Coming March 24, 2016
Genre: New Adult Dystopian Romance
Cover Artist: Brannon Jones @ B-Dirty Graphics
In the 23rd century, war has ravaged the planet.
A biological weapon has decimated the population, and those who remain have been driven to desperate measures to survive. Over the course of a century, evolution delivers an answer -- the Xeno gene, which provides its bearers with immunity to disease. All adolescent girls are tested for the X-gene, and carriers are obligated to bear children for the good of the human race.
The promise of salvation comes at a terrible price.
Stone Emmerson, heir to a position of supreme power, is surprised to learn his best friend Kella is an X-gene carrier. He's quick to claim her as his own, but as a mere servant, Kella can't help but doubt his motives. Before he can offer the protection of his name, she escapes his household. Mourning her loss, Stone becomes the black sheep among his peers by focusing on the welfare of his people.
While survival and freedom hang in the balance...
Starting over under an assumed name, Kella is a founding member of the X-Diplomats, a radical group dedicated to stopping enforced X-gene testing and promoting equal rights for commoners. Years pass before she crosses paths with Stone again. As the web of deceit that has come between them unravels, their love begins to grow. But can Stone turn a blind eye to Kella's violent revolution and see the justice of her cause? Or will their differences prove too great to overcome?
What price would you pay to break the chains of oppression?
Life didn’t end in flames.
No climactic event for humanity’s narcissism.
No nation was to blame.
A tiny, unseen germ fell mankind.
Pestilence claimed victory without shame.
Man raced for a cure.
The world perished just the same.
~ Gracen Miller
August 8, 2274 A.E.E. (After Extinction Event)
Fear gripped Kella like a new epidemic absent an antidote.
Her breath emerged in gasps, but pride had her choking back the tears that’d display her terror. Despite her approaching meltdown, the caretaker guiding her revealed no sympathy. He tightened his grip on her arm, his fingers pinching into her skin hard enough she knew she’d find bruises tomorrow. Most likely five oval prints staining her skin.
Stone-faced, he hauled her to the auction block. Merriment surfaced around her from the crowd that’d arrived for her sale. A celebration of this magnitude required not only champagne but also caviar and other fancy finger food. Voices tittered as well-dressed men and women sipped from their flutes, their gaiety an unnatural backdrop to her distress. Diamonds glittered in the lighting, a gaudy display of wealth when so many low-class dregs perished from starvation.
Lightheaded she stumbled, and her warden’s hold intensified, stinging. Kella winced and reminded herself…just breathe.
In the surreal moments as he towed her to the stage, she felt a little outside herself with a weird buzzing in her ears, and was almost thankful for his support. On that block, she’d lose all sense of self and identity, freedom would be lost to her, to become some man’s breeding stock.
Bile stung the back of her throat, but somehow she managed to force down the digestive fluid. She prayed her best friend since she was six, Stone Emmerson, missed this debacle. His presence would be the ultimate humiliation. But his duty as the Regent’s son, and heir apparent, required he watch her auction. Sold to the highest bidder, a stark reminder of her low-class birth.
“I don’t want this,” she pleaded with the caretaker, praying someone would recognize the injustice of this act and save her from indignity. But she was a dreg. Nothing special. And in in her world, dregs held no voice, save the one their Regent gave them.
Kella might not be as bright as her betters—if she ever forgot, they all reminded her of her lack of intelligence, so it was best not to forget her place in the world—but as the daughter of a house servant to Regent Peter, she’d been educated alongside prodigal sons and daughters. The best she could tell from history, no Regent or elitist had ever done anything for the good of a dreg. At least not since the pestilence had ripped their world apart. Humanitarian efforts had died in the wake of their near extinction. All decisions handed down by Regents went in the favor of those in power and with money.
The guardian jerked her about, turning his back to the crowd, and hiding her from their eyes. “Do your duty to the population, little girl, and don’t whine about it.”
Her stomach churned, threatening to embarrass her worse. Even dreg-born, worthless girls like her possessed dignity, and she really didn’t want to embarrass herself further by spewing vomit all over the crowd. Mouth watering, a sure signal she would blow any second, she swallowed several times in hopes of keeping down the stomach acid.
I’m about to be sold and become the property of some nameless stranger. All because of her freakin’ genetic makeup. Lucky me. Fate is a cruel bitch.
On December 21, 2121, humanity became a significant extinction event thanks to one disease manmade for genetic warfare. With a ninety percent mortality rate, the pestilence had been deemed a success. Until the plague spread across the world without care for enemy or ally. Scientists scrambled to find a cure, but fell to the infection and died in their labs. Leaders around the world quarantined the infected into hot zones and nuked them, hoping to not only kill the spread of disease, but the virus too. Those hot zones remained, the disease still active, and were so radioactive none but Xeno’s could enter those regions without suffering ill effect.
The original disease had altered women, seventy to eighty percent born sterile. Even the healthy, reproductive women often gave birth to malformed, stillborn infants. In the old days, those that’d been fertile had been auctioned off to the highest bidder. The deformed infants that survived had been left to die in the hot zones since they couldn’t breed into the populace. That period of history had been about protecting humanity, surviving.
The world moved on, times changed. More and more women could procreate, at least half the population could propagate, and purchasing breeders had been outlawed. Then a new gene emerged, called Xeno for the scientist that discovered it. X-gene as it’d been christened, was as effective as a miracle drug. All girls with the genetic factor produced female offspring with the same gene. Instead of freeing humanity, those who possessed the genetic factor became slaves to elitists desperate to save their line.
Mandates by Regents forced all fourteen-year-old girls to submit to mandatory DNA testing. Kella had gone yesterday. One in ten thousand tested positive. The odds were against her. Her best friend, Stone, had promised they’d celebrate her birthday with her favorite rainbow cake when she returned.
Instead of celebrating, she’d been given the grave news that she possessed the X-gene. The moment she tested positive, she’d become the property of the Regency to be auctioned off to the highest bidder among the rich and spoiled. No commoner could bid, and none of the rich who tested positive were forced to the auction the way the dregs were.
Only us without a voice must submit to the injustice.
The gene passed only through the female line, and the affluent had turned it into a game, racing to breed the first male with the rare DNA. Some scientists thought no male would ever receive the marker.
Kella didn’t care about male offspring or if any would ever be born Xeno. She just wanted out of this freakin’ nightmare.
Her caretaker led-dragged her to the stairs while she winced at his pinching grip. Once he presented her to the steps, she couldn’t force her feet to climb them to the top of the block to parade herself to her would-be buyers. Undeterred, her caretaker gave off an irritated grunt, and bitched about whiny dregs right before he slung her over his shoulder hard enough she lost her breath.
The caretaker ascended the steps. Each bounce of his shoulder against Kella’s belly elicited a squeak from her. At the top, he settled her on her feet. His hands landed on her shoulders, and he roughly spun her around for the crowd’s inspection, before turning her to face the audience.
“Behave,” he said in harsh whisper, “Or I’ll personally see that your mother suffers for your misbehavior.”
Kella jerked as if he struck her, and her gaze slid to Regent Peter Emmerson. Stone’s dad nodded at her guardian. Tears blurred her vision, and she made a futile attempt to swipe them away. Murmurs filtered around her. All the comments she caught were about her ‘breeding stock’ and how she’d make pretty children.
“Esteemed ladies and gentlemen, I come before you today with one of the rarest offerings, an X-gene. She’s been educated in the Regent’s home, so she’s less likely to embarrass.” A twitter of laughter surfaced, and her cheeks burned with the ridicule toward her class. “Mackella Starke is five-four, weighs one-ten, and is fourteen years old. She has all her teeth and suffers no visible blemishes. The X-gene is strong in her, showing up on an unheard of fifty-five of her fifty-six chromosomes. As you can see, she’s a lovely creature with superior breeding attributes. If you’ll check your devices, you’ll see close up pictures of her for your inspection.”
Whispers increased, sounding like a hive of buzzing bees, as they checked their Regent-issued devices and perused her photos. Degrading snapshots she’d been forced to endure, some of them naked, others with her lips pulled back so her teeth would show. She’d borne the humiliation because what choice did she have?
“Lovely girl,” a woman said. “She could breed us fine children, darling.”
“I don’t know. She’s not to my tastes,” Kella surmised it was the husband that responded.
None of this was to her taste, but no one cared about her wants. Not even Momma. When she’d voiced finding a way to run, her mother, Judy, warned her to follow the law, and to do as she was told or they’d both endure the consequences of her reckless actions. Fear for her parent was all that kept her in line at the X-gene camp, and all that kept her from fleeing toward the door in this moment. Not that’d she’d make it. Kella held no delusions. They’d capture her before she traversed half the room.
“I want her.” The woman’s voice grew petulant. “Please consider purchasing her for me. You promised me anything for our anniversary. I want her.”
Shivers racked Kella’s body at the coldness of the couple’s discussion. She’d always been one to hang out on the fringe of a crowd. Being front and center and forced to submit to their inspection shamed her to the point she kept her eyes downcast. It was easier to face their derision if she didn’t look at their faces.
How could they think themselves better than her, but want to use her body to breed a superior race?
“Does anyone wish to submit a question before the auction begins?”
Dead silence. That unnerved her more than the chatter.
Kella swept her gaze about the room, spying Stone’s mom, Lucy. She talked to her husband, her animation hinting at the woman’s annoyance. Mrs. Emmerson shook a finger at Stone’s dad, but his glare at whatever she said had Lucy stalking from the room. Thankfully, Stone was nowhere to be seen. Maybe his dad had dismissed him from the auction. Thank God for that small favor.
Not that she’d ever see Stone again after today, anyway. That reality caused her bottom lip to tremble, and Kella clenched her teeth together to halt the betrayal of emotion. She would miss him.
“Get on with it,” someone in the crowd yelled. “I don’t care if she’s bucktoothed and web footed. My boy wants her, and I’ll pay anything for him to have her.”
Notching her chin a little higher, Kella squared her shoulders. I will not cry. I will not cry. I will not cry, damnit!
At least she’d been spared the humiliation of Stone watching her degradation. She would face the crowd’s mockery with bravery, with the grace Stone asked of her in everything and she rarely gave him because creating mayhem was more her style. But when a dreg demanded justice of elitists, the result often ended in chaos rather than fairness.
“Very well.” The caretaker gripped her by her nape, and she took his hold as a warning to behave. At this point, she feared her legs wouldn’t carry her even if she tried to run. And she knew sticking her tongue out at the crowd, or throwing a childish tantrum would only amuse those present. The end result would be the same. She’d be bought and carted off to a stranger’s house to bear his children against her will. Rape in the ancient’s language. That word held no meaning for dregs in today’s society. Only elitists were afforded safety from the vile act. “I’ll start the bidding at twenty frams.”
Prices flew from the crowd, escalating to a ridiculously high nine thousand frams, and the amount continued to climb. Kella zoned out, dismissing the throng and retreating into herself while wishing her mortification would soon end.
My mortification will only increase when I’m naked and defiled.
Maybe she could find some inventive way to flee where her mother couldn’t be reprimanded too. If that didn’t work, she wasn’t opposed to ending her life. The idea of another man besides Stone touching her…she shuddered.
“Fifty thousand frams!” The room silenced at his bid.
Kella came out of her trance at the shocking sum. She slid her gaze along the crowd, looking for the auction-goer. Finding him at the back, near the windows, her fingers began to tingle as Stone returned her stare. His father stood at his side, neither of them showing a hint of emotion.
How can he betray me like this? He knew she wanted no part of this system. She’d confided her dreams in him. Her hope of being infertile and X-gene free, and becoming an archeologist.
All of a sudden chatter boomed in the quiet of the room. Someone called out fifty-one thousand frams.
“Sixty thousand frams.” Staring her straight in the eyes, Stone said cool as ice, “No price is too high for the mother of my children.”
“Sold!” The caretaker boomed a few moments later when no further offers were given.
Her breathing sounded loud in her ears, labored.
Stone stepped forward, and his voice was loud enough for all to hear. “I take Mackella Starke as my wife, with all protection afforded to her by my House.”
Patrons congratulated him on his purchase and wished him many children with his ‘lovely bride’.
Kella wanted to vomit. I thought he cared about me.
I’m so dumb. He’ll be Regent, and like all of the privileged he feels entitled to my genes.
But this was Stone! He’d been her best friend for eight years. They’d planned their future together, not together-together, but as friends shared secrets with one another.
And now he owns me. His will is my will, my dreams forgotten.
Someone emitted a high-pitched scream right before blackness consumed Kella.
Kella woke to a sharp sting in her neck, and an even sharper retort. “Be still.”
Her tears could no longer be halted, she wept as the tattooist marked her as Stone’s chattel. Stone’s wife. Freedom gone, exploited at the hands of the crème de le crème, she wept for the life she’d dreamed of, but would never have.
“I’m finished.” The tattooist roughly smeared liquid onto Kella’s neck that stung so bad she would’ve cried if she hadn’t gone numb.
Head spinning, she was grateful Stone’s father helped her to sit up until Peter said, “That sigil will keep a little slut like you honest while making it clear you’re off limits to all but Stone.”
Kella gasped at his slur. She had no idea why he thought so little of her.
“Don’t pretend you’re shocked. I see through you. Your momma’s a whore, too. Why do you think I keep her so close? All dregs are sluts, especially you Xenos, willingly spreading your legs for the man who buys you.”
Just when she thought she couldn’t cry more, tears burned her sinuses, but she somehow managed to sniffle them back. Her momma wasn’t a whore. If she whored herself to Regent Emmerson then it was because he forced her. And it wasn’t like an X-gene had a choice other than to submit to their owner. That was the law thanks to Regents like him.
“Stone’s my friend, I’d never betray him that way.” He had to have a reason for buying her. Didn’t he? She would put her faith in him because he’d had her back so many times, and trusting him was the only right thing to do.
Peter laughed. “You’re such a little fool. Hopefully, you can pop out a few babies before you’re eighteen, and then Stone can find a woman more suited to his station. Don’t you know how delighted he was to discover you are a Xeno. Now he can fuck you without losing respect among his peers. The privileged do not slum with the dregs, not even for a little pussy.”
Harsh words that had her questioning everything, but didn’t they contradict the claim he just made about her mother whoring herself to Peter?
“He told you this?” Kella hated the pitiful sound of her voice, but to hear the truth, that Stone thought so little of her when he’d been her world for eight years ripped her soul apart. That he intended to take a second wife once he tired of her, fractured all her belief in humanity. And if Stone’s genuineness wasn’t trustworthy, then she could depend on no one. To discover the most honest person she knew had deceived her for years—
“Of course he told me that. He confides everything to me. He is having a rainbow cake baked for you. You can celebrate a different way now by spreading your legs for my son.” Kella flinched, and he leered at her. “Grow up, little girl. You’ve believed the good lie for years. Stone never cared about you. You’re a useless goddamn dreg. The only thing you’re good for now is a dirty fuck and squirting out babies.” He dragged her toward a girl hovering near the door. She appeared a little older than Kella, but not much. “Go with Christine. She’ll deliver you to Stone, so you can thank him for buying you.”
Discovering the truth of Stone’s lies, Kella lost her stomach in the hallway. Tears streamed down her cheeks, and her breathing hitched as she attempted to reel in her devastation. Stone wasn’t worth her anguish.
Christine gave her a pitiful glance, and Kella hated the girl for her sympathy. But she was caught in a sticky web with no way out, so she shadowed the woman. Thanks to life’s cruel show of hands, nothing mattered in the face of Stone’s betrayal.
Depression threatened to carry her under. Eyes wide open, she trudged along behind Christine, coming to the harsh reality that Stone wasn’t the friend she thought him to be. Wasn’t the upstanding man he’d pretended to be. He probably laughed and laughed with James over his duplicity.
But why the subterfuge? None of the other privileged hid their real feelings, so why had Stone?
“My mistress hates this law.” The girl stopped and faced her.
Kella blinked at her, unable to process what the other girl was getting at. “We’ll help you escape if that’s what you want. But you have to make the decision now. Go or stay?”
Relief surged through Kella so strong she would’ve gone to her knees if she hadn’t leaned against the wall. “Go!”
Christine led Kella down the hall to a couple of backpacks, and the other girl handed Kella one of them. Much later, inside the pack she discovered a few days’ worth of clothes, water, granola bars, a picture of Stone, and the wind-up dog toy he’d given her for her birthday. She had no idea why the last two were in there, but she would keep them to remind herself of what she’d lost.
That night Kella cried herself to sleep, despondent by Stone’s betrayal. She’d thought Stone different than other spooners, believed him to be trustworthy. It hurt to realize she was wrong. It hurt worse that hope and freedom came not at the hands of a friend, but a stranger. In this twisted, hate-filled world, Kella shouldn’t have been surprised.
revealed February 10th
@ Author N. Kuhn's blog.