The Mercenary Librarians and the Silver Devils are back in The Devil You Know, the next installment of USA Today and New York Times bestselling author Kit Rocha’s post-apocalyptic Action/Romance, with hints of Orphan Black and the Avengers
Maya has had a price on her head from the day she escaped the TechCorps. Genetically engineered for genius and trained for revolution, there’s only one thing she can’t do—forget.
Gray has finally broken free of the Protectorate, but he can’t escape the time bomb in his head. His body is rejecting his modifications, and his months are numbered.
When Maya’s team uncovers an operation trading in genetically enhanced children, she’ll do anything to stop them. Even risk falling back into the hands of the TechCorps.
And Gray has found a purpose for his final days: keeping Maya safe.
Please enjoy this free excerpt of The Devil You Know by Kit Rocha, on sale 08/31/2021!
Mozart was the perfect music for a heist.
Over the years, Maya had made an in-depth study of the ideal music for every moment. Too many people considered pre-Flare orchestral music to be the sole domain of the rich assholes and their fancy ballrooms up on the Hill. To them, it was the music of tuxedos and gowns and placid recitals. Despite being raised by those rich assholes, Maya knew the truth.
Elfman was excellent for a fun, rollicking bar fight. Zimmer was the only choice for a shootout. Holst had all the melodrama necessary for an elaborate jailbreak. She liked Tchaikovsky on stakeouts and Williams for safecracking.
But to accompany the adrenaline of a daring heist?
Mozart. Requiem in D minor. Dies Irae.
Accept no substitutions.
“Hallway’s clear, boss,” Conall replied from beside her. “I’ll have the door unlocked by the time you get there.”
Conall’s fingers clacked noisily over his keyboard, echoing in the confined space of the van. He swore the sound of the antiquated tech soothed him. After a couple missions with him, Maya knew the unique click of most of the keys on the damn thing.
N-E-T-S-T . . .
Exhaling, Maya deliberately shifted her concentration back to the music. The choir chanted with escalating intensity, the Latin so familiar that it melted into background noise. As the sound of Conall’s typing faded, her brain stopped trying to interpret either the keystrokes or the lyrics.
She resumed her survey of the security cameras, scanning the facility for any guard a few minutes ahead of his rounds or any scientist who’d decided to stay late. She’d memorized their routines during mission prep, setting their complicated schedule to music. The guard in C-block rounded the corner to the soaring sounds of the violins. Trumpets announced a distant perimeter check. She could feel the rhythm of the building, the movement of the people inside.
A complicated, dangerous dance. Her very favorite kind.
“I can’t believe I still haven’t talked you out of the Mozart,” Conall muttered as he switched to swiping at a display tablet to his left. “I’m telling you, if you have to stick to the old, extremely dead guys, there are better options.”
Maya made an amused noise as she watched the perimeter guard swipe his ID at the farthest checkpoint. A few seconds ahead of the music, but nothing too dire yet. “You want me to switch to an even older, deader guy.”
“Respect the Haydn.” Conall grimaced. “I mean, if we have to go classical. I don’t understand why you’re obsessed with it. Some nice seventies techno, now . . .”
Her own lips twitched into a grimace. Techno from the 2070s was good for exactly one thing—thrashing it out in a throng of people in one of the dance clubs that lined the perimeter. Some nights after she and Dani came home, she’d lie in bed staring at the ceiling, her heart keeping time with the throbbing bass that seemed to echo inside her head.
At least the echoes drove the voices away.
On the screen in front of her, the A-block guard swiped his key at his checkpoint. She counted the seconds until the chorus lifted in the next verse.
Ingemisco, tamquam reus . . .
Her brain provided the translation out of habit. I sigh, like the guilty one. Latin had been the first language they’d locked into her brain, the first she’d internalized to the point of effortless comprehension. Irritating, since she’d mostly seen it in technical documents. Not even scientists sat around using conversational Latin.
Maya could, though. That was what the TechCorps had built her for. Maya could speak dozens of languages with the fluent ease of a native speaker. She’d been an expert in astronomy by nine, advanced mathematics by ten, programming languages by twelve, and cryptography by sixteen. She’d been picking away at biochemistry when . . .
Culpa rubet vultus meus . . .
Maya shuddered as the translation drifted through her. Guilt reddens my face.
She wasn’t the one who should feel guilty about the abrupt termination of her education. No, that burden lay on the shoulders of the woman who had raised her—Birgitte Skovgaard, vice president of Behavior Analysis for the TechCorps. As an executive in the sprawling corporate conglomerate that ruled most of the Southeast, Birgitte had enjoyed almost unfathomable power. She could have lived a soft life of luxury. Instead, she’d used Maya’s perfect memory to organize a rebellion.
A failed rebellion. Biochemistry still made Maya think of blood and death and fear and pain and all the reasons she hated the fancy fuckers up on the Hill, in their expensive suits, souls empty as their eyes glittered with greed.
There was a reason she’d never gone back to studying it.
Supplicanti parce, Deus.
Maya tapped her comms. “The A-block guard is ten seconds behind schedule on his rounds. Watch the corridors up ahead.”
Nina’s voice whispered into her ear. “Got it. Window’s narrowing.”
Ten seconds might be enough to blow their whole plan, especially if the B-block guard showed up early. Maya watched the corridor for him, her heart rate quickening with the pulse of the music. “I always do crimes to classical music,” she told Conall, her foot bouncing lightly from the increased adrenaline. “It’s my personal fuck you to all the assholes up on the Hill.”
Conall snorted. “Can’t argue with that. The suits would be appalled. How utterly gauche of you.”
Yeah, Conall understood. Neither of them had attended the fancy parties in the elegant ballrooms frequented by the TechCorps elite, but they’d been raised by the assholes. Trained and molded into perfect tools with finely honed edges. Wielded without compassion.
Flammis acribus addictis . . .
“Once the cursed have been silenced, sentenced to acrid flames . . .” Maya translated under her breath.
“Nothing.” God, she’d love to burn the TechCorps to the ground. In lieu of an apocalyptic rain of fire, though, she’d take the crime. Every job they pulled, every law they broke, every bit of pre-Flare data they liberated, every credit they earned and funneled back into their community . . .
Pulling heists to fund a library might not be everyone’s idea of a righteous good time, but Maya lived for those middle fingers thrust firmly in the TechCorps’ faces.
The B-block guard passed his checkpoint right in time with the music, and Maya started to exhale with relief. But a smudge of movement on the bottom right camera caught her attention, and she switched the image to full screen.
Her tone caught Conall’s attention. He leaned over, and together they watched as the perimeter guard broke from his route and headed for the parking lot.
Straight toward them.
Conall checked his watch and bit off a curse. “They’re almost to the package. I need to pop the doors and manage the cameras.”
Maya twisted in her seat to snatch up her shiny new stun gun. Rafe had given her this one and trained her extensively in its use. His passion for combat training made even Nina look reasonable, but Maya couldn’t fault his zeal now.
“I got this,” she assured Conall, then tapped her earpiece. “B-block guard’s right on time. I’m stepping out to deal with an issue, but you should have a straight shot.”
“Tell the issue I said hi,” Dani murmured.
“Remember the best target areas,” Rafe chimed in.
Maya rolled her eyes. As if remembering had ever been her problem.
She reached for the door to the van, but Conall stopped her with a hand on her arm. “If you don’t think you can handle this . . .”
He meant well. So had Rafe. A month together had been enough time for their blended teams to fall into a routine, but not enough for the Silver Devils to stop worrying about her.
She supposed she couldn’t blame them. They were literal supersoldiers. Rogue supersoldiers, no less, former members of the fearsome Protectorate. In all of Maya’s years on the Hill, she’d done her best to avoid members of the TechCorps’ standing army. The biochemical implants hardwired into their brains gave them unbelievable speed, enough strength to lift a car, and the stamina to go days without rest or sleep.
Of course, they weren’t the only ones with superpowers. Nina was the product of a genetic engineering project that produced soldiers with all the same perks but none of the biochemical drawbacks. And Dani was faster than all of them put together, thanks to her rewired nervous system. She’d escaped from the TechCorps, too—but not before they’d put her through their brutal Executive Security training.
The difference was that Nina and Dani never treated Maya like she couldn’t handle her shit. But Maya wasn’t tall and commanding and capable of lifting a car like Nina. She wasn’t a ripped, back-flipping, not-so-former assassin like Dani. She was soft and squishy, something Conall and the others couldn’t seem to forget.
They’d learn. She’d make sure they learned.
“I’ve got this,” she promised him, squashing down her irritation. “No supersoldiers out there, just a nosy guard. I can handle a nosy guard.”
“If you need me . . .”
“I will not be subtle about screaming for help.” She patted his hand, then gave him a push. “Go on, you have a job to do. They’re depending on you.”
With a final worried look, Conall turned back to his work. Maya checked the camera for the guard’s position one last time and then slipped from the van.
The night was warm and muggy. The start of September had brought no relief from the relentless humidity, and sweat beaded on Maya’s skin almost immediately. Atlanta rarely cooled off before late October these days, though when winter hit, it would hit hard. She was almost looking forward to waking up to frost on the windows.
For now, she had to deal with the stagnant night air. She leaned back against the van. The approaching footsteps were a whisper across asphalt, the leather soles crunching across fine gravel.
She tried to focus on the sounds, on what they told her about the world around her and the obstacles in her path. She could tell the guard was favoring one foot by the uneven crunch of gravel. She could tell that he wasn’t scared by the unhurried pace of his steps. She could tell the sound was getting louder.
She had no fucking idea how close he was.
Conall swore she should be able to tell. He’d given her shit about it just last week, swearing that anyone who could calculate trajectories in her head or crack a vault combination by the sound of the keystrokes should be able to accurately judge distance.
If her genetically enhanced brain had the ability to triangulate distances from the echoes or vibrations or whatever, no one had given her the key to unlocking that superpower.
The footsteps paused, so loud that he had to be near the front of the van. Probably peering in the windows. The front seat looked innocent enough, and the tinted windows hid the rolling command station in the back. The steps resumed, and Maya forced out a silent breath as she rolled her shoulders, trying to keep her limbs loose for an attack.
The second the guard rounded the van, she jumped him.
She rammed her stun gun into his side and smashed the button, reducing his words to a grunt. Not exactly the shriek of pain Maya expected, and she had a half second to panic before a giant arm flailed at her. She twisted out of the way of a meaty fist, but pain exploded through her face as he clipped her with an elbow.
At least she’d been trained for this. She stumbled back a step but didn’t lose her grip on her weapon. The eye he’d hit was watering, but through the tears she recognized his uniform—a thick polyester blend popular with people too cheap to equip their guards with real body armor. It wouldn’t do shit to stop a gun or a knife, but it would make it harder for someone to turn his own Taser against him.
Of course he wouldn’t go down easy.
The perimeter guard was still shaking off his confusion. No doubt he was staring at Maya—young, half his size, with a body that was a lot more soft curves than hard muscle—and wondering what the hell was going on. She probably didn’t look like the kind of person who jumped security guards outside highly secure facilities.
In fact, she looked like what she was. A woman who spent most of her time scanning books, obsessing over metadata, freeze-drying food, teaching people how to use their tech, and sitting up half the night swearing at antiquated video file formats.
She looked harmless. That was her secret weapon.
Maya didn’t give him a chance to collect his thoughts. She lunged, aiming the stun gun at the largest expanse of bare skin she could find. He moved at the last second, swatting her hand away from his neck with enough force to leave her fingers numb.
Ignoring the discomfort, Maya used the momentum of her lunge to drive her booted foot down on his toes. She had a fraction of a second to worry they’d be steel-toed, but her heel crushed down on leather, and he howled and flailed. Dancing back would save her face, but driving forward—
Instinct made the decision for her. She took the hit to the face, hissing with pain. But she was inside his guard now, too close for him to stop her.
Her stun gun hit his neck with a crackle, and it was all over. His body convulsed, and she stumbled back out of the path of destruction as he went down with all the grace of a felled tree.
“Fuck.” With the guard down, Maya took a second to wipe tears from her stinging eye. She’d have a shiner tomorrow, which would only make everyone more annoying and protective. As if they didn’t frequently come back riddled with bullets or bruised to hell and back.
Supersoldiers were exhausting hypocrites.
“Maya?” The concern in Conall’s tone was palpable.
She tapped her ear. “I’m fine. Guard’s down. Just gotta stash him somewhere.”
“Good job.” Knox’s voice always managed to sound deadly serious, even at a low whisper. “We’re about to secure the package. Be ready.”
Shit. The fight must have taken longer than she’d realized. Maya reached down, hooked her hands under the man’s armpits, and grunted with the effort it took to drag him a mere foot from the van.
“Of course no one’s running out to help me now,” she muttered, bracing herself to pull him again. The nearest cars were a good twenty feet away, which had seemed like nothing before she started trying to drag dead weight.
And it’s your own damn fault, taunted an inner voice. If you hadn’t overruled Knox, Gray could have dropped him before he ever even knew you were here.
During mission prep, Knox had raised the possibility of Gray finding a vantage point where he could guard the van. Maya had been the one to protest— they wouldn’t have held Gray back from the main assault just to watch over Conall, and she’d be damned if she let Knox and his squad get into the habit of acting like she needed special protection.
All perfectly logical. And she hadn’t needed protection. The unconscious security guard at her feet was proof. She didn’t need a babysitter watching her through a sniper scope, ready to leap in and save her lest she break a nail—or take a stray elbow to the face. Honestly, who the hell felt better knowing a broody sniper was tracking their every move?
You would, whispered that traitorous inner voice.
Maya stomped on that thought with a vicious mental boot and turned her attention back to getting her assailant’s limp body to cover.
The parking lot suddenly seemed a lot bigger than it had before, and it was riddled with cracks that were just begging to trip her up. She supposed even rich evil scientist outposts didn’t have the resources to keep asphalt in top repair.
Roads seemed like the last priority for most people these days, though the old-timers around Five Points insisted that the roads had been crap even before the Flares. Some swore they’d grown up watching sinkholes open up and swallow entire highways full of cars. The city had tried to keep up with maintenance, but road infrastructure had fallen by the wayside after solar flares had caused the whole damn country to collapse right in the middle of an unprecedented famine.
People who’d survived the dark days always had a certain look in their eyes. It had been almost fifty years since the lights had gone off, and the world had changed, but some of them would still look at you like it had all happened yesterday, like time didn’t mean anything when the pain cut that deep. They remembered the panic, the fear. The brutal winters without access to heat. The sweltering summers where neighbors dropped dead of heatstroke.
They remembered the hunger. The Energy Wars had shaken the country, and the second Dust Bowl had brought it to its knees. The solar flares that swept the globe in ’42 might have struck the death blow to the faltering federal government, but they weren’t what killed people.
The famine had done that. It lasted for a decade, right up until the TechCorps and its corporate partners had established the Heartlands irrigation program. Food started to trickle back into Atlanta after that—but only through the TechCorps. Soon, they were the only reliable source of clean water. Electricity. Communication.
The TechCorps had demonstrated how easy it was to take over a region without fighting. All you had to do was own everything people needed to survive.
Well. That, and be heartless enough to withhold it until they fell in line.
“Fuckers,” Maya muttered, stepping over another fault in the asphalt before dragging the limp body after her.
“Almost there.” Nina’s quiet words drifted over the comms. “Couple of close calls, but we’re still undetected.”
Maya heaved again and imagined what was going down inside the building. The team would be slipping through the halls right now, expertly exploiting the razor-thin gaps between patrols, relying on Conall to shield their passage from the cameras and the algorithms that ran the security system. That was how Nina preferred to operate. In and out, like a ghost. Less attention meant less danger. Get the mission done and get home in one piece.
Knox would be in the lead. He would assess each tiny shift in their master plan and adjust their strategy accordingly, with Nina at his side, ready to crack any safe or lock. Rafe was the muscle, capable of ripping a door off its hinges— or a head off a body, if it came to that—while Dani ranged ahead of them like a ghost, her speed making her the perfect scout.
And, of course, Gray would be guarding their backs. He might be most comfortable with his sniper rifle, but give him a handgun and he became a protective wall. Chaos could be erupting all around him, and he’d quietly assess the situation, decide who needed to be shot, and swiftly and efficiently get it done.
Maya worried a lot less about everyone when Gray was around.
This is the one,” Knox said. “427-D.”
“Retinal scan paired with voice recognition. You’ll have to pop it.” Maya could hear the grin in Dani’s voice. “Seventeen seconds.”
“My record is nineteen,” Nina protested.
“Don’t care. I’ve got fifty on it. You in, Morales?”
“Any time, sugar pie. My money’s on twenty-three.”
“Sure,” Maya muttered into her comm. “You two just keep foreplaying while I’m dragging around a body twice my size.”
“Focus,” came Knox’s firm command. “We’re almost out.”
Sweat dripped down Maya’s spine. Her arms were starting to ache, and her face wasn’t feeling a lot better. The perimeter guard was actually getting heavier. She winced as his boots scraped across the gravel, even though she knew no one was close enough to hear.
Well, no one except Conall. But since he wasn’t leaping out of the van to help her now, she got a better hold on the guard and continued dragging. If she made it through this, she’d start lifting weights. That would probably make Nina happy. Rafe, too. Maya wouldn’t even bitch about the additional training time.
Next week. She’d start next week. For a few days, she was gonna eat ice cream and pout about her poor face.
She settled for running through a brief dissociation exercise until the ache in her muscles faded to a nagging buzz. Definitely not her favorite solution. Numbness was a bandage over a jagged wound—thin and temporary. Sensory input didn’t go away just because she’d tricked her brain into not noticing it, and reconnecting with the world tended to sting twice as bad.
But sometimes you needed to get a job done and pay the price later.
She finally reached the two cars parked at the edge of the lot. Three more shoulder-punishing heaves tucked the unconscious guard neatly between them, out of sight until shift change, by which point Maya and the rest of the team would be far, far away.
“I’m in,” Nina murmured.
“Sixteen point five two.” Dani’s voice vibrated with triumph. “You owe me fifty bucks, Morales.”
“Add it to my tab.”
A beep tickled Maya’s ears, followed by the whispering slide of a metal door opening. Then silence, heavy and loud, more than the mere absence of sound.
“This isn’t a vault,” Gray muttered. “It’s a fucking cell.”
“Over here.” All traces of victorious glee had bled from Dani’s tone. Now, she sounded breathless, almost . . .
Shit. Anything that could rattle Dani was bad. Apocalyptically bad.
“Grab and go,” Knox said tersely.
A scuffle of boots. Heavy breaths. They were falling back to a fast retreat, which wasn’t likely to be quiet or invisible.
Shit, shit, shit.
Maya bolted across the parking lot and slid open the van door. “Which exit?”
Shouts and the brash, hard sound of gunfire erupted through the earpiece. Conall swore and dove into the front seat of the van. Maya slid into his chair and cycled through the camera feeds until she caught Rafe’s back disappearing around a corner as Knox and Nina laid down cover fire.
The gunfire continued over comms, their team too busy to answer her question. But they didn’t need to. Knox had planned for a dizzying number of contingencies, and Maya knew which one he was enacting now.
“West side!” she shouted to Conall. “Get to the loading dock!”
The tires squealed as Conall rocketed the van into high gear. Everything that wasn’t bolted down slid across the table. Maya clutched at a handle welded to the frame as the van went up on two wheels and the speakers blared a choir chanting about the fires of hell.
She was going to have to rethink her entire musical methodology, because Mozart was entirely too stressful for a car chase.
They rounded the side of the building to the sight of the team spilling out of an open bay door in the loading area, pursued by a squad of security guards. Everyone was clustered around Rafe, who carried a blanket-wrapped bundle in his arms.
“Oh my fucking—”
Shock stole the rest of Maya’s words as Conall turned so hard that the van skidded across the asphalt. Her heart jumped into her throat, but she held on as they screeched to a stop.
They’d never had to leave a site hot before, but everyone knew their places. Knox and Gray piled into the front next to Conall, with Gray riding literal shotgun. Rafe clambered through the back doors, and Nina covered them by firing off three more shots.
Dani was suddenly there, gripping one of the handles on the ceiling of the van as she fired past Nina’s head. Their leader dove into the van as Conall hit the gas, and Maya caught the back of Nina’s jacket and held her steady as they tore out of the parking lot, bullets pinging off the van’s reinforced siding.
Rafe curled himself protectively around the bundle, and the blanket slipped to reveal shorn dark hair, a pale face, and huge, terrified eyes.
The package was a fucking kid.
Copyright © Kit Rocha 2021
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