Over the years, he and his warriors lost touch with their humanity. They became wild, nearly uncontrollable, and more vicious than their creator had ever anticipated. Maddox, more so than most. He was the epitome of anger, fury and rage, so lethal a single glance at him could scare the bravest of souls to death.
When Pandora realized she would soon lose all control of them, she locked the essence of them inside a box. They stayed in this box for many centuries, able to observe the world around them but unable to act. Yet, as time often did, memories of their treacherous deeds dulled. Pandora remembered only the good things they’d done for her. They’d punished her enemies, after all. They’d destroyed those unworthy of her. They’d saddened those who did not deserve happiness.
And so, one night she opened the box, meaning to release only one or two of her pets. All but one burst forward before she was able to slam the lid back into place. Yet the beasts were no longer hers to command, and they hated her for what she’d done to them.
Pandora discarded the box and fled for her life, hiding so that none could find her.
The beasts scattered across the world, wreaking havoc. The one still trapped inside the box, well, he waited…and he waited….
“YOU GET CAUGHT, AND I’M hauling ass to Mexico.”
“Your concern for me is touching. Really.” Fighting a grin, Farrah Roberts anchored a small flesh-colored headphone on her left ear and eyed River Jackson, the only person in the world that she trusted. He was also the nineteen-year-old kid responsible for making sure she wasn’t caught. “Just watch the feed and warn me if I pick up a shadow.”
“Rub it in a little more, why don’t you?” he said with a pout. “You’re the big, bad thief and I’m the sidekick. I get the grunt work.”
“I’m going to leave the target’s apartment from the roof. You really want to dangle twenty-nine stories from a thin piece of wire?”
“Hell, yeah,” he said, but they both knew he lied. River was afraid of heights. The little shit would pee his pants.
Right now they sat inside a large white van that looked like any other service van parked on Main Street. What was inside their vehicle, however, was much different than any of the others. Monitors that revealed much of the activity in and around the apartment complex she was about to enter, as well as computers and blueprints.
Farrah slid a silver ring down her left index finger. If tonight was a success, she would not have to use what was hidden inside it. “You’ve already hacked into the power system?”
River snorted. “What, I’m an amateur now? Of course I’m in.”
Her lips twitched at his affront. He could hack into anything, anytime, no matter how secure it was, and he wasn’t shy about trumpeting his abilities. Farrah loved his confidence, so different from the lack of self-esteem he’d once exhibited.
She’d found him wandering the streets six years ago, had taken him in though she’d been a child herself, and paid for his education. He’d been a shy little thing back then, unsure, awkward and desperate for attention.
“So…how do I look?” she asked, pinning a small black microphone to the collar of her top.
He eyed her up and down, from the slicked ponytail holding her dark hair captive, to the trench coat hiding the black body suit she’d practically sewed to each of her curves, to the shiny boots on her feet.
“You look like you charge two hundred dollars an hour for bondage and pain. No way you’ll blend with the snobs who live in Crescent Moon.”
“I don’t have to blend. I just have to make it into the elevator without being stopped.”
“Even if you’re stopped, I’m controlling their video recordings here. They won’t get your face on tape. Not permanently, at least.”
“But they will get a description to give the police,” she said dryly.
“Right now, with your makeup and contacts, your face looks like a thousand others.” River hefted the black velvet bag that contained her tools and anchored it on her shoulder. “Get out of here. I’m bored.”
Farrah saw the apprehension in his emerald eyes and bent over to kiss his cheek. He worried about her every time she worked—despite the fact that she’d last been caught ten years ago, at the age of fifteen. “I’ll be fine.”
“Yeah, you will. ’Cause I’m watching your back.”
Grinning, she exited the van’s passenger door and entered the cold Dallas night. River reached out and pinched her butt just before she shut the door. Her smile widened. She didn’t bother turning around to flip him off; the van’s windows were tinted so she wouldn’t get to see his reaction.
“Testing,” she whispered into her mouthpiece. It was taped to her cheek and so thin she often forgot it was there. “Testing.”
“Copy is good,” River said.
“Asswipe,” she muttered, and he laughed.
“You liked it—you know you did.”
“If you’re not careful, I’ll demote you to laundry boy.”
“Puh-lease. You need me.”
The moon was high, bright, and the street was busy as she maneuvered across. They’d parked a half-mile from the building, and she made the trek through shadows and back alleys without incident. No one paid her any attention. When Crescent’s towering chrome and glass came into view, she whispered, “Entering in thirty.”
“Tom and John are at the screens, drinking coffee and reading a magazine.”
Male names: that meant both of the guards inside the building were armed. Just in case she and River had an unwanted listener, anyone with a weapon was deemed a boy; everyone else got stuck with names like Bubbles and Bambi.
As predicted, Farrah entered the lobby thirty seconds later. Except for the guards, the lobby was deserted. Good. That’s why she’d chosen Saturday at midnight. The old were in bed, and the young were out partying. Her boots clicked on the pink-veined marble, bouncing her bag at her side.
“Can I help you, miss?” one of the guards asked. He clanked his coffee onto the gray countertop and pushed to his feet. He was a burly man in his late fifties. Friendly face, tired eyes.
Farrah didn’t slow her steps, but tossed him an I’m-so-innocent smile over her shoulder. “Acting like you don’t recognize me? Not funny,” she said. “You know I live here.”
Maybe he was embarrassed not to “recognize” her. Maybe he was just too tired to care. But he didn’t try to stop her as she entered the elevator. And then the doors closed, shutting her inside. Alone. A relieved sigh parted her lips. She would have preferred to have rented one of the apartments and move around freely, without (much) artiface, but all of the apartments were already rented and there was a year-long waiting list. No thanks. She already had a buyer for this particular item, so waiting wasn’t an option.
“Which floor is emptied?” she asked River.
Tap, tap, tap. His fingers flew over the keyboard. “Eight is your best bet.”
“Pressing eight.” She jabbed the button, and the elevator jostled into motion. When it stopped on the correct floor, she strode into the hallway and pretended to dig in her purse for a key. “Hold the elevator for me,” she whispered.
“Done,” River said. “Alright, the guards are watching you and they see you at the door. I’m switching the feed…now.” He paused. “Excellent. All they see now is an empty hallway, so they’ll assume you entered the room. I’m controlling the elevator feed, as well. You’re good to go.”
Farrah hurried back to the elevator and swiped the key card she’d stolen. Anyone who wished to enter the penthouse needed a card to bypass the twenty-eighth floor and reach the twenty-ninth.
“I’m looking at the foyer,” River said. “Matt and Mike are waiting for you across from the elevator doors at ten and two.”
“Copy that.” Farrah dug a black mask from her bag and pulled it over her face. That done, she stuffed her gloved hands into her coat pockets, wrapping her fingers around the tranq guns anchored inside of each. She was a thief, not a killer, and never carried lethal weapons.
As adrenaline rushed through her, so heady and strong she could have drunk it, she withdrew the guns and held them at her sides. Her heart pounded excitedly in her chest.
It had always been this way. A rush. Addictive.
She’d begun stealing at the age of twelve; her mother had been sick, and they’d needed money. She stole small things at first: food, clothing, wallets. But as her skills increased, so did her targets. Now, her mom was gone and she had a hefty bank account.
There was no limit to what she could take—or who she could take from. Stopping had never appealed to her.
“Awfully quiet in there,” River said, cutting into her thoughts. “You imagining me naked or something?”
She snorted. “Funny.”
“Hold that thought,” he said. “Arrival in five. Four. Three. Two.” The elevator dinged; the doors opened.
Immediately Farrah raised her arms, aiming her guns at the ten and two positions. She squeezed the triggers before the guards, who were already standing, had a chance to realize she was masked. Red darts pegged them both in the neck. One guy managed to withdraw his weapon, but the tranquilizer was strong, mainly used for wild animals, and he tumbled onto the plush, dark brown carpet without firing a single shot. His friend soon joined him.
“We good?” River asked.
“We’re good.” Sheathing the guns, she quickly moved to the front door. Unlocked. But she didn’t enter. Not yet. “I’m ready for the power surge.”
“Overriding power system…now.” Lights instantly flickered off, leaving only a dark, dark void. Absolute silence slithered through the air, causing her ears to ring. A necessary evil. It was easier to disable the security system by cutting the power than to use light and sound to cover her actions while she danced around motion detectors and heat sensors. “You have approximately five minutes before they’re able to trip the wire and recharge.”