Hey all my lovies,
You're probably wondering where Exiled is. It's on my laptop, just pages away from being finished. Sadly, it's at exactly the same point it was eight days ago.
As some of you know, I had surgery two weeks ago. It went pretty well, and I was able to work on Exiled while recovering at a hotel by the hospital. But a couple weeks before I went in, my dog was pretty sick with pneumonia. After five days in an oxygen tent, he came home and was quickly back to his happy, funny, normal self, to my great relief. I'm sure you have all seen the pics of him, the little toy Pomeranian, and know how much I absolutely love and adore him.
The day after I got home from the hotel, I had to take him to the emergency vet, but he was much better afterwards. The next day he had four seizures. The day after, he died in my arms on our way back to the vet. It was the hardest thing I've ever personally been through, after eight years with my sweet little guy.
Some of you also know that we'd been planning a trip to Las Vegas to celebrate my thirtieth birthday. It was the last thing I wanted to do four days after losing him, but- after a lot of convincing from my family and Tabs- I got on the plane on Sat, and came out west for a relaxing and fun celebration. And of course, they were right. It has been a great distraction, tho I think of him constantly.
All of this is to say that yes, Exiled is coming, but sometimes the rest of life overwhelms the writing part. I am going to enjoy the pool, the tigers and dolphins, zip lining over the old strip, flying little people bartenders, and of course the craps tables for a few days. Then, I'll be finishing the last bit of the book. I'm sorry it's another delay in the release, but I promise, it's coming. I know we should plan several extra months in the timeline, to account for stuff like this, but I don't want to hold on to a book when I'm finished with it- I want to share it with you guys! We'll figure it out as we all move forward together in this crazy world of indie publishing.
Thank you all for the love and support you all always show. And thank you guys so much for the bday wishes!! I've been so overwhelmed by all of the sweet messages and thoughts today. I love you guys, you're the best!!
Today is my stop on the blog tour for ELECTED by Rori Shay! This is one book you don't want to miss and is out TODAY! The kickstarter to this book is available at http://tinyurl.com/ElectedNovel. You will be able to get a copy of ELECTED in hardcover and/or paperback with a free ebook, a lot of special limited-edition items and other free books. Don't wait, get your copy today! Then tell us how you liked it!
ELECTED by Rori Shay
Silence in the Library Publishing
April 22, 2014
It's the year 2185, and in two weeks, Aloy will turn eighteen and take her father's place as president of the country. But to do so, she must masquerade as a boy to avoid violating the Eco-Accords, four treaties designed to bring the world back from the brink of environmental extinction. Aloy hopes to govern like her father, but she is inheriting a different country. The long concealed Technology Faction is stepping out of the shadows, and as turmoil grows within her country, cryptic threats also arrive from beyond the borders.
As she struggles to lead, Aloy maintains her cover by marrying a woman, meanwhile battling feelings for the boy who knows her secret - the boy who is somehow connected to her country's recent upheaval. When assassination attempts add to the turmoil, Aloy doesn't know whom to trust. She understood leadership required sacrifice. She just didn't realize the sacrifice might be her life.
Excerpt from ELECTED
As if he can read my thoughts, Griffin says, “I know what you are.”
And before I can even think about the consequences of my actions, anger overtakes me. What I’ve hidden for so long and been so careful to keep secret is now in the hands of this impudent intruder?
I’m up out of my seat and running at him before I realize what I’m doing. I knock him forward, pushing with both my hands flat against his back.
He’s surprised and falls forward, losing his balance.
In this moment, I look around the room for some more dangerous weapon than my two hands. My knife is too far. I find what I’m looking for on the wall to my right. One of my fencing swords. I grab it off its decorative shelf and get in an offensive stance, right foot forward at an angle.
As Griffin regains his balance and faces me, I hold my stance, looking him fiercely in the eyes. He doesn’t say anything, but I see him scan the room fast. I lunge at him, but I’m a second too slow. He’s already run to my left and grabbed a wooden cane I’ve been carving. It’s now the wood cane against my steel sword. I’ve been fencing since I was seven, so I’m quick. I should be able to take him out easily.
I don’t mean to really hurt him, just push him back out of my room, get my anger out. But Griffin is stronger than I expect. We’re fighting, wood to steel, clashing in the air, the sword making gashes in the softer wood.
I jump back over furniture, toppling pieces as we both fly around the room. We’re both spinning, checking each other’s advances. Griffin surprises me, putting up a fight matching mine. I’ve received expert training, but who taught him to fight so well?
Griffin backs up against my door, but I can’t let him escape. Unless I win the fight, he could run out that door and tell the world my secret. My family’s future could come crashing down around me in an instant.
I push forward with more heat. We’re up close now, our weapons right at each other’s faces. I can hear his grunts through my own yells.
All at once his cane swings out at me, but not where I expect it to go. He doesn’t aim for my sword. He aims for my feet, knocking me off balance onto my back. My sword clatters to the ground in the onslaught, and before I know it he’s on top of me. I’m punching and pushing back at him, and we’re in a fist fight, rolling on the ground. I don’t easily give up, but he’s got a few muscular pounds on me.
I’m furious, kicking and shouting at him. In between our wrestling he spurts out, “It’s your secret. Not mine.” He’s out of breath from our fight, so he has trouble getting the words out. “I’m not planning to tell anyone.”
While he’s trying to get the words out of his mouth, I take the opportunity to push harder. I end up on top of him and pin his arms above his head. He goes slack, letting me hold him there.
“You’re a girl,” he says, serious and amused at the same time.
“You have no evidence!”
He juts his chin out, pointing to my torso. His eyes are mischievous. I look down at what he’s pointing to.
And then I realize.
The shirt I’d been sleeping in has lost a few buttons. It hangs open and ragged off my torso. Immediately, I let go of Griffin’s arms and instinctively grasp around my chest for my bindings.
But I’m too late.
A milky white breast hangs out of the wrappings, announcing my secret loud and clear.
Hey Guys!! There is an awesome new YA book that just came out today by debut author, Rori Shay! Elected is the first in a series that you won't want to put down! Check it out!
It’s the year 2185, and in two weeks, Aloy will turn eighteen and take her father’s place as president of the country. But to do so, she must masquerade as a boy to avoid violating the Eco-Accords, four treaties designed to bring the world back from the brink of environmental extinction. Aloy hopes to govern like her father, but she is inheriting a different country. The long concealed Technology Faction is stepping out of the shadows, and as turmoil grows within her country, cryptic threats also arrive from beyond their borders.
As she struggles to lead, Aloy maintains her cover by marrying a woman, meanwhile battling feelings for the boy who knows her secret—the boy who is somehow connected to her country’s recent upheaval. When assassination attempts add to the turmoil, Aloy doesn’t know whom to trust. She understood leadership required sacrifice. She just didn’t realize the sacrifice might be her life.
When Raven Ferragamo moved to Washington, D.C. for a fresh start, she never realized that her new life would be someone else's old one. From the moment she found Lark Kingsley's diary, and the missing diamond heiress' plea for help, there was no turning back. Raven plunged in to the dark mystery. She's spending more and more time in Lark's luxury apartment, trying to follow the trail of breadcrumbs that the socialite left behind.
Each passing day reduces the liklihood of finding Lark alive. From reading the journal and deciphering the clues, Raven believes that someone close to the other girl is involved in her disappearance. She just needs a little more time to figure out who and why.
A secret boyfriend, the weight of a diamond empire on her shoulders, evidence that could topple her family's ivory tower....Lark Kingsley really does have it all. And now, so does Raven. She just doesn't know it yet.
In addition to Fragile Facade hitting electronic shelves today, the first Collection in the Blind Barriers Serial Series, is now for sale!
At 82,000 words (328 pages), the Collection includes: Blind Barriers, Courting Chaos, and Fragile Facade. Get it now for only $2.99!!
For purchase links to Fragile Facade: www.SophieDavisBooks.com/Fragile_Facade
For purchase links to Blind Barriers, Collection #1: www.SophieDavisBooks.com/Blind_Barriers_Collection_1
For the last Throwback of March I have a true Throwback, all the way from 2012 and Talented! I hope this gets you guys excited for Inescapable....coming soon.
Book: Talented, Talented Saga #1
Release Date: January 2012
An earsplitting wail punctured the silent night, shattering the illusions of my dream world and bringing me back to reality. My eyes popped open, becoming instantly alert as the sound reverberated through the dark cabin again. I bolted upright in my bed. Terror seized me. I knew that noise. In school, I had done monthly drills in response to that noise. Emphasis on drills. I’d never heard the sirens for real. I’d hoped I never would either. Even now, as the warning bells blared through the speakers in the clearing outside of my cabin, I prayed it was just a test.
I could only see the parts of my room illuminated by the ribbons of artificial lights streaming through the slits of the wooden blinds covering the windows. In the short time I’d been awake, my swollen eyes had adjusted to the darkness. Hastily, I threw the blanket back as my trained eyes darted around the cabin. The other two beds were empty. Crap. Henri and Erik, my cabin mates, must have heard the invasion sirens and run out immediately. How had I slept through that? Why didn’t they wake me up? Assholes.
I didn’t waste time putting on real clothes, or even shoes. I flung the cabin door open with my mind before I was fully out of my bed. Running into the night; pajamas, bare feet and all, I sprinted straight into the center of Hunters Village. I stopped abruptly; for all of the training drills I’d taken part in at school, there had yet to be a single drill since my arrival at Elite Headquarters two weeks ago. I had no idea where I was supposed to go, or what I was supposed to do. Breathe, Talia, I reminded myself. Just breathe.
The night air was unseasonably warm for late September, but a chill ran through my body, all the way to my bones, as panic gripped and twisted my insides. The sirens sounded again. We were under attack. Someone was attacking Elite Headquarters. Calm down. You need to breathe, I ordered myself. I forcibly inhaled the warm air through my nose and then blew it out, unsteadily, through clenched teeth.
Slowly, I turned and pivoted in a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree circle. Chaos was the only way to describe the scene surrounding me. Pledges streamed from the cabins around Hunters Village. Panicked screams pierced the silence between siren blasts. I dug my nails sharply into my palms to prevent my own fear-driven yelps from escaping. Clear your mind. Focus. Concentrate your energy, I coached myself. Trying to obey my own commands, I closed my eyes and forced my mind to go blank.
My hypersensitive ears immediately registered a faint whizzing sound from above. I tilted my head back as I opened my eyes. The night sky looked as if it were falling, one star at a time. It took several seconds for my mind to process what my eyes were seeing; stars weren’t falling out of the night sky, but bombs were. Swallowing over the lump in my throat, I forced the unpleasantness clawing its way to my mouth back down. The people who panic in a crisis are the people who die, I reminded myself.
The bombs exploded, expelling bright neon liquid when they made contact with the ground. One landed several feet in front of where I stood. Fear got the better of me and I screamed as the bomb burst and several drops of the glowing liquid hit my bare skin. I wiped at my calves, frantically smearing the fluid with my palms. I rubbed my hands on my thin t-shirt and it instantly began to glow. I waited for pain that never came. I stared, wide-eyed, as bomb after bomb detonated on the ground, leaving neon puddles in their wake. Pledges ran with hands over their heads in an attempt to protect their faces.
I needed to do something, anything, besides standing here waiting for another bomb to hit me. I concentrated all of my considerable mental energy on the falling explosives and focused on slowing their descent. After several seconds, the bombs froze in mid-air. I let out a breath I wasn’t aware I had been holding as I strained with the effort of holding them in place.
Opening my mind, I felt a flood of mixed emotions. The panic radiating from the other Pledges’ brains mirrored my own. Strangely, I also felt enjoyment, laughter even, mingled with the fear and anxiety. Confusion engulfed my other emotions.
What was going on? Donavon, I thought. I needed to find Donavon; he would know what was going on. I pulled some of my mental focus away from holding the bombs and sought out Donavon’s mind. It took me only seconds to find him, but once I did, I was even more perplexed.
Donavon was laughing. I could feel his glee as he watched the scene I was currently starring into from a different vantage point. I honed in on his exact location; he was close. Concentrating harder, I slipped deeper in to his head. Finally, I saw Hunters Village through his eyes. I knew exactly where he was standing - on a small hill that overlooked the Village.
“Donavon?” I mentally called out to him.
“Welcome to the Hunters, Tal,” he laughed.
“WHAT?!?” my mental voice screamed at him. Was he joking?? This was an initiation ritual?? Irritation quickly replaced my fear and confusion.
I narrowed my eyes in his general direction; I had a feeling he could see me from his perch, even though I couldn’t see him. I was so annoyed at being dragged out of bed in the middle of the night that I let my mental hold on the “bombs” slip, causing one that had been hovering not far over my head to hit me square in the face. I opened my mouth to scream and the neon liquid nearly choked me. Accidentally swallowing a huge gulp, I began to gag. I fell to my knees, retching, and willed myself to throw up the unknown substance.
Donavon’s laughter filled my head again, “It’s just colored water, Tal.”
He clearly found the situation hysterical, and himself clever. Anger washed over me. The last two weeks had been the most physically demanding of my life and now I was being roused from bed in the middle of the night to have faux bombs launched at me??? So not funny.
I concentrated on what I now knew to be water balloons – I picked that detail out of Donavon’s mind – and refocused my energy to freeze them in mid-fall again. I honed in on Donavon’s mind and forced the balloons back through the air to their origin, to Donavon and his group of cohorts. Not waiting for his reaction, I turned on my heel and walked back into my cabin, slamming the door, and crawled back into bed, not caring that I still looked radioactive.
I had the covers pulled over my head when I heard the door open, accompanied by loud laughter.
“Talia,” Erik called, “come out and play.”
“Leave me alone, you ass,” I snapped. Three distinct sets of laughter chorused in response. I felt the covers being yanked back. I clung to the soft fabric of my white comforter, but I was no match for the three boys. I kicked and punched as Donavon leaned over me. His dark blonde hair was soaked with the neon liquid, making me feel a little better.
“Don’t be a spoil sport, Tal,” he laughed. “This is your formal welcome into Hunters Pledging.”
He wanted to see a spoil sport? I would show him a spoil sport. I kicked him in the stomach, hard, and he grunted. I flashed him a wicked smile. Erik pinned my legs down, giving Donavon the opportunity to scoop me up off my bed. I continued to squirm as he carried me across the cabin and back out into the night. He had over a foot and close to a hundred pounds on me, so my efforts were in vain.
“Come on, Talia, it’s almost over,” Erik whispered as he walked next to us. I craned my neck to face him and gave him a nasty look. He just laughed; I was hardly a threat at the moment.
Donavon carried me over to where a group of other Pledges had already begun to congregate. He placed me on my bare feet in the wet grass but kept his hands firmly on my upper arms. Mentally I sent him a string of angry expletives. I didn’t have to see his face to know he was smiling; he was enjoying my discomfort way too much.
“For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Henri Reich,” an extremely tall, lean boy said, quieting all of the side conversations taking place among those gathered. “This is a little something we at the Hunters like to do as a welcome to the new Pledges. I know you guys have all been working really hard these past two weeks. Making it this far means you’ve passed the initial phase of training and are well on your way to graduating and becoming full-fledged Hunters. Congratulations.”
When Henri stopped talking, Donavon released my arms. He stepped back so quickly I stumbled, nearly falling over. Donavon was not the only one who had retreated, all of the older Hunters had moved away from us, leaving me and the other Pledges standing in the center of a new circle. More balloons rained down on the small group of us before I could register what was happening. These balloons were filled with a thick, gooey liquid in varying colors: paint. I used my hands to shield my head, but it didn’t actually help.
When the color assault finally ended, I removed my hands and looked around at the older Hunters. Some were doubled over, they were laughing so hard. Even the most serious of the group were shaking with silent laughter. I scowled, hoping this was the only welcoming gesture they’d planned for us.
Donavon materialized behind me, wrapping his arms around my waist. “Are you mad at me?” he whispered into my ear. I reached my paint-covered hands up to his face and smeared squiggles down his cheeks. Then I ran my fingers through his damp, blonde hair, leaving most of the paint behind.
“Not at all,” I smiled sweetly.
“Enough, enough. I can’t take all the cuteness,” Erik joked, coming over to us. “Congrats. Tal, you made it through your first round of training, and now you are officially a member of the most awesome Hunting team ever - mine,” he said, smiling broadly. Erik had smears of turquoise paint, the same color as his eyes, across each of his high cheekbones; the color complemented his tan skin nicely. He leaned down to hug me and I noticed flecks of purple and red paint decorating his thick black hair. I gave him a half-hearted hug in return.
“Talia, I’m glad to have you as part of our team,” Henri said as he wrapped one of his long arms around my shoulders.
“Thank you,” I said sincerely. “I’m really glad to be here.” I was. This was what I’d been working towards since I’d started attending the McDonough School for the Talented seven years ago.
At the end of their junior year, students selected the top three divisions of the Agency in which they wanted to work after graduation. Then a Placement Committee – consisting of each division head, the Director of the Agency and McDonough’s headmistress – reviewed each student’s test scores, their Talent and their Talent ranking, and assigned them to a division. Students spent their senior, or pledge, year as the Agency termed it, working and training with their designated department. Not every student scored high enough to be rewarded with one of his top three choices, those students were randomly doled out to the less desirable divisions. The Hunters had been my top choice - my only choice. I knew I wanted, needed, to be a Hunter from my very first day.
For most, it’s an easy decision; they go with other Talents of their kind. Others, like me, want to do something different; their particular ability does not have a niche. It’s not unheard of for Talents besides Morphers, Light Manipulators, or Telekinetics to become Hunters, but I am one of the few who actually did. Most non-morphing Hunters aren’t assigned to a team, but serve as “floaters” instead. Floaters are Hunters that join individual Hunting teams on a short-term basis, usually for just one Hunting mission, to lend their individual specialty when it’s needed.
“The food and drinks are on their way out, so please take advantage. As a special treat, curfew for the night has been lifted. And there will no training until after lunchtime tomorrow, so enjoy yourselves,” Henri called to the entire group.
Upon arriving at Elite Headquarters to start our Pledge year, each Pledge was assigned to a Hunting team with a vacancy. Hunting teams have three members, but when one member left– for whatever reason – the Agency replaced him, or her, with a Pledge. Part of what made the Hunters such a competitive division was the fact that they only took as many Pledges as there were vacant Hunting positions. This year only fifteen of us were accepted, much less than most years.
I’d been assigned to Henri Reich and Erik Kelley’s Hunting team. Henri was the oldest, and the leader of our trio. He stood almost two feet taller than me and was all lean muscle. His eyes were a warm, light brown, and he wore his hair just a little longer than most Hunters would have. Henri had been kind and patient in my short time working with him.
Erik was his polar opposite. He was only a couple of years younger than Henri, but was much more immature. It had amazed me to learn they were such good friends; regularly hanging out in their free time. Erik was shorter – somewhere right in the middle of Henri’s height and mine – and more muscular than Henri, but by no means bulky. His thick, dark hair naturally fell to one side, and was long enough that he used a bandana to keep it out of his face when we practiced. He had extraordinary turquoise eyes; peculiar eye colors were a byproduct of the same nuclear spill that had caused our Talents. My own unnatural purplish-blue eyes were a result of the same catastrophe.
Several more Hunters came over to welcome me and offer their congratulations. Graciously, I thanked them. Donavon grabbed my hand and led me away from the group after a short, squat boy with dark brown hair, whose name might have been Lenyx, had extended his felicitations.
“Thanks,” I mentally sent him.
I wasn’t exactly what you would call social. For most of my life, I’ve had only one friend: Donavon. My parents had hired private tutors for me since we had never stayed in one place long enough for me to go to school and I rarely had the opportunity to spend time with other children. Donavon was a social butterfly, but he knew that large groups of people make me uncomfortable.
“I figured you might want to get away.”
“What makes you think I want to get away with you?” I teased him. He pulled me close, wrapping one arm around my waist, and lifted me off of my feet until our lips met. I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him back; I could never stay mad at him for very long.
“Told you that you wanted to get away with me,” he whispered in my ear, setting me back on my bare feet. His breath tickled my ear, and I giggled in spite of myself.
He took my hand and led me behind the semi-circle of cabins, known at Headquarters as Hunters Village, and into the woods. We followed a short dirt path through the trees and into another small clearing. There was a small fire already blazing in the center of the clearing, and blankets and pillows were spread out next to it.
“It’s been so long since we spent time alone together. I thought that since you don’t have a curfew tonight, maybe we could sleep under the stars.” His mental voice sounded tentative. I could tell he was afraid that I’d say no.
We hadn’t spent much time together, just the two of us, in nearly a year. Since I was younger than Donavon, I still had to complete my time at school while he’d come to Headquarters. The time apart had been hard on both of us. I’d seen him on holidays, and the occasional weekend he’d been allowed to leave, and we’d talked daily, but it had been a huge change from seeing each other in classes and at every meal. One of the things I’d been looking forward to the most was being around him again.
I strode confidently towards the blankets and sat down. I patted a spot on the fabric next to me. Donavon gave me a huge smile and took a seat, folding his long legs underneath him.
“Donavon . . .,” I mentally began, looking at my hands uncomfortably. I did want to spend the night with him out here, under the stars, but I also didn’t want him to get the wrong idea.
He lifted my chin, forcing me to meet his clear blue eyes.
“I know, Tal. No pressure. I just want to spend time with you.” His mental voice was soft.
“Thank you,” I said out loud, giving him an appreciative half-grin. Donavon was only a year older than me, but that year seemed to make all the difference when it came to taking the next step in our relationship.
We both lay down with our heads on the pillows, facing each other. Donavon draped one arm over my small waist and extended the other one under my head. We stayed like that for the rest of the night. Nobody walking by would have been able to overhear our conversation, even though we talked until just before sunrise. Our entire exchange took place mentally. We rarely spoke “normally”, not since that first summer when we met.
Donavon pulled me in closer, and I buried my face in his broad chest feeling comfortable, and relaxed for the first time since arriving at Elite Headquarters.
I drifted off to sleep as the sky turned from the dark of night to the pink of morning.
Happy Tuesday!!! For this week's Teaser I have a first look at Exiled, a Talented Saga Novella. This is the very first time I have shared this passage with the world. I hope you enjoy!
Book: Exiled, A Talented Novella (Talented Saga #4.5)
Release Date: Spring/Summer 2014
The fingers wrapped around my throat felt more like talons as they cut off my air supply. Struggling was useless; he had me pinned against the wall, immobilizing me with his mind. Fear tried to surface from the depths of my brain, but acceptance had already coated my thoughts, preparing me for the inevitable. I was going to die in the hallway of the Hamilton. My life was going to end before it had begun. There were so many things I still wanted to accomplish, to experience. How unfair, I thought.
I’d known the moment I saw her that I was a goner. Only, when I’d drawn the knife and aimed it at her heart, she hadn’t fought back. Why hadn’t she fought back?
His nails bit into my flesh, sharp pinpricks of pain that lessened the fog and brought his face into focus.
“Listen, Kenly. I am only going to say this once,” he growled, turquoise eyes flashing with unchecked anger. “You are going to run. Run as fast and far as you can. Don’t stop until you are somewhere no one knows you. Do you understand?”
He was going to let me go? I was going to live? To see my mother again? Hope flared in my chest.
I couldn’t nod, let alone speak, so I tried to convey my answer with my eyes. He shook me hard, practically embedding my body into the wall.
“Do you understand?” he repeated.
My eyes bulged, shiny with unshed tears. Understanding flittered across his hard features. The invisible bonds binding my body loosened and I was finally able to move my head enough to bob it up and down jerkily. His hold on me – both mental and physical – fell away and I collapsed to the floor, gasping for the air he’d denied me. I rubbed my chest as if that could soothe the burning in my lungs.
“Consider this your one free pass,” he said. “If you ever try to hurt her again, I will kill you.” It wasn’t an idle threat. He wanted to kill me now. His rage was like a living being, filling the hallway and threatening to strangle me all over again. He was Erik Kelley, I realized.
“Why?” I managed to ask, the one word clawed my throat on the way out.
“Why?” he mimicked, choking out a laugh.
“Why don’t you kill me now?
“Talia,” he said simply, as if that was explanation enough. “Go. Now. Before I change my mind.”
I didn’t need to be told twice. Legs trembling, I used the wall to for support as I struggled to stand. The effort was taxing and I was breathing hard.
“Here.” He held out the knife I’d held to Talia’s chest. “You’ll need this.”
I snatched it from his grasp before he could change his mind.
“Go!” he shouted.
Shaking limbs be damned, I thought as I tore down the hallway towards the exit door at the far end. I’d made it all the way to the basement before I remembered the reason I’d been in that hallway in the first place. TOXIC Director, Danbury McDonough, had hand-selected me as one of his guards. And I’d abandoned my post to save my own butt.
You are going to run. Run as fast and far as you can. Don’t stop until you are somewhere no one knows you.
The thought wasn’t my own, but rather a command that I felt compelled to follow, even more so than the order to guard the Director’s suite, and let no one through the door – no matter what.
Outside the Hamilton, Washington, D.C. was on fire. Buildings were crumbling to the ground every direction I looked. People were fighting to the death in the streets. Hovercrafts loomed overhead like giant bugs, spitting missiles from their underbellies.
For a long minute, I just stood there, wondering if it was all real. How had this happened? The Director had promised D.C. was safe, that we would be able to hold the perimeter, that UNITED wouldn’t triumph. How had he been so wrong?
I blinked, praying that when I opened my eyes I find myself back in my bedroom at the School, and the destruction of the Nation’s Capital would have only happened in my nightmares.
You are going to run. Run as fast and far as you can. Don’t stop until you are somewhere no one knows you.
I opened my eyes and ran.
I wasn’t the only one either. TOXIC operatives were fleeing the city in droves, pouring from the hole of devastation like ants from an ant hole. Some I recognized from school and the briefing meetings that had led up to this battle. Others I’d never seen, and only knew to be on our side by their uniforms, reinforced adapti-suits identical to mine.
I took a calculated risk, and headed northwest towards the farthest edge of the border. It was nearly three miles from the Hamilton, but UNITED had attacked from the southeast and was unlikely to have as many patrols on the opposite end of the city. Just over a mile later, I was confident my instincts had been correct. Here, the deserted stores and restaurants and half-mile high apartment buildings were untouched. UNITED hovercrafts patrolled the skies, but paid no attention to a lone girl.
One dipped down, hovering above a small park with a statue of some long dead president. Frantically, I searched for a hiding place. The buildings were wedged against each other, leaving no space to fit between them. I swore as the hovercraft rotated slowly, searching for escapees; its headlights swept across the urban landscape, illuminating one pie-wedged-shaped section after another. The beams landed on a trio of operatives ninety degrees to my left. I never heard the shots that felled my fellow operatives. They just collapsed onto the sidewalk before they even had a chance to raise their weapons and defend themselves.
I’m next, I thought.
You are going to run. Run as fast and far as you can. Don’t stop until you are somewhere no one knows you. The command sang in my head again, followed by a thought of my own: I am not going down. Erik had given me a free pass, as he called it, and I wasn’t going to waste it. He’d spared my life for her. I was going to save my life for me.
You aren’t helpless, I reminded myself.
I summoned one of new abilities. Light Manipulation hadn’t come as naturally to me as my other Created talents, but with desperate concentration I was able to turn incorporeal. This alone, however, wouldn’t prevent my capture. Slight disturbances in the air, spots of shimmering light, would give me away when the beams swept in my direction. Only a discerning eye would understand, but odds were high someone on that craft had a discerning eye.
Many of the storefronts had bars over the windows. Few, though, had more than deadbolt locks on the actual doors. I used my telekinesis to unlock the door of a clothing boutique that specialized in high-end merchandise, if the mannequins in the window were any indication.
The hovercraft had remained stationary while UNITED agents collected their captives, and brought them aboard. Still invisible, I slipped through the unlocked door and breathed a sigh of relief. This wasn’t a long term solution. It was only a matter of time before UNITED deployed foot soldiers to search every inch of the city for survivors. But at least for now, I could breathe and plan.
Erik’s command to run warred with my own analytical brain, which urged me to stay put until I had fully considered all my options.
I am a rare, naturally born, dual talent. Higher Reasoning and Telekinesis are my god-given gifts, if you believe in god that is. Since I’d always shown a higher aptitude for Higher Reasoning that was where I’d focused my efforts at the School. I had an excellent grasp on how to use that talent. But my dream had been to become a Hunter, like my father. That was how I’d met her, Talia Lyons. She’d offered to help me, train me, prepare me for my placement exams so I could make the Hunters. She’d taught me how to use my telekinesis, and how to fight. Well, at least, she’d started to. Then, she’d left, promising to return but had not. Donavon McDonough, the Director’s son, had stepped in to finish what Talia had started.
Selfish, I thought bitterly. Talia was selfish. She cared about no one but herself. I hated her.
“Why don’t you kill me now?
The conversation with Erik played in my mind as I crouched behind the boutique’s front door. She was the reason I was alive.
Too much, too confusing, I thought, and rubbed my temples as a throbbing sensation began to make my head ache.
The hovercrafts headlights shone through the glass store front and I held by breath as the light came within inches of where I huddled. During my musings, I’d let the invisibility slip and I was once again corporeal. I was about to make myself disappear once again, when the hovercraft moved on to the next store.
I stayed in that small corner of the store for what seemed like hours, long after I’d heard the hovercraft take off. Finally, when the streets outside my hiding place were silent, I stood and stretched. Every muscle in my body felt knotted, every vertebra kinked and misaligned.
I was still weighed down with a litany of weapons. I removed all but the knife Erik had returned before ordering me out of the Hamilton, placing them on the sales counter for later. It was time to plan.
My best chance of getting out of the city was going to be the window between when UNITED did their initial sweep and when they sent in troops to locate survivors and hiders, which was now. Battle strategy was something I’d studied at length. Now was when there would be the most confusion, the most uncertainty. Still, actually crossing the border was going to be tricky. Invisible was my best option. For that, though, I’d need to recoup the energy I’d expended already today. My Higher Reasoning abilities came easily to me, and didn’t drain me the way my other talents did. Even using telekinesis was taxing.
There was one possible glitch in the invisibility plan. UNITED might have someone who could “feel” talents working border patrol. Talia was like that. She could feel another talent when she was close to them. Even incorporeal, a person with that ability would sense me. Mentally, I calculated the odds of success, using all known factors and leaving a margin of error for the unknowns. My chances were decent, better than seventy-five percent.
The only other option I had was to hide out here indefinitely, pray UNITED didn’t find me on their ground search, and wait until they vacated the city. I didn’t bother calculating those odds; they were slim at best.
Two hours, I decided. I’d rest here for two hours, regain my strength. Food. I needed food and water. My throat still ached from the near-strangulation at Erik Kelley’s hands. Water. Water first. The store had to have a break room or something. Lights would attract attention, so I wove through the racks of clothes, blindly feeling my way and trying not to trip over anything. At the back of the store was a doorway that led to a short hallway. Since the doorway only had a curtain, not an actual door, I didn’t bother searching for a light switch. Instead, I felt along the walls for door handles. The first door I came across led to a bathroom.
Thank god, I muttered.
Now I did search for a light switch, running my palm up and down the walls on either side of the door until I struck gold. The fluorescent blubs were blinding after spending the last however long in darkness. I blinked several times before my eyes grew accustomed. The bathroom was tiny with only a toilet against the far way and a sink by the door. To be safe, I closed the door behind me to keep the light in.
The knobs on the sink were silver and cold as I turned them. Water gusted from the faucet and I was almost ashamed at how relived I was. Cupping my hands under the stream of tepid water, I lowered my face and drank. An iron tang flavored the liquid, but I didn’t care. It felt amazing as it poured down my throat, soothing the raw tissue. After I’d rehydrated, I splashed water on my face and scrubbed my cheeks, trying to rid my skin and mind of the memory of the burning buildings and dying operatives.
Don’t think about it, I told myself. You’re free. For now.
As I’d suspected, there was a small break room in the back of the store. It was barely bigger than the bathroom, but it did have a small refrigerator with bottled water and forgotten lunches. A Tupperware container with “Mel” scrawled across the lid in black marker contained a sandwich and a bag of carrots. The carrots were a tad on the slimy side, as was the unidentifiable meat stuck between two slices of grainy bread.
“Beggars can’t be choosers,” I muttered under my breath before closing my eyes and biting into the sandwich.
It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good. It was sustenance. And that was all that mattered. Unfortunately, “Mel” was the only person who’d left her lunch. So I took the expired vegetables for later. Who knew how long it would be before I found more food. It wasn’t like I had money to buy future meals.
Money. The cash register.
Pushing aside guilt over stealing from a business, I returned to the main area of the boutique and went directly for the sales’ counter where I’d left my weapons. It was locked, of course, but locks were child’s play for telekinetic, even one whose skills weren’t topnotch. In no time, I’d relieved the register of its contents. My stolen items were stacking up and I had no where to put them. Adapti-suits are great, but they lack pockets.
Good thing I’m in a boutique, I thought.
Outside the sun was making an appearance, shedding dim purple-pink light onto the city outside. This was both good and bad. Now I could actually see the inside of the store, but it also meant my time was running out. UNITED would be sending in their cleanup crew any time now.
The wall opposite the cash register held purses ranging from teeny tiny evening bags that had room for little more than a lipstick to gigantic satchels with even room for a week’s worth of clothes. I selected one of the satchels, opting for plain brown leather over sequins and feathers. Next I quickly scanned the racks of clothes for something simple. I’d already cleaned out the cash register, might as well continue my stealing spree.
I found two pairs of jeans that looked like they’d fit – the sizing was European – and some tank tops and tees. Next, I looted the shoe display, coming away with two pairs of flats, one black and one gold with hand-painted dragons on the toes, and designer tennis shoes. I stuffed my new clothes into the satchel, along with the money, carrots, and my smaller weapons. The rest of the weapons I strapped to my body.
“You can do this,” I muttered to the empty store.
I was standing with my hand on the front door. Taking one last deep breath, I focused on my light manipulation talents, went invisible, and slipped out into the new day.
It was quiet, eerily so – the calm after the storm. The statue that had stood in the center of the park had toppled over some time during the night, and cracked through the middle. The dead president was now lay in two halves. Otherwise, this section of the city – Logan Circle, maybe – was untouched.
Not for long, I thought.
I took a moment to get my bearings before continuing north out of the city. My steady job turned into a run when the storefronts changed to rowhomes. I’d was running up 16th Street, signs promising the border was ahead, when I saw them. Large black SUVs were caravanning towards me, their engines loud in the quiet morning. I held my breath, positive that it was only a matter of time before they spotted me. But the first one passed without so much as slowing. The second did the same. I stopped counting after twenty of the UNITED vehicles had passed by.
Start at the center of the city and work their wait out, I thought. Good, I wasn’t going have to dodge agents. People tended to freak out when they ran into a solid mass that they couldn’t see.
By the time the border came into view, sweating was covering my face and hands. The adapti-suit kept the rest of my body cool and dry. I slowed my pace and switched to the grass strip next to the shoulder of the road to mask my footsteps. UNITED agents were milling about, drinking coffee from small Styrofoam cups and eating energy bars like they didn’t have a care in the world, like they hadn’t just annihilated a city and ruined the greatest agency in the world.
My anger distracted me and my incorporeal form flickered like a bad hologram. Calm down, Kenly, I lectured myself. Repressing the urge to attack the closest agent, I regrouped and refocused my energy. Fully incorporeal again, I started to make my way through the crowd of agents. I caught bits and pieces of their conversations. Words like “arrested”, “containment”, and “created” made my ears perk.
An auburn-haired woman with a posh British accent was talking to a man I recognized from TOXIC’s most wanted list, Ian Crane. The woman had seen better days, she had scratches covering her cheeks and her posture suggested she was in a great deal of pain. Crane, though, Crane looked perfectly healthy. My fingers closed around the hilt of my knife and I was creeping closer to the pair before I realized what was happening.
It would be so easy to just come up behind Crane and slit his throat from behind. The chaos and confusion that would follow would provide me time to slip away unnoticed. I was invisible after all. As I got within striking distance, Crane’s back stiffened and he cocked his head to one side. I froze.
“Ian?” the woman asked. “Are you okay?”
Crane shook his head, as if to shake off the uneasy feeling.
He can feel me, I realized. It was like coming out of a trance. All of a sudden, I was acutely aware of how stupid this plan was. I needed to get out of here.
The Director had told us that if UNITED won the battle, they’d execute everyone who’d been injected with the Creation Drug. He’d said UNITED feared us. They wanted to be the most powerful organization in the world, but they didn’t do anything with their power. They didn’t care that our race was going to become extinct if we didn’t make more Talents. They were elitist, and didn’t want to share the power with everyone. If they had their way, the Talented would go into hiding, living on secluded islands in the middle of the ocean, cut off from the rest of humanity.
I wasn’t going to waste the free pass Erik had given me by getting caught now.
“She’s shaken up but otherwise okay,” Crane said.
Even though I’d just vowed to get the hell out of there, I didn’t move.
“And the boy?” the British woman asked.
“Mostly he’s just worried about her. And his father. No word on his whereabouts yet.”
Crane sighed. “Using all that power took a toll on her. Dr. Patel is treating her.”
“You’ll tell me when the time comes to contain her,” the British woman said pointedly. “To contain all of them for that matter.”
“It won’t come to that, Victoria.”
Containment. There was that word again.
The British woman, Victoria, opened her mouth to respond, but Crane cut her off. “Do you feel that?”
“Feel what?” Victoria asked.
Crane surveyed the agents in the vicinity. He shook his head again. “Nevermind.”
An older man with considerable paunch hanging over the waistband of his fatigues called to the duo.
Get out of here, I ordered myself.
The conversation had been intriguing if not a little confusing, and I wanted to hear more. But my desire to remain a free girl trumped my curiosity. And several moments later I waltzed across the border, right under the noses of swarms of UNITED agents. It was easier than I’d imagined.
With Fragile Facade coming out soon, today's Throwback is from Courting Chaos! Hopefully this will give those of you who have had the chance to check out the serials a little refresher. For those of you who have not, read on and see how the mystery is unfolding!!!
Book: Courting Chaos, Blind Barriers Vol. #2
Release Date: January 17, 2014
For the bargain price of thirty-nine dollars roundtrip, MegaBus will take you from New York City’s Chinatown to Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown. You can’t beat that, right? WRONG. I’d made the mistake of being economical once, and never again. Not only was the bus overcrowded, hot, and deafeningly loud, with the pungent odor of egg rolls, the luggage compartment underneath had been filled with TVs, stereos, and other expensive electronics. I’d watched them load it all up while waiting to board. It was a pretty safe bet they’d fallen off the back of a truck somewhere, so the whole ride I just kept picturing the police pulling the bus over and busting the lot of us. I could picture the headline: Lark Kingsley, Arrested for Transporting Stolen Goods Across State Lines. My mother would die of shame – literally.
I rubbed my fingers down the velvety cloth of the seat I was currently sitting in, shuddering slightly as I thought of the sticky plastic material that had covered the bus’s seats. The smooth ride, the comfortable temperature, the lack of abusive odors, these seemingly small luxuries of the train made it a hugely favorable alternative to bumping along Interstate 95 down to the Nation’s Capital. Sure, it was four times the price. But it was worth every extra penny.
Without warning, the masculine hand atop the armrest next to me covered the small distance and wrapped warm fingers around mine. Another shiver went through me – this one of pure pleasure. Every single touch just felt so right. I hadn’t even known that was truly possible. Romance novels claimed the busty beautiful heroine melted every time her brooding lover turned his smoldering dark gaze on her; I’d chalked up the fantasy to good fiction – until Blake. His touch did make my insides gooey as liquid chocolate. And I did feel the desire burning in his gorgeous gaze when it met mine. Blake looked at me as if I was the most beautiful girl in the world. What really made my knees go weak, though, was the love he felt secure enough to put on display. No one had ever loved me the way Blake did. And the feelings were mutual. I loved him so much that my heart almost ached sometimes from the overload of emotion.
I turned from the window and my ruminations to where Blake sat next to me. I grinned like an idiot before snuggling my head down into the crook of his shoulder. If I could just have this, this peace, this calm, this lack of pretense forever, I’d die a happy woman.
He kissed the top of my head, his lips lingering against my hair a moment before he spoke. “I need to use the little boys’ room; we’re going to be there in just a few minutes.”
I sat up and smiled again, brushing my lips across his soft mouth in reply. He stood and began making his way down the aisle, moving steadily and confidently despite the movement of the train. As soon as he was out of sight, I reached down into the bag at my feet and pulled out a folded piece of paper. It was silly, and kind of cheesy, but I loved hiding notes for him to find later. This one went into the side pocket of his messenger bag, tucked within the Welcome folder from Georgetown. I pictured him finding it when he took out the folder to check his itinerary, or consult the campus map, and couldn’t help but giggle. Blake always called or sent a text as soon as he found one of my short messages to him.
Lately, I’d been on a themed kick, entitling the first of the series “10 Things I Love About You (Because There’s Nothing I Hate).” It was a little before my time, but I loved the Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger film, and knew Blake would appreciate the homage. The one I’d just hidden was Number Four: How you make me feel like anything is possible, as long as we’re together.
Of course, if our parents had their respective ways, in just under a year we wouldn’t be in the same city. It’s not that they were trying to keep us apart or anything – they would have to know we were together first – they just had their own agendas for our futures. With my parents’ plans for me including Columbia and Blake’s father expecting him to attend his alma mater, Georgetown, we were dealing with a slight hurdle. I didn’t let this get me down though, I had no doubts that we would figure it out. Our entire relationship was tricky and required delicate maneuvering. School next year was just par for the course, another obstacle for us to overcome together.
“You are so cute when you’re deep in thought. You scrunch up your nose,” Blake declared as he slid back into his seat. He kissed the tip of my nose, before moving down to my lips. We were the only two in an alcove meant for six, so when he hesitantly deepened the kiss, I went with it. He sighed and tangled his fingers in my hair, his other hand slipping around my waist to draw me as close as the arm rests would allow.
Before our make out session had even reached a PG-13 rating, chimes dinged overhead, and an automated voice announced, “Now approaching our final destination: Union Station, Washington, D.C.”
“Thwarted by the bell again,” Blake declared as we broke apart.
We both laughed. Because our secret relationship was, well, secret, our more intimate encounters were constantly interrupted. It happened so often that it was genuinely comical.
Blake’s hand was now cupping my cheek. His eyes searched mine as his thumb moved gently against my skin. Slowly, without breaking eye contact, he leaned towards me again. This time when his lips found mine, the kiss was softer but just as heart-stopping as the first. Only the abrupt stopping of the train ended our hold on each other. Blake brought our joined hands to his lips and kissed each knuckle, making the chaste gesture incredible intimate. Using the other hand, he scooped up both of our overnight bags, and we disembarked just like that. His hold never faltered for a second. Sure, holding hands was something even ten-year-olds did during their playground romances. Unfortunately, we, teenagers on the precipice of adulthood, didn’t have the luxury of PDA of any sort at home. We never knew who might be watching, or walking by. The anonymity of being in an entirely different city as our friends and families was glorious.
Without stopping to consult any of the signs, Blake led me through the station, into a cavernous space where passengers were in varied states of hurry, and out into the sunshine. Ever the gentleman, Blake walked on the side nearest the street, passing a line of people waiting for taxis. A line of black Towncars sat idling several yards ahead. He paused briefly to peruse the men standing next to their vehicles. Each dark sedan was identical to the next, making it impossible to tell them apart, which was why the drivers all held signs bearing their passenger’s name in neat bold-faced type. Spotting Greyfield, Blake led me to the car his father had insisted on hiring for the weekend. The tall, thin driver wore black slacks and a white shirt, instead of the more formal suit and tie of his counterparts; he spotted us immediately.
“Good morning, folks. Blake?” His questioning gaze was friendly.
“Yes, sir. How are you doing today? Blake Greyfield.” Blake set our bags down and held out his free hand. The driver looked slightly taken aback by the gesture, but readily accepted the proffered handshake. “And this is Lark.”
I greeted the driver with a smile and a small wave to put him at ease since he looked slightly confused by my presence. This seemed to relax him, and he didn’t ask any questions.
“Nice to meet you both. I’m Calvin Goode, but my friends call me Cal. You’re welcome to do the same if you like. May I put your bags in the trunk?” he asked, already reaching for the overnight cases.
“That’d be great, Cal. Thank you,” Blake answered.
While Cal was doing that, Blake opened the rear passenger door for me. I got in and immediately slid to the far side, so he wouldn’t have to walk through the honking traffic in front of the train station. When we were both inside and settled, Blake was sitting in the middle of the seat, so our legs were touching.
“So, where are we headed?” Cal asked once he was behind the wheel.
“First, we’re going to take the beautiful Lark to the W Hotel, and then I’ll need to head over to Georgetown,” Blake replied.
“Your wish is my command, at least for the next two days.”
Traffic was light for a Saturday morning, especially compared to Manhattan. As we drove, I realized how different the two cities were. Here, trees lined many of the streets, and the buildings were short, completely unlike the mammoth skyscrapers of New York that obscured the sun and cast dark shadows over the bustling metropolis. Compared to our island of tightly packed steel and granite, the District felt as if it was wide open. You could actually breathe here. I’d been to D.C. on an eighth grade field trip, but hadn’t appreciated these small pleasures then. Maybe it was being with Blake. The world appeared different when we were together, as if he was my own personal pair of rose-colored glasses. Snuggling into Blake, I sighed in contentment and watched the buildings with their beautiful architecture passing by outside the window. I would’ve been happy driving around all day, tucked against his side. A few times I looked up and caught Cal smiling at us in the rear view mirror. There was no way to tell for sure, but I had a feeling he’d keep my presence here with Blake between the three of us.
Much too soon, we arrived at the W. Blake checked his watch as Cal unloaded our bags from the trunk and handed them over to a waiting porter. He was eyeing the nearby intersection, where the road we’d driven over on dead-ended into another one with only an occasional car driving by. Blake looked uneasy, glancing nervously at the light traffic.
“Don’t bother getting a cab, sweetie. Take the car. I don’t want you to be late for your lunch,” I told him, anticipating that Blake was about to insist Cal remain at my beck and call.
“No, no, you keep it in case you want to go somewhere.” Exactly as I thought, he never failed to be the perfect gentleman.
“Seriously, love, take it. I’m not planning on going anywhere in particular, I’ll probably just wander around for a bit, no biggie. The best way to sightsee is on foot, anyway. I honestly prefer it that way,” I said with a smile. I kissed him lightly before stepping away. “I know you have to get going. I’ll be fine, I promise.”
“Sir, we’ll be more than happy to order the lady a car or hail her a cab if she needs one,” the waiting porter offered.
“See? They’ve got me covered,” I said.
This seemed to mollify Blake, who stepped forward and kissed me again, reaching down to squeeze my hand as he did.
“I have my cell if you need anything. Anything at all. And I’m sure Cal has a card if you need him.” As if on cue, Cal stepped forward and produced two cards with his name, cell number, and the main line for the car service. He offered one to me and one to the porter.
“Have fun, sweetie,” I told Blake, squeezing his hand back before shooing him towards the door Cal was holding open.
Blake ducked his head to get in the car, and rolled down the window once inside. “See you tonight?”
I blew him a kiss in response.
The porter – his name tag read Mark, and I made a mental note to remember it – held the door open for me when I turned away from the departing car. I’m sure he thought we were more than a little dramatic; two kids in love who couldn’t stand to be apart. He smiled politely as I passed, but the jaded look in his eye told me what he really thought: It will never last. Poor Mark.
Entering the lobby, I paused to admire the glass-top bar immediately to my right. Despite the fact we were both only eighteen, I had no doubt the bartenders would serve us tonight should we decide to hang out down here. As unfair as it was, the Kingsleys, Vanderkams and Greyfields of the world were treated differently. Even here, in a city where my family’s every move wasn’t documented on Page Six, people would still recognize my last name. Maybe they’d begrudge me the fact that I’d been born into the “right” family, but that wouldn’t stop them from falling all over themselves to cater to my every whim. I didn’t kid myself, I knew the only reason people were extra nice to me was the hope I’d slip them large bills for their trouble. Whether or not you believe money makes the world go round, it certainly does grease the wheels, and a lot of outstretched palms. And for many, the name Kingsley was interchangeable with money. It wasn’t exactly the greatest thing ever.
Shaking my head, I dismissed the sad thoughts and focused on the fact I had a whole weekend away from most of that. Looking up, I noticed a large chandelier made of twisted blown glass, the colors bouncing off the flawless white marble floor below, hung from the vaulted ceiling. Maybe it was totally dorky, but I whipped out my cell and took a picture with my camera phone. I loved art, and recognized a Chihuly when I saw one. It was a masterpiece, juxtaposing the fragility of glass with the strength of bold reds, yellows, blues, and greens.
I quickly checked in at the reception desk. The attendant smiled a little too brightly when I gave my name. I took the keycards, and discreetly passed the bellhop a folded bill as I asked him to take the bags to the room. Then, retracing my steps, I emerged once more into the sunny day.
“I’ve changed my mind, I’ll need that cab after all,” I told Mark. His eyebrows raised, and he looked quite smug, as if he’d caught me in a lie.
“Where are you headed, Miss?” he asked surreptitiously. It was a common practice for a man in his position to tell a hailed cabdriver where to take the passenger, but I knew curiosity was the real reason he’d asked.
I’d have to be careful around Mark, I decided. He was too interested.
Three hours later, I was feeling frustrated and disheartened. Walking out of yet another posh lobby, I decided to walk for a bit instead of hailing yet another cab, my fifth in three hours. I strolled for a while with no concern for direction, and turned at random when I came to crossings. Row homes lined the majority of the side streets, but I was looking for something more modern. I stuck to the heavily trafficked roads, knowing that the urban feel was more my style. From the signs, I gathered that GeorgeWashingtonUniversity was about half a mile ahead. There was a small park, and I stopped to look around. I couldn’t get over all the green space here, or how many people were gathered in these areas, reading books, playing chess, running around with their dogs. On the corner across from the park was a small café with tables outside, and my grumbling stomach led me there.
Following the sign’s instruction to seat myself, I settled in at a table next to two young guys holding hands and laughing at some untold joke. They seemed so relaxed, so unaware of who was around and paying attention. It was incredibly refreshing. In New York everyone – gay, straight, or otherwise – focused on appearance. Teenagers, or at least those who weren’t in a clandestine relationship, might demonstrate PDA, but not the adults. That was taboo among our sort, as my mother always reminded me. It drove me nuts when she said things like that. Our sort? Exactly who was our sort? It was as if she thought we were members of the royal family observing protocol, and showing affection in public was much too common for our kind. As I sat there, wishing that Blake and I could switch lives with the two of them, the young couple caught me staring longingly at them. I smiled, feeling my face flame with embarrassment, and then quickly began to rummage around in my purse. Normally, I would never carry such a large and heavy bag with me when wandering around, but today’s errands made it necessary.
The waitress came over and handed me a menu. “Can I get you something to drink while you look?” she asked.
“Um, I’ll just take iced tea and,” I quickly glanced down at the menu, “a turkey club.”
“Coming right up.”
I felt almost naughty ordering a sandwich, which I knew was laughable. At home everyone appraised what everyone else ordered when we were at restaurants, so salads were all anybody ever got. It was like shame dieting. Heaven forbid you ordered something with more than four hundred calories or with a single carb. Some girls even quietly competed to see who could order less, their victories a triumph unbeknownst to the opponents. Last week, when the rest of us ordered spinach salads with strawberries, almonds and balsamic vinegar, Lydia Gromsley had ordered last, requesting only iceberg lettuce with plain mustard. She’d worn a victorious grin for most of the meal. Inwardly, I’d worn my own smug smile because at least my salad tasted good, even if it hadn’t filled me up. Luckily she wasn’t part of the Eight, so Lydia didn’t eat with us frequently.
When my ordinarily shameful lunch was delivered, I took a large bite, delighting in the crispy bacon, crunchy lettuce, fresh tomatoes, and toasted sourdough bread. When a little bit of mayonnaise dripped onto my plate – I hadn’t even told them to hold the mayo! – I scooped it up with a French fry, as they do in Amsterdam. This was the first time I’d taken a trip without any of the Eight, without my parents, without anyone to judge me. It was the most freeing feeling that I could imagine. I watched a miniature poodle bouncing around on its hind legs, trying to grab a bone held above its head and laughed. If that wasn’t a metaphor for my life…
I watched the various people in the park while I finished my sandwich, thinking about how different life must be for those people. The people here were well dressed, yes, but it was more laid-back East Coast casual than Fashion Week at Bryant Park. I saw more Vineyard Vines than Prada, more J Crew than Chanel, more sandals and boat shoes than stilettos and boots. I knew it was the weekend, and most of the older crowd would suit up come Monday, but the weekends here were a time to kick back and relax. I really liked that.
With that thought, I pushed my plate away and pulled the folded newspaper from my purse. It was easy to get a copy of The Washington Post from any newsstand on the Upper East Side, and I’d done some recon before coming here with Blake this weekend. Now I turned to where I’d circled several apartment listings, crossing out the ones I’d already visited. My frustration returned, thinking of the places I’d seen and discarded. There were only two left circled. Looking back over to the park, to where the poodle was now playing with a miniature Schnauzer and a toy Pomeranian, I crossed out those as well. Neither was pet-friendly, and I suddenly loved the idea of maybe getting a dog. It would be nice to have a companion. I’d never had a pet before, unless you counted the single beta fish that my mother had given me when I’d begged for a puppy as a child. I knew it was a huge responsibility, that I alone would have to feed him, walk him, and care for him, but I at least wanted the option.
Looking around the area, I decided to just wander for a bit, burn off some of the superfluous calories from my lunch. Just as I was getting up, the young couple near me stood as well. One of the guys, the one with scruff on his face, glanced over at me. He wore a red and blue striped Rugby shirt with khaki shorts and Sperry loafers and looked every bit the part of New England preppy. His partner, who was clean shaven and sporting quite a bit of hair product, was checking the table for anything left behind.
“Looking for an apartment?” Rugby shirt asked, glancing pointedly at the paper in my hand. His boyfriend looked over in surprise, having not noticed me before. In his pink polo, he was definitely more effeminate than his rugged counterpart.
“Yeah, I’m kind of striking out though. I don’t know anything about the area, so it’s difficult to gauge the apartments from the paper until I get there.” I didn’t want to offend these guys and their city, so I chose not to remark on the areas that gentrification hadn’t reached yet. I’d vetoed one apartment from inside the cab, as soon as we’d turned on to the street.
“You poor thing. Some of the neighborhoods are ghe-tto,” he responded, emphasizing the syllables.
“Yeah, you don’t belong anywhere besides Northwest, and not north of Columbia Heights,” pink polo chimed in, unabashedly appraising me. “Let me guess, you’re from Manhattan?”
“Guilty as charged,” I said with a smile. “What gave it away?” I’d chosen Tory Burch flats – not the ones I’d apparently worn last weekend, but the same style in nude – white jeans and a flowy top with the designer’s trademark zigzags in coral, navy and white. I’d figured it would fit in anywhere on a Saturday afternoon.
“It’s not your outfit sweetie, though I love it. I’m not sure which I’m crazier about- the patent leather shoes or that coral pop in your Missoni. But it’s not that. I grew up on the island, I’d know a fellow New Yorker anywhere,” pink polo reassured me.
“Oh, nice! And thank you.” I was still trying not to giggle over his quick assessment of my attire. “How do you like living here?”
“Love it!” he declared. “There’s more power here, yet it’s somehow not as frantic. And I never would’ve snagged this hottie if I hadn’t moved.” Rugby shirt looked at polo with a smile, a slight blush creeping up his neck. He turned back to me and stuck out his hand.
“Sorry, I’m Zeke.”
“Hi Zeke,” I replied, shaking his hand. “I’m L- Lila.” You’re such a weirdo, I thought to myself. Sometimes I used Lila when I was out with my friends, in cases where I wanted to fly under the radar. My family was obviously well-known, and I don’t have the most common name, so it worked in those situations.
“Hi Lila, I’m Nick,” pink polo said. With his piercing blue eyes, chiseled face, and sandy hair, and Zeke’s chocolate eyes, almost-black hair, and broad build, the two really did make a striking couple.
“So, what kind of place are you looking for? What areas have you checked out?” Zeke asked. At this point, we were just standing in the entranceway to the café, blocking new customers.
“Um, I’d prefer an apartment to a townhouse or rowhome if possible. And obviously somewhere safe. Where do you guys live?”
“We live near here,” he replied.
“And where would here be, exactly?”
Nick smirked, not even trying to hide his amusement. “That’s CardozoPark,” he said, gesturing to the park across the street. “We’re in the southern part of Columbia Heights, near the U Street Corridor.”
“Don’t mock her,” Zeke chided gently, pushing Nick’s arm in a playful manner. “You didn’t know anything about the District when you moved here either. Lila, would you like to walk home with us? We can give you a little tour of the neighborhood along the way, it’ll give you a chance to check out the area.”
“Really?” I asked, excited to have some assistance, but not wanting to disrupt their afternoon plans. “I would love that, but I don’t want to inconvenience you guys.”
“Not at all,” Nick responded, threading his arm through mine. “It’ll be fun, like a scavenger hunt.”
We walked around for over an hour, chatting easily the whole time. Zeke and Nick had clearly abandoned their plans to go home, and embraced their new roles at tour guides. The guys pointed out the best brunch spots, their favorite happy hour haunts, and the bars with good live music, and described how to get to the closest Whole Foods. There was a CVS on nearly every corner, and Nick explained how CVS is a convenience store here. New Yorkers use Duane Reade, but in DC CVS is the one-stop-shop – and it’s way more spacious than our tiny markets. It’s where everyone goes for everything from snacks to toilet paper, first aid supplies to prepared dinners and desserts.
As we walked back up U Street in the direction of the park, we started to meander the side streets. Just two blocks past Cardozo, a building that was taller than the surrounding houses caught my eye.
The corner jutted out over the sidewalk, as if the square building had been turned slightly askew. The façade was entirely glass, with shiny struts delineating the apartments themselves. On one side of the front lobby door was an Organic Market, on the other was a restaurant with a small independent bookstore inside. Through the window of the latter, I could see a young guy with flawless cocoa skin strumming a guitar and singing into a microphone.
“What’s this place?” I asked, turning to the boys who’d stopped as well.
“It’s new, ultra-modern and coveted in this area. It’s the height of gentrification, sweeping through old decrepit buildings and turning them into luxury apartments. It’s called The Pines,” Zeke added.
“I think…” I paused, contemplating the building and its surroundings. “I think I’m going to go check it out.”
Keep reading for a sneak peek at a passage from Lark's journal entry!!!
Book: Fragile Facade, Blind Barriers Vol. #3
With the release of Fragile Facade just over a week away, I made today's Throwback a passage from Blind Barriers! If you haven't started unraveling the mystery, here is your chance!!!
Book: Blind Barriers (Blind Barriers Series, Vol. #1)
Orginally Published: June 2013
Dinner was, for lack of a better word, weird. The Ethiopian restaurant, Denbi’s, was a twenty-minute walk from the apartment. I offered to drive us down to U Street, but Asher said parking was a nightmare and it would be better to walk. He was a talkative guy, never allowing a lapse in conversation or an awkward pause. I held up my end of the exchange with a lot of “uh-huh’s” and “that’s cool’s”. Normally my social skills were better, but my mind was preoccupied.
I kept thinking about the journal I’d found. Despite my resolve to quell my curiosity and not invade the journal owner’s privacy, my fingers practically itched to do just that. Since I’d started keeping a journal myself, I wanted to know what deep dark secrets this person wrote about.
I’d decided the journal belonged to a girl. No real reason for my assessment besides the fact that no boy I knew kept a journal. Were her mental ramblings as incoherent and boring as mine? Did she write about eating granola bars on a park bench? Or was her life full of interesting adventures? Maybe she was a world traveler and her journal would be a log of exotic locations like the ones celebrities visited. Maybe she was a bored housewife who got busy with the pool boy while her preoccupied, workaholic husband was away on business and her kids were at their overpriced private school. Then again, maybe she was a cutter and the entries would have detailed accounts of the pains she took to hide the thin, angry red lines the razor blade left on her inner thighs or the sensitive skin in the crook of her arm. Depressing thought.
“What do you think?” Asher was asking.
I blinked behind my oversized sunglasses. What did I think about what?
Frantically I racked my subconscious for a clue as to what he’d been saying while I’d been daydreaming about another person’s life.
“Tax law sounds boring, I know,” Asher continued. “And I’d probably have to get an LLM, which is another year, minimum, after law school. But it’s stable work, so I’ll never have to worry about a job. Criminal law sounds exciting, but in working for a DA’s office you do mostly DUI cases. Most of those people plead out, so my time in court would be minimal.”
“If it were me, I’d want to do international law,” I said decisively. “Work for Amnesty International. Or maybe try war crimes at The Hague.”
This admission surprised me for a number of reasons. First of all, I’d never considered going into law and, therefore, had never thought about what type of law interested me. Then there was the fact that I wasn’t exactly a poster child for charity work. I knew next to nothing about Amnesty International, except that there was some politician who was making news lately for his involvement with the organization. The Hague was in the Netherlands, that much I knew for sure. Ask me to find the Netherlands on a map, though, and - well, it wouldn’t happen.
“I’ve thought about that,” Asher replied, smiling as he glanced at me out of the corner of his eye. The smile faltered a second later. “My dad does international and environmental law. Not the good kind, though.”
“Is there a bad kind?”
For the first time on our walk, Asher was quiet. I feared that I’d somehow managed to upset him. For the life of me, though, I didn’t know how.
“Yeah,” he finally mumbled, “there is.”
“Environmental law would be cool. Alternative energy sources, preserving the world for future generations and all that,” I said to cover the awkwardness.
A twenty-something man in a Penn State t-shirt and red mesh shorts was jogging towards us on the sidewalk. He had earbuds in and was lip-singing along with a song only he could hear. Asher and I stepped onto the grass strip that separated the street and the sidewalk to let him pass. A young couple whizzed by on their bicycles to our left, the boy shouting to the girl over his shoulder.
“Why do people roll only one pants leg up when they ride a bike?” I asked Asher, pointing to the boy whose jeans were rolled up to the knee on one side.
Asher laughed, a deep, rich sound that reverberated through his entire body. I wondered what it would be like to lie on his chest, my ear pressed to his heart, while he laughed just like that.
“What’s so funny?” I asked, giggling to cover my confusion.
“I figured a do-gooder environmentalist like you would know,” Asher joked.
“I never said I was a do-gooder,” I protested, suddenly defensive.
Asher sobered instantly at my haughty tone. He cleared his throat awkwardly. “The chain. People roll their pants so the chain doesn’t rub.”
“Here we are.”
We were standing on the corner of U and 10th Streets. A blue awning with “Denbi’s” printed in white block letters hung overhead. The sign on the glass door was flipped to “open.”
Asher grabbed the door handle and motioned for me to go first. A bell tinkled as I crossed the threshold, signaling our arrival. The hostess stood behind a wooden podium playing with her iPhone. Her milky-white cheeks puffed with annoyance at our interruption. Apparently her text conversation was more important to her than her job.
“Two?” she asked, sounding bored.
“Yep,” Asher replied. “Can we sit by the window?” He turned to me. “People watching is great here.”
The hostess grabbed two menus from the podium and motioned for us to follow her. Asher placed his hand on the small of my back and applied the lightest of pressure, just enough to let me know he was there. A chill ran down my spine. I liked how reassuring his touch was. He probably meant nothing by it, but I felt calm and safe for the first time since coming to the city. Too bad my back was slick with sweat. Hopefully he couldn’t feel that through the thick cotton of my polo.
The table the waitress showed us to was cheap green plastic. Two matching chairs sat on either side with surprisingly comfortable green-and-white-striped cushions. A single fake, white rose was plunked in a small glass vase next to a silver napkin dispenser. Oddly, the round bottom of the vase was full of water.
“I’ll get your waiter.” The hostess placed our menus on the table and resumed texting as she walked away.
“What’s good?” I asked Asher.
Only a handful of the menu items had English descriptions beneath the entréenames.
“Depends,” Asher shrugged. “Do you have a meat preference?”
“No beef tongue. Otherwise I’m game for anything.”
“Beef tongue is actually very good. Have you ever had it?”
“Once,” I admitted.
“Not a fan?”
“I couldn’t get past the tongue thing.”
“Fair enough.” Asher returned his attention to the menu. “How do you feel about lamb?”
I shrugged. Lamb wasn’t my favorite, but Ethiopian was so spicy that I doubted the taste of the meat would come through. “I could do lamb.”
Our waiter appeared next to the table, placing two large glasses of ice water down followed by napkin-wrapped utensils he pulled from a small black apron around his waist. I was relieved to see that our waiter was dark-skinned with sharp cheekbones. The pasty-white hostess had made me dubious. I liked my restaurants authentic. I only ate sushi if the chef was Japanese. Mexican food was only acceptable from hole-in-the-wall dives where the wait staff spoke Spanish. I wasn’t 100% positive that our current waiter was Ethiopian, but if I had to guess, I would say he was.
“Something besides water?” the waiter asked.
Asher glanced up, inviting me to answer first.
“No, thank you,” I replied.
“Bud Light,” Asher said.
The waiter nodded and didn’t ask Asher for ID. I considered amending my drink order to a glass of wine, but then decided against it. It would be just my luck that the waiter would ID me, and I didn’t have a fake.
“Do you need some more time with the menu?” the waiter asked.
Again, Asher looked to me for the answer. I shrugged in response.
“Do you trust me?” Asher asked.
The question caught me off guard. Sure, he was talking about the food, but I found myself contemplating his words. Did I trust him? I’d known him for an hour. Yet, he put me at ease, relaxed me. Trust wasn’t something I gave out lightly. Too many people in my life had let me down.
I met Asher’s gaze and smiled. “I do.”
Asher grinned. “We’ll do the lamb wot and the doro wot fitfit, spicy,” he told the waiter.
We handed our menus to the waiter, who took a second to write our order on an old-style guest check pad before tucking them underneath one arm.
I took a moment to really observe my surroundings. Denbi’s looked as if a rainbow had exploded inside. The tables lining the window were the same green as ours. But the rounded booths were decorated with bright yellow, red, and orange pillows atop brown leather benches. Strands of Christmas lights hung from the ceiling, winking on and off, on and off. Curtains that had probably once been red, but were now faded to pink, were pulled back from the window with braided gold cords. Painted beads dangled from a door frame that I assumed led to the kitchen since our waiter disappeared through it.
I liked the décor, I decided. The color palate made me think of Mardi Gras. We were the only patrons, but it was early for dinner, and I could imagine the atmosphere was extremely festive at peak hours.
“Did you get settled in?” Asher asked.
“I guess,” I replied. “I don’t have a lot of stuff, so there wasn’t much to put away.”
“You’re from Pennsylvania?” It was a question, but one that he clearly thought he knew the answer to.
I narrowed my eyes suspiciously. “What makes you think that?”
“You have PA plates on your car.”
I sipped my water, silently admonishing myself for the brief moment of panic.
“The car is new,” I said. “Well, new to me. I bought it just before heading down here.”
“Guess I know where to go when I need to mooch a ride.”
“Only if you promise to be my tour guide,” I said.
“It would be my pleasure.” Asher grinned and butterflies invaded my stomach.
My agenda didn’t include meeting a guy, but if this was the hand that fate dealt me, I’d take it.
The food was not bad. Better than I remembered Ethiopian being anyway. Even the grey pancakes tasted better when I shared them with Asher.
On the walk home we stopped by Frozen Dreams, a pay-by-the-pound yogurt shop. Asher insisted on paying for my dessert, which, after I loaded it down with chocolate chips, waffle cone bits, and gummy bears, came to almost ten dollars. Thankfully, Asher had a sweet tooth too, and his sundae rivaled mine in weight.
“You don’t talk about yourself much,” Asher noted as we sat in the high-backed bar stools at my kitchen counter.
We’d both managed to consume half our yogurt cups, and I was now swirling the melting remains with the plastic spoon.
“I’m not all that interesting,” I replied. I wasn’t trying to be self-deprecating. My life wasn’t very exciting. Moving here was the biggest adventure I’d ever been on. I hadn’t traveled abroad. I barely read books. And couldn’t recall the last movie I’d seen.
“I seriously doubt that,” Asher laughed. “That head of yours is probably full of secrets.” He tugged a strand of my short, dark hair.
Instead of responding, I resumed eating my frozen yogurt, which had turned into a chocolate soup. The remaining gummy bears bobbed their heads above the surface like tiny drowning men waiting to be rescued.
“Who do you know at The Pines?” Asher asked after several long, awkward moments.
My head whipped up. “What?” I stuttered.
The journal I’d found in my trunk was sitting on the kitchen counter, the key card poking out from beneath the pages. I could’ve sworn that I put it back in the envelope.
“The Pines,” Asher held up the white key card. “That place is nice. Too rich for my blood.”
“The Pines is here? In D.C.?”
“Yeah. It’s new. Just opened last spring, I think. One of those state-of-the-art places. Marble countertops, stainless steel appliances, bamboo floors, the whole deal.”
“Where is it?” I asked.
“Florida and W area. Not far from here. You could walk if you wanted.”
I held out my hand, silently asking for the key card. “I found it, actually. I was going to return it tomorrow.”
As soon as I said it, I knew it was the first thing I would do the following morning. Though the key card’s owner had probably gotten herself a new one by now, I was sure she’d still want her journal returned. At least I would, if it were me.
“I don’t have plans, if you want company?” Asher offered.
I almost said yes, but then decided against it. Asher was a nice guy, and I enjoyed spending time with him. But I wanted to return the journal by myself.
“Thanks, but I don’t want to put you out,” I said instead.
“If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”
That I do, I thought with a smile.
By the time Asher left, I was exhausted and had a horrendous headache. Hitting my head not once, but twice, on the trunk had probably given me a concussion. The sun had finally set, bringing the temperature of the apartment down from unbearable to only slightly miserable. I’d turned the air conditioner on before dinner, but it had done little to cool the tiny apartment. Stripping down to only my tank top and underwear, I climbed into bed. Normally, I liked to fall asleep to the television; too much quiet put my nerves on edge. Instead, I took the journal to bed with me that night.
I still found reading the contents intrusive, but could no longer suppress my curiosity. What were the odds that the car I bought in Pennsylvania had the journal of a girl who lived in D.C. in it? Probably astronomical. Maybe I should buy a lotto ticket at the corner store while I was out the next day.
My hands shook slightly when I opened the journal, anticipating all of the secrets I might learn about the mystery girl. At least, I hoped it would be interesting, unlike the contents of my own; tales of trysts and scandals would be far better reading than the reenactment of a run-of-the-mill day in a new town. I hesitated for a beat before turning past the title page. I knew it was wrong to pry, especially since I already knew the location of its owner. But I was just too curious. I rationalized it by telling myself that lots of people lived in the building, and I needed more information if I were to return it.
With that justification, I eagerly flipped to the first page with writing. The loopy scrawl across it gave me a small amount of satisfaction. I was right; the journal’s owner was definitely female. There was a date in the top right corner, September 14, but no year. I remembered what Asher said about The Pines opening just a few months before, and guessed the entry was from the previous fall.
Two words, larger than the rest, jumped from the bottom of the page, startling me so much that I actually dropped the journal. It landed on my stomach, the cover still open.
The journal entry was signed. Lark Kingsley. The missing girl, the one from New York City. The one whose disappearance was national news. I had her journal.