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BLACK AND BLUE
by Gena Showalter

Genre: Paranormal Romance, Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

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Four years later

What’s wrong with me ?

Evie Black executed her fiftieth lap in the long, rectangular pool that consumed half of her backyard.

The sun shone brightly, heating her skin as well as the water. Very precious water. Expensive. During the human-alien war, a good portion of the world’s supply had been contaminated.

But then, she was obscenely rich and wanted fonothing.

She also had a fantastic job. At twenty-six, she was the youngest surgeon at St. Anthony. It wasn’t the life she once envisioned for herself, but it was a good one all the same.

So why did she feel so utterly unsatisfied?

Fifty-one.

Her heart thumped against her ribs. Her muscles burned from the strain.

Fifty-two.

Something had to be missing. Not a man. She didn’t have time to date. Besides, there wasn’t anyone she wanted to date. Her hormones were in hibernation, and had been for years.

Fifty-three.

Ever since Claire had—

No. No, no, no. Not an acceptable thought path. Fifty-four.

“Eden Black, requesting video conference,” a computerized voice announced. Perfect. A distraction.

“Granted,” Evie said, and swam to the pool steps.

As she emerged from the water, her sister’s hologram appeared in front of her.

Eden Black was a beautiful woman. One of the rare Rakans to walk the earth, with golden skin, hair, and eyes. Adopted by Michael, trained as an agent. One of the best. Respected as much as John No Last Name, Solo Judah, and—as much as she hated to admit it— Corbin Blue.

The males her father loved as if they were his own flesh and blood.

That had always been a sore point for Evie, who had not met Michael until her eighth birthday. And for ten years after that, she had seen him only a handful of other times. Yet, he couldn’t seem to function without the Dynamic Trio.

Why does no one want to keep me around? Was she really so terrible?

Whaa, whaa, whaa. Baby! Stop whining.

She blamed No Daddy Syndrome. For most of her childhood, she’d assumed Michael hated her, and it gutted her. Even now, knowing that wasn’t the case, she struggled with self-esteem issues. But at least she was on the road to recovery. Step one: admission of a problem. “Look at Miss Hot Stuff in her teeny tiny bikini,” Eden said, wiggling her brows. “I’m so freaking jelly.”

Evie stalked to the chaise longue to grab her towel, her sister’s hologram moving with her, so that they were always in sight of each other. Before drying off, she struck a pose and said, “Thank you, thank you. I try.”

Eden rolled her eyes. “Goofball.”

Hardly. Everyone else called Evie spoiled and haughty, a party girl without a filter, who let daddy’s money buy her a career she didn’t deserve. Uh, try honest to a fault. And never mind the fact that Evie hadn’t been to a legit rager in years.

“Headed for another job?” she asked, rubbing her hair between folds of the cloth.

“Yep. Michael wants me to do a little recon from inside a Shanghai prison. I’m set for transport tomorrow morning, and I don’t know how long I’ll be there.” “Dude.”

“I know.” Eden pouted for a moment, then brightened. “Hey, hop on the jet and join me. We can tag team the inmates hard-core.”

She didn’t even try to hide her shudder. “I’d rather be cut up and sold for parts.”

“Come on, Evie. It’s been three years since—” “Don’t go there,” she rushed out. Looking back hurt. Hurt bad.

Unfazed, Eden said, “You have to forgive yourself.”

Have to? No.

Would she ever? No, again.

Well, hell, why not look back? she thought then. She deserved the pain.

Once, Evie had been desperate to prove her worth to Michael. To outdo his favored boys. To be strong like Eden. And at first she succeeded. But with every mission, every victory, her confidence grew, and her arrogance intensified—until boom!

Blue’s prediction came to pass.

She led the worst kind of criminal straight to Claire’s door. Sweet, innocent Claire. Brutalized. Murdered. Dead.

Acid churned in Evie’s stomach, splashed through her veins, scorching.

She quit Michael’s agency, and spent the next few months spiraling out of control. Then Eden charged into her life and quite literally knocked some sense into her, and she’d straightened up. She’d even fasttracked her residency at the hospital.

Her father still used her on the occasional job, but only as an asset, when he needed to get another agent inside a high-class establishment or party. He never used her as an assassin.

“Fine,” Eden said on a sigh. “Stubborn girl. I’ll suffer through the mission all by my lonesome.”

“Like you’re really going to suffer.” Evie stalked into the house, her sister’s image remaining at her side. Cool air kissed her bare skin as she bypassed the leather couch, glass coffee table, and forty-inch holovision screen. “Guaranteed your boyfriend will be sneaking into the prison to secretly satisfy your every desire.” Lucius Adaire was an agent, too, and lived to make Eden happy.

“True.” Eden’s smile was dreamy. “Speaking of boyfriends . . . are you dating anyone?”

Evie stopped in the kitchen to pour a glass of wine. “You ask that question every time we’re together, and the answer has never changed. What makes you think today will be any different?”

“Because you aren’t the coldhearted bitch you pretend to be, and one day you’re going to snap out of this funk and want some guy to give it to you good and hard.”

“No way.”

Not so fast.

An image of Corbin Blue flashed through her mind. Though he had the white hair and lavender eyes quintessential to his Arcadian race, everything else about him was all his own. At least six and a half feet of pure, raw strength, he had a body layered with the mouthwatering muscle he’d earned playing football.

Such a silly name for the sport. He had the face of an angel, so beautiful it sometimes hurt to look at him. He also had the smile of a devil. Wicked. Total temptation.

And power—wowzer, but that man crackled with power. Standing next to him was enough to raise the fine hairs on the back of her neck. At their first meeting, Evie had been gobsmacked by her up-close-andpersonal sighting of him and had scrambled to put up impenetrable defenses. Not only had he been the boyfriend of an acquaintance, but he also had the reputation of a gutter rat.

Becoming just another one of his conquests held no appeal.

At least Noelle Tremain wised up and dumped the cocky bugger soon after the peace gala. Not that he’d cared. Over the years, he’d dated too many women to count—all blond, all stacked, making it perfectly clear Evie had never been and never would be his type.

Then he met Pagan Cary. Blonder and more stacked than any of the others. The two had been together for several months and were now engaged. To be honest, their relationship baffled Evie. Blue had been caught cheating on Pagan at least a dozen times. News stations loved to blast elicit pictures of his trysts. Man-whore!

And yet, Pagan stayed with him. The girl never seemed to care what he did. Actually, the girl had been linked to several other men.

Evie would have castrated him. To start.

Although . . . she got why women fell under his spell. She really did. That knickers-melting smile . . . when he flashed it your way, you felt as if you were the only female alive. The lover of his most erotic dreams. The other side of his heart.

I’m pathetic.

But, unlike other females, she knew he was a savage, unbound by any kind of moral code. He was hardened, detached, and lived by his own set of rules—but even those he sometimes ignored. And he was calculated. No one would ever be able to shake him from his endgame, whatever that endgame happened to be. No, thanks.

So why am I shivering?

Because it’s cold. Yeah. That’s why.

“Hello. I’m still here, you know. I’ve been telling you all about the guys I’ve got lined up for you. When the time comes, of course.”

Eden’s voice pulled Evie from her thoughts, and she blinked into focus. She leaned against the bar in the kitchen, her glass of wine raised midway to her mouth. “Sorry,” she muttered. “I wasn’t listening.”

“Clearly. You’re flushed, and I know my descriptions weren’t that entertaining,” her sister said, her tone suddenly sly. “Just what . . . or who . . . were you thinking

about, hmm?”

Evie plucked a grape from the temperature-controlled bowl in the center of the counter and threw it at her sister. The little green fruit sailed through Eden’s now laughing image.

“That salacious, huh?”

“Good-bye, Eden,” she said drily.

 “Bye, Eves.”

They smiled at each other a split second before the hologram disappeared.

With a sigh, Evie pressed the Power button on the TV remote, and the screen in the kitchen lit up.

A young, pretty reporter stood in front of utter chaos. Smoke billowed through the air, creating an eerie backdrop for absolute carnage. Homeowners lingered on their front lawns, watching as firemen and policemen dug through piles of charred debris.

“—unknown male was rushed to the nearest hospital,” the reporter was saying. “We’re told he’s in critical condition, and yet, somehow he disappeared five minutes after his arrival. No one seems to know what happened to him.”

An address flashed across the screen, and Evie gasped. Michael’s house.

Trembling, she set her wineglass aside and reached for her cell. “Michael Black. Father.” The line rang, a screech in her ears.

She went straight to voice mail.

She never went straight to voice mail.

Unknown male . . . hospital . . . disappeared . . . Had to be her father. If he’d been injured and carted away by civilians, his people would have swooped in, stolen him, and taken him to their medical facility. That’s the way black ops worked.

Okay. Okay. So. If the reporter was to be believed, Michael was critical but alive. If Evie hurried, she could reach the facility in half an hour. She could help him. As quickly as possible she gathered her things and jumped in her car. The sun was hidden behind clouds as she soared down the highway at a speed cars were not supposed to be able to go. But then, most people could not rebuild the sensory system as she could, nor did they know they could disable preset maximum speeds.

You can take the girl out of the agency, I guess, but not the agency out of the girl.

Thankfully, black-market shields kept her from being noticed by any nearby cops.

The farther away from her home she got, the fewer buildings and shops appeared, until they stopped appearing altogether. Finally, her destination loomed ahead. A metal blockade surrounded a sprawling structure with dark concrete walls and shield armor rather than windows. Bright halogens glared down from the steepled roof, chasing away every shadow.

She stopped at the front gate. An armed guard— human—stepped forward to bang on her window. She lowered the partition and flashed the ID she’d never shredded.

He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Miss Black, but no one gets in tonight.”

“I’m just here to see my father and—”

“I’m sorry, Miss Black, but you’ll have to turn around now.”

Gah! She tried again. “Bloody hell, my father—” “I’m sorry, Miss Black, but no information is to be given out. Not to you. Not to anyone.”

Can’t kill him. Was Michael inside?

Surely. Why else would the guard act like this if not to protect her father from further harm? “Can you just tell me—”

“No,” he said, one hand motioning for her to back up, the other curling around the handle of his pyre-gun. “Now, I suggest you leave before I’m forced to make you.”

“I’d like to see you try,” she retorted. With the press of a button, she could pepper him with bullets. “But let’s save our tussle for another time, shall we?” She threw the car in reverse, spraying gravel in his face.

At home, she would gather the supplies she’d locked in her basement three years ago. Then she would break into the facility and unleash all kinds of hell. No one kept her from the people she loved.

No one.