EVERYTHING HAS A BREAKING POINT.
Set 4 years after the events of the Ziva Payvan trilogy, Fracture is part 1 of the upcoming Ziva Payvan Legacy duology. Stay up to date on its progress by subscribing to my newsletter, checking for information here on the site, or following me on social media. In the meantime, enjoy this excerpt!
Just go. Run.
The front door of the house lay just a few more strides ahead. His legs were pumping as fast as his heart was beating. He wasn't even sure if his pursuer was still behind him, but he was in no mood to find out. To his delight, the door had been left unlocked; he punched the controls and slipped inside, taking a moment to catch his breath.
There was no doubt in his mind that this hunter was hoping he'd lead them to his father, the real target in this situation. He was merely a decoy, a distraction to occupy this assassin while the rest of his family fled the city. So far, the plan seemed to be working, but the thing about fishing was that it never worked out so well for the bait. If he failed, The Assassin would not hesitate to kill him, regardless of whether he was the quarry.
Once his racing heart slowed a bit, he carefully turned and risked a look out the window. The clearing outside was bathed in brilliant silver-blue moonlight that seemed nearly as bright as the daytime sun. He scanned the treeline for several minutes, watching for any movement or shapes that seemed out of place. Just as he'd made up his mind that he was safe, a shadow detached itself from the foliage and stepped into the clearing, striding purposefully toward the house. He shuddered and his heart collapsed into his stomach. This was the same shadow that had just pursued him for three kilometers through the forest, the one that had already killed his sister in an attempt to reach his father.
He was unarmed and The Assassin knew it. Otherwise, he doubted they'd be so quick to come out into the open. If they were trying to get inside his head, it was working. Purposely putting themselves in such a vulnerable position was just a reminder of how powerless he was. He had no idea whose house this was, but chances were slim that there were any weapons available. Anything that could be used for self-defense had likely been taken during the evacuation. He at least had the presence of mind to lock the door, and he stood there listening with bated breath as footsteps approached outside.
This house seemed bigger than others in the area and was well-decorated with a variety of expensive-looking objects. The owners were probably well-off and had no doubt been some of the first to leave the city. Large pieces of furniture had been stacked up nearby, giving him the impression the front door had recently been barricaded against any attackers. He considered trying to move the stack back to the door, but even if he could move it himself, there was no time. He slowly began to back away, looking wildly about for some other means of escape.
A soft clicking just outside sent him scurrying down the hallway. Based on the skill The Assassin had already shown, he didn't doubt their ability to breach the lock. Even so, the sound of the door sliding open came far too soon for his taste. He darted into the first room he came to, some sort of study or sitting room. A plush sofa and some matching armchairs sat arranged around a low table, and a desk and large cabinet rested against the far wall. He ran to the cabinet and flung it open, finding it empty except for a couple of deactivated data pads and an old blanket. The bottom shelf was clear, so he ducked down and crawled inside, pulling the door shut as quietly as he could behind him.
There in the confined space, each breath and heartbeat sounded horrifyingly loud. He leaned forward and rested his head on his knees, watching the room outside through the narrow crack between the doors. The moonlight poured in through the window, giving him a clear picture of the area. He strained to hear, willing his pulse to slow. He'd been able to hear nothing but himself since leaving the front door; The Assassin could be anywhere by now.
A cold sweat coated his forehead and he shivered, though whether it was due to nerves or an actual drop in temperature, he wasn't sure. The idea of having been left behind was beginning to take its toll on him. Per his father's plan, there was a small shuttle waiting for him at the spaceport, but the trek through the forest had taken time he didn't have and he doubted the pilot would have waited this long for him. Most of the personal transports had either been destroyed or taken during the evacuation, but maybe there'd be something left that would at least get him up to the orbital transfer station. The trick now would just be to make it to the port in the first place.
An unfamiliar shape caught his eye and he leaned over to peer through the crack again, shuddering when he realized The Assassin was standing in the doorway of the room. The galaxy only knew how long they'd been there. He swallowed against the bile rising up in his throat and clamped a hand over his mouth, mostly to keep himself from crying out. His skin crawled as The Assassin took a couple of slow, silent steps further into the room. The moonlight turned their dark clothing a silvery-gray and illuminated severe facial features, and he was surprised to see that the person was a woman. She wore her dark hair pulled back and surveyed the room with eyes that appeared just as dark in the shadows. She had a long combat knife strapped to one thigh, and in her left hand she gripped a suppressed projectile pistol.
The Assassin stood so still that for a while he wondered if she was simply a figment of his terrified imagination. But then her head moved, and she turned to look directly at the cabinet. It was all he could do to keep from squirming. Surely there was no way she could actually see him, but although he couldn't see her eyes clearly, he was almost positive the two of them were making eye contact.
She knows you're there, and she wants you to know it. After everything he'd seen, he wouldn't put such a manipulation tactic past her, but he sat there shaking his head as discreetly as possible, hoping she couldn't sense the movement and trying to convince himself there was no way she could possibly know where he was.
He nearly wet himself when he saw her take a step, but she simply pivoted and strode from the room as quickly and quietly as she had entered. He leaned forward, straining to see through the crack and hoping he'd catch sight of her passing by the doorway as she searched the remainder of the house. He held his breath and listened for her footsteps but was met only with silence. Then, after what felt like years, he heard a beep followed by metal scraping on metal. The front door had opened and closed. She was gone.
He was torn then between waiting to make sure she didn't come back and rushing to a window to see if she was setting up an ambush outside. He settled on a happy medium and sat there counting under his breath for three minutes before easing the cabinet door open. When he was sure everything was still quiet, he crawled out, crouching until the circulation had returned to his legs. He moved across the room centimeter by centimeter, half-expecting The Assassin to appear in the doorway again. The journey out into the hallway remained uneventful however, and he breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that the path to the front door was clear.
He stepped out, mentally running through all possible routes to the spaceport from here. He dreaded the thought of going on foot but he hadn't the foggiest clue how to break into a car and doubted he'd find one available for breaking into anyway. Running wouldn't be so bad; it would enable him to hide and maintain a lower profile. But running would also require him to cut back across the same forest he'd just been chased through, and he had no idea where The Assassin had gone.
He wasn't entirely sure which came first—the explosion of pain at the base of his spine or the realization of exactly where The Assassin had gone. Perhaps he had heard a sound or seen something in his peripheral vision. He couldn't remember, and the next thing he did remember was striking his head on the floor.
Something warm and wet began spreading at the small of his back and he could feel it pooling under him. But now there was no pain. He didn't think he could feel his legs.
The floor behind him creaked and the rough tread of a boot sole came to rest on his shoulder. He drew a sharp breath in through his nose and was blinded by hot tears as a powerful leg flipped him over onto his back. The woman was nothing more than a dark shape hovering above him, distorted by his swimming vision. Though he couldn't see her face, he could once again feel her icy gaze drilling into him.
She stood there observing him silently for several seconds before bending down and shining a small spotlight directly into his face, blocking his view of what—if anything—she was doing. He did his best to keep his eyes open, not wishing to be caught unaware again, but the light burned and sent pain stabbing through his head so he eventually allowed his eyelids to shut. He wanted to beg for mercy, offer to disappear and tell no one about this incident, but his throat seized up and the words eluded him. He guessed the effort would be futile anyway.
The light shut off after a moment as if she'd finished studying him. He thought he heard her release a disappointed sigh, though it was difficult to hear over his own raspy breathing.
"You shouldn't have run," she said. Her voice was a far cry from what he'd expected. It was low and smooth, and despite the circumstances he couldn't help but be soothed by it.
I know, he wanted to say as tears spilled down his cheeks. I know that now.
"Please," he managed as she rose back into a standing position. The moonlight glinted off of the casing of her pistol as she took aim for his head.
He shut his eyes again, reveling in the darkness. There was a soft pop followed by a brief burning sensation in his brain, and then...nothing.