scroll down for excerpt Book 9 in the Heart & Soul series
Military traitors are flogged, branded, and left for the outlaws….
Disgraced ex-sniper Oriel finds herself falling for her rescuer, the
dangerously handsome Daamen trader, Jase. But no one is as they seem,
a dark plot draws her ever inward, the law is closing in – and she’s
neck-deep in treason.
Crouched behind the ragged brush, Oriel waited silently as the outlaws started to close in on her position. Fingering the dagger that a soldier had slipped into her boot top right before she’d been led away, Oriel knew her chances of survival were small. Almost nil, in fact. Loss of blood had weakened her, and even though the Canton Guard medic had attended her injuries, she was still shaky.
Not daring to move to ease the throbbing of her back, Oriel flattened herself on the ground as footsteps sounded close by her. If it hadn’t been for the darkness just before dawn, she knew she’d have been captured within minutes. As soon as the Canton Troop Carrier had soared away into the predawn sky, followed within minutes by the guard ships, the outlaws hadn’t taken long to converge on her position. She’d had ten minutes to run before they’d landed their ships, looking for their prey. After waiting in the sky for the military to leave, their game with her was about to begin.
Well, she didn’t intend to go down easily. She’d fight until they either shot her dead, or beat the last breath from her body. Or worse.
From the way her body hurt that wouldn’t take much, unfortunately. Her cheek still burned dully, regardless of the healing cream the medic had put on there. Her back felt as though it was on fire with every brush of her shirt against it.
Trying to ignore the discomfort of the material against her tender flesh, she watched narrow-eyed as the outlaws passed by her. There were too many for her to take on. She needed to get away before more came and found her hiding spot. As it was, powerful lights were being set up in various areas, and several ships soared overhead, trying to pin-point her position with lights.
Stealthily she slid backwards, glancing up at the sky. It was still dark, but there was the faintest edge of blue showing. Dawn would be there shortly, then she’d have no chance.
Listening to the conversation and movement, Oriel discovered that there was an opening to her left, an area not yet covered by the outlaws. She slid silently through the dirt, keeping low. Steadily she drew away from the laughing, cursing voices, the loudly proclaimed plans of what they intended to do with her once they caught her. The taunting words yelled out into the night as they tried to unnerve her.
In the distance she saw several lights, and in the lightening dawn, she saw a settlement. It was her only hope, to go right into the settlement, grab a disguise, even steal a ship and get away to safety. Out here in the desert, she was a sitting duck. Her trail would be picked up any second, and once dawn broke fully, she’d be spotted.
Rising to her feet, she started for the settlement at a full run, thankful that the outlaws were still concentrating on the area she’d left behind her. Especially when she stumbled several times, once falling to her knees as black spots danced before her eyes. Focusing, shaking her head, she managed to drive the faint feeling away and lurch onwards.
Unfortunately, she’d just neared the settlement when she heard a whining in the distance, and glancing over her shoulder, she saw a space ship zooming in towards her.
She’d been discovered. Within seconds, another three ships lifted into the air from behind the sandy dunes, and winged their way towards her.
“Hell!” She cursed. “Hell, no!”
But she didn’t slow down. She could make it to the settlement before they were upon her, and could break into a clothing store and get a disguise. If she moved fast enough, they might not see her leave the store. If she could find a place to hole up, then slip out into the morning crowd, she just might make it.
She entered the settlement a full minute ahead of the space ships. By the time they docked in the crowded docking bays, then tried to track her, she should be in and out of a store. Hopefully. On shaking legs she made her way into the settlement.
The main street was deserted, and she kept to the early morning shadows. The verandas offered her some protection, and when she found a clothing store, she darted down a side alley to gain entrance through a back door or window.
Her plans went seriously awry when several hard voices sounded from the end of the alley, and Oriel saw three outlaws rounding the corner.
“There she is!” One outlaw yelled. “The scout ship was dead-on!”
One of the outlaw ships had radioed ahead, and now it was more than obvious that her presence in the settlement was known by the outlaws amongst the settlers. Wonderful, just wonderful!
Swinging on her heel, Oriel sprinted for the main street. There was no way she could fight the three outlaws in the alley, not when they were wielding lasers. As she neared the street, she heard eager voices, and she knew that more outlaws were waiting for her.
She was well and truly trapped.
Trapped, but not willing to go down without a fight. True, it wasn’t going to be much of one if she kept shaking with fatigue and pain, but she’d do the best she could.
Tightening her grasp on the dagger, Oriel ignored the pain in her back, and exploded out right into the middle of the wide, dusty street. And into the midst of ten outlaws, all waiting for her appearance.
Skidding to a halt in the middle of the street, she swung around, taking in the outlaws’ positions with a practiced sweep of her eyes. They had turned to face her, their eyes gleaming with excitement and perverted delight.
“Well, well.” A lean outlaw licked his lips. “If it ain’t the pretty soldier.”
“Hello, sweetheart.” A heavily built outlaw started to approach her, holstering his laser as he did so. “How about you just come to ol’ Bundy, and I’ll take real good care of you.” His gaze dropped to her breasts. “Real good care.”
The other outlaws laughed.
Oriel waited until he was within reach, then she sagged at the knees. He caught at her on reflex, and she took immediate advantage, lunging up with the dagger. It slid between his ribs, and his eyes widened in surprise.
She nearly fell beneath his bulk, but she snatched the laser from his holster in the same instant she spun aside swiftly. The laughing of the outlaws faded as the outlaw hit the ground, dead, and she faced them with the laser.
“Back off.” She managed to squeeze the words out from between clenched teeth.
“Here now, bitch.” The lean outlaw scowled.
Another laughed outright. “You think you can take us all on?” He gestured behind her. “Do you know how many of us there are?”
She knew, all right, she could feel them closing in. Tightening her finger on the trigger, she swung around, and the deadly burst of laser fire sheared through five outlaws, killing them instantly. The rest ducked, cursing and swearing. But there were too many. She could only keep a certain amount in view at any one time, and the rest knew it.
A burst of laser fire from her right hit the barrel of her laser, flinging it from her grasp and leaving her weapon less, apart from a dagger. And facing five leering outlaws. Five that quickly become eight, as three more stepped out from the alley.
“So, the soldier likes to play rough, does she?” An outlaw with a black patch over one eye leered at her. “I like it rough, too, soldier. But our ideas of how rough we like it might be a whole lot different.”
The others laughed. Then they started to move forward slowly.
The blade of the dagger Oriel held flashed as she went into a crouch.
“Oh ho!” A young outlaw with a broken nose laughed. “You still have some fire in you, don’t you, soldier? Well, I like women with fire. I like to beat it out of them, until they become so submissive they’ll do anything I tell them to do. I’m sure going to enjoy breaking you, pretty soldier.”
Years of training enabled Oriel to blank her mind of her personal feelings. Balancing on the balls of her feet, she flicked the dagger blade, making it catch the early morning sun again. A warning to all who approached that she wasn’t going to go down without a fight. Weaker than she normally was, her body filled with pain, she was nevertheless a soldier, and a soldier showed no weakness. Even when a fragile, new scab on her back suddenly broke off, and blood started to seep once more into her shirt.
“You can’t last long against us, soldier.” The young outlaw stepped forward, his gaze sweeping over her. “Don’t think I can’t see the way your hands are shaking.”
Not deigning to answer, Oriel switched her gaze from him to the others, and back again.
“You drop that dagger now, pretty soldier, and maybe we won’t be so rough on you.” He chuckled. “We’ll still be rough, but not so much. Maybe.”
An answering burst of laughter came from the surrounding outlaws.
The young outlaw started to circle her slowly, and Oriel moved to keep him in sight, at the same time trying to gauge the others’ actions from the corners of her eyes. But she knew this young outlaw was her major threat right now. They had time to play with her, and they were going to enjoy it.
She noticed several more appear to join those already waiting and watching.
The young outlaw darted forward, only to nimbly jump back as Oriel swung her dagger in a deadly arc. It sliced trough the air, just missing his chest, and he laughed.
“My, my. I do admire you, pretty soldier. I surely do,” he mocked. “With that brand hurting like hell on your once smooth cheek, and your back all bloody and sore, you’re still not willing to give up. I do admire that. And you know what?”
She simply looked at him, giving nothing of her thoughts away.
“Females who fight are so much more fun.” He lunged at her, and she slashed out again. He dodged aside, and she caught sight of something flying towards her arm, but it was too late to pull back. A rock smashed into her knuckles, the pain and force making the dagger drop from her fingers involuntarily.
Silently cursing and ignoring the pain of her hand, she dived down for the dagger, only to find herself on one knee on the ground, and the dagger being kicked away just as her fingertips grazed the smooth handle.
Instinctively she reacted, fisting her good hand and punching upward. It caught the young outlaw in the junction of his thighs, and with a scream he collapsed on the ground before her.
She grabbed for his laser, only to have a rope noose slip over her head and herself jerked backward. Her breath choked off, and her back made painful contact with the dirt of the street.
copyright Angela Verdenius