The Black Swan Files continue…
She is known as Project Sunday to her former government captors—a human enhanced teen transformed by a black swan event. She was their most valuable asset—until she escaped. Now, only one thing is certain. Jocelyn has no intention of ever going back.
Graeme knew Jocelyn was special the first time he met her…then leaping from his Porsche to take down a drone, she pretty much sealed the deal. Months later, Jocelyn’s has come back into his life and trouble is not far behind. But how did you help someone who wouldn’t tell you the truth, was constantly on the move, and had a best friend that you wanted to punch in the face? As the stakes get higher and his own family is at risk, Graeme has to decide one thing…whose side is he on?
Finally in New York, Jocelyn is eager to reach her brother and sister, but nothing works out as she hoped. She has no way to prove who she is, there’s a serial killer who wants her dead, her former handler is now controlled by her nemesis, and the mastermind of it all is toying with her. Amidst everything, she is trying to survive in the ‘real world’, help her family in secret, and navigate her first shot at romance.
Thankfully, she has friends with skills. It will take all of them to stop the government’s latest plot. But at what cost?
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EXCERPT FROM GLISTEN, THE BLACK SWAN FILES 002,
Just the word made her throat constrict and her chest tighten. It wasn’t a bad feeling—just one filled with longing and anticipation…and perhaps a little anxiousness. She shrugged her shoulders to loosen up. She would deal with the anxiety later.
Right now she was an hour from civilization on the Appalachian Trail. With every step she slowly got closer to New York, closer to her family, and closer to the future that she dreamed was now possible.
Jocelyn had been off the grid for the last two months after leaving Texas and her friend Seth. She followed all his rules for anonymity and had been careful not to be seen or heard while she planned her next moves—until she encountered them.
They were a family—mom, dad, daughter, son. Their voices carried through the thick greenery of trees and brush and rock. She recognized from a distant part of her childhood the familiar sounds of parental affection as the boy asked endless questions and the older sister sighed impatiently, sometimes answering his questions.
Jocelyn caught glimpses of them at points in the trail. The dad was bald, lean and tough looking. The mom was Asian American and fell on the petite side. The kids were a cute mix of both parents. The boy sounded young, maybe six. The older sister had talked about what she wanted for her twelfth birthday so she was eleven—just a year older than Jocelyn’s little brother, Benjamin.
It didn’t require extra-sensory abilities to detect the warmth between them, or know why she was so curious about them. They represented everything she had lost.
And right now, they were the one thing between her and getting it back.
The sound of the girl’s whimper made Jocelyn bite her lip hard. Safety meant not getting involved. It wasn’t her fault the girl tripped and broke her ankle.
She assessed the evening sky. They had an hour more of sunset. Closing her eyes, she took a slow breath and listened—not to the family, but to the three men behind her. They treaded steadily, with no interest in stopping for the night, and had been slowly gaining on the family all afternoon.
She pulled out the Wanted poster she’d taken at the hiking post six days ago and studied it. A lot of people had been deterred from venturing too far into the mountains. The man at the ranger station had been explicit about the danger and how these men tortured their victims. A chill went down her spine at the memory.
She studied the warning with the pictures of the three men side by side, trying to decide if the Butcher, Weasel, and Rabbit were really on a killing rampage, or if they would just hike past the family and not be bothered.
She folded the poster and shoved it in her pack.
They liked girls.
Alone she could easily outdistance them. The family traveled at a slower pace, and now they were stopped. Therein lies the dilemma.
She knew the difference between good people and bad people. But then there were evil people. The Butcher would not leave the family alone.
The question—what was she going to do about it?
It would be better to get through this part of the country without being seen.
She took note of her surroundings and options. The three men would be upon her soon. She hiked as close as she could to the family without alerting them to her presence, then set off from the trail into the woods. She covered her small pack under some brush, then watched and waited.
Finally they arrived.
“Shush.” The Butcher held up a hand, offering his friends a twisted grin. Motioning for them to wait, he crept up the trail with surprising silence for a giant his size. Jocelyn didn’t move and hardly breathed as she watched and waited. He returned with the report in minutes. “One for each of us. Just need to take out the alpha.”
The alpha meant the dad. She didn’t want to contemplate what he meant when he said there was one for each of them. Descriptions of how the Butcher got his name had given her nightmares on the trail and made her extra diligent.
She took a slow breath. With any luck she could stop them before they struck.
The Butcher sent Rabbit into the woods behind her to track them from the side. Weasel would take up the rear while the Butcher walked right past the family to the front, blocking them on all sides. Jocelyn appreciated the plan. And divided, she had a much better chance to make them fall.
Rabbit scurried through the woods not nearly as silent as his comrades. He wasn’t expecting anyone to be there so he didn’t notice her hidden behind a tree, her green and brown, trail-worn clothing blending in with her surroundings.
He walked right by her.
She took one step forward before the meat of her hand chopped him hard on the back of the neck and sent him forward. She let him fall.
Searching his pockets she found zip ties. She quickly bound one hand to each foot and stretched his body around the nearest tree before connecting the limbs with another zip tie, to keep him from crawling away. Pulling a nasty bandana from his pocket, she pinched his nose and pulled back, shoving the material into his mouth. The ickiness of touching him made her shiver a little despite the heat.
The Butcher’s voice got her attention. He had reached the family.
“Hey, purty gurl. You look hurt.” He offered to help.
Jocelyn swallowed a breath. The father sounded suspicious, but answered nonchalantly.
“We’re good, thanks. An ambulance is going to meet us at the end of the trail.”
“Really?” the Butcher said. “That’s some reception you have. No one ever gets anything out here. Mighty lucky for you.”
The father didn’t miss a beat. “Yep.”
“Well, I think I’ll take a breather myself. Nice place for a stop.”
Jocelyn didn’t hear a response. Calming her own nerves, she listened, smelled, and searched. She needed to locate Weasel.
Heartbeats raced. The parents, she thought. They didn’t trust the Butcher. Breathing deeply she picked up the scent of Weasel—musky, overheated, sour, and just ahead.
She slowly made her way to the trail.
That’s when she saw them.
Weasel holding a little boy, his feet dangling as he tried to kick free, his mouth covered.
Outstanding. When did that happen? Had the boy wandered off?
The mother let out a surprised cry getting her husband’s attention and fury. He made a move toward his son, then froze when the Butcher snatched his wife and held a knife to her throat—a giant butcher knife. Jocelyn mentally cursed. His signature weapon.
Jocelyn couldn’t see the girl but heard her outraged gasp mixed with fear.
Jocelyn pulled her beanie tighter over the blond wig and jumped out from the trees and onto the trail. Nothing like the element of surprise.
“Hi!” she said. Weasel and Butcher blinked. She stepped right up to Weasel and put her hand over the bare forearm holding the boy in place. She met the boy’s eyes for a brief moment. He was wide-eyed with confusion and terror.
Weasel stepped back holding his prize tighter, just as confused as the boy for a moment.
“He looks a little uncomfortable,” Jocelyn said. “How about letting him go?”
Weasel recovered from the shock and gave her a look-over. “Where’d—?”
Jocelyn didn’t let him finish. She sent a shot of focused heat through her hand onto his arm. In a split second he jolted in pain and dropped the boy. She caught the kid and swung him backward, off to the side of the trail with an order. “Stay down!”
Weasel reached. She punched hard, twice to the head, then kicked low and fierce to the kneecap. His knee crunched just before he wailed and fell forward into her fist.
The click of a trigger alerted her. She spun as the father pulled a gun and aimed at Weasel. The Butcher pulled the woman into a choke with one arm and launched his knife at the alpha just as the gun exploded three times.
The girl screamed.
Jocelyn threw her hand up instinctively and shot a field of energy toward the man.
The large blade deflected seconds from impact and flew off course sideways. She turned her attention to Butcher. Overcoming his temporary surprise, he went on the attack, reaching for a weapon at his ankle. Hindered by the woman’s struggles, he finally tossed her hard to the ground and claimed his gun.
Not gonna happen.
She sped down the narrow trail, leapt the prone girl, and with one strong push launched off a stone and straight at the Butcher.
He pulled the trigger.
Dust swirled around her and trees whipped restlessly at the sudden rush of wind. She led with a defensive blast of energy that knocked him back. The bullet flew askew and the gun shot into the air as her fist landed in his throat.
He flew backward from the impact, landing headfirst down the steps in the trail. Flying with him, she landed hands first, pushed off the ground, and somersaulted to her feet further past him. Gaining her balance, she spun back around with a heel kick to his temple as he tried to sit up. Before he could lift his head again, she did it for him and slammed it down twice, on solid rock.
It wasn’t enough.
He was strong and powered with adrenaline. She underestimated that.
Using the angle, he rolled his feet backward over his head and kicked her in the cheek, mostly from dumb luck. The gun had fallen from his grip, but now he had another knife—this one a sharp six-inch blade. She grabbed his wrist, using both hands to force him to release the knife. His wrist was thick and seemed as invulnerable as the rest of him.
Giving it everything she had, she sent a hot streak to pierce his hold. It didn’t affect him immediately. In fact, it seemed to make him angry. His opposite knee lifted to her ribs and she turned to avoid it. He grabbed at her head and tore off her beanie and wig in one swipe. His moment of surprise gave her the second she needed.
She maneuvered to grip his index finger and broke it as he in turn used his weight to wrestle her to the ground. She rolled with the force coming at her, kicked a leg up into his stomach, and with all her formidable strength, launched him over her head, through the air, and onto his back about thirty feet down the path.
She ran over to him. Finally enough. He was temporarily unconscious.
She didn’t waste time but patted him down, removing everything from his pockets. He had more knives and a dozen zip ties. She debated the best options, looking for a tree to secure him. It was then that she saw the father on the steps above her, gun still in hand. He looked ready to kill.
“How did you—”
“He’s out. Likely only for a moment,” she interrupted.
The man studied her, not trusting right away. She guessed she appeared as frightening as their attackers with her bald head and weeks of traveling in the forest. Then there was the possibility that her eyes and skin had turned a little blue after using her powers. She could biotransmit the energy around her, but it came at a cost comparable to the energy expended. She hoped what her friend Seth had teasingly called “alien face,” was in check. She looked for her wig and beanie. Nowhere in sight. She’d find them in a minute.
The Butcher moved his head. That’s when the man came closer and with the butt of his gun beat the Butcher in the skull until he was out again. Jocelyn watched as he flipped the gun back in his hand and aimed it at the unconscious man.
“These are the ones you kill,” he said.
Jocelyn wasn’t sure she understood. She waited to see what he would do. Finally, he holstered the gun under his flannel shirt.
She held up the zip ties.
“Geez,” he muttered. “I don’t want to think what would have happened.” He rubbed his face with a hand.
“John!” the woman called.
“Kymber! Stay with the kids. I’m okay. Be right there!”
“Okay. We’re fine. We’re all fine.”
Jocelyn thought Kymber sounded anything but fine.
“Help me drag him to this tree,” Jocelyn said. She lifted the Butcher’s feet while the man grabbed under the shoulders, grunting at the Butcher’s weight. They made quick work of sitting him so his legs and arms hugged the tree, then used every single zip tie in various formations to make sure he couldn’t get loose. She’d never come across a man this big, except maybe her old guard at Camp Holliwell. She hoped the ties would suffice.
Finally satisfied, the man turned to her. “Are you okay?”
She nodded, touching her scalp self-consciously. Convinced, he ran back to his family. She followed, recovered her wig and beanie on the way, and hurriedly put them back in place before joining the foursome. The mother gripped her children close, not letting them see the body of Weasel.
He was dead from what she could tell.
The husband encircled his little family and didn’t let go. At her footsteps, he released them. He was forty at the most, she guessed. And in the military or something. She could always pick that out.
Kymber was slim, pretty, and kind looking, if a bit upset at the moment. The kids peeked up at her as she passed.
She kept walking, letting them have a moment of privacy.
She tried not to look at Weasel as she continued up the trail and off the path.
“Where are you going?” the father asked.
She turned to him. “I left one up here. Near my pack.”
“Oh my God.” The mother wiped her tears, fearing it wasn’t over.
“Geezus.” The father leapt to his feet, joining her. “Who are you?”
“I overheard them,” she explained, deflecting his question. “I knew you weren’t safe.” She didn’t say any more, just turned into the woods. He followed her and they found Rabbit trying to get loose. John punched him senseless with new fury then helped her drag Rabbit out to the trail. They zip tied Rabbit to Weasel with a tree between them. Rabbit would have a shock when he woke up.
Jocelyn grabbed her pack and searched out the Wanted poster. “I saw this. I knew who they were.” She unfolded the paper, put it by Rabbit, and stuck a big rock on top to hold it in place in case any random hikers thought to help him escape.
She saw the father’s hand go to his gun. The man stared at the poster a long time. They were serial killers. Wanted dead or alive.
She thought the dead part tempted him.
Instead, he took out his phone and took pictures with his camera. “Evidence,” he explained.
Finally he put his camera away and reached out a hand to her. “I don’t know where you came from, but we owe you a world of thanks. I’m John Morrow.”
Jocelyn hesitated. She’d been hiding from the military, the police, the government, and a collection of psychotic scientists since she’d escaped Camp Holliwell. This man was definitely one of the above. He had a sense of authority and toughness. He was also in protection mode. Not what Jocelyn needed.
Stumbling a little, she accepted the hand. “Uh, hi.”
He kept hold, his grip strong as he prompted, “You got a name?”
“Uh—” She said the first name she could think of. “I’m, uh—Georgie.”
His head tilted and his eyes narrowed. She pulled her hand away and went to her pack, breaking eye contact.
“Got a last name?”
“Are you in the military?”
“Used to be. Now I’m NYPD.”
“New York Police Department.”
“Oh.” Not good. She pulled her beanie lower over her face. She was headed to New York. What if he found out about her and then tried to track her? She bit her lip, anxious again.
“Yeah. So I’m pretty good at detecting lies.”
“Is that a police thing?”
“Yeah. And a dad thing.”
She took that under consideration. “It’s an hour-long hike and it’s getting dark.”
He nodded slowly, still staring at her. “Okay, Georgie it is.” He led her back to the others. “Come meet the family.”