Fitz thought-clicked on the program for the spy-flies. The box on her wrist popped open, allowing three tiny metallic insects to buzz free, whirling around her head as she adjusted their telemetry. Three windows opened on her inhead display, three views of her face as the minions watched her, awaiting their directions. She sent them into the dead-end alley, only three more insects buzzing around the foul passageway.
Since she’d left the Warren, more escape routes, secret rooms and hideouts had been built over the ones she remembered, making the alley look like a new building had sprung up in the cramped space. The opening at the bottom remained; a manmade cave that appeared too small to host even a child. Cases, cans and boxes stood in front of the opening, disguising it.
She guided one of the spy-flies low, trying to get a look back into the darkness, but without luck. Thermal revealed only a warm-blooded creature, big enough to be a man, curled into a tight knot. If she moved the bot in too close to him, his enhanced senses might hear the whine of its drives, or feel the backwash of the anti-grav unit.
Movement in one of the inhead windows caught her attention. A small black shadow drifted down the alley. She glanced behind her and cursed. Jumper wasn’t there. He’d slipped past her while she’d programmed the bots. He must have rolled in one of the noxious puddles, as filth caked his fur. He began scratching vigorously, let out a series of piteous meows, and checked out each disgusting lump and piece of garbage in the alley. His disguise of a starving Warren cat might have worked better if he hadn’t been carrying several kilos of extra weight. He stood on his hind legs to nose into a barrel, tipping it over and spilling its contents in a clatter of metal and breaking glass.
One of the boxes in front of the opening moved, shifted to one side.
Fitz held her breath, grounding her spies on the walls, one behind, the remaining two on either side, giving her a three-sixty view. In the darkness of the alcove, she saw movement.
“Kitty?” The voice sounded rusty, hoarse, and almost unrecognizable without its usual cultured accent. Almost, but not quite. Fitz’s heart pounded against her ribcage. A crazy mixture of fear and elation stormed through her mind as her fingers slid into her pocket and closed around the module.
A hand extended from the darkness, a small dark mound on its palm. Playing his part well, the cat edged forward, nose wrinkling. He snatched the morsel and withdrew to bolt it down. A chuckle sounded in the darkness, then the man unfolded his lanky form from his cramped refuge.
He leaned down to scratch the cat under the chin. “Sorry, Kitty, but that’s all the food I have.”
Slow, sweet shivers climbed Fitz’s back at the view from behind him. She could never mistake the finest butt she’d ever seen, ever caressed. As he stood, she noticed how thin he’d become, but his shoulders were still broad. One of the side bots fed her the image of his profile. The nose was long, aristocratic; the cleft in his chin shallow. His hair was…gone. Except for a short tail at the base of his neck to hide his spike’s socket, only a dark fuzz stubbled his head. He’d cut off all his hair. That made sense. A man on the run, hiding in the squalor of the Warren, wouldn’t have time for the extravagance of long hair.
Her body remembered the sweet sensation of all that golden hair sliding across her bare skin; the exquisite torment of it tickling her thighs as his tongue and lips drove ripples of pleasure through her. She groaned, her head thudding back against the wall.
She cursed, suddenly remembering to scan the inhead windows. The squalid alley was now empty; even the cat was gone. She’d lost focus, let her emotions waste her best chance of catching him. Fitz pushed off from the wall.
Weight slammed into her, driving her back against the rough blocks. She still held the module, tried to engage it, but he moved faster. The specifications said he’d be quicker, stronger. The logical side of her brain accepted the facts, but she hadn’t believed he’d be this fast. Even her augmented senses could barely follow his movements as he pinned her wrist and pounded her hand against the wall. The module dropped from her fingers, bounced at her feet, and his boot came down on it, crushing it into useless bits of plexisteel and composites.
He leaned close, his nose brushing hers. “Sorry, Gray Eyes. Was that something important?”
The eyes boring into hers were a familiar blue, but with no warmth, no sense of recognition in their depths. His lips twisted in a cruel parody of the smile she knew so well.
“Well, if it isn’t Ransahov’s little augieattack dog. I thought maybe I’dkilled you.”
“Sorry to disappoint, but you missed.”
“Gray Eyes, I don’t miss.”
“Maybe you’re not as good as you think.”
He shook his head, nose brushing the tip of hers. “Nope. I hit you. Right here.” His fingers stroked the front of her shirt, above her right breast.
“I had body armor on.”
“Not in that dress you wore. It left little to the imagination, and I have a very active imagination when it comes to a beautiful woman.” He slipped his fingers inside her shirt, his brows crinkling as he ran his hand across her smooth unblemished flesh.
“I don’t understand. I know I shot you. Right here. I saw the bolt hit; I saw the blood.”
Fitz tried for an enigmatic smile, despite the tremors rolling through her. “It’s a mystery, isn’t it, Wolf?"
He cocked his head at her. “Who’s this Wolf guy?”
“You are. You’re Wolfgang…"
“No.” The strength of his denial belied the confusion in his eyes. “I’m…”
“Who? Who are you then?”
The elegant features twisted. “I don’t know. All I remember…”
“Do you remember anything before you woke up in the medical bay?”
“I, ah… You. I remember you, Gray Eyes. You were there, bending over me when I opened my eyes. I wanted to crawl inside those silver orbs and stay with you forever.”
“But nothing before that?”
“No.” The word seemed to hurt him.
“That’s because you didn’t exist before that second. You’re a scrap of programming DeWitt slipped into Wolf’s computer while they were doing the augmentation upgrades. It overwrote your personality. Tritico paid the cyber-tech to hijack your body. He figured you were the only person strong enough, with the right access, to kill Ari, and he wants her out of the way so he can go on doing business the way he always has. He programmed you to kill her.”
She stroked her hand down the side of his face, felt the rough scratch of whiskers. “Come back with me, Wolf. We can pull the program out. Stop it now before anyone else gets hurt.”
He flinched back from her touch. “Don’t call me that. I’m not your Wolf. And I’m not a piece of bad code. I exist, damn it. I’m human, and I want to stay alive.”
“We’ll figure something out. I promise. We won’t just delete you like a random cypher…”
“Cypher…” He trailed his fingertip down her throat. “I like the sound of that. No more Wolf. Call me Cypher.”
His mouth claimed hers, hard and hungry. His tongue forced past her lips, demanding her response. All the anger, fear and frustration of the past few days ignited a laser bright heat inside her, fusing her mouth to his. He ground his body against her, pinning her to the wall. She wrapped one leg around his hip, needing to be closer, needing the encumbering clothes gone. His hand slipped beneath her shirt and cupped her breast.
When the need to breathe drove him to lift his mouth from hers, he searched her face, his eyes hooded and dark with passion. “You don’t seem like the type to seek hard anonymous sex in Warren back alleys. Who is this Wolf to you? At first, I thought you were his bodyguard, just an augie charged with protecting him, but it goes a lot deeper, doesn’t it?”
“You…Wolf is my bonded partner. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to get him back.” She lifted her hand, displaying the thin platinum ring circling one finger. Her index finger held a second, larger band. “These are our bonding rings. I’d never heard of the custom before, but you—Wolf—said it was common on his homeworld, Willcommin. I kept yours…his, while he underwent the implantation surgeries.”
“Bond-partner, huh? Lucky man.” He kissed her again, softer this time. It ended too soon for Fitz.
She placed her fingertips against his lips. “You told me once you would be at my side for as long as I needed you, for all eternity. Keep your promise now.”
Cypher shook his head. “Sorry, Gray Eyes, but I can’t do that. Although, I’ll admit your kiss almost made me change my mind. The truth is, I’ve grown accustomed to this body. It’s quick, and strong, and smart. I’m going to need all those attributes if I go after Ransahov again.”
Fitz raised her chin and put as much frost into her gaze as her aching soul would allow. “If you do, I’ll be forced to stop you. Don’t make me do that.”
“You might try, but I don’t think you’ll succeed. My advice would be to stay out of my way. I’ve already stolen your Wolf’s body, and after the Emperor is dead, maybe I’ll come back to claim his woman.”
Cypher stepped back, crouched. Organic muscles and cybernetic assists uncoiled, hurling him upward. He somersaulted, caught a projecting ledge, then scrambled the rest of the way up the wall like a four-legged insect. His augmentations allowed him to use every crevice, every crack, to pull his body upward. By the time Fitz started to move, he’d rolled onto the roof.
Without the full use of one hand, she picked her way more slowly, looking for ledges and larger projections. When she reached the rooftop, she spied him four buildings away, hurtling across the gaps between them in great arching leaps. He skidded to a stop, turned and bowed to her, then leapt into empty space.
Fitz watched for long minutes, but he didn’t reappear on the next rooftop. She sunk to her knees, and the tears came.
The Dragon's Bidding Saga
Colonel Kimber FitzWarren is settling into her challenging new position as head of Imperial Security. With an alien symbiont living inside her, giving her incredible healing powers, even immortality, she looks forward to spending eternity with her lover, ex-mercenary Wolf Youngblood. Their lives and the fortunes of the Empire are purring along like a well-fedKaphier cat, so they decide now would be a good time for Wolf to go into the operating tank to have his old augmentations updated.
And that’s when the gods of luck decide to bite them on the butt.
The man who awakes from surgery resembles Wolf, but behind those blue eyes, Fitz discovers the mind of a stranger. Their old enemy, Janos Tritico, has corrupted Cyber-Ops, slipping a rogue download into the internal computer that controls Wolf’s augmentations and turning him into a super assassin programmed to terminate the emperor and bring down the government. Only Fitz stands between her liege and the killer wearing her beloved’s face. She'll do her job, even if it breaks the heart in her armored chest.
Sometimes there is no happily ever after.
"No one does Science Fiction Romance like Westcott. Her signature style is a mix of blood-pumping action, sarcastic humor and romance to die for. CYPHER benefits from all three in a perfect balance that kept me turning pages well past bedtime. Highly recommended!"
--Rhonda Mason, author of The Empress Game Trilogy.
A Hero for the Empire, Book 1 of the Dragon's Bidding Saga is once again available on Amazon in the Kindle Unlimited Program. Hated to see the demise of Samhain Publishing because they gave me my first break, but now "Hero" is all mine.
Read how the adventure began....
A Hero for the Empire Four Star Review Romantic Times Magazine
The Dragon's Bidding: Book 2, Cypher is out on Amazon in e-book and paperback. Kimber FitzWarren finds herself facing her most deadly adversary yet....the man she loves.
Excerpt from Cypher