photo image that landed face-up on the table. A smiling face looked up at him. For a second he couldn’t think, could only blink. Reaching down, he picked up the photo image, held it up. Looked at it.
The blood drained from his cheeks then surged up hotly as he realized what was in the photo image.
It wasn’t possible. Couldn’t be! Not after all this time, all the fruitless searching, and finally the painful realization that she had to be dead!
His heart pounded, and the room seemed to darken. The rain on the roof now seemed to beat down almost mockingly. It had rained the day she’d been taken.
But the photo image, she’d had it when she’d been taken. He remembered that so clearly. And if she’d given it to Elyse… the only person who provided any link…
He surged to his feet with a snarl. “Stop!”
By this time Elyse was almost at the door, and she halted. Calmly she turned back to face him.
The tension in the room ricocheted up several notches.
“Where did you get this?” He held up the photo image in a hand that wasn’t quite steady.
“It was given to me.”
“A child?” Fury surged through Shaque. “Are you playing me for a fool?”
One elegant brow arched coolly.
“Come here.” His voice grated in the room.
“I’m not your pet hound, hunter.” Swinging around on her heel, she strode for the door.
He acted on instinct, drawing the dagger swiftly from the sheath at his waist and throwing it with deadly accuracy.
It shot through the air and sliced through the side of Elyse’s jacket just as she reached the door. The sharp blade pinned the side of the jacket to the door frame with a dull thunk and buried deep into the wood.
A couple of hunters close by shuffled back when Elyse looked slowly down at the dagger. With a rock steady hand she grasped the handle and jerked it out of the wood. Holding out the side of her jacket, she looked at the hole left by the dagger blade, then turned and looked at Shaque.
Flicking the dagger in her hand, the blade dancing dangerously near her fingers as she twirled it effortlessly around in dexterous moves, she studied him intently. Then she started walking across the room in even, measured strides, each step deliberate, and every thud of the heels on her boots ringing out on the wooden floor.
She was too beautiful, too wild, too dangerous. The thoughts flashed through Shaque’s mind fast, but mingled with it was the knowledge that this woman might hold the key to a mystery that had eaten at him for far too long.
The gazes of every bounty hunter in the room were fastened on him and Elyse as she drew to a halt on the opposite side of the table.
Without taking her gaze from his, she flashed the dagger around her fingers in a lightning move and then stabbed downwards, the blade just missing the web of his fingers where his hand rested on the table. The blade buried deep between his fingers and into the wood of the table.
Right through the photo image.
Shaque didn’t jump, didn’t move, his cold gaze going from the photo image to Elyse as she rested her palm beside his and leaned forward until their faces were mere inches apart.
“Don’t piss me off, hunter.” Her voice was quiet, her eyes steady.
He allowed the lick of anger to heat the edges of his hard voice. “I want answers.”
“You’re not going the right way to get them.”
Frustration boiled up, searing his normally cool temper. His hand flashed down to his thigh in a lightning move, and by the time the tip of his dagger was beneath her chin, the tip of her own dagger was resting against his Adam’s apple in an almost identical move.
They looked deeply into each others eyes, seeing the reflecting deadliness within the depths.
The silence in the tavern could have been cut with a knife. A timer on the wall displayed the seconds as they flicked past. No one moved.
“Don’t be so quick-tempered, Shaque,” she chided softly.
“Don’t yank my chain on this, Elyse.” The tip of his dagger indented the skin beneath her chin slightly. “Don’t.”
In answer, the tip of her own dagger nicked the skin over his Adams apple, a trickle of blood slipping free to slide down his throat. Her gaze remained steady.
It was like looking at a female version of himself, and Shaque wondered briefly if that was why she brought out a side of himself that was normally so tightly controlled.
But he couldn’t think about that right now. There was something else that needed his attention. “The photo image. Where did you get it from?”
“A girl child.”
A muscle jumped in his jaw. “Who?”
“I don’t know.” Her expression remained bland, her voice as steady as though they weren’t mere centimetres from being able to end each others life.
Outlaw Sector. His heart skipped a beat. “Whereabouts?”
A slow smile curved her full lips faintly. “Now that would be telling, Shaque.”
“You’ll tell me.”
“I will?” One fine brow arched in quiet amusement. “Now why would I do that?”
Thunder boomed and the crash of lightning split the night sky outside. The room plunged into darkness.
“Turn on the back-up lighting!” someone yelled.
Intuition kicked in, and Shaque lunged forward, a dangerous move considering the dagger that had been at his throat, but somehow he knew, he just knew—
There was no prick of a dagger, the blade was gone. Elyse was slipping away.
“Block the door!” he roared. “Block the bloody door! Elyse!”
There was the clatter of chairs, but it was too dark to see. Shaque tried to move forward, only to crash into several hunters. Cursing, he squinted in the darkness, trying to see.
There was the sound of rain, the clarity of it coldly shocking, and he saw a dim greyness near where the door was, then a decisive click.
The lights flared on seconds later, and Shaque looked around wildly. Elyse was nowhere in the room.
Ricna and Abra ran for the door, reaching it seconds ahead of him. They piled out onto the veranda and looked around.
Rain teemed down, the dimly lit streets pooling. There was no sign of Elyse anywhere.
“Shit!” Shaque slammed his fist into the wall, uncaring of the pain, the frustration of years boiling over to fill him with a rage that was unlike his normal cold fury. “No!”
~ * ~
Standing in dark alley close by, cloaked by shadows, Elyse watched Shaque. The bounty hunter was furious. Tilting her head slightly to the side, she watched him standing in silent fury while Abra directed the packs to search for her.
He wouldn’t find her, not until she chose to reveal herself.
“Don’t kill her,” Abra ordered. “The woman is Shaque’s.”
The woman is Shaque’s.
She mused over the words, mentally rolling them over in her mind. Shaque. There was unfinished business between them, the fight for supremacy, for the kill. Since that moment, every bounty hunter pack had labelled her Shaque’s.
Maybe it should have annoyed her, but it didn’t, after all, just about every outlaw and pirate in the Outlaw Sector knew that Shaque was hers. He just didn’t know it.
The street lights flared on, the electricity surging as the power supply returned. Standing beneath the light, illuminated from both behind and above, Shaque’s features and physique were able to be studied at her leisure.
Not abnormally tall, he stood just shy of six foot. Lean, yet she knew from her clash with him that his lean build belied the hidden power within him. He was strong, lithe, and with a cold determination that intrigued her. The flex of muscle was clearly seen in his arms and chest as the rain made his drenched shirt stick to his body.
Yes, lean but powerful.
As powerful as she herself? Maybe. Time would tell.
copyright Angela Verdenius