Authors: Angela White
Tags: #futuristic love story, #apocalyptic romance, #angela white, #action romance, #Fantasy Series, #romantic horror, #apocalypse rebellion
I reeled back. Hadn't I thought of the sisters as Games sacrifices and I, their executioner? How awfully right I'd been! To prevent future challenges to their control, the Network had rounded up a group of weaker females and killed them all through me and the other Changelings. And it was happening every week, in every game the Network ran.
“And the winners?”
Her voice was kinder than I deserved. “They never know.”
“But the episode is always rigged, filled with uneven matches and death contracts?”
She nodded, muttered lowly. “It was good, what you did for the males.
Fresh food today, and again yesterday.
They look better already.”
I didn't answer, too dazed. I'd been used, betrayed in ways totally different from the ones we’d all accepted. So had Candice… and her Mother? Had it been going on that long? To willingly sign up was one thing, but to be lured into death in order to send food and medical credits to your family? That was as wrong as it got.
I ignored the Den Mother observing these thoughts spread across my face, but when I asked her a single question, she was ready.
“Can I count on you in the future?”
“Yes. You'll try to kill her?”
I returned her look, giving this strange woman my promise. “I’ll do better than try.”
I turned to the door. My family and I had connections to be called upon, methods at our disposal that no one, not even the Network, knew of. And until then, I had a prize to claim…. an untouched male who would stay that way.
I opened the door, hoping I had even half the control Candice had shown by not hurting Daniel when he hadn’t recognized her.
I stared at her in horror, my new owner. She was streaked in blood, clenched fists leaving crimson splatters. Without the usual cloak, her sleeveless shirt and thick, bare arms were also covered in red sprays. Under all that gore were tattoos and muscles in equal amounts.
Pink turned to crimson as she scented me. She was wound too tightly from keeping control and the brutal cage match hadn’t been enough to quell it. This was my end of the deal now, to offer the relief she needed, and I was terrified.
I wanted to warn the rebels, to be free of this place for the first time in fifteen years… but it was my home, too. Faced with this brutal Changeling, warning the rebels that the Network knew where the Safe Zone was, suddenly seemed trivial compared to surviving what I’d willingly agreed to.
Why had I feared her?
was the one who might kill me.
Now that the deed was done, my future set, I couldn’t move. I could talk, though, and I forced my submission out through quivering lips. “Anything you want.”
I could see the heavy strain she was under as her eyes blazed red, the way she’d been keeping her needs caged. With the Change, that was dangerous, and I dropped to my knees, waiting for the snap.
“Anything you want.”
The feeling slammed through my head, driving the heat back up. I’d won him. He was mine...
No, he wasn’t.
The rage increased, threatening to flip me back into an animal in my grief, and I moved for the washroom at a quick clip. I wasn’t safe right now, and he couldn’t help.
I slammed the door, turned the flimsy lock. I now had a mate who didn’t want me. What the hell had I gone through all of that for?
My heart clenched and I dropped to sit on the floor, shivering in torment. I’d won the game, but lost myself. All I could feel was need and hurt, and I stayed where I was as it burned through me like flames racing across dry grass.
I was safe with her.
The stories about these strange Pruett women were true and I was delighted to discover it. I wouldn’t be hurt… but she would be. I’d tricked her, drawn her to my scent with no thought for her pain, and honor wouldn’t even let her accept the service I’d been trained to deliver.
I waited for the sound of water or any noise, but there was only a tense silence that had me worrying. She was suffering and I had a low tolerance for that. Hadn’t Rankin’s begging broken me as much as her anger? Last night had been no different. She’d taken me to the brink and then held me there until I was the one pleading for relief… At least I hadn’t bled this time. I suspected the Network was to thank for that. They hadn’t liked being embarrassed on live waves.
I looked around. All three rooms of the winner’s apartment were barren, covered in only the most basic of drab brown furnishings. The walls appeared wooden, but I was sure it was something more durable to survive so long. They were smooth and neat, and didn’t appear to have much wear and tear. I’d often wondered how the Network managed that without constantly having a construction crew up here. Changelings were notoriously violent.
Against my better judgment, I moved toward the door, not sure what I would say.
“Would it help to eat?”
My breath caught at the sound of his voice just outside the door. In my misery, I hadn’t heard his steps.
“Yes.” Anything to get him away from me!
I had faced my future, my rebel choice, but I’d been ignoring this feeling of desolation. I had no idea how I’d spend the next two days…
“What would you like?”
A pause, while he realized I didn’t care, only wanted him to leave me be.
“What?” I couldn’t stop the snarl.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know this would be so… bad for you.”
I squeezed my lids together so tight that stars swam across my vision. “I’ll live.”
And I would, though the next weeks would bring me to my limits, I was already sure.
I felt him reaching for the doorknob, and turned around to slam my fist through the bottom panel.
My claws curled around his ankle in an iron grip. Flames shot through my skin at the contact, and I snatched my hand back. “You step through this door and you’ll be mine, willing or not!”
I listened to him flee and dropped my head, taking deep breaths that let me see pink instead of red. I used an image of Candice and her superhuman control, concentrating.
Flat black snapped into place as I pulled the heat in, and I spent a moment making plans. Other than this new torment I was being cursed with, not much had changed. We would still meet my sister, Sam, and she would escort us to where Baker and the smaller group of rebels were pinned down. From there, we would all head to the Safe Zone.
Pink rushed back over me at the thought of being in a base with more than 400 males like Jason, and I shoved it away in frustration. I would have to build up a tolerance. To survive this without hurting anyone, I had to be able to make it to the Safe Zone, where the majority of Baker’s males were hiding, waiting for him. Surely in all those arms, would be one
to have a mate like me.
I stood up, got the shower running as I stripped. In the safe zone were males I hadn’t seen yet. One of them would affect me the way Jason did and then I’d have my bachelor, my mate. I didn’t have to have
“I’ve decided I’ll take you up on your offer of a service.”
I froze with a knife and fork in my grip, surprised more by my own reaction that her giving in. My fear was huge, but my body had twitched. I assumed it was a result of being left unsatisfied last night, the drugs lingering in my system, and shifted uncomfortably. I tried to clear my face before turning, hearing her as she came from the washroom. The tile floor allowed little quiet movement, even for a Changeling.
I had to revise my theory right away. It wasn’t the drugs. I’d never seen Angelica without blood on her. She was… beautiful. Golden muscles covered in tattoos gleamed with water still falling from her wild hair, and the soft material of her black shirt soaked up those drops to outline breasts that grew pointed under my interest.
I dropped my head lower and felt that dangerous male side of me wake further. Her legs were long, curved, rippling magnets I couldn’t look away from as she stepped from the washroom. Black shorts stopped my view mid-thigh, and sent my gaze back to those perky breasts.
I swallowed. Maybe it wasn’t so bad she’d changed her mind.
Seeing that he did want me, even if it was only my body, went a long way in keeping me under control. It soothed my ego a bit to know he was drooling over what I’d chosen to show and I gave him a snort, pulling his hot eyes back to mine.
Jason flushed, reading my amusement.
“You’re better now.”
“I’ll live.” I pulled on my robe as I headed for the table he had set. “I need something from you, too. We’ll deal.”
He instantly turned back into a fearful Network male, and I shook my head, eager to have the rules set. “You won’t service me.”
“You will help me build up a tolerance to males.”
His brow wrinkled in confusion…and a little disappointment? Yes.
I drew in air, went on with the plan I knew to be solid. “Make contact, talk to me, be yourself with no rules or limits. Enough of it will either kill me or cure me.”
“Make contact, talk to me, be yourself with no rules or limits.
It was what I wanted for my future, the life I craved, and she was offering to let me practice on her. “Why would you do that?”
The good mood went out of her voice to be replaced with a fear I hadn’t suspected her capable of.
“There are hundreds where we’re going.”
Instead of relief or shock, jealousy was the emotion now rolling through my gut. “You’ll pick one of them?”
I winced at her pain.
“Will you help?”
“Yes,” I answered, trying not to let her read my thoughts. Angelica might make a good mate, I’d begun to realize that already, but I’d blown that with my desperate lies…hadn’t I?
“What are the rules?”
She gave me that sharp smirk, but I saw her fingers bend the spoon into a foreign shape.
“There are three. One - this will seem real to those we spend time around. In public, I want it to.”
I assumed she didn’t want them to know she was bargaining with her new prize and nodded. “Two?”
The spoon broke in half, reminding me of our first moments together. If I’d suspected this level of pain for her, I might have made other plans.
“I’m pure. I’ll stay that way for
mate. You will not… force things because you feel pity for me.”
The snarl in her tone was ugly, and I managed to keep myself still only by sheer will.
It hit me an instant later. She really wasn’t a breeder. I’d thought maybe she was lying to ease our fears and I pushed away the thought of those perky breasts that had never known a man’s hands… mouth.
“This deal isn’t over until I pick a replacement.”
Meaning I would stay with her until she chose one of the rebels. Weeks with her, maybe even months of getting to know her…
and making sure the other males didn’t.
I wasn’t sure where that thought had come from, and I sent her an uneasy smile, wondering again if she would kill me when she found out what lengths I was going to in order to be sure... of what?
That of my children.
My sons wouldn’t be ripped from their mother’s lifeless, burnt-out arms or watch their father die from a Changeling snap.
“I agree… with a condition. I need to be retrained.”
“Where did you hear that?”
“Rankin. She said that’s what Candice had done to Daniel.”
My sight turned pink and I willed it away. That rage was easier to banish than the need and I picked up the second spoon and dipped it into the bowl without caring what he’d made. “Explain what you mean by retrained.”
“I want to be like Daniel.”
That’s what I want, too
, I thought, keeping my head down. Jason was had those big arms resting on the table, leaned forward slightly in a manor that made me want to leave my chair and seal our lips. “How do you know about him?”
“I was part of the prizes last month.”
I thought quickly. “Was he brave here, too?”