A Veiled Truth

A Veiled Truth

(The Hunted #2.5)

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Release Date: June 13, 2015

A 31,000 word novella set in The Hunted world

She’s about to learn life isn’t like her controlled experiments.

Edie Brown is a lab rat, dedicated to improving the lives of her fellow Gifted. And while she saved countless Gifted soldiers with her research during the war against the Hunters, she’s haunted by the one person she hasn’t saved: her aunt. With a new pair of joint illusionists to help her, Edie’s closer than ever to a breakthrough.

But her well-ordered scientist’s life unravels when her best friend Marcus proposes a different kind of experiment — one that puts her heart at risk — and her aunt collapses, leaving Edie wondering if she’s too late to help. She’s not about to give up yet, though, not when there’s still a chance she can cure her aunt — and find the one thing she didn't even know she needed.

Average rating on Goodreads: 4.60 stars

Number of Reviews: 3 (on Goodreads)


Chapter 1

There was something in the way her twin brother Will and his no-longer-enemy Jane stood next to each other, without touching, that piqued Edie’s curiosity. They didn’t look at or brush up against each other. Edie cocked her head. And yet, they seemed highly aware of the other.

It brought to mind all kinds of questions. Were they still sharing energy, even though the illusion was supposed to be over? What reason did they have? Why were they being so reticent about it? Sharing energy wasn’t bad. Just unusual if not for illusionary purposes.

She threw them a smile. The better to disarm them. A click of her pen and the flourish of her notebook was all she needed to prepare herself for notes. She looked between Will and Jane again, trying to identify the weakest link: who was most likely to talk?

Will was usually her first choice, but ever since the incident — when Edie had sent Jane to the Hunter compound to save Will — he had been surprisingly tight-lipped about all things Jane. A distinct turnaround from his previous behavior. Which, come to think of it, was telling enough. Edie scribbled her thought, then turned to Jane.

Jane had always been notoriously uncooperative, but Edie had noted changes since the incident. Jane smiled more, she answered more questions, and she had once — just once, but that in itself was its own clue — offered information. Edie hoped she’d be forthcoming now.

She turned up her smile to full force and aimed it at Jane. She clicked her pen, once, twice. “Are you currently sharing energy?”

Jane blinked. She didn’t look to Will, who’d averted his gaze to stare at the opposing wall, but she shifted infinitesimally closer. “We stopped sharing energy when you asked us to.”

Edie nodded slowly. Lie or truth? People seemed to lie to Edie with alarming frequency. There was a certain fear that came with interacting with intelligence, she figured. They were afraid she would uncover their deepest darkest secrets. What they didn’t know was that she only cared about their secrets if it had to do with joint illusions.

Most secrets didn’t.

This was a little more…delicate of a situation. Edie studied the chair in the middle of the tiny practice room. It was like any other one might see. Metal. Folding chair. Odd to find it in the middle of the mat, odder yet to know it hadn’t existed before she had asked Will and Jane to create it.

Edie tapped her chin with her pen. “Joint illusions disappear after the energy transfer stops.” She pointed to the chair. “New manifestation of your energy or still sharing energy?”

Will and Jane did look at each other then, and an audible crackle through the air signaled the disappearance of the joint illusion. Edie sighed, feeling the faint edges of a headache poking at her forehead.

Lie.

“This would be a lot easier if you cooperated.”

Will dug his shoe into the mat, not meeting her eyes, and said, “We’re tired.”

Jane nodded.

Another lie. If they were tired, why share energy? It would drain them further, not help with exhaustion. But of course the day those two would be in agreement — not at each other’s throats — would be to unite against her efforts. It wasn’t like they’d spent the last decade looking for answers. Her fingers itched with the urge to bar them in the room until they performed all the tests she needed, and she could solve the mysteries of joint illusions once and for all.

Edie bit the inside of her cheek. “Fine.” She struggled to keep her voice even. “Go. We’ll meet here again tomorrow. And seriously, rest up. I can’t do this without your help.”

You know how much I want this. She let the words, unspoken, hang in the air. They knew how much she wanted it; she didn’t have to articulate it. But if she thought to chasten them, she was wrong. Before she could so much as blink, they were gone. Edie jogged to the door. “Don’t worry about me, I’ll just take care of Judy tonig—”

Edie’s words cut off as she entered the hallway. Will had Jane pressed up against the wall. Was horniness a manifestation of their shared energy? No. She covered her eyes. But if sexual attraction was a symptom of shared energy, it was something she would need to know. Even if the thought of Will and Jane and that made her want to scrub her eyes out until they bled. Her fingers spread open.

Will yanked Jane into what Edie was quite positive was a supply closet. She had just pulled a new box of gloves from there earlier today. Thank goodness it had been earlier, not later. She clicked her pen a few times and wrote sexual attraction? With that taken care of, it was time to flee. Past time.

She didn’t want to think of what her brother and Jane were doing.

Edie whirled around in the direction of her lab and ran straight into a wall of muscle. She uffed into the chest, and her pen and notebook went flying. The smell of warm male tickled her nose as the impact bounced her back.

“Sorry,” she said automatically, lunging toward her things.

She had to get better at watching where she was going. It was the second time this week it’d happened; it was Tuesday. Tuesday! At least the first time had been with Will, and he was used to her not paying attention to her surroundings. One of these days, she was going to run into a wall, and how embarrassing that would be.

Her pen was closest, off to the right. She clicked it, then shoved it into the pocket of her lab coat. Where was her notebook? It should have been near her feet, but a quick check showed only her black boots, and the shiny boots issued to every soldier in the Gifted army. Big, she noted. And you know what they say about big feet.

“Looking for this?”

The familiar voice snapped her head up, and pain bloomed as her skull connected with his chin. “Marcus!” Just the person I’d been hoping to avoid. “My notebook.” She clutched it to her chest as he rubbed his chin absently.

Three weeks. Three weeks since he’d posited the question: Is there a chance you want more from this relationship? This relationship being their friendship, and more being, well, more. Romance, Edie supposed. Physical relations. She had given it thought — a lot of thought, truth be told, that had led to some unsatisfying nights — but no good answer existed.

She pressed her lips together and inched away slightly, lest she be tempted to continue her earlier exploration into big feet and what may lie underneath his standard issue khakis.

His green eyes flashed, missing nothing, and he swept out an arm. “Going home? I’ll walk you there.”

Home is what Marcus had nicknamed her lab, since she spent more time there than her own dorm. Her heart pinched. She had been careful to keep their relationship the way it was: platonic. Romance — that elusive more Marcus wanted — wasn’t in her future. Friendship was comfortable. Safe. She wasn’t going to ruin something working perfectly fine.

Yet, whether she told him yes or no, she would irrevocably alter their relationship forever. It was why she’d avoided him for as long as she could. She pulled her notebook tighter against her chest, unaware of the people trickling through the hall.

“Edie.”

Her name snapped her attention back to him. The problem was, she’d thought of nothing but him since he’d posited the question. Avoidance had turned to obsessive thinking. Her heart raced. She wanted him. Except she didn’t do relationships. She kept everything neat and tidy. Sex was in one box, carefully chosen partners who’d never inspire her to great heights of passion or idiocy, but who got the job done. Friendship was in another box, the value of someone who didn’t lie and told it straight too great to combine the boxes together.

It’d been insidious, the way Marcus had become her rock. Little by little, she hadn’t realized it until faced with the possibility of losing him. A no, whether he knew it or not, could drive a wedge between them. And if she said yes — well, Edie didn’t do relationships, not with her aunt Judy, locked in a state of nothingness after her uncle died, providing such a sterling example of how everything could go wrong.

Neither option was acceptable; nothing was guaranteed. His eyes were steady on her. His face was familiar, the angular lines of his jaw and cheekbones hidden by the dark stubble that told her he hadn’t shaved today. How would it feel against her skin? She shook her head to banish the thought. That was the absolute wrong direction to go. Her fingers itched to touch him.

His full lips curved into a smile. “Edie.”

“What?” She liked the way his mouth formed her name, the corners of his eyes crinkling, as if he was saying a favorite word.

He placed his hand at the small of her back and pushed her down the hall. “A little distracted today?”

A fleeting touch. He dropped his hand almost immediately, but phantom fingers caressed her back, the touch spreading out from its initial contact until it encompassed her entire body. She shivered.

He continued as if she had responded. “Saw your brother and Jane disappear.”

Edie glanced at him, her gaze drawn to the slight pucker of a scar on his neck, the exact spot where Jane had pressed a knife and drawn blood. How easily he could have died, had Will not interrupted. She shivered again, this time from the chill of what could have been.

“They’ve been spending a lot of time together,” he said. His tone was even, neutral. He was fishing for how she felt about the situation. Testing the topic. She would spill eventually, if he didn’t pry. He knew it as well as she did.

“In supply closets, you mean,” Edie said. “Not helping me as they should be.”

Her surroundings returned by degrees: the squeak of their shoes on the tiled floor, the low murmur of other soldiers as they passed by, the pungent odor of cleaning products. People nodded at them as they passed through the halls, but Edie watched without returning the gesture, too entranced by Marcus and where he could place his stubble to notice.

He bumped into her shoulder. “There are worse places to be.”

Did he wish they had their own supply closet? Her breath caught. She listed everywhere she’d rather not be instead. “The Hunter compound, toilet duty, the north. Not necessarily in that order.”

Marcus laughed, and she felt its reverberations under her skin. She listed toward him, missing his laugh. Why had she avoided him for so long? Oh, right. He wanted to irrevocably alter their relationship — and so did her horniness that had an inconvenient way of popping up every time he was near. She nearly tripped over her feet. Stall. If she got Marcus to leave, she wouldn’t have to answer his question. It’d worked for weeks already.

“I’m working on a new drink to help boost Gifted energy,” she lied. No one willingly stuck around for her concoctions. “I thought it might help my studies with joint illusions.”

“Need a test subject?”

She was impressed he managed to ask with a straight face, no trace of irony. “Yes.”

“Count me in.”

She stopped in her tracks, earning her a glare from the person behind her, who had to dart around her to avoid a collision. Edie waved an apology.

“Marcus.”

He seemed to know what she was driving at, even before she said anything. “You’ve avoided me long enough.”

She darted a quick look around the hallway. There were enough people that she felt their hungry eyes on her, waiting for the latest bit of drama. It was well known that she’d been responsible for sending Jane back to the Hunter compound — and that they were now working together. Their eyes lingered on her wherever she went, no doubt waiting for something interesting to happen. Let them wait.

“I don’t want to talk here.” She grabbed his arm and propelled them forward.

The tension and frustration at the slow progress with Will and Jane melted away as they entered her lab. The lights were low, barely illuminating the gleam of shiny glass and spotless counters. Spotless because someone had come in and straightened her papers to the side of her microscope. Her jaw clenched. They’d sent cleaners in again; despite insisting she worked better with a little chaos, it kept happening.

She tilted to the side, her nostrils flaring. Marcus. His arm was solid beneath her hand. She was still holding him. Letting go of Marcus as if she might be burned, she flipped on the lights and shot to the opposite side of the room. A safety net. No amount of physical space would be enough to separate her from Marcus’s question and its implications, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t try.

She tossed her notebook onto the counter, watching with a smile when the corner hit her stack of papers and they went askew. A quick throb of her head wiped the smile off her face, and her shoulders slumped. She was tired. When had she last slept? Yesterday. No, before that. Too long. The enhancing drink she’d downed earlier must be wearing off.

But it was more than that. She was tired of chasing down her brother and Jane, tired of running from Marcus, tired of not finding any answers that would help her help Judy. Tired of running from life? She gave herself a mental shake. Surely not. She squared her shoulders and faced Marcus.

Before she could open her mouth — a blessing, that, considering she hadn’t formulated what she wanted to say — Marcus prowled further into the room, his movements strong, controlled, clipped. Her pulse quickened. He ran a hand through his hair, mussing it up. A lock of hair flopped onto his forehead, and her fingers itched with the need to brush it off. He looked up at the ceiling, then set his green eyes on her, as if he could read her soul. He was going to force the issue.

Fine. She clutched her hands together. “Any answer I give you has the potential to change our friendship. You know I don’t do relationships. It would never work. And if I say no, you’ll resent me eventually.”

“You’re forgetting I’ve already changed our friendship by asking.”

Her eyes widened. She hadn’t considered that. The sound of her pen clicking filled the space. She looked down at it in her hand oddly, not remembering palming it.

“There are too many unknowns. We’re in stasis.” She crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow. Take that.

He cleared his throat. One corner of his mouth hooked up. “You’re avoiding me. There’s a difference.”

Her eyes darted to the door. Marcus was between her and freedom. Trapped. She put a hand over her stomach to settle its churning. He was right. She wanted to rewind to before this happened and continue on as if it hadn’t. If only she’d invented the time machine she’d attempted when she was twelve. A scientist’s regrets.

His gaze calculating, he continued his prowl through the room, invading her space. She escaped backward, held in thrall of the noiseless way he hunted her around the middle table. The counter was hard when she bumped into it. He crowded her, closing the gap until there was a bare inch between them. He was so close she could feel the heat radiating from his body, and her body answered, tilting toward his as if to steal his heat for herself. He raised his hand and twirled a stray piece of her hair around his finger.

“Think of it as an experiment.”

Her breath hitched, and time slowed, the increasing thump of her heart and his fingers in her hair the only two sensations capturing her attention. Her voice came out soft and slightly breathy and far too close to signs of arousal for her comfort. “An experiment.”

How intriguing. It would give them a definitive time limit and parameters. A way out. They could go back to friends when their sexual attraction ran its course — it always did for her. She could gracefully exit before they reached crucial tipping point; relationships ran the risk that one would end up like Judy. Will was already headed down that path with Jane. One of them had to keep their sanity — and their pants zipped.

“We can try it and see what happens.” He dropped her hair and tipped her chin up. “If you want more detail than that, you’ll have to come up with that yourself.”

“I’m not sure,” she said, but inside, her heart was tapping a yes. Yes to the way his fingers trailed desire across her skin.

His thumb brushed her bottom lip; his eyes lowered. “Perhaps a quick test to determine our compatibility?”

Her body thrummed. He knew how to play her, knew her well enough to say the right words. She was riveted by the way his green eyes had darkened and his head began the descent.

He was going to kiss her. Marcus was going to kiss her. And more than that, she wanted it. For all her hesitation, despite her reservations, she wanted him. Just not at the expense of their friendship. Her insides quickened. With only a split second to make a decision, she listened to the whisper deep inside and let her eyes flutter shut.

His lips met hers, and she came alive. Her focus narrowed down to the barest sensations. Her blood rushing through her veins. Her heart pounding, reaching out to him. The briefest caress of his hand sliding into her hair and pulling her closer. The abrasive rub of his stubble. Rough. That was what his stubble felt like against her skin. Answers.

Their bodies collided, any amount of space between them no longer acceptable. Lust spread through her as his lips moved over hers, coaxing her mouth open. Something within her loosened when he slid his tongue in, tasting her, encouraging her to do the same.

Teasing her with possibilities.

She put her hands on his chest. To explore or push him away, she wasn’t sure. The strength of her desire to strip off his clothes and hers until there was nothing between them frightened her. Marcus was her friend. Friend and lover weren’t boxes that were supposed to be mixed.

He lifted his head. She had to clench her fingers to keep from pulling his head back down to hers.

More.

For weeks, she had been avoiding not Marcus, but this insidious feeling he’d awakened: the one that burned for him, that left her aching for more in the middle of the night.

He hadn’t let her go, despite ending the kiss. Their breaths rushed out, heavy, mingling with the hum of the machines. The counter was firm against her back, no longer cold. Not with the way her body raged with heat.

She didn’t want to leave the safety of his embrace. “An experiment.” She licked her lips, tasting him. “What’s your working hypothesis?”

A smile flashed across his face. His hands tightened around her arms and he pulled her in for another kiss that left her more unsatisfied than she’d ever been. An experiment meant an out, a way of indulging desire without getting hurt.

His facial hair scraped across her cheek. He nipped her ear. “That we’d be good together.”

Edie’s head tilted to allow him greater access; she didn’t bother insulting them both by playing dumb about what together meant. “How do we measure the results?”

“You’re having dinner with Judy tonight.” He found a spot, just behind her ear, and suckled until the pleasure pinched to pain. “We can discuss the details then.”


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