Authors: Michelle O'Leary
|REPLICA BOOKS (2011)|
Traumatized at a young age by the violent death of her parents, Mea Brin becomes a Hunter, part of an elite policing force of the Planetary Coalition. She is the best of the best, ruthless and predatory on a hunt and driven by the memory of violence. But then she meets Seth Terrik, an escaped convict, and Regan Freya, a child recently orphaned. The pair make an impression on Mea that she can’t ignore—she feels a deep empathy for the girl and in Terrik she sees reflections of herself. Her choices seem limited—duty demands that she capture the escapee and turn the child over to the proper authorities. But Mea is not one to allow duty to define her. She creates a new choice.
Seth Terrik has spent more than half of his life in prison. All that he knows or cares about is survival and the fight for freedom until a trusting girl becomes his responsibility and a seductive Hunter offers him what looks like a second chance at life. The simple rules of his existence become much more complicated as he is forced to redefine the concepts of survival and freedom. What does a hardened criminal like him know of trust or love? Is he even capable of stepping beyond instinct and into human emotion?
Fans of the Sci-Fi genre will absolutely love this fantastic tale --
If you don't buy another book this month, don't miss THE HUNTRESS. --
It's a rip roaring good adventure/romance novel to be savored. --
Terrific sci-fi! Very highly recommended --
Cindy Penn, Midwest Book Review
This is a very enjoyable, fast-paced, and exciting read, in a style that promises even better for the future. --
The Word On Romance
© Copyright 2002 Michelle O’Leary
Originally Published by DLSIJ Press
© Revised Copyright 2011 Michelle O’Leary
All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author and publisher.
Author's Homepage, Fertile Ground:
“What a shithole,” Mea muttered under her breath, looking around the bar in disgust. She’d seen worse, though the place still ranked about a nine on her yuck-o-meter. She’d entered the building through the back door after her quarry and had to maneuver through rubble to reach the bar area. Though someone had braced the crumbling structure with large metal beams, the occasional creak and groan over Mea’s head was not comforting. Neither was the dusting of debris that accompanied the noises. She was grateful for the hood of her cloak and her boots. Who knew what was sprinkling down on her head or what nastiness she was standing in? The deep shadows fought a winning battle with the lighting over the bar, keeping the details of the bar’s decay a blessed mystery.
Of course, after traversing the rest of the moonbase to reach this location, she wasn’t a bit surprised by the unhygienic ambiance. The atmosphere dome that contained the air for the moonbase blurred the stars into smears with its coating of grime and the crumbling settlement oozed apathy and the sullen furtiveness of vermin. Hunting in this little piece of space was like wading through a sewer.
“Best place to find shit.” Warren’s voice sounded tiny but cheerful over the transceiver in her ear. He would be cheerful—he didn’t have to walk in it.
She hummed in response as one man staggered from the bar to vomit on one of the steel beams then meandered back to his seat. She wrinkled her nose in disgust when the smell drifted over, a freshening of the bar’s rancid bouquet.
“Charming,” she sighed and shook an arm out of her cloak, tapping the genetic tracer on her wrist. It lit up like a nova when she turned it toward the group huddled at the bar. “Target acquired,” she murmured tonelessly.
Shifting through the darkness like a living shadow, she made a quick headcount of the patrons, the stragglers in the rubble as well as those at the bar. There were about twenty men hunched desperately over their alcohol and her target was dead center. Just as she was about to move forward to extract her man from the group, the front entrance slid open.
Mea glanced over to see how many more would join her target, but went still when she got a look at the man who entered. On the surface, he wasn’t that out of place. Hair buzzed almost to the skin like most spacers and face pale from lack of UV, he was of average height, his worn and stained flight suit a bad fit over his muscular build. He wore shaded goggles. At night and in the dim lighting, that was curious enough, but his muscles moved over his bones with a powerful menace that kept her eyes trained on him, hunter’s instincts tingling.
With only a cursory glance at the bar, he moved into the rubble and the darkness. Once in the rubble, he stopped and was still as stone. If she hadn’t been watching him, he would be a seamless part of the dark.
Another hunter would have ignored him and continued with the hunt, but what made her one of the best was that she never ignored her instincts. She recognized him as another dangerous animal—had her target hired protection? That didn’t seem likely. But perhaps her quarry’s boss had sent a watchdog to throw a monkey wrench into her hunt.
Keeping her eyes trained on his piece of shadow, she stayed still in her own darkness and waited with the patience of a true predator. He was not on her list of targets, but she’d hunt him if he made it necessary.
Not more than two minutes passed before the door opened again. Mea watched in disbelief as a child stepped through and stopped to stare with wide, wary eyes around the bar. This was a deeply dangerous place for a little one. In the outposts, children were a commodity and a novelty for the sick minded, and every face in the bar turned towards the youngster hungrily. No one moved for several heartbeats.
Then the shadow man she’d been watching stirred.
Swearing under her breath, she moved forward, breaking cover to place herself between them, back to the man as though she was unaware of him. On close inspection, she realized that this was a girl, but the choppy brown hair and clothes made her look like a boy-child. She was staring at Mea, her dark eyes glossy with fear.
“Child, you will be eaten alive in here,” Mea said in a low, stern voice.
The girl twitched as though prodded, eyes widening even more.
“No, she won’t.”
The deep rumble came from behind Mea, but she didn’t turn, watching relief wash over the girl’s face. The girl knew her shadow man—had she followed him here? But just because the girl seemed to know and trust him didn’t mean Mea should. His behavior was seriously suspect. He’d been lying in wait for her. What kind of ugliness did he have in mind?
Mea tilted her head towards him, keeping her eyes on the child. “Friend of yours?”
“He’s my father,” the girl said with a lift of her chin, her eyes flickering into the shadows with a shade of defiance.
An obvious lie, but the man said nothing.
should know better than to let you in a place like this.”
Mea paused for a moment, but neither responded.
The girl shifted in place and looked into the shadows again, fingers plucking at the hem of her vest. She was around ten years old and would have been cute in a fey sort of way if she’d had more hair. Girls didn’t usually wear it quite so short and it looked like it had been hacked off with a careless knife, the strands sticking out in all directions.
Mea raised her hand to the girl’s temple. “Did he make you cut your—” Her fingers hovered a breath away from the child’s tender head as a sharp object pressed into her back. A thrill ran through her.
Slowly letting her hand drop back to her side, Mea grinned with a hunter’s delight. She hadn’t heard him approach. She’d had her senses tuned to him and still hadn’t known when he’d drawn near. It was always interesting to meet a fellow predator, and her curiosity about these two doubled.
His protectiveness was mildly reassuring. She didn’t think he’d let any of these sharks near the girl, unless he was planning on selling her, which wasn’t likely—one didn’t allow merchandise to wander around by itself. His own intentions toward the girl were still suspect, but that wasn’t a tangle she could unravel at the moment. The problem was that the three of them were still the center of attention. She knew several of the patrons were plotting to grab the girl. As a hunter, she couldn’t ignore the situation, but she also couldn’t walk out with the girl and give up her target. She had business with him that was on a timetable.
Looking into the girl’s big dark eyes, she had an idea. Her grin widened for a moment. It wasn’t the most original of plans, but with this unsavory crowd it would work like a charm. Besides, all work and no play was bad for the soul.
“Down, boy,” she purred, pulling off the hood of her cloak slowly. Turning her head, she looked at him out of the corner of her eye. “Neither one of you is on my menu tonight.” Slipping an arm behind her back, she gently ran a nail down his knife arm and gave him a hungry little smile. “Though you do smell delicious.”
His only response was to press harder with the knife, and she eased away from it with a chuckle. Removing her cloak, she dropped it at his feet and turned to the girl. “Put that on and get the hell out of here.”
Then she sauntered forward, smiling to her audience at the bar. “You boys ready for some fun?” At the same time, she placed the nail with her shadow man’s skin sample in the tracer and started an identity search.
With women in short supply on this far-flung outpost, Mea’s long dark hair and armless skintight black body suit definitely grabbed their attention. Never mind that she was wearing various hunter accoutrements and weapons from head to toe. She wasn’t sure the drunk, horny bastards even noticed as they whooped and hollered obscenities.
The tracer beeped when she reached the bar and she scanned the information with a growing sense of glee. This was going to be a very productive trip.
His name was Seth Terrik. He was supposed to be in the hole for murder, eight counts, three of which were done inside. On the record it said he was at Malthat, the Big Bad Ugly, sentenced for life. He was awfully mobile for a prisoner.
Sliding a music chip across the bar to the human bartender, she smiled into his leering face. “How long has it been since you’ve had real live entertainment?”
“You don’t look much like a stripper.” Apparently, he wasn’t as drunk as his patrons.
Mea swung with casual grace onto the counter and leaned in close to him, still smiling. His eyes predictably focused on her breasts. “Just play the music, asshole.”
With a shrug, he turned away. The music began and so did she, using her best throaty voice, breathless in all the right places, and dancing with slow, languid enticement down the counter. With a sense of satisfaction, she noticed that she had the bar’s undivided attention, all of them crowding close. But about a quarter of the way through the song, she realized that her distraction was going to waste.
Terrik and the child were still there. She gave them more time, but about three-quarters of the way through the song she got sick of being groped for no good reason. They still hadn’t left. Irritated, she paused for too long in one place and a chubby man grabbed her ass. Enough was enough. She would have to save the child another way.
Any excuse to play rough,
she thought with a smirk.
Casually she backhanded the chubby man. He fell off his stool with the force of her blow. The bar fell silent. He struggled to his feet, roaring through a hand held to his bloody face, and grabbed for her again. “You bitch! You broke my—”
She didn’t let him finish, anchoring his arm up behind his back and slamming his face into the counter. Settling one knee on the trapped arm, she leaned forward. “Uh-oh, big boy. Your blood is in the water and the sharks are circling.”
Men milled with growing aggression, and Mea let her gaze sweep over them until she was staring directly into her target’s eyes. “Must be feeding time.” A feral grin stretched her lips when recognition spread over his features.
“Th-the Huntress!” he sputtered, struggling to his feet.
His words brought instant chaos. Typical fight or flight reaction—some of the men shot for the door while others went on the attack, and all of them got in each other’s way.
This gave her a moment to take her target. Thumb against the dart release in her palm, she flicked her fingers at him in a quick gesture like flicking water off her fingertips. Four darts flew from the rings at the base of her fingers, every one hitting him. He went down like a stone.