You guys!!! I finally get first dibs on promoting a new Tonya Kuper book!! I'm so excited!! I loved her first book, Anomaly, and I'm so happy to see some news on the sequel Enigma, coming next fall.
While there isn't a new cover for Enigma, I just wanted to share some news and teasers on the first book, hoping you'll get the same curiosity I had back in 2014. Read more below:
Anomaly (Schrodinger’s Consortium #1) by Tonya Kuper
Published by Entangled Teen
Published on November 25th, 2014
Genre: YA Paranormal/sci fi
Reality is only an illusion. Except for those who can control it…
Worst. Birthday. Ever.
My first boyfriend dumped me—happy birthday, Josie!—my dad is who knows where, I have some weird virus that makes me want to hurl, and now my ex is licking another girl’s tonsils. Oh, and I’m officially the same age as my brother was when he died. Yeah, today is about as fun-filled as the swamps of Dagobah. But then weird things start happening… Like I make something materialize just by thinking about it. When hottily-hot badass Reid Wentworth shows up on a motorcycle, everything changes. Like, everything. Who I am. My family. What really happened to my brother. Existence. I am Oculi, and I have the ability to change reality with my thoughts. Now Reid, in all his hotness, is charged with guiding and protecting me as I begin learning how to bend reality. And he’s the only thing standing between me and the secret organization that wants me dead…
Read below for an excerpt from Anomaly: Copyright © 2014 by Tonya Kuper.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
“Hey, did you hear me?” my boyfriend, Tate, asked.
His chestnut hair didn’t even budge in the quick breeze sifting through the school’s outdoor cafeteria. It wasn’t his best feature.
“I’m ready to move forward in our relationship, to take it to the next level, but…I don’t think you are.”
My gut knotted. This ass with his action-figure hair was breaking up with me—on my birthday! I folded my clammy hands. I’d seen public breakups, but this was my first as an active participant. I side-eyed my two friends Charles and Lauren across the table. Lauren had stopped mid-chew of her hummus-dipped carrot. Charles paused with his sandwich halfway to his open mouth. I felt like I was wearing Princess Leia’s buns at a Star Trek convention.
Tate shuffled his feet in front of our bench. Waiting.
Pulling in a long sigh, I took a moment to think about my response. I knew name-calling wouldn’t do much good, so I settled on calling him out. “You mean I won’t put out, so you’re moving on to the next girl who will?”
Tate’s face flamed red. Did I have to say it that way? No. But come on. He was dumping me on my birthday. Total jerk move.
Tate stood, his thumbs tucked into his pockets, and his face returned to its normal tan hue. “It’s not just the physical stuff. You’re…different, Josie. Distant. It’s for the best, for both of us.” Seriously? Wow. “Um, friends?” he finally asked.
Friends? Um, no. His tongue had been down my throat a few nights ago, and I didn’t let just anyone do that. “Whatever, Tate.”
He walked past me, and that was it. My first real relationship over. Surprisingly, I felt like I could breathe easier, because I wouldn’t have that pressure of being a girlfriend anymore.
But I had managed to defy the high school social ladder. At least for a few months, I, Josie Harper, had succeeded at being a science-loving, Trekkie-dork-to-the-core girlfriend to a popular guy who literally didn’t know the difference between Lord of the Rings and Lord of the Flies. And they didn’t think it could be done. Lauren and Charles leaned toward me, both of them waiting for details. Lauren still hadn’t resumed crunching.
Well, I didn’t have the energy to dish, so I turned away from the table. The relationship was over and it was still exhausting. Leave it to Tate to make this as painful as possible. I watched him stroll off like he didn’t have a care in the world. No one spoke. But really, what was there to say?
“Happy birthday to you!” My best friend Hannah’s soprano voice and dark curls bounced on the balmy Florida air, cutting into the awkward silence. She skipped among the tables toward me, carrying a familiar teal box. I glanced back across the table to our usual lunch mates, who had just witnessed my humiliation.
Charles and Lauren made the “cut it” motion across their throats. “I agree with those two. Please don’t,” I moaned at Hannah. “It’s been a crap day.”
Hannah’s hazel eyes scrunched up in confusion as she positioned the box in front of me. Cupcakes. I welcomed whatever sugar euphoria they could provide me, but I didn’t think they would improve my mood. They were a bittersweet reminder of the day’s significance. “How is your birthday bad already? It’s only noon.” She sat next to me, facing the street, and I turned so both our backs were to the school. Conversations resumed among our friends behind us.
“Thank you for that keen observation, Wesley Crusher.” I forced my voice to lilt up with enthusiasm, but the pathetic Star Trek jab hung in the air. I peeked at my phone. “The exact time of my birth was technically three minutes ago, so maybe the rest of the day will be better.”
“Josie,” she whispered. “Seriously. What’s wrong? Is it your dad?” Hannah and I had latched onto each other the first day of sophomore year when we were both new to Naples and Oceanside High.
We hadn’t let go since. We basically knew everything about each other’s pasts—like, she knew I hadn’t seen my dad in more than a month and that my family was fragile. Hannah drew a breath next to me. I wasn’t about to make eye contact with her—she could read me like nobody else.
She’d asked what was wrong. Well, where to begin… “You want the rundown?”
She nudged me with her shoulder. “Yeah.”
“Okay,” I continued, despite the hollow feeling filling my stomach. “One: my dad hasn’t called, and I doubt he’s coming home. Nice, thanks a lot, Dad. Way to be there. Two: the lab assistant job I landed for the summer? Fell through. They left me a message during second block.”
Hannah groaned. I had been looking forward to that job—I needed that internship. It would’ve been perfect for college applications, and to let me escape this town. Because, for the love of Khan, I needed some space. I’d been on a tight leash since the day I was born, and an acceptance to an out-of-state university was my ticket to freedom. Case in point, the National Physics Honors Award. That was a biggie—and I wasn’t complaining about that. The flippin’ vice president of the country—yes, it was that big—would be hand-delivering my award in less than a week. Heck, that alone should’ve nabbed me this internship. Damn it. I side-glanced at Hannah. I didn’t think she would fully support me on anything college-related. Any conversation of where we were going for school, well, Hannah was not a fan. Because of my brainy ways, there was no way we would end up at the same place.
Swallowing a lump in the back of my throat, I tried to change the subject. “And three: Tate just broke up with me.”
“He what?” Hannah screeched and jumped up from the cement bench, whirling to face me head-on. Her cheer skirt gave the guys behind her a one-second show. “I thought things were going well. And he knew it was your birthday!”
She paced in front of me, muttering and swearing. The interesting ways in which she vowed to eff up Tate’s face made me smile despite the tears that continued to push at the backs of my eyes. After a particularly colorful threat that involved Tate and “his beloved man parts,”
Hannah sat back down and tore into the box. She pushed a cupcake toward me. “So no boyfriend, no dad, no job. Well, look at it this way—now you have even more reason to make a wish.” She ripped into a package of candles and shoved one into a cupcake frosted in the image of Sheldon Cooper. “Plus, now you’re back on the market for the party tonight.” She passed the cupcakes around the table. “Let’s turn this birthday around!”
She was a cheerleader on the field and off, an eternally optimist, sometimes annoyingly so. Lauren whooped in agreement. Charles slid a lighter toward the box, and Hannah’s enthusiasm ignited poor Sheldon’s whole face. It must have killed her to walk into Cake, Pie, and Chai café and order cupcakes decorated with the entire cast of The Big Bang Theory. She caught me smiling and winked. True. Best. Friend.
“Thanks, guys.” The yellow flame flickered.
Hannah whispered, “Make a wish.” My friends watched me, so I didn’t want to scoff at the silly birthday tradition. Wishes? Puh-lease. Wishes were right up there with Rudolph and Santa doing a sleigh drive-by. Or the Easter bunny delivering eggs. And no, it wasn’t my statistical analysis or scientific surety that told me so. Oh, I’d made wishes. Thousands upon thousands of them. But none brought back my brother. When Hannah had asked about my craptastic day, I hadn’t brought up missing Nick. But I did miss him. I wished my brother were here with me now. With him by my side, I wouldn’t feel out of place, so different.
“Josie, if you don’t make that wish soon, Sheldon Cooper is going to melt like the wicked witch from Oz.”
No, there was no point in “wishing.” If I wanted results, I’d have to achieve them for myself. I wish for…choice. Choice was attainable. Well, maybe. With all the rules and restrictions from my mom, I was pretty limited in the whole “choosing” department. But this seventeenth birthday marked me one day closer to independence. To college. To being who I wanted to be without reservation. If nothing else, when my eighteenth b-day rolled around, this would be in my grasp. I smothered my own smile. See? A wish could come true, with the proper parameters. The flame disappeared with barely a blow. My friends clapped, and I was already starting to feel better. They were sweet for trying to make my day special. Everyone dove into the iced deliciousness, Charles, of course, grabbing for the Penny cupcake and making a gross tongue swipe across her frosted face. Pig. I broke off a corner of mine, savored the equal parts of vanilla cake and smooth, sugary frosting. A rumble yanked our attention to the street as a motorcycle pulled up directly in front of us, the April sun reflecting off the red lacquer. Our crew, along with every other student in the courtyard, stared at the biker’s broad chest encased in a blue tee, tan arms bunching as he throttled the bike down.
“Yummy,” Hannah said. “And I don’t mean the cupcake.” Another bike rolled up between the red one and the curb. A black crotch rocket. Black helmet and black tee on a whole lotta muscle. Whoa.
“Maybe my birthday won’t be so bad after all,” I murmured.
I glanced down at my MAY THE MASS TIMES ACCELERATION BE WITH YOU tank top. As I straightened the words across my chest, I licked my lips, checking for leftover frosting. In case the motorcycle guy looked my way, I needed to at least be presentable.
Hannah gasped and hit my hand. “You didn’t happen to wish for a hot dude, did you?”
Both riders cut their engines, kicked down the stands, and shifted to take off their helmets. I watched the guy on the black bike. I definitely had an image of what the perfect guy under that helmet would look like to make my every birthday wish come true. I wanted him to have longish hair. Like a dark-haired young Thor, not old-school, trying-too-hard Jonas-brother long. Light blue eyes. Some scruff, not thick. More scruff meant too old. And a tattoo. Pain shot through my eyes and magma must’ve taken the place of my brain. Nausea swept through me from head to toe, leaving a cold sweat on my forehead. It all happened in a matter of seconds. What the—? As soon as I recognized that I might actually yak in front of the entire student body—and the hot biker guy!—the urge was gone. No more migraine. I felt fine. I wiped my forehead and refocused on the guy in black. His arm flexed as he pulled off his helmet, and the sleeve of his T-shirt tightened over his sculpted biceps. Dark wavy locks fell into the guy’s face. The rest of his hair skimmed his broad shoulders. Holy hotness.
He tucked his helmet under his arm, ran his hand over his face, then leaned down to look into his side-view mirror. “Are you shitting me?” he yelled.
The other rider, who’d already pulled off his helmet, almost fell from his bike, laughing. Mr. Hottie scanned the courtyard. Who was he looking for? He swung his leg over his seat and continued to survey each table of students. Until he got to us. The guy stared. At me. Shit, he must’ve caught me checking him out. His eyes locked on mine, and he strode forward to imaginary music that played in my head. Each of his steps matched the beat of the song. Each step held confidence as he moved with the purpose and grace of a uniformed marine. When he was about twelve feet from me, I noticed the edge of a tattoo peeking out from under his sleeve in the same place as Nick’s had been. The stranger drew closer. Black lashes outlined his brilliant blue eyes. The contrast between his lashes and irises was startling. Stunning.
But there was something behind the eyes. A familiarity. The lingering frosting turned sweeter in my mouth. I swallowed. I didn’t know him…did I? Four steps away. His beautiful eyes widened as something flickered across his face. He halted abruptly, furrowed brow and narrowed eyes.
He stared me down. “Son of a bitch,” he said slowly. Was he talking to me? I checked out my table, thinking maybe one of my friends was doing something that had earned the hot guy’s curse. Nope. They all just gawked at the dynamic duo like they were Batman and Robin.
“Come on,” the sidekick said as he nudged the hot guy. The dude broke eye contact with me, and they sauntered past our table. I rubbed my temples, trying to ease the dull headache building. The guy had cursed when he saw me. What did I do? And who the hell was he?
We’d traveled halfway across the country to this chick, and she turned me into some dude on the front of a romance novel. I’d just buzzed my head last week. Good thing she didn’t want me in pigtails. Who was she hoping was under the helmet, anyway?
Santos elbowed me as we passed the last of the lunch tables. “Man, you look good in long hair. Add a couple dreads and eye makeup and you’d make one helluva Captain Jack Sparrow.”
Santos gave me a shove, and we moved closer to the entrance of the school. She had to be able to see me in order to change my appearance, so I had naturally looked around for her. But a hot girl had caught my attention first.
And then I’d realized the hot girl and Josie were one and the same. Josie still had the strawberry-blond hair and green eyes like she did when I had a crush on her a couple years ago, but she’d definitely grown up since we’d last seen each other. Cheekbones and curves.
Boots and a Star Wars tank. Alluring in every way imaginable. Damn. I’d made sure she wouldn’t recognize me. It was easier that way—for now. Well, seeing as how she’d Pushed my new appearance, I guess that answered the question of whether she possessed abilities or not. And from the way she’d grabbed her head as I passed by, she likely wasn’t a stranger to the sickening eye pain and wicked headache that came with the talent.
I needed to talk to her in private, preferably before she thought she was going nuts or accidentally hurt someone. Or someone hurt her on purpose. Most of us knew who her family was and what had happened, but I’d had an inside look. It wasn’t pretty. The worst part was that Josie had been kept in the dark. She didn’t know about…anything. Her safe little world had to be disrupted, and I was the one chosen to drag her into hell.
It was my responsibility to keep her alive and in check. Her life depends on me.
My throat felt dry. She didn’t deserve this, but she also didn’t have a choice. She was exactly where Nick had been two years ago—and look how well that had turned out.
Sweat beaded on my brow at the thought. Josie’s brother’s death had destroyed a lot of lives.
I shook her and Nick’s faces out of my head as we entered the second set of doors into the building and approached the security guard. The lack of windows coupled with two stories of concrete resembled a jail more than a high school. The sterile cleaning-supply smell didn’t help the illusion.
“What’s your business, gentlemen?” the security guard asked, holding a metal detector wand at his side. “Arms out.”
Add the guard, and it felt kind of like a prison, too. The knife I carried in my boot and the cool metal of the M9 Beretta pressing against the small of my back disappeared. Not a big deal. I could observe one of the weapons into my hand, if need be.
I lifted my arms out to my sides, my helmet hanging from one hand.
“Checking in at the office, sir. Registering as new students.” The wand made an outline of my body in the air. Without words, the guard waved me on, and then Santos stepped into my spot and cocked his head toward me.
Santos couldn’t Retract, so I made his HK45C, the Navy Seal–inspired pistol, vanish. Like me, he could Push a weapon if and when he wanted to.
The wand waved around his body.
The guard gave a nod and said, “Welcome to Oceanside.”
Santos tucked his helmet under his arm. “Thanks.”
“I’ll do the talking. You have the paperwork, right?” I said once out of earshot of security.
“Yup. Sorry you have to do high school again. Sucks. But on the plus side…”
Santos nodded to a girl passing us. “Hey,” Santos said. The girl giggled.
“Hopefully this is a short-term stint. Besides, I’m not worried about my grades this time around.” Santos smiled widely.
“You graduated a year early. I don’t think you had to worry about grades the first time.”
“It was easy; I didn’t have any of those distractions.” I nodded my head toward the giggly girl walking down the hall. Santos took another few seconds to admire her again.
“While you were cheering the home team and chasing girls on the playground, I got to run with knives,” I said.
“Sounds like a badass school.” Santos hadn’t gone to school in the Denver Hub like I did. It was a different experience. “There were no football games or dances. It was nothing like a public school or private school—unless it was Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.”
I laughed at the thought of having Wolverine’s hair. Good thing Josie wasn’t envisioning Hugh Jackman when I pulled up. I hadn’t been in “school” for more than two years. It’s not like we’d be here, sticking it out, till the end of the semester. Extractions rarely took long. And I’d single-handedly managed a dozen of them. The protocol was the same. Approach the target. Determine if he/she possessed Oculi abilities. Establish trust. Assess if the target was Resistance material. If they weren’t…Yeah, that’s where this job got interesting. I didn’t want to think about what would happen to Josie if she didn’t agree to come along peacefully.
“Yo,” Santos said. He lobbed his helmet over a streamer hanging from the ceiling like he was shooting a two-pointer.
“You do realize this girl is going to hate you, right?” He hustled to catch his substitute basketball and jump-shot it over the next streamer.
“Yup.” She would despise me, and I didn’t like it, but I had to put any feelings aside, because there were more important things at stake.
Santos caught his helmet and faked it to me, then tossed it up again. I’d known Santos about two years. He’d had my back on several occasions and vice versa. He was, is, one of my few friends. But even now, he didn’t know the details of how I knew the Harper family. We passed a bank of glass surrounding the library. All computers, few books. I caught a glimpse of myself in the glass. Santos was right—hello, Jack Sparrow.
A new day, a new face, it felt like. Santos was one of the few people alive who knew what I’d looked like before the incident two years ago. My change in appearance was the Resistance’s form of a witness protection program. Appearance changes didn’t happen unless it was absolutely necessary due to paperwork and identity shit. I didn’t mind looking different, though. It was all in an effort to keep me safe. And being alive was always a nice perk. Even with different looks, I was still in danger, and the same held true for Santos.
Such was the life of a trainer for the Resistance. Until my trainee was ready for the Hub or life in general, I was also his or her protector. Always on the lookout. Never off duty. Potential death was just another occupational hazard. I’d already killed more people than I’d ever be okay with. And their friends would be coming after Josie. Soon.
Enigma (Schrodinger’s Consortium #2) by Tonya Kuper
Published by Entangled Teen
The sequel to the highly anticipated Anomaly is a twisty-turny, romantic page turner perfect for fans of The Matrix What’s worse than having half of your secret race wanting to kill you? Having both sides want to control you.
Feeling something for Reid Wentworth is not part of the plan. Josie Harper doesn’t have time to think about hot boys when she has to help unite the Resistance against the Consortium. To say her life has changed since discovering she’s an Oculus would be the understatement of the century. The Consortium is out to enslave humanity—yeah, they aren’t fooling around—and as an Oculus, she’s one of the few people capable of altering reality and thwarting them.
In the largest Resistance hub in North America, Josie learns she doesn’t only have the strongest abilities to Push and Retract reality, she has gifts no other Oculus has.
When they get word that the Consortium is flying in a world-renowned tech researcher to their headquarters who may have the knowledge to enslave humans, Josie and Reid assemble a team to intercept the researcher and to bust out Reid’s best friend, Santos, who was taken hostage until they get Josie. But the Board won’t let them leave. The lines have blurred.
The only person Josie can trust is Reid.
Three days ago, I killed someone. A dozen times a night, and every time I close my eyes, I see his body convulse as the bolt of lightning I Pushed struck his body. I still see Santos’s face contorted in pain before he sinks under the surface of the water.
I opened my eyes after brushing my hair and swept my toiletries off the faux-marble counter into my backpack. Stepping out of the bathroom, I scanned the rest of the room for my belongings. My bra lay on the floor where I’d dropped it the night before, next to the paisley bedding. It had been beyond embarrassing shimmying that thing off under my shirt when I was right next to my hottie bedmate.
I plopped my backpack on the bed and grabbed my blue bra. It was still dangling from my hand when the door leading to the parking lot swung open and Reid smiled at me from the threshold.
Perfect. Of course he walked in at this exact moment.
My face flashed with heat. I scrambled to stuff my garment into my bag, but the clasp hooked on one of my bracelets. Working the clasp off my bracelet took way more effort and time than it should have. The stupid thing was stuck. I peeked up at Reid to see if he was still looking at me. Wrinkles formed in the corners of his eyes as he coughed into his hand. He looked over his shoulder as he pretended to hack up a lung to camouflage a laugh.
Sharing the motel room with Reid, my trainer in charge of my safety, was convenient and safer. But him being my kind-of-sort-of-boyfriend also meant I was hyper-aware of personal stuff, like the time I spent showering or Reid catching me staring at him constantly. I mean, we shared a bed and were definitely into each other, but he’d never seen my bra before – on or off.
He’d now witnessed me wrestle with my undergarment – and lose. Which was both slightly embarrassing as his trainee and absolutely mortifying as his kind-of-girlfriend.
Reid looked at me, his brows pulling up in sympathy. He crossed the tiny motel room in three strides and stopped beside me. His warm hand touched my wrist as he studied the clasp and gently unhooked it from my bracelet. He caught my lacy bra before it fell to the bed.
Reid Wentworth was touching my bra, and my boobs weren’t even in it. What were the odds of that?
He’d worked my bra better than I had. How exactly had he gotten his bra-handling knowledge? The thought made me break into a full-body sweat.
Reid turned to face me. “I just turned in the room key. Cohen, my contact from the Hub, called while you were in the shower. The Hub gave us the green light to a safe house outside Flagstaff. We gotta pack ASAP and get on the road. They want us there before nightfall.”
I sat on the bed. “I’ll be ready in three minutes. I think I’ll miss this room, though.” We’d only spent one night, but something about it felt more secure than our two previous stops.
My bra was still in his hands. I yanked from him. “Thank you.”
“I’ll help you with your bra anytime. Just say the word.” He winked.
I wanted to hide.
“Wait.” He pulled his duffle to the bed. “You’ll miss the mustiness of a 70s motel in need of a major facelift?”
With the bra safely tucked away, I bent to lace up my boots. “I know, it’s weird, but I like this place.”
He walked into the bathroom and came out with his toiletries. “You like the wood paneling, the shaggy Muppet carpet, and an air conditioner that’s louder than my bike?”
I peeked toward the rattling air unit. Despite the jolting noise, the curtains floated gracefully above the machine like paisley ghosts.
The room seemed more hidden than the other places we’d stayed, nestled in the woods somewhere in New Mexico. We drove highways instead of interstates all the way from Florida to stay under the radar, but I still felt exposed, afraid someone would see us. Now the mountains and trees gave me a sense of coverage, of safety.
I tied up my other boot. “Yeah, it’s old, but I like it.”
Hiding, tucked away in a dark room, I could almost pretend I hadn’t murdered another human being. Being around people reminded me that I was dangerous, that I was an incomprehensible monster.
Maybe I was keeping others safe if I was hidden.
A loud, deep buzz sounded, drilling into the recent memory of gunfire and weapons, of people dying.
My heart paused and I dropped to the floor, kneeling behind the bed.
Reid strode to the bedside table where his phone buzzed, but his wide eyes watched me, worry etched on his face.
Duh. Way to jump to conclusions. Chill out, Josie. I forced myself to stand.
The phone buzzed again, vibrating against the wood and reverberating in my bones. I blinked and jerked, almost an involuntary flinch.
It’s just his phone. Get a grip.
But a buzz meant someone was contacting Reid, contacting us. And any communication was bad news at this point.
Reid stepped to me hesitantly, as if he were approaching a skittish stray dog. Understanding flashed across his face. “That will probably happen for a while. But it will get better.” He touched my hand for a moment, but it was enough to remind me that we were safe. For now. I relaxed my posture as I exhaled.
At my side, he positioned the phone so we could read the screen.
I stared at the contact information, a line of pound signs. The meaning of the symbols finally registered. The number was restricted and blocked. I read the first line of the message.
This is Meg.
My body was numb. I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes. They didn’t exist – or if they did, I couldn’t control them. I reread the three words.
My mom. I wasn’t sure I wanted read on. Not just because I didn’t want bad news, but I didn’t want bad news that had anything to do with my family.
Reid bumped his shoulder to mine. “I didn’t think we’d hear from your mother this soon after her last message.” His voice was quiet.
It had been three days since I’d seen her face on her video message. Three days ago seemed like forever, yet it didn’t.
The phone buzzed again, making me jump, waking my body from a fear-induced paralysis.
Eli and I are redirecting to the Hub. 3 Founders need to be present to make executive decisions for the entirety of the Resistance. If the need arises, I have to be present. We should be there before you arrive. The Council is unaware there is a mole within the Hub. Use caution.
Hearing from my family made my heart burst with sweet relief because it was confirmation they were still alive and well. But fear squashed the celebration, turning my blood to cement.
I needed a minute to think. I couldn’t let my family go to the Hub with no way to protect themselves. I shoved the phone out of my line of sight, toward Reid. Instead of moving, he caught my hand and whisked me around to face him. “Josie, I know that look.” He let my hand fall. “If I take you to the Hub instead of the safe house, not only will I be disobeying direct orders, but it could get both of us, and possibly others, killed. You’d be giving the mole what he wants – you.”
He was right – the mole wanted me. And the best way to get to me was through what I cared about most, the people I cared about most. My family.
I took a step away from Reid, the back of my legs hitting the bed. I sank down onto the mattress.
I opened my mouth, but I couldn’t put two words together. My thoughts jumped from the mole, to my family, to the Consortium.
Reid stepped in front of me, his sober expression replaced with brows arched in concern. “Josie, I understand how you must be feeling—more than you know. But I’m supposed to keep you safe.”
I shoved off the bed. My knees buckled immediately and I rocked onto my heels, falling back to the mattress. Frustration clamped down on my emotions and I was ready scream. I couldn’t look at Reid, but I held a palm up as I stared at the phone still in his hand.
He gave me his phone, the text message already pulled up on the screen. Then he sat next to me, making the bed dip under his weight. I read the message again.
What were my choices? If I went to the Hub, the biggest community of the Resistance, I’d be trapping myself with someone who wanted me dead. If I went into hiding with Reid, I’d still be hunted by the Consortium. Neither option was a vacation.
The muscles in Reid’s jaw flexed as his gaze traveled over my face. “I know your family means everything to you. Eli shouldn’t have to be involved in this.”
That was the part I couldn’t take. I let my head drop into my hands, slumping between my knees. The smell of bleach from the linens was almost comforting.
I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that Eli would be staying in the same compound as the mole, as the person who helped Santos try to kill me. Swallowing the ache in my throat and the sting in my sinuses, I willed away my tears.
“Josie.” There was desperation in Reid’s voice.
Clearing my throat, I slowly sat upright and lifted my eyes to meet Reid’s.
Reid looked toward the window. “The Consortium wants all Anomalies dead because we’re too dangerous. And since you’re on your way to being the most powerful Anomaly on the planet, you aren’t just the target – you are the freaking bullseye.”
I wasn’t what mattered. Eli would be in danger. I was the only one who could protect him. I was the only one who could protect a lot of people.
Reid stood and crossed the small room to shut off the air unit. A whole new world of muted sounds came to life. A mourning dove cooed nearby, two housekeepers spoke in hushed tones outside as they pushed a cleaning cart on the cracked sidewalk, and a truck rumbled in the distance. There were spaces in the new quiet, spaces with virtually no sound but plenty of room for thought.
My family was bait. Fury simmered in my stomach.
I shoved off the bed and stepped to Reid’s side, making him look at me. His eyes fluttered shut. “I wish I could just take you away from all this.” His dark lashes fanned upward as he opened his eyes. “But this is your decision.”
His compassion for me meant more to me than I would be able to convey to him. If this were a normal life and we were normal people, his care for me would’ve been all I needed. But our world was anything but normal. My safety didn’t matter, no matter how much he cared about me. My priority was keeping my family and others safe. If that put me in harm’s way, so be it. “You and I are more powerful than the mole and we’ll out number him. Statistics are in our favor. And he doesn’t get to use my family as bait.”
Reid shook his head and something flickered in his eyes. He tugged me against him, my chest colliding against his. My fingers dug into him, pulling him closer.
Terror trickled through my nervous system, seeping through every inch of me, infusing my body. “I need to go to the Hub,” I whispered. It wasn’t a want, it was a need. I needed to keep my family safe. And in doing that, I’d be facing my own mortality. But what scared me more was facing their mortality, Eli’s mortality. I’d already lost one brother.
Standing in front of the lone motel room window, our bodies bathed in rays of morning sunshine, to anyone watching, we would have looked like we were glowing from within, like superheroes. But superheroes wouldn’t let fear cripple them like this.
Reid let his forehead rest against mine and closed his eyes. “I don’t like this idea for a lot of reasons. But I know that’s selfish.” Blue eyes stared into mine. A sadness masked his face that I didn’t understand.
“Sorry,” I whispered.
He pressed his lips into a tight line. “Let’s go.” He squeezed me then turned to the bed.
“How are we going to find the mole?”
He zipped his duffle bag. “I have no idea, Josie.”
I plucked my phone from the bedside table, the varnish of the dark wood worn along the edges. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. “You need to know something. We have to be different in the Hub.” He shook his head. “We can’t, uh,” his voice scratched. “We can’t do this in there.”
“What?” I let my gaze drop to the ground.
“Josie.” I couldn’t look at him until I was sure the sting in my eyes had dissipated. “Josie, look at me.”
That was my luck. My first boyfriend ever broke up with me on my birthday, then my long-time crush ended anything between us before we even had a chance. Two guys ditching me in under two weeks. That had to be some kind of record. For losers.
The shabby motel floor creaked under our feet as Reid dropped his bag, stepped in front of me. “We have to play by the rules in the Hub, and I’m someone who trains others to follow the rules. One of the rules? No trainer-trainee relationships. A romantic relationship between trainers and trainees clouds the trainer’s judgment. So we can’t do this.” He motioned between us.
Understanding why didn’t make the rejection any less painful.
Reid dipped his head, his dark hair falling forward, leaving an inch between our noses. “Make no mistake, I love what we have.” The deep line between his brows reappeared. “But going into the Hub means putting the mission before us. And I’m all for it. We don’t want anyone, including the mole, to know we have a relationship. It would be used against us. A relationship in the Hub could hurt you. I can’t put you in more danger than you already are. We can’t be anything more than friends for now.”
He was right, but that wasn’t going to stop the hurt. What we had wasn’t just a two-week whirlwind romance; this was a lifetime of growing a relationship. I couldn’t move. I’d lost my family, my friends, my home. I’d naïvely thought maybe I could have the one guy who understood what I’d lost and understood me.
A weird pressure bloomed in my chest, but I had to ignore it. I had to move and focus before tears fell and I was a puddle on the floor. Besides, we needed to get on the road. I backed away from Reid. “Come on.” Stepping to the bed, I flung my backpack over my shoulder. “We have to catch a mole. Before he kills my family. Or me.”
Reid snagged his duffle, his face drawn in worry, and opened the heavy door, squinting into the bright morning light. We secured our bags and our helmets, and I climbed on the bike behind Reid. I forced myself to move as though nothing was different, touching Reid when I had to without reservation. But everything was different.
Reid turned the key, revved the throttle, and the engine roared to life under us. Turning his head over his shoulder, his pale irises met mine. “Last chance. Left to Flagstaff or right to the Hub?”
My chest felt restricted, like I couldn’t pull in a full breath. “Right.” I gripped his waist, anticipating the turn.
He didn’t reply, but he moved his hand on top of mine for a second to squeeze it. Bits of asphalt spat away from the tires as we headed north toward the Hub in the Rockies. The wind whipped through my hair, a flame of red twisting behind me from under my helmet.
In Star Wars terms, I was Luke Skywalker and the Consortium was my own version of the Empire who wanted to wipe out all Jedi. We were off to join the Rebels – the Resistance in the Hub.
The white line on the road trailed alongside the motorcycle, as if it were holding our hands, guiding us. There was something comforting about that white line. Even if it had to break, it came back. That’s what Reid had been for me the last couple weeks – my anchor.
I tightened my hold around Reid’s waist, pressing my body against his back. The warmth of his leather jacket against my stomach combated the cool breeze that had picked up the higher we climbed into the mountains as our journey stretched late into the day.
An hour ago, he’d said we would be to the Hub soon. I hoped for my numb butt’s sake it was sooner rather than later. Despite the peacefulness in watching the highway disappear in the mirror, the growl and whoosh of each semi passing us in the opposite direction made me flinch. With each flinch, I was taken back to the moment I Pushed the lightning that killed Santos. My mind was stuck, replaying the image over and over. The white light had temporarily blinded me as it streaked down the oil-slicked sky to Santos, making me flinch. Santos’ body had convulsed, his face contorted in horror.
No matter what I had done the last few days, how often Reid had made me laugh, or how much we’d kissed late at night, guilt and shame had weaseled into my thoughts. The guilt-shame of taking Santos’ life wasn’t letting up. In fact, it was getting worse.
We rounded a bend in the road and my chest twisted as if someone were ringing me out like a wet towel. My left lung ached like nothing I’d felt before. Was it my lung, though? Or was it my heart?
Was this what it was like as Santos drowned? Had his lungs hurt and was his heart on the verge of explosion? Another picture of Santos coming after me on the beach, a sick and menacing smile on his lips, flickered in my mind.
Another eighteen-wheeler passed and the lightning flashed in my mind again. When the face came into focus though, it wasn’t Santos – it was Eli.
Fear gripped me and I beat both hands on Reid. That’s when I noticed my hands were shaking, and my heartrate matched the rhythm of the shaking, fast and sporadic. Frantic.
“Josie?” he yelled over his shoulder. I couldn’t manage words, I just beat my right fist into his back, holding on for dear life with my left arm, hooking it around his middle.
Reid slowed around the next curve then pulled off the road at a scenic lookout. I jumped off the bike before it came to a complete stop, flinging my helmet off of my head. The gravel crunched under my boots as I ran to the edge of the lookout. Leaning over the railing, bracing myself on my forearms, I hung my head as I concentrated on deep inhales and slow exhales.
Reid’s feet crushed the gravel as he sprinted to me. “Josie?” His voice was a higher pitch than I’d heard before and it cracked at the end of my name.
His warm hand landed gently on my back. “What’s wrong?”
I shook my head, unable to answer.
Santos was a traitor. Santos tried to kill me. I will not be the reason Eli dies.
A panic attack over Santos and this mole and imagining myself kill my little brother. At least that’s what I thought it was. I just needed the feeling to pass.
I held up a finger, continuing inhaling through my nose to the count of four and exhaling through my mouth to slow my breath and pulse.
Santos was a traitor. Santos tried to kill me. I will not be the reason Eli dies.
I wiped the perspiration on my forehead away with the back of my hand. Reid didn’t force me to speak, but patiently stood behind me, his hand still on my back.
I eventually straightened, letting out a long, pain-free sigh. Finally, I could breathe.
“Santos?” he whispered. I nodded and my heart squeezed again just hearing his name, but not as severe this time.
His hand slowly roamed up to my shoulder. “Are you okay?” That was a loaded question.
No, I wasn’t okay, but he already knew that. He’d held me every night when I woke screaming from nightmares. He’d listened as I rehashed the Consortium’s attack on the rooftop after the serum handoff to the vice president. He’d watched me grow up with my family and knew they were everything to me.
I touched my fingertips to his hand gripping my shoulder. I wanted to throw my arms around him and burrow my head into the crevice of his neck, the place I fit perfectly. I wanted to breathe in the smell of him, a clean, musky scent, and feel his warmth around me. Instead, I pulled my fingers away and nodded. “I’ll be fine.” The words came out quieter than I intended.
I finally raised my eyes to take in our view. A blanket of evergreens covered the mountains surrounding us. “This puts Endor to shame.” I wished it were Endor. No one would be hunting me there.
Crickets had begun their evening song, serenading us, filling in the silence. Moving forward, I leaned against the aluminum guard rail, the metal cool on my upper thighs through my jeans. I kicked a spray of gravel, rocks assaulting plants on the way down the side of the mountain into the gorge.
Reid stepped beside me, his presence simultaneously calming because he had been my support since this whole mess started weeks ago, yet jarring because he couldn’t play the same role anymore. I cleared my throat. “This is beautiful.”
His eyes focused on the mountains in front of us. “This is home,” he said.
“Welcome home.” I guessed this was my home now. Temporarily. Indefinitely. I didn’t know.
I stared at the place where the mountaintops kissed the watercolor sky. Pink cotton candy clouds battled shadows gobbling up the mountains. The sharp smell of pine reminded me of family camping trips – Nick and I racing through the woods and stony creek beds. The scent made me want to run, faster than I had ever before. Run to Mom and Eli in the Hub and find the mole.
Running to them also meant losing my relationship with Reid. As much as I wanted to get to the Hub for them, part of me didn’t. Reid was my older brother’s friend who I’d secretly had a thing for since I was little. He was the one person I’d always wanted. How was I just supposed to turn off those feelings?
Reid turned to face me, his hand reaching for mine, but he allowed it to drop before he touched me. He was afraid to get close. He was putting space between us to keep me safe.
I had to let him go. An invisible pain spread through me. I was a piece of glass struck by a hammer. A spider-web of cracks hid under my skin. I hadn’t thought being kept safe could hurt more than being in danger.
I closed the space between us, his face only inches from mine. His eyes shut for a moment as he sighed. “Josie.” The word was drawn out and whispered.
I traced his jawline with my forefinger. I had to get close. I needed it. I needed him. I shifted my weight forward to rise up on my toes, to touch my lips to his, but then I stopped.
I couldn’t kiss him when I couldn’t have him. I backed away, instantly feeling chilly.
A crease formed between his eyes. “We probably need to get going.”
This was it. We were done.
I turned to his motorcycle, but a Jeep had replaced Reid’s bike. Two weeks ago that would’ve freaked me the hell out, but not anymore. I opened the door of the vehicle and slid into the seat, limp and numb, sadness weighing me down. I stared out the windshield, focused on the mountain across the valley, but I wasn’t really seeing it. In my peripheral, Reid scooted behind the wheel and sat unmoving for several seconds. He hit the steering wheel with the palm of his hand, making me jump in my seat.
Reid turned toward me, his gaze intense. He swiftly slid his hand behind my neck and pulled me to him.
His lips crashed to mine and pressed my mouth open. The warmth of his hand cupping my face and the grip on my waist, as if I’d disappear, fused me back together, making me whole again. My fingers twisted in his hair, pulling him closer. When his tongue swept over mine, my soul ignited. Reid was the human form of helium, making me weightless, letting me soar. We kissed until we were both breathless.
I let my hands slip down to his chest, his heart thumping against my palms. “Reid,” I breathed.
His mouth hovered inches from mine. “That is how I feel about you,” he whispered, his breath tickling my lips. “I can’t do it. I can’t be without you. We’re stronger together.”
I pulled in a deep breath, thinking maybe I would fly away from the brief high of overwhelming joy. “I need you.”
He rested his forehead to mine. “You have me.”
He moved the hand on my waist to my jaw, his thumb sweeping across my cheek. “We can be together, but we have to hide it. It has to be only in private.”
He glanced down to my lips. “And I can’t wait until the next time I can do that.”
The mere idea of there being another time he’d kiss me with that kind of intensity heated my cheeks.
Reid sat back in his seat, started the engine, and gave me his flirty half smile I’d grown to adore.
I flipped down the visor and peeked in the mirror. Some tendrils of hair were wavy, some straight, and all of it completely out of control. My hair might as well be Captain Davey Jones’ tentacles from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
With the next blink I Pushed and a hair band appeared in my palm. I no longer felt like getting sick each time I Pushed or Retracted reality.
Inspecting my hair, I Pushed my strawberry blonde strands straight then pulled it into a ponytail. Every Push or Retraction came with a price. Each Oculi had a bank of energy that was limited and every manipulation of reality was an energy withdrawal. When the bank was empty, it was empty. Oculi were encouraged to not waste Pushes and Retractions on little things we could do ourselves.
I, on the other hand, was the daughter of the two scientists who’d taken the amplifying serum. My energy bank, like my older brother’s had, seemed to work a little different than other new Anomalies. I seemed to have endless energy. In fact, I had to use my energy, release some by Pushing and Retracting, just to take the edge off. My energy had grown in the last three days even, almost radiating off me at times. I’d only had these abilities for a couple weeks and I was growing more powerful each day.
“Is what I’m wearing okay?” I asked, checking out my retro Princess Leia tee and holey jeans.
“Yeah. You look…” He glanced at me as he drove and a mischievous grin slid across his lips.
“What?” My nerves were shot and we weren’t even to the Hub yet.
He shook his head, smiling to himself. “You’re fine.”
“Okay. I guess I’ll trust you on that.” Even though everyone at the Hub would know who I was, I wanted to make a good impression. Everyone in the Hub would have varying expectations of me, since I was the daughter of one of the founding families of the Resistance. Plus, my older brother had an Oculi degradation in the Hub, a rare consequence of observing reality into existence. Our observations traveled through the optic nerve to our brain. Sometimes our observations could randomly fry our nerves, which, could lead to degradation of the parietal lobe, cerebrum, and cortex.
A possible side effect of this kind of degradation was a psychotic break.
“You can trust me.” His eyes locked on mine, this time not accompanied by a smile. “With everything.” He turned his attention back to the road, his profile dark against the waning sunset.
I was banking on that trust. I wouldn’t be able to do anything without it.
“I need to make sure I have this straight. Right now our plan is to figure out a way to expose the mole, possibly with me as the bait.” I knew he didn’t like that idea, so I ignored his serious side-eye and continued. “This guy wants me dead, so he’s almost definitely going after my family. He may also try to take the Resistance down from the inside. Aaaand, we don’t know if he is working with anyone else inside the Hub, like he was with Santos.”
“You got it, babe.”
Anger seethed in my stomach as I watched thunderhead clouds billow from behind the mountain peaks. Energy buzzed in my fingers. This mole, this accomplice to my attempted murder, this orchestrator of the deaths of innocent people, didn’t know what was coming for him.
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