Authors: Allyson Lindt
This book is a work of fiction.
While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Allyson Lindt
All Rights Reserved
Editor: Sotia Lazu
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Ten years ago, a horrific Mag-Line accident stole Camden’s limbs, his family, and his faith in people. Technology replaced his missing parts with synthetic ones, but it can’t bring back his sister and niece. If he can’t have the life he lost, he’ll settle for justice, by exposing CyGes, the company who built the faulty train that caused the accident, as the corrupt corporation they are.
When Morgana meets a sexy guy with synthetic vibrating fingers, she just wants a hook-up for the night. She doesn’t expect him to be the primary subject of the documentary she’s in town to shoot—a look at why CyGes is a world leader in technology. Even worse, he seems hell-bent on taking down her employer, and dragging her along for the ride.
For my eternal dragon
The last decade of Camden’s life flashed before his eyes, one year at a time. Ten years of grief and lies.
“I’m sorry sir; we couldn’t save her. Her daughter either.”
He slammed back a shot of vodka, and poured himself another.
“CyGes deeply regrets your loss. While we know nothing can bring back your family, we hope the implants will make your life better.”
The implants made it hard to get drunk, and that was about all they’d done. At least the bartender had left the bottle. Camden knocked back another swallow and refilled the glass.
“Your body is accepting most of the implants well, but more of your organic tissue is deteriorating.”
He gave up on the glass, and downed the booze straight from the bottle. At first, it had just been his legs and one arm. Then his spine. And several of his organs. Until he was more machine than man. Not that most people could tell.
And he was supposed to be grateful for it—this second chance at life. This empty existence, made possible by the very company that had killed his sister and niece a decade ago. Three-hundred and sixty-four days a year, he let it roll off him. But he always took the anniversary of the accident to mourn, dwell on what could have been, and honor their memory. And this year he had two new reasons to linger on the past.
The first, and hardest to deal with, was the terrorist bombing on an Emerald City Mag-Line. Seeing the wreckage broadcast the world over had dragged up every faded memory he’d spent years trying to move past.
He finished the rest of the bottle in a single gulp, finally getting enough alcohol into his system to feel the buzz before his hyper-efficient liver metabolized it. The second though…. To think he’d almost said no to the phone call earlier that week.
“We’d like to do a documentary about you, Mr. Hillesland. Kind of a ‘Where Are You Now’ type of thing. It’s completely promotional, mostly fluff, but you’re one of our first, best, and finest. What do you say?”
Camden had said yes. Even though almost every bit of him wanted to say no. His brain—at least that was still his—knew he needed this chance. To tell their story. To do right by his sister and niece. To share their wonderful memories with the world, instead of keeping them to himself.
But tonight, he would remember them in his own way.
“Are you drinking alone, or is there room for one more?” A lilting female voice interrupted his musings.
When he looked up, his urge to tell the stranger to go to hell died at the back of his throat. Her auburn hair was pulled into two tails, one on either side of her head, making it difficult to tell if she was barely legal or closer to his thirty-two years. Her dark shirt contrasted with pale skin, and hugged her curves enough to hint at what was underneath without giving it all away, despite having one extra button undone at the throat. Her jeans hugged her hips, and the gorgeous curve of her ass like they’d been made for her. While the entire package was nice to look at, he would have turned her away in his current mood. But there was something in her eyes—the dark green of emeralds lost in a storm—that made him want to know more about her.
And since the vodka buzz had all but faded, maybe she could distract him from his memories for a few more minutes. He nodded to the chair on the other side of the table. “There’s room for one more.”
“I’m Ana.” When she smiled, the storm in her eyes swirled, shifting to something paler but just as dangerous. Her mouth parted slightly.
Images of running his tongue over her full lips danced in his head. He shook the thought aside. That wasn’t the path he needed to go down, unless it looked like she’d be a couple-hour distraction instead of a five-minute one.
“Dan.” He didn’t like to give out his full name. Too many people recognized it from the CyGes ads, and since it took a trained eye to tell he wasn’t all organic, he never wanted to be the one to point it out. “Can I get you something to drink?”
She held up a martini glass, striking blue liquid sloshing against the edges. “I’m set, thanks.” She nodded at the empty bottle in front of him. “Besides, it looks like you’ve got both of us covered.”
An unfamiliar embarrassment flooded him, and he brushed it aside with irritation. “It was almost empty already. Bartender thought it was easier to hand over the last couple of shots and leave me be.”
She raised her eyebrows and raked her gaze over his face, down his chest, and back up again. “Right. Makes sense.”
Was she being sarcastic? It was hard to tell. Did he care? It wasn’t like he wanted to take her home. But he was compelled to study those eyes, and maybe try and unravel one or two of the secrets they hid. Which in itself might prove to be a challenge.
Computers he could read; they spilled their truths without much coaxing at all. People were a different story. From the way she held herself, she’d known before she sat down what she wanted to do and say, and probably wouldn’t give him anything else.
Time to find out what she was looking for. “What are you up to tonight?”
The corners of her eyes tugged up. “That’s it? No cheesy line? No ‘do you come here often?’”
He hated that kind of game. He reached for his bottle, and then dropped his hand back in his lap.
. “I can do that, if you want. Will it make the conversation better?”
She laughed—a light, easy sound that cleared some of the cobwebs from his veins—and shook her head. “No. It definitely won’t. You just took me by surprise. I’m talking to you; that’s what I’m up to.”
A fairly straightforward answer, at least on the surface. Not what he’d been hoping for, but it was a starting point. “How’s that working out for you?”
She tugged on her collar. The storm had all but vanished from her eyes. “Not sure yet, but I don’t have any complaints, so I’d say it’s going well.”
“Hey, get back here!” A loud shout cut through the chatter and clink of glasses in the bar. Scrambling feet and surprised exclamations joined the noise. Seconds later, a large orange tabby cat jumped in the middle of their table, paws and claws scrambling for purchase on the polished wood.
“Shit.” Ana’s drink spilled down the front of her shirt, and she was on her feet in a second.
Camden didn’t think. His artificial arm shot out, and he grabbed the cat by the scruff of the neck. The cat hissed, and he glared back, staring the feline down. He was careful not to hurt the terrified creature, as he carried her to the door and deposited her outside.
“Go hide somewhere else, princess.”
The animal bolted the moment her feet touched the ground.
He exhaled and made his way back into the bar, a thread of adrenaline making his blood flow faster through his veins. At least the implants didn’t take that from him. Most everyone had already returned to their own drinks and conversations. He wove through the tables back to his empty bottle, he raised his eyebrows when he saw Ana was still there.
She dabbed furiously at her shirt with a handful of napkins, muttering the entire time. “Dammit. This isn’t going to come out of silk. Fuck.”
He smiled at her loss of composure, but he squashed his amusement again. “Anything I can do to help?”
She looked up, eyes wide. Her top was suctioned to her chest, obliterating any hint of ‘left to the imagination’ that had been there earlier. Her smile slid back into place, but her stiff jaw and the lines in her forehead marred the expression. “Loan me your shirt?”
Again, he wasn’t sure if she was joking. It didn’t matter. Something about her was compelling, and he didn’t think his racing pulse was entirely due to the miniature whirlwind of a stray cat. He had no idea what about Ana made her so compelling. Her temperament, sliding from coy to flustered in a flash, her composure, or a combination of all of it. If he could keep her around a little longer, he was going to. “I have an extra, if you’d like.”
She looked him over, lips pursed, and then walked around him. “Where? In your back pocket?”
The dry disbelief mixed with the quirk of her mouth made him chuckle. He nodded toward the exit. “Outside. On my bike.”
“So I’m supposed to just follow you outside to some dark alley?” She crossed her arms and took a step back. “Wait. Did you say bike?”
“You can wait here, if you’d rather.” He shoved his hands into his pockets. Please don’t let her leave. Not yet. Give him just a little longer with this fascinating woman. “And yeah. Twenty-two Harley.”
Her shoulders relaxed. “Really? Where do you get fuel for it?”
At least she hadn’t asked why he didn’t ride the Mag-Line like everyone else. Just the word was enough to bring back the haunting memories of his past. He pushed the threatening avalanche aside, before the images could overwhelm him again. “Converted the engine. It runs on used vegetable oil.”
She wadded up her handful of paper napkins. “I’d love to borrow a shirt. And see your bike.”
He rested his organic hand—it had better tactile response—at the small of her back. Her heat seeped through the fabric and traveled over his skin. He let his touch linger, enjoying the contact and the fact she seemed to appreciate his company for who he was, and not the prosthetics attached to him. Too many of the women in this town knew he was mostly mechanical, and he got sick of the fetishists.
Sure, it was nice when he really wanted to get off, but it got old being approached because someone had heard how much better mechanical fingers were than real ones. Besides, it meant the organic bits—like the organ beneath his belt—missed out a lot. Not that he was taking this woman home or anywhere private. Except part of him was struggling to figure out what it would take to seduce her.
He nudged her toward the side of the building. As the doors swung shut behind them, the noise faded too, leaving a light ringing in his ears. The bar didn’t have a parking lot. Everyone rode the Mag-Line, so there was no need. Most of the employees knew him, though, and let him park along the side of the building. The 2022 Harley was the only thing in the narrow alley, besides him and Ana.
She broke away the moment the motorcycle came into view, striding quickly toward it. “So gorgeous.” She ran her hand over the frame, without ever making contact.
He joined her, and unsnapped a saddlebag. The bike was one of the few possessions he had that he considered actually his. The house on the hill was CyGes’s doing. They also gave him a monthly allowance for living expenses. The cash from the out-of-court settlements sat in a series of bank accounts. Blood money. Not worth touching.
“I—” Ana fidgeted with her fingers—the first real tell he’d seen from her that night. “I shouldn’t do this, but I can’t help myself. Can I have a ride?”
His blood pressure shifted up a gear. Having her soft curves pressed against his back, arms around his waist, hot breath on his neck, made his cock twitched in anticipation. He handed her a spare T-shirt. “If you want to duck back inside and change, I’ll wait.”
The joy was back in her eyes. “I’ll take that as a yes.” She rested her hands on his shoulders and guided him so he was facing the street, his back to her. “Don’t move until I tell you to.”
He raised his eyebrows, not sure what was going on. Seconds later, she draped her folded silk shirt, still damp, over his shoulder. “Do you have somewhere I can stash that for a little while? And you can look now.”
He took the clothing and spun back around. She’d changed, out in the open, and his shirt hung loosely off her shoulders. The sight was more alluring than the wet outfit had been earlier, and his imagination filled in the missing blanks of not getting to watch her change.
He tucked her top into a bag as gently as he could, grabbed his helmet, and handed it to her. He’d ride without one. There were no laws against it—not in this town anyway—and he’d feel safer if she wore it. He nodded to the seat behind him as he dropped onto the bike. “Did you want to go somewhere specific?”
“No.” The helmet muffled her voice. Her entire frame was warm against him, when she slid into place and wrapped her arms around his waist. “I just want to feel the wind rushing past.”
He understood exactly what she meant. Especially on a warm night like tonight. He gunned the engine to life, leaned back into her—solely to make sure she was secure in her seat—and pulled onto the back streets that would allow him to navigate without getting in the way of the Mag-Lines.
Part of his brain asked if this was a mistake. The question was overridden by the rest of him, wondering what she’d say if he asked her to come home with him.