Authors: Angela White
Tags: #futuristic love story, #apocalyptic romance, #angela white, #action romance, #Fantasy Series, #romantic horror, #apocalypse rebellion
Only a bit above my 5’7”, Overlooked was lean, hard. The muscles in his arms flexed under the shirt as he moved and my mouth went dry. No, he wasn’t as beautiful as the others. I was sure there would be times that his face would twist into an ugliness that mirrored the pain on the inside. My need increased.
The thought of easing this torment with a breakable doll held little appeal. To think it might be with a pure mate, who had courage, sent fresh flames over my charred skin. I wanted my man raw, unkempt, and un-cringing most of the time. Overlooked leapt to the top of my list.
“It might sting a little…”
His hand trembled as he reached for mine and I opened my palm to allow him access, the first unrelated male to ever be allowed. His big fingers slid across my skin...
The room spun!
I saw him backdropped by a wall of fire, dark hair flowing, gray eyes glowing for me, for my touch…
And then we were alone in the cool darkness, burning bodies entwined! I arched as he moved heavily against me, mouth demanding...
The vision vanished and I shoved the chair back as I stood, hissing with a hunger like I'd never felt
. I would have him!
My red sight went over his body, still kneeling at my feet. I clenched my fists as the Den Mother stepped between us.
The gloating in Overlooked’s tone sent a shiver of dangerous flames through the harsh grip I had on myself.
“If you're so sure, then ask her to claim you if she wins!”
Thrown tauntingly, I wanted to answer, to agree, but I could only stand still, afraid if I did any more, I wouldn't be able to stop.
“Yeah, Rankin will like that. She’s due back from the west soon.”
The Den Mother moved aside at that name and I took note of it even as I burned.
“You’ll both be dead.”
“He’s too scared.”
“I'd be hers…”
The words hit me hard, burnt deep into my gut.
“If she'd have me...”
Without a touch this time, the images came again, our bodies close, still in the aftermath. As strong as the first, this image filled me with a sense that I recognized, remembered with desperate longing… Peace. The choice had been made.
“I would.” I forced it out with a gentleness I didn't know still existed in me and the happiness that spread across his face was a spark to the fuel.
My claws dug into his arms as I yanked him to his feet and urgently pushed my lips to his, breath catching, grip tightening at the feel of him, his whimper of fear.
I held us there, willing him to feel the crush of lust that I was, letting the flames lick up my body with a tongue of cruel fire. The moment stretched out into an incredibly agonizing bliss as I waited, felt, shivered from the heat.
And then he responded! His lips moved under mine, pressing back ever so slightly and I was almost lost!
The sound, rough with pleasure instead of fury, broke the moment and saved him. I’d never heard that from myself.
I let go and spun away. There was only so much I could take, but as I opened the door, I turned back to lock gazes with the blue-haired Den Mother.
He was mine. He was not to be brought out to the other contestants. She knew all of it without being told, and returned my stare. I saw the edge of the familiar tattoo on her arm, and made the connection.
“That’s the sound of a rookie getting inked.”
That beautifully detailed green swirl was indeed a rebel symbol, and there were more of us here than the Network suspected.
As I left, passing near enough to some of the shocked males to smell them, I felt no overwhelming need to touch or grab. I'd made my choice. Now I had to win his papers…
and find out who Rankin was.
I’d manipulated her by using courage.
It was rumored that the Pruetts were drawn to it and I’d remembered. I now had a potential owner and it wasn’t Rankin. My happiness wanted me to brag, but I moved by the other stunned bachelors with my head down to hide the joy.
Angelica was fierce. I had hopes she could handle Rankin, but even if she couldn’t kill the Head Defender, she would take me out of the complex and give me a chance to be free. Rankin couldn’t challenge her until then because of the scandal, but once we were out of the city, another game for survival would start. I would have to warn my new owner about the coming danger.
I pushed off the too-tight new clothes and settled into my threadbare robe, content that Rankin wasn’t here to hurt me tonight. The rebel elements living in New Network City had set off another explosive. When the new Head Defender returned, she would be out there, investigating, interrogating… brutalizing. It was what Rankin excelled at.
Angelica did too, I knew that, but I believed in the rumors about her family - when she heard my story, she would be honor-bound to take me to Baker. I felt bad for tricking her, it was easy to see she needed me for the pain-relief, but I wanted the life back that had been stolen from me.
Angelica might be strong enough to fight the fire - I was amazed at her control - but there was a list of things I needed to be happy as a slave. Few women would be able to match them all. Until I found the one who could, I wanted to be free to help the rebels take down the Network… and Rankin. That was one of the things I needed most. My loving owner had to be able to kill Rankin when she came for me.
“It’s day two of the second round and we’re down to eight contestants to start the morning’s matches.”
Not scheduled for a battle, I had spent day four of the games in my larger room on the next floor up, watching the wall-screen and trying not to think about my bachelor. I’d never had a day stretch so long, but I had learned a great deal about Rankin.
The new Head Defender was known to the world as a protector of the complex males, but according to inside rumors, Rankin liked to take advantage of that position by abusing them herself. When I offered a generous amount of UDs, I was informed that she had a small stable she visited regularly. My guards whispered small details that burned in my brain.
“She’s got one now, in your lot.”
“She gets them young, grooms them. Sometimes she spends hours with them in their cells or her den.”
“She hurts them.”
“Yes, and more than most Changelings do during a rental session.”
“They’re given favors to make the other males hate them and isolate them, so she has complete control.”
“She’ll kill to keep her favorite - Jason.”
I’d also found the file for my choice, and confirmed that’s who he was. I now suspected he’d been trying to force my hand, in order to escape Rankin.
It had worked
All of these things were in the back of my mind as I settled into the interview chair at the start of round two and got ready to be inoffensive. I wanted something this time.
“So we’re chatting with Angelica Pruett. The newest rankings have placed you in second, solidly behind the Network favorite, Kim Lee. Do you think that's fair, considering you have more kills?”
“I've never thought it mattered.”
It was the same reporter I'd tipped off and I wondered if maybe she had been a defender before becoming a network reporter. It was in the way she moved so alertly, sweeping the corners and employee doors behind the rows of reporters.
She definitely has the shoulders for it
, I thought. In the cage, Mrs. Reporter might be a real match.
“And your opponent's comment? Does that bother you?”
Yes, so much that I want to taste her swampy blood.
“Not anymore. I gave up my stars - all of them.”
The reporter gasped as mutters went through those listening, betting on me, and playing with my life. I'd have no guards now.
“You sent him your protection?”
“And matched their pay from my personal account.
When someone says they plan to attack, I take them seriously. I won't have him or the other Bachelors hurt, and I hope the Network won't either.”
Easy, be careful.
The woman's expression cautioned me, but her excited eyes said to keep going and I did.
“The Den Mother's are good, but against a Changeling, there's not much they can do and we know it.” My voice rumbled lower. “And some of us use it. Maybe there have been threats...”
“I'm sure the Network has everything under control.” Dana’s eyes were bright pools of excitement, but her tone was perfectly offended, “Back to you, Phyllis.”
As the camera light flashed to red, Dana nodded once in recognition before stepping out of the neat little booth. I'd made an ally.
It felt strange - Pruetts usually only collected enemies while in the complex… or stacked up grave-fillers.
“Cage Match Five!”
This would decide another of the final four, and I watched them eagerly as they stepped into the ring.
Chelsea, dressed in all red, was the favorite over My-eyes girl, who'd I'd mostly forgotten about now. The fury was coming in thick waves from her, though, and I found myself rooting for the underdog so I wouldn't have to fight the sister. I still hadn't erased that haunted look….
It was a shock to see Chelsea turn that very expression on the other female, causing My-eyes to stumble like I worried I might do
It wasn't real!
The sister lunged forward with a brutal throat punch, catching her prey off guard. I heard bones snap, quickly smothering the woman.
“Match to Bush! We have a Bush in the final round!”
The audience was on its feet, blocking me from view as they cheered and jeered, and I left, hoping Chelsea hadn't notice me in the stands. I needed to think. I would do it while spilling blood in my next match.
“Cage Match Six!”
As I spotted the female in the ring, her Network logo flashing for the cameras, I was relieved. My last battles wouldn't be as hard as this one. Ratings discounted, I had always considered Kim Lee to be my main competition and I was glad to know that it was mostly in the bag after this one.
Unlike my cousin’s match, there were no pleading relatives on the sides of the ramp as I walked down. Pruetts didn’t give mercy. Everyone knew that now.
Thanks to the setup, only one family member got a male from the global mate list. The others had to gather the funds to buy one, something only the socialites could afford to do… or we could enter the Games and fight for one. For some females, the Change was the drive, but for others, it was a more subtle side effect they were searching for a cure to. Without a mate, there was no child, no happy-ever-after. The expression on Kim Lee’s lean face said the ache for that future was worth her life. I understood completely.
My opponent stood away from the withdraw rope, the new one that replaced my statement of intimidation, and I allowed myself one human moment of unease. She had the big, rough hands of someone who had trained on nature and it was easy to imagine her in the swamps of her hometown, swinging through the trees and wrestling the pythons. I had heard that was very popular in the southern swamps.
Then I thought about my waiting bachelor, about how it had felt to have him…
, touch me willingly. Rankin would get him if I lost. Rage
the fury in my head as the brilliant as the blue overhead laser-lights that threw the crowd into delighted chaos as the fight began.
Feeling my fury, Lee waved her hands, crouching, as the dividing bar finished going down. “Come on, then!”
I immediately lunged forward, tempting her to
me, but she knew better and shot around instead.
I spun, keeping her in sight as she danced around the mat. Designed to make me dizzy and confused, I put a quick end to her running. I timed and executed a nice leap and tuck that dropped my body directly in her path.
Kim Lee slid to a stop, spun the other way.
I jumped again as she kicked out, sweeping for my legs. Missing angered her and she pulled a handful of blades from her belt in a fast motion, let them fly.
I ducked, turned, threw up a hand to catch one in my forearm. Then I was throwing my own spikes and she was the one dropping, evading, being trimmed.
Kim Lee snarled furiously. “Slam you!”
I sneered, recognizing her fear. She knew she couldn’t beat me, that death waited, but her eyes never went to the withdraw rope. “No babies, here, sweetheart… only blood.”
Kim Lee lost control at that, finishing the Change in a quick evolution of levels. Her eyes darkened to brilliant red, hair growing out of its holders, and her body expanded, muscles now straining against her clothes. The Network favorite screamed at me in rage as her pupils burst into red flames and she flew forward with vicious snarls ripping from her throat.
I braced to meet her, still in control.
Her arms slammed around mine, teeth moving for my neck, and I used her momentum to roll us and send her flailing from my knee in her gut.
Kim crashed against the cage wall in a heap, but recovered before I did, lunging again. She landed on my back, nails seeking my flesh, and I immediately fell backwards.
We slammed into the mat with an audible crunch as I snapped the wrist around my throat and drove my elbow into her chest while she clawed at me. There was no reason to her attack now, only the rage and it was easy to roll, shove my other arm forward,
Kim Lee grabbed her stomach with one hand, holding up the other as she slid to her knees. Blood trickled from her mouth and she held out a red palm, the fury fading.
But it wasn't mine to give. Her brain made the choice and she slumped to the bloody mat.
“Match to Pruett!”
Items rained over the bigger cage, some hurling through the gaps in the fencing. I saw keys, cards, trash, and gold star bracelets as the crowd exploded with fresh screams. Another squad of guards shoved into the unruly throng.
I didn't smirk as I straightened up. The blue-haired Den Mother was lurking in the entrance to the fenced tunnel I’d walked down to get to the cage. Waiting for me, confident I would win, but not happy with the information she needed to give. Her wild hair and tired face said I wouldn’t like the news at all.
This time when I stepped into the Cells, there was only my chosen male and the guards, who I'd insisted must stay closer than outside the door.
Jason let me see how unhappy he was with all the protection. Instead of controlling his expression, he glared through the dark bruise on his cheek. Rankin had come by to express her displeasure at his televised boldness.
, so much hotter than what I was used to, exploded through my head. Her death was now a matter of time.
I moved to sit next to him on the couch, and he flinched back. I kept space between us. “Have you changed your mind?”
Jason’s face swung to me in immediate denial, and I admitted the thought had bothered me. I thought he might be manipulating things, but I wanted him, no matter his intent.
My voice was rough and so was his, a husky whisper that sent chills up my spine.
“Yes. I'd be yours!”
Scorching flames of panicked heat…
and then control.
I glared at his cheek. “Did Rankin do that?”
He cringed from my side like
hit him, and I knew my suspicions had been right. “You need protection.”
Jason shook his head and to my surprise, leaned close enough to keep the cameras from picking up his low words.
“I need to see Baker!”
That name froze me.
Jason, however, was very aware of our audience and he rested his silky head against my shoulder like a lover. “Please, we need your help. The Pruetts are for…”
“Freedom,” I finished, barely breathing as I understood he was begging for sanctuary. Honor, that powerful kind I’d inherited, flooded me to war with the pain of his betrayal and the feel of him against me.
I’d chosen wrong.
I shoved him away and lurched to my feet. I wanted to tear the room apart in my agony, but the commitment to the family, to our values, wouldn’t let me back out of my choice. The flames vanished suddenly to be replaced with misery.
My torment wasn’t over yet.
Jason instantly feared I would switch him for one of the others and those eyes lightened into pinpricks of terror.
“I know things…”
To the listening world, it might sound like a sexual line, but I doubted the Network would read it that way. Was he trying to get himself killed?
My sudden grin was shark-like. “You’re playing with fire.”
The enslaved male looked back at me with open desperation. “I’m already burning. I have been for a long time now.”
That was another feeling I understood well and I moved back toward the couch as I sealed up my disappointment, the anguish. Jason wasn’t one of a kind. Eventually, I would find
bachelor, my cure. Right now, I had a duty to honor and I went about it like any other Pruett would have.
I lunged for his throat.
Angelica’s hot body slammed me against the couch, long legs straddling my hips and I cowered away before I realized she was talking.