TITLE: Something New Under the Sun
PREQUEL: A Chip In His Shoulder
COVER ARTIST: Lori Witt
Liam Lansing is heir to a prominent family of bio-modified vampires. That is, until he chooses the wrong lover and is cast down to the Gutter to scrape for his life.
Daniel Harding is heir to Cybernetix and a prince of the corporate Sky. That is, until his ideology drives his father to put a price on his head, forcing him into the Gutter.
But Daniel and Liam won’t vanish meekly into the smog. Together, they plan to rip open the hidden corruption that runs the Sky—for vengeance, for justice, and for hope. They strike against the corporations in a daring raid. When everything goes wrong, Daniel must betray his core beliefs to save the man he loves and protect his dangerous secret. Only through courage in the face of death—or worse—might he and Liam change the world they live in and create something new under the sun.
This book was previously published.
Beep-beep. Beep-beep. Beep-beep.
The noise needled my ears. Dragged me out of a sound sleep.
Beep-beep. Beep-beep. Beep-beep.
Whoever was behind waking my ass up was going to—
Beep-beep. Beep-beep. Beep-beep.
Clarity jolted me awake. My palm computer’s alarm. The reminder to log into my remote file server. My last resort against my dad.
Beep-beep. Beep-beep. Beep-beep.
“All right, all right.” I leaned over the side of the bed and fumbled through my clothes. Found the computer. Switched off the alarm.
Computer in hand, I dropped back onto the pillows beside Liam, who was still out cold. Jackass. I yawned as I rubbed my burning eyes with my thumb and forefinger. The stinging refused to quit, though, thanks to the shit that passed for air in the Gutter.
Still squinting, I picked up the computer again. The signal down here was sketchy at best, but enough to let me access my remote file server. I’d set it up to require logins every twenty-four hours or it would release all the damning documents about my father and his ilk to the media. Or, I thought as my finger hovered over the login button, I could let it lapse now. Release the information and let Dad fall instead of giving him another twenty-four-hour reprieve.
Twenty-four hours. Lucky him. It had been less than that since I’d been waiting to die in my penthouse. Surviving? That had been unexpected. Waking up naked in a cramped Gutter apartment next to my ex-lover assassin? Yeah. That came out of the fucking blue.
But in spite of my father’s best efforts, here I was, and now all I had to do was let my login lapse to make his life hell.
No. No, not yet. This was an emergency backup that would ruin my father’s reputation, but might not land his ass in prison where it belonged. A card to be played when all other options were exhausted. This would only damage him. I wanted him destroyed.
“Here’s another twenty-four hours of safety, asshole.” I pressed the button with more force than necessary. “Enjoy it.”
And now what? Fuck if I knew.
Not sleeping, that was for sure. I exited the login screen and opened one of the local news sites. I swore the device groaned with the effort of streaming information with the shitty Gutter signal. Eventually, though, the page came up. The headline was no surprise, but it still sent cold water through my veins:
Cybernetix Heir Kidnapped at Gunpoint, May Be Working with Captor
Okay, so Liam didn’t technically kidnap me, but otherwise, they had us pegged.
Below the headline, Three Sky Police Dead. Reward Offered for Information, Capture.
I chewed the inside of my cheek. Knowing Dad, that reward was substantial, and it applied to capturing Liam or me. There was probably a “dead or alive” attached to it too. And since dead men didn’t talk, “dead” likely paid more than “alive.”
I skimmed the article on the small screen.
. . . anti-mod terrorist Daniel Harding, son of Cybernetix tycoon Richard Harding, was kidnapped . . .
. . . evaded SWAT with gunfire and a bomb threat . . .
. . . unnamed captor shot multiple times . . .
. . . pair may be working together . . .
. . . substantial rewards offered . . . .
I swore under my breath and put the palm computer aside. My stomach wound itself into knots. The whole goddamned police force, not to mention Dad’s private security, was probably on the lookout for us. The minute we show our faces, we’re fucked.
Unless Liam had some sort of plan. Any kind of plan.
I glanced at him and considered waking him up, but decided against it. Only a few things sucked more than dealing with a woken-up Liam. Better to let him come around on his own.
I couldn’t help smiling as I watched him sleep. The sheet only covered him from the waist down, leaving his flawless torso exposed. He hadn’t aged at all in the five years since he’d disappeared into the Gutter the night it all went to shit. Thanks to the vampire self-healing and the thousands of nanobots in his body, there wasn’t a mark on him. No scars from life as a prostitute, a thief, and an assassin. No discoloration in the smooth skin of his abs to show where two bullets had nearly killed him last night. Probably not even a bruise to acknowledge where I’d dug my fingers into his hips just hours ago. A new cybernetic mod made of titanium and black silicone formed a crescent around his left eye before extending into his sandy blond hair, but otherwise, he was the same Liam he’d always been.
I, on the other hand, had plenty of mementos. My eyes and throat burned from the pollution, and pain like I’d never experienced had carved itself into places I’d never known existed. Rope burns and strained muscles from rappelling down the elevator shaft. Bruises on my knees and arms from the novice errors that had seen me bumping into beams and supports. A dull ache from the crude surgery Liam had performed to get the proximity enforcer chip out of my shoulder; he’d sealed the wound as only a vampire could, but the tissue hadn’t completely forgiven the invasive, anesthetic-free procedure. Whatever wasn’t sore from escaping my apartment ached because Liam and I, in spite of being exhausted, had spent half the day fooling around just to make sure we were still alive. Fuck, but I was a hot mess.
I sat up carefully and swung my legs over the side of the bed. The water-stained plywood floor chilled my bare feet, and creaked as much as my joints did when I reached for the pair of jeans Liam had loaned me. Then I went into the bathroom to take a leak and throw some cold water on my face.
I shuffled back into the main room. Liam’s apartment was sparse and neat, but still had that yellowed look that seemed to permeate every inch of the Gutter. Bare drywall, a single bulb dangling from the middle of the ceiling. Definitely not the chrome-and-glass world in which I’d spent my entire life. Just being here drove home my new reality more than anything else: there was no going back.
Liam stirred. I sat on the edge of the bed, and he put a hand on my thigh. I rested my hand on top of his.
“Morning,” he said, then did a double take and squinted up at me. “Wow. You look like hell.”
“And fuck you, too, jackass.” I glared at him. “I don’t look that bad.”
He arched an eyebrow. “Dude, all you’re missing is a black eye and a split—”
“The same look could be arranged for you.”
“Okay, okay, you don’t look that bad.”
A tired grin played at his lips. Then the amusement faded in favor of a frown. “I bruised the shit out of your neck, though, didn’t I?”
I touched the spot just above my collarbone, sucking in a hiss of breath when my fingertips found the tender, slightly swollen flesh. “It’s not that bad.”
“No, but it’s—”
“It was either let you feed or let you bleed to death.” I looked him in the eye as I lowered my hand. “I’ll take a bruise over you being dead.”
He swallowed. His gaze drifted to the bite mark, but then he shook himself. “So did you get some sleep?”
“Didn’t have much choice,” I said. “You wore me out.”
He smiled halfheartedly. “Good. Because that’s probably the last decent sleep you’re going to have for a while.”
“I believe it. So what now?”
“We bring your dad down. Take down the whole fucking Sky if we have to.” He sat up, laying the sheet over his lap. “Question is, where do we start?”
“I was hoping you already had that figured out.”
Liam gave a dry laugh, which didn’t settle my nerves at all. “Not quite, I’m afraid.”
I scratched the back of my neck. “Well, if we present the information we have to the Sky Council, we can bring Dad down for murder and blow open the corruption in the cybernetics companies. Draw enough attention to the exploitation in the Gutter, and they’ll have to do something.”
Liam shook his head. “No way in hell the Sky Council will ever listen to us.” He idly slid his hand from my thigh to the underside of my knee. “We’d never even make it past security. We’re fugitives now.”
The news article’s headline flashed through my mind. “More like terrorists. Which is why we need to get all the evidence we have in front of the Sky Council as quickly as possible. Before Dad catches up to us or has time to do damage control.”
“Which is where things get tricky. I don’t suppose you have too many friends left on high, do you?”
“Do cyberterrorists count?”
He scowled. “Not if we want to get in front of the Sky Council.” Liam watched his finger trace a wrinkle in my jeans. Some unspoken thought darkened his expression.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
Liam drew in a deep breath, apparently oblivious to the taste of the air, and lifted his gaze to meet mine. “Say we get your father charged with the murders and your attempted murder.” He inclined his head. “What’s the common thread?”
“The common thread?” I eyed him. “Besides my father paying you—” The penny dropped. I held Liam’s gaze. “Oh. Fuck.”
I closed my eyes and exhaled.
“I want to bring your father and his company down as much as you do,” he said, “but last night wasn’t the first time I’ve done a hit for your father or any other cybernetics tycoon. We go after him for those murders, I go down right alongside him.”
He squeezed my leg. “Daniel, I did what I did because I was desperate. I know that doesn’t make any of it right, but just take me at my word here: when you’re offered a contract for a hit, you don’t turn it down or you wind up with a contract on your own head.”
I hadn’t given much thought to how things worked in blood transactions, but it made sense. A man who knew about a contract but didn’t take it was a liability, and as someone who’d been deemed a liability by my father and his corporate empire, I was hard-pressed to begrudge Liam the things he’d done to survive.
But that wouldn’t help me take my father down, a mission that had bordered on an obsession for the last few years. I couldn’t stomach the idea of him spending the rest of his life in anything less than the hellish world within the walls of a maximum security pen. He deserved nothing better.
“So if I can’t fuck him over for murder,” I said, “then what?”
“We get him where it really hurts,” Liam said. “In his wallet. Specifically, his company’s wallet. I think the only shot we have here is working with someone who has the clout to get the Sky Council’s attention. Which means we need to find and make nice with someone who has that clout.”
“Who do you have in mind?”
I waited for the punch line. When it didn’t come, I said, “You’re serious.”
Liam shrugged. “You said yourself they’re hemorrhaging money into cybernetics companies for research and development.”
“And, if we can prove to them that they’re paying for R&D that isn’t happening, and funding a mod that Cybernetix is keeping up its sleeve, they’ll have the motivation to investigate and take them down.”
“But Cybernetix has covered its tracks a dozen times over. These are people capable of covering up the murder of someone as far up the chain as they are, Liam. We have no concrete proof that the mod exists, and the minute Dad smells a leak, he’ll make all the evidence disappear.”
His gaze shifted toward me. “Then we get the proof before he has a chance to cover it up.”
I eyed him. Oh, goddammit, I knew that look, and I barely kept myself from groaning. “You have an idea, don’t you?”
I fidgeted on the edge of the bed. “What do you have in mind?”
“We get into Cybernetix and take the UV mod prototype.”
“Liam, are you fucking insane?”
A grin played at his lips. “Do you even need to bother asking?”
“Okay, no.” I exhaled. “But your insanity doesn’t negate the fact that what you’re suggesting is on the absolutely-out-of-your-fucking-mind end of the batshittery spectrum.”
Liam shrugged. “Got any better ideas?”
He cocked his head. “All right. Let’s hear it.”
“We—” I wracked my brain. “We could . . .”
He lifted his eyebrows expectantly, the corner of his mouth twitching.
“Okay, fine. No. I don’t.” I tapped my fingers on the back of my arm. “So we go into Cybernetix and get the mod.”
“And once we prove it works, we’ll have his company’s balls in a vise.”
“Prove . . . prove it works? But how do—” I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Why do I get the feeling you’re really suggesting we install this thing into you?”
“You’d be right.”
“So we put this mod into you. Then what? Have you go running out into the sun in front of some random vampires?”
“Well, not random ones.”
“You already have some in—” I stopped. “Oh, no. No. Liam, you can’t be serious.”
He shrugged. “Seems like a good idea to me.”
“Your parents,” I said. “You’re going to show your face to the same people who put you in the damned Gutter.”
“When they find out they’re being fucked by the cybernetics companies,” he said, “somehow I don’t think my parents will give two shits who I’ve slept with. That said, I guarantee the window of time between getting my father’s attention and being thrown out will be very short, which is why I want to have the mod already installed in my system so I can show him it works.”
I ran my hand through my hair and sighed. “I guess we don’t have much choice, do we?”
“Not really. But first things first. If we’re going up to the Sky, then we’re going to need to doctor our appearances a bit. Our faces are probably plastered all over the Sky and Gutter by now.”
Eyeing him, I said, “I’m assuming this is going to be more complicated than putting on a pair of glasses and a fake mustache.”
Liam chuckled. “Yeah. Just a little.”