What's a superheroine to do when her super soldier ex turns up alive after more than fifteen years?
The Butterfly Ops Trilogy is an epic love story told in three parts. Books should be read in order. Read on for the opening of Butterfly Ops: Book One...
Fifteen Years Ago: Marin Headlands, Sausalito, CA
Lyndsey Daniels picked her way through the darkness less carefully than she knew she should. There were monsters out there, as she had recently been told; wandering alone through the Headlands in the middle of the night wasn’t the best of ideas. Her mind was in another place, though, and she had to clear her head. It had been a bad six months—the worst ever. She’d been so cautious for so long that she’d needed to remember what freedom felt like. It was her 21st birthday, after all. If a party wasn’t anywhere on the horizon then at least—
There was a sudden stillness in the air; the almost inaudible click as the rifle fell into place. Damn it, Lyndsey thought. She was ready to fight for her life; she’d trained for it. But, really—she couldn’t have this one night? Not even an hour to pretend she was just like everyone else?
This was the deal, though; the separating of the men from the boys. Or the woman from the girl she used to be, she supposed. Lyndsey whirled around, ready to take on whoever or whatever she needed to survive. Then she saw who was there, gun locked and loaded and pointed directly at her head. “Matt?” Matt Koocher. Someone she knew just a little too well.
“Lyndsey.” His eyes left hers for the slightest fraction of a second as he looked behind her to make sure she was alone. “What the hell?” he snapped, almost as though he were angry at her for having the nerve to have ventured out into his territory.
What he should have been saying, of course, was: Monsters, Lyndsey. You get that, right? Being chased by a fully loaded and primed U.S. Army team. Are you crazy?
But he wasn’t saying that. Because the monster was her. Lyndsey was the one the Army was hunting. She was the one everyone else was running from.
And she shouldn’t have been caught.
She’d been feeling sorry for herself, though; wallowing, truth be told. Because of a boy. Fat lot of good it had done her.
“On your knees, Lyn,” Matt said, his eyes a little too wild for her taste. Then he raised his rifle a bit, making it so the shot would go right between her eyes. After gesturing for her to put her hands behind her head, he shook his head and muttered, “Fuck.”
Lyndsey’s sentiment exactly.
Stupid, Lyndsey. Stupid, stupid, stupid. It wasn’t bad enough that you let a boy get you into this mess. No. You had to go wallow at the worst possible time—and now here you are, knees hitting the ground, gun to your head, held there by the boy-in-question’s best friend in the world. Perfect. What a perfectly sad ending to the overwhelmingly depressing story. The story of her life, unfortunately.
“I hate you, Matt,” she said, fighting the urge to cry out of pure frustration.
His jaw tightened in a way that made her think he might actually be feeling sorry for her, and it pissed her off. She didn’t want his pity; she didn’t want his anything. Well, except maybe his imposing-looking Army-issued gun. But then his mouth twitched with a smile so brief—and so unexpectedly warm—she almost didn’t catch it. She wished he had let it take hold. Matt Koocher was a good-looking guy; too handsome, almost, in a chiseled kind of way that wasn’t Lyndsey’s type at all. If his smile was the last thing she ever saw, however, it wouldn’t be the worst thing.
He didn’t smile again, though; not fully. His eyes shining, he said, “Hate’s a strong word, Lyn. Want to take that back?”
A sob rose up and lodged itself in Lyndsey’s throat. But she had to fight off the smile, too. He said it exactly the same way Ian would say it after the two had played another round of basketball, and after Ian had—as always—beaten Matt. I hate you, Fox, Matt would inevitably say. And, twinkle in his eye, long, lean body glistening with sweat, Ian would add, Wanna take that back? Then they’d play another round, or they’d switch to something Matt had a chance at winning, or…
Or Ian would catch sight of Lyndsey and his whole body would go still as he watched her come close. Everything would stop. He’d take her into his arms—so gently she felt like she was the most precious thing that had ever walked this Earth. And then he’d take her to bed and make sure she knew she was.
Ian wasn’t Lyndsey’s type, either. He was apple pie and baseball and straight out of the American heartland, whereas Lyndsey usually tended to go for the bad boys she came across. But no man had ever touched her the way Ian had—had ever gotten to her in the way he could. And no man had even come close to breaking her heart the way he had. If she had her way, no man ever would again.
Lyndsey ducked her head and closed her eyes for one final moment of wallowing. Happy twenty-first birthday to me. But when she raised her hand again she made sure her eyes were clear and her gaze unwavering. If Matt was going to try and take her down then she was sure as hell going to fight him on it. To her surprise, however, he seemed as affected by all of this as she was.
“This is seriously fucked up,” he muttered, letting his gaze slip away and off to the side. Lost his focus.
He realized what he’d done a second after she did, a second during which she could have turned the tables entirely. Her hesitation cost her—the rifle snapped back up, his eyes locked back on hers.
“Don’t,” he snapped. “Don’t even think about it.”
There was a reason, after all, that he had a gun turned on her, that his entire squad of Army buddies was after her. A reason Ian had left her and taken off for places unknown: she was a freak. The monster they were hunting. She could kill each and every one of them with her bare hands and walk away without a scratch on her.
Well, maybe one scratch; they were a highly-trained, elite military squad, after all, and trained to handle a whole different kind of enemy—of the undead, supernatural kind. And unfortunately, right now she was the poster child, a point that was hit home when Matt cocked his head to the side in a gesture Lyndsey had come to learn meant he had activated the communications piece of the headset he wore—the ‘comm’ as they all called it—and was either listening or about to talk. Or maybe both, as it took a few seconds before he said, “Negative. Subject Alpha is not secure. I repeat, she is not secure.”
The exchange made her rethink her current circumstances. Telling his squad Lyndsey—i.e., Subject Alpha—wasn’t “secure” was one thing. As far as Lyndsey was concerned, in fact, she wasn’t. Secure, that was. Just because he had the gun didn’t mean he had the advantage.
It wasn’t just that, though; he was actually keeping quiet about having her in his sights. Lyndsey relaxed a little—just a smidgen—her heart taking an unexpected jump at the possibility she might get out of this without any blood being shed. His blood, just to be clear, because gun or not, she had no doubt she could take him. But it wasn’t exactly her first choice for a birthday celebration.
“Subject Alpha?” Lyndsey said, hopefully quietly enough for only Matt to hear her. “That’s the best you could come up with?” Although she supposed it was better than ‘Freakshow,’ which was the way she often referred to herself. Still, it was the Army. They paid people to come up with multi-part names for things as simple as a hammer. You’d think they could have managed something beyond ‘Alpha.’
Matt cocked his head again, apparently shutting the comm off. “Why? You got something better?”
Fingers still laced together behind her head, Lyndsey asked, “The Army really doesn’t know?”
Well, good. They’d studied her for over a year, had had the data to analyze for the six months since. They’d been trying to figure out why she was stronger than anyone they’d ever seen, faster too. Why she could sense things, see things, hear and smell things other people couldn’t. She’d spent most of her life not knowing why—it had been the whole reason she’d agreed to let them study her in the first place. That they’d had ulterior motives hadn’t exactly been stunning; that they’d considered her expendable however—disposable, to be precise—was a news flash of a different kind. But the Army didn’t like what it didn’t understand. And they really didn’t understand her. Six months ago they’d gone ahead and declared her Enemy Numero Uno in what she’d overheard a soldier call the Monster Wars.
She’d been running ever since.
“All we know is what you aren’t.” A hint of a smile appeared in Matt’s eyes. “Care to enlighten me?”
“About what I’m not?” she asked, happy to play the cagey game right along with him. “Sure. You can go ahead and cross off vampire, werewolf, fairy, witch… Should I go on?”
When he smirked, Lyndsey just grinned. Well why not? She was on her knees with a nasty looking gun aimed at her head; she was going to take the fun where she could get it.
But Matt clearly had no more interest in being reminded of what was out there than she did; he obviously didn’t want to hear the rest of the list. What he was interested in, however, was the answer she’d just come to have, a 21st birthday present of sorts. Of who—or, rather, what—she was.
“Maybe one day the professor and I can have a talk,” Matt said.
“The professor?” she asked, unable to mask her surprise. “You mean Zach?”
Zach, as in Zachary St. John, Lyndsey’s partner in crime, so to speak. A professor at the university, he’d been trying to talk some sense into the general leading the charge to hunt Lyndsey down. And all the other ‘monsters,’ although some of them really did deserve hunting, Lyndsey had to admit. Zachary also, as it turned out, had been the one who finally figured it all out. She couldn’t imagine how Matt had known that, though.
“Yes, Zach,” Matt replied, an edge to his voice that was hard to ignore. “I don’t suppose he knows what you are? I mean, he’s had plenty of opportunity, right?” His expression hardened. “Getting all up close and personal?”
“Up close and personal?” From the glare Matt was giving her, there was no mistaking what he meant. “Trust me,” she muttered. “There’s nothing of the up close and personal kind going on.” Talk about something coming out of left field. “Why would you think…?”
Oh. Duh. Because she’d been staying with Zach when Ian left town. Matt clearly thought there was something more going on than Lyndsey seeking refuge with the one person she knew would take her in, no questions asked—and who didn’t like Ian enough to make excuses for him. So, o.k., yes, Zach was drop dead gorgeous and had a ridiculously sexy British accent. But really?
She made a face. “I don’t date older men,” she finally answered. Especially not ones who counted their age in terms of centuries, eight of them in Zach’s case even though he didn’t look a day over 35. If Matt didn’t know Zach was a vampire, she wasn’t going to be the one to tell him. Nor was she going to mention that not being with Zach had nothing to do with his age and everything to do with…
Her breath caught. The only reason she wasn’t with Zach was because, in her head at least, she was still with Ian; even though he’d gone and left her six months before and hadn’t contacted her since. Just thinking Ian’s name made her heart hurt. But there was no way in hell she was letting his best friend know any of that.
Her answer wasn’t what Matt had expected; that was obvious. He let the rifle down a fraction of an inch. “You’re not with Zachary?”
Well, whatever. It might have been giving up too much, but Lyndsey shook her head anyway. At least they’d gotten off the subject of what she was, which, incidentally, sounded ridiculous. Even if she had wanted to tell Matt she couldn’t have. How did you go about telling people that, okay, yes, 5’ 4” and somewhat petite, but also an Amazon.
Not technically an Amazon, Zach had said. Just descended from the same bloodlines. A whole long line of warrior women going by a whole long line of names. And she was one of them. It wasn’t going to change the mind of Matt or any of his friends, though. There was still a big red target painted on her back.
Lindsey’s eyes narrowed and she flexed her wrists. It was time to end this standoff, one way or another.
As she’d expected, Matt’s rifle snapped up again. “Don’t give me a reason,” he said, his voice colder than it had been before.
So, it seemed, she had a choice to make. She could go for it—lunge at him, defend her turf, give the Army an actual reason to hunt her down. Or she could take the fact that he hadn’t shot her on sight—that he hadn’t given her up yet to the rest of his team—as a sign he didn’t want to kill her any more than she wanted to be killed. Not that he wouldn’t if he had to, and not that she couldn’t give him a reason after all. But maybe Ian meant too much to both of them for it to come to that right now. She took a chance and decided to straighten up and stretch.
Matt took a couple of steps back as she slowly got to her feet. Although his eyes didn’t leave hers, she knew he was gauging how far she was and wondering how fast and high she could jump. Now it was his trigger finger twitching—not nearly as endearing.
They stayed that way for almost a full minute, standing and staring at each other, neither speaking a word. Then Matt turned his comm back on and Lyndsey started thinking about how far and fast and high she could jump, too. Except rather than call in the cavalry, he said into his mouthpiece, “Sector 8 is clear. There’s no one here.”
Lyndsey didn’t realize how tense she’d been until the moment he lowered his rifle to his side. She hadn’t wanted to hurt him, she truly hadn’t. And although she was pretty sure she would have been able to go as far as killing him if she’d had to, it wasn’t really something she was interested in finding out for sure. In six months of the Wars, she hadn’t had to shed any blood; she had no interest in starting with her ex-boyfriend’s best friend. From the relief on Matt’s face as he saw her muscles go slack, she had a feeling his thoughts were running along the same lines.
“Okay, guys,” he continued. “I’m calling it a night. Good work everyone. Koocher out.”
Lyndsey could usually tell when the dogs had been called off; there was something that shifted in the air and made it a whole lot more breathable. But it was sure nice to hear the order actually be given. It made her want to drop back down to her knees and gulp it all in.
She didn’t, of course.
What was also bad, but what she couldn’t quite help, was that she wasn’t ready to leave. Not when she was this close to having at least some of her questions answered—questions she’d wanted to ask since even before Ian left: what had she done to make him turn on her the way he had? Had it been his plan all along? The Army’s?
Had any part of what they’d had been even close to real?
She wondered if Matt knew; Lyndsey sure as hell didn’t. Everything had been wonderful—perfect, as far as she’d been concerned. She’d left Ian’s bed one morning feeling on top of the world, and then she’d come back later that very day to find out she’d been so very wrong. Everything she thought they’d had was gone. And to this day, she had no idea why.
It was still too raw to talk about, though; so raw Lyndsey could barely even think about it despite how much time had passed. And yet… “Is he still alive?” she asked before she could think better of it.
Although Matt’s weapon was at his side, the look he gave her sent ice through her veins. After a pause, he answered, “He’s getting by.”
The tears came suddenly, almost overwhelming her. She closed her eyes for a minute, just so she could focus on catching her breath. Opening them, she saw that Matt had his finger on the trigger again, even though he was still holding the gun away. “Is he—?”
“No,” Matt snapped. “You don’t get to ask. You lost any claim you had to asking six months ago.”
Because that was when her status had changed from girlfriend to monster? Or because even though Ian had already dealt the mortal blow, she’d been the one to turn away?
She bit her lip. Well, fine. Maybe it was the latter, and maybe she deserved it. But as long as they were being honest, then she may as well go all the way. Who knew when she’d have a chance again? If she’d have a chance. So, yes, despite everything that had happened tonight—despite what Matt had just said—there was something Lyndsey needed to say, too. It was something she should have said to Ian, of course, at least once during the year they’d been together; the whole healthy relationship thing had just been such a foreign concept to her that she hadn’t fully realized how she felt until it was too late. And it probably wouldn’t have changed anything anyway, especially if it had all just been an act on his part in the first place.
But here she was, standing out here in the middle of nowhere on this dark and desolate night with Ian’s best friend. Ian’s best friend who had just almost killed her, although that was mostly beside the point.
And even if Matt never said a word about this to anyone, Lyndsey felt like she still had something she needed to put out into the universe, something she needed to say out loud in the event there was even a one-in-a-million chance it would somehow get back to Ian. Maybe somehow lead him back to her.
Lyndsey looked at Matt and then away. It made it easier somehow. “Tell him I still love him. Tell him that won’t ever go away.”
Then she turned and ran as fast and as far into the darkness as she possibly could.
Want to read more of Lyndsey and Ian's story? It comes out on September 24, but you can preorder it now at https://amzn.to/2BLj5lU. Or if you’d like to read more about BUTTERFLY OPS or my other books, you can head back over to my Books page. Thank you for reading!