September 21st, 3032 Miramar Colony
The glass of whiskey slipped from her grasp and dropped in slow motion. Amelia felt the impact of it shattering at her feet before her ears picked up the sound, but she didn’t dare look. All she saw was the gun pointing at her from five feet away.
“Welcome home, Dr. Chase,” said the very large, smiling gunman seated at her kitchen table.
He knew her name. “Oh, my God.” The whisper left her lips before she could stop it. Amelia dove for the com on the wall. It had a failsafe built into her security system in the event of something like this—the proverbial shit hitting the fan. Years of working for the government had taught her well.
“Don’t bother,” the man said. He pushed away from the table at the same time, the chair scraping so hard it would leave marks.
Amelia cringed and froze, her hands in the air. Her com link was voice-activated for normal emergencies, but a three digit code would flood the apartment with a tranq gas she’d engineered to be harmless to her DNA. It was instantaneous, too. All she had to do was punch it in and run. If she could just get to it.
“I already disabled it. And the one in your lab.”
A punched-in code. While her back was to him, Amelia cast a baleful look at the com and called herself a dozen kinds of idiot in her head. It had made sense when she’d designed it. She hadn’t wanted to accidentally gas her guests if someone said the wrong word. Everything else was voice-activated so there was no reason for anyone to even look at those coms. Note to self: practical application is lacking…
Heart racing, it took all of Amelia’s willpower to ask without stuttering, “Who are you? What do you want?” She couldn’t see him and was too scared of the gun pointed at her to chance a look.
“We’ll get to that. For now, sit, please. You look exhausted.”
Amelia flinched when he pulled out the chair closest to her with a nails-on-a-chalkboard screech. She took five seconds to compose herself and bid her genius escape plan farewell before she slowly turned around, expecting to be blasted any second. But then, he wouldn’t do that, would he? If that was his plan, he would have done it already. He wanted her alive and there was only one reason why he would. The slight tremor from her hands became a full body shiver.
“Careful around the glass,” he warned.
The glass he referred to, or rather the pieces of it left, had held her favorite liquor, the one she only drank when the absurdities of life got to be too much. They were approaching critical zone now. Amelia sat in slow motion.
“You don’t have to keep your hands up like that,” the madman said. “Relax.”
She put her hands on top of the table. “How did you get in here?”
The intruder pulled his chair back and sat facing her, still holding the gun pointed at her chest. He looked like he’d had plenty of practice with it. A laser gun, from the looks of it. Didn’t use bullets, but concentrated bolts of theta particles in a stream powerful enough to cut a hole through concrete. It had a battery pack instead of a cartridge of rounds. It was also illegal, for obvious reasons.
“Same way I disabled your external com. I’m clever like that.”
He smiled again. What did he think this was, a joke? She was so sick of psychopaths! Hadn’t there been enough of them over the last few years? Hadn’t a prison full of them been enough for anyone’s lifetime?
Except, this one didn’t look like her usual, garden variety New Alaska psychopath. She’d looked into hundreds of their eyes and seen the sickness inside. This guy was different. All she saw in him was calm, as if he wanted to will her to relax, and maybe a hint of amusement, as if at the same time he realized how ridiculous that was. He had dark hair cut in to particular style and shadow of a beard. When he smiled, he revealed strong white teeth.
Amelia supposed he could be called handsome.
What? No! Remember the gun pointed at you?
Oh, yeah. The gun held in a big callused hand, attached to a big muscled arm, attached to a bulging shoulder. He might be as big as Hunt. Fascinating.
Jesus, Ams, she could hear Hailey’s voice in her head. Snap out of it!
Amelia inwardly shook herself, horrified. What the hell was wrong with her? “What do you want?” she demanded, keeping her attention on the gun.
“I want to hire you,” he said.
“You have a strange way of recruiting.”
He looked at the gun. “What, this? This was to get your attention. Not even loaded.” He set it down and twined his fingers together, leaning forward. “I have no intention of hurting you, but I’m not an idiot. I know finding a stranger in your home is a little frightening.”
“I wanted to make sure you would hear me out before you went screaming to the police.”
A pause, then he took the gun off the table, out of sight, making her blink up at him.
“You were looking at it really intensely.”
Oh. She dragged her gaze away, to keep from staring at him.
He chuckled. “Looking for other weapons now? It won’t help. I’d have you on the floor, disarmed and subdued in seconds. And I really don’t want these negotiations to turn physical.”
Something about the way he said the last part made her glance at him again. He wasn’t looking into her eyes anymore. He was staring at her chest.
Oh, shit! Amelia tensed, getting ready to run for it. Where was a good, sharp scalpel when she needed it?
The man frowned and shook himself. “Sorry, where were we?”
“On the floor, disarmed and subdued.” Her voice shook.
He noticed and held his hands up in a show of peace. “Easy, doc. I told you I mean you no harm.”
“Uh huh, sure. I believe you.” Sarcasm, apparently, was panic-proof.
“Would it make you feel better if you had the gun?”
“Yes,” she said eagerly.
He put it on the table in front of her.
Amelia stared at it, then up at him. She’d spent years surrounded by the most dangerous people the universe had to offer. There’d been those who’d frightened her simply by being in the same room, looking at her. And now one sat across her kitchen table, his gaze steady, and placed a gun in front of her. She had no idea what to make of it.
“As a show of good faith,” he said.
Self-preservation kicked in. Amelia snatched it up and pointed it at him, squeezing the trigger. Nothing.
He didn’t blink. “Told you it wasn’t loaded.”
She threw it at his head and shot to her feet, running for the door.
She almost made it to the hallway when he snatched her around the waist and lifted her off her feet. Amelia screamed and fought for her life, kicking and jabbing at him. The arm around her might as well have been granite, and the body it held her to couldn’t possibly be human. He didn’t sway, he didn’t twitch a muscle. Amelia was tiring herself out fighting, and he didn’t move. He acted like he held a scratching kitten.
Amelia dug her nails into his arm and pulled. Enough pressure to tear into skin, short of ripping out her nails.
The man groaned, but didn’t let go.
He shifted, easily taking her weight with one arm, and with his free hand, caught both of hers in an unbreakable grip. “Settle down, doc, you’re only hurting yourself.” His voice was strong and calm, while his arm bled all over her floor.
Holy crap! Holy shit, I’m dead!
Amelia fought harder.
The arm around her tightened, compressing her diaphragm. She gasped. It was a warning, she knew. If he wanted to, he could squeeze the life out of her, and he’d do it with the ease of an afterthought. Amelia kicked back and her heel managed to connect with his knee, right under the patella. He hissed, shifted his weight to the other leg and tightened his arm around her more.
It was enough to cut off her air, and the strength leeched out of her fight. She still swung her legs back, but only managed light taps. Amelia sagged against her captor. Her head dropped against his shoulder, next to his jaw. Had he brushed it against her hair?
World going hazy … fainting…
The pressure relaxed and she gasped in a breath on reflex. It revived her enough to open her eyes and tiny pinpricks of light flashed around her as she hyperventilated. A quick inventory of her body told her there was no major damage. She’d be bruised, but nothing felt broken. The madman had remarkable control.
As the world spun, her feet touched the ground, and immediately buckled beneath her. But her captor didn’t release her until she sat on the couch. A pillow appeared in her lap and she clutched it to her chest. Then his hand was on the back of her neck, pressing forward and down until her head was between her knees. “Breathe,” he ordered.
Easier said than done.
She had no idea how long she sat there, wheezing, while his hand gently massaged the tense muscles in her neck.
Her perfectly ordered mind melted into chaos, random thoughts flying all over the place. What kind of kidnapper takes care of his victims? Arterial blood is oxygenated and lighter in color than blood from veins. Runs quicker. DNA double helix can be altered into a triple. Quadruple is more stable. Stockholm Syndrome: developing sympathetic feelings for one’s captor and identifying with their cause.
Broken glass is good luck … but not mirrors. Mirrors are glass…
When she calmed herself, the madman let her sit up and pressed a glass into her shaking hand. Whiskey. She downed it in one searing swallow. He replaced her empty glass with a full one. Amelia inhaled the aroma this time before she downed it too.
Warmth burst in her belly, her head swam. She leaned back, still clutching the pillow. The glass was taken out of her hands and set aside. She was so very sleepy.
A big hand cupped the side of her face, tilted it up so she looked at him. He was a giant shadow, backlit by the fireplace. But she wasn’t scared anymore. “Stay with me here, doc.”
Her eyes closed. Just a short nap.
Then she would wake up and all of this will have been a dream.
She passed out.
That went fucking well.
Gabriel blew out a frustrated sigh. Clearly, not one of his shining moments.
Or maybe that was a good thing. Lately, those moments of shine and glamour had centered on bloodshed. He assessed his arm with unconcerned detachment. Girl had some claws on her. Four angry scratches stretched long and deep from his elbow almost to his wrist. Might be the first time an injury made him smile.
He tore off the bottom of his shirt to wipe away the blood, and then left the wounds forgotten as he arranged the doctor’s legs on the couch and covered her with a blanket he found draped over the armchair.
Damn, fucked things up royally. Great going, Connors.
Not like I had a choice!
Dr. Amelia Marguerite Chase was almost impossible to get in touch with. He’d known there would be miles of red tape to prevent him from locating her, let alone getting to talk to her. Scientists of her caliber didn’t associate with ordinary people.
So, yeah. Desperate times called for drastic measures.
Gabriel rubbed his knee as he dropped himself into the armchair, watching her sleep.
She had courage. Not many people he came across dared to tangle with him. They knew better than to provoke him. Even with the threat of punishment hanging over him, he’d never hesitated to break some heads. Most looked at him and turned the other way, fast.
He’d been nice with Dr. Chase, doing his best to keep her calm. But nice from him usually meant trouble. Tough to break old habits. Poor thing had to be scared out of her mind.
She frowned in sleep, drawing her knees up as far as she could, while still clutching the pillow. What would a woman like her dream about, he wondered. What would make her delicate features furrow with such concern?
Blood welled on his arm again. He should bandage it before he left bloody streaks on her nice furniture. Gabriel got to his feet, wincing at the pain in his knee. She must have bruised a tendon. Shaking his head, a smile pulling on his lips, he left her to her slumber and went to the bathroom to utilize the wonders of a hot shower.
She’d probably sleep through the night, anyway. Maybe tomorrow, they could sit down like calm, rational people, and have a talk.
Hey, a guy could hope.