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.