Given as long as Keris and Dariana had been together, how had they managed to stay childless?
As they neared Aksel’s old base, Hauk pulled Sumi to a stop. He had a bad, bad feeling in his gut. Something wasn’t right.
Instead of answering, he turned a small circle and scanned the desert around them. There was nothing there.
Still the feeling persisted.
Sumi buried her hands in his hair and forced him to look at her. “You’re scaring me. What’s going on inside your head?”
He gave her a dry stare. “You don’t scare.”
“I do on occasion. Now, what is it?”
“Just the ghosts of the past haunting me.” He glanced back to the base, a shoddy, broken-down husk of what it’d been the last time he’d seen it.
A lot had changed in eight years. Then, Kiara had been kidnapped by Aksel and brought here to die. Nykyrian had come on a suicide run to save her life. Hauk’s mission had been to secure Kiara at any cost while Nyk played decoy for Aksel and his men.
Even now, he could see the anguished look on Nykyrian’s face right before they’d left to come here. “If I don’t get the chance, tell her I love her, that I’ve always loved her, and that I couldn’t have been more thrilled about the baby.” Nykyrian’s heartfelt words still ran a chill up his spine. His best friend had given him one hell of a bad day back then. He still owed Nyk a beating for that.
But this was an entirely different time. It was an entirely different enemy breathing down his neck, trying to kill him. One whose face and name he didn’t know.
Shrugging the feeling away, he took Sumi’s hand and led her toward the dilapidated building.
They’d only taken three steps when Sumi pulled him to a stop. He glanced at her with a frown.
She dropped and tugged at his arm for him to do the same. He obeyed without question.
Sumi narrowed her gaze on the shadow that stood in the doorway of the base. Wanting a better vantage point, she crawled along the ground to a small rise. She pulled her rifle from Hauk’s shoulder and used the scope to survey the building.
“We have a problem,” she whispered, handing the rifle for Hauk to use.
He looked through the scope, then cursed under his breath as he saw what had alarmed her.
He shook his head. “Boldorians.”
“How do you know?”
“The sheer number of them. Incas travel in smaller groups and they don’t set traps. They’re cowardly raiders.”
“All right… Let me get a closer look. See what I can recon.”
He grabbed her arm as she started away. “I’ll do it.”
She smiled at his offer and patted his arm. “You’re too big to hide, sweetie. You know that. This requires someone who can actually vanish into a shadow… not cast a big one.”
She looked back at him expectantly.
Hauk hesitated as he stared into those hazel eyes that seared him. Funny, eight years ago, he’d thought Nykyrian was an idiot for not telling Kiara himself what he wanted her to know. For wasting their time together in silence.
Now he understood. It was hard to let someone that deep into your life. To admit out loud to them that they, alone, held a place inside you where only they could destroy you. And Sumi definitely held his heart and soul in her delicate hands. One harsh look or word from her lips could break him even worse than any enemy assault.
Just say it.
The words choked him. You’re not a coward.
“I’ll be right back.”
Before he could speak, she was gone. Hauk couldn’t breathe as he realized he’d let her go without telling her to be safe. And every minute that ticked by was sheer torture for him as he imagined all manner of atrocities befalling her.
Please come back.
If anyone harmed her, he would tear them apart and relish doing it. No one better lay a single finger on her body. They better not even cast an evil glare in her direction.
Desperate pain swelled inside him as his mind tortured him with horrid possibilities. The Andarion in him wanted to storm the complex right now, and burn it to the ground.
But the saner part of himself knew that if he did that, the Boldorians would kill every being he loved in that building before he got through the door.
She’s a trained assassin, not a civ. Give her time for recon.
That was a lot easier said than done. He hated not having an earwig to stay in touch with her. To not know what was going on.
Screw this shit…
He was just about to go in anyway when he felt a hand on his leg. Rolling, he intended to cut his attacker’s throat.
Until he looked into a pair of loving hazel eyes. He grabbed her into his arms and held her tight against him.
He loosened his hold. A little.
Sumi laid her head down on his chest and smiled as warmth filled her. He might not say she was important to him, but this hug told her just how worried he’d been. “Still can’t breathe.”
He finally released her. “What did you find out?”
“It’s uglier than hell. Definitely your kind of place. Filled with undesirables, who have way too much training and ammunition… and not enough soap.” She handed him a small knapsack.
His jaw went slack as he opened it to find a bevy of electronics. “How’d you get this?”
She winked at him. “Assassin, remember? Took out two of their burliest in the back. Hope they weren’t anyone’s girlfriend. Anyway, that’s what they had on them. I couldn’t even begin to get a body count. There’s at least twenty on the first floor. Sounded like more upstairs. They are trained. They are savage. And they’re loaded for Andarion.”
“You’re right. Sounds like my kind of party. Let’s fall back and plan the festivities.”
“Yes, sir. Captain, sir. On your six, sir.”
Hauk scowled at her use of a rank no one had called him by in years. It sounded so strange and yet, he adored the teasing light in her eyes. Before he could stop himself, he kissed her lips again, then crawled away from their spot to a safe area where they could tie up Illyse, and make plans.
Sumi followed Dancer back to the cliffs. They found a small cubby to use for cover. She sat quietly as he ran over the layout of the facility.
“No doubt they’d have them in or around Aksel’s old office.” He showed her where that would be on the second floor of the diagram he’d drawn on his e-tab.
“How long ago was your strike?”
She widened her eyes. “Are you sure about the locations?”
“Yeah. I have scary recall for floor plans. It’s why Darling and I work as a team. He can’t remember shite without a diagram of it in front of his face.”
But what really impressed her was the fact that even though he had a ton more experience with strikes and planning such events, he still listened to her suggestions and advice. Nor did he get angry or defensive when she asked questions such as the one about his recall. It said a lot about him that he didn’t let his ego get in the way. He treated her like a partner.
And that meant everything to her. No one had ever held her opinions with much regard.
Sighing, he turned the tablet around. “There was a munitions dump here when Aksel ran the place. I’m thinking if it’s still stocked and we raid it, it’ll give us a lot of firepower.”
“That’s a big if.”
“I know.” He rubbed his thumb thoughtfully against his goatee.
“But I like the idea of making a timer to cut the power. What if we go in a standard League two-assassin team and take them out systematically? We can grab weapons as we find them. What do you think?”
Dancer considered it. “Another big if. We won’t know the capacity of the weapons they’re using or their charge levels. Been there, got my ass flambéed. Not looking for a repeat. However… I like your idea best, so far. We can combine that with the strikes I make with Darling. You said you saw the raid on the prison?”
She nodded. “But… you two were a little on the brazen side when you did that. And we don’t have a Sentella-Tavali army backing us.”
“Yeah, well, Darling and I aren’t normally that suicidal. He was a little bended by the fact he thought they’d killed his wife, and he was out for blood vengeance. But that being said, our normal mode of attack is a subtler version. If you’ve studied my moves, then you’ll know what I need for anchor.”
“You’re taking point?”
“Yeah. I know the layout.”
Sumi hesitated. Point was the most dangerous position. It would leave him completely exposed.
Dancer met her gaze. “It makes the most sense. I draw. You sweep.”
Tears filled her eyes. “I’m not sure I can let you do that.”
Hauk froze as he heard the most precious words in the universe. While he loved his friends, they’d never been that reticent to put his ass on the line for a mission. “We do our part. We all go home.”
Her lips quivered. “You better. I won’t forgive you if you die on me.”
He pulled her against him and held her tight. “I’m not going anywhere, mia. I have a promise to keep for you.”
Her hot tears fell against his skin as she kept her arms wrapped around his neck. “I love you, Dancer,” she whispered. “I really do. And I’ve never said that to anyone. Not even Kalea’s father.”
For a full minute, he couldn’t speak as his heart shattered and was left jagged and bleeding by those words. There had been a time once when he’d dreamed of hearing a female say that to him. But that dream had died along with Keris.
He couldn’t believe he’d actually found someone who could tolerate him.
“I love you, too, munatara a la frah.”
Sumi pulled back to stare up at him. She couldn’t believe what she’d heard. Not until she saw the truth in his eyes. No one had ever looked at her like that.
Like she was the air he breathed.
“I am not going to let Dariana have you, Dancer. If I have to cut her f**king throat to keep you safe, I will. And I will relish her blood flowing over my hands.”
A smile spread across his face, exposing his fangs. “Spoken like a true Andarion warrior.” He lifted her hand to his lips and brushed a tender kiss across her palm. “I am, and will always be yours and yours alone, Sumi.” He pressed his cheek to hers before he stepped away.
Fear for him ripped her apart as she watched him prepare for their attack. But she knew she’d have to let that go. In the coming hours, she couldn’t allow any emotion to cloud her judgments or make her hesitate.
This was about battle, and Dancer needed an assassin at his back. Not an emotional woman distracting him.
They removed all color from their bodies except for the black and brown that would help hide them in the shadows.
Hauk frowned at her hair as he noted the pale color. That would definitely stand out. “I understand now why you wore the black wig.”
Sumi nodded at his statement. “Hard to hide pale blond hair in the darkness.”
He handed her his scarf to wrap around her hair to help conceal it. He’d already applied more dirt and a reddish clay to her skin for camouflage. Likewise, he wore some over the shiny areas of his face – across his forehead and along his cheekbones and chin. In true Andarion fashion, he’d applied it in a geometric pattern that was as beautiful as it was serviceable. And this time, she definitely saw the marks of his family in it.
Before he gave approval to her wardrobe, he shrugged his shirt off and put it on her.
She scowled at his actions. “What are you doing?”
“It’s blast resistant. Your poncho isn’t.”
“That’s great for me. Sucks for you, and I’m not walking in there with you unprotected.”
He grinned at her anger as he pulled a Sentella coat out of his pack. “I won’t be unprotected.”
When she arched a curious brow as to why he hadn’t given her the coat, he handed it to her. The instant he let go, the weight of it caused her to stumble forward. “Oh my God! What’s it made of? Rock?”
He laughed. “It’s what we wear into battle.”
Well, that certainly explained the size of his build. That thing had to weigh a hundred pounds.
Winking at her, he shrugged it on then secured his braids back from his face.
She lightly ran her hand over the black swirling pattern that swung up from his eye and across his cheek. “It’s the wings of a hawk, isn’t it?”
He inclined his head to her. “A sparn hauk. It was what my family was named for.”
The fiercest winged predator known in any world. They were said to be lethal whenever their nest was threatened. Territorial and vicious. But those rare few who’d domesticated them had claimed that no creature was more loyal or a better companion. None more intelligent.