Will he kill the one who can save him... again?
Special ops turned professional killer, Vespar McKauley is hired to take out Marcolm Rogers, son of his employer’s worst enemy. But Marc isn’t like any hit he’s ever done. He’s just twenty-one, he goes to a private university studying English Lit, and for fun he plays computer games with his friends. No drugs, no partying, no crime. The day he bumps into Marc and looks into his azure eyes, the world drops out from under him.
With his father in the Chicago Crime Syndicate, Marc and his mom have stayed out of the limelight, hiding from those that might harm them. He figures he’s safe at a small liberal arts university all the way across the country. Only midway through his senior year, he feels eyes on him and the shadows encroaching. Just as he’s about to run, he meets Vespar and experiences an instant attraction. When Vespar tells him he’s in danger and offers to protect him, Marc wants to believe him. But he’s been hunted before, and this time he isn’t sure he’ll get away. Especially when he finds out he is Vespar’s target.
VESPAR MCKAULEY slid the blade along the stone and stared blankly at the room around him. While he noticed the utilitarian off-white walls and tan furniture of the hotel room, they were so bland that he paid them no attention. He had swept the room when he came in. There were no weapons that could harm him hidden there. And yet there was no way he would let his guard down entirely.
He lifted the long knife and observed the edge. Still a little rough. Not sharp enough. He flipped the blade over in his hand, stroked it along the stone, and gave it far more attention than he would any of his other weapons. For while guns had saved his life most often over the last fourteen years, Vespar still clung to his knife. There was something far more personal about a blade than a gun—the way it felt as it slid into skin and that moment of resistance as it finally punctured and slid home.READ MORE
While he had only used the knife as a defense in the past, he hoped to use it more often. When he needed to.
A deep frown pulled the corners of his mouth downward. “Need to,” he grunted. A small amount of the fury he usually felt leaked through with that one reminder. He needed to kill. Not all the time, but as long as he could remember, that singular yearning had run his life. From his first deer at age ten to the last bastard he killed as a member of a covert-ops team in the Army, the desire was insurmountable. As if to agree, a small birthmark throbbed on his left shoulder, just underneath the clavicle.
His birthmark was in the shape of a sword with half of the blade missing. Maybe that was why he was so attached to his knife.
He thought—or perhaps wished—that his time in the military had fulfilled the compulsion to kill. There he was allowed to hunt and kill a mark every few weeks. Sometimes even more often. When he left the team, it was by mutual agreement. He wanted out because his time was up and he had mistakenly assumed his sheer number of kills had muted the killer inside. The CIA tried to recruit him, but he ran away from that option. There was no way he wanted to be a permanent killer. At least not then.
But six months later, Vespar had to admit he’d been wrong. The peace afforded by his time in covert ops lasted barely a couple of months before the need came back. Deep in his muscles, a tension began that could only be assuaged one way. The intense burn and throb around his birthmark intensified every day. And yet he fought it.
For some reason he could not understand, his body needed to kill, even though he didn’t want to. Vespar longed for nothing more than to find a hut in the middle of nowhere and live there for the rest of his life. But that was impossible. In just three months, the need kicked back in and he finally gave in to his anxiety and put his skills up for sale.
Now he waited for information on his target.
The hotel he chose was on the high end and close to Chicago’s financial district. It would allow his client to deliver the information he needed while on a break. Vespar had no idea why his client wanted that particular individual dead. Nor did he care. As long as he was allowed to hunt and destroy, it gave him some semblance of relief. That was all he cared about.
The sound of someone approaching drew his attention. He pulled his knife back from the stone and quickly moved to the side of the door. His phone buzzed, and fifteen seconds later, a manila envelope slid underneath. The footsteps retreated.
Vespar stood for over a minute and didn’t breathe as he listened for any sound coming from outside the room. He heard nothing, so he removed his phone from his pocket and looked at a text message. Delivery of information complete.
With a nod he put the phone back and looked down at the envelope. Cold sweat dampened the back of his neck as he leaned down and picked it up. There it was. While before he killed on orders, within the simple tan envelope was information that would turn him from a military marksman, commanded to kill, into a contract killer.
A sense of unease centered in his shoulders. He ripped the flap up and yanked the contents out. He quickly glanced over the information on the top sheet.
Name: Marcolm Bissini
Need: Make his death a noticeable hit
Time frame: Four weeks
Vespar grunted at the timeframe. Four weeks to find and kill the bastard. But since they wanted a noticeable hit, he could at least get all his frustration out on the kill. He yanked the cover sheet off and looked at the eight-by-ten photo of a boy not more than eight years old. “What the fuck?” he growled. “I won’t kill kids.” When he opened himself as a killer for hire, he stated what contracts he would not accept, and children and innocents were the only people he categorically refused to take out. Everyone else was fair game. In that way he convinced himself he was taking out someone who deserved it.
No innocent deserved to die. He flipped the image over and spotted words on the back.
This image was taken thirteen years ago. He has been in hiding since. We do not know what he looks like now. Leave this image by the body.
He rubbed his chin with his forefinger as he looked at the words. The kind of men who hired people like him had money and recourse. If they wanted the man dead, he would be dead. And by the age of twenty-one, the chances of him being an innocent bystander were almost zero. But for some strange reason, Vespar wondered why he needed to die. “It’s none of my business,” he snapped, and he shoved the contents back into the envelope. “They want him dead. He’s as good as dead.” Then he pulled out his cell phone and texted back a simple OK.
It was time to do some research.
TWO AND a half weeks later, Vespar maneuvered his car into a parking spot at Reed College. Finding his mark had not been easy, which thrilled him. He did love a good hunt. Marcolm Bissini, now known as Marcolm Rogers, lived in Portland, Oregon, and was in his final year of college. Through his research he knew that Marcolm was also the son of one of the heads of the Bissini branch of the Chicago crime syndicate. His mother ran away with him when he was eight, and nobody had been able to find a trace of them. Well, not until Vespar.
Vespar was vigilant. Not only had he scoped out the area for three days, but he wore an earpiece that would pick up any voice for up to half a mile. There was a kid three rows away backing his ancient VW Beetle out of a spot. Two girls to the northwest chatted about an upcoming dance. And several professors droned on about boring subjects. The chatter of students as they went to and from classes drifted through his mind as he sauntered onto campus toward a specific classroom.
Rogers had to die in the next eleven days. First Vespar would get a good look at the twenty-one-year-old. He had already discerned the young man was stealthy. He changed jobs every few months. Apartments every few weeks. No doubt he knew someone was after him. Vespar almost wished he had more time. It would be enjoyable to chase his mark for a little while.
But no. His birthmark ached and reminded him he needed the kill. It had been over seven months since he last fulfilled that desire. There was no time to waste. During the last physical and psychological exams he had as he left covert ops, the doctors had some very unnerving things to say. Vespar could still remember what the psychologist told him. “Killing is your drug. You won’t be able to go for long without another hit. You need to get help, Lieutenant McKauley.”
But the rest of the medical jargon only confused him. The doc showed him a scan of his brain. It was all a mixture of black and gray to Vespar. “Your frontal lobe is not right,” the doctor said. He looked as confused as Vespar felt. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it. You need to have someone keep an eye on it.” He suggested specialists, but Vespar ignored that advice.
His feet slapped lightly against the wet pavement, and he took in the students and the buildings. Would Rogers still look like the little boy in the picture? If he did not, Vespar would find him. He knew where Rogers lived. But it would still be good to get a look and take a mental picture of the man before his death. Why that was important, he did not know. It had never been important to him before. Maybe it was because Rogers was his first contract kill.
“Excuse me.” Vespar heard a male voice from behind him. “Pardon me. I… whoops.” A body tried to pass him and collided with his back, and while he instinctively switched his center of gravity enough to stay standing, the guy who crashed into him bounced off and hit the grass with a loud slap.
“Ow,” he groaned with a slight laugh. “That’s gonna leave a bruise.” The guy turned his head and looked up at Vespar. His bright azure eyes twinkled in the low light of the cloud-covered day. “Hey. Sorry about that. Glad I didn’t knock you over.” He grinned and showed slightly uneven white teeth. Slowly he stood up. When he looked down at his front, which was completely soaked from landing in wet grass, he shook his head. “Damn. Oh well. Can’t be helped.” Quickly he scooped up the book bag he had dropped.
“Sorry I knocked into you,” he said with another grin, and then he dashed off and called over his shoulder, “I’m late for class.”
Vespar stared after him, a mixture of confusion and doubt racing through his mind at the same time as his heart beat out a single refrain. “Kill, kill, kill….” Marcolm Rogers was not what he expected. He had a mop of reddish-blond hair, and freckles covered his nose. And that smile…. It had been friendly. He looked like the fucking boy next door.
What the ever-living hell?
“DAMN IT.” Marcolm sighed and hit reboot. It was the fourth time that night his laptop had frozen up. As he waited for it to come back, he went into the kitchen and grabbed his favorite mug. He popped a pod into his coffee machine, slipped the cup under the nozzle, and waited for it to fill.
He rubbed his shoulders, but it did not help the tension he felt. For years he and his mother had run from his father. But since she moved to Australia and he started school at Reed College, the constant feeling of needing to run had receded to almost nothing. Marcolm was happy and relaxed. He had even made friends.
So why did every hair on his body stand on end and make him want to run far, far, away? “Only four more months,” he murmured as the rich, deep scent of chocolate and espresso filled the air. “Four more months and I graduate and can disappear. Again.” Maybe he’d move to Australia with his mom. Surely if he was half a world away from Chicago, his father, Patrick Bissini, and the Bissini family would give up?
Once the mug was filled, he took a nice long sip and concentrated on the taste. It took half the cup before he relaxed his muscles a little. It was not the time to get shaky. It would be stupid to run when his degree was within reach. He was probably just being silly. His father had never found them. Ever. His mother, Cassidy, had kept the two of them moving to assure that he couldn’t. And they’d never lived in Portland before he came there for college, so there was nothing to draw any attention to him.
And yet something had put him on edge a few months earlier, and it had never left. And that day…. That day everything went wrong—from starting a new job that morning, to running late for class, to being an idiot because he noticed a hot guy and not only rammed right into him but fell to the ground afterward. The guy stared at him as though he’d never seen anything quite as strange as Marcolm. Could he be any more of a dork?
“He had the most amazing eyes, though,” he mused. They were deep brown, almost black. And that ultrashort black hair was a definite turn-on. There was something about his straight jaw and the tan of his skin that made Marcolm think of noble knights in the paintings he’d seen. “You know, maybe it’s a good thing I got doused with cold water. Definitely tempered the stiffy I could have gotten from looking at Mr. Hottie.” Did any man look that amazing? Marcolm always assumed those guys were only airbrushed in magazines. Not Mr. Hottie. He was… spectacular. And probably a professor, because he looked like he was in his early thirties.
With a steadying breath, Marcolm went back into his living room, where his ancient computer clunked its discontent at being used for intense graphics it had not been designed for. “Sorry, old friend,” he told it as he sat down. “But I can’t afford a new computer. You just need to last me four more months. Okay?”
Its motor whirred in a high-pitched tone before it finally quieted down.
Relieved, he pulled up the game he had been playing and logged in. Then he put on his combination earphones and mic and said, “Sorry. Computer froze again.”
Steve, a good friend and his freshman-year roommate, snorted. “You need to put that thing down, Marc.”
“Hey. Don’t slam the machine. It’s going to hum through graduation. As long as I treat it right.”
The other guys ribbed him for a few seconds, and they got back into the game.
VESPAR SAT in his darkened hotel room and stared at his laptop. He was uneasy. He’d killed countless times under orders. So why was this different? Until an hour earlier, he’d been parked outside of Marcolm’s—no, Rogers’s apartment complex. He had no idea why the kid’s first name popped into his head. You didn’t name a mark, just like you didn’t name an animal that was headed to slaughter. He listened in as his target laughed and joked with his buddies while they played some computer game. He seemed so… normal. Something Vespar had never been.
Maybe that was it. Rogers was one of those guys—the kind who laughed at Vespar when he was younger because he was different and kept to himself.
He narrowed his eyes and turned off his listening equipment. No more wasting time. The next day Marcolm Rogers would come to an end. For some inexplicable reason, Vespar knew he needed to make the kill quick. That was just as well. Vespar preferred to kill cleanly. He would get in, kill, mess up the apartment enough that it was noticeable, leave the picture, and disappear.
Then he would take the last part of his money and hide away from the world for as long as he could.
As he got into bed, he slid his knife under the pillow and clamped his hand over the hilt. He would fulfill his first contract, and the next time he would not be so affected. “That’s right,” he reminded himself as his breathing evened out. “I was nervous the first time I killed in the Army too. Once I have one down, the rest will be easy.” With that thought in his mind, he slid into the only kind of slumber he ever got. The uneasy kind.COLLAPSE