by Lola Dodge
(The Shadow Ravens #2)
Published by: Ink Monster LLC
Publication date: October 13th 2015
Genres: Futuristic, Romance,
Just because Quanta can see the future doesn’t mean she can change it. She’s spent most of her life imprisoned, feeding her captors information to keep herself alive, but she’s finally reached the endgame and her death creeps closer by the moment.
The son of two senators, Altair Orpheus leads a life of privilege that provides the perfect cover for his side job: working with the rebel Shadow Ravens to undermine the ruling Seligo government. Everything is running like clockwork until he crosses paths with Quanta. As he watches her deftly maneuver through life in a perverse prison, his plastic heart melts. A jailbreak would be suicide, but Tair is willing to sacrifice everything to give her a chance at happiness.
Now Quanta senses a terrifying new future brewing. She and Tair are bound together, but every image of them kissing, snuggling, and acting knee-weakeningly happy is balanced by a much darker possibility. They’ll be picture perfect together, but only until time rips them apart. How can she follow her heart when she’s seen how their love plays out?
Tair annihilated me on the sim and for once, I didn’t give a flying fudge reindeer.
The timeghosts had gotten bored of kissing and now I was getting full-on caressing, nudity, and a soundtrack of bedroom moans. And I couldn’t not peek. Not when Tair looked that good shirtless, his head tipped back, sucking a breath through his teeth as I—
I shuddered and leaned against the sim room wall. I could not be expected to focus under these conditions.
Especially when us getting together was looking more and more likely. Short of knocking him unconscious with one of the prop crossbows, it might be too late to derail the train to make-out town. One kiss wouldn’t be so bad, but—
No. That was the problem right there. It would be a gateway kiss. Then there’d be tongue and heavy breathing and feelings. I needed to nip that right in the bud. Because after the kissing came all the dying.
The most annoying part was that Tair was totally oblivious to the chaos in my head.
“Should I take you back to your room?” Tair set his guns back on the shelf. “Your pulse is high.”
“Well, it would be,” I snapped. That happened when I got bombarded with images of him nipping my collarbone and running his hands all over me, because then I imagined what it would feel like in real life and Jesus Christmas. What was I supposed to do about that?
“Did I do something wrong?” He crouched near me, not close enough to make me uncomfortable, but close enough that I could see the golden shades of brown in his eyes, and that was uncomfortable in a whole different way.
I’d made a mistake. This was the most annoying part. He hadn’t done anything wrong.
Tair was playing his part to perfection. I was the one getting blown apart.
Getting thrown off my game.
Mother smiled like a cat, full of ambition and smugness. “Someone wants to meet you.”
Someone? Suddenly, I knew where this was going. “Mother—”
“There are the Astors.” Mother gave a demure wave and started gliding toward a trio standing near an ice sculpture. Her fingers clamped my arm, dragging me along. Father walked on my other side, sandwiching me in place.
No way to run without making a scene. Senator Astor and her husband stood waiting with their daughter.
My free hand bunched into a fist, but I tucked it into my pocket. I couldn’t make a mistake in front of this audience.
Mother exchanged greetings, then made a sweeping gesture. “This is my son, Altair. Altair, this is Layla Astor.”
Layla’s blonde hair tumbled in artful curls and braids. She wore tasteful neutral makeup that emphasized her full lips and emerald green eyes, but a hint of darker eyeliner smudged like a leftover from some previous night’s debauchery; that was half of what I needed to know to escape the conversation.
And I would escape. I had no interest in these shallow romances meant to gain my family position.
“It’s so nice to meet you, Altair. I knew your sister at academy.” And that was why Cass had been invited. Some common bond to me to a potential future mate.
Good thing Cass had stayed home. She’d hate the situation as much as I did.
The girl extended her arm, flashing her Green Helix and I couldn’t avoid the handshake. “Likewise.” Layla’s rough fingertips gave me the last clue I needed. Calluses from playing an instrument. Between that and the eyeliner, I had an excellent guess at how to get rid of her. Rather than sell her out in front of her parents, I offered her an arm. “I was just about to admire the ice sculptures. Would you care to join me?”
“I’d love to.” She smiled and placed delicate fingertips on my arm.
Our parents grinned conspiratorial smiles as we strolled away. No doubt they’d already picked a wedding date. I waited until we were out of modified earshot to speak. “How upset would your family be if I mentioned that you play in a band?”
“Very.” Layla tensed, and her expression and tone shifted from vapid politeness to shrewd consideration. “Not that you should know.”
I shrugged. “I won’t say a thing as long as you don’t press an engagement.”
“Thank God.” Layla shuddered. “Our mothers schemed this one. I thought you were in on it.”
I grinned. I didn’t often stumble onto others faking their way through Helix life, but every so often an ally dropped in my lap. “Should we small talk for a few minutes and then pretend to offend each other?”
Layla pressed her lips together, eying me up and down. “If you’re up to it, I have a better suggestion.”
“Oh?” I handed her a drink taken from a passing tray. Our parents still watched from across the room.
“Let’s meet for coffee. We could draw this out for months.”
“A faux courtship?” It had promise, although there were certainly risks.
“You’re the first guy they’ve set me up with who’s not a self-centered ass.” Layla’s mischievous smile made her eyes sparkle. “My girlfriend would love you.”
Her voice was clear of subterfuge and I found myself smiling back. “Next week? I’m sure our parents already exchanged our contact information.” And faking a relationship would save me getting blindsided at every event.
“Call me.” She finger-waved and then headed for a crowd of friends, who proceeded to glance my way, slipping a few quickly smothered cackles. I nodded before heading off to work the crowd.
Despite my parents’ efforts, the night was going better than expected.
Following the plan should’ve been harder, but as I drew a mural of elvish Tair on my bedroom wall, conjuring a smile was cake. Stopping the smile?
That was harder.
After a few last strokes of charcoal to finish off his long elf hair, I stepped back to admire my work. I didn’t usually do portraits, but this was probably my best one ever, thanks to the subject. He was pretty, but no one had forced me to memorize his face down to the length of his eyelashes.
I kept myself from scowling. It was just a drawing and this was still just an act for Darren and the cameras. I wanted him to know I was thinking about Tair so he’d let us spend more time together, but that was where I had to stop it.
Rubbing the heel of my hand back and forth, I smudged Tair’s perfect face into a blur.
Too bad erasing the picture didn’t get him out of my head. Not with all the timeghosts paging in and out everywhere I looked.
“Quanta…” My name falls breathy off Tair’s lips as he hugs me close; he pushes me gently on a swing and I giggle as he laughs; my legs wrap his torso as our lips connect…
I fell back onto my bed. The expressions were killing me more than the actions.
The way my fingers knotted in his shirt. The reverence when he held my head between his hands to kiss my forehead.
It wasn’t some passing crush. We were happy together.
And even less believably?
We were outside the lab.
If I saw it in the potential future, there was no point questioning whether it was possible. It was still ultra fuzzy unlikely, but it could happen.
Getting out had never been a real option before. I always died or got knocked out in the futures where I tried to escape.
I didn’t dare peek at the paths that could lead to freedom. Letting myself watch the happy futures dance around was bad enough.
It made hope burn in my chest. Could we really…?
Nope. Don’t go there.
That road ended in disappointment and worse, because whatever I wanted, I couldn’t put something as pointless as my own happiness above other people’s lives.
I was tempted. Super tempted. I wasn’t such a good person that I didn’t think about screwing them all over. Just to taste a piece of happy. Just once. Even if I knew in my heart it wouldn’t last.
But I held too many lives in my palms.
All the surviving Reds and a few who weren’t born yet. The Shadow Ravens who were working to take down Nagi and his citadels.
I knew their names and faces. Cipher. Devan. Cleo. Even Eva.
I’d been living this long to keep them safe, and if I was going to screw them over, I should’ve done it a long time ago. Now I couldn’t. They were the only people I had and I wanted them to have what I never would.
Real lives. Actual happiness.
The good stuff.
I’d been totally fine with the status quo until Altair Orpheus waltzed into my life and rewrote the future. It wasn’t the first time I’d had a wrench thrown in my plans, but it was definitely the biggest twist I’d ever missed.
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