Home > Mercury Striking (The Scorpius Syndrome #1)

Mercury Striking (The Scorpius Syndrome #1)
Rebecca Zanetti

Chapter One

The smartest minds on this planet agree that life will be wiped out by a slumbering virus, a rogue asteroid, or an unknown danger just waiting to strike.

—Dr. Franklin Xavier Harmony

Despair hungered in the darkness, not lingering, not languishing . . . but waiting to bite. No longer the little brother of rage, despair had taken over the night, ever present, an actor instead of an afterthought.

Lynne picked her way along the deserted twelve-lane interstate, allowing the weak light from the moon to guide her. An unnatural silence hung heavy over the barren land. Rusting carcasses of vehicles lined the sides; otherwise, the once-vibrant 405 was dead.

Her months of hiding had taught her stealth. Prey needed stealth, as did the hunter.

She was both.

The tennis shoes she’d stolen from an abandoned thrift store protected her feet from the cracked asphalt, while a breeze scented with death and decomposing vegetation lifted her hair. The smell had saturated the wind as she’d trekked across the country.

The world was littered with dead bodies and devoid of souls.

A click echoed in the darkness. About time. Predators, both human and animal, crouched in every shadow, but she’d made it closer to what used to be Los Angeles than she’d hoped.

A strobe light hit her full on, rendering sight impossible. The miracle of functioning batteries brought pain. She closed her eyes. They’d either kill her or not. Either way, no need to go blind. “I want to see Mercury.” Since she’d aimed for the center of Mercury’s known territory, hopefully she’d find him and not some rogue gang.

Silence. Then several more clicks. Guns of some type. They’d closed in silently, just as well trained as she’d heard. As she’d hoped.

She forced strength into her voice. “You don’t want to kill me without taking me to Mercury first.” Jax Mercury, to be exact. If he still lived. If not, she was screwed anyway.

“Why would we do that?” A voice from the darkness, angry and near.

She squinted, blinking until her pupils narrowed. The bright light exposed her and concealed them, weakening her knees, but she gently set her small backpack on the ground. She had to clear her throat to force out sound. “I’m Lynne Harmony.”

Gasps, low and male, filled the abyss around her. “Bullshit,” a voice hissed from her left.

She tilted her head toward the voice, and then slowly, so slowly they wouldn’t be spooked, she unbuttoned her shirt. No catcalls, no suggestive responses followed. Shrugging her shoulders, she dropped the cotton to the ground, facing the light.

She hadn’t worn a bra, but she doubted the echoing exhales of shock were from her size Bs. More likely the shimmering blue outline of her heart caught their attention. Yeah, she was a freak. Typhoid Mary in the body of a woman who’d failed. Big time. But she might be able to save the men surrounding her. “So. Jax Mercury. Now.”

One man stepped closer. Gang tattoos lined his face, inked tears showing his kills. He might have been thirty, he might have been sixty. Regardless, he was dangerous, and he smelled like dust combined with body odor. A common smell in the plague-riddled world. Eyeing her chest, he quickly crossed himself. “Holy Mary, Mother of God.”

“Not even close.” A silent overpass loomed a few yards to the north, and her voice echoed off the concrete. The piercing light assaulted her, spinning the background thick and dark. Her temples pounded, and her hollow stomach ached. Wearily, she reached down and grabbed her shirt, shrugging it back on. She figured the “take me to your leader” line would get her shot. “Do you want to live or not?”

He met her gaze, his scarred upper lip twisting. “Yes.”

It was the most sincere sound she’d heard in months. “We’re running out of time.” Time had deserted them long ago, but she needed to get a move on. “Please.” The sound shocked her, the civility of it, a word she’d forgotten how to use. The slightest of hopes warmed that blue organ in her chest, reminding her of who she used to be. Who she’d lost.

Another figure stepped forward, this one big and silent. Deadly power vibrated in the shift of muscle as light illuminated him from behind, shrouding his features. “I didn’t tell you to put your shirt back on.” No emotion, no hint of humanity echoed in the deep rumble.

His lack of emotion twittered anxiety through her empty abdomen. Without missing a beat, she secured each button, keeping the movements slow and sure. “I take it you’re Mercury.” Regardless of his name, there was no doubt the guy was in charge.

“If I am?” Soft, his voice promised death.

A promise she’d make him keep. Someday. The breeze picked up, tumbling weeds across the lonely 405 to halt against a Buick stripped to its rims. She quelled a shiver. Any weakness shown might get her killed. “You know who I am,” she whispered.

“I know who you say you are.” His overwhelming form blocked out the light, reminding her of her smaller size. “Take off your shirt.”

Something about his command gave her pause. Before, she hadn’t cared. But with him so close she could smell male, an awareness of her femininity brought fresh fear. Nevertheless, she again unbuttoned her shirt.

This time, her hands trembled.

Straightening her spine, she squared her shoulders and left the shirt on, the worn material gaping in front.

He waited.

She lifted her chin, trying to meet his eyes although she couldn’t see them. The men around them remained silent, yet alertness carried on the oxygen. How many guns were trained on her? She wanted to tell them it would only take one. Though she’d been through hell, she’d never really learned to fight.

The wind whipped into action, lifting her long hair away from her face. Her arms tightened against her rib cage. Goose bumps rose over her skin. She was accustomed to being vulnerable, and she was used to feeling alone. But she’d learned to skirt danger.

There was no doubt the man in front of her was all danger.

She shivered again.

Swearing quietly, he stepped in, long, tapered fingers drawing her shirt apart. He shifted to the side, allowing light to blast her front. Neon blue glowed along her flesh.

“Jesus.” He pressed his palm against her breastbone—directly above her heart.

Shock tightened her muscles, and that heart ripped into a gallop. Her nipples pebbled from the breeze. Warmth cascaded from his hand when he spread his fingers over the odd blue of her skin, easily spanning her upper chest. When was the last time someone had touched her gently?

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