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Abandoned by her family in Plague-ridden Dominion City, eighteen-year-old Lucy Fox has no choice but to rely upon the kindness of the True Borns, a renegade group of genetically enhanced humans, to save her twin sister, Margot
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Abandoned by her family in Plague-ridden Dominion City, eighteen-year-old Lucy Fox has no choice but to rely upon the kindness of the True Borns, a renegade group of genetically enhanced humans, to save her twin sister, Margot. But Nolan Storm, their mysterious leader, has his own agenda. When Storm backtracks on his promise to rescue Margot, Lucy takes her fate into her own hands and sets off for Russia with her True Born bodyguard and maybe-something-more, the lethal yet beautiful Jared Price. In Russia, there's been whispered rumors of Plague Cure.
While Lucy fights her magnetic attraction to Jared, anxious that his loyalty to Storm will hurt her chances of finding her sister, they quickly discover that not all is as it appears…and discovering the secrets contained in the Fox sisters' blood before they wind up dead is just the beginning.
As they say in Dominion, sometimes it’s not you…it’s your DNA.
This book was surprisingly intense. While I didn't read the first book, so I was a little confused by the terms and timeline, I still enjoyed the story. The pace kept me hooking, the plot was intriguing, and the tension between Lucy and Jared was palpable.
L.E. Sterling had an early obsession with sci-fi, fantasy and romance to which she remained faithful even through an M.A. in Creative Writing and a PhD in English Literature - where she completed a thesis on magical representation. She is the author of two previous novels, the cult hit Y/A novel The Originals (under pen name L.E. Vollick), dubbed “the Catcher in the Rye of a new generation” by one reviewer, and the urban fantasy Pluto’s Gate. Originally hailing from Parry Sound, Ontario, L.E. spent most of her summers roaming across Canada in a van with her father, a hippie musician, her brothers and an occasional stray mutt - inspiring her writing career. She currently lives in Toronto, Ontario.
I slide another wet spile into its compartment in Doctor Dorian Raines’ sample kit and try to sight the choppers whirling overhead. The sky stays white and blank, an eye that can’t see me. Rain slicks my face and runs down to pool at my collar.
“It will be dark soon.” Beside me, my companion packs away her own tools. “We’d better finish up or Jared will have us for lunch.” One of her springy curls defies the rain and gravity to stand on end. A spade hurls through the air and lands at my knee. “Make sure you get a proper sample from under the root this time,” Doc Raines teases me.
Bits of silver and red and white flash from the lush canopy of the massive, unnatural thing that has become known across Dominion as the “Prayer Tree,” grown from the seeds of a magic bomb. Now it dwarves the intersection it has eaten, a place they’ve renamed Heaven Square. The tree crows over the red graffitied buildings of Dominion City’s wasteland. Everywhere you look the red tags appear: the same two circles, conjoined in the middle like a pair of crossed eyes. Evolve or die is scribbled beneath on the best of them, sometimes even spelled right. Then again, Dominion isn’t your average town.
People here are dying by the bucketful.
The rabble has stuck a long ladder to the tree to better hang their prayers. The lowest branches hang heavy with their white paper miracles tied up in red string: wishes for survival, cures, prayers for the lost dead – and for some weird reason, cutlery that chime like bells when they clang together. And now, I notice, those same two eyes that follow me everywhere, blotted in lipstick on old napkins. Messy holes have been punched through the thin paper to thread the ribbon. But the tree keeps stretching up like something from that fairy tale, tickling the sightless sky and pulling the peoples’ prayers with it. All around the tree’s trunk the road splits and tears as though it’s home to a giant with enormous teeth who got hungry one night.
But no one will be tearing down this tree. Last month a pair of Lasters hacked off a couple of branches to heat their homes or cook their dinners. A pack of men followed the thieves’ chimney smoke. The next morning their fate played across the Feed like a warning: the poor Lasters hung from the lowest branches like Christmas ornaments.
Didn’t matter anyway. The branches grew back overnight. The dead men now hang so high no one can tear them down.
A dirty head pokes out from around the trunk. A Laster kid. They like to play here in the holy place. Dirty brown eyes peep at me from under a shaggy bit of hair. The kid gangs like to watch us work, the Doc and I, sometimes calling to each other in their mysterious street language. Sometimes they sing their battle cry, a children’s rhyme that haunts my dreams.
Lasters sadly born to die,
Splicers get another try -
But what about the True Born kind -
A secret could save humankind.
Girl or boy, this Laster is braver than most. It cocks its head and sidesteps over to me like a curious bird as I rifle through the bag strung over my shoulder. You daren’t set anything down out here.
I fish out an apple and hand it to the filthy creature. “What’s your name?”
The kid eyes my hand. One brown eye seeps with infection, both eyes round with surprise.
“Marta.” Her voice croaks like she hasn’t used it in a while.
“You in the gangs?”
She nods, sidesteps a bit closer. Up close you can tell. Not just dirty – this young girl has likely seen far worse than death. Death is easy here in Dominion. It’s the living that’s hard. And if you’re in a kid gang, swelling with the orphaned castoffs of the Plague, I reckon it’s even harder.
Quick as lightning the apple disappears from my hand. The girl munches away at it, crouching against the base of the tree.
“You stay around here?” I venture.
The girl doesn’t reply but cocks her head at me as though I’ve asked if she’s from the Upper Circle. I ask, quiet-quiet, “Who runs your pack?”
It’s a mistake. She stops, cocking her head and looking around as though the sky will fall before she bolts around the back of the tree. But by then I’ve clued in that it’s not my question that has her running rabbit.
I hear it, too.
“You’ve left her unguarded?” Jared True Born Price snarls. The few songbirds in the trees go silent.
Over my shoulder, and out from under the safety of tree limbs, I catch Doc Raines going head to head with the psychopath loafer who heads my security.
“Now hold on just a moment there, big boy,” the doctor glares, hands on hips, “we’re not responsible for ordering the damned details. We’re just going about our work. As we do every day, I might point out.” The Doc isn’t afraid of much – not even a murderous True Born who, when provoked, can tear a man apart with his teeth.
“If you’re attacked you’re not going to get very much work done, Doc.” Jared runs his hands through golden curls so they stick up like exclamation points. I reckon my time is short. I may have thirty seconds, maybe less.
I get down on my hands and knees and crawl a few feet around the base of the tree. Reaching into my bag again I toss another apple as far around the trunk as I can manage.
“Marta,” I call softly. “Marta, I’m Lucy. Come back and see me again sometime, right? I’ll bring you more food. Look for me.”
As far as bribes go, this one is supposed to be a ringer. The one thing guaranteed to make you friends in Dominion – or get you killed – is food. It’s the one thing in scarce supply that trumps even Plague Cure. No sense living through the wasting disease if you’re just going to starve to death. Granted, I wouldn’t know much about starving – aside from staring at it in the gaunt planes of the girl’s cheeks.
“Lucy!” Jared roars his displeasure. I pull out slowly from under the massive tree, knowing with every cell in my body that he’s scenting the air, fixing on me like a bloodhound – though panther is more like it.
I emerge backwards from the shadow of the tree, only to back into something just as hard as tree bark. I look up. A blond man glares down at me like a wrathful God, arms crossed over one of a never-ending supply of stupid t-shirts. This one has a cartoon moose drawn across it, looking vaguely like a caricature of my so-called guardian, Nolan Storm. My hands rest on long bare toes that he’s shoved into some fragile leather flip-flops. There’s a rip in the left knee of his jeans, and where the threads pull apart I spy a freckle I’ve never seen before.
“Find something interesting?” Jared’s eyebrow cocks up over his eyes, glittering green with anger.
“Uh, yes.” I hold up the small vial of dirt and asphalt like a shield.
He bends low over me. “I though we had an understanding, Princess. You know the drill.” His voice is calm, flat, which is why I know he’s about ten seconds from exploding hell on us all.
I blink and look around. In the time I’ve been under the prayer tree, Heaven Square has emptied out. The air still, kids gone to ground. Even the handful of praying Lasters who usually hang around day and night have disappeared. “You scare everybody away? What happened to Torch?” I peer up and extend Jared a hand almost as filthy as the Laster kid’s. His nostrils flare but he takes it and hauls me to my feet none too gently.
“Rolling in the dirt again, Princess?”
“I save that for when I’m with you, True Born,” I throw back teasingly. But my merc is clearly not in a teasing mood. Sensing his tension and awareness, I look around. Torch is off to the side with Doc Raines, looking sheepish. “Tore a strip off of him, did you?”
“Not yet. Not nearly enough.”
“Just go easy.”
“Who the hell are you to –”
“Save it,” I say, waving my dirty fingers in Jared’s face. “Security is your thing, True Born, not mine. I’m not stupid enough to argue with you.”
“No, but you’re stupid enough to hang around Heaven Square without anyone guarding your back.”
Behind Jared, Torch winces. Red boils behind my eyes. “Don’t you dare call me stupid, Jared True Born,” I poke the hard chest before me. “You’re supposed to be in charge of making sure I'm safe. So instead of blaming others, do it yourself.” I turn on my heel and stomp towards Nolan Storm’s waiting van.
“Do not walk away from me, Princess. We’re not done yet,” he calls after me. But I won’t turn around, won’t dignify his behavior with a reply.
I hear the Doc and Torch fall in behind me. No need for visions to know there’s a chilly ride ahead.
Jared slows our march as we approach Nolan Storm’s meeting quarters, tucked away in one wing of Storm’s enormous penthouse suite. “Stop here a moment. We’re not done yet.” I ignore Jared, favoring instead a trip to my bedroom. Perhaps a tactical mistake – he grabs my arm and hauls me back. “Just where do you think you’re going, Princess?”
All the bones in his face stand out like they’ve been picked clear from his skin. I try to pull away but I know it’s useless. Jared Price is a True Born, and stronger than any of the genetic mutants I’ve seen other than Nolan Storm. We’re still glaring at each other, breath heaving from our chests, as Jared backs me into the wall outside the meeting room and pins my arms to my sides.
“You’re not going anywhere,” he snarls. But I can tell from the flare of his nostrils he’s scenting me, cataloguing the hundred and one smells he says makes up my scent signature. He can’t help himself. If there’s one thing that rules Jared Price it’s his instincts. And for some reason, for good or ill and surely against his own desires, I seem to nestle in the heart of those instincts.
“Let. Me. Go.” I order. Even my eyelids flap in outrage.
Jared’s jaw is strung tighter than barbed wire. “Not until we’re done here.”
“I don’t take orders from monsters!” I hurl back.
And freeze. I might as well have slapped him. I can’t tell which of us is more shocked at my terrible words. My eyes widen as he stills, takes a step back. A brick wall slams down over his eyes. Empty air ticks between us.
“Yeah, well,” he finally drawls, “I don’t work for spoiled rich brats.”
I flinch, but can’t deny the truth of his words.
The air grow wintry, cold settling into the air and invading my bones. Just then, Nolan Storm sails past us and into the room with a few of his True Borns in tow. Without another word, Jared follows them.
Whatever fragile peace Jared Price and I had stitched together these past few weeks lays shattered and ruined between us.