Shadows Across the Moon is a scifi romance serial novel with chapters being released daily. If you missed the first two chapters you can read them here-
Moderate violence and sex.
Chapters 7 and 8
Gunfire went off from every direction. Dane fired into the tunnel with one gun and into the midst of the oncoming AIM soldiers with the other gun. The soldiers pulled their weapons, but more gunfire from a different direction distracted them, taking out the three oncoming soldiers down.
Grace looked out into the growing fog, but saw no one. Dane kept firing into the tunnel, but the AIM soldier was less than ten feet away. One well placed shot took off the soldier’s headset and that stopped him. Another shot to the center of his forehead took him down.
“Let’s go, Grace,” Dane said, as he grabbed her hand again and never looked back.
“There’s someone else out here.” Grace could still hear the gunfire. “We should help them.”
“We need to help ourselves first, Grace.” Dane turned to see all three soldiers were dead. His gaze scanned the storefronts and the fog. He owed someone.
The fog was above her chest now. When it finally came to block her eyesight, she knew the fear would overcome her. She didn’t want to breathe in the fog. She didn’t want to see in the fog. The fog, like the black box, was ticking down the time. Soon, it would encompass the city and all within it would be doomed.
More shots rang out. Rapid fire. Machine guns? Or were there just so many people shooting at once? Dane looked back but didn’t slow down. She started to turn her head, but his harsh tug on her hand brought her gaze to the back of his head.
“Don’t look back.” She could hear his voice over the diminishing sound of the gunfire. “You won’t like it.”
She didn’t want to look back. She wanted to keep running and never stop. Her side hurt for a short time, but once the pain subsided, she felt like she could run forever.
One block. Two blocks. On the fourth block Dane stopped. Grace almost ran into the back of him, but her instincts were getting better.
Dane moved them to the side of a building where they couldn’t easily be seen. He checked behind them, but there was nothing. Not yet anyway. She followed his gaze to the street and sucked in air until she thought her lungs would explode.
Burning wood assaulted her senses. The ocean breezes. Blood. Her eyes saw it, but her mind didn’t. She wasn’t ready to recognize what was in front of her. It was dawning on her slowly, terribly, and when she saw it, she couldn’t un-see it. She would never be able to un-see it. Not now, not late at night when she slept, not ever. It would always be there.
First, it was the yellow and orange glow of the fires in the street directly in front of the Hyatt Apartments. There were three big ones and several smaller ones. Large bonfires made of furniture and wooden doors. It lit the street in an eerie glow casting shadows between buildings.
“What is that?” Was that her voice? She didn’t recognize it. It sounded small and confused.
“People, Grace. It’s people.” Dane’s gaze saw everything. As he scanned the area again and again Grace could see the wetness in his eyes reflecting the light of the fires. “Stephanie.” The name was whispered like a prayer, pleading for mercy.
There were no AIM soldiers here. There didn’t need to be. Everyone was dead. Eerie light flickered on dead bodies. They were everywhere. On top of cars, on overturned dumpsters, and one large mound of bodies in the center of the street. Blood murals on building walls told stories she didn’t want to know. This wasn’t just a simple fish-in-a-barrel shooting. These people had resisted. And the AIM soldiers ripped them apart.
Dane moved out of the safety of the shadows, walking slowly in a trance, toward the pile of dead humans. Grace followed closely behind him, giving him space to walk, to think, to feel. She thought she’d be sick, but she had gone mercifully numb. Six months. It hadn’t seemed like a long time when they told her. Now it stretched out in front of her like a dream and she wanted it.
Grace kept looking for AIM soldiers. No one had followed them. Had the shooter killed them all? Would the AIM soldiers have called for help? Were more coming?
Dane’s straining voice brought her back to him. He was pulling bodies out of the pile. He pulled one body off the pile, then another, then another. Some of the men were big, but he didn’t slow down. Stephanie. Grace wanted to help. She walked closer to the pile. The smell of blood and urine brought bile into her throat. She turned away to empty the contents of her stomach.
Dane kept moving. She kept looking for AIM soldiers. She kept retching, but nothing would come up. She moved closer. Stephanie. Grace looked to Dane, who continued to move bodies as though nothing else was happening in the world. She turned to the upturned face of a dead man. He was near the top of the side she was on. The fog was thick, but this close she could see more people beneath him. He had been shot in the neck and the blood ran down his shirt where it turned black. Gray hair announced his age. His teeth were perfect in his gaping mouth. He was lying on one arm and the other was throws out away from his body. She followed the flannel sleeve down his arm to his ashen hand. Purple at the fingertips. Dead. Cold.
A lungful of air was a bad mistake this close to the bodies. Her body said she would throw up, but then didn’t follow through. Saliva coated her mouth. She closed out all thoughts as her hand took his. A handshake between the dead. She pulled on him. His arm extended, his shoulder moved, then nothing. He was too heavy. She let go of the hand. She’d have to find someone smaller. A woman perhaps. Or, a …she stopped thinking of it. She took his hand again with both of hers and she pulled hard. When his body began to move she pulled harder, not letting up until gravity began working for her and his body rolled down the pile and onto the street. She let go and wiped her hand on her jacket to rid herself of the memory.
“She’s not here,” Dane announced.
Grace let out a high pitched scream of surprise. She whirled around. He stood directly behind her, so close she felt his warmth. His gaze intense, searching her eyes. They flicked to the pile of bodies behind her, and to the man she had let fall to the pavement.
“Stop.” His gaze pinned her where she stood. The softly spoken word was lost in the fog.
“Don’t you want to know?”
“She’s not here. I feel it. I have to believe that.” His voice, that beautiful voice that had thrilled her when they kissed, that sang of love and hope to a world that had forgotten those feelings, echoed sadness in her heart. “We have less than nine hours. This is the only other place she might be. Let’s go up and see what we can find before the soldiers come.” He cast a last glance at the pile and walked away.
She never looked back. Death would find her soon enough. She left it behind and followed Dane into the Hyatt, into the blackness.
* * * *
Dane lit candles in the abandoned penthouse that his sister once stayed in. The windows were broken, the sofa set afire and thrown out into the street. Why? For light? Did they know there would be a fight? Did they think they could possibly win?
“Stephanie said she found a box with a timer. I’m sure it’s like the one at the tunnel. Let’s see if we can find it.” Dane soothed his grief with work.
“I’ve seen a box like that before,” Grace told him, as she, too, began to look about the apartment. They didn’t bother barricading the door this time. So much glass and debris would make it impossible not to hear someone coming. Besides, it was the only way out unless you could fly.
“Where?” He stopped.
Remembering caused a scowl between her eyebrows. Where had she seen that box before? It was recently.
“The company I work for,” she began, the scowl remaining, “Juliana had one in her car. She was going to pick up a client and bring them back to the company house where I work.”
“Juliana? What company do you work for?” Dane made his way across the room toward her.
“I work for Infinity, Inc. They make headsets. Just the outside parts, not the technology.”
The day Juliana sent her out to retrieve something from her car, and she saw the box, was the same day her original headset had been broken. Later in the evening, when Juliana returned, she was drunk and accidentally broke the headset. The company replaced it with a wireless one. She had been thrilled.
“Juliana works for the company. She’s in research.” She does other things for the company as well. Grace would never say that though. She knew her place. Besides, what would it matter to Dane?
“Juliana Miles?” His voice was flat. Unhappy.
“Yes. Do you know her?” Grace couldn’t have been more surprised.
“Stephanie was supposed to have a debate with someone named Juliana Miles, from Infinity, about their research into genetic alteration for headsets next month. Infinity got the contract for the genetic hook ups, but Stephanie had caused the law to be held up in court over ethical issues.”
There had been a lot of talk about a government contract at Infinity, but it was all top secret. Not that people noticed her when they talked at the company house. There were always parties, drinking, drugs, Juliana.
“I knew Stephanie was fighting genetic alteration, I just didn’t realize Infinity was involved.”
“That’s why they agreed to the debate. They were trying to keep it all hush-hush until after the court case was settled. The case was actually against the government, not Infinity, but Infinity stood to lose a great deal. Everyone on the project was asked to join in the debate.” Dane searched his memories for information that might be of more use. Political intrigue was Stephanie’s life.
“Juliana hates Stephanie.” The comment was said quietly as Grace thought to herself, but something wasn’t right about it all. Something was missing. Juliana had said horrible things about Stephanie one day when she came in to find Grace hooked in when she should have been working. She demanded to know what Grace was doing and when she mentioned Stephanie, she thought Juliana was going to have a coronary.
“A lot of people hate Stephanie,” Dane said. “She gets death threats all the time.” It was a good thing both her brother and husband were well trained.
“I bet she needs bodyguards all the time,” Grace said absently. How could she tell him that Juliana did more than just hate his sister? Juliana said she wished someone would kill ‘the bitch’.
Juliana had also said that she didn’t want Grace listening to any more of Stephanie’s little speeches. She struck her. Juliana had never done that before. No one in the company had ever hit her. The shock of it, all these months later, still caused her shame. She thought of reporting Juliana to Mr. Miller, the company executive that managed the house. But a few days later, she was told she had a brain tumor and six months to live. The news had been more than distracting and she forgot about the incident. Funny how everything in your life seems so important until someone says you have a brain tumor.
“Stephanie had Robert to protect her. He’s former-military. A SEAL.” Dane’s admiration for Robert came out in his voice. It caused her heart to ache as she recalled the carnage below.
“He must be very brave. And love her very much.” What else could she say? She felt drawn to soothe him. She’d never felt that before. She’d taken care of a little, lost kitten once, feeding it scraps and letting it in the house when it was cold. She had felt something for the kitten. She liked taking care of it. Then, Juliana started staying there a lot and the kitten disappeared.
“I had a kitten once,” she said softly. It was her only experience with love. “It was a stray and I took care of it.”
“I’m sure it loved you for it,” Dane said. Something about her haunted him. Her shyness over telling him about a kitten she’d obviously loved tugged at his insides. She looked lost and a part of him wanted to say more, but didn’t know the words that would comfort her.
The crunch of glass on the stairs outside the room brought their full attention to the door. Dane pulled his gun and stepped in front of her. She moved so she could see. She wanted to be ready for whatever was coming.
Heavy footsteps. A large person. Or someone carrying something heavy. Whoever it was tried to be silent, tried to be careful, tried not to warn them. Grace and Dane stood frozen, watching the door, waiting for the handle to move, waiting for what was to come.
Silence. It was worse than the crunching glass. There was no way to tell where the person was. The handle moved freely, but stopped, just as the door began to open. A slight crack, the door creaked, and the glow of a small red light landed on the floor and moved up the wall beside them.
“Dane?” The voice was masculine.
“Robert!” Dane put his gun away as he approached the door.
The man had a rifle with a laser sight on it, but he put it down when Dane opened the door. Robert Rose, looked just like he did on television, only now he was dirty and there was blood on his clothes. He was stunningly handsome. Blond, like Stephanie.
Robert closed the door behind him, nodded briefly to Grace and embraced his brother-in-law.
“I thought you were…”Dane couldn’t say the words. He let Robert go and stepped back to inspect him.
“I almost was, trying to save your ass,” Robert said. His smile was weary, but genuine.
“Was that you?” Grace looked again to the rifle. Robert had other weapons, she was sure of it. His pack was large and it clinked as he sat it down.
“Robert, this is Grace Sullivan. She’s with me.” No explanation. No story. She’s with me.
“Grace.” He nodded again, this time in welcome. He removed black leather gloves to shake her hand. Warm hands. Sure and strong. “That was me. I had to take out a few more before I could join you.”
“Where’s Stephanie?” Dane’s voice was hopeful, but Robert’s expression took that away.
“They’ve taken her.” Robert’s head nodded toward the broken window and beyond. “It was a massacre. We had some of the resistance fighters with us. We found this damn black box with some pretty awful stuff attached to it set to explode later tonight. More people came and it got out of hand. We were going to try and hole up till you got here, but those cyborg bastards ruined that idea. We tried to fight them off. Everyone in the building either fought or fled. We started fires as a beacon for help to the other members of the resistance, but it was over before anyone could help.
Stephanie insisted that I come back for the black box while she was held up on the street with some of our men. By the time I got back down, she was gone and they were dead.” Robert paused, fighting something only he could see. “I heard her scream.” There was a hitch in his voice.
Haunted. Devastated. Sad. Grace was frightened to see such a capable man fight his urge to break down.
“So she could still be alive?” Dane wouldn’t give up.
“They took her. They must have had a reason or they’d have killed her with the rest,” Robert reasoned. “My guess is that they want her sources. Just shutting her up isn’t enough.”
“Do you have the black box?” Grace wanted to see it up close.
Robert and Dane turned to her. Robert nodded and picked up his pack. He pulled it out and sat it on the coffee table. They all stared at the moving red numbers.
“Look at this,” Robert whispered, not knowing he was doing it. He pointed to a small black button. When he pressed it a portion of the box moved away to reveal wires neatly held together by plastic ties, a detonator, a glass vial full of a red gel, speckled with black and yellow.
“What is it?” Grace moved closer, but Robert put his arm up, stopping her from getting too near. Her gaze found his looking at Dane.
“Do you know what this is?” Robert asked, but it was more a statement. He expected Dane to have answers.
“They call it Fool’s Gold,” Dane shared. “It’s a bacteria that can’t be killed.”
“How can that be?” Grace asked, looking again to the vial. “Bacteria can be killed easily.”
“Not this bacteria.” Dane moved closer to examine it. “It was genetically engineered to be resistant to all medications. It’s incredible and deadly. When it’s released into the air it attacks the respiratory system immediately. Your lungs swell, fill with fluid and you choke to death.”
Grace backed away, staring at it in horror. Dane kept talking to Robert.
“But it starts to break down after 24 hours and becomes something more like a strep infection. 24 hours after that it’s harmless.”
“So, if I can hold my breath for 48 hours I’ll live?” Robert’s sarcasm was surprisingly familiar.
“How do you know all this?” Grace asked. Dane was an entertainer. An inventor. Not a scientist.
The two men exchanged glances. Robert said nothing. Dane turned to her, resolve etched in his face.
“I worked for the military for a while. Covert black ops. Research. The Emotion Chip wasn’t just my idea, it really was my invention. I created it.”
She thought he would sound proud and was shocked by his sad tone. Genetically altered, working for the government. Covert research? Were these supposed to be black marks against him or reasons to trust him?
“I don’t understand.” Grace backed away from him.
Her expression stopped him from moving forward. He wanted to assure her that he was one of the good guys. That mattered to him. It was important.
“Grace, don’t be afraid of me. We’ve been through a lot together and you know you can trust me.” One step forward, slow. “I don’t work for the government anymore. Not since the chip.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” She didn’t move. She couldn’t.
“It didn’t matter until now.” Another step forward and the distance between them began to melt away.
“It mattered. It mattered to me. You kissed me.” It came out, unbidden. Her cheeks grew warm as her gaze darted to Robert, but he wasn’t judging her.
“I kissed you.” Another step. “What does that mean Grace?”
Confusion. Was he making fun of her? Kissing was nothing to a superstar. He was most likely kissed every night. By different women. She hated that thought.
“It means that I should have known you better. I shouldn’t have kissed you.” This is why people got mating licenses. You got to know the rules. You were instructed by professionals. There was no guessing, no surprises.
“It means that you wanted a kiss, Grace. That’s all it means. It could’ve been Robert, kissing you. It didn’t matter.” As soon as the words left his mouth he knew it wasn’t true. He didn’t want anyone to kiss her but him. The thought of Robert kissing her made his blood boil, but there was no way in the world Robert would ever do such a thing.
“It didn’t matter.” It was whispered so softly he almost missed it. Her thoughts turned inward and he couldn’t reach her. She tucked herself neatly inside the barriers her class was given. Don’t speak, don’t listen, and don’t get in the way. You don’t matter. She recognized that she was hurt by his words, but she couldn’t place the reason. She had no right to be shocked. She had no right to be hurt. Thomas Dane was not a man who needed a servant. He was not a man who needed an inexperienced woman. He was not a man to consider kissing a woman of lesser social stature to be important. It was only important to her. For that, she was angry at herself.
“Of course,” Grace said as she felt the hurt, and accepted her fate. “It didn’t matter. You don’t owe me any explanations. I’m grateful that you’ve helped me.”
She said all the things someone of her class was expected to say. Everything she was taught to say and to believe. And it pissed him off.
“Grace!” His sharp tone caused Robert to stand on alert. “What I’m trying to say is that we haven’t had enough time to get to know each other. I don’t go around telling people about my involvement with the government. It could hurt Stephanie’s career, her reputation. We’re both reacting, not thinking. That’s the whole point.” Dane wanted to shake her. How dare she say kissing him didn’t matter? It damn well mattered!
How had he gotten so close? She felt his body heat as he took the final step that put him directly in front of her. He still smelled wonderful. She wished he didn’t.
“Nothing is the way it should be,” he said as he lightly caressed her jaw. “People shouldn’t be dead outside on the street. My sister shouldn’t be missing. I shouldn’t have to use a chip to feel love. And you,” he bent his head as his fingers threaded in her hair, “you should be kissed and it should matter.”
His mouth claimed hers, sending a warm, tingling jolt from her lips throughout her entire body. His name echoed in her mind until it was a whisper across her skin. His full, sensuous lips moved in a slow, rhythmic dance from her mouth to her ear, burning a path down her neck. Her nipples tightened as his teeth grazed her skin. All sense of propriety was lost. She moved her hands up his chest and wrapped her arms around his neck. Leaning back gave him more access to the sensitive skin on her neck. Her sigh slipped out just before he claimed her mouth again.
She opened to him and he tasted her. Silky, smooth heat invading her, devouring her, claiming her. His breath was uncontrolled as he whispered in her ear.
“What are you thinking Grace?” he asked. “Tell me what you think when I kiss you. I need to know.”
A cough, rough and loud interrupted them, bringing the world crashing back into focus.
“I, for one,” Robert said, “don’t need to know. Sorry bro’.” He shrugged his apology.
Grace stared into the most beautiful dark eyes she’d ever seen. Dane. His gaze was locked on her, shock and desire mingling there. She had the decency to blush. Robert had seen everything, but she couldn’t look away.
“Two people couldn’t look more shocked,” Robert was teasing. “You would think you’d never kissed anyone before.”
Dane looked at his brother in law. The shocked look was quickly replaced by a bad boy smile that could melt the heart of any girl…and probably did, routinely.
“There’s a lot to do, and little time.” Robert’s voice turned serious. Someone he loved was out there; waiting for him to come for her. “We won’t have any outside help coming in.”
“Why not?” Grace asked. San Francisco was a huge city, it was only a matter of time before someone asked why communications had stopped. Not many people traveled outside the home, but a lot of powerful people lived in this area, and they would have travel licenses.
“It’s just like Detroit,” Robert watched the hope fade from her eyes, “I’m sorry. By now the military will have set up a parameter to hold back any incoming travel and you can just bet that the news is warning of a terrorist attack. Everyone in the country, maybe even the world, is waiting, hoping that the military can save us.” He gave a snort of disgust at the irony of it.
“Do you have a plan?” Dane started to walk away, then paused long enough to take her hand. He pulled her toward the glass coffee table and they sat on the blue carpeted floor.
“You won’t like it,” Robert promised.
“I don’t like it already,” Dane smiled, trying to relieve some tension.
“We need to find the command center and shut this down from there.”
“That’s not so bad,” Dane teased.
“We’ll need to kill a high ranking AIM soldier, take his headset and use it as a homing device in order to find the command center.”
“You’re right. I don’t like it.” Dane grew serious. “But it’s a good plan.”
“If they’ve taken Stephanie for interrogation that’s where she’ll be.” Robert walked to the broken window. He stood to the far left, looking out without being seen. He was as tall as Dane, but not as muscular. Still, there was no doubt the man could hold his own in a fight. And he’d already proven that he was willing to kill to save the people he cared for.
Grace liked Robert. He was loyal. He loved his wife and would do anything to save her. He would die for Stephanie. She wondered what that kind of love felt like.
“We’ll find her,” Grace promised. What possessed her to speak to him she wasn’t sure. Yesterday, she never would have spoken to someone like Robert. Yesterday, she couldn’t make promises to herself. Now, she was making them to someone in a much higher class than she. Her teachers would punish her if they knew of such impropriety, such brazen disregard for her station.
“I know,” he said. Sure. Sad. Lost. “Thank you.”
She had no idea how to respond. She said nothing more.
“We need to get Grace somewhere safe,” Dane said. He stood and left her there on the floor near the black box and walked toward Robert, careful not to be seen from the outside.
“There is nowhere safe.” Robert’s thoughts were somewhere else.
“She can’t come with us to fight AIM soldiers.”
Robert’s eyes focused, his gaze finding her, then going to Dane. “We can’t leave her here. We should never leave her alone. Not for a moment. It’s too risky.”
“I know you’re thinking of Stephanie, Robert, but this is different. Grace has limited travel skills. If we got separated, it could cost her her life.” Dane needed Robert to understand.
“I’ll be fine,” Grace interrupted them. The fear of being alone, dying alone, was overpowering. “I can shoot, and I have some travel skills.” Cold weighed on her heart.
Robert stepped away from the window. He leaned closer to his brother-in-law to make sure his point was taken.
“You told her it mattered,” he whispered. “Now make it matter.”
The men exchanged an extended glance. Robert was certain that Grace would be taken by AIM soldiers if they didn’t stay with her. His guilt over losing Stephanie had affected his logic. Dane wouldn’t be able to fight them both on this. Make it matter.
“Come on, Grace,” Dane held out his hand to her as he came back to where she now stood. He wasn’t angry. He was determined. He would keep her safe. “We’re hunting AIM soldiers.”