Title: Wanted and Wired
Author: Vivien Jackson
Series: Tether, #1
Pubdate: April 4, 2017
Genre: Science Fiction Romance
A rip-roarin’ new snarky, sexy sci-fi paranormal romance series with the perfect balance of humor, heat, and heart. Now that Texas has seceded and the world is spiraling into chaos, good guys come in unlikely packages and love ignites in the most inconvenient places…
Rogue scientist • technologically enhanced • deliciously attractive
Heron Farad should be dead. But technology has made him the man he is today. Now he heads a crew of uniquely skilled outsiders who fight to salvage what’s left of humanity: art, artifacts, books, ideas—sometimes even people. People like Mari Vallejo.
Gun for hire • Texan rebel • always hits her mark
Mari has been lusting after her mysterious handler for months. But when a by-the-book hit goes horribly sideways, she and Heron land on the universal most wanted list. Someone set them up. Desperate and on the run, they must trust each other to survive, while hiding devastating secrets. As their explosive chemistry heats up, it’s the perfect storm…
Outside the shower, Heron still looked tense. He must have read something bad on the smartsurface, because he stood and stalked to the far end of the living unit, over by the bed. Something in his posture made her nervous. Or nervouser.
She reached back and palmed the cracked ceramic knob. It slid back into the wall, and the stream of water trickled to a stop.
“Everything okay?” she called, leaning head and shoulders out of the stall.
He turned his face toward her—damp and naked and just-out-of-the-shower her—then slid it right past without so much as a hitch. A lesser man might have made a comment. Or pushed her ass-first up against the glass-block wall.
Heron, on the other hand, was the picture of professionalism. “Law enforcement still hasn’t found us, if that’s what you’re asking.”
Mentally sighing, Mari snagged a thin towel from the post by the commode niche and wrapped it around her body as she stepped out of the shower cube. “Good thinkin’, then, bringing us here. Thanks, partner.”
He didn’t reply, but his eyes tracked her movements like she was a radar target, the subject of intense interest for a fraction of a moment but not much longer. No emotion there, no clue to his thoughts.
She bent to dry her legs. She had fresh clothes folded neatly in her duffel by the door, but her just-scrubbed skin felt raw, hot. Instead of reaching for her clothes, she donned a cheap terry bathrobe that had been hanging on a peg by the towel rack. Big one. Its hem dragged the floor, and the sleeves more than covered her hands, but Mari didn’t mind. There was something yummy about wearing his clothes. She tied the sash and wrapped her hair in the already-damp towel.
When she looked up, he was still paying attention to anything but her. Dangit.
She wrung her hair with the towel and watched him fiddle around in the kitchenette. Tea. He was making tea. She reached for her com and held it against her throat, counting her pulse. The pinch of the embeds flared along her skin.
“Hey,” she said, heading to his end of the narrow apartment. She plopped down on the bed, within touching distance. “I probably ought to let Aunt Boo know I’m still breathing, in case she sees vid saying otherwise. You got a security code to log in?”
This close, it was everything she could manage not to grab him and pull him down here with her. Her hand might have even moved in his general direction, but the floppy sleeve disguised it.
“Um, no.” Frowning slightly, he went back to the kitchenette.
Maybe the sight of a mostly naked her sitting on his bed was just too much for him. Nah, not likely. Though a girl could hope.
The conk of ceramic and the scuff of his boots on linoleum: things that were supposed to settle and comfort. But Mari knew nothing was going to settle her right now. At least, nothing short of an orgasm so intense, she passed out.
“I don’t log in to the cloud here, not directly,” he said, “The Pentarc system is closed and only interfaces with the world outside at intervals. It’s inconvenient sometimes but provides a buffer between the cloud and…me.” As if one was a danger to the other, though between the two, Mari would put her money on Heron. “But you can give me your message, and I will send it along to your aunt.”
He put the tea things aside, and Mari told him her Aunt Boo’s handle and dictated a short note: “Am fine. Did a bad thing, though. Running. Like it or not, you’re connected to me, so it’s probably a good idea for you to hide out a while. Sorry, Auntie B. Love you.”
Heron removed his gloves and pressed his palms against the kitchen counter. Casual, like he was just leaning there. Nothing lit beneath his hands, no navigation display, and his posture looked more like meditation than a brain-machine interface. It occurred to her right then that this interaction might not be. Human, that is.
Heron wasn’t a mech-clone; he had been born a whole-organic and lived at least part of his life without implants. But he’d been altered along the way so much that she might well have been watching one machine brain speak to another, straight through that kitchen counter.
Straight through his hands. Sharp knuckles, long, tapered fingers with a glint of sense-tips on the ends. Wires probably augmented his reflexes, aided in the transmission of instructions from neural to muscles, and sensory inputs ran back up to command and control. That was all pretty standard. But most post-human alterations included comprehensive rebuilds, which covered over the metal and obvious bits. He must have kept the sensors on the ends of his fingers bare for a reason. Either that, or he hadn’t gone through a government-licensed clinic.
Like so much of him, though, the things that she would have once considered off-putting or creepifying were just…him. Confident, capable, badass him. Her partner. She ached to feel those long hands, tipped in quicksilver, on her skin, every contour and crease. She wanted to kiss them and look at them and tell him they were beautiful. That was. To her.
She didn’t move.
VIVIEN JACKSON is still waiting for her Hogwarts letter. In the meantime, she writes, mostly fantastical or futuristic or kissing-related stories. When she isn’t writing, she’s performing a sacred duty nurturing the next generation of Whovian Browncoat Sindarin Jedi gamers, and their little dogs too. With her similarly geeky partner, she lives in Austin, Texas, and watches a lot of football.
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