Eagle Elite #7
by Rachel Van Dyken
Copyright © 2015 RACHEL VAN DYKEN
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
Copyright © 2015 RACHEL VAN DYKEN
Cover Art by P.S. Cover Design
EAGLE ELITE SERIES
Enchant (Elite companion novel)
Elude: To evade, get away from. Throw off the scent. The process of slipping through someone’s fingers. Example: I never knew that in eluding death — I’d be faced with hers.
THE FLUORESCENT LIGHTS BURNED my eyes. I blinked them rapidly — thinking it would make the stinging go away, but it only made everything worse. The pain was indescribable, like someone had broken my body in half, repaired it, and then repeated the process.
“He’s not going to make it.” I recognized the voice. It was Nixon’s. Why the hell was Nixon there? Wasn’t he dead? No wait, that was me. I’d taken that bullet.
Memories of the past few days flashed across my line of vision, causing a searing headache to build at my temples.
Tears burned the back of my eyes.
”I’ll do it. I’m a match.” I gripped her hand firmly in mine.
”You’ll die,” Tex whispered. “Your body… it’s too weak from everything else.”
”We’re running out of time!” I screamed, my voice hoarse, eyes frantic. “Do it now!”
”No.” She wrapped her frail arms around my neck. “No.”
”Yes.” I pushed her away. “If I don’t — you could die. The doctor says it needs to be now, so operate.”
Her eyes were sad.
Both Tex and Phoenix looked down at the blue and white tile floor, faces pale. I knew what they were thinking. I’d already lost too much blood, my kidneys were barely working, and I wanted to give her part of my life.
I’d known going in I would most likely die.
But I’d do everything within my power to save her.
It’s odd, when you face death every day, when you elude it, when you finally come to terms with the fact that you won’t be on earth for forever — that’s when you think you’re at peace.
I thought I was okay with dying.
Until I met her.
And then I was faced with someone else’s death every damn day — it’s harder. People don’t tell you that. It’s one thing to come to terms with your own mortality; it’s quite another to stare down death of the one you love, knowing there is nothing in this world that will stop it.
My vision blurred again.
“He’s flatlining,” a voice said in the distance.
I tried to keep my eyes open. I saw white-blond hair, big brown eyes, and that tender smile. I reached for it and held onto it, held onto the memory of her. The girl who’d changed my world from darkness to light.
The girl I never wanted.
But desperately needed.
“Tell her I’ll love her…” I didn’t recognize my own gravelly voice. “…forever.”
With a gasp, I felt my heart stutter to a stop.
And welcomed the shade of night that overtook me.
Six weeks earlier
LONELINESS TASTED LIKE HELL. It also, lucky for me, tasted like a fifth of whiskey and what would most likely be a throbbing headache come tomorrow morning.
I brought the bottle to my lips and tilted it back, my eyes trained on the fire in front of me, the flames licking higher and higher, reminding me that I wasn’t exactly in any position to ask God for any favors…it may as well have been hell waving back at me and confirming my suspicions.
I’d killed too much.
I’d lied even more.
And I was officially out of favor within my family — within my world.
I hissed as a drip of whiskey landed on my blood-caked knuckles. Beating the shit out of the wall hadn’t even stopped the anger.
Ah anger, that was something I could talk about, something I could tangibly feel as it pulsed through my body. It had been my mistress for so long that I knew if I actually let it go — I’d be even more lonely than I already was.
I tried to take a deep breath, to calm myself down, but air wouldn’t go into my lungs, I felt paralyzed and on an adrenaline high all at once.
Maybe that was another part of my punishment. I had exactly twenty-four hours before I had to marry a Russian.
And not just any Russian.
An enemy, a double agent who had worked for both the FBI and, apparently, the Nicolasi family. She had sold out her own crime family, the Petrovs, and now… she was under the protection of the Italians.
How messed up was that?
I took another swig of whiskey and eyed the clock. Make that twenty-three hours and fifty-eight minutes.
I wasn’t drunk enough.
I wasn’t even close.
Marrying someone for protection I could do. Marrying someone and even killing them afterwards? Piece of cake. After all, that was my MO. I was a killer, a ghost, whatever the family wanted me to be.
But marrying someone, keeping them safe, only to watch them die within six months?
No. Hell no.
She had leukemia.
So why keep her alive this long?
I snorted and took another sip of whiskey. “I’d be doing her a favor by killing her.”
“Ouch,” a light airy voice said from somewhere in the room, causing all my hair to stand on end. “So as far as pep talks go, yours officially needs work.”
I carefully set down the whiskey, not trusting myself not to throw it in her direction in an anger-filled rage. “I was talking to myself.”
“Another sign you need to get laid.” She laughed.
“Go away, Arabella.”
“My name’s Andi.”
“Your legal name is Arabella Anderson Petrov. Care to know your social security number and credit score as well?”
“Romance is lost on you.” I felt her move around the room. The air seized with electricity; she’d always had a presence about her, and right now I was five seconds away from losing my shit and ramming my head into the fireplace just so I could escape it all.
“Don’t I know it,” I huffed and reached for the bottle again.
Small warm hands clasped around mine before I could get there. I jerked away, causing her to stumble in front of me.
White-blond hair covered her soft features. Big brown eyes blinked back at me. I hissed in a breath and cursed. “You should go.”
“We need to talk.”
“Oh goody. Is this the part where you tell me I have to give up my virginity on my wedding night?”
“What?” She blinked like a startled deer, then a weak smile pulled her lips upward.
I ignored the way my body reacted and rolled my eyes i
“Aw, he has jokes now. At least, I hope it’s a joke. You’re not, are you? A virgin, I mean.”
I snorted and eyed the bottle, calculating my odds on reaching it before she stopped me, then gave up. “Fine.” I huffed. “Hurry up and get to talking so I can get drunk.”
Andi sat opposite me in the leather chair and tucked her feet under her body. She was small, around five-one, but she packed a punch, knew how to use every automatic weapon on the market, and I was pretty sure I had once overheard that she was well-versed in torture. Looking at her, you’d think she was just graduating high school and getting ready to go shopping for her favorite pair of shoes with Daddy’s credit card.
“You’re upset,” she finally said.
“No.” I licked my lips and leaned forward. “I’m enraged. There’s a difference.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You know you can talk to me — since you’re stuck with me for the next… while. That is, unless you kill me first… like you did that FBI agent.”
My blood ran cold. No one knew about what I’d done last week. When I’d gained intel from another agent. “Her cover was blown. I did her a favor.”
“Did you?” Her eyebrows arched.
“Have you ever been shot, Andi?”
She sighed and leaned her head back against the lush cushion. “No, why? Are you going to educate me on what it feels like?”
I exhaled and popped my knuckles; the sound reverberated through the empty room. “It happens in three stages.”
“You mean you don’t just pull the trigger?” she joked.
Ignoring her, I continued. “Shock. It’s always the first emotion because the human brain hasn’t yet caught up with the fact that you’ve been wounded. So your body starts going into shock, and then the pain happens, but it’s not the type of pain you’d think. It burns, but it’s more of an empty, hollow pain, that starts to spread from the wound throughout the rest of your body until a slow chill starts to descend. When the chill descends, the shock wears off and confusion sets in. Why was I shot? Why me? What have I done? As humans, our brains aren’t meant to understand violence, so we have to logically explain it away. I had to have done something wrong to get shot. Or maybe I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The minute your brain finds something that makes sense you move onto the last stage.”
Andi barely moved a muscle. “Death?”
“Worse.” I reached for the bottle and took a long swig. “Denial.”
“Why is denial worse?”
“You tell me.”
Her eyes closed briefly before she offered a shrug. “Because it means you aren’t ready.”
“Look who just earned an A in class,” I mocked. “And you’re right. Denial happens when you realize it shouldn’t be you, that even if your brain connected the dots, it isn’t yet your time. The lovely little memories of your life start to play on repeat in your head — the moments you should have done something but didn’t, the things you’ll never say, the things you’ll never do. And then… you either get lucky or, if I’m the one who pulled the trigger, your memories will click off after about one minute, and you’ll be no more.”
The fire crackled.
Andi refused to look at me.
“I’d make it fast, Andi.”
“Are we seriously doing this?”
“What?” I shrugged.
“Having a conversation in what should be a nice cozy room, about you killing me?”
“It would be a kindness.”
“Go to hell!”
“Already there, Andi. Already there. Don’t you know? I belong nowhere. My family’s punishing me, the FBI’s investigating me for the murder of my superior, and now I have to marry a Russian whore.”
“So…” She stood. “…you’d rather kill me than marry me?”
“Was I not clear? I thought I was… Allow me to say it slower, perhaps in Russian? If that’s all you people understand.” I stood, meeting her chest to chest. “I’d rather kill you than see you suffer… I’d offer a dog the same kindness.”
“I’m not a dog.”
“Stop saying that.”
“What?” I sneered. “The truth? Well, sweetheart, it doesn’t get any truer than your reality. Allow me to kill you before your family or cancer does, and at least you can own your own death rather than fearing it.”
She reached for me, touched my shoulders, and then cupped my face. I hated it because I liked it; my body leaned without me telling it to. She was so warm. “And what makes you think I fear my own death?”
“Everyone is afraid of dying. The hardest part is never admitting we’re mortal, but coming to terms with the fact that we have no control over how long we’re given. You do.”
“No… I don’t… You’re trying to take that control.”
“Say the word.” My hand moved to the Glock strapped to my thigh.
“I’m not afraid.” Her lips trembled. “At least not of death… but I am afraid of something.”
“Oh yeah?” I hissed. “What’s that?”
Confused, I stepped back, immediately looking for a weapon. “I don’t understand.”
“You wouldn’t.” She shrugged. “Because you, Sergio Abandonato, are already dead.” She moved gracefully across the room. “You’re dead inside… and you don’t even know it. Forget cancer — and take a long hard look in the mirror — that’s what death looks like.”
MY ALARM CLOCK WENT OFF at seven a.m.
Not that I needed it. I’d been waking up early my entire life. Call me paranoid, but it seemed sleep was the only time someone could actually hurt me. If I was sleeping, then I was vulnerable, even if I had packed a semi-automatic under my bed, a pistol in my nightstand, plus two ninja stars under the pillow just in case.
I groaned, placing my hand against my clammy skin. You’d think after years of having chronic leukemia I’d be used to the symptoms, but who in her right mind would ever get used to waking up in a pool of her own clammy sweat?
I blew out air between my teeth and stood on shaky legs. I needed a shower, and my room — the room I’d chosen at Sergio’s house last night after he’d all but offered to kill me — didn’t have a bathroom attached, meaning I had to go searching for one.
Stupid, stupid, Andi.
I’d listened to Frank, the Alfero boss, when he’d dropped me off last night. His words had been, “He’ll be fine, just give him time.”
I’d felt like a kid getting dropped off on her first day of school. The house was impressive, daunting even, but I’d been around scary all my life, so I didn’t think anything of it. Not when the lights were all turned down, not when I heard what I could have sworn was a ghost floating through the halls, and not when I happened to overhear my future husband say aloud that killing me would be a kindness.
I had been half-tempted to say, “Not if I kill you first.”
But that would only have been out of anger.
In the end, he would be doing me a favor, loath as I was to admit it. Honest moment? I felt sorry for him. I might be marching toward my death, but that guy was in way worse shape than I. Did he even appreciate life? I highly doubted it.
I managed to throw on the smallest sweatshirt I had and tightened my black pajama shorts. I was losing more weight.
I refused to look in the mirror because it would only confirm my suspicions… the symptoms were worse… I’d need a bone marrow transplant, or I’d die.
And all the money in the world wouldn’t put me high on that list.
Especially considering my connections, my birth father, my reputation. I shook the negativity from my head and opened my bedroom door. The hallway was silent.
Which was really unfortunate, considering my new roommate had decided to drink all the alcohol in the entire house.
Where I found a large enough pot.
I started walking through the long upstairs hallway.
Banging it to hell.
Bang. Bang. Bang. “Sergio?” Bang. Bang. Bang.
A groaning that sounded a lot like an animal either dying or attempting to give birth erupted from the farthest bedroom down the hall.
I hit the pan harder.
“Son of a bitch!” The groaning turned into yelling, and, sure enough, the door flew open and a crappy looking Sergio turned his murderous chocolate eyes in my direction.
Did I say chocolate?
I meant possessed.
No way was I allowed to find him attractive. It would be weird, my wanna-be killer being sexy.
Wasn’t there a term for that? Stockholm syndrome or something?
“What.” His voice was deep and gravelly. Oh, what the heck, he was sexy. “The. Hell.” He wiped his face with his hands, his fingers pressed against his temples. “Is. That.”
I held up the bat. “Not a fan of sports?”
He glared then stomped toward me, jerked the metal slugger out of my hands, and threw it down the stairs. “Can’t say that I am.”
I tapped my fingernails against the stainless steel pot and grinned.
“You have a death wish.”
“I believe we established that last night.”
His lips pressed together in a fine, angry-looking line as his hands reached for the pot and pulled.
I didn’t let go.
He jerked harder.
I gritted my teeth. “You first.”
His smile was pure evil as he slapped my forearms down. The pot made a loud clang as it slammed against the Spanish tile floor.
Sergio tilted his head and leaned in, his lips brushing against my ear. “I could break you in half by sneezing, Russia. Don’t.”
I opened my mouth, but he slammed his hand across it and shook his head. “I said. Don’t.” He removed his hand. “Don’t speak, don’t scream, don’t yell, don’t hum. Silence. I have a hell of a headache, I haven’t had any coffee, and I’m pretty sure a train ran over my face last night. The least you could do is get the hell out of my way before I make good on my promise.”