The Offspring, Book 4
Avon Books (January 25, 2011)
ISBN-13: 9780062018854 ♦ ISBN-10: 006201885X
They live ordinary lives, but they are extraordinary. They are the Offspring, children of a mysterious experiment gone awry—and they are in terrible danger.
A government-trained assassin, Fonda Raine has her sights locked on her latest target: Eric Aruda, one of the rogue Offspring—a pyrokenetic who can create fires with just a thought. But Fonda has awesome powers of her own—and her ability to astral project and be in two places at one time enables her to put herself exactly where she wants to be…in Eric’s bed.
Eric is stunned and pleased by the inexplicable appearance of the mysterious enchantress, unaware that Fonda plans to seduce him, throw him off his guard, and then eliminate him. But the game changes radically with the arrival of an assassin from hell with orders to destroy them both. And suddenly Fonda and Eric have only two choices: to join forces or go down in flames.
Read an Excerpt
Fonda Raine stepped out of the back end of a month in hell a hardened warrior, ready to undertake the most important task of her life: kill Eric Aruda. She wasn’t worthy of taking another breath if she didn’t wipe that son of a bitch off the surface of the earth.
Everything in her D.C. suburb looked so much fresher and cleaner since the last time she’d been there. Or maybe it was her mind that was clearer, now that she’d buried her grief and anger beneath a huge mound of determination. She paused on the sidewalk and breathed in air teased with the scent of baking pizza crusts. She soaked in the clarity of the streetlights, the crispness of the music drifting from a jazz bar. Even the homeless seemed less bedraggled. She sought out one homeless man in his usual spot at the entrance of the alley past Sal’s Pizza Joint.
A big smile broke out on his face, his teeth white against his dark skin. He’d obviously been using the toothpaste she’d given him.
“It’s the Cinnamon girl. Wondered where you’ve been.”
They’d met six months ago. She’d eaten only half her Italian sub and had searched for someone to give the other half to. The guilt of throwing away a perfectly good sandwich when there were people starving on the streets … unthinkable. There had been George with his warm eyes and surprised smile that someone was looking at him. He’d confided that the hardest thing for him was feeling invisible.
She crouched down to his level. He’d never explained why he called her the Cinnamon girl, but she guessed it was a good thing. “Had some business to take care of. You got the stuff I sent?”
“Yeah. Been a long time since I got a care package. You’re a sweet girl.”
“Not really, George.” She took a quick breath. “Maybe I’m a killer.”
He looked into her eyes and shook his head. “You’re no killer. Don’t smile like a killer. Don’t have the eyes of a killer.”
She stood, not wanting to believe that. She had to be a killer. “You warm enough?” The odd cool snap in July made it feel like a fall evening.
He nodded toward the old army jacket he wore. “I’m jus’ fine. You look tired. You takin’ care of yourself?”
She handed him some folded bills. “I’m okay. Here, buy yourself some dinner. I’ll see you around.” Maybe.
One habit she’d never shaken from her years growing up was checking her surroundings. Her gaze scanned automatically and connected with a man in a long beige coat. Her heart thudded heavily in her chest. Hadn’t she seen him, like, blocks away? Three turns ago, at least, which meant he’d kept pace with her…
Fear prickled across her skin. Heat flamed her cheeks, adrenaline shot through her body like arcs of electricity. How long since she’d felt like this? Scared. Geared to fight. Alive.
Yeah, alive, but maybe not for long.
She reached beneath her oversized sweater and slid her fingers across her switchblade. Her brief glance shouldn’t have given away that she’d noticed him. Wouldn’t it figure? Spend a month in a low-income area with a crack house a block away and no problems. Come back to her relatively safe neighborhood and get stalked.
It had been three months since she’d lived in her apartment, but she remembered the shortcuts. She maintained her casual pace, pretending to look in the shop windows at an angle where she could see the man. He remained a certain distance from her, pausing to look at a darkened window. Yeah, he was definitely watching her.
Come on, you sleazebag. You think you can, what, jack me up? That because I’m five-foot-two that I’m weak and helpless? Don’t mess with me. I bite.
Her internal diatribe bolstered her confidence, but she wasn’t going to stand him down if she didn’t need to. Best course of action: give him the slip. She had a knife, but if he had a gun, gun trumped knife every time. She’d seen firsthand what a gun could do.
She continued on, forcing herself to keep her pace when she wanted to sprint. Dammit, if her heart would stop racing, she could breathe so much better. If her knees weren’t wobbly, she could walk in her vintage clogs.
She turned the corner, kicked off her shoes and ran. The alley on the right led between two brick buildings and took another sharp left. Her feet pounded on the concrete and God knew what else. She scooped up a bottle as she ran, tossing it to the left, and slid between the brick wall and a Dumpster. She mouth-breathed, so she wouldn’t gag on the smell of rotten food.
He entered the alley in a fast walk, still trying to maintain the look of someone not hunting down someone else. He headed around the corner where he’d heard the bottle fall, and she raced back the way she’d come, staying close to the wall. Emerging on the street, she scooped up her clogs and ran to her apartment building.
Her fingers fumbled with the key to the entrance door. She closed it behind her, making sure it clicked, and ran to the stairs. Elevators gave her the creeps: a small box where someone could corner you. Or press a button to a vacant floor and pull you out. It didn’t matter that there weren’t any vacant floors in her building. Old habits, old fears…
But I gave him the slip.
She blasted into her apartment and slammed the door shut behind her. Snapped the two deadbolts. The air was musty. She went right to the bathroom and started the shower, not brave enough yet to look at her feet. Her clothes piled on the floor, clogs next to them. The switchblade fell with a thud on the tile. She stepped into the flow of water even though it wasn’t warm.
“Nobody scares me. Nobody can touch me.”
Her words echoed in the small room, sounding loud and hollow.
She tried again, deepening her voice. “I’m not afraid of anyone. I am not afraid. I’m not…”
Her body shook, and she slid down the wall to crouch in the tub. The words wouldn’t come, but the fear did. She fought it, denied it, but it roared through her, devouring her courage.
Fine, let it come, she thought. Let it come now, because when I go after Eric, there won’t be any room for it.
Fonda lifted her head and looked at the clock on her nightstand: two in the morning. It’s time. She sat up, her heart thrumming. Eric Aruda had taken everything from her: her job, her sense of importance, and her lover. He had destroyed her life, and she’d never even met him. Hopefully she could kill him without coming face to face with him. For revenge, yes. For her self-worth. Reason enough, but she had another, higher reason: for her country.
But could she do it?
You’re no killer.
“Yes, I am.”
Death was no big deal. She’d always told herself she could kill if another creep tried to force himself on her. She’d seen two people gunned down and one person die from an overdose right in front of her. Death was a by-product of life. She was tough, more than tough. She could kill Eric.
She would have bought She Wants Revenge’s CD for the band’s name alone, but the song, “Tear You Apart” fit her mood perfectly. She put that track on repeat, grabbed the shears from the kitchen drawer, and returned to the bathroom. She mouthed the words she’d memorized as she stared at the mirror, a ragged breath coming out of her mouth. “It’s wartime.”
Her blond hair curled up just past her shoulders, giving her a soft look. Time to become a warrior, like she had when she was thirteen and her father’s drug buddies began to see that the sulky girl was becoming a woman. She’d chopped off her long hair and camouflaged her body in oversized clothing.
She’d been entranced by Helen Slater in the movie, The Legend of Billie Jean. Billie Jean had cut her hair super short as she prepared for war in a beachside town.
Hanks of white-blond hair rained down in the sink. She searched the cabinet beneath the sink and pulled out a box of hair dye. An hour later, she had her “war paint,” a dark pink streak on her right side. Her fingers sifted through her locks, still longish in front and short in back. She gave her reflection a hard smile.
“Time to kick Aruda ass.”
She reclined on her bed and got into the meditative state she’d taught herself to sink into at fifteen, when escaping her surroundings became necessary for her sanity.
The memory of the picture of Eric that used to be on the “Targets” bulletin board filled her mind. Her soul lifted out of her body. She loved the weightlessness of this state, the freedom. The humming sound started here, pleasant but pervasive.
All around her, clouds swirled like a gentle tornado, sweeping her through the ethers. She had learned to go along for the ride, keeping her mind clear. The humming turned into a loud buzzing that hurt her ears and vibrated right through her. When she couldn’t stand it anymore, the sound faded, the clouds cleared, and she stood in a bedroom.
A light on the nightstand lit the small room. She scanned her surroundings. Eric was stretched out on the bed, his head propped up slightly on the pillow. Her heart sprang to her throat. His eyes were open and staring right at her! She retained her overall appearance when she projected, though it was diaphanous in nature. If he saw her, he’d probably know who she was and that she was targeting him. She was about to return to her physical body but stopped. He hadn’t reacted. His stare was…blank. Was he dead?
She shifted her gaze down to a chest lightly dusted in golden hairs; it rose and fell evenly. Breathing. Her gaze continued down, following the line of smooth hairs that pointed lower. She swallowed. He was lying on top of the rumpled sheets naked. She forced her gaze farther down to his legs, then back up to his chest. If she had a twin sister, they could both recline on top of him without falling off. His body was absolutely magnificent.
Who cares? Who freaking cares! That body is going to be lifeless. Dead!
But her body wasn’t lifeless. She felt her astral body stir. Self-hatred cut into her like jagged bits of glass.
You worthless bitch. This man killed Jerryl, and here you stand feeling…aroused. Slut! Whore!
She shoved her gaze back to Eric’s face. Even slack, his expression retained a hardness. His icy blue eyes were glazed. Bloodshot. He was in some kind of catatonic state. Maybe drunk.
His questionable state made it tricky. What if he was aware of her and pretending to be out of it until she made a move? Not that he could hurt her, but if he saw her, she would lose the element of surprise. Getting to him would be a lot harder.
She studied him. His breathing didn’t change. His hand was splayed across his ridged stomach, long fingers flexing involuntarily.
With a groan, he shifted to his side, the white skin on his hip translucent in the light. A large tattoo adorned his biceps, a blue eye with slashes in the iris. Okay, he definitely wasn’t cognizant. He wouldn’t put himself in a vulnerable position where he couldn’t see her. She advanced on him and stopped beside his bed, tensed for any sudden movement. After several minutes, she relaxed.
She and Jerryl had had a lot of fun practicing her ability to touch objects at the target location. She would astral project into his bedroom and wake him in intimate ways.
Her heart ached, but she pushed the thought away. Focus. Grief will weaken you.
Though she was good at projecting, she was like an astronaut in a space suit when it came to manipulating physical objects. Even with practice, her movements were clumsy and unwieldy, but she’d learned to lift larger objects. She searched the small room for something she could use as a weapon. The walls were covered in oil paintings, and every piece depicted either a couple in a provocative position or a naked woman in a sensual pose, all by the same artist. The one of a female angel, a man kneeling before her, grabbed her heart. Was he begging for redemption? She tore away and kept searching.
The lamp on the nightstand had sharp edges at the base. If she could smash it down on his temple, she might render him unconscious. Then she could keep bashing until he was dead.
She concentrated and grabbed the lamp. She might as well be wearing boxing gloves. It tipped. No, don’t fall! She swung her ghostlike hand to keep it from toppling. She couldn’t feel the cold brass, only a dense energy. She pushed it back, and it settled on the surface. Eric didn’t move.
Damn. Now what?
Frustration swamped her.
Don’t give up. I could try to strangle him.
She walked to the edge of the bed. The light gilded the coarse hairs on legs thick as pilings. His chest was deep, and she could see the faint indent of ribs beneath his pale skin on his side. Big, strong…cruel murderer. She leaned toward him, flexing her astral fingers.
Eric rolled onto his back and looked right at her. His eyes focused. She held her breath, so frozen she couldn’t leave.
He propped himself up on his elbows. “Great. Now I’m friggin’ hallucinating.” His voice was slurred.
He closed his eyes and opened them again. “Still there.” He closed them for another few seconds and reopened them. His smile surprised her. “Maybe something good’ll come of sleep deprivation.” He reached out to her. “Come here, beautiful, and gimme some love.”
Sleep deprivation. That was why he was acting out of it. So he wasn’t totally awake but not asleep, either. Her gaze slid down to his penis, which was now fully engorged. He wanted her.
Again, her body stirred. Stop that! That was Jerryl’s fault, in a way. For years she had associated sex with lewdness, fear, force and just plain depravity. Jerryl had awakened the sexuality she’d stuffed deep down inside her. For a month she and Jerryl had crazy, hard, wild sex at least once a day, and her body now craved it.
The last person on earth she wanted to have sex with was Eric Aruda. Unfortunately her body wasn’t on board with that idea.
His eyes drifted shut, his hand lying on the bed stretched out toward her. She had to get out of there, think of another way to get to him.
Wait. She could use this. She might not be able to kill him psychically. So she would have to do it physically. The plan clicked into place. Eric was obviously hungry for sex. Could she seduce him, maybe plant an idea in his mind to meet her somewhere for the real thing? When he showed up, she would have to play dumb. She couldn’t admit she was the one he was seeing in his sort-of dreams, after all. No, she’d pretend she was just at the same place, wanting the same thing he did. Lure him to a cheap hotel room, drug him and tie him to the bed so he couldn’t use his strength or his deadly ability. She knew he was deadly. He’d torched two CIA agents and shot another one.
But she wanted him to know why she was killing him. Needed him to know. So she’d wait until he started coming out of it. The hard part was would be pushing back her hatred enough to seduce him.
Spies had to do shit like this. Mata Hari or whatever her name was, I think she slept with the enemy. For those moments forget who he is, what he’s done. Use your hunger. Focus on the physical aspect of his body. The hate can come when you’re driving a knife into him.
She reached out and touched his arm, and he opened his eyes again. Her fingers slid down his forearm. Like when she’d touched Jerryl, Eric’s energy was so thick and hot, it was almost like touching his skin. She forced a smile, sly and coy. “Hi, sexy.” She leaned closer and pressed her lips against his neck.
“This isn’t real.” His words were a half groan.
Her hand slid over his chest and across his stomach. “But doesn’t it feel good?”
His answer was another groan, and he tilted his head back and closed his eyes in pleasure. She knew he could feel her, her touch as soft as cashmere, with the same heat she felt from him.
She closed her eyes for a moment, reliving how it felt with Jerryl, wishing it were him. She didn’t think she would ever feel this again. The heat, the intensity, only came with touching another person like her. During training, she had touched someone without psychic abilities and felt no heat.
Eric was…well, he was big. Everywhere. She teased all around his erection, running her fingers over his inner thighs and then up to the pale skin of his pelvis. He was tensed, making every muscle stand out, sculpting his body like one of those statues she’d seen in pictures.
He reached out again, and his hand went through her ethereal body. “My…imagination,” he whispered, a shadow of agony on his expression.
“Maybe,” she said, giving him her coy smile again.
She liked that he couldn’t catch his breath as she moved her hands over his body. “Call me whatever you’d like.”
He laughed, soft and husky. “This has got to be a dream, which means I’m finally asleep. Thank God.” He looked up at her. “I’ll call you Tawny. Come here, Tawny. I want you to sit on me. I’m going to grind into you and suck you raw.”
The words stirred her. Yes, raw. She leaned down, as though to do much more than just place a kiss on his stomach. She bet his skin was soft and that those fine golden hairs would tickle her lips, and if she impaled herself on his massive erection and drove her fingernails into his shoulders when she came…
Shock and disgust threw her out of her mission. She blinked to find herself back in her own bed, covered in a fine sheen of perspiration. Her breath came in shallow pants. The worst, the absolutely worst part was the throbbing between her legs.
She got to her knees and smacked her forehead against the wall. “Whore! Slut!” Her body had responded to her enemy’s. She was weak, a traitor. “Piece of trash.”
Those were her stepmother’s words, echoing in her brain as they often did. She deserved every one of them. Back then, no. Now…yes.
With her forehead pressed against the wall, she banged her fists on either side of her head. Big, gulping breaths kept away her fury and tears. She sagged back onto the bed. Fatigue came from the tension that it took to keep that fine, tenuous thread between body and soul. When her soul thrust back into her body, the rush of energy was the final, exhausting straw.
“I will do this. I’ll kill him even if I have to die trying.”
Eric blinked as the sexy nymph disappeared. He propped himself up on his elbows and looked around. Was he dreaming? He felt as awake as he’d been for the last many days. He even pinched himself and felt the pain of it. Damn. Awake. Bleary-eyed, rubber-brained, but awake, and with a junior-high boner. He dropped back on the bed.
“Hell. I am hallucinating.”
This wasn’t good. How many steps away from insanity? First visions of naked women because it had been way too long since he’d had sex. Then what? Would he see the enemy sneaking in with guns and kill them, only to discover he’d killed his friends?
The warning he’d gotten echoed in his head. Another one of their kind had suffered from sleeplessness right before he went whacked and killed his mother. Eric hadn’t slept since he’d burned Jerryl. Overuse of their abilities could push them over the edge.
He had rushed headlong into dangerous situations. He’d faced death. Never had he felt afraid. What the sleeplessness and hallucinations meant…the prospect scared the hell out of him.
Praise & Reviews
“I really enjoyed Burning Darkness and could not put it down. I highly recommend it and can’t wait to read the other 3 previous installments.” —Night Owl Reviews, Top Pick!
“Rush really turns up the heat in this latest installment of her intriguing Offspring series. This chapter gives some definitive answers to questions that have haunted the Offspring since the beginning. Focusing on bad boy extraordinaire Eric Aruda, this story is packed with death-defying danger, intense emotions and shocking revelations. It’s Rush’s best book to date!” —RT Book Reviews, 4.5 Stars, Top Pick!
“Totally Captivating and HOT! Wow, I was totally swept away just after reading the first chapter. What an exciting fast paced and fast action—kicking ass throughout the whole book that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Fonda is one tough little chick and the romance between her and Eric is out of this world. I totally fell in love with Eric Aruda, I mean “What a Man, What a Man, What a Mighty Good Man!” TOTALLY HOT!” — Bitten by Paranormal Romance
“Burning Darkness is a complex and striking novel. […] The hero and heroine in the book are strong, sensual, and stubborn. The villains are sinister, disturbing and easy to hate. The premise is truly intriguing; the heroine Fonda is actually intent on killing the hero Eric. […] The romance that Jaime Rush created between Fonda and Eric is sexy, enchanting, and will take your breath away.” —Joyfully Reviewed