Elusive MemoriesAmazon, B&N, Kobo, iBooks, The Book Depository, Smashwords, Scribd, Inktera, Oyster
Release Date: May 13, 2014
One false move — or trusting the wrong person — can turn the Gifted into the hunted.
Captured by the Northern Alliance Betterment Society, a group more dedicated to murder than betterment, memory-bringer Sam Benson’s in trouble. She doesn’t know where she is or, more importantly, who she is. With her memories gone, she must piece together the details of her life before they take it from her.
But there’s more at stake than Sam’s life…
Now that she’s been dragged into the war between the Gifted and the Northern Alliance Betterment Society, Sam realizes how much is riding on her ability to escape. As the conflict escalates and new players stand in her way, she must find a way to take charge of the fate of the divided Gifted people.
Sam might crumble under the pressure… or rise up to give the Gifted a fighting chance.
The room was cold. The passing time translated into days and hours and minutes somehow, but the numbers slipped through her consciousness before she could pin them down. She’d been stuck here long enough for her feet to become stiff and bloodless.
But the cold was gone now, replaced by numbness. Something whispered across her skin—or was that a shiver?—that it was a bad sign, but not having to worry about the cold was a relief. Especially when she was already worried about her stomach grumbling and her eyes scratchy from exhaustion.
She didn’t need to see her reflection to know her eyes were bloodshot or that the bruised look of starvation and lack of sleep grew every time she slept. If she slept.
The others huddled in a corner. Their hunched shoulders and shallow breathing told her they’d given up already; their desperate whispers had long since faded into unnerving silence. But giving up left panic clawing at her insides. She inched her way across the room.
At what point she’d noticed the door, she couldn’t recall. It seemed to fade into the dirty wall, marked by two seams. No window, not like the door leading out. After the single bulb overhead grew stronger—had someone replaced it?—she had seen the glint of its handle.
It intrigued her. Everyone avoided the door, but she knew it led somewhere other than the hallway where the guards patrolled. That alone was worth exploring. She wasn’t going to give up. And so she’d listened and waited. No sounds ever came from next door. The handle, when she flexed her hands and wrapped one around it, gave way.
The door opened with a quiet snick, swinging inward. She followed the door’s path, not bothering to glance back at the others. If they noticed her exit, they kept quiet. Not that she would have heeded a warning. Maybe from the old lady. But she’d been silent, and in this prison, silence between prisoners was akin to agreement.
Amy showed no desire of escape. Instead, she poked and prodded with unanswerable questions. Unanswerable because when you could barely remember your name—hers was Sam—trying to speak of her family’s plans when she didn’t even know if she had a family outside was impossible.
Once inside, she let the door swing shut, leaving her alone. She paused and waited. No one came running. No one shouted at her. Her only companion was the silence ringing in her ears, different from the silence of the room with the others. Louder in its quietness.
Her breath echoed and puffed out in the dim light. It was even colder here.
Would anyone come to drag her back?
The chill of the floor branded her feet. But an alcove on the other side of the room pulled her attention away from her discomfort—for a brief, blessed moment—and exploring took her singular focus. She shuffled across the open space, the pain in her feet barely registering. Flexing her hands helped to beat some of the stiffness from her fingers.
Somewhere beyond their prison, there was a loud thud, freezing her mid-shuffle. She glanced at the door and listened. Waited. Debated the wisdom of checking what had caused the noise. Wasn’t worth it. Not when she had space to explore.
A possibility to escape.
Or at least find something to eat. Anything would be preferable at this point.
She resumed shuffling across the dank room. If she touched the walls, she imagined they’d be wet. Maybe frozen. No windows. She wondered what time of the day it was. Which day it was. How long she’d been here. But time wasn’t a concept that existed here. She counted by needs.
Because these were her realities: stomach cramps, feet white from lack of circulation, hands so stiff she couldn’t rub the circulation back into her feet, and fitful sleep filled with hunger, cold, and nightmares of a systematic hunting and destructing of an entire people.
Or were they memories?
Her brain fuzzed over when she tried to examine the differences. Dreams, memories. Both seemed familiar, but memories felt… important. Vital. She shook herself. Did it matter which was which? Not when the thought of selling her soul for food seemed like a solid idea. How long could someone go without food? She had priorities.
Sam surveyed the alcove from her vantage point. It was slightly lower than the rest of the room, with a sloped walkway curving around and down to an area of shelves. Boxes lined the walls. Her hopes lifted. Those could hold something of value.
She crept down the walkway, clutching the railing so tightly she barely felt the burn of the frozen metal.
Going slow was stupid. If they were to rush in and stop her, she’d have a better chance of stuffing herself with food. If there was food. Though the guards delivered water every day through a slot in the door, she hadn’t seen anyone but her fellow prisoners in a few days—weeks? But she couldn’t move faster.
What if there was nothing? This was the precipice of risk—the moment when success and failure were equal. Anything could happen. Fear and excitement rattled through her body, angling for equal treatment. She clutched the railing tighter as she reached its end.
Letting go, she fell to her knees at the shelves, running her hands over the exterior. The bones in her knees ground against the floor, making her grimace. The wood of the drawers was smooth, like it had been sanded and polished into submission. The knobs under her fingers seemed intricate. Expensive. Oddly out of place.
She chose a drawer on the bottom and closed her eyes as she opened it. She needed this moment of pure discovery—not something that was revealed inch by slow, agonizing inch, but thrown in front of her in all its glory. A deep breath steadied her. Two made her heart pound. Her eyelids became heavy with the need to know what awaited her. She opened her eyes.
A pair of socks. She bit her lip, relished the sharp reminder of being alive, and stuffed them in her pockets before moving on. She’d need those. They were soft and fuzzy. Warm. Her mind reeled as she fingered them.
She forced her attention back to the drawer. The remaining contents were shaded in the dim light; she was unable to discern the contents. Tablecloths? She picked them up, letting the thin fabric glide over her skin. Definitely tablecloths, but they’d work for blankets.
Sam set them aside. Another drawer revealed small bags of snack food. When she picked one up, it crinkled, startling her. She dropped the bag. Narrowing her eyes, she pinched the edge, picked it up, and laid it down on the tablecloths as gently as possible. It crinkled again, but not as badly as grabbing it in the middle. She moved more bags to the pile until she had two for each person.
A few boxes to the side revealed bottles of liquid. She lifted one closer to her face to read the label, but the low light made it indecipherable. She twisted her face in frustration and added them to the pile.
Her pathetic pile. There were more drawers to explore and she eyed them, wondering what treasures they held. But her eyelids fell down, once, twice, three times before she pulled them back up. With the adrenaline of her adventure fading, lethargy returned to remind her of the energy she’d expended.
Most of the precious little she’d started with.
But the success of this trip—and the lack of anyone stopping her—meant she could return later. With the door between the rooms unlocked, she could come and go as she pleased. And a nap underneath one of the tablecloths would be the perfect reward for her hard work. It’d be the first chance at real sleep since… she didn’t know when.
Frustration locked her jaw. Time continued to slide like water through her fingers and she had no idea how to make it stop.
She picked up her stash and turned to leave, her mind focused on the comfort of wrapping herself in something warm, and froze. A guard stood at the top of the walkway, motionless and watching. He reminded her of a statute: tall and imposing. Large enough to crush her.
How long had he been there? She’d heard nothing. And she thought she’d been listening for any disturbance, for exactly this situation. It made her wonder what else she’d missed. A shiver traveled down her spine as she thought about hiding her stash. But he’d already seen it, and wasting more energy on a futile action seemed stupid.
“You can’t have that.”
His voice rumbled, nearly deafening after the silence, but it was actually soft and low. She swayed and made the observation that, under other circumstances, his voice might be appealing. Hypnotizing even. Her eyelids drooped again and she forced them back up.
She knew she couldn’t have anything in her stash. If she could, the guards would have given them to her. No creeping in and stealing necessary.
“You’ll have to put it down.” His leather weapons belt creaked as he shifted his stance and pointed to the floor. Without much light, his inky hair and forbidding expression combined to make him seem dark. Threatening.
“If I can’t have it, why is it here?” The question burst out of her before she could quash it. The filter between her brain and mouth crumbled under the weight of exhaustion.
Without answering, he started down the walkway. It was mesmerizing how noisy he was with his boots squeaking and weapons belt creaking. Only those with nothing to fear could make as much noise as they wanted.
“Come with me.”
She struggled to sort through the different threads running through his voice. The softness hinted at leniency, but something darker, more pungent, lurked below. Before she could put a name to it, he stood in front of her. They stared at each other. Up close, his hair was lighter, his expression less forbidding, the lines of his face naturally angular.
She counted one heartbeat. Two. They stretched into ten. Twenty. She shifted from one foot to the other as the weight of her stash grew heavy in her arms.
It was enough to break him out of his trance. He took the loot from her, his warm hands sliding across the chilled skin of her arms, and she shivered as he tossed everything. Her eyes followed the bottles, their fall cushioned only by the thin layer of tablecloths before bouncing and clattering across the floor. She winced.
Looking back up at him with his guard uniform and weapons belt and shiny boots, she felt more of a connection with the bottles than him. Tossed away and rolling at the mercy of a greater force. Something churned in her gut and his image blurred before jumping back into focus.
Having dispatched her stash without so much as a glance to where it landed, he pivoted on his foot and stalked back up the walkway. The creaking and thudding snapped her back. He expected her to follow. She stayed.
But rather than get angry, he only tossed her a look over his shoulder. “I’m trying to be nice to you.”
Nice? “Nice people don’t toss away food and blankets others need.”
“Those were tablecloths. And I never said I was a nice person. Just come with me.”
But that something she’d been unable to identify in his voice crept back in and made her suspicious. “Let me keep one of the blankets.”
“Not for myself,” she added. She pointed to the other room. “They need it.”
Sam brought her arms to rest at her sides, her fingers sliding over the socks in her pocket, and resisted the urge to smile. She’d make do with the socks. At least her feet would stay warm. It was more than she’d had before.
He considered it, his lips sliding into a frown. His eyes drifted to the door of the other room and came back to rest on her. He didn’t want to. She could see it in the way his eyes narrowed slightly and he blew out an annoyed breath.
“I’m worried about the old lady.” She could press her cause, make him see. “I’m not sure she’ll be able to last much longer in this cold.”
He grimaced. “Fine. Give me one of those tablecloths and follow me.” He pointed at her. “And no more talking.”
She shrugged. Though he’d taken her stash, she’d won a blanket and a pair of socks. It wasn’t likely she’d be able to get more. Talking was unnecessary, especially with him. She just wanted out. But maybe—
“Come along before I change my mind.” His words came quickly and loud; he was angry. It was hard to care.
She fingered the socks and smiled. Following him didn’t seem as bad with them tucked safely in her pocket. She could almost imagine not feeling the cold anymore.
“I’m letting you keep those socks.”
The comment startled her. She frowned, her elation dissipating. “What socks?”
“Lesson one: cameras are everywhere.”
Her stomach soured with anger. Had he really been watching her while she scrounged for food? He was cruel, letting her rummage and filling her with hope. She flushed and swayed on her feet, gripping the metal railing for support.
“When was the last time you ate?”
He came closer, but his face blurred. She squinted, willing his double to become one. “Did you think I was in here for fun? Because I was bored?” The acid in her stomach boiled over into her tone.
“I imagine sitting in the same room for weeks would be boring.”
She jerked herself up straight. Had she been imprisoned for weeks? His hand landing on her arm brought everything into focus. She slapped him away. “Don’t touch me.”
But he only encircled her wrist with his hand, tugging her close. “I’m worried about you.”
She struggled against him, her efforts weakening her even further. His strength was overpowering, stealing the last remaining tendrils of her consciousness.