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A Stone’s Throw, first in The Huntress series of short stories. Baynard Stone realizes that being Mea's hunting partner will require a painful sacrifice.
“There’s something you haven’t considered.”
Stone leaned back in the pilot’s chair and reached his arms over his head in a joint-popping stretch, ignoring the android. A giant yawn took him by surprise, the hinges of his jaw creaking with the gusty inhalation. Rubbing his face vigorously, he slumped in the seat and closed his aching eyes. He thought about putting his goggles back on to rest his burning eyeballs, but the damned ‘droid would just use it as an excuse to torment him some more. Not that he needed an excuse.
Stone listened to the silence in the control room, clenching his jaw against the sure knowledge that Warren was staring at him. Waiting. The asshole probably had a smirk on his face, too. But in the short time that they’d known each other, Stone had learned that Warren was nothing if not persistent, especially with his games.
With an explosive sigh, he cracked an eye. Yup, definitely a smirk. Plus, patronizing humor twinkled in his brown, surprisingly human eyes. Shit.
“All right, what?” Stone growled, in a tone guaranteed to make the average person nervous.
But Warren wasn’t average. The smirk widened to a teasing grin, though he had enough sense not to call Stone on his aggression. “You’ve talked with Mike about making your Hunter status official, right?”
Stone narrowed his eyes in irritation. “Yeah, what of it?”
“And you mean to partner Mea as a hunter?”
“Spit it out, ‘droid, before I take your head off and put it on backwards.”
Warren chuckled, as if the threat had been a jest. “I just don’t think you’ve thought it all the way through, is all. What happens when you get old and she doesn’t?”
Stone frowned at him. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“The metal alloy. The genetic enhancement. Mea’s got decades ahead of her as an active hunter.” Warren sobered, his eyes studying Stone with a hint of compassion. “When you’re shriveled up and useless to the Corp, she’ll still be in her prime. Are you going to let that happen?”
A weight settled on Stone’s chest, and he clenched his jaw in reaction. Losing Mea, even to the relentless demands of time, was not an option.
When Stone didn’t answer, Warren smiled and stood, clapping a hand on his shoulder. “That’s what I figured. Good luck, big guy. You’re gonna need it.”
A Far Cry, second in The Huntress series of short stories.
Mea discovers that Regan is more like her than she'd care to admit, and motherhood is as much terror as joy.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” her mother’s voice rang out, echoing around the training room like a warning of impending disaster.
Regan jumped guiltily, shoving the rifle into her father’s hands and backing away from it and him. When Mom had that storm on her brow and green fire in her eyes, it was best to get out of the way as quick as possible. She felt a twinge of guilt for abandoning Dad, but it wasn’t like he couldn’t handle himself.
At the moment, it looked like he’d decided to play dumb. Slinging the rifle against his shoulder, he turned without haste to face Mea and asked, “What?” in a calm rumble.
Regan winced. Wrong ploy.
“Goddamn it, Bay, you know what!” Mea thundered, stalking towards them like a wave of dark fury. “She’s a child! Guns and knives have no place in the hands of children. What the hell do I have to do to get that through your thick head?” She stopped in front of him and poked a stiff finger into his chest. “I have told you time and again that she is not allowed to handle weapons! If I find you training her one more time–”
“You smell good,” her father murmured, curling a finger around a strand of Mea’s dark hair and bringing it to his nose. “New soap?”
Ah, distraction, Regan thought. A better ploy. “You look really pretty today, Mom,” she added in a casual tone.
All that seemed to do was divide Mea’s anger between them both.
“Oh, stop it, you two!” she snarled, snatching the gun from Stone’s hand, as she glared from one to the other. “You know I’ve forbidden this kind of thing! I swear, if you don’t stop going behind my back, I’ll lock this training room down. Do I make myself clear?”
Regan pressed her lips together and dropped her chin, torn between conflicting needs. She desperately wanted Mea’s approval, love and support. Her mother’s anger bit at her like a lash, and though her mind knew it wouldn’t last, it still made her heart and stomach clench with old fears of abandonment. But the intricate blue patterns on the backs of her hands gleamed in the light, refusing to let her give up.
Lifting her head, she caught her mother’s eye and said, “Mom, I need to be a hunter.”
Heart of Stone, third in The Huntress series of short stories.
Mea and Stone struggle with the concepts of commitment and compromise in their relationship.
“Wait for it,” her father murmured in her ear, his bulk a warm presence at her back. His arms steadied her as they perched on the wide branch, her rifle tucked against her shoulder. Rain slipped into her eyes and she blinked frantically, keeping the cat in her sights.
It was at the edge of the clearing, crouching in a wild abundance of green foliage. She knew it was there by the shifting of leaves and the occasional exposure of striped fur, but she didn’t have a clear shot. A Nacrid cat, a huge beast known to be one of the best predators in the galaxy.
But not the best, Regan thought as she chanced a quick glance at the other end of the clearing. Her mother was even less visible than the cat, a shadow among shadows in the rain drenched jungle.
“It knows,” she whispered to her father, counting on the endless patter of raindrops to cover her voice.
“Just wait,” he responded.
Regan reminded herself to breathe, listening to the throb of her heart and the susurration of rain and wind, as she watched the cat through her sights. It was a beautiful animal, striped black over grey, pure power in its sleek limbs and clear cunning in its grey eyes. She was glad she’d insisted on a tranq gun instead of a true rifle. Killing such a perfect creature of Nature would be a crime.
Movement caught her eye, and she glanced up with a gasp as her mother stepped out into the clearing—making herself vulnerable.
Her father growled, but Regan didn’t need the reminder—she was already focusing her attention on the cat again. The appearance of her mother had galvanized the beast. It slunk forward, ears flat against its head as it came to the last of its green cover.
Regan took in a deep breath and let it out slowly, relaxing her grip on the rifle and clearing her mind of everything but the target, as she’d been taught. It would attack now, she knew. She just hadn’t realized how fast it would be.
One second it was crouched in the green; the next it had burst from cover in a blur of grey and black, streaking towards her mother. A little zip of panic raced down her spine, but she squashed it, reacting with quick calm to shift her rifle ahead of the creature, leading the target a bit. As it bunched its muscles for a final spring at her mother, she squeezed the trigger.
The rifle fired, but nothing seemed to happen. Regan watched in horror as the cat continued its spring, white claws and teeth flashing in the gloom and its roar shaking the jungle.
Leave No Stone Unturned, fourth in The Huntress series of short stories.
Curiosity gets the better of Regan as she tries to uncover the secrets of Stone's past.
…Annoying him had been the last thing she’d wanted, but she couldn’t stop now–opportunities like this didn’t come along every day. She’d have to keep going and hope for the best.
In a careful voice, she murmured, “Because families share things with each other, even things that might be a little hard to talk about.”
His eyes came back to hers, edged with alarm. “You don’t wanna talk about it…do you?”
“No, that’s okay, Dad,” she reassured him with a grin, giving him a pat on his arm. “I just wanted to let you know what was going on.”
“Good,” he muttered with a gust that could have been a sigh of relief, as he returned his attention to the parts in front of him. “Wouldn’t be much help anyway.”
Taking another deep breath, she held it for a second before taking the plunge. “But since I shared something personal with you, maybe you could share with me.”
He snorted. “Like hell. I don’t have cycles. End of story on those parts.”
Regan snickered. “I don’t mean that. I was thinking about something else.”
“So spit it, kid,” he rumbled without looking at her, his hands back to their smooth, sure routine.
She spit it. “Why’d you kill all those people?”
Very Merry Un-Birthday, fifth in The Huntress series of short stories.
Regan’s campaign to solidify her family hasn’t ended with her parents, much to the chagrin of the other members of the Starfire.
“Because I said so,” Regan declared, folding her thin arms across her chest and glaring at Warren. The light from the tutoring viewscreen cast brightness and shadow across her narrow face in a way that lent ominous weight to her stare.
Warren did his best not to grin, knowing he’d catch hell for it, and tried to decide which parent she was emulating this time. The killer look in her eye was pure Stone, but that steely tone was Mea at her most unassailable. “It’s not gonna work, squirt. She’ll freak.”
“She’s part of the family. I already got the decorations and a gift. I am baking a cake. We’re having a party, freak or no freak.”
“Nobody’s supposed to know her creation date.”
“I’ll tell her you told me.”
He snickered and ruffled her spiky dark hair. “Oh, that’s cold, short stuff. Do you know what she’ll do to me? You guys get to leave on hunts, but I have to stay on the Starfire with her.”
She swatted his hand away with an impatient narrowing of her big, dark eyes. “Fine, so I tell her I hacked it out of her files. Ema freaks, I get in trouble, and Mom and Dad ground me for a hunt or two. We are still having a birthday party for her!”
“Whatever you say, squirt,” he said with a smirk, watching the roll of her eyes and the toss of her head with absorbed amazement. As an android, he had perfect recall—the memory files he had of Mea’s metamorphosis from child to adult were intact and crystal clear. Regan was different in many ways, but the similarities were uncanny. The girl had never seen her adopted mother perform these teenage antics, and yet, she mirrored them perfectly.
Stone Cold, sixth in The Huntress series of short stories.
Regan finds a chance to exorcise demons forged by abuse at the hands of slavers, but can she defy her parents to meet her monsters face to face?
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