Authors: Mark Henwick,Lauren Sweet
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Urban, #Paranormal & Urban, #Urban Fantasy
An Amber Farrell Novel
Book 3 of the Bite Back series
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Bite Back 3 : Wild Card
Published in December 2013 by Marque
Mark Henwick asserts the right to be identified as the author of this work.
© 2013 Mark Henwick
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means—graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, Web distribution or information storage retrieval systems—without the written permission of the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. The names, characters and events portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, legal entities, incidents or localities is entirely coincidental. The laws of physics, chemistry, biology and psychology may not work as depicted.
She walked bravely for a woman who was going to her death.
She was dressed simply, with a warm ski jacket, and jeans tucked into flat-heeled boots. Her platinum blonde hair was caught up in a pony tail, which swung jauntily, jarringly at odds with her situation.
It took tremendous courage or bewildering stupidity to do what she was doing.
It was 3 a.m., the streets were empty and this was not one of Denver’s thriving areas. Some of the streetlights still worked, edging everything in baleful, sodium yellow. Small businesses lined the street, bolted and locked down, steel shutters like indifferent eyes closed against the night. Telephone wires, draped from pole to pole across the road, swung idly in the wind. Dark alleys sighed with fetid smells, trash spilling out into the hard light. Only two cars had passed in the last ten minutes, and no one else was on the streets.
Not a place for a woman to walk on her own.
But she knew she wasn’t alone, of course. She’d been instructed to walk without looking back; she would know someone was behind her. And she knew who it had to be. She knew she was being stalked by a monster.
What could she possibly want that was worth the risk?
Or was this another trap?
If it wasn’t, I would listen. I had promised; I would listen first. My nails dug into my hands. My boot heels clicked on the sidewalk.
And if it was a trap, I’d take them to hell with me.
Meanwhile, I listened to the voices whispering in my head. Just sounds, I said to myself, not people, not anyone who might end up dead on my watch. Between the hissing came street names, junctions, all within a block, keeping pace with us.
Enough. It was time.
“Call it,” I whispered, and my voices answered.
“Clear on your two.”
A pause. My adrenaline surged, but eventually the report came. “Clear on your six and two in place.”
“Clear eight,” followed immediately.
“Clear twelve.” Even through the comms, the last voice was smooth and deep, like rocks in a river rolling together. I could banish the images of everyone else, but Victor Gayle’s voice was too demanding. It didn’t bring to mind the image of him now, somewhere out in front of me, ghosting through the night and seeking out the trap I feared must be there. It forced me to see the image of him earlier, sweat and tears glistening on his dark skin, comforting the families of Reynolds and Zimmerman while the sheriff’s people argued with the FBI over jurisdiction of the bodies. Two of his men who’d died trying to protect Jennifer Kingslund, when Frank Hoben and his gang broke into Manassah. Two whose deaths I might have prevented.
After that, I felt sick over asking him to provide people tonight, but not only did he do it, he insisted on coming as well.
“We good to go?” he asked me.
“Go,” I said. I called the woman’s cell, watched her reach into the pocket of her ski jacket, hold it to her ear. My voice thickened until I had to force the words out. “A van will pull up. Get in the back. Do what they say.”
The van rolled past me, glossy midnight blue, its powerful engine muted, quieter than the rumble of the tires. A block ahead, it slowed alongside her.
The door opened. For a second, she held off, as if she’d started to have doubts. It was way too late for that. Arms snapped out, catching her, and she vanished inside. The van accelerated away just as a Dodge pulled alongside me.
“Call it,” I said again as I got into the Dodge, and the voices whispered the even stations of the clock, still all clear.
Then a final, “Tango secure. Comms and tracking clear,” from the van. Target secured—restrained in the back of the van. No suspicious activity on comms channels. Apart from ours, of course. No tracking devices found on the target.
She was clean and we were clear.
“Team Sierra, go home,” I said, and felt the pressure lighten as the outriding scouts disconnected and went away.
We stopped to let Victor swap with the Dodge’s driver, who walked off briskly without looking back. There was no sign of a trap yet, but regardless, that was one more safe. One less to worry about, I hoped.
“Hey,” Victor said quietly as we pulled away.
I reached over and squeezed his thick forearm. I said into the comms, “Phase one, complete. Phase two, green.” First part of the mission successful, target secured and scouts away, phase two commencing. I took a deep breath and picked a number. “Mike Papa three, in five. Out.”
I watched silently as Victor hauled the car around.
Just before the Platte River bridge, we pulled off into a side road lined with commercial properties. My randomly selected meeting place, the third of four possibilities I had set up. We turned in at a fading ‘For Rent’ sign and parked around the back. Two minutes later, the van pulled in alongside us.
Hillary Clinton and George Bush came out the side door and helped the driver swap the plates.
We got out; they tossed their masks and the old plates into the Dodge’s trunk. Victor gave them a nod as they took our places. We watched them drive away.
The van sat there, engine turning over. It looked crouched over its wheels, squat and dark, pointing down a path I hadn’t wanted to take. My heart rate was already climbing. I rubbed my hands together, feeling as if I needed another shower.
“You sure?” Victor said. His hand rested on my shoulder—the right shoulder, fortunately. The left shoulder was still recovering from Hoben’s bullet at the factory in Longmont. At least the Kevlar vest had absorbed most of the damage.
Victor was frowning at me. I could feel all the questions building behind the concern, and I could do nothing about it. Not now; maybe not ever.
My stomach was churning, but I nodded. “Platte River Road,” I said. “Up and down. Nice and slow.”
River one side, industry on the other. No one to hear. No one to see. No one to know.
I slid the panel door open and stepped inside, slamming it closed behind me. It was pitch black and she was effectively blind. Even the Athanate would have difficulty seeing in here, but I wasn’t just Athanate, I was becoming Were as well, and werewolf abilities were bleeding into me. I could see a little into the infrared spectrum. Certainly I could see well enough to know she wasn’t struggling as she lay there, trussed up like a chicken. It wasn’t that she was calm. She was scared, as she should be—her breath shallow around the gag and her heart racing—but she knew struggling wasn’t going to achieve anything, and Ops 4-10 kept no dummies.
The van rocked on its stiff suspension as Victor drove us out, back onto the road.
I sat facing her, cross-legged on the floor, waves of anger flowing through me.
My old covert army unit, Ops 4-10, had come after me. The same unit I’d given heart and soul to for ten years. They’d sent a team with Keith, my ex-boyfriend of all people, to snatch me off the streets last Friday and take me back to their scientific group, Obs. As far as Obs were concerned, once I’d been bitten by what they still called a vampire, I’d become a freak, an object to study, and I didn’t need basic human considerations.
They’d have my old cell ready for me, a bleak, windowless cubicle, where I’d never see the sun again. I’d sworn I wouldn’t go back, and when Keith’s team tried to catch me, I’d called in the FBI. They had a team investigating military units where the Defense Department had lost oversight, and Ops 4-10 had become exactly that. Or worse.
Keith and the rest of his team had been rounded up and were guests of the FBI.
And now this. Another member of Ops 4-10, trying to draw me out.
The wolf had become very strong in me. Last week I felt the first ripples of the potential to change form when I’d been attacked in an alley. Now? Now, it felt like there were claws scratching at me from the inside. I wanted to growl; I wanted to seize her by the throat, bite hard and taste her life blood.
I was fighting myself to hold it together, to push the wolf back down.
After a long couple of minutes, I felt stable enough to reach out and remove her gag.
I took a breath, forcing my voice to stay calm and even. I still sounded like a complete stranger.
“Hello, Julie,” I said.
“Amber?” she said hoarsely. I could see her eyes straining to make me out.
I didn’t reply. The van turned and Victor drove slowly onto the riverside road.
She tried again. “Is he all right?”
Now that was an interesting start. Of course I knew who she meant.
“Keith is fine. Your husband’s in a nice, comfortable cell. In the morning he’ll probably have a nice, comfortable chat with a state-appointed lawyer. Hey, maybe read a book, catch up on some TV. That’ll go on till the army claims him and explains what the hell he was doing, or he gets sentenced for attempted kidnapping.” Talking eased my throat a little, but it tightened up again as I went on. “Not exactly the cushy confinement I would have been enjoying, if his little trap had been successful.”
“You said you’d listen to me,” she said. Voice steady; keeping the discussion on track. Top—our training sergeant—would have been proud of her.
“You’ve got cast iron balls, Julie, unless you don’t know what happened for some reason.”
“I know what really happened,” she said. “Are you ready to hear the truth? Or would you rather rant a while longer?”
I had to give her props for that. It was a calculated insult, designed to defuse any righteous emotion I was building up and guide me back to what she wanted to talk about. Even knowing the tactics she was using, I couldn’t let it pass unchallenged.
“I already know a hell of a lot,” I snapped. “I know Keith was on an official 4-10 operation to pull me in and chuck me back into the cells for Obs to run tests on. I know he called me to the trap. I know he used bait that guaranteed I’d turn up. I know he was in charge. Seems to me, I know enough.”
I could have put the light on, let her sit up. I could have made it easier for her. But I didn’t want to. I couldn’t say I was enjoying this, but it felt as if this was something I needed. Julie was standing in for all the army people who’d betrayed me. She was Ops 4-10. The least she deserved was to damn well squirm a bit. The most? Well, I hadn’t gotten that far. Yet.
“You know the facts, but you don’t understand anything,” she said. “It wasn’t—”
“I don’t understand?” I grabbed her hair and pulled her head up in the darkness. “You’re right, I don’t understand. When I last saw Keith, he said none of my buddies in 4-10 would ever come after me. Didn’t matter who was running the unit. Didn’t matter what they said. None of them. And you know what?” I shook her. “I believed him.”
“It wasn’t 4-10,” she said.
That stopped me. As she intended.
“Then who the—”
Unbelievable. I let the silence stretch. My senses told me she was calmer now that she’d gotten that out. And my gut said she wasn’t lying. The problem was, I wasn’t sure where old human instincts about someone lying ended, and Athanate senses took over.
I’d gone through both sides of interrogation training under that son-of-a-bitch instructor, Ben-Haim. Trouble was, so had Julie.