Aequitas – Sneak Peek

PROLOGUE

 

I know who you are.

Don’t worry; I won’t tell.

She stared at the computer monitor, her heart beating in her skull like a drum. The words simply appeared, one horrific letter at a time. Panic shrieked in her ears.

My name is Lazarus, and we’ve something in common, you and I.

We’re the same.

No. No one was like her. No one.

Certainly not this anonymous…infiltrator.

Won’t you talk to me?

She leaned over slowly, carefully, as if the slightest twitch would detonate an explosion, and silenced him.

 

*****

 

My lovely, slippery lass.

Always making me chase you.

Good that I love to hunt.

She glared at the screen. Thousands of dollars. Ill-gotten gains, but still. Ditching this jerk was getting expensive. And annoying.

And almost impossible. That scared her.

Talk to me.

No. Never.

You will.

I’ll see to it.

Something within her went so taut, it hurt. Because this odd man, this Lazarus, whoever he was, he seemed…

“No,” she growled and pulled the plug.

 

*****

 

I’ve been thinking about you.

She froze; the bright white flicker burned into her eyes. She followed the letters as they scrolled across her screen, unwelcome. Uninvited. Thousands of dollars, and now thousands of miles, too.

And yet, here he was.

I know what today is.

Fear burst within her, cold, certain. He couldn’t know. He was just fishing, like always. He couldn’t know. No. That was ridiculous. That would mean—

I’m sorry, lass.

I know it hurts.

Oh God. Who the hell was he?

She tossed back her wine; she’d downed the entire bottle. She shouldn’t have, but she did. Because he was right. It did hurt. And she was tempted, so tempted to respond…

Share it, a rứnsearc.

It will help.

I promise.

“You promise,” she whispered, her breath fogging the wine glass she held, her breath heavy with alcohol.

You can tell me anything.

She threw the glass; it shattered against the brick and rained down, tiny shards she would have to pick up. Later, when she wouldn’t be tempted to cut herself with them.

“I hate you,” she told him. But he couldn’t hear her. Because she never spoke. Because silence was safe. Because—

“Fuck it,” she snarled and yanked the keyboard to her.

“STALK MUCH?!” She typed furiously, her fingers clumsy, her hands shaking.

There you are.

Finally.

“PSYCHO,” she added.

Nay.

Just persistent.

“UNINVITED.”

But not unwanted.

She blinked in disbelief at the screen. “SAYS YOU!”

Aye.

“ASSHOLE.”

Sometimes.

Her teeth ground together; her chest grew tight. Excitement and rage and fear and memory, twisting around her like the tightest rope. Binding and suffocating and inescapable.

“WHY ME?” Because she wanted—needed—to know.

You’re not ready for the answer to that question.

Not yet.

The wine she’d consumed churned in her belly like the ocean during a squall. “WHAT DO YOU WANT?”

Many, many things.

Which horrified and thrilled her. Jesus, she was screwed.

“NAME ONE.”

To know you.

She stared at the screen, her heart beating too hard, and, oh, it hurt. Like a balloon swelling in her chest, but heavy, leaden, scraping her ribs and bruising her lungs. So much fury and pain; no matter how much vengeance she wreaked, it always hurt. Nothing was enough.

She was afraid it never would be.

“LIAR,” she wrote.

No.

I don’t lie.

“EVERYONE LIES,” she added, the words appearing without intent.

Do you?

“YES.”

Not to me.

Never to me.  

She blinked. “GO FUCK YOURSELF.”

Talk to me.

I know you’re hurting.

Tell me about that day.

“I hate you,” she said again. Because she desperately wanted to tell him. Someone. Anyone.

Give me the words, a rứnsearc.

Please.

Please, he said. But he was no one. An enemy. Out to hunt her, out to hurt her. Not someone she could trust. Not someone who cared for her. No matter what claims he made.

But the ache welling within her was beginning to blot out reason. Logic. Common sense. And even though she knew he was probably her worst enemy, her fingers found the keys and pressed. “BLOOD AND BRAINS AND DEATH.”

What else?

Who was he, and why the hell did he want to know? But she couldn’t stop. She couldn’t.

“SCREAMS AND SIRENS AND SHOTS.” Her hands cramped, and her fingers froze, but she forced them to move. “I CAN STILL HEAR THEM. POP, POP, POP.”

Silencers.

They knew what they were doing.

Yes, they had. And the rage that slept so fitfully within her stirred.

“HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT?” she demanded, panic and fear knifing through her. “WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT?”

What else happened?

The screen blurred; inside her skin, her bones trembled. But her hands moved over the keyboard of their own volition. “THEY TOOK HER.”

I know.

I’m sorry.

“I’M GOING TO FIND HER.” She pushed back, away from the desk, and stared in horror at her words.

I can help.

But she didn’t want his help. She didn’t want anything.

“Liar,” she whispered, but she wasn’t sure if it was him she was talking to, or herself.

You’re not alone anymore, a rứnsearc.

His words made her throat swell, and the fury bubbled to the surface.

“DON’T NEED HELP,” she typed, growls working in her chest. “PSYCHO STALKER!!”

Nay, lass.

Just a fan.

“YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT ME.”

But I do.

I told you.

We’re the same.

Which only made her angrier. “NOT A GODDAMN THING!!!”

I know everything.

I know what you do.

I know why.

I know your hunger.

Your rage.

Your despair.

I know you as I know myself.

Devastating words; surely just the alcohol. The emotion that swelled within her—need and want and such wrenching yearning that she felt rent in two—it couldn’t be real. No. No matter that she was crying, hot, salty tears that dripped from her chin. That her throat ached. That she wanted to throw her keyboard at his head.

And if some secret, insane part of her was tempted by him…that had to be the wine.

Yes, just the wine.

A rứnsearc…

She turned him off and stumbled away.

 

*****

 

How are you?

“Suck it,” she told the monitor. But part of her tingled.

Idiot.

When are we going to meet?

Her heart leapt, but she scowled. Even knowing it was a bad idea, she typed, “AS IF.”

Don’t be like that, a rứnsearc.

You know you want to.

Damn him. She didn’t have time for this. There were files to download.

People to manipulate. Men to kill.

The Eiffel Tower at midnight?

The Parthenon at daybreak?

Victoria Falls at noon?

Stupid, fanciful man.

“GO AWAY,” she typed, her fingers pounding the keys.

Never.

She didn’t argue. She just tuned him out and kept working.

 

*****

 

You took care of him.

Good.

I knew you would.

“You don’t know anything,” she said.

But he did. Inexplicably, he did.

And she hated him for it.

That’s my murderous girl.

“NOT YOUR GIRL,” she responded, hitting the keys a little too hard. Because, really, she couldn’t argue with “murderous.” And unfortunately, not responding was becoming impossible.

He was driving her insane.

Mine.

And the day is coming when you’ll not be able to deny it.

Soon.

She froze, and something wild and electric shot through her veins. Fear. Excitement. Dread.

Crazy. Goddamn crazy.

What was she doing? Encouraging him. Pulling the tiger’s tail.

It was stupid and irresponsible and dangerous.

And she couldn’t seem to stop.

Your time is running out, a rứnsearc.

Get ready.

She slammed her laptop shut, her heart beating hard in her throat.

“Fool,” she told herself.

Because nothing good would come of this.

Nothing at all.