Tag Archives: jennifer steel agent of the fsia

Jennifer Steel, Agent of the F.S.I.A. Chapter 11

Rob paced the operations center. “Have you found her yet?”

Stevenson shook his head, “Negatory, sir. Give me a little more time. She’ll pop up on camera shortly.”

Rob sighed and resumed his pacing. The director walked into the center and watched for a few seconds. Her eyes crinkled at the corners as her mouth curved slightly upward. When he turned to her, the director immediately straightened her face, but he still saw the twinkle of merriment in her eyes. “Still wearing the carpet bare, Mr. Worthington?”

He sighed and ran his fingers through his rumpled hair. He scanned the room, eyes not staying on any object for longer than an instant. “Jennifer isn’t showing up on any of the cameras, Director.”

She nodded. “Ah. So, you are worried about Ms. Steel. Do you believe her to be incapable of surviving?”

Rob’s forehead wrinkled and his brow drew downward. “What? Of course I don’t believe that! She is my friend, though. Not only that, but the supernaturals weren’t supposed to be able to contact her yet.”

“Yes. You have made a good point, Mr. Worthington. In that case, why don’t you use your considerable tracking skills to locate Ms. Steel and bring her back?”

Rob’s eyes widened. “Are you certain? What about the test?”

“Under the circumstances, I think it would be permissible to name the test as null and go with your original recommendation that Ms. Steel join.”

Rob smiled and turned to hurry out of the Ops Center. The director allowed him to get almost out of the room, before stooping him. “Mr. Worthington?”

He poked in her back in, eyebrows raised. “Yes, Director?”

“Bring our friend back safely.”

“Indeed.”

 

Rob strode the warm brown hall to the armory. He wanted to be properly outfitted in case Lilith was in a bad mood. Carter tended to have that effect on her. Rob shook his head. He did not envy the Walker of Worlds. The man had the power to slay deities and freely travel between universes, but he also had the responsibility of watching over trillions of lives across the same. That’s way over my pay grade. But there had been a time when it hadn’t been. Flashes of a different world and a woman with silver eyes played in his mind’s eye before he pushed them away. ‘Anila,’ he thought before pushing that away as well.

Arriving at the armory door, he placed his hand on the cold palm reader and leaned forward. A small green light waved over his retina as a blue one did the same to his palm. A computerized voice stated that he was cleared to enter.

“Of course I am. I wouldn’t be here otherwise,” he said.

As always, the computer did not respond. He grinned, thinking about what anyone would say upon hearing him talking to the computer. The heavy steel door slide up into a recess, allowing him entry. The backlit walls were lined with rows and rows of weapons. The rows closest to the doors were modern firearms from the Colt .25 pistol all the way up to the M72 light Anti-tank Weapon and FIM-92 Stinger missile system. Rob ignored them and headed further in. The next section held various martial arts and medieval weapons. He strode past bows, cross bows, javelins, swords and shields. Pole arms, blowguns and throwing weapons held no interest either.  Presently, he came to the very back of the armory. He stopped before a seemingly simple wooden door. This door however, was like the weapons within: magic.

Rob knocked three times on the door, paused, knocked twice more and waited. Soon a bright azure light played over his body. When it faded, the door swung open. A chill mist wafted from within. He shook his head. No matter how many dehumidifiers were placed inside, a mist always formed. He figured it must have been due to the magic being kept within.

The two-handed sword Glamdring hung on wall. Next to it were Icingdeath and the double-edged Blade of Evil’s Bane. On the opposite side of the room were the katana Tenseiga, the purple flesh covered broadsword Soul Edge and the mace Sharur. Gungnir, Mjolnir, Tonbogiri and the Runestaff hung from the ceiling. Rob strode past display cases holding the Sword of Truth, Mace of Cuthbert, Hammer of Kharas, the Dagger of Time, Soul Reaver and the Sword of Omens. He stopped before a dark wooden case in the shape of a pentagon. It had mystic symbols carved over the entirety of its surface. Despite this, it felt smooth and slightly slippery under his hand. He raised the lid and was hit with a wave of cold air. Rob ignored the arctic blast and fully raised the lid. He waved the vapor away impatiently and looked with reverence at what was within.

It was a blue crystalline bastard sword. The blade was a double fuller, lenticular design. The cross-guard was curved slightly towards the blade, the grip was of onyx and wrapped with golden wire in a chain link pattern, the pommel was a clear gem. Legend held that if this sword was used for evil, the gem would capture the wielder’s soul on his death. The sword rested on a bed of crushed red velvet next to its scabbard. The scabbard had been made by hand by Siddhārtha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. He had made it from the wood of an Elder tree and wrapped in the skin of a Nukekubi, a vicious human-like monster whose head detached from its body. Legends didn’t say who created the actual sword.

It was the third most powerful weapon in the armory, yet it was his favorite. The crystal sword fit him like it had been made for his hand. He reverentially lifted the blade and held it up to the light. The harsh white light of the fluorescent tubes was softened and diffused by the azure blade. He smiled as he stared at it. It had been two years since he last held this weapon. As he exited the armory, he passed a large sword embedded in a block of granite. Looks like the director finished with Excalibur.

Advertisements

Jennifer Steel, Agent of the F.S.I.A. Chapter 10

Jennifer sat on the cold stone floor of the cave. Further in than she wanted to go, she could hear small animals scurrying around. The smoke from her bonfire kept larger animals away. The fire crackled and popped as she stared into the orange and white flames. The heat dried her eyes and made her cheeks prickle, but she didn’t want to move further back. She blinked her eyes rapidly, trying to keep them moist. A cool wind swept into the cave and swirled the smoke into her face. She coughed hard, and spat excess saliva into the fire. After several minutes of staring into the fire, she yawned. Seconds later, she raised her arms out from her body in a stretch, closing her eyes as she yawned again. Her eyes heavy, her head began to sag forward. She jerked her head up, only to have it slide forward once more.  Soon, her head rested on her knees and gentle snores filled the air.

A large white wolf slunk over to the sleeping woman and sniffed her. It showed its teeth for a moment, lapped her cheek, then flopped down. The lupine rested its head on its paws, and watched the cave opening.

Jennifer Steel, Agent of the F.S.I.A. Chapter 9

Rob glanced at the carbon fiber face of his Black Seal MTM watch. Jennifer had been gone for over two hours. It was only supposed to take forty-five minutes. He sighed and looked at his friend. The blond woman smiled back and shook her head. “It’s too soon, Rob. You know the deadline is three hours,” she said in a cultured British accent.

“No one has ever taken that long!” He rubbed his forehead. He was developing a headache.

“You worry too much. You know she can do this. You wouldn’t have recruited her otherwise.”

“I worry too much? Have you forgotten about Mary?”

She shook her head, curls flying. “No. She was an aberration, remember. There was no way for you to know she was a half.”

A rumble of laughter came from the senior man. “Other than the nihilism, you mean?”

“Nietzsche was a human. Hard to get more nihilistic than him.”

“Okay. Fair point.”

A yellow light began pulsing. A second later, a small siren began to “wheep” softly. A young man hurried up. He carried a tablet computer in his hands and had a hands free communicator in his ear. “Mr. Worthington, we have a problem.”

“What is it, Mr. Stevenson?”

Stevenson swallowed hard. He hated to be the bearer of bad news. Especially the kind like this. “Um, the Walker of Worlds is there. He spoke with Ms. Steel and he knows she has his sword.” As he spoke, Stevenson sidled closer to the door. He didn’t want to be around when Rob blew up.

Rob sighed and ran his fingers through his dark hair. He shook his head, and looked down at the floor. “Just what we don’t need. Now I have to go in.”

The blond woman touched his arm. “You do and she gets disqualified. Those are the rules.”

Rob sighed. “Damn it.” He looked up, but didn’t see the Ops tech. “Stevenson!” he barked.

The young man poked his head cautiously back into the room. “Yes, sir?”

“Give me a sitrep.”

He nodded and tapped the tablet a few times, then pushed his finger towards the 15 foot viewing screen to Rob’s left. Rob and the blond woman turned and watched Carter confront Lilith and Jennifer running off. Rob sighed again. He hated when things went off the rails like this.

“Alright. We will continue to wait. I recommend that we terminate the countdown under the circumstances.”

The blond woman nodded. “Agreed. Mr. Stevenson, make it so.”

The young man tilted his head and tapped again at the tablet. “Done, Director.”

Jennifer Steel, Agent of the F.S.I.A. Chapter 8

Jennifer slowly came to, dimly aware that her legs were cold. Damn it. I kicked the blankets off again. She hated when she did so. Why do I end up kicking off my blankets every time I hang out with Rob, and why is it so irritating? She reached to punch her pillow, which was feeling oddly hard, and came fully awake when her hand hit the cold stone.

“Ow. Fucker.”

She sat up in a hurry. A quick look down her body had conflicting emotions running through her. One the one hand, she was dressed; in a shift, it appeared, but still dressed. The worst part was the knowledge that someone had undressed her to put this on her. She felt…violated. Goddamnit, I’m gonna fuck up whoever took liberties with me while I was out. Her eyes went wide, and she reached between her legs. No soreness, but… What the fuck?! She leaped to her feet. Where’s my fucking panties?!

Jennifer whirled around and saw that one candle had burned down and been replaced with a fresh one. The shift was a finely woven fabric of some type and belted with a golden rope around her hips. On her feet were a pair of soft leather boots that came up to mid-calf. Her sword was laying on the bed in a dark leather sheath. She picked it up and examined it. The baldric was belted for someone much larger than she was. After several minutes of fiddling with the straps, she figured out how to loosen and tighten them. She slipped the baldric over her right shoulder so she could draw the sword with her right hand, and tightened the straps. When it was comfortable, she headed out the wooden door near the recliner.

Outside, she found herself in a soaring pine forest. She stalked along a path, cussing under her breath, vowing to tear the clothes thief a new one. Crickets made their reedy music, and a tawny wood owl screeched in victory as it caught a field mouse. She marveled at its beauty for a moment, and then lifted her face, letting the light and shadow dance across her skin. Bees hummed in and out of a cluster of wild rose bushes. A quick bend at the waist to inhale their perfume before hurrying on, and delighting at the sound of her boots crunching pine needles underfoot. Not too far away, she could hear a creek chuckling as it tumbled over different levels of rocks. It wasn’t long before it became visible through the trees. Jennifer decided to walk towards the creek. As she walked, she startled a pair of rabbits. She didn’t get to see much as they streaked out of sight, just a flash of long ears and twin streaks of brown fur. She felt a smile spread across her face as she continued. She’d never seen wild rabbits before. Not paying attention to the path, she brushed up against the rough bark of an immense pine, and getting sticky pine tar on her bare arm. Brushing the white tar only succeeded in spreading it further along her arm. She scowled at the mess, hating the tacky feel of it. A noise above her caused her to look up and forget all about the pine tar on her arm. A pair of grey squirrels chased each other through the tree branches, leaping boldly from limb to limb, sending a shower of needles and twigs down on her. She found herself giggling like a little girl at their antics. Why am I giggling? I’m supposed to be pissed.

Something about the forest path – what, she didn’t know – pulled the anger out of her, leaving her more at peace. What the hell is going on with me? For some reason, even that worry faded away. A soft, warm wind began to blow across her face and playfully toss her hair across her eyes. While she walked across the rich, loamy, black earth, long blades of grass caressed her bare legs. Birds resumed twittering in the treetops. The insects never bothered to stop their humming.

The ground became softer and wetter as she approached the banks of what turned out to be a wide river. Soon, Jennifer came to the edge of the running water. It was a beautiful blue, perfectly reflecting the clear sky above. As her gaze roamed the stretch of waterway, she could see that the river grew swifter about fifty feet further down. She made her way to it, the sound of a waterfall building in volume as she got closer. She soon found herself on a rocky outcropping far above a plunge pool, with a white, frothy cascade of water diving all the way down to it. A cool mist landed on her skin, beading up and then running down her limbs as far below, a deer drank from the pool at the bottom of the waterfall. A flat boulder rose up from the center of the plunge pool, its sun-baked surface drawing her on like a cat to a sunny window seat. She absently wiped spray from her cheeks as she contemplated her sudden desire to dive in to the pool below.

Jennifer leaned towards the waterfall, her lips parted, breathing faster and shallower. Her cheeks were flushed, and she wore a big grin of anticipation. She practically vibrated with excitement. Her lips shone as she unconsciously  continually licked them. I’m gonna do it! She took three giant steps backward, stopped, and then raced forward and dove off the outcropping of rock.

“Yaaaaa-hoooooo!” she yelled as she fell.

She arched her back, swept her arms forward and executed a perfect swan dive into the plunge pool at the base of the waterfall. Ignoring the sound of thousands of gallons of water thundering into the pool, Jennifer pushed to the surface, taking a huge breath as she broke it. She threw a triumphant fist into the air, laughing giddily at the same time.

“Yes! That was amazing! I wish Rob had seen that!”

Now why the hell did I say that? She mused, dropping her arm.

She swam to the boulder in the middle of the pool and pulled herself up onto it. She slid her fingers through her wet hair, slicking it back. She then lay back on the sun warmed boulder and looked up at the clear blue sky. She enjoyed the gentle heat of the sun as it warmed her and pulled the moisture from her skin and drenched clothing. The scent of the water saturated air, combined with the smell of rich earth and green, growing things further served to relax her.

Suddenly, the wind began to pick up, kicking a fine spray of grit over Jennifer’s body. At the same time, the light hairs on her arms and the nape of her neck stood straight up. She felt dizzy as if she had twirled in place. Chills danced up her spine and down her arms as she unknowingly bit at her lower lip and cleared her throat. Her mouth went dry as she sat up and looked around her. She could see nothing, but her legs were growing tense as if she wanted to start running. She stood, tears falling unnoticed down her cheeks. She abruptly turned and dove into the water, swimming for the shore. Oddly, the water felt colder and thicker as if it wanted to keep her from reaching the safety of the shore. She finally scrambled from the water and backed away from the water which suddenly seemed dark and sinister. Jennifer wrapped her arms tightly about her body as she shook uncontrollably and gasped for air.

A cold, white mist grew above the surface of the plunge pool. The animal and insect sounds faded away. The smell of earth grew stronger as the mist grew thicker. Jennifer back around a tree and continued to watch. A bank of fluffy, greenish-black clouds formed near the center of the boulder she had sunned herself on just moments ago. The clouds began to spiral up and into a vaguely humanoid form. A bolt of lightning struck the center of the clouds, leaving a bluish after image on her vision and the smell of ozone in her nostrils. Jennifer was surprised when she wasn’t deafened by thunder. Air, superheated by the lightning bolt seconds ago, exploded outward, nearly deafening her. She cringed, having never been so close to a lightning strike before.

Blinking away tears of pain, and the after images of the bolt, Jennifer looked back at the boulder in the center of the waterfall’s plunge pool. Standing confidently on the rock was a statuesque, curvy woman. She had long, thick rich red-orange hair, long sable lashes, and ice blue eyes. Her face was perfectly symmetrical and flawless. She had firm, up thrust breasts, a line outlining her abdominal muscles, and a defined “V” shape where her abs descended to her pubis, which had no hair. There was a very evident inward curve to the outline of her body at her waist and a sharp flare outward at her hips. She had muscular, yet feminine legs and delicate feet. Poking up above her shoulders were a folded pair of bat-like wings, the fingers of which were black.

“Come here, child,” the creature said in a soprano voice.

Jennifer unconsciously checked that her sword was loose in its sheathe by lifting it a bit with her thumb and letting it drop back. I have three options: I can run, I can go talk to her, or I can attack. After a few seconds of deliberation, she gave a heavy sigh and approached the creature with dragging feet. She nibbled on her bottom lip as she approached the bank of the pool of water. The winged creature snapped her wings out, showing an impressive span. She flapped them slowly at first, then more rapidly. She gently rose into the air, the downdraft causing wavelets to ripple away from the boulder. Shortly, the creature was settling gracefully to the ground before Jennifer.

“What are you?” she said in a strained voice.

“I am Lilith, the Mother.”

“Mother of what?”

Lilith gave a small smile. “All.”

Jennifer’s right eyebrow arched upward. “Are you trying to get me to believe that you are the Eve from the Christian bible?”

Lilith shook her head. “No, Jennifer, my dear. I’m informing you that I am the one all Abrahamic religions call Eve. You may believe what you wish.”

“Rob says religions are make believe.”

“Rob? Is he your mate?”

“Oh god, no. We’re just friends.”

Lilith chuckled. “Have it your way.” She suddenly got serious. “I have a favor to ask of you.”

“What kind of favor?” Jennifer asked suspiciously.

“A helpful one. Now listen: Not too far from here is a gem. It is in the shape of a clenched fist. It looks like it is made from a blue-white diamond, but it is really a different kind of mineral; one not found on your world. I need you to get it and hand it to me.”

“That’s it?”

Lilith nodded her head. “That’s it.”

“What’s in it for me?”

“I can give you your heart’s desire. The one you won’t even admit to yourself.”

Long association with Rob made her say, “The question is: Will you do so?”

“Yes, I wi—”

“Don’t trust her Jennifer!” a man’s voice thundered.

Jennifer and Lilith turned to the new comer. He was a tall, broad-shouldered man with long and thick black hair. He had dark eyes, high cheek bones and a wide jaw which was covered with dark stubble as if he hadn’t shaved that morning. Thick arms were folded across a massive chest, clad in a silvery, purple-green colored, form-fitting armor. Across his forehead was a band of the same color of his armor. He looked regal, deadly, and intimidating. When Lilith saw him, her face contorted into a snarl of black rage. Her breathing picked up as she shook. “Carter!” she spat.

“L’Arc,” he responded, his eyes flinty.

“What are you doing here?”

“My job.”

Jennifer blinked and the mysterious man appeared, sword raised to chop, behind the winged female who vanished from sight. She reappeared several feet away, facing him once more.

Jennifer began to slowly back away. She had no idea who this Carter individual was, but she had no desire to get between him and the winged woman. Lilith growled and hissed, but made no move to follow. Jennifer backed into a tree, causing the sheathe of the white sword to knock against the trunk. Without taking his eyes off Lilith, he spoke to Jennifer. “Don’t lose my sword and only use it if you have no other recourse.”

Jennifer turned and fled, running nearly blind through the woods.  She ignored the brush scratching her bare legs, the tug of mud on her boots and spider webs breaking over her face. She leaped over a foul-smelling stagnant pond, startling squirrels  – which leaped up tree trunks – and a red fox that scurried into a hollow under a mighty pine tree’s roots. Fallen evergreen needles crunched underfoot, releasing their clean scent into the air. The light was fading, creating new shadows and dark patches around her. The wind sighed between distorted trunks, carrying the sickly odor of wood rot. She ran faster, ignoring the briars that caught at her shift, and the damp leaves griming her skin.

Her headlong rush was brought to an undignified end moments later when her foot slipped in some dark mud. She belly-flopped on the ground and slid partly into a stream, getting scrapped by the rocks and wet from the cold water. The sudden impact drove the wind from her lungs with a pained grunt. She immediately rolled off her wounded middle to her side. She curled around the stinging pain, trying to get it under control. Her breath shuddered painfully in her sore lungs. After several painful moments, she rolled to her belly again and pushed herself up on her hands and knees. Her limbs trembling with the effort, she pushed herself upright. She pulled up the soaked shift and hissed at the sight of the scrapes on her legs and the developing bruise on her abdomen.

Grrr! I’m almost finished my edits, so why can’t I bring myself to actually finish?!

I’m on the final chapter, but it’s like there is something in my actual way. I don’t get it. I’ll edit a little, then I’m like, “Ugh. I don’t want to look at this anymore!” What about you, Dear Readers? Do any of you get to the point where you’re almost finished a project, then you lose all steam and forward momentum? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Here’s another excerpt from Into the Realm: The Chronicles of Carter Blake, Book I:

 

I found myself walking down a darkened street. I was a bit disconcerted to learn I was back home. And, the street lights were out. My feet crunched over bits of broken glass. The moon came from behind a cloud, and I learned the street name was Jackson St. A couple blocks to the East, the familiar green of Leone Riverside Park. ‘I’m home in Baltimore. How?’

I walked closer, and spotted a young woman in a circle of brightness cast from a street light. She dodged an attack by from a hideous monster with a yellow infused skull. Jellied blackish ocher masses sat where eyes would be on a human. Just below a dark hole in the center of its skull was distended jawbone filled with rows of tiny, shark-like teeth, pointed and serrated. A pallid green tubular tongue protruded from its maw. Silvery blue saliva dripped to the ground and burned into the concrete.

A strong wind kicked up, bringing with it the scent of rain. The young woman risked a quick glance up at the sky. Thick, grey clouds roiled in from the east. An empty beer can bounced up the street, its clang hollow and sad. The world lit up as if by an enormous camera’s flash. Two seconds later, the air was rent by an eruption of sound. A gentle plopping came as the first cold droplets of water hit the ground. As the wind picked up, the pitch of the rain changed. What had been soft, and gentle turned into harsh, loud and drumming.

Her hair clung to her face as water dripped from her jaw and ran into her eyes. She swiped her t-shirt across her eyes in a hurry and pushed her soaked hair back from her face.

The creature’s corpse-white skin sloughed off, revealing ropy bunches of grey muscle and bronze stretches of tense tendons and ligaments. It spread its arms wide and howled. The creature’s shattered arm-blade reformed. I ran to milieu, intending to aid the woman in some fashion.

The creature raced up onto the sidewalk and leaped into the air, its arms open wide. When it reached the apex of its leap, and gravity began to reassert itself, her rising foot caught the hideous thing underneath its jaw, severing its protruding tubular tongue. It crashed to the ground, whimpering in pain, a cancerous orange fluid pouring from its mouth. She held her right arm straight out from her body, hand open and waiting. “Come to me,” she said. I stopped, and waited. Nothing happened. She dropped her arm. The creature’s noises changed from pain filled to enraged. It whirled its legs around and spun to its feet.

Once more her arm rose. “Come to me!”  she thundered.

Faster than I could process it, a tinkle of shattering glass could be heard and instant later, a high-pitched whistle came through the downpour.  The whistle grew louder as a pure white streak of light rocketed through the air. Before my stunned eyes, a pure white sword, the twin to the one at my hip, slapped into her open palm. She angled the white blade across her body in a middle guard position.

The monster paused, seeming to consider her. It was hard to tell with the inky ocher spots instead of eyes. It opened its mouth and waggled the stump of its tongue at her. The woman’s lip curled in revulsion. The creature sprang into motion, swinging its blades, trying to eviscerate the young woman.

She blocked each strike. The creature swung high with its right arm-blade and came at her in the opposite direction with the other. She ducked the high swing, blocked the low one and raised her knee to parry its abrupt kick at her stomach. It attempted to slash its weapons across her neck in a scissors motion. She ducked and thrust her sword at its middle. The monster dipped its arm-blades downward, deflecting her thrust into the ground. Rather than try to pull the sword from the ground, the young warrior kicked above the crossed arm-blades, catching the monster in the remains of its face.

Its head snapped back and it crashed to the ground, arms going wide. It did a kip-up, kicking its legs outward and flipping itself back to its feet. Before it could recover from its flip, the young woman gripped her sword in both hands and slashed down at the creatures right shoulder, separating the limb from its body. Orange fluid fountained out from the stump and its howl overcame the crash of thunder.  It reeled back.

She bent and picked up the severed limb. The monster, whatever it was, whirled on her, hate radiating off it like heat from an iron stove. The young woman stalked the damaged creature, determined to finish it.

A familiar man yanked her back against him just as the creature’s arm-blade came within a hair’s breadth of decapitating her. ‘Robilar?’ He released her. She blocked the creature’s return swing with the white sword. She drove its own arm-blade deep into its chest. The monster stared at her, shock evident on its skull-like face. Its arm fell away from her white blade. The warrior swung her arm out to the side, then swung back to the left, cutting the creature’s head from its shoulders.

She looked over, and locked eyes with me. “I’ll be here for you when you need me. That’s how I roll.”

Jennifer Steel, Agent of the F.S.I.A. (raw Update)

Agents Markham and Jensen looked around the cave. There was no sign that anyone other than Rob and Jennifer had been there. Jensen was a brunette woman with dark brown eyes that sparkled as if she wear constantly amused. Markham was a bald man with a deeply lined face. He was only 37, yet the stress of the job had him looking much older. They had been partners for seven years and communicated almost silently. At her partner’s nod, Agent Jensen raised her radio to report. Just outside the cave, a small branch crackled as if someone had lightly stepped on it while trying to sneak up on them.

Agent Markham indicated that he was going to investigate, drawing his weapon as he did so. Agent Jensen nodded and drew her own firearm. Markham stealthily crept to the cave opening and peered out. Strain as much as he could, he couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary outside. He pulled a long breath through his nostrils, but couldn’t smell anything either. He turned back to his partner and shook his head. He didn’t see anything. Jensen blinked. When her eyes reopened, her partner was gone. Her jaw dropped and she ran over to the opening of the cave.

She looked out and stared around. Some instinct had her keep silent. It was probably the same one that had her heart racing like an excited horse. Her breathing was coming fast and hard, yet shallowly. Black spots passed before her eyes and the cave felt like it was going to collapse on her. She had her gun pointed out, moving it here and there, jerkily searching for a target. She was so freaked out by Markham’s sudden vanishing act that she wouldn’t have been able to hit the ground had she aimed there.

A branch shook lightly, drawing her attention. The green of the brush’s leaves was a light brighter than she had remembered. She gently pushed aside the roughly barked branch, ignoring the green leaves. Before she could see what had made the branch move, she was abruptly hit in her face with a steam of warm liquid. The hot, greasy, coppery odor told her it was her partner’s blood. Squeezing her eyes shut, she recoiled. She never saw the thick, brown hand that snaked out of the brush and yanked her in. The brush shuddered, then was still. In the distance, birds chirped unconcernedly. A tan doe and white-speckled fawn dipped their heads to drink from the nearby stream.