Authors: Angela White
Tags: #futuristic love story, #apocalyptic romance, #angela white, #action romance, #Fantasy Series, #romantic horror, #apocalypse rebellion
I hung my head. “I wish you wouldn’t.”
Baker studied me, seeing more than I wanted him to, but he was like that. We’d had a very long conversation on the train, right before Candice agreed to help him prepare his rebels, and I trusted this hard, yet twitchy leader.
“Does he know you care?”
I quickly shook my head. “No, and I don’t want him to. Willing, Baker, not convinced or persuaded.”
Baker grunted. “He’ll think it’s only for relief if you don’t tell him otherwise.”
“You’re definitely a Pruett.”
I snorted, moving over to allow the approaching group to join us. “And then some.”
I waved a hand. “This is your newest member, Jason Parker.”
Baker stepped forward to shake and Jason did the same, eyes widening at the sight of another hero. Baker was a legend to all of the bachelors in the complex.
“I have to talk to you - alone.”
Baker didn’t ask for permission as he directed my prize to a quiet corner, and my heart cried out as the final chain snapped. That was it. I had to let him go now.
I turned toward the lined walls, searching the interested faces of the rebel males, hoping for any spark, but there was only dark pain.
I met my cousin’s gaze without shame or censoring my private hell. I loved Sam, but Candy and I had grown up together. She seemed older, but stronger than the last time I’d seen her. Being here was good for my love-struck cousin.
had been good for her. Why couldn’t I have picked someone like him?
I moved for the entrance. I thought I had just enough time to make a place to guard from before the storm hit. If Rankin came in on its heels, we would know. And after this was done, maybe I’d go on alone for awhile - whatever it took to get Jason’s scent out of my thoughts, my dreams.
That intent stride to the door caught my immediate attention.
Before I could call her name, Angelica glanced back. There was so much longing, so much pain in that expression, that I took a step toward her.
Angelica stopped me with a single shake of her head, and I watched those emotions get hidden behind her wall. As a free man, I didn’t have the duty, the honor, of comforting her.
She held my gaze for a moment longer, searching me… and then walked out.
Baker had been observing. “She’s kept her end of the deal. This is what you want, isn’t it?”
I gave a quick nod, but inside… “Will she come back?”
“Yes, but probably not until she can handle your freedom without interfering.”
“But I don’t…” I snapped my mouth shut, very aware of how closely Baker was studying my reaction.
“Don’t want to be away from her?”
I flushed. “She’s different than other women.”
“She’s a Pruett.”
“And they’re for freedom.”
“Yes. Even against
needs. It’s a very rare family you’ve just turned down being a part of.”
Baker saw my silent agreement, and pushed. “It’s not too late.”
I thought about my dreams, and then Angelica’s hard rule concerning children. “Yes, it is. We don’t want the same things.”
, the future.
It’s never better for the rebels.”
I remembered then, why all of this had come about in the first place, and I began spilling my secrets. As I talked, Candice and Daniel came close enough to listen.
I tried to make sure I didn’t miss any details, but my ears were waiting for the sound of a bike to start up. How long would I go without seeing her? Would I be able to stand it without begging someone to take me to her?
And what about Rankin?
I confessed that nasty secret with a shamed voice. “Our tail is the new Head Defender.”
All of them knew by the tone that there was more and I gave the information in a muttered rush. “She was very upset that Angelica picked me.”
“Another plot twist,” Candice stated, staring at my bandaged arm. “And here we all thought this would be a relaxing vacation.”
There was a sarcastic snort of laughter from the group that had me controlling a flinch. Dust coated the uneven floor around us in thin waves that would soon turn to piles and I shivered at the thought of Angelica being alone in that violence.
Outside, the sky rumbled in warning. The dry crack of the coming dust was the same as a thunderstorm to these males, and I wasn’t surprised to see a few of the rebels cringe.
“That explains where they went.” Daniel commented, voice rumbling.
Candice ran a loving hand over his, drawn, and Daniel flushed in happiness.
They seemed perfect for each other. I was willing to bet on their children being immune. The magic was hard to miss.
“Some of it,” Candice answered, sharp gaze back on me. “Still, it’s odd that she would leave so soon…”
“She’s gone already?”
My worried interruption drew surprised attention from her family.
Once again, I flushed. It seemed like that was all I could do. I just wasn’t comfortable around people, men or women. “She was good to me. I wanted to say goodbye.”
Candice gave me another of those appraising stares. “She may stop back after she finds your admirer.”
I gaped in shock.
That’s not enough against Rankin!”
I was surprised by the fresh snorts and scornful laughter.
“With you burning in her guts, Angel doesn’t even need Sam with her.”
I was relieved to know she wasn’t alone, but the rest of the conversation and plans to get me settled were vague voices. Angelica had gone to stand between me and Rankin. I might never see her again.
It felt good to be on guard.
I’d missed it during the last months, and I used my sharp senses to pick out any sign of human movement in the roiling waves of dust that surrounded everything. We’d spent a few hours combing the area before the storm got too bad to see, but hadn’t found anything.
We knew we still had a tail. We’d seen too many ground-level clouds even before The Ring had attacked to assume otherwise, but Rankin was slick, staying out of sight. Now that we’d reached the first stop and joined Baker, another attack was likely.
Even if she couldn’t get a call through, it was only a matter of time before the Network chose to handle things remotely. I was hoping we still had a few days before they ran out of patience. I had plans of my own I wanted to see through. When Rankin came in to make the verification, I planned to grab her and dole out a fast match of justice. If I couldn’t get to her, I’d make her come to me.
I wondered what secrets Jason might have told Baker by now, but I thought it didn’t matter at this point. The problem was bigger than Rankin, and we all knew it. Once this tracker was off our scent, the trouble would come anyway. The Network was unpredictable, and I’d never known of a family to go against them the way ours was now. Guessing what might happen was impossible.
“I think it’s time we talked.”
Sam and I were sheltered against a stone wall a mile from the cave. Once the storm let up, the view of the rebel hole-up and the rocky ground around it would be unblocked, but for now, anything moving was only debris or the dead.
I let out a sigh. “Get it over with then.”
“He doesn’t really want to be free, and I know what
want. What’s the problem?”
That image of another woman being filled with life, loving his children, came to my tortured mind. I winced at the sharp pain.
“Your kids might not be infected.”
Sam and I weren’t as close as I was with Candice and it surprised me that she knew my deepest fear. I didn’t answer. We both knew the odds on it.
“So, what will you do?”
I revealed the plan with no interest in my voice. “Pick a replacement… Start taking services, I guess.”
“From Baker’s rebels?”
I took the best of the Network lot.”
Sam chuckled. “I knew this trip would be worth the ride.”
I snorted at her wild optimism as I did another quick sweep. Seeing nothing but howling sand, I let myself ask a question I’d always wondered about. “Don’t you feel it, Sam? Doesn’t it burn you up inside, too?”
I was gratified, and shocked, to see her eyes blaze with pain for a brief moment before she smothered it. I expected something sharp, or even a fight to distract me. What I didn’t expect, was her brutal honesty.
“So much that I go out and spill blood to keep from taking them against their will.”
She saw my shock and smiled, a bit bitterly. “We’re Pruetts, right?
Willing matters to all of us.”
Somehow, I’d never thought of my sister having a conscience, and to know for sure that she didn’t rape males had me viewing her in a new light. I’d always assumed she took what she wanted. What an act she’d played!
“It helped a little, being at the Games. I had a place to put it,” I confessed.
My sister’s expression was one of guilty obsession. “A service is better than the pain.”
I nodded, but inside, I knew the way she relieved it would never be enough for me. It had eased the fire to spill blood, but the cure, my vaccine against this torment, was Jason.
I turned back to the barren landscape with a heart that refused to stop bleeding. I kept the conversation going to be distracted from it. “Do you think you’ll ever settle down?”
I wasn’t sure Sam was going to answer, and that was another surprise. The wild sister I’d grown up with would have quickly denied such a future for herself.
“I don’t know.”
I gaped and received an
“It’s hard to see, to be around, and not want my own.”
I knew that feeling all too well. I smiled bitterly this time. “The Games are open…”
Again, I was surprised by the hesitation in my sister’s low tone.
“Or, you could stay and help with the rebels. You already know Candy’s hoping for it.”
Sam smirked at that challenge, seeming more like my sister than she had since meeting us at the train.
“Do I get to sniff the rebels, too?”
I laughed, grateful for my family. “We’ll hunt together.”
Sam returned my leer, but there was a serious note to her words that caught me, held me.
“What do you hope to find in them?”
I sensed my answer mattered to her, and gave the truth.
I was braced to take her surprise or even scorn, but not more pain from my rock-hard, wild-as-hell sister.
“I used to believe in that, too.”
I couldn’t stop myself from asking, despite our usual habit of leaving each other alone. “What happened?”
Sam waved toward the group of females who were currently on guard inside the cave.
“I’m closer to them than my own parents. I take a service when it gets too bad for the blood to push it back. I’ve lived this way for twenty years, and never once in all that time, did I find a male that I
to be away from.”
Sam’s face tightened into that hard mask we all expected from her. “I lost faith.”
She swung around to sweep behind us. “He’s drawn to you.”
A clever switch of topics to keep me from questioning further, it worked. “It doesn’t matter.”
She snorted, but didn’t push, and I wallowed in my misery while she looked out for me, like she’d always done.
“One of my Runners wants him - if he chooses to be a renter.”
Sam’s harsh laughter brayed out. “Those Network bachelors must be something.”
I didn’t answer, but inside, I suspected right then what she might end up doing and she had my full support. With any luck, I’d be there to cheer her from the stands and guard her back like she would have mine if there hadn’t been other duties for her to perform then.
“Where is he?”
“It’s only been five hours. Should he be so… upset already?”
“No, but in this case, I think they got close on the trip here.”
“Owners are our safety net.”
Daniel’s words to the women drew my interest as I listened to them eat, laugh, and talk… about me.
“Without an owner, a bachelor is defenseless.”
Daniel’s voice held shame that I recognized - didn’t I have my own?
“They make it so that’s all you want. When you don’t have it, the sense of being lost is hard to handle. It’s why most males are sedated when they leave the complex.”
There was pride in those words and I assumed he hadn’t been drugged either upon leaving with a Pruett. It was another thing we had in common.