Eternal Dawn by Jade Kerrion

Today I have a latest release for you by my friend Jade KerrionEternal Dawn, book two in the Aeternae Noctis series.  I have read this series and I highly recommend it.  Start with book one Eternal Night.

Eternal Dawn

 

Description1

Nothing false endures forever. Especially not love…

All parents in Aeternae Noctis have lost children to the culling, among them, the herbalist Rafael Varens. Once more, humanity’s remnants rise in rebellion against the ruthless rule of the three immortal icrathari and their vampire army. Yet again, they are crushed.

When the icrathari Siri seeks a salve for her chronic pain, she and Rafael strike a bargain. He will cure the poison in her blood if she expands the settlement and frees the children, including his son. Their tentative alliance ushers in unexpected friendship, until it is shattered by the cruelest betrayal.

From the darkness below the earth, an ancient and implacable enemy rises, twisting their pain and turning Rafael and Siri against each other—his first step in the destruction of Aeternae Noctis…

Enjoy the thrilling sequel to the award-winning fantasy, Eternal Night.

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New Release – Inflamed by Jade Kerrion

reblogged from www.jadekerrion.com

New Release: INFLAMED

Debra Martinez doesn’t believe in happy endings. Even if she did, she knows she doesn’t deserve one, not after betraying her best friend in the worst possible way. Eight years into single parenthood, her life is a grind of exhaustion in between spikes of fatigue—an endless struggle to make ends meet—until Sean Orr, Havre de Grace’s newest firefighter, shows her and her son, Aidan, a new and beautiful kind of “normal.”

But the happiness can’t last—not for Sean who is on the run from his past. When it catches up with him, will it bring Debra’s fragile normality crashing down around her, or will she find the strength to define her own happy ending?

Available at Amazon and all other major online bookstores

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Excerpt from INFLAMED (Life Shocks Romances #9) by Jade Kerrion

Reblogged from Jade Kerrion

Excerpt from INFLAMED (Life Shocks Romances #9)

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Enjoy this excerpt from INFLAMED, part of the VALENTINE PETS AND KISSES anthology!

Tension stiffened Debra’s back, but she smiled at the men, two of whom she recognized. “What can I get for you?”

“Five medium coffees for the boys down at the house.” Jack Landon leaned against the counter, flexing an impressive bicep. He was obviously on duty even though he wore street clothes; firefighting in a small town like Havre de Grace was a casual sort of thing.

“Didn’t know it took three grown men to buy five coffees,” she teased as she filled the order.

“Wanted to show the new guy the town.” Jack jabbed his finger over his shoulder at the tall young man standing behind him. “Sean Orr. He’s taking Larry’s place.”

“Hey.” Debra flashed him a dimpled smile. She estimated his age as mid-twenties, a good eight years younger than she was. “Welcome to Havre de Grace.” She set four cups in a cup holder made of recycled paper and then placed the fifth cup in the middle. “Will that be all, or would you like anything else?”

Ray Peterson, the third firefighter, pushed past Sean and Jack and rested both elbows on the table. He leaned forward, and Debra retreated from his leer even though her cleavage was concealed behind her turtleneck sweater. Ray chuckled as if he sensed her unease and pressed out his cheek with his tongue. “Do you want to come over this weekend? It’s cold out; great night for keeping warm together.”

“Aren’t you and Andrea still together?”

“She’s out of town this weekend. Perfect, you know, for you.” Ray snorted, the sound derisive.

Jack laughed and elbowed Ray. “Let’s get out of here, man, before the coffees get cold.” He led the way out of the store, but amid the quiet chatter of surrounding conversations, Debra heard Sean ask quietly, “What’s her name?”

Ray’s answer slapped her moments before the door slammed shut on their voices. “She’s the other woman.”

To read INFLAMED, pre-order your copy of VALENTINE PETS AND KISSES today!


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First Chapters – Earth Sim by Jade Kerrion

Today I have a First Chapter for you from Earth Sim another awesome book by my friend Jade Kerrion.

Earth Sim

 

Description1

Was the super-continent of Pangaea split because of a management dispute? Is the biblical flood the earliest evidence of why “technology and water don’t mix”? If you always suspected that mass extinctions, such as the Black Death, had an otherworldly reason, you just might be right. Is there a real message hidden in the mysterious manuscripts that human sages and savants have created through the generations? Is there life out there, beyond our planet, and why has none of it shown up on Earth yet?

Earth-Sim is a unique spin on the history of Earth and the history of mankind. What if Earth and the entire universe were actually part of a simulation program? What if the most iconic and memorable events in Earth’s history were decisions (or more frequently accidents) triggered by two college students, Jem Moran and Kir Davos, who are still sorting out the finer points of working together and more importantly, still arguing over the finer points of planetary management?

Bring your sense of humor. Earth-Sim is frequently whimsical and often irreverent. Either way, you finally have someone to blame for the state the world is in.

chapter

Definition of SIMULATION

1: the act or process of simulating

2: a sham object: counterfeit

3a: the imitative representation of the functioning of one system or process by means of the functioning of another

3b: examination of a problem often not subject to direct experimentation by means of a simulating device

– The Merriam-Webster Dictionary

 

A roomful of business-suited graduate students could make the most confident undergraduate feel like a gauche freshman again. With poise she did not feel, Jem Moran wove her way to an empty seat and settled into a chair set close to the ground. Neural receptors built into the chair’s synthetic alloy frame analyzed her brain waves; the chair adjusted to her unspoken desires, boosting the seat off the ground and emitting a subtle heat to keep her comfortably acclimated.

Once settled, Jem glanced around. The classroom was one of the smallest on the Itibar University campus, with just enough seats for forty students. She concealed a smirk as a young man scrambled into the room on the heels of Professor Jahn Ptera. At least I’m not the last to arrive.

The remaining seat was at the back of the class, but the professor held out his hand before the student could make a dash for the chair. “Just wait here. We’ll be heading into the simulation laboratory in few minutes anyway.”

Equal measures of excitement and consternation flickered across the faces of her classmates. Jem supposed that the army of drunken butterflies in her stomach could be translated as “consternation.” Personally, she would have classified the sensation as “barely concealed panic.”

The professor, who looked like an old but still dashing movie star, smiled at the many faces staring at him. “Welcome to SIM-709. I’m not unaware of the effort that each of you put in to be accepted for this class, and I want to thank you for your enthusiasm. Make sure you hold on to that feeling. It is a yearlong class. Enthusiasm and energy can fade. Don’t let them; a world depends on you.” He chuckled at his little joke. “I’m transmitting a list of team assignments to your personal devices. Check it out, and find your partners while I get the androids in here.”

Like most communication and data organization devices, Jem’s personal device was built into a metallic band she wore around her wrist and connected to the neural processors implanted in her brain. A single thought summoned the interface; a swirl of colors coalesced in front of her into a palm-sized screen. Another focused thought located the list that the professor had sent.

Jem scanned it quickly. Her name was paired with Kir Davos.

She groaned aloud when she saw the hologram associated with the name of her assigned partner. It was the student who had arrived late for class, and like her, Kir was a senior, the only two in a class full of graduate students.

Damn. They were set up to fail.

She would have to make sure they did not.

Jem did not bother with the name of the android. The androids were all identical anyway, if not in appearance, then at least in function.

A lovely voice, too fluid and cultured to be real, interrupted her thoughts. “Good morning, I am SimOne.”

“Jem Moran.” Jem stood up and nodded, first at the android and then at Kir Davos who stood beside SimOne. The flash of irritation was so familiar that Jem scarcely felt it anymore. She had never understood the business logic of making androids look extraordinary. Why would anyone want to be overshadowed by a machine? Next to SimOne’s long-legged, blond-haired beauty, Jem felt short and plain. The fact that her appearance just then was not her real one was irrelevant; the point was that she liked her spiky brown hair, snub nose, and large brown eyes. Looking ordinary and blending into the crowd were blessings she would never take for granted.

Kir, at least, was as ordinary as she was. He was short, though he still had two inches on her. His dark hair was neatly cropped and his features were unremarkable, save for his bright brown eyes and his enviably long eyelashes.

Her gaze shuttled between Kir and SimOne. They looked back. No one said anything.

Before their silence became awkward, the professor’s voice interjected over the noise of other conversations. “Now that you’ve formed your teams, let’s head into the lab. Once you’re in there, your android will show you the way to your planet.”

The titanium-reinforced double doors in the back of the classroom opened up into the simulation laboratory. Jem followed SimOne into the laboratory and froze when light vanished into the darkness of space. Her jaw dropped, and her eyes were wide with wonder. It was impossible to tell how large the room really was when there were no visible ceilings, floors, or walls by which to measure scale. The simulation extended in all directions around her, even above and below her.

The professor’s disembodied voice spoke though an invisible sound system. “You are supported by an anti-gravity system that will allow you to move freely in three dimensions around the laboratory. The simulation’s central command system is also attuned to your intended destination, and it will condense space to get you to your planets more quickly. Don’t be surprised by the changing scenery. We’ll continue the briefing when you’ve found your planets.”

Jem lost sight of her other classmates as their androids led them in different directions. She followed SimOne, occasionally glancing back to confirm that Kir tagged along. Together, they walked into a spiral galaxy as massive as a storefront display on Coronation Avenue. The lights that swirled tightly around them spun apart as the simulation’s central command system reversed the effects of space condensation. The faint gleam of the small star closest to them expanded into a large yellow star the size of the SIM-709 classroom. Planets churned into existence seemingly out of nothing, although in reality, they were merely emerging from the unpacking of the space-time continuum.

SimOne stopped on the outer edges of the star system. “We are here.”

For all its apparent size, Jem knew that the star system was tiny. She had personally traveled through star systems with four times as many planets and accompanying satellites.

Kir, however, looked impressed. “Are we supposed to manage the entire star system?”

“No, just the third planet.” SimOne stepped past the much larger planets whirling in elliptic orbits around their yellow star and pointed to a small planet the size of a human head. “Identification number 280-934-6253-4726-349573.”

Their assigned planet was less impressive than the star system. The planet’s surface was covered in water, except for a single, large landmass. Jem ground her teeth. They were starting out with nothing.

The professor’s voice spoke again. “All right, the androids confirm you’ve all arrived at your planets, so let’s get started. First, your android is your team’s interface with the simulation’s central command system. The androids will execute the orders you give. Of course, you can also directly manipulate the planet. The planets are real, as are the things on them, so please be very careful. As I’m sure you’re aware, this is a multi-year project. SIM-709 had its inaugural class last year, and those students set things in motion. They determined the laws controlling the universe—you have no idea how long those discussions took—and then each team was assigned a planet to manage. Your android has access to records of the decisions the teams made. I recommend you take the time to review the records.”

The professor paused briefly. “Adan Treb has a question: can we make different decisions? The short answer is ‘yes.’ The longer answer is, ‘this is your world.’ You’re making the decisions now. Within the constraints set by the greater rules of the game, the universe, you can make any decision you want. Just remember that it is a multi-year game. You’d want to have something—preferably alive—to hand off to the next team. By the end of the year, I’d like you to come up with something to call your planet other than its assigned identification number. Any other questions?”

“Can you please explain the rules or goals around the competition?” Jem asked.

There was a barely perceptible lag as SimOne conveyed the question to the central command system, which passed it on to the professor. “Jem Moran had a question about the goal of the competition. It’s both simple and incredibly difficult. Create a world worth living in. You were selected for your depth of knowledge in specific fields or breadth across many fields of study. SIM-709 is where it all comes together—physics, chemistry, biology, geology, mathematics, sociology, philosophy, psychology, the fine arts. The judges are professors from the university as well as experts and leaders in industry. They’ll review your progress throughout the year, and the winners will be announced at the commencement ceremony. Other questions?”

Silence.

“One more thing,” the professor said. “You can directly manipulate your planet, but not other planetary systems or interstellar objects. Put simply, in the event of a planetary war, you cannot stand in front of your planet and swat away alien spaceships. This simulation isn’t a test of your reflexes, though you may think it is. It’s a test of your planetary management skills. All interactions with other planets must be conducted indirectly through the life forms on your own planets, the managers of the other planets, or the central command system. Don’t bother trying to get around that particular rule. The central command system will not permit it.”

Jem rolled her eyes. It was a relief to know that no other team would be able to spin her planet out of orbit and into the yellow star.

The professor’s voice continued. “No other questions? Well, if you need anything, I’m here during the scheduled class sessions, and of course, your android is always available to interface with your world or give you a tour of the universe. Your names have been registered with campus security to provide you with full access to the laboratory at any time. The simulation is going to take more than five credits worth of time each semester, but I’m sure you were already aware of that. Go ahead and get started. Have fun out there.”

Jem swallowed hard. Great. No pressure. SIM-709 was the most prestigious simulation competition on Sylvania, the ruling planet of the Etherian quadrant. She looked at her two partners, Kir and SimOne. “Shall we?”

“I guess so.” Kir shrugged. “So, what do we know about this piece of rock? Well, SimOne?” he asked explicitly, when the android remained silent.

“Forgive me, Kir Davos. You said ‘we.’ I wasn’t aware that you knew anything about this planet, and I didn’t want to speak for you.”

Jem suppressed a chuckle. Androids with attitudes. Who had programmed her?

Kir grinned, too. “What do you know about this planet?”

“It is young relative to other planets in the universe, and has completed four billion revolutions around its star. The planet’s surface consists of liquid and rock. The poles are covered with solid ice or sea ice. The planet’s exterior can be considered stable. However, the planet’s interior remains active. It has a solid inner core made of iron, a liquid outer core, as well as a thick, relatively solid mantle.”

“A liquid core? That doesn’t sound stable to me,” Kir said.

Jem agreed. “There’s probably a fair degree of geological activity. What about the crust? Is it moveable?” Cautiously she poked a finger at the large land mass, and it shifted slightly. Water sloshed over its edges. “It’s definitely not stable. It’s not even attached.”

“It looks like we have our work cut out for us,” Kir said. At least they agreed on that point. “Can you describe the crust, SimOne?”

“It is primarily silicate.”

“Primarily like fifty-one percent or—”

“Ninety percent,” SimOne confirmed.

“So we have silicon-based life forms on this planet?” Kir asked.

“No. The life forms are carbon-based.”

Jem’s eyebrows furrowed. “Wait, the crust is ninety percent silicate, but the life forms are carbon-based?”

“Carbon-based life is more reactive,” Kir interjected before SimOne could reply.

“That would fit with everything we’ve learned about this planet so far, then,” Jem said irritably. “We should just delete the word ‘stable’ from our vocabulary.”

Kir laughed. Somehow, she did not get the sense that he was laughing at her. “Carbon atoms tend to form long chains, making them both stable and reactive, whereas silicon tends to form crystal lattices, making them far less likely to re-combine in different permutations to support life.”

“Are you a carbon chauvinist?” she asked him.

He grinned. “As a carbon-based life form myself, that shouldn’t come as a surprise to you.”

“Chemistry major?”

“Mechanical engineering, then I wised up and switched to the Business school instead.”

“Hmm…”

“Is that a good ‘hmm’ or a bad ‘hmm’?”

Jem smiled thinly. “We’ll have an entire year to find out. I’m majoring in Biology and Philosophy.”

“Hmm…” Kir took on an air of studied thoughtfulness. “I’m a little afraid for our world now.”

“Great. You’re catching on. I became afraid for it ten minutes ago. Zero stability.”

“Change is a good thing. If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

“Dying counts as change too,” Jem pointed out.

“Fair point.” Kir looked at the android. “How are you getting information out of the planet? Do you have sensors implanted?”

“Yes, we do.” SimOne held out her hand. From the base of her palm, light emerged and took on the form of a gelatinous circular mass with long, trailing tentacles. It shimmered, pale and translucent, undulating with unnatural grace.

“Cnidarians?” Jem’s eyes widened. “You implanted Cnidarian sensors on the planet?”

The android inclined her head, the gesture stately. “Zaaf Farron made that decision last year. Given the abundance of water on the planet, Cnidarian sensors appeared to be the most viable strategy for monitoring the planet.”

“But what about the landmass?” Jem asked.

“Blattodea sensors.” The light flickered and the image of the Cnidarian sensor gave way to a much less enchanting picture. Six tri-segmented legs, each ending in five claws, supported a broad, flat body, a small head, and most importantly, two long and quivering antenna. The Blattodea sensor spread its wings to display a set of membranous hind wings beneath the protective layer of its thicker front wings.

Jem sighed, more motion than sound.

“Bad news?” Kir asked.

“It could be better. The Cnidarian sensors will be probably be all right, but Blattodea sensors tend to be more trouble than they’re worth. They’re incredibly hardy though, which—given the instability of the planet—is a huge point in their favor. SimOne, can you please send the archives of the planet’s activity and sensor reports to me?”

“Transmitting.”

Kir did not ask for the planet’s archives, which did not bode well. Jem tried to keep her voice even. “What kind of life forms are on the planet right now, SimOne?”

“There are limited forms of flora, marine, and terrestrial fauna. Would you like me to transmit the information to you as well, Kir Davos?”

He shook his head. “Not yet, and it’s just ‘Kir.’ I’m surprised the planet didn’t progress further in four billion revolutions. I’d have expected a great deal more bio-diversity.”

Jem did, too. A hard knot formed in the pit of her stomach. “Did something happen recently, SimOne?”

“Yes, Jem Moran. Summer vacation happened. The planet was unmonitored for three months. I am sorry to report that ninety-six percent of all marine species and seventy percent of terrestrial vertebrate species are now extinct. Fifty-seven percent of all families and eighty-three percent of all genera were killed, including the only known mass extinction of insects to date.”

A stunned silence followed SimOne’s announcement. Jem dragged a hand through her short, dark hair. “We lost everything?”

“No. Four percent of the marine species and thirty percent of terrestrial vertebrate species survived.”

“I can do the math, SimOne,” Jem said with exasperation as she stared at the ruined planet. “Damn it. This is a piece of crap.”

“The mother of all mass extinctions,” Kir added softly.

Jem squeezed her eyes shut against the tension headache clawing through her skull. “The judges better take into account where the planet started off in the new school year or we’ll never stand a chance of winning this competition.”

“At least everything after this will be an improvement.” Kir grinned.

It had better. Jem shook her head. “I’m going to read through these reports. We’ll need to come up with a plan by tomorrow, or we’ll never be able to reverse this planet off its suicidal path.”

“I’m guessing it’s not as bad as it looks,” Kir said. “SimOne, has the planet gone through other mass extinctions?”

“Yes, but none as severe as the most recent.”

“It’ll probably recover, then,” Kir said.

“On little more than a hope and a prayer?” Jem asked. “Not very likely. We’re going to need a plan, Kir.”

He nodded amiably. “Right.”

He still had not asked for the archives. Were facts going to feature in his plan at all? Jem turned to look at SimOne. “What actually caused the mass extinction, other than neglect over the summer vacation?”

“The causes are inter-related. Volcanism, methane hydrate gasification, sea level fluctuations, anoxia, and hydrogen sulfide emissions.”

“What’s that in a language we actually understand?” Kir asked.

SimOne continued without missing a beat. “Volcanic eruptions, including flood basalt eruptions over an area of two million kilometers, resulted in dust clouds and acid aerosols. The dust clouds subsequently blocked the light from their star, disrupting photosynthesis and destroying the food chain. The aerosols washed out of the atmosphere in the form of acid rain, destroying land-based flora and fauna with calcium carbonate exoskeletons. The eruptions also released carbon dioxide, resulting in rising temperatures.”

“Global warming?”

“That is an appropriate descriptor, Kir,” SimOne said.

“What else?” Jem demanded. The headache was unavoidable at this point. The only question was whether it would escalate into a migraine.

“There’s more?” Kir asked, a note of disbelief seeping into his voice.

The android continued. “The oceans became anoxic.”

“Anoxic?”

“Severely depleted of oxygen. The anaerobic sulfur-reducing organisms then dominated the chemistry of the oceans, causing massive emissions of hydrogen sulfide.”

“That would be toxic, right?” Kir asked.

“That is correct,” SimOne said.

In essence, it had been the perfect storm.

Jem sighed. “Life on this planet is so fragile.” She looked up when Kir chuckled; he wore an expression of wide-eyed innocence.

“If we had silicon-based life forms instead, they might have…” Kir’s face relaxed into a grin when she scowled at him. He chuckled again, his brown eyes crinkling at the edges. “Never mind.”

“Very funny, Davos.”

“Then why aren’t you laughing?”

“Because I’m still wondering if I should cry. Can’t you see? This planet is a wreck.”

“Yes, but it’s our wreck.”

She turned her back on him.

He rushed after her as she stormed out of the laboratory. “Okay, all right. It was a bad joke. I’m sorry.”

She blinked sharply, recoiling from the bright lights in the classroom as the darkness of the universe peeled back from around her. She shrugged off his hand and glowered at him.

He immediately held his arms up in a placating gesture. “I’m just trying to add a bit of levity to the situation”

“Your levity is misplaced. Let me tell you something, Davos.”

“It’s Kir.”

“I only call my friends by their first names. Listen carefully. I am only going to say this once. The competition is everything to me. I intend to win it. I’ll do it with or without you, but I’d much rather do it with your help. Take it seriously, please.” She waited, meeting his eyes directly.

After a long pause, he nodded. His voice was quiet. “All right. I get it. You want to win.”

It was not until he had left her alone in the classroom that she realized that he had not actually said if he would help or if he would just be a burden for the entire year.

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Coming Soon – ZARA by Jade Kerrion

My friend Jade Kerrion has a new book coming soon.  Zara who is one of the characters from the Double Helix series and is also one of my favourites.  Jade has given you the First Chapter to give you a taste.  You can pre-order this book that will be out in October and in the meantime start with Perfection Unleashed.

Sneak Preview – ZARA

Coming to you on October 27th

ZARA’s always been one of my favorite characters from the world of the Double Helix, and she finally gets her own story. Located between Perfect Betrayal and Perfect Weapon, her story traces the evolution of her feelings for Danyael even as she creates her own brand of mayhem (hey, it’s Zara, after all.)

ZARA will be released on October 27th. In fact, the e-books are available for pre-order at: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / iBooks. Paperbacks will be available on October 27th.

chapter

No one ever expected to die in the happiest place on Earth, which, to Zara Itani, made Disneyland, California, the perfect place for a kill.
Her seat near the window gave her a clear view of the street. At the first hint of dusk, ornate street lamps flickered on. Storefront windows bathed their wares with light to lure in the crowd bustling through New Orleans Square. Parents pushed strollers occupied by sleeping toddlers and dragged along their tired children. Couples, sometimes hand-in-hand, though more often not, paused in front of the French Quarter-style buildings to stare at their maps, often oblivious to potted bougainvillea sitting on the ornate ironwork balconies above their heads.
At the end of a long day, even the magic of Disneyland could fade, but within Club 33, all was still well with the world.
The complex tangle of music from the saxophone rose over the syncopated bass drum patter. Both blended with the quiet clink of silverware against china dishes and muted conversations punctuated with polite laughter. Wait staff wearing white shirts accentuated by teal and gold brocade vests moved among the tables, providing impeccable yet unpretentious service.
“You haven’t tasted your wine, Zara. Is it not to your liking?”
With a smile, Zara turned back to her dining partner. Alastair Boyd-Smith wore a faint frown, but the anxious set of his eyes betrayed a desperate desire to please. He was a lesser son of greater men, the fifth in line to an earldom in England. With blond hair and pale eyes, he was too fair for her liking. She was too dark for his, yet she knew precisely why he had invited her to dinner at the ultra-exclusive Club 33.
When he looked at her, Boyd-Smith did not just see a young Lebanese-Venezuelan woman, more exotic than beautiful. He saw instead the glamorous socialite who had graced the arms of Lucien Winter, heir to the multibillion-dollar Winter fortune, and Galahad, the perfect human being, created by Pioneer Labs.
Zara’s stock in trade, already high as Lucien’s ex-girlfriend, had risen yet higher with Galahad. Women envied her. Men craved her.
She was sparing, however, with her affection. Alastair she had selected for a specific purpose—a purpose that would soon play out. Her smile deepened as she traced her finger around the rim of her wineglass. Her blood-red fingernails gleamed beneath the glow of the candlelight.
“I’m sure the wine is wonderful, Alastair, but it wouldn’t do to drink on an empty stomach when my head’s already spinning.” Her voice, sultry and faintly accented, resonated like a siren’s song.
Alastair grinned, obviously responding as much to her tone as to her words. Oh, how he reminded her of an overeager puppy. Willpower kept her from laughing. “I expect the appetizers will be here soon,” she said. “Please excuse me; I need to go to the ladies room.”
She stood and made her way through the restaurant. As she passed a table, a Japanese man stopped her by placing his hand in her way. She tilted her head and studied him. The cold, narrow eyes and thin smile belonged on a much older man. His face, however, was unlined. If he smiled, he could be handsome.
“You are stunning.” His voice resonated with a confidence and authority that Alastair lacked. He pulled a white rose from the vase on the table and handed it to her.
“Thank you.” She accepted the rose, inhaled its fragrance, and brushed her lips against it. Her crimson lipstick stained its white petals. With a teasing smile, she reached down and brushed the rose against his lips. The back of her fingers grazed his cheek.
The voracious need in his eyes devoured her as he licked the faint smear of lipstick that transferred from the petals to his lips. His cocky expression promised her a world of pleasure and a life of privilege that would exceed anything her pasty English date could offer her.
He was, no doubt, right, but Zara offered him a rueful parting glance before continuing on her way to the restroom. She locked herself in a stall and set the rose on the floor, its lipstick-smeared petal facing up. She pulled a pair of biodegradable silicon-carbon polymer gloves from her handbag and slid them over her hands. Next, she took out a perfume atomizer and spritzed it over the rose. Carefully, she peeled the thin layers of polymer off her upper and lower lips and sprayed the contents of the atomizer over them as well as the fingertips of the gloves.
Zara counted down ten seconds for the chemicals in the atomizer to counteract the toxins before dropping the lip peels and gloves into the toilet bowl. The rose petals followed. A flush disposed of all evidence.
Simple. Too simple.
Something fluttered in the pit of her stomach.
Not nerves surely, although wearing the poison on her lips was foolhardy to the point of insanity, as was gambling on Kaito Masura’s habit of spontaneously offering flowers to attractive women.
Then again, Zara was nothing if not a risk-taker.
The atomizer went back into her handbag. She stepped out of the stall, reapplied her lipstick, smoothed her navy blue dress, and returned to her seat, weaving a different route through the tables.
Alastair was pouting. He had obviously witnessed her flirtatious exchange with Kaito. To make it up to him—after all, she would have had trouble entering Club 33 and gaining access to Kaito if not for him—Zara paid Alastair special attention through dinner. By the time their Kobe Carpaccio appetizers were eaten, he had forgotten the slight to his ego. Midway through his Moroccan spiced lamb entree, Alastair, blushing shyly, invited Zara to his ancestral home to meet his parents. She promised to consider his invitation; she was not scheduled to break his heart until the next day.
Moments after the waitress brought out their Strawberries Arnaud dessert, Kaito Masura, the kumicho of the Chinatsu-gumi yakuza and a platinum member of Club 33, collapsed from an apparent heart attack. The emergency medical technicians could not revive him. He was declared dead by the time the club manager began his rounds, assuring distressed diners that their evening meals would be complimentary to compensate for the inconvenience. The manager wrung his hands, his stricken gaze shuttling between Zara and Alastair. Was there anything else he could do for them?
Zara held on to the expression of wide-eyed shock and shook her head. He had done enough. Disney’s near-fanatical desire to avoid bad publicity would ensure that Masura’s “heart attack” would not make the morning news. She could not ask for more.
She bid Alastair goodnight in the parking lot and drove her rental car, a red Corvette, back to the Hotel Bel-Air. Her leisurely drive through Los Angeles’s familiar streets was ruined only by the occasional flutter in her stomach. It was ridiculous to be nervous. She had nothing to be concerned about. The kill was clean, untraceable.
She pulled into the curved driveway of the Hotel Bel-Air. A uniformed valet opened her car door and inclined his head as she stepped out. “Welcome back, Miss Itani.”
“Thank you, Jason.” She smiled at him. The subtly foreign inflections that had so charmed Alastair conceded to her natural American accent. Her hand trailed along the Corvette’s sleek lines. “Take good care of her.”
“Certainly, Miss Itani.”
Her smartphone rang as she had stepped into her suite and locked the door behind her. She glanced at the number before accepting the international call from Japan. “Good morning, Ayame-san.”
A well-modulated woman’s voice responded with a faint Japanese accent. “It is a beautiful morning, Zara-san. We have just received word of the misfortune that has befallen Chinatsu-gumi. On behalf of my father, I convey the deep gratitude of Isamu-gumi.”
“You are most welcome. I am honored to be a friend of Kazuo-san and the Isamu-gumi.”
“Your fee has been transferred to your account in Switzerland. Domo arigatou gozaimasu.”
Dou itashi mashite.
“The next time you are in Tokyo, we would be honored if you would visit us.”
Zara heard a smile in Ayame’s voice. She smiled too. “I would be pleased to do so. How is your son?”
“Oh.” Ayame’s voice softened. “He is six and a half weeks old, and perfect. So talkative. And Nikolai has been a wonderful father.”
“The yakuza are not giving you a hard time over marrying a gaijin and bearing his son?”
“Not when he can shoot faster and more accurately than they can.”
Zara laughed. She and Ayame spoke for several more minutes before exchanging goodbyes. She tossed the phone down on her bed, her thoughts still on her friend. Ayame had come a long way since their first meeting as freshmen at Princeton. In the ten years since, the quiet and unassuming Japanese girl had gone on to manage her father’s manufacturing business and his yakuza gang. She had married Nikolai Voronov, a former employee of Zara’s mercenary agency, Three Fates, and she was now the mother of a chubby and adorable child—a child who would likely grow up to become a key player in the world of Japanese organized crime.
Zara shook her head. Ayame’s son’s fate had been determined before he was born. As a non-believer in destiny, Zara found the thought mildly discouraging, at best, and hugely depressing, at worst. She kicked off her high heels and walked barefoot onto the patio. Darkness concealed the canyon views, but underwater spotlights lit the spa pool. The water sparkled, lapping gently against the sides of the pool. She dipped in a toe. The night air was cool but the water was still warm, sun-kissed from a long summer’s day.
     Perfect.
She tugged off her dress, shed her black lace lingerie, and stepped into the pool. She sank into the water up to her neck, closed her eyes, and allowed her mind to drift. Her thoughts wandered, as they almost always did, to Danyael Sabre. Had he been released from solitary confinement? Was he all right?
She ground her teeth. What an absurd question. Of course, Danyael was not all right, although solitary confinement likely suited him perfectly. He did not want emotional ties. He wanted to be alone. Well, now he was. Bastard.
Perhaps it was time to make another visit to Colorado, to the super maximum-security prison, ADX Florence. She had visited twice before, but both times, the guards had turned her away. No one had seen Danyael since he had been arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
He had been locked away without trial for killing twelve men in self-defense.
No, it had not all been self-defense. Ten of the twelve men he had killed to defend her.
Guilt pricked her. She wanted to see him. Her inadequate apology for betraying him would catch on her lips, but she wanted to see him again.
She supposed she could change her flight and make a stop at ADX Florence.
Her stomach fluttered. Was it indigestion or nerves? Either way, it was getting annoying. When had it started? A week ago? A week and a half, perhaps.
Zara climbed out of the pool, wrapped a towel around her body, and returned to her suite. She picked up her smartphone and called her assistant.
“Hello?” Karen Alder sounded half-asleep. It was past midnight on the east coast.
“I need you to change my flight tomorrow. I’ll be making an overnight stop in Colorado Springs on the way back.”
“Got it.” Karen yawned. “Colorado Springs Airport. Hotel and rental car?”
“Yes.”
“Which identity do you want to use?”
“Just mine. It’s fine.”
“No one’s scheduled to die, huh? Okay, on it. Oh, your annual medical report came back from Dr. Tyler.”
“Hmm?”
“His e-mail said that everything looks good. He said something odd, though. He asked if you wanted him to send your medical report to your ob-gyn.”
“What for?”
“I don’t know. He didn’t say. Did you want me to ask?”
The chill Zara felt had nothing to do with the air conditioning. “No, I’ll take care of it. Is the e-mail still in my inbox?”
“Yup.”
She hung up. Damn it.
She found what she needed in the twenty-four-hour pharmacy around the corner. Her heart raced but her hands were steady. She followed the instructions but hardly needed to wait. Double lines appeared on the pregnancy test kit immediately.
Her breath caught. “Fuck.”

~*~

I hope you enjoyed the first chapter of ZARA. If you’d like to pre-order ZARA, you can find it at: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / iBooks.

With love, Jade

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First Chapter – Perfect Betrayal by Jade Kerrion

Today’s First Chapter is from Perfect Betrayal, Book 2 in the Double Helix series by my friend Jade Kerrion.  This is a fantastic series.

Perfect BetrayalDESCRIPTION

You can defeat your enemies, but can you defeat your friends?

Danyael Sabre, an object of desire, would much rather not be. An alpha empath by birth, a doctor by training, and an empathic healer by calling, he is stalked by the military that covets his ability to kill, not heal. Bereft of two days of memories, he goes on the run under the protection of an assassin, Zara Itani.

The more he uncovers of his lost hours, the more he doubts everything that once anchored him. He knows only that he endangers those around him and that he is falling in love with Zara, who hates him for reasons he no longer remembers.

As forces—both powerful and ruthless—threaten those he cares for, Danyael has only two options. He can betray his values and abandon the path of the healer, or he can wait to be betrayed, not by enemies, but by his friends.

PERFECT BETRAYAL is the second novel in the award-winning Double Helix series.

chapter

 

Danyael Sabre fought a losing battle against fatigue and the wet chill of a New York winter storm. As the minutes ticked by slowly, he slipped past extreme exhaustion into mindless automation. The neighborhood deteriorated, the deeper he traveled into Brooklyn. The icy drizzle could not mask or wash away the stench of cheap alcohol and urine in the streets. He paused at the pollution-stained façade of an apartment complex. It was a welcome sight; home, at last.

Danyael unlocked the door of his apartment, slipped in, and quietly shut it behind him. He leaned his head against the door and closed his eyes. His shoulders sagged. He was alone; he could relax. With a soft sigh, he lowered his psychic shields. The suffocating weight of emotions he did not understand and could not remember flowed out of him.

A woman’s shriek of panic ripped through the silence of the apartment and shattered his lethargy. His dark eyes flashed open. I’m not alone!

She hurled herself at him. Instinctively, he caught her wrists as she clawed at his face. The swirl of long dark hair, swaying wildly, concealed most of her face, but he caught a glimpse of unreasoning terror in her eyes, terror he had put in there.

He struggled to contain the emotions he had released. The effort plowed through him, a punch to his stomach. It tore the breath out of his lungs. He convulsed, doubling over, the strain too much for a body pushed to its limits. His grip on her wrists loosened. She lunged away from him and raced to the kitchen.

“No, wait.” He grabbed her before her fingers wrapped around the hilt of the knife in the drying rack. His empathic powers surged, irresistible as the tides. They snaked, graceful tendrils of living vines, through her psyche and siphoned out the emotions he had unwittingly forced on her. To his relief, rationality seeped into her wide violet eyes. He started to ask if she was all right, but before he could utter a single word, scorching pain ripped down his spine.

Only his training suppressed the scream of agony. He flung himself away from her and crashed into the sink. Violent shudders wracked his body. He gripped hard on the countertop to brace against the spasms of pain.

What the hell?

He gritted his teeth and tasted blood in his mouth. He had not been prepared for her roiling emotions. Targeted at him, her emotions sliced through his defenses with devastating precision, anger and hate, vitally alive, scalding hot. They flared when he touched them, punished him when he tried to absorb them from her. He had to work through them. There was no other way. The alternative—returning the emotions to her—was not an option.

His eyes closed. Trembling, he focused on each breath burning in his lungs. As he shakily exhaled, he unclenched his fists. Release the pain.

Most of the time, the technique worked flawlessly. He had years of practice.

That day, it nearly didn’t.

Minutes passed before the red haze of pain obscuring his vision thinned and eventually wafted away. He looked up to find her staring steadily at him, the passion and fury he had briefly witnessed now perfectly regulated beneath an icy-cold façade.

“Are you all right?” he asked hoarsely.

Her eyes narrowed. She tilted her head but did not answer. She merely looked at him as if he were insane for asking the question.

“Are you all right?” Danyael asked again. He leaned against the old fridge. His quiet tone concealed his exhaustion. A quick empathic probe confirmed she was calm and rational, but her lack of response worried him. He thought he had reabsorbed the poisonous brew of his emotions before they sank into her psyche, but perhaps he had not been fast enough. Had he hurt her?

“I’m sorry. I know you’ve had a shock. Would you like to sit?” He paused; the aloof distance in her demeanor caused him to hesitate. He tried for a smile, though fatigue limited it to a faint curve on the edges of his lips. “I’m Danyael Sabre.”

“Zara.” Her answer was brusque. She did not offer a last name.

The name toyed on the edge of his consciousness, as if he had heard it before, but he was certain he did not know her. There was no way he could have forgotten someone as attractive as she was.

His mind mocked him. Who was to say what he could have forgotten? After all, he had no memories of the prior two days.

He crushed the flicker of panic as he focused on what little he could still handle. Danyael averted his gaze as his mind chased a fleeting memory from years past. Lucien and Zara. “Zara…Itani,” he murmured as the memory sharpened. He glanced at her. “You’re Lucien’s friend.”

She nodded.

“What are you doing here? How did you get into my apartment?”

“I picked the lock.” Zara pushed away from the wall and walked past him to sit at the table. She crossed her legs gracefully, hooking one ankle behind the other. “What do you remember?”

He tensed; without memories, he had to play it safe. “Nothing.” His tone was carefully neutral.

“What took you so bloody long to get back here? I know the plane landed twelve hours ago.”

“It’s a long way from Teterboro, New Jersey.”

“It’s an hour away.”

He glanced at the digital clock on the microwave oven. “It took eight hours to walk, and I had a late start.”

She frowned. “You walked?”

Without probing, he could not tell if her reaction stemmed from annoyance or incredulity, and he was too tired to keep probing. Somewhere, somehow, he had lost his wallet, leaving him with no means of paying for transportation, but there was no point in explaining. Something in her cool eyes made him feel like a fool for trying; she had already judged him and found him wanting.

Damn it, why? Questions pounded through his mind, but he had no answers. He shook his head and stepped away from the refrigerator. He needed food as badly as he needed rest, but he was too tired to eat and too hungry to sleep. He yanked open the refrigerator door, removed a loaf of bread, spread a thin layer of butter over two slices of bread, and placed them in the toaster oven. He pushed on the tiny lever and turned to her. “Would you like something for breakfast?”

“There’s nothing in there I want.”

That was just as well. The little food he had in his apartment would have to last until he replaced his driver’s license, credit cards, and ATM cards. The toaster oven pinged softly. He removed the slices of bread from the toaster oven and placed them on a plate. He would have joined her at the table, but his empathic senses warned him to keep his distance. A woman’s bad mood was more trouble than he needed at that time. Instead, he stood by the kitchen counter and ate his breakfast, washing it down with tap water. Some of the tension eased out of his shoulders as the grinding pain in his stomach slowly dissipated.

Rest would help too, though most of his tension had nothing to do with the lack of food or rest. He would have to deal with the churning madness of emotions he could not understand. He would come to terms with them, likely neither gracefully nor well, but he would survive. He was almost certain of it.

His meager meal completed, he rinsed the plate, placed it in the drying rack, and turned to face her. He met her coolly assessing gaze. How can you find me wanting when you don’t even know me, he wanted to ask, but with two days of missing memories, he could not assume anything anymore. Considering the intensity of her anger, he suspected that the better question was How badly did I piss you off?

An ironic smile curved his lips. Getting off on a rotten start with someone he found compelling was unfortunate. She was beautiful. Long, dark hair framed large violet eyes, a slender nose, and sultry mouth. Her skin was the color of a golden dusk and smooth as silk. Physical beauty was incidental, though. He was personally acquainted with the curse of abundant physical beauty and knew not to place any weight on the appearance of the fragile mortal shell.

Instead, he studied her through the eyes of an alpha empath. His breath caught in his throat. Zara was more than beautiful. She was dazzling. Her emotional spectrum danced in a rainbow of cascading sparkles. Complex patterns swirled light with darkness to create art, both subtle and bold. He could never tire of looking at Zara.

“What do you remember?” she asked again.

“Nothing.”

“You must remember something.”

“I don’t. And I don’t want to.” He looked away. That was the right answer, the safe answer, until he figured out what was going on.

“Don’t want to?” Her fingernails tapped an impatient rhythm on the table.

“My memories were taken for a reason. I don’t want them back.”

“That’s it? Someone rips out your memories, steals days from your life, and you just shrug and walk away?”

A muscle twitched in his smooth cheek. If only she knew how accurately she had described it. Ripping was an accurate—albeit tame—way of categorizing the gut-wrenching agony of losing memories. He could not remember what he had lost, but he could remember the process of losing them. That particular memory expelled a sly lick of nausea that coated his throat and made it hard to breathe.

Two days. What could have happened in those two days? He had enjoyed the benevolent protection of the Mutant Affairs Council for sixteen years. Would he challenge their decision now? Did he dare? “I trust the council,” he said simply.

“I thought you were stupid. Now I know you’re also incredibly naïve. You trust the council?”

Did he? Danyael could not meet her penetrating gaze. Was he denying the truth or bracing for a lie? He was not certain. “I—”

“Stupid, naïve and scared.”

His eyes narrowed. Her emotions seemed rooted in more than just the repulsive effect of his psychic shields. “Where does this blanket hatred of me come from?”

“From those memories you’re running away from,” she responded sweetly.

He dragged his left hand through his hair. The conversation was pointless. “I need to rest.”

“Go for it.” She did not move from the chair.

“I need privacy. I can find you a hotel room in Manhattan.”

She shook her head. “It’s not happening.”

“I need to rest, and to do that, I need to be alone.”

“You need to be alive.” Zara pushed away from the chair and strode toward him. Her deadly lope reminded him of a stalking tiger. “You have no memories, so trust me on this one. You’re in deep shit, and no amount of posturing or saying that you remember nothing is going to get you out of it.”

Her words chilled him. She hated him, but equally—and oddly—he sensed her genuine commitment to keeping him alive. In spite of how rough the past few hours had been, he was not ready to give up on life yet.

Trust. If he could not trust his instincts, what could he trust?

Danyael stepped out in faith. He met her gaze and released his breath unsteadily. “Fine,” he said. “Do you need to use the restroom?”

Confusion replaced the cold fire in her gaze. “No.”

“All right. If you need it, knock and wait for me to respond before you come in.”

“You’re going to sleep in the bathroom?”

He threw a quick glance around the small studio apartment. “There’s nowhere else private here.” He shrugged helplessly. There was no way to explain without giving himself away. “I need to be alone.”

“I know you’re a mutant.”

At least her answer explained some of her feelings toward him. “Thank you for saving me the trouble of explaining.”

He stepped into the bathroom, closed the door behind him, and shrugged out of his jacket. The leather was old and soft; he could use it as a pillow. The bathroom floor was not long enough for him to stretch out, but he was tired enough that it would not matter. He lay down, inhaled deeply, and carefully lowered his psychic shields as he breathed out.

The tightness in his jaw relaxed slightly. The tension around his neck and shoulders eased subtly. So many questions were left unanswered, but none mattered then. His eyes fluttered closed as fatigue dragged him down to sleep.

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First Chapters – When The Silence Ends by Jade Kerrion

Todays First Chapter is from When the Silence Ends another terrific book by my friend and fellow author Jade Kerrion.

Jade WhenTheSilenceEnds

DESCRIPTION

When you choose your friends, you also choose your enemies.

Seventeen-year old Dee wants nothing more than to help her twin brother, Dum, break free from the trauma in their childhood and speak again, but the only person who can help Dum is the alpha empath, Danyael Sabre, whom the U.S. government considers a terrorist and traitor.

The search for Danyael will lead Dee and Dum from the sheltered protection of the Mutant Affairs Council and into the violent, gang-controlled heart of Anacostia. Ensnared by Danyael’s complicated network of friends and enemies, Dee makes her stand in a political and social war that she is ill equipped to fight. What can one human, armed only with her wits and pepper spray, do against the super-powered mutants who dominate the Genetic Revolution?

America, nevertheless, is ripe for transformation. Exhausted by decades of belligerence between humans and their genetic derivatives–the clones, in vitros, and mutants–society is on the verge of falling apart or growing up. Dee, with her sassy attitude and smart mouth, is the unwitting pebble that starts the avalanche of change. In her quest to help her brother become normal, Dee will finally learn what it means to be extraordinary.

index

Dee gritted her teeth and winced as her brother screamed. The sound raked like nails on chalkboard, shuddering down her spine. She glanced at her watch. Dum was eight minutes into a half-hour session; she did not think he would make it the entire way. He had never made it through a lesson, not without passing out or throwing up.

“You have to focus.” Arlene Gunter’s gravelly voice had the crisp bite of a New York accent. The white-haired woman sighed. She was pencil-thin and sat with her hands neatly folded in her lap. Her brow furrowed with the hint of a frown, her lined face making her appear older than her sixty-five years. “Catch your breath, and we’ll try again.”

Dum, his shoulders hunched against the pain, shuddered in his seat. His white-knuckled fingers clenched into the side of his chair, and sweat beaded on his forehead. He did not look up, nor did he attempt to meet Dee’s gaze.

Dee ground her teeth at the obvious conclusion. Dum did not expect sympathy or support from her. Idiot. Did he think it was easy for her to sit across from him each day and watch him suffer through the torture they called “training”?

“All right,” Arlene said, straightening in her chair. “Let’s try again.”

To take her mind off the erratic rhythm of Dum’s heaving breaths, Dee allowed her gaze to drift across the training room. It was small but comfortable, one of the more attractive training rooms in the Mutant Affairs Council headquarters. Framed pictures of seascapes dotted the cream-painted walls. Suede couches and chairs, the soft color of bronzed honey, were plush and inviting.

Dee flipped over to sprawl on her stomach and stared without interest at the bowl of candy. The bowl was refreshed each day; today, it offered gold- and silver-foiled chocolate, but even that treat failed to lure her. I’m way past anything chocolate can redeem.

Dum’s scream, a high-pitched sound of an animal in pain, ripped through her. Dee jerked upright and glared at Arlene.

The old woman shook her head and sighed again, a careworn sound. “I barely pushed.”

“He’s tired,” Dee retorted.

“That’s a pitiful excuse. His enemies are not going to care if he’s tired when they attack. And as for you—”

Pain stabbed like daggers into Dee’s mind. She doubled over, whimpering, as nausea churned through her stomach.

Arlene huffed, exasperated.

Dee yanked a stingy gasp of air into her burning lungs and looked up at the alpha telepath. “Damn you.”

“I’m teaching you to be strong.”

“You don’t teach strength by beating people up.” Dee threw her arm around her brother’s trembling shoulders. Gently, she brushed sweat-soaked locks from his brow. “You’ve done nothing but hurt him.”

“He needs strong psychic shields, and this is the only way to build them.”

“Your way isn’t working.”

Arlene flicked her wrist in a dismissive gesture. “I have trained hundreds of people and found none as stubborn as the two of you. This process should have taken weeks, not months. We’re coming up on six months now, and his shields are no stronger than they were the day he walked in.”

The door opened, and Seth Copper looked into the room. The newly appointed director-general of the Mutant Affairs Council was in his early fifties, but he possessed the vitality of a younger man and the chiseled good looks of a movie star. He wore a black suit, tieless, with the careless grace of a model. “Is there a problem here?” he asked. His voice, a polished bass, could have made anyone believe anything.

Dee sighed. “It depends on your point of view.”

Seth’s deep blue gaze flicked over Dum. “Arlene, call it a day. I’ll take it from here. There’s something I need to tell them anyway.”

Shaking her head, Arlene pushed to her feet and stalked out of the room. Seth shut the door behind her and sat down in the chair that Arlene had vacated. “How are you two doing?”

“Better, now that you’re here. I don’t see why you can’t train Dum instead of Arlene and Henry training him. You’d do a much better job.”

Seth chuckled, but the sound lacked humor. “Thank you for the vote of confidence, but training is what I’ve come to talk about. There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just get it out and then answer all your questions. I’ve just been informed that we’re no longer allowed to train you…” His gaze flashed over to Dum. “Specifically, we’re no longer permitted to train Dum.”

Dee’s jaw dropped. “But without training, he’s never going to be normal. You promised to train him to use his powers.”

“And someday, I’m sure we can. It’s just that, right now, the political climate isn’t receptive to the idea of training mutants who were formerly associated with a terrorist group—”

Dee bristled. “We were never a part of Sakti.”

“But you lived at Elysium, which was a front for Sakti, and you were both openly mentored by Elysium’s founder, Reyes Maddox.”

“Reyes had nothing to do with Sakti.”

Seth’s tone remained calm, even reasonable. “Reyes had everything to do with Sakti. His clone led Sakti—”

Dee shot to her feet. “His clone, not Reyes!”

Seth sighed. “Dee, things aren’t as black and white as they appear to you—”

“Nothing has been black and white for months now. I don’t know enemies from friends. After the council attacked and destroyed Elysium six months ago—and killed hundreds of its residents—you took us in and offered to train Dum. Now that the political opinion has flipped, you’ve decided not to help us? He needs your help.”

Seth reached for Dee’s hand. His grasp was firm but gentle. Dee’s racing pulse steadied at his touch. He smiled, and the corner of his eyes crinkled, matching his warmth and humor. “You’re right, Dum needs help. Officially, the Mutant Affairs Council can’t help you, but I still can, and I want to. I’m not going to abandon either of you.”

“Okay.” The tightness around her chest eased. Dee glanced at her brother, but Dum’s brown-eyed gaze was rooted to the carpet. She exhaled, the sound scarcely more than a sigh. “Won’t helping Dum get you into trouble?”

“Yes, and that’s why we’ll have to keep it low key. My position at the Mutant Affairs Council won’t protect me from the repercussions of working with someone on the blacklist. I can train Dum, but it’s not going to stay a secret for long if you’re at the training sessions with him. It’s best if you run interference. If others are busy watching you, they won’t have time to question what Dum is doing with his time.”

Her instincts flared and Dee scowled. “I don’t like that. I’m sticking with him.”

Seth frowned.

Dee shivered at the barely perceptible, downward curve of his lips.

Seth’s tone remained reasonable, but she acutely sensed his displeasure when he asked, “And what have you accomplished in the past six months of attending his training sessions? Nothing.”

The truth rankled, but Dee braced herself against the nagging doubt and shook her head. “I need to watch out for him.”

“Dee, you’re both seventeen. He can watch out for himself, and you’re going to have to start living separate lives.”

“Maybe, but not yet.”

“It’ll have to be soon. I am the only one who can help you, but you can’t, in all fairness, expect me to take that kind of professional risk for Dum without your cooperation.”

Dee swallowed hard. Her legs trembled at the thought of losing their only friend and supporter at the Mutant Affairs Council. She sank into her chair and laced her fingers around her knees. She looked up at Seth. His expression was compassionate, and she garnered enough courage to ask, “What…what about Danyael?”

An expression flashed across Seth’s face, too fast, indecipherable. “Danyael Sabre wants nothing to do with the council.”

“But he’s an alpha empath, and if anyone can help Dum—”

“Danyael is a class-five threat, and Dum is on the blacklist. The last thing Dum needs at this point is to be associated with a class-five threat.” Seth pushed to his feet. His disapproval rocked her like a blast of frigid air. “Think it over, Dee, and get back to me when you think Dum is ready to move ahead with his training.”

He closed the door behind him and left them to the silence of their thoughts. Dee’s sigh broke the quiet that fell over the room. She glanced at her twin brother. Dum huddled in his chair, his arms wrapped around his denim-clad legs. His brown hair fell in an unruly mop, concealing his eyes. “What do you think?” she asked him.

Dum said nothing. She did not expect a reply from him. After all, he had not spoken since he was five.

~*~

Fifteen minutes later, Dee and Dum left the training room, tossed out by two alpha telepaths who had a working session scheduled in the room. Dee’s stomach rumbled as she headed down the corridor toward the dining room. Dum followed, lost in his own world. Dimly, Dee could hear the music blasting out of the ear pods tucked into Dum’s ears.

They were not the only ones at dinner, but somehow, Dee did not think she and Dum would be welcomed by the quartet of alpha mutants chatting at a corner booth. Instead, she filled her plate at the buffet table and settled down a small table on the opposite side of the room. Dum sat across from her and began eating in his precise, methodical way. She watched him for a moment and then, with a sigh, started on her own dinner. The food was good, the selection extensive, and the quality exceptional; nothing at all like the single-course, mass-produced meals at Elysium.

Elysium, tucked into a Colorado mountainside, had once been a thriving sanctuary, a home to human derivatives—clones, in vitros, and mutants—seeking a fairer and simpler way of life. It was gone now, and with it, the chaotic swirl of people and the bustle and laughter that accompanied each day. At the council headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, Dee was surrounded with more comfort, ease, and luxury than she had ever enjoyed in her life, but she missed Elysium desperately.

“Can I join you?”

Dee looked up into Jessica Richardson’s bright blue eyes. The teenager balanced her tray unsteadily on her hand. Slim and attractive, with long blond hair that fell like silk around her shoulders, Jessica was two years younger than Dee and Dum, but had lived at the council headquarters for most of her life. She was one of the council trained; a young and powerful alpha mutant raised by the council.

Jessica was also a girl in the flush of a youthful crush. Dum glanced up, looked at her with as much attention as he would have given a blank wall, and refocused on his dinner plate. The hopeful expression on Jessica’s face fell.

Dee chuckled. “Have a seat.”

Her welcome lured the smile back to Jessica’s face. Jessica pulled out a chair with one hand. Her tray wobbled, tilted dangerously, and then straightened, as if supported by an invisible hand.

“Those telekinetic powers sure come in handy,” Dee said with a straight face.

Jessica giggled as she sat next to Dee, conveniently, Dee noted, in full view of Dum. Dee kicked him under the table to get him to notice the pretty blond flirting with him, but he only moved his legs away. Stupid lump, she thought.

“It’s okay,” Jessica said, a soft sigh in her voice.

Dee glared at her.

Jessica had the grace to flush. “I’m sorry. I know you don’t like people reading your thoughts, but you’re not shielded, and it’s hard not to eavesdrop.”

Dee shrugged. Jessica could not help being an alpha telepath and telekinetic, just as Dee could not help being a boring and untalented human. “After living here for half a year, you’d think I’d have figured out how to take mutants in stride, but I haven’t. Then again, I don’t exactly score points for being clued in.” She waved her fork at her twin brother. “I lived next to a mutant all my life, but never knew until six months ago, either.”

“Empaths are hard to identify,” Jessica said quietly.

Jessica’s mention of empaths triggered the memory of Danyael Sabre. “How well do you know Danyael?”

A hint of sadness passed over Jessica’s vivacious features. “Not well. He’s council trained, like me, but he chose not to become an enforcer. We met a couple of times previously when he came through the council headquarters on visits, but I never really knew him well.” Her voice trailed off briefly. “He saved my life, you know.”

“He did? When Sakti attacked D.C.?”

Jessica nodded.

“What happened out there? It’s been two months, but everyone shuts down when I ask about it. Is it supposed to be some kind of secret?”

Jessica shook her head. “No, of course not. It’s just…difficult.”

“Difficult to do what? Provide a simple narrative of what happened?”

“It’s not simple. Power scares us, especially power we don’t understand and can’t control.”

“But all of you are alpha mutants.”

“Danyael’s the only alpha empath most of us know, and after what he did on July Fourth, I don’t think anyone sleeps easy at night anymore.”

“Is that why the council won’t train Dum? Because he’s an empath, like Danyael?”

“Yes, that’s part of the reason. There are lots of empaths, but most don’t account for anything. Empathy is weak, mostly, but the council is worried because Dum has the potential to be a powerful empath like Danyael.”

“Really?” Her brother? An alpha empath? Who would have thought it? Dee propped her elbow on the table and rested her cheek against her fist. “What really happened out there with Sakti?”

Jessica rolled her eyes. “The story goes way too far back.”

“You don’t have to start at the beginning. I already know that Danyael was used as the physical template for Galahad, the perfect human being, and when Galahad escaped—”

“Was freed,” Jessica corrected.

“—from Pioneer Laboratories a few years ago, Danyael got into a heck of a lot of trouble.”

“None of which had anything to do with Galahad,” Jessica pointed out. She sipped her drink before continuing. “Galahad was just an excuse for the Mutant Assault Group to go after Danyael. The assault group had always wanted an alpha empath, and they did everything possible to get him, including kidnapping Danyael’s best friend, Lucien Winter, and implanting mental blocks in Lucien’s mind to turn him against Danyael.”

“The assault group got Danyael in the end, didn’t they?”

“They nearly didn’t. Alex Saunders, the former director general of the council sent Danyael to a maximum-security prison to keep him out of the assault group’s hands, but the assault group conspired with the mutant terrorist group, Sakti, to spring Danyael from prison. Sakti dropped Danyael off at Elysium, and you know what happened there.”

Dee nodded. “The council came looking for Danyael, and the Elysium was destroyed in an explosion after Reyes, Dum, and I escaped with Danyael. Danyael insisted Dum and I wait in Aspen while he and Reyes went to see Lucien Winter, but Danyael never came back for us.” Dee’s voice trailed into silence. How different might her life have been if Danyael had come back for them as he had promised? Instead, the council had found them—

Jessica shrugged. “It’s a good thing we found you instead of the assault group. The assault group picked up Danyael and Reyes when Lucien turned them away. Danyael started training the assault group’s super soldier army, and that army helped save D.C. when Sakti turned on the assault group and attacked the city.”

“But why did Sakti attack the city?”

“I think Sakti’s leader, Thomas Maddox, didn’t like the fact that his father and donor, Reyes, was paying Danyael more attention.”

Dee’s eyes narrowed. “That’s ridiculous.”

“Jealousy and insanity drive people to do strange things,” Jessica said. “When Sakti attacked D.C., Danyael came up with a plan to stop them. We lured Sakti to Theodore Roosevelt Island—”

“We? Were you part of the plan too?”

Jessica chuckled. “Danyael was furious when he learned that I was involved—he has some weird notion about keeping kids out of fights—but I was the only person capable of channeling the combined power of the council’s enforcers. Of course, I had to be there. I was shot by accident, but Danyael healed me and saved my life. I then blasted apart Sakti’s psychic shields, lowered a telekinetic dome, and Danyael lowered his psychic shields.”

“And then what?” Dee asked when Jessica remained silent.

“They died. Sakti died, all five hundred of them.”

Dee’s brow furrowed. “How?”

“Danyael’s pain drove them to suicide.”

“He can do that?”

Jessica shrugged. “He’s an alpha empath. He can do things that telepaths and telekinetics only dream about.”

“You dream about killing five hundred people at a time?”

The younger teen flushed. “That’s not what I meant. Alpha telepaths and telekinetics are used to looking down on empaths, and then Danyael comes along and proves, in ten seconds, that we’re not nearly as impressive or invulnerable as we think we are. It’s humbling.”

“Most of the people from Sakti who died that day were mutants, weren’t they?”

Jessica nodded. “They could have been any of us if we’d believed differently about the path to social equality.”

“Wow,” Dee murmured.

“Yeah, wow. Makes it hard to sleep at night.”

“But it’s still not fair that the council won’t help Dum just because of something Danyael did.”

“The council’s not so good at fair these days. Just ask Danyael. The council royally screwed him over. But you know Danyael too, don’t you?”

“Yeah, for all of a day. We met him at Elysium, and that same night, the council destroyed it.” In her few hours of contact with Danyael, Dee had come to like him. She had asked him to help Dum, and he had agreed, but he had never had the chance. He had, however, protected them through the terrifying chaos when Elysium burned. “Do you know where he hangs out these days?”

Jessica nodded. “He works at the free clinic in Anacostia.”

“That’s not far, is it?”

Jessica looked up from her plate. “You don’t get out much, do you?”

“No, the council hasn’t exactly encouraged sightseeing.”

“Well, it’s been a bit hostile out there, especially since the Fourth. No one has the energy to fake normality these days. Anacostia isn’t far from Alexandria, but it’s a total dump. I wouldn’t go there, especially not after dark.”

Dee snorted. “You’re an alpha telepath and telekinetic.”

“Which has nothing to do with not wanting to go into Anacostia.”

Dee looked across the table at her brother. Dum had finished eating and was sitting at the table, his eyes closed as he bobbed in time with his music, oblivious to the world around him. The ache that clawed at her chest was so familiar that she scarcely felt it anymore. She did not want to go into Anacostia either, but for Dum’s sake, she had to.

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