Andromeda Falling ~ Book 2 in Dark Horizon series.
Lincoln Croft isn’t the most reputable man. Disillusioned by the ever-continuing war between the Coalition and the Alliance, he’s made a living running dangerous goods between the worlds, using his ship, the Andromeda, to outrun enemy striker crafts and avoid certain prosecution. And the fact he can hack into any computer system ever made certainly doesn’t hurt his chances at a successful mission.
After a recent crusade to help free the condemned planet of Venitia gains him a full pardon, Linc has decided to give honest work a try. Just his luck, his old nemesis, Captain Frank Bane, has other ideas. An unexpected meeting forces Lincoln to crash-land on the very planet he swore he wouldn’t set foot on again. And the surface of Venitia hasn’t changed. Hot, dry and dangerous, Linc knows he needs to get to the settlement before he becomes some creature’s dinner.
He never planned on running into Gwendolyn Bennet, the one woman he’d never quite gotten over. After a less than warm welcome, Gwen begrudgingly agrees to help Linc reach the colony. But Bane isn’t giving up. He’s determined to destroy Lincoln, and the Andromeda, even if it means annihilating Venitia.
The unforgiving sun glared down on him as Lincoln wiped his brow, leaning against a large boulder as he recalculated his trajectory. He’d been traveling north, northeast since leaving the ship, but even after a few hours, he hadn’t happened upon the Venitian settlement.
“Next time, I should remember to ask how far the damn thing is before I leave.”
He released a weary breath, clenching his teeth against the pain. Though he wasn’t a doctor, he knew the continual loss of blood was taking its toll. Reduced walking speed, increased fatigue and tingling in his fingers all pointed to the fact he was slowly heading toward hypovolemic shock. That’s if a snipe or troll didn’t find him first.
He’d been lucky so far, dodging the few creatures he’d seen on the dunes. Sage had been right. Keeping to the small gathering of brushes and trees had provided enough protection he’d covered nearly fifteen miles unscathed. But if he didn’t find the colony soon, he wouldn’t stay conscious long enough to care, assuming he even made it to a suitable cave to spend the night.
“I swear, Bane, I’ll see you rot in a cage for this one.”
He tilted back his head, breathing in the blazing air before turning to glance at the rock face stretching out to his right. He’d tried to detour around it, but the thought of getting trapped against a sheer face had convinced him to alter his route and follow a path through the lower sections. But after traveling through the twisting corridor for twenty minutes, he’d started to think he was going around in circles.
He stared down at his watch, trying to focus on the readout, wondering if the surface could get any hotter. The temperature had climbed to well over a hundred degrees, and despite the fact the second sun was already starting to set, it didn’t seem as if it’d gotten any cooler.
“Talk about frying your brain.” He chuckled, staring off at the horizon, when the sound of blaster fire echoed through the outcrop.
“Move it, Reddings! I can’t hold this thing off for long!”
The voice carried across the air, the desperation in it impossible to miss. Lincoln pushed off the stone wall and stumbled over to a large overhang. Though the path he’d been following continued off to his right, he could see a series of twisting corridors below him, hidden amidst more rock. He looked close to the bottom, drawn to two figures darting between the rising stone spires. He traced back along their path, cursing when a large bird-like creature squawked behind them, its huge beak snapping at anything close to it.
He sighed and shook his head. “Of course, it has to be a snipe.”
Gleaming gray scales and impenetrable skin. The ability to run on two legs instead of four at speeds rivaling that of a hovercraft. About the only weakness he’d heard about was its lack of intelligence.
He scanned the area, calculating the most likely escape route for the couple below based on their current direction. A few openings were scattered along the trail, but an arcing branch to their right a few hundred meters ahead of them presented the best route. If they had any survival training, they’d follow the narrow corridor deeper into the rock where the bird’s size and tracking pattern would give them the advantage, and possibly save their lives.
He grunted, holding his side as he took off, following a twisting section of rock that he hoped intersected with theirs. Stones tumbled down the sides of the sheer cliff, marking his progress as he jumped across an open section, landing with a dull thud on the other side. Pain flared through his ribs, but he did his best to ignore it, racing toward where the paths branched apart. Muffled footsteps and blaster fire echoed ahead of him, the sound occasionally overshadowed by the eerie call of the snipe. He rounded the last corner just as the first person reached the fork.
The man was dressed in Coalition battle fatigues, the beige color designed to blend in with the desert surroundings. But Lincoln knew the creature hunted on movement, rendering the illusion completely useless as long as the soldier kept moving. Lincoln called to the man but the guy darted off down the left side, not even giving the smaller corridor a second glance. Lincoln cursed and ran forward, knowing the guy didn’t stand a chance on the open rock face when another figure approached the section.
Brown hair pulled back into a ponytail, she looked vaguely familiar as she glanced up the same path the other soldier had taken before heading down the left. She turned to shoot at the creature following her when Lincoln grabbed her and shoved her behind him, aiming his gun at the animal as it breached the intersection. He held his breath and fired, hitting the beast square in the eye. The animal reeled backward, tumbling against the side of the cliff as it lost its footing. Lincoln fired again, but the bird turned its head, deflecting the shot off its resilient scales.
The woman tugged at his sleeve, nearly pushing him over. “You can’t kill them that way.”
He shook her off. “I’m more than aware of how tough a snipe is to kill, darling. But everything’s got a weakness.”
He called out, yelling for the other soldier, but the man never appeared at the bend in the path. Lincoln swore under his breath. “Two choices. Either we continue along here, where we might have a chance of surviving, or we go after your friend.” He spared the woman a quick glance. “There’s no cover on that side of the rock face.”
“How do you know?”
“I came from higher up that side. Trust me. It’s barren.”
She kicked at the stone wall crowding against them. “He’ll never last on his own.”
“Nope. Truthfully, two more won’t make much of a difference but…okay. Let’s go. But move slowly. They’re attracted to movement. With that one eye damaged, it might not be able to focus on us if we keep our motion slow and steady.”
“Are you fucking insane? Have you seen how fast they run?”
“More than I’d care to admit.”
“Fine. But I’m shoving you down its mouth first if you’re wrong.”
He chuckled. “A girl after my own heart. Deal.”
He eased forward, keeping the injured reptile at bay with well-timed blaster shots. The animal seemed uncertain, knocking its head against the wall as if trying to get the bloody eye to work better. They got within a few feet of the creature when a loud scream carried across the breeze, followed by a series of high-pitched squawks.
Lincoln stopped. “Shit. There’s more of them.” He looked at her across his shoulder. “I’m thinking there’s little reason for us to try and rescue your friend now. That wasn’t a snipe that screamed.”
She gulped. “Oh god, you mean Reddings is…”
Fear flashed in her eyes before she nodded, moving with him when he ushered them backward, increasing the distance between them and the bird again. The snipe stumbled to its feet and took a cautious step forward, twisting to look up the other path before swinging its head sideways and staring at them with its good eye as it snapped its beak.
The woman palmed his back, halting him. “I think it sees us.”
She’d kept her voice low, the husky sound sending a shiver down his spine. He ignored the unexpected sensation, chalking it up to loss of blood as he reached one hand behind him to grasp her hand.
“Without two eyes, it’ll have a hard time getting a bead on us. Depth perception’s a bitch with only one point of reference.”
The snipe tilted its head and took another step.
Lincoln shrugged. “Of course, I could be wrong about that.”
The woman groaned and tugged at his hand just as two more creatures rounded the far bend, their beaks covered in blood. They slowed to a stop when the first animal snapped at them, the hollow sound loud in the oppressive silence.
Lincoln tipped his head skyward. “Three? Are you fucking serious?” He took two quick steps backward. “Time for us to move, darling. And I mean fast.”
She didn’t resist as he turned and raced up the path, following the winding corridor back the way he’d come. The animals called behind him, the clicking of their talons on the rock shadowing their every step. Lincoln kept moving, thankful his prediction had proven correct and that the damn things were too big to move quickly along the narrow path. He picked up his speed, yelling behind him for the woman to jump as they ran headlong toward the gap. Her fingers tightened around his as he launched them both over the opening. He landed off balance, stumbling onto one knee when the girl’s weight yanked him backward.
Lincoln clawed at the rock, finding a small handhold as he twisted to glance behind him. The woman had cleared the gap, only to slide off the edge to their left when the stone face gave way beneath her. He cinched his fingers tighter, not sure how to pull her up, when she swung sideways on his arm, landing her foot on the top edge.
“If you can hold tight, I’ll lever up.”
“I’d make it fast. I can hear those things coming.”
“As long as there’s no pressure.”
He resisted the chuckle poised on his tongue, more than aware this wasn’t the time to be laughing. But damn if this girl wasn’t a female version of him—cocky and headstrong with a familiar air about her that twigged something in the back of his mind. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear he’d seen her somewhere before.
His idle ramblings vanished when the first snipe rounded the far bend, its long neck bobbing out in front of it. He looked at it over his shoulder, wishing he could let go long enough to hit its other eye, when it stopped. It tilted its head, swinging it back and forth as if searching for something when it hit him. It couldn’t see them. Lincoln held steady, grimacing when the woman’s head popped above the edge.
He gave her a small sideways nod as he tried to speak out of only one side of his mouth. “Freeze.”
She paused with her other hand wrapped around a small nodule of stone as her head slowly turned toward the beast. Understanding glistened in her eyes as her breath seemed to stall in her chest.
She remained still, with only her eyes darting toward him. “Despite what you might think, this isn’t exactly an easy pose to maintain.”
He surveyed her position. Her left hand still held his while her right leg was notched around a chunk of rock on the surface. Her right hand had started to tremble as it gripped the outcrop and he could only guess that her other leg was hanging below her.
He sighed. “I suggest you move incredibly slowly, or it won’t matter if you can hold that pose or not because you’ll be snipe bait.”
“You could try shooting it again.”
“Not without releasing one hand.” He smirked at her. “They’re both rather busy right now. Do you have a preference as to which one I use?”
She glared at him. “Then stop whining and help me up so you can free one up and kill the son of a bitch.”
“In case it’s not obvious, I’ve been doing that for the past few minutes.”
Her glare intensified as she focused on the snipe again. Her entire body seemed to shudder as she gradually levered herself up, finally cresting the sharp drop and scooting behind him on the path.
Her final motion caught the bird’s attention. It called out a series of squawks then raced toward them, its one good eye centered on Lincoln. He cursed and sprang to his feet, shoving her behind him again as he raised his blaster. But just as he was about the fire the animal hit the opening and disappeared, its mournful cry echoing off the rock.
He stared in disbelief when the other two appeared at the bend. They cocked their heads, the dying call of the first bird still ringing off the rocky walls. The closest bird snapped at the air but didn’t advance, tilting its head to look at the opening. The other snipe made a cawing sound then turned, its fading footfalls marking its retreat.
The woman pushed at his back, but he held up his hand, signaling her to remain still. He wasn’t relaxing one muscle until the other creature visibly gave up.
The animal scratched at the stone, filling the air with a shrill screeching noise before snapping its beak again and disappearing beyond the bend. Lincoln waited until the air stilled before releasing a heavy breath. Damn. That’d been far too close.
He snorted in relief as he turned to face the girl, finally getting a good hard look at her. Some of her hair had pulled free from its clip, hanging in a tangled wave around her face. Dirt smudged a line across her cheeks and nose, ending in a bloody cut along her jaw. But her eyes held his focus. Bright blue, they watched him as if they were seeing something he didn’t.
He backed up a step, giving her body a long, slow sweep. She was tall for a woman, only three or four inches shorter than him with a lean, athletic frame. She was dressed in similar battle fatigues to the other soldier he’d seen, only she’d lost her jacket somewhere along the way and sported only a thin white shirt coupled with beige cargo pants. Lincoln cocked his head to one side, wondering why he felt such a connection when the smirk on her face flashed an image through his head.
He leaned in close. It couldn’t be. Not here. Not now. Not her. “Gwendolyn?”
The smirk flourished into a brilliant smile a moment before her fist collided with his jaw, reeling him onto his ass.
One foot stomped on the stone as she crossed her arms on her chest. “Well I’ll be damned. Lincoln Croft.”
More about Kris:
Author, single mother, slave to chaos—she’s a jack-of-all-trades who’s constantly looking for her ever elusive clone.
Kris started writing some years back, and it took her a while to realize she wasn’t destined for the padded room, and that the voices chattering away in her head were really other characters trying to take shape—and since they weren’t telling her to conquer the human race, she went with it. Though she supposes if they had…insert evil laugh.
Kris loves writing erotic novels. She loves heroines who kick butt, heroes who are larger than life and sizzling sex scenes that leave you feeling just a bit breathless.
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