Read The Cure Online

Authors: Teyla Branton

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Urban, #Paranormal & Urban, #sandy williams, #Romantic Suspense, #The Change, #series, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Suspense, #Paranormal, #charlaine harris, #action, #Urban Fantasy, #woman protagonist

The Cure (2 page)

BOOK: The Cure
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And Ritter Langton.

My stomach clenched. With the events in Mexico, would Ava call Ritter back from wherever he’d been the past two months? My pride hadn’t let me ask, but she probably had some way to contact him.

I shoved away the unneeded distraction, though the tightness in my belly remained. Trevor was the main problem here. If it came to it, I could deal with him, but I didn’t think knocking out her husband would go far toward lulling Mari’s suspicions so I could more easily kidnap her.

First I needed to be sure about those trees. Pushing out my thoughts, I began searching, straining. A dull throbbing began at the base of my skull, my mind not at all appreciating the effort. Yet there in the trees where I’d seen the movement earlier, I now felt two faint life forces. They didn’t glow as brightly as the average mortal, though they weren’t as dark as someone who was experienced at blocking sensing Unbounded. So something in between, which could mean a lot of different things. From this distance, I couldn’t pick up any thoughts or emotions. I fumbled in my pocket and came up with a tiny pair of binoculars that Stella had assured me were vital to my assignment. In the past two months, I’d used them exactly twenty-three times on mornings when Mari couldn’t jog with me, when she’d run errands at lunch, or eaten out with Trevor. I was lucky not to have been arrested as a stalker.

I studied the trees, regretting the fading light. Someone was definitely crouching behind one of the evergreens, but I could see little more than a patch of green jacket.
Wait.
Between the branches of the bush next to the evergreen, where a few tenacious leaves clung to an otherwise bare limb, I spied what might be the black barrel of a rifle. I shifted to another position that was slightly more exposed and looked again. Another figure hunched farther to the left, the insignia of a hunter with a rifle standing out on his dark jacket. A jolt of emotion arrowed through me.

Hunters.

There are few things Unbounded fear, and Hunters are one of them. For over fifty years the society of Hunters has dedicated their lives to eradicating both the Renegades and our enemy, the Emporium, never differentiating between the two Unbounded groups. That many of the Hunters’ older members began life as failed Emporium genetic experiments and were later abandoned, only makes their hatred that much stronger. Despite the fact that Renegades protect mortals from the Emporium, Hunters view all Unbounded as false gods they need to depose and punish. Eradicate like vermin. Kill.

My first thought was that the Hunters had somehow tracked me, though I was new enough not to be in their database. The tightness in my stomach now extended to the tips of my fingers. Both my previous run-ins with Hunters had nearly ended in a date with a sharp blade.

My left hand slid to the cell phone in my coat pocket, pressing and holding the single button on the side. After the Emporium attack two months ago on our Renegade allies in New York, where nine Unbounded and a dozen mortals were murdered in a macabre slaughter, and several more had been taken captive, we’d begun carrying these altered phones.

With Cort and Dimitri in Mexico, Ritter gone, and Ava up to her ears in whatever she wouldn’t explain over the phone, who would they send to answer my call? Stella wouldn’t come, not in her condition, and my brothers lacked training. Chris wasn’t even Unbounded. No, it would be someone from our mortal security detail, most of whom had served with the government in black ops. They were well trained and deadly. More than a match for any Hunters. Still, I’d try to mop up the Hunters before they got here—if only to prove to myself that I could.

I glanced at Mari, needing to adjust my position again to get a clear view. Trevor had moved several feet away from her, and now he dipped his head as he glanced at the trees where the Hunters crouched.

A signal.

I didn’t know how he’d been contacted by them, but somehow he was involved—and he was giving them Mari. What was his price? Anger flooded me, and it was all I could do not to go running into the open and smash my fist into his face. Instead, I pushed partway through the bushes, forcing myself to wait.

Mari was still talking, her voice louder now. I couldn’t quite make out the words, but her tone was pleading. I hurt for her, for what she was about to lose. It wasn’t fair. Trevor had done a good job of isolating her in the three years since her mother’s death, and lately she had no one to confide in except him—and me. I was about to betray her now. How long would it be before she’d trust anyone again? Ava had told me when I Changed that I’d been given a priceless gift or a great curse, and this was yet one more example. The necessity of sneaking around, of lying to people who would be your friends.

Somehow, I had to get us out of this situation. I couldn’t depend on the others making it on time.
They won’t shoot unless Mari fights them.
Except she probably would. She wouldn’t realize that they didn’t care
how
they managed to take her prisoner. A simple bullet to the brain or heart would temporarily stop any struggle—long enough for the cutting to begin.

Biting my lip until I tasted blood, I edged forward as far as I could without exposing myself, close enough now to pick out actual words.

The Hunters stepped from behind the distant trees, running toward Mari, as silent as wolves. Still only two. Good. A thrill of anticipation rolled through me. One man sported a ponytail, a grizzled beard, and wore a camouflage jacket; the other was clean-faced with stringy blond hair that emerged from his knit cap and fell to the collar of his brown coat. The older man would likely be more dangerous, especially if he’d dealt with Unbounded before. Neither was a match for me, though if they got off a lucky shot, they could immobilize me long enough that I might be in trouble.

Mari must have heard something because she glanced behind her. Seeing the strangers, she moved forward quickly to join Trevor, but he held up his hands and spoke loud enough for the oncoming Hunters to hear. “Nothing personal, Mari. You have too much of their blood. It’s tainted. I can’t be with you anymore.”

“What are you talking about?” Mari sounded dazed. “Who are they? This has nothing to do with anyone but us.”

Trevor shook his head like the dog he was. “They tracked your ancestry. It was a long shot that you were one of
them
”—he uttered the word with disgust—“but they assigned me to you to make sure. Last week when your knee got better, and how you can add up those numbers. It all means something, Mari.” He gave her a mean little grin. “It means you’re a monster.”

I was going to kill that man when I got my hands on him.

Mari reached for Trevor, but he shook her off as though she carried contagion. The other men laughed and lunged for her, securing her arms.

“Hey, I know you.” Mari peered at the younger man. “You were at our wedding!”

He barked a laugh. “Ask Trevor how much bonus he got for that. Best way to see if you turned.”

“Let me go!” Mari began struggling.

At the panic in her voice, Trevor hesitated. “Go easy on her now.”

The older Hunter snorted. “You know what she is, and what you signed on to do. What you was
paid
to do. Now git outta here if you ain’t got the stomach for it.”

“You—you’re not going to, uh, do it here, are you?” Trevor stared at his frightened wife.

“Of course not. Now git. Or have you changed your mind? Because you know what that means.” The old man leveled his rifle at Trevor.

Trevor held up his hands, stumbling back a few steps.

“Trevor,” Mari whimpered.

Without another word, Trevor turned and fled.

Mari’s scream filled the park, and the grizzled Hunter shook her. “Stop that, or I’ll shoot you right here. Ain’t no one gonna hear you anyway. We got men making sure no one comes this way.”

She didn’t stop struggling. Fighting was against her docile nature—her former nature—but now that she’d Changed, the old Mari was gone.

The young Hunter pulled Mari against him, her back to his chest, and put a hand over her mouth. She promptly bit him, but he only laughed and stroked her neck with his other hand. “She’s a pretty one—and feisty. I want a go at her.” Squatting slightly, he rubbed his groin up her backside. A terrified sob escaped Mari’s throat as she arched away.

“There’s no time,” growled the old Hunter.

“Sure there is. It’s not like I have to talk pretty to her. You said yourself they ain’t human. What’s it gonna hurt? I want to see what it’s like. What Trevor’s had all this time.” His hand snaked to Mari’s waistband.

The old man searched the growing darkness. “Be quick about it then. You know how the others are. They think it’s a sin to touch one.” He laughed hoarsely. “Like it’s catching.”

“Then hold this.” The young Hunter thrust his rifle at his companion before turning his attention back to Mari, his hand slipping under her hip-length coat.

She struggled more furiously as he yanked open her pants. He turned her around, still pulling on the material, but Mari’s fist caught him in the face. Shoving her at the old guy, he ground out, “Grab her. Keep her standing. Won’t take but a minute. Smack her good if she tries anything. Might be true what they say about some of them being able to get into our minds.” He emanated a wave of lust so strong, I could feel it from where I hid without even trying.

Tucking the rifles under his arm, the old Hunter complied, placing one big hand on Mari’s stomach and pulling her to him, his other hand clapping over her mouth, jerking her head back until it hit his shoulder. Mari kicked at his leg, trying to free herself, but he shook her roughly. “Stop that, bitch, or he’ll make it worse for you.”

The young man laughed, his hand fumbling at his own clothing. “Just hold still and enjoy. I’m way more of a man than Trevor ever was.”

Enough.
It was tempting just to shoot them both, but I didn’t want to alert the companions they claimed to have out in the darkness. If Ritter had been around, he’d have probably made sure I was carrying a silencer. But he wasn’t. He’d abandoned me, and I didn’t need him to finish this task. Mari was
my
responsibility; I wasn’t going to let them have her.

Slipping the gun back into my holster, I arose silently from my hiding place and sprinted toward the men, leaving a few strands of my blond hair on the bushes as I squeezed through. I’d traveled half the distance separating us before the old guy looked up and saw me, his face gray in the sparse light. He let go of Mari and tried to bring up his rifle, but he was clumsy with the added weight of the younger man’s weapon.

I helped him drop both guns to the ground with a well-placed kick that even my brother Jace would have appreciated. The old man grunted as my foot continued on to connect solidly with his side. As he curled forward in pain, I followed with a left hook, striking him to the frozen grass and hopefully buying me a little time.

Mari screamed, and I turned to face her. The young man, his pants open and sliding down his narrow hips, had jumped behind Mari, his arm circling her waist.

“Mari, it’s going to be okay,” I told her. “But don’t scream again.”

The young Hunter peered into the night. “Help!” he shouted.

Great.
I hadn’t expected him to have that many cells left in his tiny brain.

Movement behind me signaled that the old guy had recovered. I whirled, slamming my elbow into his head as he tried to rise, a rifle clutched in his hands. I kicked the gun out of his reach.

The young man was backing away, dragging Mari after him. I took out my gun. “Let her go.”

He shook his head, his knit cap askew. His breath came in fast gasps.

“Let her go, or when I get finished with you, you’ll never touch another woman again.” I took aim at the thin slice of his face that wasn’t hidden behind Mari.

“You—you won’t shoot her.” His voice increased two octaves on the last words.

“Why not?” I took a step closer. “As you said, she’s not human, so it won’t matter if I shoot her. In fact, it’d probably be easier for me. I’ll get you both with one bullet. It definitely won’t hurt her as much as what you have planned.”

The sound from his throat was half protest, half sob. His eyes grew impossibly wide. “You’re one of
them,
ain’t you?”

“One of who exactly?”

No answer.

I shifted my position so I could keep an eye on the old man. He wasn’t moving, but cockroaches had a way of coming back to consciousness when least expected. Besides, there was no way to tell if anyone else had heard the commotion. I had to be prepared for the worst.

Mari was struggling again, her efforts loud in the quiet of the park.

“I’ll give you to the count of three,” I said to the Hunter. “One . . . two . . .”

The young Hunter’s eyes went again to the blackness, where help had failed to materialize. With a whine, he pushed Mari at me and ran.

I sidestepped Mari and leapt after him. I didn’t have far to go. His jeans slid further down his thighs and tripped him. I chuckled, kicking his sprawled body over with my foot, my eyes sliding down his nakedness. “So that’s why you’re a rapist. Can’t blame a woman for not wanting any of
that.

Heat filled his eyes. He jumped up and lunged toward me, forgetting my gun and his bareness. Exactly what I’d hoped. I mean, how can you strike a naked guy lying on the ground?

I blocked his punch with my right arm, and hit him with two left jabs. He lunged at me again, and I heard a sharp click half a second before hot fire spread through my stomach.

A knife. I hadn’t expected that. We trained with knives as we did everything else, and for an instant, I considered retrieving the one I carried inside my boot. Stupid when I had the gun.

I aimed the Sig. “Stop.” I could feel warm blood leaking down my stomach, though already the wound would have begun healing. There were only two ways to kill Unbounded, and a scratch like that wasn’t one of them.

“You ain’t going to use that gun,” the Hunter mocked. “My friends will hear. Then you’ll be the one begging for
this.
” He felt his groin before hitching up his pants and rushing me. His movements were sloppy, unpracticed, but he had a knife and twenty pounds on me.

BOOK: The Cure
6.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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