Vengeful (Page 39)

She leaned her head back against her husband’s shoulder. “Darling,” she breathed. “A little space.”

He retreated, and Marcella focused on the target, aimed, and fired.

The shot rang out across the concrete range. Her heart raced from the thrill. Her hands thrummed from the kickback.

On the paper target, a neat hole had been torn in the right shoulder.

“Not bad,” said Marcus, “if you’re shooting an amateur.”

He took the gun from her hand. “The problem,” he said, casually ejecting the magazine, “is that most professionals wear vests.” He checked the rounds. “You shoot them in the chest, and you’re dead.” He slid the ammo back in with a swift, violent motion. His hands moved over the gun with the same short, efficient strokes he so often used on her. A confidence born out of practice.

Marcus swung the gun up, sighted for an instant, and then fired two quick shots. His hand barely moved, but the distance between the bullets could be measured in feet, not inches. The first struck the target in the leg. The second burrowed a neat hole between the cutout’s eyes.

“Why bother with the first shot,” she asked, “if you know you can make the second?”

Her husband smiled. “Because in my line of work, darling, the targets don’t stand still. And most of the time, they’re armed. Accuracy is much harder in the moment. The first shot throws the target off guard. The second is the kill.”

Marcella pursed her lips. “Sounds messy.”

“Death is messy.”

She took back the gun, squared herself toward the target, and fired again. It tore the paper several inches to the right of the head.

“You missed,” said Marcus, as if that wasn’t obvious.

Marcella rolled her neck, exhaled, and then emptied the rest of the clip into the paper target. Some of the shots went wide, but a few punctured the paper head and chest, stomach, and groin.

“There,” she said, setting the gun down. “I think he’s dead.”

A moment later, Marcus’s mouth was on hers, their shuffling feet scattering the spent cartridges as he took her up against the back wall. The sex was brief, and rough, her nails leaving lines beneath his shirt, but Marcella’s attention kept sliding past her husband to the ruined target, hanging like a shadow at his back.

Marcella didn’t shoot any more that night. But she went back to the range alone, week after week, until her aim was perfect.

VII

THREE WEEKS AGO

THE HEIGHTS

THE elevator doors opened, and Marcella stepped out, one hand resting on the gun inside her bag. Out of the corner of her eye, she glimpsed a man walking casually toward her. He looked innocuous enough, dressed in a pullover and slacks, but black combat boots showed beneath the hems.

“Marcella Riggins?” he asked, continuing his slow advance.

She turned toward him. “Do I know you?”

“No, ma’am,” he said with a smile. “But I was hoping we could talk.”

“About what?” she asked.

His smile stiffened, set. “About what happened the other night.”

“What happened . . .” she echoed, as if wracking her memory. “Do you mean when my husband tried to burn our house down around me? Or when I melted his face off with my bare hands?”

The man’s expression stayed steady, even. His steps slowed, but didn’t stop, each stride closing the gap between them.

“I think you should stay there . . .” Marcella drew the gun from her bag, not all the way, just enough to let him see the chrome polish along the back of the barrel.

“Come on, now,” he said, lifting his hands as if she were a wild animal, something to be corralled. “You don’t want to make a scene.”

Marcella tipped her head. “What makes you think that?”

She swung the gun up and fired.

Her first shot took the man in the knee.

He gasped, buckled, and before he could even reach for the weapon holstered at his ankle, she fired a second shot into his head.

He collapsed, blood staining the runner.

She heard the steps behind her too late, and turned in time to see a dark figure, a soldier, armored head to toe in black tactical gear. Turned in time to see the arc of electricity leap from the end of a baton with a static hiss. Marcella’s hand shot up and caught the weapon just as it skimmed her shoulder. Pain tore through her, sudden and bright, but Marcella tightened her grip, fingers flaring red. The strange light wrapped up over her wrist, a perfect mirror of the rot spreading through the instrument, then the hand holding it.

The attacker let go and staggered back with a yelp, clutching their arm, and Marcella slammed her heel into their chest, sending them to the floor. She knelt on top of them, fingers closing around the front of the soldier’s helmet.

“Come on, darling,” she said, “let me see your face.”

The helmet warped, weakened, until she could tear the faceplate away.

A woman stared up at her, pain contorting the lines of her face.

Marcella tsked. “Not a good look,” she said, wrapping her hand around the woman’s exposed throat to stifle her scream as her body withered.

Then, the harsh metal sound of someone racking a round. Marcella looked up and saw a third soldier, his gun already leveled at her head. Her own weapon sat discarded several feet away—she’d dropped it when she went to catch the baton.

“Stand up,” ordered the soldier.

Marcella considered him.

He was so focused on her, he didn’t register the shape moving behind him, not until it reached out and wrapped an arm around his throat.

The shape—a man built like a heavyweight boxer—wrenched the soldier back, and the gun went off, a steel dart grazing Marcella’s cheek before burying itself in the wall behind her head.

The soldier didn’t get a chance to fire again. The other man gripped the soldier’s mask and wrenched it sideways, breaking his neck with an audible crack. When he let go, the soldier’s body crumpled to the floor.

Marcella hadn’t wasted any time. She was up again, the gun back in her hand and trained on the man who, for his part, seemed unfazed.

“Careful, now,” he said, in a broad, musical voice. “Shoot me and you’ll just kill a twenty-three-year-old from the suburbs who loves his ma.”

“Who are you?” she demanded.

“Well, now, that’s a little complicated.”

And then, in front of Marcella’s eyes, the man changed. Rippled, and was gone, replaced by a young woman with loose brown curls. “You can call me June.” Marcella’s eyes narrowed, and the woman smiled at her surprise. “Didn’t think you were that special, did you?” She looked down at the three corpses, arms crossed. “You shouldn’t leave these here for anyone to find.” She knelt, and just like that, she was the boxer again, getting his hands under a pair of shoulders.

Marcella stared down in genuine surprise.

June looked up, impatient. “A little help?”

* * *

MARCELLA pressed a hand towel to her cheek, her gun balanced on the edge of the sink. The thin line was still weeping blood. She checked her reflection in the bathroom mirror and hissed in annoyance.

The cut would heal, but they’d ruined a perfectly nice shirt.

“Who are you?” Marcella called over her shoulder to the living room, where the shapeshifter was patting down the soldiers’ bodies.

“I told you,” June called back in a lilting voice.

“No,” said Marcella, “you really didn’t.”

She tossed the cloth aside and took up her gun, returning to the living room. The bodies lay side by side on the floor, the last—the one missing half its skull—staining her polished wood.

Death is messy.

“Don’t be precious,” said June, reading her face. “I doubt you’ll want to hang about now anyway.”

“F*****g cops,” muttered Marcella.

“These aren’t cops,” said June. “They’re trouble.” She tore a small black patch from the shoulder of one uniform and held it up for Marcella to see. “Or more accurately, they’re EON.”

Marcella raised a brow. The patch itself was unmarked, save for a simple black X ghosted on the cloth. “Is that supposed to mean something to me?”

June rose to her feet. “It should,” she said, stretching. “It stands for ExtraOrdinary Observation and Neutralization. ExtraOrdinary—EO—that’s us. Which makes them the neutralizers.” She nudged a body with the tip of her shoe. “Sharks that come swimming when you make a splash. You’re lucky I found you, Ms. Riggins.”

Marcella took up the half-ruined helmet. She upended it, shaking out the ash. “How did you find me?”

“Ah. Bethany.”

Marcella scowled at the memory of her ex-friend. Her late husband’s late mistress. “Bethany.”

“Perky young thing, t**s up to here.”

“I know who she is.”

“She liked to talk. A lot. About Marcus, and the place he’d put aside for her.”

Marcella didn’t realize she was gripping the helmet until it fell apart in her glowing hands. “And you?” she asked, dusting her palms. “Are you looking for my husband?”

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