USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR Dakota Madison and Sierra Avalon team up to bring readers a new breed of antiheroes…THE NINES.
Vengeance is mine not the Lord’s. It’s what I breathe for. It’s what I’m still living for. I live for the moment when I will literally have his eye for mine. It’s been two years. Two long and difficult years, but my plan is nearly complete. When I’m not in a hospital having doctors try to repair my ravaged body I spend my time on the computer, doing hacking jobs for large corporations and governments who don’t want to get their hands dirty or be associated with a job if things go sideways. But they don’t have any reason to worry. I’m meticulous, so I’ll never get caught. Just one thing stands in my way: The mysterious young woman without a past who desperately wants to be part of my future. I just need to figure out why…
THE NINES is an ongoing romantic suspense series. Each book can be read as a STAND ALONE NOVEL or as PART OF THE SERIES.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: THE NINES is meant for mature readers. The novel contains graphic violence and sexual situations. If an avenger comic book and a romance novel got married and had a child it would be THE NINES.
Vengeance is mine not the Lord’s. It’s what I breathe for. It’s what I’m still living for. I live for the moment when I will literally have his eye for mine. It’s been two years. Two long and difficult years, but my plan is nearly complete. When I’m not in a hospital having doctors try to repair my ravaged body I spend my time on the computer, doing hacking jobs for large corporations and governments who don’t want to get their hands dirty, or be associated with a job if things go sideways. But they don’t have any reason to worry. I’m meticulous, so I’ll never get caught.
I have the one thing that most people don’t.
After I was burned it was difficult for people to look at me and when they did, it was with pity or disgust, often both.
Even my own mother.
I don’t want anyone’s pity. And I have enough disgust towards myself to last five lifetimes.
So I left everything I’ve ever known and started over on my own.
Now I spend my days and nights in the small home I inherited from my aunt when she died. I would never have chosen to live next door to a large state university. It’s often loud and there are young people everywhere. It’s a constant reminder of everything I lost. I don’t feel young anymore. I feel like an old man trapped in a twenty-year-old body. If wisdom is the gift of tragedy I’d rather be ignorant.
I rarely leave home. It’s amazing what you can have delivered to your door these days. When I do need to go outside, it’s always at night and I always wear a mask. Not like the ones kids wear on Halloween. It’s more like the one that the Phantom of the Opera wore, but my mask is black and was specially designed to cover the burn scars on the left side of my face.
My latest job is for an Eastern European mob family. Modern day computer espionage has given a whole new meaning to the term “mob hit.” There’s no blood, no violence, just five million dollars vanished from several off-shore accounts in the blink of an eye. And I get fifteen percent. Not bad for a few weeks’ work.
Is it wrong to steal from criminals? I call it karmic justice. I don’t take jobs that could hurt innocent people. I only wrong people who have wronged others.
I have the luxury of a hefty bank account and very few needs. I don’t need to work another day my entire life and I wouldn’t want for a thing. But I need to keep my mind occupied. So I take hacking jobs that interest me and I take university classes online.
Having online discussions with my virtual classmates gives me the illusion of having friends and a social life. I realize it’s a poor substitute, but it’s the best I can do given my situation.
I try not to dwell on the past. The person I was, Mr. Popularity, the Class President, the Homecoming King, died the day my body burned like a barbeque on the Fourth of July.
My life now is in the shadows. Living with the fringe dwellers on the edge of humanity. I often feel like a man whose body has died, but his mind hasn’t caught up to that fact yet.
When my computer roars I know I have an incoming message. It’s from one of my contacts in China. I get a lot of work from the Chinese. I don’t speak Chinese and don’t have the patience to learn, so I use an intermediary to broker the deals. He gets fifteen percent of every deal he mediates.
I hear the familiar buzz of SKYPE and when I click on the icon Xiang Yuan appears on the screen. He’s young, probably just a few years older than me, but much better dressed. He always wears five hundred dollar suits and I’ve never seen him wear the same one twice.
“I can get you eight hundred thousand,” he says.
I don’t reply right away. I like to play things cool.
He continues. “With your skills this job won’t take more than one week. Who else will pay close to a million for one week’s work?”
“The Russians immediately come to mind,” I reply.
“And they’ll slit your throat if you don’t deliver on time. We have much more patience than that.”
I give a hearty laugh. “You guys are saints. You’d never slit a hacker’s throat. Maybe I should tell that to Jenks. Oh, wait. I can’t. You killed him.”
“Jenks got sloppy. That’s one concern I never have with you. You’re too meticulous.”
I shake my head. “You’re just saying that because you need me to take the job.”
“You’re the best person for the job,” he corrects.
“I’m the only guy you’ve got left.”
“Nine hundred thousand. But that is the final offer. Do we have a deal?”
I nod. “We have a deal.”
“Good. Let me know when the job is completed.”
“Don’t I always?”
Xiang Yuan doesn’t bother with a reply. He simply disappears from the screen.
I don’t need the money, but it’s an easy job that will probably only take a few days’ work. They’re offering close to a million for it. It’s not something I can refuse.
I rise and take a stretch away from my laptop. Sometimes it starts to feel like an appendage and that’s when I know I need a little time away from it. I step into the kitchen and make a fresh pot of coffee. While it’s brewing I glance out my kitchen window. My aunt liked to garden and the backyard is like a small sanctuary. I like to look at the plants and flowers, but I can’t be bothered with the maintenance. I have a gardener who comes by once a week to trim and weed and do whatever else needs to be done to keep it looking nice. I’ve never actually met the man, but I leave a check in an envelope for him under a mat on the back porch.
From my kitchen window I also have a slightly obstructed view of the small street I live on. The fact that it’s Macedonia Boulevard and my name is Alexander is a coincidence that is not lost on me.
The house is one block removed from one of the major thoroughfares the students frequent, so it’s not as noisy as it could be for being so close to campus. I’m still just a few blocks away from some of the dorms and much of the off-campus housing.
I’m surprised to see a beautiful girl, carrying a backpack, stop right next to my house. I have no idea who she is, or why she’s stopped there, but she looks lost.
Her long, dark hair moves slightly in the breeze and when it finally blows away from her face I can see her magnificent brown eyes and perfect pink lips. If my wishes came true and I was finally dead I know I’d be looking at the face of an angel.
I shouldn’t be standing in front of my window in the daylight staring at her. If she turned at just the right angle she could see me, and that wouldn’t be pretty. It would probably traumatize her. I need to move away from the window, but I can’t. I’m completely mesmerized by her.
When she looks at the street sign then looks up and down the block again there’s little doubt in my mind that she’s lost. I want to tell her that she’s just a block from campus. She hasn’t wandered too far afield. But I can’t leave the house, especially not in the daylight. I know as soon as she took one good look at me she’d probably run away screaming before I even had a chance to utter a word.
As she heaves a large sigh my gaze is immediately drawn to her chest. She’s wearing a pale pink sundress that fits like a glove and accentuates all of the lovely curves of her petite body. For a few moments I think about what it would be like to have my hands on her body. To touch her in the most intimate of ways. To run my fingers along her perfect, unblemished skin.
Then I chide myself for even giving in to those thoughts. There’s no use in imagining what I can never have again. Access to a woman’s body is something I lost forever. No woman would ever consider being with someone as damaged and disfigured as I am.
I considered my life over the day that half of my flesh was burned off of my body. The doctors working on me didn’t think I would live. They called it a miracle that I didn’t die. I call it a life sentence with no chance of parole.
I realized pretty quickly that my life had irrevocably changed. What I didn’t really understand until much later was the impact my injuries would have on the other people in my life.
It wasn’t until my high school girlfriend, Sara, was finally allowed to visit me that reality punched me in the face and knocked my teeth out. Sara and I had been together for over a year when it happened. She would have been burned just like me if she didn’t have a doctor’s appointment that morning and arrived late to school.
Her allergy shots kept her from dying in the blaze, or even worse, surviving it like I did.
She told me that she loved me nearly every day we were together. She was supposed to be my soul mate. We were supposed to spend our lives together.
But when she saw me in the hospital for the first time after the school bombing it was like she didn’t know me. When she looked at me all the love vanished from her beautiful brown eyes. It was like she was looking at a complete stranger.
That was the moment I knew my life as I had known it was over. Sara never came back to visit me and I never saw her again.
I spent my senior year of high school being homeschooled because I was in and out of the hospital so much. I’m smart and was always a good student so I finished all of my work early and started taking college classes in January of what was supposed to be my senior year of high school.
I traded in my high school prom and senior graduation parties for a life of worldwide hacking jobs and built my reputation as one of the best in the field of cyber espionage.
For a brief moment I panic because the girl standing outside my house turns to face me and for a second it’s almost like she can see inside of my house and she’s watching me.
But I know it’s not possible. If she really had caught a glimpse of me she would have already backed away in horror, wouldn’t she?
The girl just looks puzzled. Her head is cocked like she’s trying to figure something out. Then I see her walk towards the front of my house.
I hurry out of the kitchen and into the living room. I move the curtains on the front windows the slightest bit so that I can just make out what she’s doing. She’s standing right outside on the front walk way, staring at my front entrance.
What in the world could she possibly want with me?
Then it occurs to me. Maybe it’s not me she wants at all. Maybe she’s one of my aunt’s former students.
She looks down at a small piece of paper in her hands and then looks back up at the house. It’s almost as if she’s trying to decide whether or not she should walk up to the front door and knock.
I’m not sure what I’ll do if she does decide to knock on the door. It’s broad daylight. I only have deliveries come at night, when it’s difficult to see me, and I always leave the lights off, obscuring their view of me even further.
I hold my breath waiting to see what the girl will do. Just when I think she might make her way up to the door she takes off down the road instead.
I breathe a small sigh of relief that I don’t have to deal with her at the door. But in a small way I also feel a twinge of disappointment.
USA TODAY Bestselling author Dakota Madison is known for writing New Adult and contemporary romance with a little spice and lots of heart. She likes to explore current social issues in her work. Dakota is a winner of the prestigious RONE Award for Excellence in the Indie and Small Publishing Industry. When she's not at her computer creating spicy stories Dakota likes to spend time with her husband and their bloodhounds at their home outside Phoenix, Arizona.
SIERRA AVALON writes contemporary romance novels with a little sass and lots of spice. She lives in a small town outside of Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and their bloodhounds.