Tag Archive | guest blogger

Perfection Challenged Excerpt – Jade Kerrion

I’m always all about the success of writers. More books is always good! To that end, the lovely and talented Jade Kerrion is releasing Perfection Challenged, the fourth book in her Double Helix series.

Below is an excerpt from the novel 🙂 Enjoy!!

“The best of the four books…the perfect ending to an amazing series.”

Enjoy an excerpt from Perfection Challenged, the thrilling conclusion to Jade Kerrion’s multiple award-winning, bestselling DOUBLE HELIX series. If you’ve never picked up the DOUBLE HELIX series, keep reading for a special offer on the six-time award-winning novel, Perfection Unleashed.

Perfection Challenged

“I have to get back to work,” Danyael said, adjusting the crutch under his left arm.

Alex Saunders, director-general of the Mutant Affairs Council, frowned. “Did Abd-al not explain to you the dangers of pushing your body too hard, especially given your situation?”

Danyael shrugged. “Live or die, the bills have to get paid, and gene therapy is expensive.”

“That’s what I’ve come to talk to you about.” Alex gestured at the lounge area tucked in a corner of the hospital suite. “Will you sit?”

Since Alex had been kind enough to open with politeness instead of threats, Danyael complied. Alex waited until Danyael claimed the armchair before lowering himself onto the couch. “We’ve been monitoring you, Danyael. I’m sure you know that. You’re one of the world’s most powerful alpha empaths, and you don’t have the luxury of privacy.”

Danyael said nothing.

“I know you want nothing to do with the council, and I’ve done my best to respect your decision.” Alex looked pained. “When you went to Nelson Harris to schedule the amputation, it was all I could do not to interfere. We both know the council healers could have healed you. In fact, they want to help. You have many friends, whether or not you know it, or care. You’re a fighter, Danyael. I don’t doubt your will to survive, but this…this newest crisis is beyond you. You’ll have enough difficulty finding a donor. Paying for gene therapy—”

“I may not be able to afford gene therapy but I can’t afford the council’s favors either.”

“Danyael, we can help. We want to help.”

He looked away, a bitter smile twisting his lips. “You need stronger psychic shields, Alex. I can sense the lie. What is the trap that you want me to walk into?”

Alex shook his head, the gesture sad and slow. “We need you to bring Galahad in.” He slid a tablet across the coffee table.

Danyael picked up the tablet and perused the article as Alex continued speaking. “You know Senator Sullivan’s daughter, don’t you?”

“Yes, Chloe. We dated briefly when we were at Harvard University.” Danyael’s brow furrowed. “What does Galahad have to do with the senator’s death? The article specifically says that he died of smoke inhalation.”

“John Sullivan was one of Galahad’s genetic donors, and the twenty-fifth of thirty donors to die in the past three years since Zara freed Galahad from Pioneer Labs. We don’t have physical evidence to tie Galahad to any of their deaths—”

“Yet you’ve judged him guilty based on circumstantial evidence.”

Alex winced. “You must understand. We have an obligation to investigate and to keep his surviving donors safe. If he’s guilty, if he is indeed hunting down his donors, you’re the only one of the five remaining donors who can stop him. No one else stands a chance against the epitome of perfection.”

“I’m surprised you think I do.”

“No one else can kill with a touch.”

****

perfection-challenged-600x800PERFECTION CHALLENGED

An alpha empath, Danyael Sabre has survived abominations and super soldiers, terrorists and assassins, but he cannot survive his failing body. He wants only to live out his final days in peace, but life and the woman he loves, the assassin Zara Itani, have other plans for him.

Galahad, the perfect human being created by Pioneer Labs, is branded an international threat, and Danyael is appointed his jury, judge, and executioner. Danyael alone believes that Galahad can be the salvation that the world needs, but is the empath blinded by the fact that Galahad shares his genes, and the hope that there is something of him in Galahad?

In a desperate race against time and his own dying body, Danyael struggles to find fragments of good in the perfect human being, and comes to the wrenching realization that his greatest battle will be a battle for the heart of the man who hates him.

E-books available at Amazon / Amazon UK / Apple iTunes / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / Smashwords

Paperbacks available at Amazon / Amazon UK

PERFECTION UNLEASHED Perfection Unleashed

“Higher octane than Heroes. More heart than X-Men.”

Recipient of six literary awards, including First place in Science Fiction, Reader Views Literary Awards 2012 and Gold medal winner, Science Fiction, Readers Favorites 2013.

FOR A LIMITED TIME, E-BOOKS AVAILABLE FOR JUST $0.99 (Discounted from $2.99)

E-books available at Amazon / Amazon UK / Apple / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / Smashwords

Paperbacks available at Amazon / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Book Depository

Connect with Jade Kerrion: Website / Facebook / Twitter

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Perfection Challenged – Jade Kerrion

[Since I had the privilege of posting about the other books in the lovely Jade Kerrion’s Double Helix series, I was eager to help spread the buzz about Perfection Challenged! Happy almost release day, Jade!]

Perfection Challenged, the thrilling conclusion to Jade Kerrion’s multiple award-winning, bestselling DOUBLE HELIX series, will be released on September 17th and will be available in paperback and all electronic formats. Beta readers have declared Perfection Challenged “the best of the four books…the perfect ending to an amazing series.”

If you’ve never picked up the DOUBLE HELIX series, keep on reading for a special offer on Perfection Unleashed, the book that launched the DOUBLE HELIX series.

PERFECTION CHALLENGED

An alpha empath, Danyael Sabre has survived abominations and super soldiers, terrorists and assassins, but he cannot survive his failing body. He wants only to live out his final days in peace, but life and the woman he loves, the assassin Zara Itani, have other plans for him.

Galahad, the perfect human being created by Pioneer Labs, is branded an international threat, and Danyael is appointed his jury, judge, and executioner. Danyael alone believes that Galahad can be the salvation that the world needs, but is the empath blinded by the fact that Galahad shares his genes, and the hope that there is something of him in Galahad?

In a desperate race against time and his own dying body, Danyael struggles to find fragments of good in the perfect human being, and comes to the wrenching realization that his greatest battle will be a battle for the heart of the man who hates him.

perfection-challenged-600x800

PERFECTION UNLEASHED Perfection Unleashed

Recipient of six literary awards, including first place in Science Fiction, Reader Views Literary Awards 2012 and Gold medal winner in Science Fiction, Readers Favorites 2013.

 

“Higher octane than Heroes. More heart than X-Men.”

Danyael Sabre spent sixteen years clawing out of the ruins of his childhood and finally has everything he wanted—a career, a home, and a trusted friend. To hold on to them, he keeps his head down and plays by the rules. An alpha empath, he is powerful in a world transformed by the Genetic Revolution, yet his experience has taught him to avoid attention.

When the perfect human being, Galahad, escapes from Pioneer Laboratories, the illusory peace between humans and their derivatives—the in vitros, clones, and mutants—collapses into social upheaval. The abominations, deformed and distorted mirrors of humanity, created unintentionally in Pioneer Lab’s search for perfection, descend upon Washington D.C. The first era of the Genetic Revolution was peaceful. The second is headed for open war.

Although the genetic future of the human race pivots on Galahad, Danyael does not feel compelled to get involved and risk his cover of anonymity, until he finds out that the perfect human being looks just like him.

FOR A LIMITED TIME, E-BOOKS AVAILABLE FOR JUST $0.99 (Discounted from $2.99)

E-books available at Amazon / Amazon UK / Apple / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / Smashwords

Paperbacks available at Amazon / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Book Depository

To be the first to receive news of Jade Kerrion’s latest book releases, sign up for her New Release Mailing List. If Perfection Challenge makes it to the bookstores before September 17th, you’ll be among the first to know.

Connect with Jade Kerrion: Website / Facebook / Twitter

Love Me Playlist – Diane Alberts

Hello lovelies!

One of my very favorite people is guest posting today. Not only does this give me all kinds of awesome tingles, but it gives all of you a peek inside Diane’s head while she was writing Love Me. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was sweet lovemeand left me all misty eyed. You can pick it up here. Besides, what’s not to love about those abs? *sucks it in and adds about a zillion crunches to the To-Do list*

 

Playlist for LOVE ME 

Hello, and thank you so much for letting me stop by to talk about my newest release from Entangled Publishing! Love Me is the second book in the Take a Chance series, and it’s about Thomas, an emotionally scarred man; and Brianna, a woman who’s already had it all…and lost it.

I thought I’d tell you a little bit about what I think is the perfect playlist for this pair—or, at least, what I listened to most while writing this book.

  1. Back To December—Taylor Swift
  2. I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing–Aerosmith
  3. Better than Me—Hinder
  4. It’s Been a While—Staind
  5. Freshmen—The Verve Pipe
  6. Hallelujiah—Rufus Wainwright

Those are the top six songs I played while writing this book. Listen, read, and enjoy!

Thanks so much for having me here today!

Jenna Bennett on Tall, Dark, and Divine

Good morning my lovelies!

I promised you a treat today and here it is! I reviewed Tall, Dark, and Divine the other day (loved it!) and today I have the privilege of hosting a guest post by the author, Jenna Bennett. She’s an absolute darling and I am eagerly setting aside some moola to read more of her work.

I mentioned that my favorite character was Dion(ysus) in part because he’s hilarious. It seems that Jenna agrees with me, because he is in most of her favorite scenes.

If you like what you read here (and I’m sure you will) you can find Tall, Dark, and Divine here:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Entangled Publishing

Kobo

iTunes

About Jenna:

Jennie Bentley is the author of the New York Times bestselling Do-It-Yourself Home Renovation mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime, while Jenna Bennett writes the USA Today bestselling Cutthroat Business mysteries for her own gratification. Jenna is also the author of various forms of romance, from contemporary to futuristic, and from paranormal to romantic suspense, including the award-winning Fortune’s Hero, first in the Soldiers of Fortune series, and JennaAuthorPic3winner of a 2012 SFR Galaxy award for best Enemies to Lovers story.

A former Realtor® and renovator and current full-time author, Jenna/Jennie lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with a husband, two kids, an African dwarf frog, a goldfish, and a hyper-active dog. Originally from Norway, she has spent more than twenty years in the US and still hasn’t been able to kick her native accent.

Where you can find her:

Website: http://www.jennabennett.com/

Blog: http://jenniebentley.blogspot.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Bennett_Jenna

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jenna-Bennett-Jennie-Bentley/192400104127600?fref=ts

And now *drumroll* the moment you’ve all been waiting for (or scrolling down to read 😉 ):

******

Top 5

I love to laugh.

Most people do, I guess, so that makes me no different from anyone else.

But that’s one of the reasons writing Tall, Dark and Divine was so much fun. I’ve written close to twenty books by now, some of them more and some less laugh-out-loud funny. They’ve all had their own brand of enjoyment. But TD&D was probably the best for sheer number of ROFL moments. I cracked myself up writing, and that’s always a good sign.

A large part of the reason why the book is so LOL funny is Dionysus, Greek god of wine and debauchery, owner of the bar in which the characters in the book hang out.

The hero in TD&D is Eros, Greek god of love, and Dion is Eros’s best friend. And their exchanges are pretty damn funny. Unlike Eros, who is the hero and as such has to be somewhat perfect, Dionysus doesn’t have to impress, and so I didn’t have to hold back when it came to writing him. He’s foul-mouthed, opinionated, sexist, and your classic a**hole alpha male, and he’s also a ton of fun to write and read.

Here’s a snippet of conversation, lifted from chapter 3, of Dion trying to talk Eros out of the funk he’s been in since his ex-wife, Psyche, left him.

Warning: there are a lot of f-bombs in this book, so if that isn’t your thing, you may want to stop reading now.

“I think you oughta get back on the horse,” Dion said, and brought him back to earth.

“Horse?”

“Saddle. You know what I mean. Find a woman and remind yourself what you’ve been missing.”

Eros shook his head. “I’m never getting involved with a mortal again.”

“I’m not saying you get involved with her,” Dion said. “You tried that. It didn’t work.” He shook his head. “We’re gods, man. We’re not meant to stay with just one woman.”

Right.

“You gotta spread the gift around, know what I mean? Every woman deserves a night in the sack with a god.”

“Sure.” Whatever. “But I’m the fucking god of love, Dion. What’s the world coming to, if the fucking god of love just wants to get fucked?”

“Seems to me you already did,” Dion said.

And then there’s this one, after Eros walks Annie home – Annie is the heroine – and ends up in bed with her, and then goes back to Dionysus’s Bar looking for Harry Mitchell, the guy he intends to set Annie up with.

“He left a few minutes after you walked out. Why? Were you gonna hurt him?” He looked delighted at the prospect.

The thought had crossed Eros’s mind. However— “No. Annie told me she wants him. I’m gonna get him for her.”

Dion tilted his head and contemplated him. “What did you do wrong?”

“Nothing,” Eros said. “It was before.”

“Before you showed her paradise. You did show her paradise, right?”

Eros shrugged. “She seemed to enjoy herself.”

“Not exactly the rousing confidence I was hoping for,” Dion said, “but it’ll do. So you took this woman home and nailed her, and she let you, and even kept her shoes on while you did—”

“That wasn’t deliberate.”

“Sorry to hear it. Even so, what makes you think she still wants Harry?”

“She said she did,” Eros said.

“Before you fucked her. And seeing as you’re the fucking god of love, when you fuck someone, they stay fucked, right? They don’t want anyone else afterward.”

“Will you knock it off with the fucking?”

“When I’m dead,” Dion said, and added, “which will be never, since I’m immortal.”

Of course, Eros hasn’t thought through his plan for putting Harry and Annie together very well, and as a result, their first date is a bit of a disaster. Annie works in a dog bakery, selling peanut butter bones to dog owners, and Harry owns a Schnauzer, Fiona. Annie has used Fiona as an excuse to talk to Harry, and when Harry shows up for the date, it’s with Fiona in tow. They end up walking to the dog park, where Harry buys Annie a hot dog and a Diet Coke. And this exchange takes place:

She waited for him to start talking to her—he had asked her out, after all, not vice versa—but when the silence lengthened and he didn’t speak, she said, “Fiona looks like she’s having fun.”

Harry nodded.

“How long have you had her?”

“Two years,” Harry said, around his hot dog.

“Is she your first, or did you grow up with dogs?”

Fiona was Harry’s first.

“Did you always want one?”

“I heard chicks like dogs,” Harry said.

Annie blinked. “Is that so?”

“Well.” Harry shrugged. “Look at you.”

Harry does wise up eventually, with the help of Eros and his golden arrows, and realizes that Annie is the only woman for him. By that point, Eros has realized the same thing, of course, and things come down to a big showdown in the Plaza Hotel, with arrows flying and people getting shot. And not always the people who should be shot, either.

“Now!” Dion said, and Eros let go of the arrow. It zinged through the air with a high-pitched whine, over the heads of the other diners—almost getting lost in the elegant upsweep of a Park Avenue matron’s hair and narrowly missing a tuxedo-clad waiter—before hitting Brita in the shoulder.

Fuck.

“Oops,” Dionysus murmured, as the Cretan goddess of hunting stopped in her tracks. Eros lowered the bow, cringing.

After a second, she turned to look at him, and he felt the force of her glare all the way to his soul. Moron.

“Sorry,” he mouthed. Brita scowled.

“Shit.” Dion’s hands flexed. “Guess we’re done for. Sorry, man. It was a good try, but—”

“Shut the fuck up,” Eros growled. 

In front of them, Brita reached up to pull the arrow out of her shoulder. She turned to Harry with it in her hand. It looked like she hesitated for a second, before she lifted it and plunged it into Harry’s chest.

Eros held his breath. For a second, nobody moved. Harry’s eyes widened. He clutched his chest and staggered. In slow motion, his jaw dropped and his eyes widened. And then they rolled back in his head and he crumpled to the floor.

And finally, after Brita slings Harry over her shoulders, like Robin Hood with his steer, and walks out of the Palm Court, Eros and Annie work things out between them. It necessitates a trip to Zeus, head of the Olympians. Zeus and his wife Hera live in a row house on Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria, and Eros needs some special ambrosia from Zeus, ambrosia that will allow him to keep Annie with him forever.

Unfortunately, Zeus doesn’t seem too inclined to play.

Dion shifted. “You’re joking.”

His father glanced at him. “It would solve the problem.”

“For you, maybe. You’d love for Ross to give up his immortality. You’ve always been worried that he’ll challenge you for top god one of these days. He’s the god of love, and everyone wants love. You’re just the god of thunder, and nobody cares about that.”

Zeus’s nostrils flared. On the TV screen, thunder boomed and lightning flashed. The players scattered as hail the size of snowballs pelted the field.

“Big deal,” Dion said. “So you can make it snow.”

So there you have it. My Top 5 favorite moments from Tall, Dark and Divine. Hope you’ve enjoyed the quick view into the book!

****

HAH! You thought that was all, didn’t you? Well you’re WRONG! This is part of a whole big thing, blog tour, giveaway, the whole nine yards! Tall Dark and Divine Banner

Here’s the deets and how to enter!

Prizes (who doesn’t love prizes?)

1 Sweet Prize Pack including a “Follow Your Passion” bracelet, a Sugar Cookie candle, and a eBook of Tall Dark and Divine (US ONLY)

3 eBooks of Tall Dark and Divine (International)

How to enter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Cover Reveal – The Forgotten Ones by Laura Howard

I can’t tell you how excited I am about this. Laura Howard is an absolute darling, full of great advice, writing wisdom, and general awesomeness.

I can hardly wait to read this and it’s high on my to be read list for 2013. Go forth and squee with me over the amazerfulness of Laura 🙂


Title: The Forgotten Ones

Author: Laura Howard

Genre: NA Paranormal Fantasy Romance

Expected release date: May 15, 2013

Age Group: New Adult

Cover Designer: Stephanie Mooney

Book Description:


Allison O’Malley just graduated from college. Her life’s plan is to get a job and take care of her schizophrenic mother. She doesn’t have room for friends or even Ethan, who clearly wants more.

When Allison’s long-lost father shows up, he claims he can bring her mother back from the dark place her mind has sent her. He reveals legends of a race of people long forgotten, the Tuatha de Danaan, along with the truth about why he abandoned her mother.

 

 

Share on Facebook and/or Twitter and you could win a $50 Amazon (or B&N) Gift card!

 

Perfection Unleased Excerpt – Jade Kerrion

In the midst of my post-Thanksgiving, NaNoWriMo euphoria, I get to add the uber high of my very first EVER guest blog post!

To say that I am squeeing my pants over this is an understatement. The ever fabulous Jade Kerrion has graciously provided an excerpt from her novel: Perfection Unleashed. It is the first in the Double Helix series.

She was also kind enough to provide me with copies of the series. Reading these is one of my rewards for getting through NaNo without killing anyone 😉 So look out for reviews in the coming months!

Without further ramblings from yours truly (inane ramblings will resume tomorrow), I ecstatically present to you: Jade Kerrion and Perfection Unleashed!

Author Bio:

Jade Kerrion unites cutting-edge science and bioethics with fast-paced action in her award-winning Double Helix series. Drawing rave reviews for its originality and vision, and described as “a breakout piece of science fiction,” Perfection Unleashed, and its sequels, Perfect Betrayal and Perfect Weapon, are available in print and e-book through Amazon and other major retailers.

About The Double Helix series: 

His genetic code sourced from the best that humanity offers, Galahad embodies the pinnacle of perfection. When Zara Itani, a mercenary whose abrasive arrogance exceeds her beauty, frees him from his laboratory prison, she offers him the chance to claim everything that had ever been denied him, beginning with his humanity.

Perfection cannot be unleashed without repercussions, and Galahad’s freedom shatters Danyael Sabre’s life.

An alpha empath, Danyael is rare and coveted, even among the alpha mutants who dominate the Genetic Revolution. He wields the power to heal or kill with a touch, but craves only privacy and solitude—both impossible dreams for the man who was used as Galahad’s physical template.

Galahad and Danyael, two men, one face. One man seeks to embrace destiny, and the other to escape it.

The award-winning Double Helix series, consisting of Perfection Unleashed, Perfect Betrayal, and Perfect Weapon, will challenge your notions of perfection and humanity, and lead you in a celebration of courage and compassion. Science fiction, urban fantasy, and action-adventure readers will enjoy this thrilling roller-coaster ride as it twists and turns through a world transformed by the Genetic Revolution.

Where you can find Jade and the Double Helix Series!

Connect with Jade Kerrion: Blog / Facebook / Twitter

Perfection Unleashed: Amazon / Amazon UK / Smashwords

Perfect Betrayal: Amazon / Amazon UK / Smashwords

Perfect Weapon: Amazon / Amazon UK / Smashwords

****

Chapter One from Perfection Unleashed, the first in the Double Helix series…

~*~*~

On another Friday night, she might have been out at a Georgetown bar, accepting drinks from attractive men and allowing them to delude themselves into imagining that they might be the lucky one to take her home.

Tonight, she had work to do.

The hem of the white lab coat brushed about her legs as she strode toward the double doors that barred entry to the western wing. No one paid her any attention. Scientists and lab technicians scurried past her, nodding at her with absent-minded politeness. On Friday evening, with the weekend beckoning, no one thought about security.

Where men faltered, technology kept going.

The corridor seemed endlessly long, and the security cameras that pivoted on their ceiling-mounted frames bore into her back. She knew that her image likely featured on one or more of the many monitors at the security desk, but a combination of training and nerves of steel steadied her. She resisted the urge to twitch or to hurry her pace.

Each step brought her closer to an ominously glowing red eye on the security panel beside the door. Undeterred, she waved her badge over the panel. Moments later, the security panel flashed to green and a heavy lock slid back. Another small triumph. It usually took a series of them to make a victory.

She lowered her head, ostensibly to look down at the tablet in her hand. Her long, dark hair fell forward, concealing the lower half of her face from the security camera as she walked through the open door. “Entering the western wing,” she murmured, trusting the concealed microphone to pick up on her whisper.

“Good luck,” Carlos’s voice responded through the tiny earpiece inserted in her right ear. “All’s clear out here.”

“I’m really glad the security pass I programmed for you actually worked,” Xin added, a whimsical tone in her voice.

Zara was glad, too. She had a solid plan. Two of her finest associates backed her up—Carlos Sanchez waiting in the car concealed off road outside Pioneer Labs, and Mu Xin poised in front of a computer in her Alexandria home—but she could come up with a list of a half-dozen things that could still go wrong.

“I’ve finished checking the employee log against the National Mutant Registry,” Xin continued. “You’ve lucked out, Zara. Apparently Pioneer Labs isn’t big into hiring mutants. You won’t have to contend with any telepaths or telekinetics tonight.”

Good. That was one thing she could strike off her list.

Another long hallway stretched in front of her, but the glass-enclosed research station on the left drew her attention. Two lab technicians huddled around a network of computers, their attention focused on the output pouring from the whirling terminals. Her gaze drifted over the lab technicians and focused on Roland Rakehell and Michael Cochran, the famous co-creators of “Galahad”, the perfect human. The two scientists stood in contemplative discussion in front of a liquid-filled fiberglass chamber.

The man floating within the sensory deprivation tank, his head encased in a metallic hood and his face covered by breathing apparatus, writhed in agony. Wires monitoring heart rate and brain waves trailed from his naked body. Jagged edges leaped hysterically off the computer readouts as mind and body convulsed, shuddering with madness and pain.

One of the lab technicians spoke up, “Professor, his brain waves indicate that he is waking.”

Roland Rakehell glanced at his watch. “Right on time,” he noted, his voice tinged with disappointment. “I guess the miracles can’t come thick and fast every single day.”

“We made him human, not superhuman,” Michael Cochran said. “Besides, we don’t really have time to record a miracle today.” He glanced at the two technicians. “Roland and I are meeting investors for dinner, and we have to leave now. Take Galahad back to his room. Make sure he gets something to eat.”

Silently she pushed away from the viewing area and continued down the corridor. Her violet eyes betrayed the faintest flicker of confusion and consternation.

Galahad.

She would never have imagined it, but apparently the scientists had no qualms treating their prized creation like a common lab animal.

“Xin?” she murmured quietly.

“Right here,” was the immediate response.

“Approaching the suite.”

“I’m one step ahead of you,” Xin said. “I’ve gotten through the security system and rerouted all the cameras in the suite to a static video feed. You’re clear to enter.”

The second door opened into a large suite pressed up against the western wall of the laboratory complex. No gentle ambient lighting there, just harsh pools of unforgiving white light blazing over the bed and table, leaving the rest of the large suite in muted shadows.

Was it through deliberate design or neglectful oversight that no attempt had been made to humanize Galahad’s living quarters? Empty shelves lined the wall. The small metal table and matching chair were severe, the narrow bed unwelcoming. She had seen third-world hospital wards offer far more comfort to its occupants.

Footsteps echoed, drawing closer, and then paused outside the door. There was no time to waste. She strode across the room, slipping into the shadows that obscured the far side of the suite moments before the door slid open again.

The two technicians she had seen earlier half-dragged, half-carried Galahad into the room. It staggered with exhaustion, trying to stand on its own. The technicians hauled Galahad up and dumped it unceremoniously in a wet, shivering heap on the bed.

One of the technicians cast a backward glance at the unmoving figure on the bed. “Pete, are you sure he’s going to be okay?” he asked the other.

“Eventually. It usually takes him a while to recover,” Pete assured the younger man. He pulled out two sealed nutrient bars from his pocket and tossed them onto the table. “Let’s go.”

“I think we should at least get him a towel or put him under the sheets.”

Pete snapped. “How many times do I have to say it? Let him be, Jack. He doesn’t want to be helped, though God knows I’ve tried often enough. He wants to be able to do things for himself, at least here, in this room. It’s the only dignity he has left; let’s leave that to him.”

“It was bad today.”

The older man inhaled deeply, sparing a quick glance back. Galahad trembled so hard it seemed as if it would shatter. It curled into a fetal ball, perhaps to protect itself from further violation. “I know. And the best thing we can do for him right now is leave him alone,” Pete said as he stepped out of the room and allowed the door to seal shut behind them.

The impact was thunderous—not audibly—but she felt it nonetheless. It was the sealing of a prison cell.

Zara had wondered what kind of luxuries and privileges the incomparable Galahad—the pinnacle of genetic perfection—enjoyed. Now she knew the answer.

She watched in silence as Galahad stirred, slowly standing and leaning on the wall for support as it staggered toward the bathroom. She had yet to get a good look at its face, but the blazing light did not leave much of its body to imagination. It was slender but well muscled, powerful and graceful, in spite of its obvious exhaustion—the promise of perfection come into fruition.

She waited through the sound of running water. Patience had never been easy for her, but she possessed the instincts of a hunter closing in on its quarry. Her patience was rewarded when it finally returned to the room, dressed simply in loose-fitting white cotton drawstring pants and a tunic of the same material. As it stepped into the blazing circle of light, her eyes narrowed briefly, and then a faint smile of easy appreciation curved her lips.

She had studied the surveillance video feed Xin had hacked from the central computers of Pioneer Labs the day before, but the wide-angle lenses had not captured anything approximating the full impact of Galahad’s beauty. Its rare and lovely color—pale blond hair paired with dark eyes—stood out and attracted immediate attention, but the longer she looked, the more beauty she saw in its exquisitely chiseled features, as flawless as a Michelangelo masterpiece. Galahad was stunningly beautiful—would be stunningly beautiful, whatever the color of its hair or eyes. The scientists had certainly done well; more than well.

Galahad made its way over to a rattan chair, moving with greater ease. It was regaining its strength, though she did not think that it was anywhere near optimal form, not when it had almost collapsed with exhaustion on the way to the bathroom ten minutes earlier. It curled up in the chair and closed its eyes, looking oddly content, despite the fact that it did not fit very well into the chair. Within a minute, she realized from the even rise and fall of its chest with every breath, that it had fallen asleep.

It was time to get to work.

Galahad did not stir as she silently crossed the room. A*STAR had demanded fresh DNA samples obtained as directly from the source as possible. Hair or skin samples would be acceptable, and both were typically abundant in a bathroom. She pulled test tube and tweezers from the pocket of her lab coat and knelt to examine the bathroom counter.

Something flickered in the corner of her vision.

Instinct and trained reflexes took over. In a flash, her dagger was in her hand. She spun, the black serrated blade slicing outward.

Galahad reacted with uncanny speed. It dove to the side, dropping into a roll and coming up in a battle crouch. Her dagger slashed through the air where Galahad had been standing a moment before. Galahad’s dark eyes narrowed as it assessed her. Its body shifted into motion, preparing to defend itself.

She too reassessed, readjusted. Her attack should not have missed. Galahad’s battle instincts had been trained and polished to perfection. Apparently it was more than a common lab animal.

Her dagger lashed out once again in a graceful, snake-like motion, and Galahad evaded by dodging to one side. The blade sliced harmlessly through the air so close to Galahad that it must have felt the chill breath of the dagger’s passing against its skin.

Galahad’s silent and sinuously graceful movements were driven by so much speed and agility that strength—although abundant—was superfluous. It matched her, step for step, dodging each attack with a grace that made their deadly waltz seem choreographed. There was no doubt that Galahad was good, far better than anyone she had ever contended with. In spite of its obvious fatigue after a long and difficult day, Galahad possessed flawless timing and impeccable spatial precision, allowing it to escape injury by fractions of a second and a hairsbreadth. It had nerves of steel. It taunted her with its proximity and tempted the kiss of her blade, never straying too far as it sought an opening.

She saw the dark eyes glitter dangerously and knew that something in it had shifted, had changed. She thrust her blade at its face.

In less than a heartbeat, it was over.

With a swiftness that left her stunned, Galahad twisted its hand to catch her wrist in an iron grip. It sidestepped, yanked her forward, and drove its knee into her thigh. Her leg weakened and collapsed. Its superior weight drove her to the ground and kept her there without any visible effort.

A perfectly sequenced attack, executed with flawless precision and stunning speed.

Gritting her teeth against the pain, she recognized the inevitable outcome as it eased the dagger from between her nerveless fingers. She cursed soundlessly. She had underestimated its skill, perhaps to her folly. It suddenly released her, pulled her to her feet, and then stepped away from her. Some emotion she could not decipher rippled over its flawless features, and to her amazement, it flipped the dagger over in its hand and held it out, hilt first, to her. “I don’t know why I’m fighting you. You came to kill me; I should thank you for your kindness.”

She reached out and accepted the dagger from Galahad as her mind raced to understand the incomprehensible. Galahad held her gaze only for a moment before it lowered its eyes and looked away. She saw its throat work as it fought an internal battle to suppress its survival instincts, and then it turned its back on her deliberately and walked out of the bathroom.

She could have struck the fatal blow. Galahad was offering her the chance. She could pull Galahad’s head back and apply the faintest pressure to the dagger’s blade across its jugular. She could extract the tissue sample she had been sent to collect, and then leave, her mission completed.

She could not bring herself to do it. Oddly enough, something in her wanted it—wanted him—to live.

“Zara?” she heard Xin’s voice softly inquiring in her ear, her tone concerned.

“I’m all right,” she murmured. “Give me a minute.” She paused by the bathroom door and watched him make his way toward the wide windows. He kept his back to her as he stared out at the manicured lawns around Pioneer Labs. Was he waiting for her to strike?

Well, she could play the waiting game too. She followed him and then turned, casually leaning against the window as she looked up at him, her gaze coolly challenging.

Several moments passed.

Finally he broke the silence. “Who sent you?” he asked quietly without looking at her.

She had expected the question, but not the calm, neutral tone in which it was asked. No anger. No hatred. No fear. Just a simple question, driven more by politeness than by any real need to know. “Does it matter?”

He inhaled deeply and released his breath in a soft sigh as she neatly evaded his inquiry. He tried another question. “Are you from around here?”

“Washington, D.C.”

“I’ve seen media clips of that city. It’s beautiful.”

She offered a nonchalant shrug as a response to his statement. “It’s pretty enough, I suppose. I take it you’ve never been there.”

“I don’t get out much, and the last time was a good while ago.” He shrugged, a graceful motion that belied the bitterness in his voice. “I’ve seen media clips endorsed by Purest Humanity and other pro-humanist groups. There is no place for me in your world.”

It was pointless to deny the obvious, but before she could open her mouth to toss out the retort on the edge of her tongue, an animal-like cry resonated through the complex. It was a ghastly sound, starting at a low pitch akin to the sound a lost puppy might make and then rising until it was a banshee’s scream. “What was that?”

“It’s an experiment in another part of the building.”

“It doesn’t sound like anything I recognize. What is it?”

He tossed her question back at her: “Does it matter?”

“Not if you don’t care.”

“It’s been going on for as long as I can remember.”

His matter-of-fact statement was like fuel to fire. Her eyes flashed. “And you feel nothing? No anger? No pity? You’re inhuman.”

“I thought you’d already decided that,” was his mild rejoinder. “Isn’t that why the pro-humanist groups want me killed?”

She hesitated. Somewhere along the way—she was not even sure when—she had stopped thinking of Galahad as an “it” and had started relating to it as a “he”. She had attributed to him all the responsibilities of being human, but none of its rights or privileges, in effect placing him in the worst possible no-win situation. She recalled his anguished convulsions in the sensory deprivation chamber. How much pity did she expect him to dredge up for another creature in a position no different from his own? Very little. In fact, none at all.

She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. The anger subsided. “Do they conduct experiments on you too?” she asked softly.

He stiffened. Without meeting her gaze, he answered the question, choosing his words with care. “I…yes, they do, sometimes.”

“What did they do to you today?”

He averted his gaze and bit down hard on his lower lip. He shook his head, said nothing.

“You looked like hell when they brought you back. I want to know, please.”

He was silent for so long she thought he was never going to answer the question, but then he spoke in a measured, neutral tone. “They gave me a highly concentrated sleeping pill and then injected a hallucinogen, to induce nightmares. They wanted to see if I could overcome the effects of the sleeping pill to wake up.”

“Did you?’

Another long pause. His reply was a softly anguished whisper. “No.”

“How long did the experiment last?”

“About eight hours, perhaps nine.” He laughed, low and melodic, but it was a humorless sound. “I slept all day, and I’m exhausted.”

“Why do they do that?”

“It’s simple; because they can. Humans and their derivatives, the clones and in vitros, have rights. I’m considered non-human, in large part because of the successful lobbying of pro-humanist groups, and I don’t have rights.” Galahad released his breath in a soft sigh. Long eyelashes closed over dark, pain-filled orbs as he inhaled deeply. He opened his eyes and met her gaze directly, holding it for a long, silent moment. The corner of his lips tugged up again in a bittersweet half smile. “I’m tired. I need to lie down. You can do what you need to do whenever you want.”

“Wait!” She grabbed his arm as he turned away from her. “You want me to kill you?”

“Isn’t that what you came to do?”

“Do you actually want to die?”

He waved his hand to encompass the breadth and width of the impersonal and deliberately dehumanizing room. “I’m not sure this should count as living.”

“But you’re not human.”

“No,” he agreed, his voice even. “No, but I am alive…just like any other human. This isolation drives me crazy. I know this is not the way others live. This isn’t living.”

He looked away. His pain was real, his anger compelling. In spite of it, she had seen him smile a few times and wondered whether his twisted half-smile could ever be coaxed into becoming something more. In silence, she watched as he turned his back on her and walked to his rattan chair. He seemed tired, emotional weariness draining his physical strength. Slowly he settled into the chair, drawing his legs up and curling into a vaguely comfortable position. Apparently he had chosen to deliberately ignore her. He was tuning her out and was once again trying to find solace in the few things he had left, such as a worn chair and his own company, trying to get through each cheerless day and lonely night.

Outside, a rabbit, safe from predators in the falling dusk, emerged from its burrow and hopped across the small patch of grass in front of the large windows of the suite. Zara watched as a faint smile touched his face, briefly transforming it. His personality seemed wrapped around a core that was equal parts weary indifference and tightly controlled bitterness, but there was still enough left in him to savor the small crumbs that life saw fit to throw his way. If his quiet strength had amazed her, his enduring courage humbled her. As she watched him, she knew he had won the battle he had wanted, so badly, to lose. He had proved his right to live, even though there was no purpose in living in a place like this. He knew that fact intimately, and so did she.

Her eyes narrowed thoughtfully.

“Zara, we’ve got trouble.” Carlos’s voice cut through the silence of her thoughts, his habitual calmness edged with tension. “Lots of vehicles incoming. Purest Humanity logos. Could be a protest forming; they look seriously pissed.”

She took a few steps away from Galahad. Annoyance disguised flickers of anxiety in her voice. “They’re about two days too early. They’ve been gathering on Christmas Eve each year.”

“Well, looks like someone had a change of plans. I’m estimating about forty…fifty cars, at least twice as many people.”

“They won’t get through the gate,” Xin said. “It was designed to keep out APCs.”

“Uh…The gate just opened…Por dios…They’re driving in!”

“What?”

“No kidding, I swear to God.” The tension in Carlos’s voice escalated. “Someone must be screwing around with the security system.”

Zara suppressed a hiss of irritation. “Find that person, Xin, and disable his access. I don’t want to have to fight my way out of here.”

“I’m on it, but I can’t guarantee they won’t get to you. If they’re already through the gate, they’ll be pounding on the front door in seconds. You don’t have time; get moving. And Zara, if you don’t take Galahad with you, he’s as good as dead.”

Zara’s mind raced through the options available to her, the possibilities. She shrugged, dismissing the many logical reasons why she should not do what she was about to do, and took her first step down her path with a terse and coolly decisive order. “He’s coming with me. I’ll get us out of the building. Carlos, stand by for an extraction.”

“Copy that.”

She stepped toward Galahad. “You need to change into something else.” The thin cotton tunic and pants he wore would not provide sufficient protection from the chilly night air. Besides, his clothes looked like something issued to long-term residents of mental hospitals. Something with fewer negative institutional implications would work better at keeping him as inconspicuous as possible.

He blinked in surprise, her voice jerking him back to reality, and he looked up at her. “There is nothing else to wear,” he said. He released his breath in a soft sigh, his gaze drifting away from her to the rabbit outside the window.

Nothing else? A quick search of the suite confirmed his words. The only pieces of clothing in the suite’s large and mostly empty walk-in closet were several pieces of identical white cotton tunics and pants, a subtle but highly effective dehumanizing strategy. “We’re leaving anyway,” she told him as she returned into the living area of the suite. “Get up. We’re going.”

He stared at her in bewilderment. “Going?”

Zara exercised exquisite politeness and reminded herself to be patient with him. “I’m getting you out of here.”

A glimmer of understanding tinged with wary hope swirled through the confusion in his sin-black eyes, but he still did not move from the chair. “I thought you came to kill me.”

Not precisely, but perhaps it wasn’t a bad thing if he kept believing it, especially if it would make him more tractable. Things were complicated enough; an uncooperative captive would heighten the stakes and the danger of their situation. “I’ve changed my mind.”

“Changed your mind?”

“It’s a woman’s prerogative,” she told him, a wicked smile curving her lips. Her tone softened slightly. As huge as this step seemed for her, it must seem even larger for him. “I want to help you. Will you come with me?”

He met her gaze, held it for a long moment, and then finally smiled. “Yes.”

The simplicity of his answer staggered her, to say nothing of the heart-stopping power of his smile. It was a smile that could melt iron. “You trust me,” she said, “but you don’t even know my name.”

“It would be ungracious not to trust someone who has already passed up on several opportunities to kill me.” He uncurled from his chair and stood. His manners were at least as exquisite as his looks. He made no mention of the fact that he had beaten her in a fair fight and then refused to follow up on his advantage.

Maybe he considered it irrelevant. The important point was that she did not. The fight she had lost had, after all, been the critical turning point. She smiled up at him, suddenly realizing that his dark, fathomless eyes did not seem nearly as distant and empty as they had several minutes earlier. “I’m Zara Itani.”

He smiled faintly, the warmth from his smile briefly lighting up his eyes. “Zara, I’m Galahad.”