Authors: Angela White
Tags: #futuristic love story, #apocalyptic romance, #angela white, #action romance, #Fantasy Series, #romantic horror, #apocalypse rebellion
This reporter, Dana, was dressed in a simple sweater and jeans, unlike most of the others who were constantly trying to out-do each other with the next big fad. Last year, it had been contacts that gave them glowing red orbs while they interviewed. The Network had quickly banned the contacts after one of the Changelings mistook a reporter as a contestant because of it and ripped her throat out on live waves.
Still, I thought I could see the woman’s own attempts to start something with an artfully spiked tattoo that ran from her wrist to disappear under her tan sweater. I narrowed in on it. I’d seen something like that, hadn’t I?
On a man’s arm…
As she moved away, I heard a lowly spoken order to one of the short, bald girls on her flank
“Get a copy of that to the Zone and be quiet about it.”
That was where Candice and the rest of my family had headed, where I’d be going, too, after I collected a prize. Was the reporter a threat? Was she in contact with the rebels?
A spy for them?
I could see more of the tattoo as she twisted up the cord and was able to place it. One of the convicts we’d tracked down last month had sported a matching ink on his arm. That convict had been Baker, the leader of the rebels. He was the one who’d told me the drill noise was the sound of a rookie getting inked and it only surprised me a little to find a rebel sympathizer inside this complex. The stories of Network salaries being very low had always existed, and pay-offs were hard to keep track of.
I wasn't sure yet, how far I might go into the rebel cause, but I'd had two strong faults even before the Change. I'd been
, and I'd been protective of those weaker than me. It seemed that both of those old traits might be heard from and it wasn’t just because Candice was with the rebel males now, starting to retrain them and she needed my help. I’d seen too much, felt too much, to keep ignoring the Network’s crimes. When this was over, I would settle in and do my duty.
Upon entering the Cells this time, the bachelors already seated at the long table. With nervous looks, the Den Mothers withdrew.
It was the same group as the first visit and I nodded to each of them, searching with such intensity that they couldn’t hide their worry. Only two of them didn't flinch when my chair scraped the floor as I sat down.
Feeling heat in thin, shaky waves, I swung my head to find the pristine male from my last visit staring at my body again. I made my voice as inviting as I could. It was time to thin this herd, too. “You'd be mine?”
He hesitated for only an instant, but it was enough. No, not if he had a choice.
The meek answer displeased me, and my slight frown sent him hurrying to make up for it.
“I'd be honored to be your mate.”
I wanted to recoil from the incredible need, shocking me with its strength, but only shook my head. He was too tame.
I surprised them again by offering a bit of comfort. “Good luck to you.”
He stared, startled at the friendly tone. As he left, he sent a searching glance over his broad shoulder, asking one question - had he passed up a good owner?
His replacement, a cute, young redhead, took his seat warily and I looked at those I'd mentally cut on my last visit, eyes picking them out.
That left three here, eight total, remaining to pick from. I saw their relief and obvious confusion as they went, and then I was sucking air into lungs that had none.
There had been 5 bachelors I hadn't seen yet - the redheaded replacement for pristine male, and now four more moved into the room with such a harmony that I scarcely breathed for fear of seeing it broken.
Lean bodies sent to please me…
I swallowed, closed my eyes as they sat.
When the Mothers brought out the sweet-smelling steaks, I finally glanced up to see some of the men viewing the plates with anticipation. My guess had been right - they weren't usually fed this way. I thought of my next interview and waved a hand.
The silence wasn't quite as thick as during my first visit. I felt more in control, but I desperately longed to touch them. I let my pink vision roam their perfect skin instead.
One of these might be mine!
I lingered on the last male to come out. Even compared to the others, he was impressive with those thick arms and perfectly pale skin. Long blond hair flowed in a ponytail down his back and matched the yellow outline of a neat beard I instantly wanted to feel against my fingers.
“Are you a breeder?”
He flushed, shaking his golden head. The color sent heat flaring into my gut without even the sound of his voice.
. I mentally moved him into first place.
“I'd hear how long each of you have been here and of your life before.” I didn't say, ‘
and if you do this willingly’
, but it was clear to my ears.
“We'll start on the right.”
It took most of my hour and their hesitant answers bothered me. Since birth was the most common, but sold by their family was a close second. One had been only 9, torn from his family’s murdered bodies. Another had been stolen from a farm near an old city that he didn't remember well enough to name. A third, with a voice that cut me in half, claimed he'd been won in a card game before being sold to the Network. He'd been so young, 5, that he had no other memories. I sensed that part was a lie, but his pain had been clear enough. Enslaving men had been done for the good of all humankind. I agreed that the riots made protecting the men necessary, but was all this?
“Can we ask you a question now?”
Again, their voices together distracted me from the heat.
“Yes.” What was it that they were most concerned about?
“Have you ever snapped?”
“No. My cousin did - the one who was here last month. When it was my turn to... Change, she taught me how to control it.”
“And does it work well?”
The last to come out asked me the question cautiously, knowing I'd react to his voice alone.
I slammed my eyes shut.
Definitely on the top of my list.
They couldn't argue. If it wasn't true, I'd already have snapped.
“Who do you battle next?”
This was from one of the faces I'd mostly overlooked, the chin-lifter from my first visit, and I took his measure as I answered. “I never know until the match.”
This one was between two more rippling-locked blonds, and that was what had made me pass him by, I realized. He'd been hidden by beauty. His rugged face grew torn with indecision. Almost unpleasant to look at right then, my stomach growled and I dug deeper.
Overlooked wasn’t as widely built or as tall as the others, and the half a sneer was a deterrent I suspected he used intentionally to avoid being picked. It gave him a cruel appearance, but I wondered what he would be like with a smile or a laugh to light up his darkness. Then, he hit me with a full blast of his voice.
“I could probably tell you.”
Implying the matches
It was only a confirmation for me, but the sound of his voice! That tone of intimacy!
There were surprised mutters from the others at the table and I sensed that if anyone could have heard us right now, the violet-striped male on my left wouldn't have spoken.
“What are you doing?!”
Purple stripe was the leader among this lot, it was clear in his reaction, and I wanted to offer my assurance, but I couldn't. Hearing them and their carefully controlled tones was an amazing agony to be battled. Their voices raised in emotion were only to be survived and I remained frozen as each word sank into my lust and spun it harder.
“You think we should?”
On my right, sweet, dark skin close enough to grab.
“It's against the rules!” their leader snapped sharply.
My grip tightened on the fork. Such anger!
“You don't want one of the others in here do you? At least we know we’re safe with this one.”
Overlooked had a sarcastic ring to his voice that instantly brought him up to tie with the blond for the top of my list. He was no cringing male.
“You only know what we’ve all read in the files! Being a Pruett doesn’t mean anything!” the leader again, hissed fury pelting me with white hot gravel that stuck to my skin and burned! I'd been wrong about there being no spark in them. They were as full of rage as I was.
“See,” Overlooked pointed out.
There was a brief silence with their attention solely on me. I held very still...
“She should have snapped already!” A snort of scorn from Overlooked and a waved hand that swirled their scents - that delicious burnt chocolate - into my brain, where it began searing me alive.
An angry shrug came from their leader “Maybe she just doesn't want us very much!”
My head jerked up at that, flames in my solid red orbs. The fork in my grip snapped, digging into my palm…
They all cringed back and because of it, I managed the impossible. I stayed in my seat.
The fork clattered loudly, pieces sliding along the china. Breathing harshly, I lowered my head and concentrated on the slow drip of my blood. After a moment, the conversation, the torment, resumed.
“None of the others we've seen have that kind of control. And we agreed she’s the one,” Overlooked insisted quietly.
I wondered about that, but didn't ask, very aware of my last minutes with them flying by.
“We want a new vote.”
“You’ve seen the matches! She's brutal!”
“It's just the Change.”
“Exactly - a constant danger!
We’d never survive the trip.”
“It’s not dangerous to a true mate.”
Overlooked sounded like he was familiar with it and I let my hot gaze rise to his clean-shaven face. “You know how it works?”
He shook his dark head, beautiful gray gaze almost glowing with something I identified as hope.
“Not really, but… I've heard that there’s a bond, that it's impossible for a mate to be hurt, even in a rage, after it forms.”
I'd heard the same from Candice, but like the other bachelors, I wasn't sure I believed it. “Precautions should still be taken.”
He shrugged in obedience and the movement sent that powerful scent over the table.
He was the one layered in that intoxicating scent and I was betting it was natural. He didn’t seem the type to spend time primping before a mirror. There were too many calluses on his big hands for that, too many tan lines that said unlike the others, he didn’t always stay inside the dome. That was something he had to be doing without the Network’s approval. Males were never alone outside. Because of that, I might have suspected he had a lover but he wasn’t registered.
His eyes met mine with a deliberate gleam that there was no way to miss and my guts churned harder. He wanted me to notice him, remember him. His scent washed over me again and I found myself bringing it into my lungs like I’d been denied air for a very long time. As I smothered a groan at the flames, I snorted mentally. No problems there. I wasn’t likely to forget a
that made me feel out of control. It wasn’t something I’d ever encountered before.
Overlooked wasn’t shying from my gaze, and I held his stare as the heat sparked. “Are you registered?”
He still didn’t look away. “No.”
I realized we were having a conversation in surprise.
He wasn’t afraid to talk to me!
It was another sign of what I needed - courage - and it gave me hope.
“Are you here willingly?”
He gave me an eager smile that made my heart rate increase. “Yes. I’d make someone a good mate.”
I let a bit of red bleed into my eyes. “I don’t doubt that, though I suspect she’d better stay on her toes around you.”
He flushed, not answering and I immediately began to suspect him of keeping secrets.
I slowly slid my chair back as the green-haired Den Mother appeared in the doorway.
I was glad when she left, nose in the air. I needed a match right now, somewhere to put this burning ache.
“Can I wrap that?”
Overlooked was waiting tensely to be answered, but the others were shocked into a speechless, frozen silence. Was it a test? I nodded, answering both.
“Slowly,” I warned, steeling myself. “And one of the Den Mothers should stand nearby, be a target.”
The blue-haired Mother immediately moved out to take my right. Her expression was unreadable, but I could feel her surprise and ignored it. I wasn't taking any chances with my control.
I won’t hurt him. I won’t hurt him
. I repeated the words silently as the perfectly-scented bachelor knelt at my feet with a medical kit. I stiffly lowered myself back into the chair.