Dark swan, p.16
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       Dark Swan, p.16
 

         Part #2.50 of Otherworld Assassins series by Gena Showalter  
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  A few minutes ago, he'd been as high as a kite, ready to conquer the world. He and Lilica were bonded for good. She'd agreed to marry him. His body had never been so completely sated. Then he'd gotten a call from Mia. Trinity was sick again . . . and Jade hadn't healed.

  Mia now thought the only way to contain the Schon once and for all was to burn the hosts with a full-body SS. Maybe the alien hosts would die, maybe not. Maybe they'd heal and need to be burned again, maybe not. But even trapped inside a dead host, the Schon could live on, perhaps dormant. If ever someone opened up the bodies, all bets were off.

  If AIR performed such a deed, Lilica would rage. And rightly so. It was cruel. Beyond cruel. And it might not work.

  And what if she blamed Dallas for it? Would she ever be able to forgive him?

  He wasn't sure he would be able to forgive himself. But AIR couldn't let Lilica's sisters go free. Trinity would continue to spread the disease. Maybe Jade would resist the need to spread it, maybe she wouldn't . . . if measures weren't taken, she would die and the disease would spread anyway, finding a new host--maybe even if she were shot with the SS. Right now, there were too many unknown variables and zero room for mistakes.

  This was a lose-lose situation all the way around.

  He needed to speak with Lilica. And whatever she wanted him to do, he would do.

  Determined, he shut off the water, towel dried, and dressed in the white button-down, slacks, and boots required for the job.

  Hinges squeaked as he stepped out of the steam-filled bathroom. He moved toward the bed--and drew up short.

  Lilica lay on the floor, fully dressed in black leather despite the fact that she'd been naked when he'd left her. Her eyes stared out at nothing, the stars no longer inside them, no longer twinkling, blood smeared at the corners. Blood smeared the corners of her mouth too.

  Horror drilled him to his knees. How had she . . . what could have . . . no. No. He crawled toward her, his mind locked on a single thought. No! She couldn't be dead. The bond--

  The bond!

  "Dallas?"

  Her voice! He whipped around, seeing a very much alive and well Lilica standing in the doorway. Her bloodied image had already vanished from the floor.

  Her hair was braided like the day they'd met, her hair and skin the color of honey, her eyes green--and haunted. Again, she wore black leather.

  He'd had another waking vision, he realized. Relief chased away the horror as he dove on her, wrapping his arms around her, locking her against him, taking comfort in the beat of her heart.

  "I thought you were--"

  "I know." She clung to him just as tightly. "I saw it too. And I know about my sisters. I heard your thoughts."

  "I'm so sorry, sweetheart."

  "I think . . . I think what I'm planning to do is what caused--causes--my death."

  "What are you planning?" He lifted his head, his hands on her shoulders, holding her in place. "I won't let you put yourself in danger."

  "I must. I have to try to save Jade."

  "She wouldn't want you to endanger yourself."

  "You're right, but I can't make my decisions based on the wants of others. I can only do what's right."

  "This isn't right." He gave her a hard shake. "Dying isn't right. Leaving me isn't right." He would rather die than live without her. Not that he would go on living. They were bonded. What happened to one would happen to the other. "You'll be putting me in danger."

  "Just as you'll be putting me in danger every time you leave to do your job. But I'm not going to stop you. Your job is part of who you are." Her lips a pale green, she offered him a soft kiss. "I would rather die knowing I tried than live knowing I did nothing. And now that we know a possible result, we can take measures to prevent it from happening. We can have medics on standby. That is why you have visions, isn't it? So you can change the outcome of what you see?"

  "Maybe. Or maybe I'm being warned about what will happen no matter what."

  Another kiss. "Then we're screwed either way, so why not go out fighting?"

  Dallas led Lilica through the warehouse in No Man's Land, his footsteps heavy, his heart and stomach contemplating switching places.

  Devyn waited in the hallway entry that led to the cages, his expression wiped of its usual smirk. He ignored Dallas in favor of hugging Lilica. "Thank you. Thank you for saving Bride. I will be forever in your debt."

  "Yes, you will," she said, and Dallas smiled. His first since Mia had called him, but it didn't last long. "I'm going to expect regular payments."

  "And you'll receive them."

  "All right," Dallas said. "The chitchat can wait." A sense of urgency beleaguered him. If they didn't put Lilica's plan into motion soon, he was going to knock her out, carry her away, and deal with the fallout later.

  He clasped Lilica's hand and drew her toward Mia, who stood in front of Trinity's cage. The disease had most definitely returned. Her hair now hung in limp tangles around her emaciated face. Her pale skin sagged, and sores circled her bloodshot eyes.

  Because she hadn't been allowed to share the taint with others, the toxins had built up inside her. They were feeding on her.

  Trinity spotted Dallas and stretched out her hand. "Help me." Her voice was weak, frayed at the edges. "Help me."

  This. This was another of his visions. If only he could shoot her, ending the whole debacle here and now.

  "Help me."

  The vision hadn't changed the future, he realized, but had led him straight to it. Same with the one he'd had of Lilica in his chair. The third waking vision would happen. He knew it with every cell of his body.

  "Help . . . please."

  "You can't do this," he told Lilica. "You just can't. We'll find another way."

  "There isn't time to find another way. You know that."

  "If . . . live . . . they . . . live . . . die . . . they die," Trinity said between panting breaths.

  A suspicion arose. What if she wasn't talking about her people but about her sisters?

  He swallowed bile as a horrifying thought dawned. If he'd killed her at any point in the past, he wouldn't have met Lilica.

  Mia pressed a button, and a door between the two cages opened, allowing Jade to step inside the cell with Trinity. In the corridor, John, who'd stood sentry all night, moved with Jade, stopping beside Mia.

  Trinity disregarded her sister, remaining focused on Dallas.

  Jade had continued to deteriorate, her once vibrant skin now littered with sores.

  Dallas's hand twitched on the handle of the SS, which was sheathed at his side.

  John spotted the action and growled at him.

  "Lilica, please," Dallas said, willing to beg.

  As she turned to meet his gaze, he grabbed hold of her and kissed the air out of her lungs.

  When they pulled away, she lifted her chin and squared her shoulders, and he knew. He knew she wouldn't back down.

  "I love you," she told him. "I love you with all my heart."

  Elation bubbled up inside him. He'd felt her feelings, but hearing the words . . .

  She wasn't done. "I love you just as I love those girls. Trust me when I say I will not lose the ones I love. I'll fight. I'll never give up. And I'll survive." Then she nodded to Mia, who pressed another button.

  The front door opened, and Lilica stepped inside the cell. Dallas followed her and the door closed behind him, preventing either infected girl from racing out. Not that they had any interest in leaving.

  "We do this together," he snapped. "And I love you too."

  Both Trinity and Jade peered at him as if he were the last slice of beef at a free buffet. The disease, and the need to spread it, was taking over their minds.

  Trinity even found the strength to stand. She licked her lips and smiled, the sweet fragrance of her pheromones intensifying in an effort to send him into a fit of lust.

  Both women prowled around him, sharks that had scented blood.

  "I'm going to make all your dr
eams come true," Trinity said.

  As she spoke, her image changed. For a moment he saw her. Not her sickness but her beauty. A trick, nothing more. A means of her survival. "The only way to do that is to keep your mouth shut."

  Lilica grabbed Jade's hand, and the girl blinked at her rapidly, as if coming out of a trance.

  Moaning, Jade said, "You can't touch me, Lil."

  "It's fine. I'm fine. Now, take Trinity's hand. Please."

  Jade frowned, but did as commanded. Trinity tried to rip free, but Jade held on with every bit of strength she had left. The three formed a circle.

  Again Trinity tried to pull free, but Lilica stopped her by creating a suction the infected girl couldn't break. The parasite . . . it threw itself against the connection, doing everything in its power to get inside Lilica too. But she kept a stream of power at the edges, creating a barrier.

  "Jade, I want you to steal as much of the Schon as you can from Trinity. Just like before. The more equally distributed it is between you, the better the likelihood of saving you both."

  Trinity began to buck.

  "Done," Jade said through clenched teeth, as if speaking had become a chore.

  Dallas braced himself for what came next.

  Wasting no time, Lilica closed her eyes. He knew she'd just sent a bolt of power to each girl, strengthening the Schon part of their beings. Too much power too fast would, they hoped, cause the parasite to shut down and die--like pumping a heart full of adrenaline until it basically exploded--while leaving the girls alive.

  Jade cried out, and Trinity screamed. A tear streamed down Lilica's cheek, followed by a bead of blood, but she sent another bolt of power. This time, her sisters began to convulse.

  Dallas wanted to stop the proceedings but shouted through the bond instead. --Do it! Give them everything you've got! Starting slow isn't doing anyone any good.--

  Bolt, bolt, bolt. All three girls quaked. Blood poured from Lilica's nose and the corners of her mouth.

  Dallas took a step toward her, intending to rip her from the circle, but the minutest bit of power traveled through the bond and zapped his Arcadian side. He felt as if he were suddenly hooked to a generator, his nerve endings on fire. Every hair on his body stood on end, his back bowing, his head thrown back. He was lifted off the floor, where he levitated, unable to move.

  More crying from Jade. More screaming from Trinity. No, not true. All three girls were now screaming. He was shouting curses. Lilica was beginning to wilt. She was draining herself, giving every ounce of her power away, leaving nothing for herself.

  She needed an amph, but there wasn't another--

  Yes. There was! Him. Through their bond. When she'd first bonded to him, she'd amphed him, and he'd amphed her. Concentrating, he sent his own bolt of power rushing along the bond. A second later, he eased back to the ground, the strain leaving him.

  But Lilica screamed, and he feared he'd done more harm than good. He started to withdraw the power--but she lifted her head, her spine straightening. She was strengthening! He sent another bolt, and another, allowing her to send an even stronger bolt of power to her sisters.

  Just like that, all three girls toppled to the floor, the suction and the circle broken.

  Lilica's mind went black--a blackness trying to close around Dallas's mind as well. He fought it. Trinity was on the ground, reaching for Lilica, her face bloodied.

  Maybe she was still infected, maybe not. He wasn't taking any chances. Dallas unsheathed his gun, set it to stun, and shot her. Then he too gave in to the dark and passed out.

  "Lilica. Wake up for me, sweetheart."

  Beep, beep, beep.

  Lilica blinked open her eyes. Dallas hovered over her, dark hair shagging over his forehead.

  Beep, beep, beep.

  "There you are." He smiled at her--the devastating smile that rendered her useless. He caressed her jawline. "Tsk, tsk. Sleeping on the job. I might not have asked you to marry me if I'd known you were so lazy."

  Beep, beep, beep.

  "Please. You can't get enough of me. But . . . where am I?" She scanned her surroundings and frowned. A hospital room. Tubes extended from her arms and connected to machines. "What happened?"

  "You did it. You killed the Schon."

  Her eyes widened. "And my sisters?"

  "They're alive and well. You should probably get used to hearing this, because I have a feeling I'm going to be saying it a lot in the coming years, but . . . you were right. About the vision. About the amph."

  "I was right. I was right, and you were wrong!" A sob of relief escaped her. She jolted upright, throwing her arms around him. "Thank you. Thank you for trusting me and helping me. I would have died without you. They would have died and . . . and . . ." More sobs.

  "Jade is in a room with John, who won't let anyone near her. I think we may be attending a wedding in the future. Or maybe not. He refuses to touch her, and she keeps yelling obscenities at him." He leaned back to gently wipe away her tears. "Trinity is being treated in lockup. Where she'll stay until she's sentenced or exonerated of all the charges against her."

  "Trinity," she said, and sighed. "It really was the disease driving all her decisions and actions. Even Jade came after you when she was infected. I have to forgive her, don't I?"

  "Sweetheart, we both know you want to forgive her."

  "That's fair. I do. I've missed her so much."

  "You'll be a family again."

  "But if she makes a pass at you--"

  "Don't worry. I'll shoot her dead this time."

  "We'll shoot her. Together," she said.

  He nodded. "Together."

  Her own grin finally began to bloom. "Because you love me?"

  "Because I love you," he said with a laugh. "You're going to take advantage of that fact for the rest of your life, aren't you?"

  "Oh, most certainly. Lady Wicked wins her man--and keeps him in line." She patted his chest. "Remember the time you negated my powers and the time you made me pass out?"

  He pressed his forehead against hers and groaned.

  "I'll feel better about our past as soon as you go get me some crab cakes. And a soda. Maybe a brownie. I'll let you decide about the fat grams we consume. And I want a robodog. We're a family now, and we should have--"

  "Woof."

  The noise came from behind and below him. Her eyes widened, and she gasped. She looked past him to see a metal dog bouncing on the floor, panting up at her with adoring eyes and wagging a tail. Tears spilled down her cheeks.

  "You already got me a dog," she whispered.

  "His name is Beetlejuice."

  "Mine!" She pushed Dallas out of the way to get to her new dog, cuddling the creature to her chest.

  "Remember the time I bought you the robodog of your dreams?" he asked.

  "No. Now, make yourself useful and go get me those crab cakes."

  He laughed. "I knew you'd say that."

  She smiled her widest smile at him. "Because you know me and you love me anyway."

  He blew her a kiss and headed for the door, saying over his shoulder, "Sweetheart, knowing you is loving you."

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  About the Author Gena Showalter is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than fifty novels and multiple series, including the spellbinding Otherworld Assassins, Alien Huntress, and Lords of the Underworld series, her wildly popular young adult nove
ls--Firstlife and Alice in Zombieland--and the highly addictive Original Heartbreakers series. Visit her at GenaShowalter.com and Facebook.com/GenaShowalterFans.

  FOR MORE ON THIS AUTHOR: Authors.SimonandSchuster.com/GenaShowalter

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  BOOKS BY GENA SHOWALTER

  The Otherworld Assassins Series

  Last Kiss Goodnight

  Black and Blue

  The Alien Huntress Series

  Awaken Me Darkly

  Enslave Me Sweetly

  Savor Me Slowly

  Seduce the Darkness

  Ecstasy in Darkness

  Dark Taste of Rapture

  "Tempt Me Eternally" in Deep Kiss of Winter

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  This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real places are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and events are products of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright (c) 2016, 2017 by Gena Showalter This title was originally published in 2016 in the anthology Blood Red Kiss All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address Pocket Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

  First Pocket Star Books ebook edition September 2017

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