Oh, that first glimpse of the hero in a new book. Just saying it makes me all tingly. :D As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the more important moments in a story, and one of my favorite scenes to write. The hero-introduction scene in SAVAGE ANGEL was particularly fun to put together, since I wanted to display not just the hero, but the heroine’s skills and mindset right out of the gate. No one can out-soldier a descendant of the Seraphim, as Gideon quickly finds out…
The paved drive leading from the main road was as smooth as glass and nearly a mile long. Eventually it ended in a graceful loop in front of a three-story Victorian house that seemed to go on forever. It looked like something out of a sugar-sweet storybook, complete with wide verandas, twin turrets on either side of the impressive structure and a whimsical cupola that sat like a cherry on top. The fairy tale façade crumbled the moment she climbed out of the car and the barest sweeping movement of security cameras caught her razor-keen attention. With a professional eye she counted eight remote camera locations in all, set in such a way there was only one minor blind spot coming up from the east through what appeared to be a rose garden. Deep-throated howls from dogs kicked up off to her left, past a carriage house that had been converted into a massive garage. She swiveled her head in that direction, the same direction that the breeze was blowing. Recognition that her scent was being carried to an unseen dog run sent up another mental red flag. Unless she was mistaken, there were at least four full-grown dogs alerting to her presence the way any trained guard dog would.
Armed guards at the gate, plus multiple security cameras, plus a pack of guard dogs. If she did the arithmetic right, it all added up to a grand total of something nasty.
Nasty wasn’t a problem. Hell, nasty was her specialty. But still the question nagged at her. Why had Noah Mandeville specifically asked for her?
The blazing heat of the late summer sun hammered down on her. She never noticed it. Nor did she think of the discomfort of wearing her usual black leather jacket to conceal the butterfly-backed shoulder holster she preferred. Her senses heightened further still, absorbing every aspect of her surroundings—the hum of gears of the automated cameras sweeping back and forth, the sound of the wind rustling through the fragrant rose bushes, the dogs jumping over each other to slam against what had to be a chain-link fence.
It was faint. Stealthy. Far back in the tree line where there was no path or outbuilding. Just sneaky movement where there shouldn’t be any.
Her footsteps were as soundless as a cat’s as she moved back down the drive, seemingly away from the sound of something alive in the trees. But as soon as she rounded the bend, she left the paved road to dart into the tree line, avoiding the random twig or pecan without conscious thought. She moved more quietly than the wind, her breath shallowing out so that even its sound was no louder than that of the rustling of the leaves above her. A flicker of motion, something that shouldn’t be there, dropped her into a crouch, and she focused on the spot past the clumps of purple sage and red-tipped photina growing amongst the trees.
Sara’s eyes narrowed. It was possible to be trained in such a way that surprise never got the better of her. Her father and Marcel, her lifelong sparring partner, had drummed that into her. Expecting the unexpected was the hallmark of not just the warriors born into the Savitch bloodline, but of every agent in Lynchpin. Surprise was the one reaction that could never be allowed.
She had to admit, though, the last thing she’d expected to find lurking in the bushes was a commando straight out of Call of Duty.
Through the trees she could see him—fully decked out in fatigues and camo war paint smeared over every inch of exposed skin. This wasn’t some deer like she’d been hoping, or a wayward gardener harvesting pecans. Whoever this was, he was serious about keeping himself concealed.
Too bad for him very little could be concealed from the Savitch senses.
It was second nature to move when her target did, covering what sound she might have made with his movements. She circled behind a reedy clump of photina and ditched her sunglasses for a better view. With the camo war paint covering his face and his hands encased in field gloves, she had no clue what race the intruder was, but if the breadth of his shoulders was anything to go by he was one-hundred-percent, testosterone-driven male. Though he was hunched over in a stance of obvious concealment, she suspected he was at least as tall as her Amazon-like six-foot frame, and there was no way to tell what color hair he had under the military-style brimmed cap he had pulled low over a face she couldn’t see from her vantage point. What she could see was a pair of binoculars being lifted to his face aimed toward the house, and that was all she needed. If this guy was part of the property’s existing security detail, he wouldn’t have to camouflage himself and hide in the bushes.
This guy was trouble.
With calm efficiency, Sara slid a hand under her jacket for her custom-made clip-point eight-inch combat knife lying snugly against her back. A well-practiced flick of her thumb worked the snap, and in less than a heartbeat cold steel filled her hand like an old friend. Of all the fighting styles she had mastered over her lifetime, Filipino escrima and its flexibility in the use of handheld weaponry was by far her favorite. It fit her personal style, just as surely as the grip of her knife was made to fit the curve of her hand.
Now to find out if her opponent approved of it as much as she did.
Marking the sun so she wouldn’t throw a shadow over the intruder to warn him of her presence, Sara rounded the bush and snuck up behind him in a fluid movement no ordinary human could ever hope to beat. She pressed her front to his back, hooking her left arm under his to lock her hand behind his nape, while the hand holding the knife went right for the throat, laying the flat of the blade against the jugular. He jumped and struggled, then hissed when a flick of her wrist stood the deadly edge of the blade against his skin to slice it like butter.
“Hey, soldier boy.” Once again pressing the flat of the blade to the wound to show him just how much in charge of the situation she was, Sara spoke into the ear closest to her. “If you’re looking for somebody to play war with, I’m available. Wanna have some fun?”
A disdainful grunt was the intruder’s answer before he threw his head back, butting it against her cheekbone. Stars bloomed like fireworks before her eyes even as the world went end over end.
Time slowed to a crawl as Sara focused hard. Damn it all, she’d already screwed up, underestimating this guy by not keeping her vital areas out of striking range. Frigging rookie mistake if there ever was one. No way was she going to follow up that boneheaded move with any more noob idiocy. Her heightened proprioception had always been one of her greatest strengths, knowing where every part of her body was at all times—even when she was upside down and flying through the air. Agility went hand in hand with that, and she had her ceaseless training to thank for her well-oiled response. No one could outdo her when it came to this sort of fighting. No one.
Soldier-boy had gotten her good by flipping her O goshi-style over his back. He did it at the expense of his own neck as she managed to slice him again, this time more deeply, as she went airborne. But the moment she cleared him and his hold loosened, she executed an acrobatic half-twist that wrenched her free from his grasp and enabled her to land, catlike, facing him and ready to spring.
“Bad move,” she breathed, expertly flipping the now-bloody knife to lie flat against her forearm for easier, close-quarters slashing. “You’ve now officially pissed me off. I think I’ll take your scalp to make me feel better.”
“You talk too much, Sara.”
The stone-cold beat of her pulse stumbled like a dojo beginner. There was only one person who could halt her heart by doing nothing more than saying her name.
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