THE THIRD BOOK IN THE E SERIES

Both friends and enemies are keen to get their hands on the information inside Eden’s head—information that could take down the Sentries and change the world. But there are costs that no one realized, and Eden’s not so sure she’s willing to pay them. Refusing to do so could create dangerous problems within the tribe she’s only just come back to.

Eden has her own agenda for learning Lily’s secrets. With hope refusing to die, she’s spurred forward by memories of Oscar and thoughts of finding him again. But Lily’s hold on her is greater than she knows, compelling her to chase after strange clues and confusing visions. With love and longing weighing on her, Eden must determine the reality of her fractured identity in order to decide which path to take. The choices she makes could tear her away from Jonas and Apollon, from everything she’s ever known.

Eden’s future will not be determined solely by choices. Fate has her own cards to play, and they just might take the game.

Prologue

Pounding, slamming, punching, fingers crunching. Tangled arms and lungs and nothing working can’t move can’t breathe—

“Eden! Eden!” Jonas’ voice explodes in my ear. “Goddammit stop this thing right now!” Panting—mine, his. A soft breath of voice. “It’s OK. It’s OK.”

“We are stopping. It takes a minute!”

“You’re OK,” Jonas says as the world slides sideways, our shoulders ramming into a wall.

A huge rectangle of daylight appears in the hull. All I can see is white—bright, bright white that makes me squeeze my eyes closed—but I’m scrambling for it, falling out the door and onto the road. I scrape myself off the pavement and stumble away, making Jonas’ hand miss my back. He reaches for me again as I stand to the side, hands on knees, head down, gulping air. I swallow down the bile. I am OK. It’s just a stupid armored truck. Nothing more.

I take long, deep breaths through my nose, sucking in clean, fresh air. I straighten and look at the wide stretch of blue sky beyond the road, remembering how open and endless the world is beyond the barriers.

“OK?”

I nod, turning toward Jonas. I am OK. I’m not even embarrassed. Not terribly. Not until I see Spec standing there, his pale eyes wide as he watches me.

Something in me snaps. “I have some issues. OK?”

Spec’s eyes flick from me to Jonas. He licks his lips, shrugs his shoulders like he’s taking off a pack, and tosses me a smile. “Don’t we all.” He looks to the front of our convoy, and to the back. “Is this going to keep happening?”

My jaw tightens, but I lift my chin. “I’ll get used to it.” My eyes scan past him to the long stripe of road that lies ahead of us. “How much longer?”

He laughs as he turns back to the truck. “You better get used to it,” he says. “There’ll be lots of places where you can’t get out. Places where stopping equals dying.”

As he disappears back into the truck, Jonas and I lock gazes. His green eyes are wary, but his mouth is a line of determination.

“What’s your trick?” I ask, half pissed-off that he’s dealing just fine with being packed in a metal box again.

He shakes his head, looking away. Disconnected. We’re so, so disconnected.

Giving up on an answer, I start to move past him, but his gaze flicks back to me.

He doesn’t smile, not the way I’d like. But there’s something real in his eyes. “I’m mostly just focusing on how badly I have to pee.”

I laugh unexpectedly, running my fingers through my hair. A glance at him reveals his gorgeous face stretched into a wide smile. As I step toward the truck, I keep my voice level, covering up the flutter of emotion inside me. “Does that mean I shouldn’t take a pee break now?”

“God, no,” he says. “Take a pee break. There are places where peeing equals dying.”

Wearing a smirk of amusement, I move between the trucks to take his advice. I gesture to the driver to turn around, tossing him a glare that ensures his quick compliance. It’s the most privacy I’ll get out here, so I try not to think about it. Instead, my mind wanders back to Jonas. He doesn’t realize it, but he really has helped. That smile. That moment of connection. A guilty little indulgence to hang onto when I close my eyes in the dark pit. Healthy? Probably not. Good idea? Unlikely. I thought I was past that. But sometimes you’ve got to make concessions. Choose your poison. Especially in our messed-up world, where stopping equals dying. …Where peeing equals dying….

I snicker as I squat.

 

Chapter 1: Just Pretending

Despite all the things that have become clear, I still have no idea who I am. For all the pieces of information, I am an unresolved image. Hazy at best. Or focused with a line drawn down the middle. Two sides, split.

I woke up in this world as nothing, became Eden, then found out I was Lily before I was erased. Now that I’ve found my past, now that I’m ‘home’, there will be expectations. How can I possibly meet them, when I’m such a patchwork of personalities?

Jonas reaches out and takes my hand, smiling. Or is he Jason? I don’t know him any better than I know myself. Still, I smile back. I’m warm inside, like my entire being is absorbing this sunshine. Within, without. A tropical breeze wafts across the terrace, thick with moisture and salt, as we follow Spec’s long strides toward our destiny.

Footsteps behind us, a buzz of guards who have accompanied us this far—those who were part of the armored convoy that brought us all the way from Baton Rouge to Miami. We’re home now, and it’s about to get interesting.

Spec makes for the edge, where a railing overhangs the sweep of buildings below. I can hear them down there. Coming. Their voices drift in waves up to us, a mass of uncertainty. My stomach is twisting at the thought of all those people. Who am I to pretend that I belong here? That I know what I’m doing. But Spec has made it clear. There can be no doubt. No weakness. Not a hint of hesitation. Blood drains away from my face as my mind touches the memory—surrounded by a massive crowd, not allowed to hesitate…. Blood. Blood. Too much blood.

Our journey from Outpost Three took us through some horrendous places, and put us through hell. Saint Louis will always be a nightmare for me, remembering what I did there. No. What I had to do. I had to kill George, or we’d all be dead. Just like I had to bear the pain that came in the form of some maniacal contraption attached to my nerve centers. That was the least of the pain. This is the real punishment. The memory that lives on, turning my gut with every little reminder. The guilt. The endless feeling of rising panic.

Jonas squeezes my hand, glancing at me. He feels my unsteadiness. I take a deep breath and look forward as we step toward the railing.

Our challenger appears from the other direction, as predicted. He’s tall and broad, a warrior no doubt. Tan skin, dark hair and eyes. A spark of intelligence. I instantly clock him as a dangerous man, not that Spec didn’t warn us. Kobee is not to be underestimated. But here, we have the upper hand. He wasn’t expecting Jason.

He slams on the brakes when he sees us, his face going pale. I’m getting used to it, now that I understand. Surprised as they are to see me, as late as I may be getting here, it was the plan. Jason—no one expected him. Lily didn’t tell them that part of the plan. So essentially, I’ve brought him back from the dead. Kobee’s reaction is typical of everyone here. He’s speechless, mouth open, eyes wide. He’s trembling. What I don’t expect, after everything that Spec has filled us in on, are the unshed tears in Kobee’s eyes.

A handful of others sweep toward us, not far behind Kobee, and fall to the same statue-like fate when they see us. I wonder if I should know them—somehow recognize them—but I don’t. They are complete and utter strangers to me. If I didn’t know better, I would doubt that I had ever laid eyes on them. But if their reaction didn’t convince me otherwise, the dog does.

It’s a big thing—an ugly, dappled mutt that you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. At first, it’s trailing along with the others. Then it does the statue thing, but only for an instant before it launches itself at us. At me.

I don’t have time to react or scream before its paws are clawing at me. Jonas catches me before I can go down. My shirt rips at the bottom, and even through my pants I can feel the gashes in my legs. But the damned dog is wagging its tail, licking me to death, spastic with what could only be affection.

“Enough!” I manage, pushing it away, and it finally stops, lying in front of me, still wiggling and whining with excitement.

I look over my shoulder and meet Spec’s eyes. “You didn’t tell me I have a dog.”

A smile flicks at the corners of his mouth. “You have a dog.”   But he’s tense. Waiting for the next part. His eyes dart toward the railing.

I grab Jonas’s hand and pull him with me. We step into the view of the crowd below and raise our clasped hands into the air, posing as the leaders we once were. A collective cheer—a ragged scream of joy—launches itself into the heavens. Jonas and I beam smiles at them all, but my teeth are clenched. I can hardly breathe. I risk a peek at his face, and I can see it there, too—the tension.

When the cheer finally starts to die down, I’m thinking there is a speech required of us. We need to say something to them. Convince them. There has been some talk of it before, and I even tried to prepare some words, but I can’t remember any of them. I’m hoping that Jonas is doing better than I am, but he says nothing. We look at each other, and I’m certain that we’re about to crash and burn. What will we do? What are we supposed to say?

Jonas tugs my arm, pulling me closer, and then his other arm scoops around me, drawing me in. He pulls me tight to him and kisses me. Really, really kisses me. And if the crowd was enthusiastic before, now they’ve all lost their minds.

The things going through my head in rapid succession: confusion, bliss, understanding, disappointment. I start to pull away, but Jonas holds onto me tight and keeps kissing. My resistance falls away as I melt into his arms. My thoughts go fuzzy, replaced by sheer emotion. I’m so happy in this moment—so unbelievably happy…. And so incredibly broken by the fact that it’s not real.

My mind whirls back, remembering, and I’m not kissing Jonas on a terrace balcony. I’m waking up in a pile-of-shit shack somewhere between Miami and Baton Rouge, sitting up yawning after a crummy night’s sleep on a lumpy bed with grease-stained sheets. Jonas sits up, too, but he’s been sleeping on the floor.

“Did you sleep alright?” he asks. He must already know the answer.

My skin is crawling. I scratch my arms and legs, shivering despite the muggy heat. I spent the whole night flinging roaches off my bed. I must have slept sometime in between, but there was always the waking to the sense of something running by my face. I’d swipe my hand across the mattress, and they’d go flying. Better than having bug guts all over my hands, in my bed, but still beyond creepy. It couldn’t have been any better for Jonas on the floor.

I give him a dark look. “I think I’ll sleep outside next time.”

He snorts and looks away. The distance between us is palpable.

A moment later, there’s a knock on the door—not that it’s completely on its hinges. Our armed escort and our friends are outside. We’re the only ones lucky enough to get the hell-hole shack.

“Come in,” we say at the same time, and Spec pushes through the door.

His eyes move from me to Jonas, still sitting on the floor, and there’s a little touch of surprise. He glances behind him, and pulls the door shut. His voice is low. “We’ll be ready to move out soon.” He hands Jonas a sack that must contain some food. I’m hungry, but I seem to have lost my will to eat. Spec looks us over again and says, “Do you need anything?”

“I want to see Apollon.” There is no nonsense in Jonas’ voice. We’ve been separated from our friends since the beginning of this journey. There’s been no time to explain… and we have so many things to explain. Guilt wells up in me again. Apollon is my best friend in all the world, and I didn’t tell him things that I probably should have trusted him with. I cut him out. Left him to be blindsided. All that time we were chasing across the world from one white tower to the next, I never confided in Apollon that we weren’t just chasing my past, but Jonas’, too. I never told him how Jonas and I were linked together. So when we finally made it to the right tower with the right people, Apollon got a big whap upside the head when he found out about our past second-hand. We claimed to be inseparable, and we left him out. We called him family, but didn’t treat him like it. What kind of friend does something like that?

Spec looks dubious, but he nods and goes back out the door. Jonas climbs to his feet, brushes himself off, then fishes in the bag and tosses me a stale roll. I catch it, sniff it, and then stare at it, wondering if I’ll be able to stomach anything.

Apollon shoves through the door suddenly, but stops the second he comes in. He looks from me to Jonas, where his gaze stays, considering.

Jonas does not look at Apollon. His eyes are downcast, like he’s distracted with the bag of food, and something on the floor, but I know better. He still thinks that Apollon and I are an item—a ruse we perpetrated to help extract me from my unwise obsession with Jonas. To give me distance. Time. It was stupid, and I wanted to beat Apollon when he first ‘confessed his feelings’ to me as we floated down the river with Jonas listening in his sleeping pack. But the truth is, it’s convenient. Good, even. I don’t know if my feelings for Jonas are a product of our past, or something real. I need this space. I really, really need this space.

Jonas’ gaze finally meanders to the doorframe beside Apollon, avoiding his face. “I’m sorry.” The words are strong, like he had to forcibly eject them. He swallows, and his voice falls to barely a whisper. “It’s just pretend. Just until we get out of this. That’s all.”

Apollon’s mouth is open, his face red. He doesn’t get any words out. Jonas is already pushing past him through the door. Apollon and I must realize at the same time that he means to give us a moment alone, because my blonde friend turns redder and I feel my face flush with hot embarrassment. Awkwardness wedges itself into the room. I’ve never seen Apollon look so completely mortified.

The cockroach saves me. Running across the top of the bed and into the twisted sheet that half-covers my legs…. I squeal and jump up, standing on the mattress. Cursing, I kick the sheet away. My frustration and anger target the cockroaches that kept me up all night. “Where are the little fuckers all coming from?” I growl. There’s some debris near the top of the bed in a gap between the mattress and the wall. I make a swipe at it with one foot, sending a heap of old papers flying. Behind them, there’s a small hole in the wall. Bugs scatter from it in every direction. I stare and try not to vomit. There are masses of them, in and out of the hole, large ones and tiny ones, some carrying sacks of eggs on their backs. Jerky movements and shifting, useless wings. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so disgusting—and that’s really saying something.

I’m still cursing up a storm when I realize that Apollon has come to stand at the edge of the bed behind me. When I look at him, he’s staring at the nest through squinted eyes. “That’s pretty gross.”

I let out another low growl of frustration and hop off the bed to stand beside him, though I instantly notice chunks of something—dirt clumps, I hope—sticking to my bare feet. I want to forget the bugs and focus on my friend. I have so much to say to him. So many words that have been going through my mind since Baton Rouge. But I find myself turning back toward the wall, drawn to the grotesque. The space between my shoulder blades itches, drawing a shudder out of me. When I manage to speak, there is an awe attached to my voice at the realization of what I’m saying. “They’re just like us,” I whisper. “They dirty everything they touch.” And in my mind, there are cities of cockroaches. Cockroaches with Uzis and hand grenades. With battle axes and banners of stars.

“Not exactly,” Apollon says, still considering the roaches. His arms are folded across his chest. “They don’t seem to be killing each other.”

I suck in a breath and step back. I’m not going to think about Saint Louis. But it’s enough to draw his attention to me, and he looks immediately regretful of his words.

His hand clamps down on my upper arm, steadying me, though it’s a far cry from the embrace he would have normally offered. His voice is soft and strong. “There’s no time for ghosts right now, Eden. We need to talk, and I don’t think we have long.”

I nod. I want more than anything to make things right between us.

But Apollon begins, and his words have nothing to do with our friendship, or fixing it. “Do you really trust these people?” he asks. “Or should we come up with a plan to get the hell out of here the first chance we get?”

My mouth is open, but the words are stuck. I can’t think about anything else right now. “Apollon,” I manage, weak as my voice sounds, “about Jonas—”

“We don’t have time,” he says—not exactly a snap, but close to it. His hand retracts from my arm. He’s not looking at my face.

“I didn’t mean to—” I try again, but this time he does snap.

“Answer the damned question. Stay or go? It’s pretty simple.”

“Stay,” I say, as though the answer is easy. Honestly, I haven’t put much thought into this course of action. There are things that are far more important to me. I don’t even want to deal with anything else until I’ve made our friendship right. Apollon really is family to me, and this distance is making me feel like the whole world is wrong in so many ways. I take a little step toward him, tipping my face up to look at his, but he won’t meet my eyes. “Apollon…” I try, one last time, and it is little more than a choked whisper.

He steps around me. “Stay it is.” And he’s gone.

I toss my bread to the roaches, go outside, and there is some hustle and bustle as everyone gets ready to get back on the road. Supplies and people are loaded. The man who owns the shack of cockroaches is paid off for letting us sleep there, though I’m pretty sure it should be the other way around. Not long after, Spec climbs into the armored vehicle with me and Jonas. I am slowly getting used to the metal box on wheels. Apollon and Jack are nowhere to be seen, but I assume they have found a ride of their own. Spec’s presence means there’s not really any chance to work things out with Jonas, either, though I honestly have no idea where to begin. I thought I had decided to be my own person—to be Eden, not Lily. To make my own decisions. But part of me seems to be holding on, and now that we have found the roots of our past, they seem to be growing into us. Everything that was so clear is now muddled. I’ve never been more confused about my own feelings.

I close my eyes as the truck rumbles away with Jonas, Spec, and me tucked in its dark belly. I just need some time, some space to sort out all the jumble inside of me. I wish I was alone—completely alone.

But Spec, once we’ve been going for a while, finishes summing Jonas and me up… reads into our silence and the space that separates us. “I know things must be… a bit confusing for both of you,” he says. “But it’s going to be hard, back in Miami. You’re going to have to convince people that you’re still you.”

I just stare at him through the dim interior of the truck. I’m not me. I’m not her.

He hesitates, then he spits it out. “Jason and Lily were close,” he says. “They were in love. People are going to want to see that. And giving it to them will make things a lot easier for you. It’s a great story—we’ll use that—that she gave up her memory to bring you back.” His eyes flick to Jonas, then back to me. “You’ll have the people in a heartbeat, and it’ll just be the Council to worry about, mostly. And Kobee.”

Spec goes on to coach us about Kobee… how he’s sown doubt in the minds of the people, starting to convince them that I’m not coming back. That even if I did, I would no longer be Lily. And of course, he’s right. I’m not. Bringing Jason back gives me the upper hand, but it’s going to take some work to secure our positions in the tribe. Assuming we want to. But doing that will take a good deal of pretending, and I’m not sure either of us are up for it. We’re both so confused, already.

Jonas and I exchange an awkward look. He swallows. And I know… he doesn’t want to do this anymore—pretend to be something that we are not. I can see him thinking about Apollon. They’re so close—like brothers, really. Jonas would never do anything to hurt him, and pretending to be in love with me could put their friendship in jeopardy… at least as far as Jonas knows. In reality, Apollon couldn’t give a damn if Jonas wants me. Except that he thinks Jonas will hurt me, and he’s protective of me, which is how this whole craziness started in the first place.

Guilt colors Jonas’ face, and in reaction, it sweeps through me, too, as I consider the lie that Apollon and I have nurtured. Things have gotten too complicated—out of control. I don’t know what’s real anymore. Who to be. How to make sense of it all. I just know that nothing is right. That my heart is breaking.

 

All these memories, swirling in me in a single instant, fill me with an overwhelming mix of emotion as Jonas’ lips move against mine, standing on a balcony in Miami.

I can’t stop the tear that rolls down my face, only hope that the distance is too far for anyone to notice. But when Jonas finally pulls away from me, he gazes into my eyes and tenderly brushes the moisture from my cheek. The crowd loves that, too. It’s better than any words we could have given them.

But no. It’s not real.

Jonas tugs my hand again, waving at them as he pulls me back from the railing. He’s got their number, and it’s time to flee before we give ourselves away.

I’m working hard to get air, trembling as we move out of their sight. But now we have to face the confrontation, and I’m not ready.

I take another step back, starting to turn, and almost trip over the dog, who has wiggled closer toward my feet. It gazes up at me through adoring brown eyes that make it not so ugly at all. It follows at my side as we move toward the others—toward Kobee.

Jonas greets him with a friendly smile. “Kobee,” he says, nodding. Knowing him is engineered to throw him off. Jonas doesn’t really know him at all.

Kobee’s mouth presses into a hard line as he gazes at his one-time friend. His eyes narrow. He says nothing. Eventually, he looks at me. Up and down. Not a friendly look. Not even summative. Just disdain. His eyes stop, ever-so-briefly, on the mark on my forehead. Then he looks past me at Spec, who is standing at my shoulder, and shakes his head subtly, frowning. Kobee turns and strides away.

Jonas and I watch him go, exchange glances, then have our first real look at the rest of the statue-people.

“Well, this is interesting,” snorts a girl with short, dark hair. She’d be pretty, if not for the way her mouth gives away her personality. I’ll be staying away from this one.

There’s another girl beside her—dark-skinned and voluptuous. She’s scantily-clothed—not that I can blame her with this weather. Her eyes, still wide, flash back and forth between me and Jonas, like she’s still not convinced of what she’s seeing.

Over to the side, there’s a third girl, who might be the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen. Her golden skin seems to be lit from within, and something about the way it combines with caramel hair and her pale, pink top is almost unreal. Her eyes are brown, perfectly angled against her cheekbones. Her nose is straight, strong, and possibly her best feature, turning her face into something noble, not just pretty. Aside from the immediate visual impact she makes, she’s a bit of a puzzle. She’s moved past the statue phase and her arms are crossed easily on her chest. She’s more lingering than waiting. Her expression offers us carelessness. If I didn’t know better, I would think she was bored.

There are a handful of men as well. But not all the Council is in Miami. Some of them have to be called back from the towers—something I am still not ready to think or talk about. As for the four men that are present, we have a muscled guy with dark, wavy hair and olive skin—he could be Jonas’ brother, but I’m pretty sure Jonas doesn’t have a brother. There’s a tall, pale guy with brown hair and a scattering of freckles. He has blue eyes and a doglike quality, though he’s not ugly. A blonde guy with dreadlocks, wearing sungoggles. And a large man with skin and eyes the color of strong coffee—I don’t think I could get my hands all the way around his biceps, and he’s almost a foot taller than everyone else.

There’s a shifting amongst all of them, like they’re all waiting for something. But I don’t really know what to say either, and judging from Jonas’ silence, he’s not any more compelled to speak than I am.

Surprisingly, it’s the dark-skinned, voluptuous woman that suddenly pushes forward, nearly flinging one of the guys out of the way to get to us. She throws one arm around Jonas and one arm around me, pulling us simultaneously into a hug. “Welcome home,” she whispers. “Welcome home.”

There are tears on her cheeks when she finally pulls away, and even though I don’t know her, the display of emotion brings tears to me as well. She must see the questions in my eyes, though, because she suddenly looks sad. She steps back a bit, and falls quiet.

Spec moves in and makes introductions that shouldn’t have to be made. The woman who hugged us is Holly. The girl with the short, dark hair and unpleasant mouth is Jazmin. The glowing one—Celine. The guy that looks a bit like Jonas—Tank. The dog guy—Dingle. Really? Dreadlocks—Moses. And the really tall guy is Harlan. That’s it for now. And a lot to remember. I’ll probably need reminders later to keep them all sorted out.

An uneasy silence falls over us all when the introductions are done being made. No one else offers hugs. Not even handshakes. There’s a distance, like they’re not sure of us. I suppose it’s to be expected.

“It’s been a long trip,” Spec says. “I’m sure Jason and Lily could use some rest. There will be time to catch up later.” He gestures us forward, and they move out the way with considerable relief.

Only the guy with the dreadlocks says anything. He almost touches my arm as I move past him. “Well done, Lily,” he murmurs.

I give him a nod as we leave. I’m grateful to know they don’t all hate us. And maybe they don’t at all, but the whole thing is awkward. It’s going to be an adjustment for everyone.

One Response

  1. […] been a crazily busy week.  Still working hard to get everything ready for the release of Eden.  In the meantime, the free promo of E  has been going great, and we had a lot of fun here […]

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