Valentines day anthology.., p.2
Valentine's Day Anthology: Hearts and Handcuffs, page 2
“If you let me in, I'll show you – with pleasure.”
“If I let you in you'll try, and I mean try, to disarm me and take me in.”
“Change of plans, pretty-face. If you play your cards right, I'll let you assist one more Connect before play-time is over.”
Pretty-face? Who the fuck did he think he was talking to? Slamming my hand against the control pad, I raised my fist as the door slid open. The second his messy black hair came into sight, I threw my fist forward. Fucking pretty-face my ass.
Quick as a tiger, his hand shot up and curled around mine. He may have been fast, but he couldn’t hide the flinch that tightened the skin around his eyes. One side of my lips twitched, pleased I'd caused him discomfort.
“I find it hard to believe that your father taught you all there is to know about Heart Hunting but forgot to instil an iota of basic Valenteen manners. A simple hello would suffice, you know.”
“Tracker. Get it off. Now.” I snatched my hand from his and reached behind him to the control panel, closing the door as he stepped into the small space.
The last thing I needed was another uninvited visitor.
“Tracker,” I reminded him when he edged past me.
“This place smells better than mine.” He moved towards my weapons wall, dumping his transmitter onto the tiny breakfast bar in the corner as he passed.
“Be my guest. Come in, look around.” Folding my arms over my chest, I met his cheerful nod with a glare.
“Your father's bow.” Turning his back on me, he lifted his hand to run his fingers down the worn embossed leather of the quiver that hung beside it.
He really had known my father.
“How did you know him?” Unfolding my arms, I moved forward, careful not to brush the bronzed skin of his arm with my own when I paused by his side.
“I was in the last year he taught at the Academy.”
“But that must make you…” I raised my eyes to the ceiling as I did the math. My father had stopped teaching when my mother died, not long after my birth, one-hundred and thirty-three years ago.
“Older than you.” He cut me off before I came up with an answer.
Valenteens and Corazons aged differently than humans. We aged slowly. Super, mega slowly. It made it next to impossible to guess someone's age without some sort of reference.
“You may as well quit trying to figure it out. I don't even know the answer.”
There was no humor in his voice now, only resigned acceptance. My interest in him had just shot up by about a million. How does a person not know how old they are?
His black eyes held my stare, the pink circles around his irises glowing bright under the harsh white light of my Cube. His gaze dropped to my mouth. My lips parted. “Tracker.” What was with the breathy whisper? I cleared my throat. “You've got five seconds to remove your tracker before I find it myself and shove it up your...”
“Cool your jets, pretty-face.” His face broke into what looked a lot like a smug grin. Licking his lips, he lifted a hand, clasping the tiny zipper of my vest in his fingers. “I told you – with pleasure.”
I flinched back a step. “What the hell do you think you're….”
“The tracker.” He moved closer. So close that the toes of his boots touched mine and his minty, citrusy scent curled around my senses. Eyes on mine, he tugged the zipper down until it skimmed my breast bone, lower still until my vest gaped open.
My face heated as his fingers brushed the underside of my breast. His gaze flicked up to mine, eyes widening at whatever he saw there.
Enough. He was enjoying this too much.
“Two seconds and I break your fingers,” I warned through gritted teeth, staring resolutely over his shoulder to the gleaming white panels that covered the wall behind him.
“Done.” He held the tiny, transparent tracking chip up for me to take. “And may I say, your betrothed is a lucky, lucky man.” With deft fingers he gripped the bottom of my vest and tugged the zipper back up into place, his eyes never leaving mine.
I held his gaze, even as my fist slammed into his gut and he stumbled back. “Trust me – he's not.”
“Shit, woman, you've got a sweet left hook,” I wheezed and lowered myself onto the bed at the back of the room.
“Don't test me...” A line appeared between her eyebrows. “Name?”
“Syras. My name is Syras Black.” Grabbing one of the soft white pillows from beside my thigh, I plumped it then held it behind my head as I lay sideways across the bed. “Always a pleasure.”
“If you don't get off my bed and out of my Cube I will shoot every dart I own into that scrawny bag of bones you call a body – Syras Black.” Her pink tongue darted out from between her lips and her pale gray eyes swept down my body.
It was a damn shame she'd soon be someone else's wife. The things I could do with those lips.
“In case it escaped your notice, sugar, I'm on duty. You don't leave my sight from now until I take you in.”
“In case it slipped your mind, you arrogant prick, I have a mission direct from Cupid that won't be completed until tomorrow.”
“I know all about the WP mission. You'll be assisting me on it.” A smirk firmly in place, I kicked my boots off.
Her face twisted into an unimpressed scowl as they clattered noisily to the ground. “I assist no one. Now get out of my Cube.”
She really didn't like me. Understandable, I guess. “Listen. The quicker you get it into your stubborn little head that I'm not going anywhere, the quicker we’ll both get some sleep. You can't hide from Fate, pretty-face, so you might as well just let me do my job.”
My eyes blinked open, and I arched my back against the cold hard floor. I hadn’t forced her to sleep next to me. The women who shared my bed did so willingly – captive or not.
Running my hand over the three-day stubble that covered my jaw, I surveyed the small space with blurry eyes.
I was on my feet the second my brain shook off the fog of sleep. Where the hell was she? The bathing compartment was open and infuriatingly empty. A note fluttered where it had been taped to the mirror. Because I was a teenage fucking girl and note sending was an acceptable form of communication.
Someone needs to do mission recon, sleeping-fuck-face. Door code: 776295. Feel free to leave and get lost.
I grinned despite myself. She was nothing if not surprising.
Belly-down on the gravel-topped high-rise, I squinted through my binoculars to the street below. They were an odd bunch, humans. So consumed with how much material nonsense they could amass in one lifetime, they neglected every other part of their lives. If they looked up from their damn technology long enough to make real, flesh and bone connections, maybe Earth wouldn't be such a cluster-fuck of a place to exist.
The little stones dug into my elbow as I shifted my weight to pull the transmitter from my belt and swiped my thumb over its screen. My Connect Radar flashed into action. Hundreds of pin-lights glowed, each with their own mission code. Usually I’d cruise around waiting until two matching codes were close enough to cu-dart the lucky couple their happy-ever-after. Cupid missions were more complicated, though.
The stakes were always higher.
According to info sent through from the Second Plain, this was one of only two coordinates Mary and Kevin would cross paths. I scanned the ant-like crowd moving blindly to their next destination. It was busy – chaotic. A lot of room for error.
I chewed on my lip and swiped up to pull the information on my transmitter. The other place was a park. Easy shot, but just as much risk. There was no way the Broken hadn't gotten wind of this operation. One bite from those creepy looking fuckers and love at first sight would rot into instant repulsion.
Decisions, decisions. I rolled my shoulders, stiff from lying in the same position for too long.
“I've been told I have magic hands, pretty-face. Why don't I give you a little rub?”
“If you value having limbs, you’ll keep your magical hands to yourself,” I growled and sprang to my feet, stowing my transmitter as I turned.
“A morning woman. I like it.” His face broke into a self-satisfied smirk as he sauntered towards me. “I see it's casual Friday.” His gaze took a lazy trip down over my vest and pants. They were almost identical to the ones I wore yesterday except for the color. These were a deep red leather. My favorites.
“At least these are clean.” I stared pointedly at his leather-clad legs. I'd never met anyone I’d disliked so much in such little time as this man. Well, maybe Fate, but she was a bitch. Nobody liked Fate. Oh, and I guess it didn't take me long to dislike Cupid either, the big diaper-wearing sod. Like, come on, what self-respecting boss wears a friggin diaper?
My gaze slid over his face while he was occupied watching the street below. He looked fresh for having slept on a hard floor. My nostrils flared. He smelled good. Like me good.
“You used my shower?”
“And your soap.” He grinned and winked, clearly pleased with his newest act of ass-hattery.
Take a deep breath and rise above it. My father’s words did nothing to calm the seething anger that burned up my throat. A second later my palm connected hard with the back of his head.
“What the fuck?” Rubbing his head, he turned to face me. “Has anybody ever told you that you're seriously lacking in people skills?”
“Does it look like I care about people skills? Don't. Touch. My. Things.”
“Okay, okay, your things...” His eyes dropped to my chest. “...Are nice, but they're not irresistible.”
A million snarky come-backs teetered on the tip of my tongue. I chewed on the inside of my cheek to curb them. He was goading me, trying to get a reaction. It was clear by the cocky curl to his lips.
Not giving people what they wanted was what I was best at.
A serene-ish smile in place, I turned away and continued to survey the scene below.
“You know, when you smile like that you look insane.” Arms folded over his chest, he joined me in staring over the edge of the tall building.
Rise above it.
Smile still firmly in place, I dropped down onto one knee and pulled an arrow from my father's quiver on my hip. Mini-crossbows and cu-darts were great for missions, but my father's bow helped me focus for recon. Like somehow a part of him was still with me. Guiding me.
I positioned the arrowhead between my fingers and the slight dent in the soft wood of the bow. My lungs filled with a slow breath as I pulled the string tight and closed one eye. Holding my breath, I aimed for the exact point the couple were set to cross paths.
“You know the mission’s not until tonight, right?”
I emptied my lungs in a sigh. Too high. I'd need to find a lower building or perch to have a shot at picking them out in the crowd.
His hand clasped my shoulder. “I said...”
“I heard what you said.” Swinging the bow back into place, I peeked over the drop. “I'm visualizing. If you want me to make a clean shot into that...” I jerked my chin to the hundreds of people twenty-something stories down. “...Then I need to be prepared.”
“Who said you'd be taking the shot?”
“You think you could make that shot? From up here?” I arched an eyebrow. I could shove him over the edge and no one would be any the wiser.
“You're thinking about pushing me over, aren't you, pretty-face.” His hands moved to his hips and his face creased into a wide grin, making his eyes wrinkle not unattractively.
“I wasn't,” I lied. “But I am now.” A quiet rumble from my stomach punctuated my statement and made his eyes widen and his grin even bigger.
“I know a place a few blocks over that does wicked pancakes.”
“You're funny.” Lip curled, I stowed my arrow back into its quiver. “How does one expect to get served pancakes by a human, when humans are blind to our existence?”
His laugh caught me off guard. Though not sincere or without mock, it's deep timber sent an unwelcome thrill down my spine.
“What's funny?” My hand lifted to run over the goose-flesh that had appeared over the skin of my arms. So what if he had a great laugh? I didn’t melt over anyone's laugh, least of all his.
“Are you telling me that there's something the great Raz doesn't know?”
Okay, there it was. Thrill over. There were sexy mocking laughs and then there were get-you-stabbed-in-the-eye-with-a-dart mocking laughs.
He'd just crossed the line.
Lips pressed together, I glared at the gravel by his feet and puffed out through my nose. “I don't have time for this. Either tell me what you're talking about or I'm out.”
Oh, she was pissed. She looked like an agitated bull when she blew air out of her nose like that. I should probably stop being a dick, but it was just too easy to mess with the stick up her ass.
“Relax, woman.” I held my hands up in a way I could only hope looked somewhat apologetic. “It just surprises me that your father would forget to teach you about Humaning.”
Sarcasm laced the word. She still thought I was messing with her.
“Humaning – The act of taking on a human-friendly form to be visible to humans.”
Her mouth opened then closed, and she scratched her head, pulling long black strands of hair loose from the tight ponytail she wore, even to sleep.
“But… But why would my father keep something that big from me?” Forehead wrinkled, she held my stare. Hurt.
Well, shit. When I raised my eyes to the sky I was half expecting to see world's biggest prick written in neon with an arrow pointing at my head. “He was probably trying to shield you from the reason most Hunters, of the male variety, use Humaning.” It was my turn to scratch my head when she nodded for me to continue. “Down time.”
“Down time?” She shook her head and pulled her bottom lip between her teeth.
“A day off, princess. Hunters go Humaning so they can chill out. Relax. Have a drink or occasionally find an unattached human to spend time with.” I squared my shoulders and prepared for the verbal bollocking I was about to receive. There was no way she wouldn't have a reaction to this little tidbit of information.
Again with the opening and closing of those pouty lips. Tempting as a naked woman with her legs spread.
“You mean they have sex? Without being married? But that's… It's illegal on Valenteen.” Her gray eyes shone with interest, but none of the disgust or judgment I'd expected.
Color me surprised.
“Your father probably didn't tell you about it because a woman like you...” I waved my hand up and down the air in front of her spectacular body. “...Would get a lot of attention from human men. And not always the good kind.”
“Okay, show me.” All trace of hurt dispersed and she bounced on the balls of her feet.
“Show you how to find an unattached human to have sex with?” I couldn't resist.
Her cheeks flamed as pink as the rings around her irises, but still she smiled. “What? No, not the sex bit, the Humaning bit.”
If I wasn't mistaken, she was excited. It was the first emotion other than pissed she'd blessed me with, besides that brief flash of hurt since we'd met. It worked on her.
“If you're playing with me, though, Syras, you can say goodbye to your junk.” Her smile morphed into a scowl and she lowered her gaze to my crotch.
And back to pissed.
I stared at his transmitter as Syras dialed in his Safe Cube code. 86522. I closed my eyes and repeated the number silently until it stuck. Knowing the code for his Cube couldn’t hurt. I had no idea what this sarcastic fuck-face was capable of.
He placed his palm on the wall by the side of the white line that had appeared and the invisible door slid open. My father would turn in his grave if he knew I was about to go into another Hunte
It was lonely being a Hunter. A loneliness I’d felt tenfold since losing my father. Spending time with humans made sense, I guessed. I even got the sex thing. Hunters generally didn’t marry; they were never on Valenteen for more than a few days a year. It wouldn’t be fair to have a wife waiting for them at home. That didn’t mean they didn’t have needs, though.
My parents had been the exception to the marriage rule, and that hadn’t worked out well for my mother at all. The Broken had killed her to get to my father. The freaky fuckers had no conscience. They’d do whatever it took to stop Connects from happening. Including murder a woman by the side of her baby’s crib.
I blinked myself back from the unexpected route my thoughts had taken.
“Mi casa es tu casa, pretty-face. Come on in.” His goading voice was enough to disperse the residual unease my memories always left behind. The challenge on his smug face was impossible to miss.
Chewing on the inside of my cheek, I rocked back on my heels. This was a bad idea. “How do I know this isn’t some lame trick to get me back to Valenteen?”
“Baby, if I wanted you back in Valenteen you’d already be there.” His lips twitched like he knew exactly how much his little quip would piss me off.
My palm itched with the need to make contact with his face. “Oh, yeah, I forgot. You need me to make this Connect for you.”
A scowl hardened his features as I strutted past him and into his Cube.
by Renee Grace Thompson have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes