Excerpt 1 – word count: 484
Ellio found a lot of interesting things poking around dumpsters in the Downs, but this was the first time he’d found a foot. Peeking out from under the bin, the glossy black nail polish shimmered from the light of a distant streetlamp. Getting over his initial shock, the young man breathed a sigh of relief when his further investigation revealed that the foot was still attached to a leg. A rather shapely woman’s leg swathed in black biomesh with metal grommets tracing up the seam from calf to thigh.
Falling to his knees, he ignored the water from the puddle now seeping into his jumpsuit and the cold rain that dripped down the back of his neck. He pushed his goggles up into his dark-blue hair. Another, older set dangled from his throat as he leaned down. Ellio peered under the dumpster and was further consoled that the shapely leg was still attached to not only a torso but an entire woman’s body. She seemed to be all in one piece. Choppy black bangs fell in front of her eyes. Her face was flushed and smudged with dirt. Ragged gasps shuddered through her, breath puffing out as little clouds in the chill air. At least she was still breathing. Bodies sometimes turned up in the Downs, but not as often as one might expect.
What on Elorah had happened to her?
The young woman shivered.
Ellio frowned. “Hey, you all right?” He shook her leg gently.
The biomesh cloth of her pants alone was probably worth more than he made in a month. He cringed at the thought of getting grease on them, but then again, the young woman was passed out under a dumpster. Clearly, she had bigger problems. But just to be sure, he wiped his hands along the thighs of his coveralls a few times.
“Hey, c’mon.” Ellio craned his neck underneath the dumpster to see her better. “You can’t stay here.” He gripped her leg more firmly and tugged. The woman’s head lolled back and forth limply; her eyelids fluttered but remained closed.
After getting no response, Ellio partially crawled beneath the rusty trash receptacle. “’Scuse me, lady,” he whispered, sliding his hands lightly underneath her torso and dragging her out from under her makeshift shelter. He was careful not to let her bump her head on the way out.
Ellio kept his hands to respectable areas, but a blush still crept up his neck as he cradled the young woman against his chest. She looked about his age, maybe a year younger. Ellio had just turned seventeen a few weeks back. He couldn’t help noticing she was beautiful, with full pink lips and a cute little nose smattered with freckles. She had golden eyeshadow like wings around her eyes. Ellio swallowed. Brushing her bangs back from her face, he held a calloused hand against her forehead.
“You’re burning up!”
Excerpt 2 – word count: 365
“I’ll speak slowly and use small words so you can understand. Return Ellio’s money and leave.” Kaya’s voice was low, almost soft. “Now.”
Warning trilled through Ellio’s nerves, and he opened his eyes in alarm. When Kaya used that tone of voice, it meant trouble.
“This little mouse thinks she’s a tiger.” Naruna smirked over his shoulder to his goons. “Lucky for you, I like girls with a little bite.”
He reached for her again and this time she stepped toward him, smiling. Knocking his arm aside, she struck his throat with the blade of her forearm. Naruna doubled over, coughing.
“That was a warning.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “You’re starting to annoy me.”
“Kaya, no!” Ellio was horrified. He had to stop her before she made things worse. Clamping his hands around her left wrist, he tugged her toward him. “Please stay out of it. It’s just the way things are. You don’t understand.”
“No, you don’t understand.” Her voice was steel as she jerked her wrist free from his grip.
Naruna stood, wheezing and clutching his throat. His face was mottled purple, and his eyes blazed. “You… stupid… skirt,” he gasped between ragged breaths.
He lashed out at her with a sloppy fist, but Kaya was no longer there. She twirled around and kicked behind his knee. Naruna fell with a great crash.
Ellio couldn’t tell who was more surprised, Naruna or himself. They stared at each other in mute shock as Naruna lay sprawled on the floor.
Ellio had always known Kaya was strong, but this… His thoughts were interrupted as Naruna lurched up, eyes bloodshot, spittle flecking his lips.
The gangster charged at Kaya. She stepped forward. Twisted her body into a punch that caught him across the face.
Naruna went down. Hands and knees slamming into the concrete floor. He spit out a wad of blood. Looked at it. With shaking fingers, he picked up a gold certa-dent and clenched it in his fist. “You’re gonna pay for that!”
Gesturing wildly at his lackeys, Naruna bellowed, “What’re you waiting for? Get her!”
Kaya’s smile was feral, and she cracked her knuckles. “I was hoping you’d say that.”