She would be his freedom.
He would be her price.
In a world overrun with people and narrowing resources, the basis of life has turned to do or die. No longer does the balance of wealth and power apply. A strict split between the rich and poor has made the lines clear- the more money you have, the more power you control.
For seventeen year old Emily Beucant, life is an equal gift and curse. Having grown up pre- Unwanted society, she can still remember the days it was okay to play with children from the other side of the concrete wall, back when her father was still alive, and back when the Unwanted program was used to Mark and hunt criminals, not sign away the lives of ungrateful children or spouses with high insurance collections over their heads.
But since her father’s creation of the program, the government has taken control and made it into a lucrative monster. And as Emily is days away from her eighteenth birthday, and handsome inheritance, she will soon see just how badly it is to be Marked.
When her soulless aunt places Emily up to be Marked an Unwanted, she is forced to go on the run from all she has ever known. No where is safe for her, and no one will protect her, least they wish to have the same fate as her. It isn’t until she forms a tense, explosive alliance with a former doctor, Ben, that it looks like the tables may turn in her favor. Together they race against those searching for her, desperate to find a way to free her from an early death. But is it too late?
No one is safe.
No one is free.
The time on my phone flashes 4:09AM by the time I come within sight of the first glimpses of Primrose Gardens. It’s nearly identical to Greener Lanes; a carefully monitored entryway was the only real way in, as the land was secured in a fence at least twenty feet high. Of course, like all high property, the maintenance of areas like the bottom of fences was generally overlooked, and were easily broken into by stray animals.
Or fugitive eighteen year olds.
I double-check no cameras are positioned on the outside of the fence, then carefully navigate around it. My hands and fingers brush through dewy ferns and pines, the cold droplets a welcomed relief to my grime-coated fingers.
At the corner of the first half, I spot an opening. It’s small, roughly the size of a skinny barrel, and pieces of rotting wood have been shoved in front of it in a weak attempt to conceal it. I wiggle them free with little effort, check the other side for any pesky animals, and slip in.
The backyard is empty, nothing but freshly mown green grass to both corners of the enclosed yard. Inwardly I sigh with huge relief. Nothing in the backyard means there’s almost no chance of the house having dogs or kids.
I sprint up to the house and press myself into the siding, peering over the corner inside. Sunlight beams over the hedges and fencing, shining streaks of yellow into the wide floor-to-ceiling windows backing most of the house. There’s no lights on, and nothing casually abandoned or out of place. Maybe the place is abandoned.
Pressing my luck, I try the handle to the sliding glass doors. It’s unlocked. I hold my breath and pop the door open a pinch. When no alarms sound, I can barely contain my jittery hands from smacking the windows with glee like some over-sugared toddler who found out the square shape goes in the square-shaped hole.
I step inside and quickly shut the door behind me, careful not to make too much noise. Even with the sunlight streaking through the glass, I can’t see too much, but I figure it’s best not to turn on the lights just in case.
The kitchen reminds me eerily of home. Modern, glass and black metal fixtures create a desensitized atmosphere, devoid of emotion and memory. No fruit in a bowl on the counter, no washcloths hanging on the bar to the oven, no magnets on the fridge. Whoever does live here, doesn’t seem to be really living.
Two slim envelopes sit on the far counter near the entrance to what looks like a dining room. I inch closer and squint, trying to make out the name on the label.
The sound of a door upstairs stops me cold.
I spin about the room, frantic. A place to hide, a place to hide… the kitchen sink cabinet.
The cabinet was small, barely built to hold the pipes for the sink. Tiny bottles of cleaner, rags, scrubbing brushes, and several wrenches were piled in a corner, eating up any extra space I could fit into. This was most likely the only moment I would ever be thankful for my recent years of near-death starvation movements at my aunt’s hand.
I was told once that when you adrenaline hits, everything slows to a crawl. At the time, Dad had used the words heightened senses, joking that for a blink in our lives, we became superhuman.
For my sake, I hope he was right. If the owner of the house found me, it would be either fight or flight. And I was counting on the former.
My fingers silently grasp for one of the wrenches, and I tense, going quiet and still.
Footsteps sound on the linoleum tiles. A chair is pulled from the dining room table, and a sound of something heavy dropped on the table.
I dare not breathe. My heart races faster than helicopter blades slicing through the cloudy skies on an emergency rescue. Pressure builds in my ears and chest, my throat squeezing until I can barely gather a thread of air.
Seconds tick by, painfully slow. The nervous tick in my chest shifts to my feet, the fight flickering within. It crosses my mind that if I move swiftly, I could catch the owner off guard, burst from the cabinet doors and run for the fence.
Outside the cabinet doors, there’s nothing but silence. No feet, no mutters, not even a grunt. All I can be sure of is my heart, slamming erratically against my chest, pulsing faster with every passing moment.
The cabinet door flies open.
A hand reaches in, grasping onto my upper arm. I try to swing the wrench but there’s no room in the cupboard. In one move I’m yanked out and tossed onto the tiled floor, and greeted by a blackened barrel of a gun holding true to my face.
I know better than to scream for help. Instead I scramble with haste, rolling over and finding myself on my feet.
My eyes focus, and I meet with the owner of the gun hovering in front of my nose. Sharp, dark green eyes stare holes into me, but his expression is glacial, reserved. Instantly I’m reminded of Matthew, and how I’d handle his past dealers who would try and stiff him. Like a lion lying in wait, poised and in control, I’d wait until they left a sliver of their guard down and attack the first weak spot available.
But this isn’t a drug deal gone wrong, and Matthew is not here. This is real life, and I’m staring down a loaded weapon poised to blow my face all over the wall. If I give this man a fraction of a weak spot, he will use it and exploit it.
I refuse to give this man a weak spot.
He jerks his head to the cabinet doors, the short brown hair on his head bristling with motion.
“You have exactly ten seconds to give me one good reason not to empty my gun into your thieving frame.”
Surprise crosses my face, but I mask it as quickly as it slips. Could he possibly not know who I am? That I’m Marked and as good as dead?
I say nothing. His eyes narrow, as if he can see right through me and learn all my dirty secrets. I try not to visibly flinch.
He motions his free hand to the chair that’s been pulled from the table in the adjacent room. Our eyes stay locked and unblinking, neither moving.
“Why don’t you hand me the wrench, and take a seat?”
My lips stay sealed. I run over the options in my head, each more bizarre and unlikely than the last. Each one ends with me getting a bullet lodged into some part of my body, and I really don’t like the idea of becoming swiss cheese.
He sighs disappointingly. “Unless you prefer that I call the police?” His free hand now reaches into his pocket, cellphone ready to dial on his touchscreen.
If I wasn’t shaking before, I am now. My body shudders so hard I drop the wrench, the sound the smack against the floor so loud I yelp.
The willful voice in my mind resurfaces, screaming. Run! Attack him, take the gun from him and go! But the brazen drive fades as quickly as it comes, and I haven’t made a move. Confusion swings in my head. Part of me still clings to the past I ripped myself from. The truth that I am no longer Emily Beucant, socialite of Camardine, daughter of the man who established the Unwanted program, continues to sink it, startling me with each passing tick of the clock.
I am now Emily, fugitive of the law, outcast of all areas of society, Marked an Unwanted and fighting a system my own blood created.
Unwanted. Unloved. Undesired.
“No one,” I say, ignoring the crack in my voice. “Is going to take me alive, Unwanted or not. You may as well shoot me.”
The man lowered the gun by a fraction, tilting it to the side. His eyes darkened as if he would explode with rage, but he spoke as if confused.
“I’m not going to… hold on,” he zeroed in on my face, taking in my blonde tresses. “You can’t be that girl…”
I did my best to stand rigid and tall, envisioning a plank of wood for motivation. It offered little help for my intimidating factor.
Okay, so he knew. His eyes couldn’t hide the connection behind them, same way Matthew couldn’t hide his traitor behavior. Where did that leave me?
I was going to find out.
“Do it,” I make the words harsh, hot like scalding water. “Shoot me. You have every right.”
The frown on his lips deepens, and he lowers the gun by another inch.
Then, just like that, he flips the gun’s safety on and tucks it into the side of his black pants. A new wave of emotion, raw and frightened, rolls over me. Is he going to turn me in?
“Are you hungry?”
His words catch me off guard. Until he asked, I hadn’t so much as given a passing thought to food. My stomach gnawed and groaned.
He stares at me suspiciously. “You look like you weigh twenty pounds soaking wet. Might want to refuel if you plan on trying to break into any more houses.”
I couldn’t help it. “Are you seriously asking the person who just broke into your home if they want breakfast?”
“Are you going to take breakfast from the only person who’s offered it to you?” He counters, scowling.
“Breakfast or the police. Your choice.”
What the actual hell was going on? I crossed my arms and made a face.
He motions to the dining room one more time, the grand gesture like salt rubbing in the wounds. Looking over my shoulder, I carefully walk past him, crossing into the next room and sitting on the pulled out chair.
A basket is placed on the table, muffin tops poking out from the thin cloth covering the top. I peel back the cloth and sneak a peek between keeping my eyes on the man.
“Do you not eat blueberry muffins?” His mouth turns up at the corners, fighting a snicker.
“Actually,” I begin, pushing the basket away. “I’m allergic.”
He pushes off the doorframe, moving for the fridge. “I have orange-cranberry, too.”
“I’m not hungry.”
He sighs with irritability, and runs his hands over the top of his head. “You’re either incredibly stupid or stubborn.”
That gets a rise out of me. “Talk to my aunt, and she’d tell you I’m both.”
“My guess is stubborn with a side of stupid, if what I saw earlier was any indication,” he jabs at me, eyes turning to their glacial stare. “You’ve got some nerve, some seriously huge cojones, thinking you could break into a place like this. Let me guess, you thought you were so lucky. No one spots you at the fence, the door’s are unlocked and place immaculate.”
“You have no ide-”
“I spotted you clear as day from the second floor, little girl. You hadn’t even finished moving those planks I shoved over the gaping hole. If I spotted you that fast, imagine how quickly the cameras on the other side got a look at your face.”
I went weak in the knees. “But I didn’t see-”
“Damn right you didn’t see, you were too busy enjoying the win of your little conquest. Tell me, what was your plan after you got inside, huh? Take the car, look for jewels to pawn, murder a family if they spotted you and reported to the Unwanted call line-”
“It wasn’t supposed to happen!”
I’m on my feet, but don’t remember standing. Flashes of my hands, white-knuckled as they grip the edge of the table, dance at the bottom of my line of sight.
His green gaze is unforgiving. “Is that what you were planning to say if you were caught? ‘I’m sorry, sir, it wasn’t supposed to happen’?”
“Is breakfast a codeword for lecture? Because I really, really don’t want any breakfast. Now or never.” I make to leave, but he stands in the way. My fists clench tight, and I relax my arms in case I need to power-fist my way through him.
“Answer me one question,” he says coolly. I can’t believe the nerve of this taunting jerk. In less than ten minutes, I’ve gone from fugitive to captive, all because my stupid instincts said to go to a place familiar to home.
I can’t look him in the face, so I turn my head down to the ground. “Ask.”
His words are like a thin thread of breath on my neck, a cold breeze that makes me shudder from the chill.
“What was your plan?”
To save Matthew. To kill Christine. To run long enough for someone to reverse my Unwanted status.
“I have to fix it,” the words barely leave my lips, the truth a burning declaration I hadn’t known existed even in the deepest pockets of my mind. “I have to stop it before someone else ends up in my shoes. Marked while innocent, captured while terrified, slain without cause.”
I tilt my head up slowly, coming within inches of his face. Waves of green swallow me, and for a second I swear I’m caught in the tide in his eyes, ready to be pitched into the waters, lost to the sea.
“I have to end the Unwanted program.”
ALIVIA ANDERS is the author of the Amazon bestselling Illumine Series. Born and raised in PA, she fell headfirst into the world of writing at thirteen with the discovery of internet fan-fiction and RPG-forum boards. A lover of chinchillas, mexican food, and coffee, she spends most of her time drumming up new ideas to spin into tales to enchant readers everywhere.
You can find out more about Alivia, and her upcoming projects, by visiting her Facebook or Blogger.