“You bitch!” He aimed his weapon at her.
She knocked his arm aside and pulled out her dagger. Slicing his arm, she headbutted him, then kicked him down and turned to take on the next.
The four remaining men advanced on her.
Syn paused as he watched Shahara take down the rest of their attackers with an ease that was impressive and a little frightening.
Damn, she was good.
A slow smile curved his lips as she emerged over the bodies. Her torso twisted slightly, it was a stance of power and skill.
And it was sexy as hell.
She met his gaze and returned his grin.
“That’s what I’m good at.”
Yes, she was.
Her gaze narrowed on something behind him. Before he could move, she flew past him to kick at one of the bastards who’d been trying to lunge at his back.
She knocked him to the ground and stomped him in the tenderest part of his anatomy. Falling back, he whined like a baby.
Syn sucked his breath in sharply between his teeth as he involuntarily jerked and cupped himself. “You’ve got to quit doing that.”
She rolled her eyes. “Why are you bitching? It wasn’t you this time.”
“Let’s just say your last kick at my jewels is still fresh in my memory.” He walked over to the guy and tsked at him. “I know that hurts. She kicks like a mule, huh?” He shook his head.
“What are you going to do to me?” the man asked, his voice trembling.
Shahara frowned while Syn dug around his pack until he found an injector. He held it up in front of his face as if inspecting the dosage. When he looked back at the cringing man, his expression was glacial, deadly. “I’m going to kill you.” He shot him full of the contents.
Shahara’s heart stopped. Was he truly that cold-blooded?
He moved to inject another man on the ground.
Grabbing his arm, she pulled the injector away from the unconscious man’s throat. “What are you doing?”
He looked up with a startled gaze. “C’mon, don’t play the innocent with me. You shot me while I was unarmed.”
“I didn’t kill you.”
He shoved a vial into her hands. “And I’m not killing them. Relax, it’s just a sedative to make sure they don’t come after us for awhile.”
Still skeptical, she glanced at the container in her hand. A slow smile curled her lips as she read the label. He was being honest. “Then why did you lie to him?”
“Why not? He’s lucky I didn’t kill him. Anyone else would have.”
More footsteps approached. Shahara held her breath, waiting to see if it was more attackers. She tossed Syn his blaster, which he caught with one hand before he stepped back into the shadows.
Bracing herself, she waited for them to approach.
Instead of rugged men out to kill them, the two priestesses returned. Mother Anne stayed back while the other one rushed to Syn and drew him into a tight hug. “I know it was foolish to come back, but we had to make sure that you weren’t hurt.”
Syn tightened his arm around her and the expression of appreciation on his face brought a lump to Shahara’s throat. He let go of her and stepped back. “It’s good to see you again, Mother Omera.”
Mother Anne cast a worried grimace over the men on the ground. “Are they dead?”
He scratched his cheek. “Resting. They’ll be up and about in six or seven hours.” He looked at Shahara. “Which doesn’t give us that much of a head start. So if you’ll excuse us?”
“Sheridan?” Mother Omera put her hand on his arm to keep him from withdrawing. “You have done us proud.”
Syn paused at words that meant a lot to him, but they were wholly untrue and undeserved. “No, but I intend to.” With that, he led Shahara back to the end of the catacombs and pulled the release for the secret entrance so that they could leave this place.
Shahara frowned up at him. “Are you all right? I’m getting a weird vibe from you.”
“I feel about normal.” He stooped to crawl through the opening.
Shahara sighed. Well, that was certainly ambiguous enough. As she followed him through the entrance, she stopped. This time she knew the odor that filled her nose with a rotten, sour smell. “We’re in a sewer?”
“Did I forget to mention to you that we’d have to go through the sewers to reach the landing bay?”
She narrowed her gaze at him, wanting to beat him to the ground. “You forget to mention a lot of things.”
Vik came to rest on her shoulder. “Don’t feel bad, Lady Bones. He forgets to tell me things, too. Like the fact that he wasn’t going to come back and get me.”
Syn turned away from them. “I’m obviously outnumbered, so before you two combine forces and kill me, I’m walking this way.” He paused to look back at her. “You want Vik to light the way again?”
She paused as she heard creatures scurrying in the darkness. “Depends. How many furry, little critters will I see run away when he turns it on?”
“Let’s just say, if the thought of them makes you squeamish, you might want to wait.”
Her stomach dropped. She’d just been kidding but now that she thought about it . . .
A hundred horror stories of vile things in sewers flashed through her mind. Were they rodents or something far more sinister? “Do they attack?”
“Not as long as we keep moving.”
Shahara cringed. “Can you see?”
“Unfortunately, yes. I see better down here than I do in daylight.” He took her hand and led her forward through the filth and stench.
“It’s a Ritadarion birth defect that hits about one in every three hundred babies born. Some scientists speculate it’s because we lost our primary sun two hundred years ago and the one left behind is so dim that children are mutating in order to adapt to our darker environment.”
“That’s . . .” she searched for the most appropriate word. “Creepy.”
His grip tightened on her hand. “What?” she asked, hating the fact that she couldn’t see what had made him tense.
“I thought I heard something.” He came to a stop.
Shahara strained to hear, but nothing came to her, other than the painful reminder that vermin were running entirely too close to her stationary self. “Maybe it was one of the little beasties at our feet.”
“Maybe.” He tugged her hand again. “C’mon.”
She didn’t say anything more as she followed after him, while Vik made whirring noises on her shoulder. She couldn’t believe she was alone in the dark with a man and not terrified. But the longer she stayed with Syn the more used to him she became.
It was strange to her. Strange and somehow wonderful.
Too bad it couldn’t last. For them, there was no future. All she would have of him was this minute time.
Spent in a sewer . . .
Instead of being happy about the prospect of putting this mission behind her, a horrible pain stabbed her chest as she realized how soon they’d part as eternal enemies.
Unwilling to examine it, she promised herself to let him get no closer to her. She couldn’t afford to. Her future and that of her siblings depended on it.
At last he stopped. “There’s a ladder just above my head. I’m going to pick you up. Crawl to the top and you’ll find a small grate. It has a spring latch and, once you’re close to it, you’ll see how to release it.”
He took her by the waist. The strength of his hands burned her as he effortlessly lifted her up. Shahara seized the ladder and did as he told her.
When she reached the top, she gave a sigh of relief. Thank heaven they were finally out of that smelly hole. But all things considered, the surface air really wasn’t all that much better.
She turned to help Syn up. It was then that she noticed the man standing in the fading light of the afternoon sun.
And the blaster he had angled at her chest.
“Say one word of warning and you’re dead,” he whispered.
Shahara froze as she quickly assessed the threat. There were sixteen of them, fully armed and ready to kick ass, and Syn would be temporarily blinded by the brighter light when he came out of the darkness . . .
Someone seized her from behind.
All her senses alert, Shahara could no longer think. Her training took hold. Stomping an instep, she whirled on her attacker with a fierce growl.
Syn squinted in her direction, but for his life he couldn’t open his eyes wide enough to see anything. The glare from the fading sun had him completely blinded. His gut told him that they were in trouble, but damn his eyes, he couldn’t do anything. All he could do was hear Shahara fighting and blasters shooting.
“To the right.”
Syn struck out and felt his attacker go down. Vik landed on his shoulder so that he could talk him through the fight.
By the time his eyes adjusted, the fight was over. Vik fluttered his wings as Syn surveyed the damage. And honestly, he was stunned.
He’d taken out two. Shahara had handled the others on her own.
Her features stern, she stood over one unconscious man with her hands clenched at her sides. The rest lay on the street, piled up around her. By their clothes, he marked them for Ritadarion trackers.
In awe, he looked at Shahara. “Remind me not to ever piss you off.”
She had a glazed expression an instant before her legs buckled. Syn barely caught her before she hit the street.
“Shahara?” he gasped in startled alarm, holding her against him. “Shahara . . . answer me.” It was only then that he saw the blood seeping from her scalp.
What was he going to do? He couldn’t take her back to the temple or Digger’s. Those places were no longer safe.
Scanning the area around them, he knew they had to get off the street before more Rits or desperate natives decided to try their hand at apprehending him.
Picking her up, he cradled her against his chest. She felt so tiny in his arms that it momentarily stunned him. She was so vibrant while awake that he’d forgotten just how small she really was.
And she wouldn’t last long without medical attention. That thought foremost in his mind, he ran with her toward the spaceport.
Over and over his mind kept flashing on Talia and the way she’d looked when he’d found her in his bedroom. The pale blue tint of her skin. Her eyes half open. Her body drenched in the blood that had drained out from her slashed wrists . . .
It wouldn’t happen again. Not on his shift.
Entering the port, he quickly assessed the ships around him. Most were small freighters and shuttles. But two were fighter class—just what he needed.
He ran at them full speed.
“Hey!” one of the attendants called, rushing toward him. “You can’t take that ship.”
Shifting Shahara’s weight in his arms, Syn spun on the woman with his blaster raised. “Unless you want to die, I suggest you stand down.”
She put her hands up in the air and moved away from him.
Syn kept his eyes on her while he continued to move toward the ship, more slowly this time.
At the base of the fighter, he stared up at the ladder and cursed. Now how the hell was he going to hold on to Shahara while climbing aboard a fighter? True he was nimble, but that defied even his abilities.
Then he saw his answer. “Move the docking crane over to the fighter.”
“I can’t do that.”
He clicked back the release of his blaster. “You have five seconds.”
She ran toward the crane as Vik flew into the cockpit.
Once she had it in place, Syn warned her away. He climbed the stairs two at a time, all the while watching the worker, half expecting her to gain enough courage to try something. It wasn’t until the three of them were aboard and the cockpit solidly latched that he began to calm.
As soon as the cockpit shield had begun its descent, the worker had vanished. Syn was certain she was running for help so he wasted no time firing the engines. A bit of worry swept through him at not running a preliminary check, but he didn’t have time.
He threw the throttle and launched the craft’s thrusters straight up. His stomach dipped as the g-forces played havoc with his body.
Within a few minutes, they achieved escape velocity. He swung the ship out toward space, and in no time they broke through the planet’s atmosphere.
Once they were safely tucked into the bosom of space and he was certain no one was tracking them, Syn turned his attention to the small form draped in his lap. The control lights glinted softly against her pale cheeks and he noted her blood had soaked his pant leg.
Gingerly, he shifted her head until he could examine the wound. It didn’t look quite as bad as he’d first thought. He should have remembered that head wounds bled a lot, even when they were slight.
But hers was deep and could use a couple of stitches.
He shrugged his backpack off and pulled out the first-aid kit. In just a few minutes, he had her wound cleaned and wrapped.