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Born of Fire
By Sherrilyn Kenyon
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2009 Sherrilyn Kenyon
All rights reserved.
Hell had many interpretations. Syn knew that better than anyone. In his life, he'd managed to live through most of the common variations and discover a multitude of new ones.
Why was it every time he thought he had life tamed, the treacherous beast turned around and bit him on the ass?
Cocking his head, he detected the sound of footsteps on the wet pavement behind him as he walked toward the bay where he'd docked his fighter. Anger scorched him. He slid his hand closer to his concealed weapons. He'd been stalked enough times in his life to recognize the sound of someone trailing him while trying to remain inconspicuous.
Tonight, he just wasn't in the mood to deal with it.
Streetlights glinted against the drying puddles that splashed beneath his boots. Steam hissed an escape from boilers and chimneys, adding an eeriness to the otherwise quiet night.
Unless he missed his guess, which he never did, six men were behind him. Only Syn and the six of them walked down the street at this late hour — another factor that told him whoever it was wanted one thing —
"Come get some," he muttered, unable to find an ounce of patience for anyone stupid enough to try and kill him. What little patience he possessed had ended hours ago.
You just made a bad mistake, boys. I definitely wouldn't want to be you.
'Cause tonight, he wanted blood without being particular as to whom he took it from. They were definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Never attack a target who was already pissed off at someone else and at the universe in general — someone who was aching for a fight and a whipping boy. It never went well for the antagonists.
During the past two days, he'd been buffeted by a steady stream of absolute bullshit aggravations. The highlight of which was the new bounty being offered for his head that had brought out every needy free-tracer and assassin within striking distance.
It's so good to be me ...
Earlier that day, he'd been attacked by a group of assassins and had his precious fighter damaged in the process. But the absolute best ...
His best friend, Nykyrian Quiakides, had not only slept with the woman Syn was accused of raping and murdering, but had gone into hiding with her, thus guaranteeing that Syn's head would be the price for their screwed-up and doomed relationship.
At present, life was just too disgusting for words and he really was tired of dealing with it.
Not once in the last two days had he been able to even nap, and sleep dep always made him edgier than normal — and shortened the fuse on an already notoriously hot temper.
Syn pulled the safety off his blaster and slid his hand over the rough, bone grip.
Tonight, his stalkers would learn a valuable lesson about angry Rits who didn't get enough sleep.
With a quick turn, he headed into an alley on his right. It was time he put a stop to this crap and got some serious sleep time.
Taking cover in a small, shadowy alcove, he tried to ignore the foul stench of the decaying garbage that lined the alleyway behind him. He'd grown up in filthy alleys like this one, with the stench of the street lulling him to sleep at night. He clenched his teeth in rage, the smell and memories doing nothing to improve his foul mood.
He may have been conceived in the gutter. He refused to die in one.
The steps drew closer. He tightened his grip in anticipation.
"Should we go in after him, or wait till he comes back out?"
He rolled his eyes at that puss of a comment. The speaker had been male with a slight Trioson lilt to his voice. Heat simmered in Syn's blood as he prepared himself for the coming fight.
"You go in and see if it dead-ends. He might've already escaped us."
"Me?" the voice cracked.
"Just do it!"
A grimy, middle-aged human male stumbled into the alley like someone had shoved him. Unlike his own eyes, which saw better at night than in the day, Syn knew the short, fat man would have to wait a few minutes before his eyes adjusted to the pitch darkness.
A smile curved his lips. How would the fat, little rodent react when he learned only three feet separated them?
"Looks good for your funeral, huh?" Syn taunted.
The man jerked around, trying to focus his eyes at the darkened alcove shielding Syn.
As the man reached for his blaster, Syn caught his arm. He jerked the weapon from the man's hip and tossed it across the alley into a Dumpster where it landed with an echoing clatter.
"Durrin!" the man shouted, his voice shaking.
Syn shoved the man away from him and turned to face a dark, Partini male who led the four other humans toward him.
An ugly, orange-fleshed humanoid, Durrin towered several feet over him. The snarl that twisted his thin, yellow lips would have sent most men to their knees in quaking fear. But Syn recognized scare tactics when he saw them, and there wasn't much left in life that frightened him.
Still, it wasn't often someone dwarfed Syn's height and he found that fact a bit disturbing.
"C.I. Syn," the Partini rasped in a deep accent. "You're being remanded into Gourish custody ... dead."
'Cause let's face it, dead was just easier.
Or so they thought.
Syn barely had time to dodge the large knife aimed for his throat. Partinie had an aversion for blasters, but then, their dagger and knife abilities were such that it didn't put them at any disadvantage.
What the idiot didn't know was that Syn had grown up in prison where you either learned to handle a knife ...
Or you died.
Syn tsked as the alien pulled back for another strike. "You missed with me so close? What? You failed your assassin training classes?" He shook his head. "Did you even bother to show up? Or are you just that incompetent?" He added a little distance between himself and the assassin's black, poison-coated knife. One scratch from that and he would die. Quickly.
And most painfully.
He scoffed at the Partini. "I feel I should warn you, I'm in a really bad mood."
The short man returned to the side of the others while they stood back with the stupid assumption that Syn was going down under the Partini's blade.
"You'll be in a worse mood when we haul you in dead!"
Syn grimaced in pain at a comment so stupid it didn't even rate a snotty comeback.
What drugs were they taking? He hadn't survived this long on the street to have these dumbasses kill him now.
The Partini lunged.
Syn easily sidestepped him and kicked him into the wall so hard that he recoiled off it and slammed into the Dumpster. The alien landed in a heap on the ground.
The others rushed forward to attack. Syn stomped the heel of his boot against the ground, releasing the blade in the toe and whirled to catch the first one who reached him in the neck. His attacker dropped to the street, screaming from the wound.
The next one tried to shoot him. Syn dodged the blast and the laser cut into another member of their group who died so fast, he didn't even make a sound. Catching the guy who'd fired at him by the wrist, Syn used the blaster to shoot another assassin before he chopped him in the throat and knocked him to the ground.
There were only two left. The Partini and the fat human weasel who'd entered the alley first. The human whipped out his blaster to aim at his head.
Bored with them, Syn pulled out his own blaster and shot the human in the hand that was holding his blaster. His weapon forgotten as it clattered to the ground, the coward dropped to the filthy street, whining like a babe.
Syn turned around to face the Partini who'd now regained his footing. Double-checking the condition of the others, Syn saw that three humans were still alive, but out of commission.
The other two were still dead.
Syn watched the Partini closely as the alien lunged for him. He caught the alien's wrist before the knife could make contact with his skin.
The Partini tried to pull loose, but Syn held fast with one hand. "Tell me," he asked snidely, "what smells like shit and screams like a girl?"
He shot the Partini in the knee.
The Partini screamed like a woman meeting her long-lost best friend as he crumpled to the street, his poisoned knife falling on the concrete with a metallic clink.
Syn kicked the knife into the darkness, out of the assassin's reach. "That's right. You."
The Partini glared at him. "A blaster against a knife isn't fair."
He approached him slowly. "No shit ... and so goes my incentive to fight fairly. You want fair, play with kids. You wanna come at me, make out a will."
Looking down at the gaping wound in the Partini's leg, he arched his brow at the scaly bone that protruded. "I never knew Partinie had articulated bones. Very interesting. I wonder what the rest of your skeleton looks like."
Fear flickered deep in the alien's eyes.
Syn slid the plate back on his blaster and checked the charge level. Satisfied it would fire several more rounds, he released the plate and let it snap loudly back into place. That should make them piss their pants.
Those who were still alive anyway. The others had already done that.
He stared coldly at the assassins. "I suggest you recant your contract on me first thing after you have your knee tended. The next time you come at me, the authorities will have to run a DNA scan to identify your remains."
The Partini glared at him with hatred, but Syn recognized the fear that underlay the hate. He'd made his point. These assassins would never again bother him.
Satisfied, he glanced back at the human who was still whimpering. The man had managed to tie a ragged scarf around his injured hand and watched him as if he expected Syn to kill them.
He probably should, but he wasn't quite that cold-blooded.
At least not tonight.
"There's a hospital two blocks down on your right. I suggest you use it." He left them to tend their injuries.
No good deed goes unpunished.
No doubt he'd live to regret his mercy tonight as he regretted any time he'd ever been nice to someone. It always came back to bite him on the ass.
So be it.
Tired of the endless wave of assassins and tracers who forever sought him, he headed to the landing bay down the street and climbed aboard his sleek, black fighter, which still had burn marks on the paint from his earlier attack. With any luck, he just might make it through the next few hours without someone else trying to kill him.
He doubted it.
"Of all the time to run out of whisky ..." Figured his flask would be empty.
But one thing stood certain, the next time someone came at him, he wasn't going to be as nice. He was tired of being blamed for crimes he hadn't committed — tired of fighting for a life that didn't seem worth the effort.
Basically, he was just tired, period.
Yeah, well, it's penance for all the crimes you did commit and got away with.
That was always a possibility.
Of course, his worst crime had been surviving a life that should have killed him before he learned to walk ...
You think you're so special, don't you? You and those arrogant eyes just like your mother's. But you're nothing, boy. You're from my genes, cut from the same cloth as me. Just. Like. Me. So don't be thinking you're better 'cause you're not. We're shit and that's all we'll ever be. At least I know how to make money. You can't even take a hit without crying like your sister. Worthless bastard.
Syn could still see the look of hatred on his father's face. Feel the blow of his fist whenever Syn made the mistake of getting too close to him.
Yeah, the old fart was right. In the end, he was worthless.
Not wanting to go there, he checked his coordinates.
It didn't take long to reach his nearby home planet of Kildara. Unfortunately, the mid-afternoon sun hung high on his city, its bright, glaring rays making his light-sensitive Ritadarion eyes water in protest.
He hated the day, the heat, the noise — the light that hid none of the street's ugliness.
Even though he lived in the best district of Broma, all he had to do was travel three blocks over and he'd see enough homeless, impoverished people to twist his stomach raw. He'd done his best to forget his past, but it just didn't seem possible. Every time he thought he'd managed to bury that shit so deep it could never rise up, something or someone always brought it back to him with sharp, crisp brutality.
Disgusted, he entered his oversized apartment. He had too many other problems to deal with and he was really too tired to think.
He shrugged his jacket off and tossed it over his black leather sofa before picking up the remote to lower the blinds against the bright sunlight.
He leaned his head against the cool, metal slats and sighed. Never in his life had he been more repulsed. Nykyrian was in love with Kiara Zamir and her father was out to crucify them.
Why wouldn't Nykyrian listen to him and return her before it was too late? What kind of fool with a price on his head fell in love with a princess from a planet that wanted him dead?
Syn rubbed at the sudden throb in his temples, repulsed by his friend's devotion to a woman who would be the death of them all.
What an idiot. Women were treacherous. All of them. And Kiara had already shown her true colors. The moment she'd seen them for what they were — what their pasts had made them — she'd vomited and cursed them, just like everyone else.
But then, having been stupid enough once to think that a woman could see through his past to the person he'd become, he understood Nykyrian's idiocy better than he wanted to.
Yet it was all a lie. No one escaped their past. No matter how hard they tried.
Men were blind fools and women weakened the soul and stole the heart. Then when they had both in their possession, they stomped them into the ground.
Unable to stand it, he went to his bar and grabbed a glass and a bottle of the strongest whisky he had. As he poured it, his gaze fell to the stuffed animal and photo frame of his son.
He winced in misery as bitter memories tore through him.
Mara, listen to me. I'm not my father. I would never hurt you.
No, you're worse than your father. At least he stayed in the gutter where he belonged. You ... you made me believe the lies you told. That you were decent and respectable. You said your father was a businessman. You bastard! His wife had raked him with a sneer so filled with hatred that it was forever branded in his memory. How could I have ever let you into my life?
I would never hurt you or Paden. Please, listen to me.
She'd slapped him so hard, the blow had split his lip. If anyone else had dared that, he'd have cut them in half. But like a pathetic nothing, he'd taken it from her.
Get out! I've already called the enforcers to arrest you. If I ever see you again, so help me, I'll shoot you myself!
This from the woman he'd lived to make happy. The woman he'd given everything to. His heart. His soul. His life.
In the end, it didn't matter that he'd treated her like royalty and would have sold his soul for a single rose to make her smile. Mara had betrayed him and taken everything he'd ever cared about for no other reason than his father had been a first-rank bastard and Syn, rather than lying down and dying, had fought to make a better life for himself.
It had never mattered to him that he was shit to the world. He was used to that. It was the day he'd become shit to his wife and son that had ruined him.
All he'd ever wanted was for one person to not blame him for his parentage. One woman who could look at him like he was a man and not a monster out to hurt her.
Then he'd asked the dumbest, most pathetic question of his life. Did you ever love me ... even a little?
How could anyone love something like you? You're a liar, a thief and a convict. All I wanted was your money. If only I'd known the truth about you ... you disgust me. Get out!
Yeah, there was no such thing as love. It was a myth made up by assholes who only wanted to sell stories and rings people couldn't afford to gullible fools.
He didn't understand love in any fashion. The gods knew, he'd never seen it in his life. It was as elusive to him as sleep.
His fury dying at the last thought, he grabbed his son's frame, the stuffed toy, and his bottle, and skirted around the edge of his two facing sofas.
Excerpted from Born of Fire by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Copyright © 2009 Sherrilyn Kenyon. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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