"A fantastic end to this series!" –Erin Arkin, Fiction Fare
Ari Alexander is now back on Earth, and the world she left behind has been turned upside down. A new leader has risen to power, her friends have become her enemies, and Jackson is thought to be trapped on Loge with her archrival, Zeus.
Now Ari must determine who is the true enemy before Zeus attacks and Earth is forced into a battle of the dominant species.
Will Ari and Jackson's love give them the strength to survive the greatest war in human history?
The Taking series is best enjoyed in order.
Book #1 Gravity
Book #2 Hover
Book #3 Collide
About the Author
Melissa West lives in a tiny suburb of Atlanta, GA, with her husband and daughter. She pretends to like yoga, actually likes to read, and could not live without coffee. She holds a B.A. in Communication Studies and an M.S. in Graphic Communication, both from Clemson University. Her blood runs orange.
Read an Excerpt
By Melissa West, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Melissa West
All rights reserved.
I feel as though someone has cracked open my skull, shaken my brain around, and asked it to work again. I try to open my eyes, but they're heavy and clouded and I worry that maybe they are open. I just can't see.
Thoughts and memories hit all at once. The neurotoxin in my blood, poisoning me, defining me as half Ancient. Jackson carrying me to Loge. The hours of torture in the blueroom by Lydian at Zeus's hand. The shower, Jackson's body connected with my own. That brief moment of safety, perfection—love. And then the fear that ripped through me, breaking me and igniting me all at the same time, when I realized he was gone. Realized he'd been taken. Taken. The irony is too much.
I flinch at the sound, so close, yet far away. Like I hear it, but I can't quite process what the sounds mean, what the person is saying.
"Ari. We're out of time. Wake up!"
My mind sharpens, but I don't open my eyes. I can feel, hear, sense everything around me—the beeping by my ear, the loud breathing of the person beside me. I can't make out who the person is, even if it's a he or she. But I sense danger, danger so intense the hairs on my arms stand at full attention and the xylem in me sparks, and I want the person lurking over me dead. If he or she—it—were dead then I would be free to escape.
"Fine. Just call this payback."
I realize the person is Cybil, my trainer and friend, one second before a gut-wrenching pain slices through my left arm. My eyes snap open, and she's in front of me, so pale and rattled that she looks like a ghost of herself. I glance down at my arm to see that Cybil has ripped out my IV and now holds it in her hand like a toy.
I almost smile at the expression on her face, the hint of joy at getting me back for stabbing her hand, forcing her out of the trance she'd faked on Loge. But then my gaze finds hers and I see a combination of fear and exhaustion, her hands shaking, and I know there is nothing fake about this.
"Look," she says. "This likely triggered an alarm. We have to get out of here. Right now."
I try to nod, but my body is sluggish and I'm not sure I've moved at all. Cybil loops her arm under my back to help me sit up, and the room shifts in and out of focus. "What happened to me?"
"They happened. Now move."
I start to climb off the table when Cybil's eyes round out and her body quakes. "Cybil? What is it?" I reach out for her, just as she collapses and a metal door behind her slides open. Two men dressed in thick white suits rush in, followed by a shorter man—a man I recognize.
"Leave her alone," I say and feel a sharp pinch in my arm. I look up to see another white-suited person behind me, syringe in hand. I try to push the person away. I try to open my mouth to scream. But suddenly my lips feel tingly, my arms limp, and then once again I'm alone in the darkness.CHAPTER 2
I wake minutes later, hours, days, I can't be sure. But it's like I'm still in the nightmare, trapped in the world of my dreams. Watching as Jackson is tortured, again and again, until his body is limp against metal restraints, his eyes closed, lifeless. And then I spy Zeus—Jackson's grandfather and the most evil being in the world—across from him, looking back at me with a calculated smile. Seeing me. Seeing through me. And I know with certainty the dream—the nightmare—isn't a dream at all. It's real. Somewhere Jackson is being tortured, and Zeus is there, watching. Waiting for me to come for him.
I shut my eyes and then reopen them, blinking to try to regain focus, to readjust to my surroundings. I'm no longer in the lab-like room from before, but instead on a leather sofa in an office. A tick-tick-tick sounds from a small clock on a desk across the room, the black chair behind the desk vacant. I stand up and my legs tremble in protest. They feel like jelly, and I wonder how long they've been unused, how long I've been here, when I so desperately need to find Jackson.
My heart stops at the thought of him, the pain enough to cause my eyes to burn, but I push them away, knowing if I cry now, I may never stop.
I shake my legs, one, then the other, hoping circulation resumes and they remember how to function. After a minute of this, I feel comfortable walking without worry of falling, and I take my time examining the room. It's decorated in shades of brown and black and is impossibly clean, with no dust or dirt or hint that anyone other than myself has ever stepped inside.
A wide mirror stretches across the right-hand wall, nothing about it decorative or ornate. A two-way mirror, I feel certain. Tentatively, I edge forward, wondering who is on the other side watching me, when the door to my left slides open and the man from the lab walks in. Kelvin Lancaster. I remember him from my secret talks with Earth's leaders while I was on Loge, how everyone seemed afraid of him.
When I left Earth, I left a Trinity of power: A president over Parliament, a commander over Engineers, and a lead Chemist—Kelvin. How had the Chemist become the dictator over all? And had the Trinities all over the world followed suit, or were we deviating against the rules of our world?
I focus back on Kelvin, and at first, I think he's here alone, but then I see a second shadow on the floor, stretching out as he enters, as though it wanted to warn me before I did something rash. But there is no holding me back as I take in Lawrence Cartier, my best friend since birth, and now my enemy.
The memory of the safety being clicked off, me turning to find Law pointing a gun at me, and then the deafening sound of the shot, shock preventing me from responding before the bullet zoomed through my core.
Unable to hold in my anger, I charge over, prepared to deck him. Law shot me. Me! He may have taken a shot that wouldn't hit a vital organ, but it didn't matter. He'd been my best friend. How could he shoot me?
I'm in his face in two steps, my mouth open to shout, my fists clenched to punch, when he shakes his head once, the move so small I'm not 100 percent sure I saw it. Had I actually seen the twitch or was I searching for some clue he'd done it to protect me, like I'd stabbed Cybil back on Loge, like she'd jerked out my IV in the lab? Because while every working muscle in me demands to fight it out with Law, to show who the real solider is between the two of us, the rest of me is just ... broken.
My best friend shot me.
Kelvin takes a step between Law and me, gently pushing me back, and I contemplate punching him instead. But that would only land me back in the coma, no closer to finding Jackson.
"I see your medication has worn off," Kelvin says. "We will have that corrected as soon as we finish chatting. Please, have a seat." He motions to the couch as though we are friends, as though he wants to ensure I'm comfortable.
His composure reminds me so much of Zeus that I'm tempted to ask if he is part Ancient himself, but I suspect that would only cause me more pain in the long run, and for now, I need to gain understanding before I fight. I have no idea even who I'm up against, who the enemy is. Though I'm starting to wonder if there is more than one.
I glare at Law as I sit, but he seems unfazed. I want to ask if he's on medication as well, or if he turned into a sellout all on his own.
"Ari, I understand how this all must seem to you," Kelvin says as he takes a seat in front of me, Lawrence sitting to his right. "You probably feel like you are a prisoner, controlled by us, your former allies." He waits for his words to sink in and I think, yet again, how similar he is to Zeus. He wants to upset me. He wants to see what he can do and say to rattle me.
But I've already experienced this mind game from a much more skilled hand.
"I'm fine," I say finally, realizing he's waiting for a response. Kelvin nods once, his dark eyebrows drawing together, studying me. He's dressed in all black, like he's now an Engineer instead of a Chemist. "Very well. We hoped to ask you some important questions, and then there are visitors here to see you."
My eyes lift at the word "visitors." Does he mean more people to ask me questions? Is that his term for the white-suited men who injected Cybil and me the day before? Or was that a week before? I clear my throat and stare at him, uninterested. For now, I'll play his game.
Law leans forward, his elbows on his knees, his fingers laced together in front of him. I'm so angry at how casually he sits there that I want to grab his fingers and break them one by one, then see if he can still act so at ease. "Ari," he says. "We believe Zeus plans to attack within the next two weeks. Do you have any information you can give us that could help? Do you know his plan? Do you know his numbers? Did he confide any of this to you?"
I laugh. I can't help it. Zeus, the Ancient leader, the most cunning person—thing—I've ever known, and they think he confided in me? The questions are so ludicrous that suddenly I understand how Zeus used the neurotoxin against us in the first place. How he saw the strategy, knew they planned to use chemical warfare customized to hit the Ancients. Only, the Ancients had healed so many humans over the years, anticipating this very thing, that it backfired, and the human death toll grew, all while Zeus sat comfortably in his office chair, laughing. We completely underestimate him. Well, they completely underestimate him. I'm no longer so naive.
Kelvin clears his throat, his expression full of annoyance. "This isn't a laughing matter. There are millions of lives at stake here."
I sit up straight, anger growing in my chest for the second time. "If you knew anything at all about Zeus you would know he is already two steps ahead of you and sneering back while he waits for you to catch up."
Kelvin's eyes narrow. "You seem to know him well."
"As well as I could while he tortured me. I pay attention. My father taught me to learn more about the enemy than I could ever know about my friends." My gaze shoots back to Law. "Then again, it's often hard to discern the two."
Law leans back in his chair, his eyes darting away, refusing to look at me. Does he know how betrayed I feel? Does he care?
"And Zeus is an enemy to you?"
"What sort of question is that?" Kelvin doesn't answer, which does nothing but frustrate me more. "Where are the others?" I ask after a minute of silence.
Kelvin cocks his head. "What others?"
"You know exactly what I'm asking."
He steeples his fingers below his chin. "Yet I am still asking for clarification."
I grit my teeth. I could toss him against the wall faster than he could take a breath, but then what? Whatever Operative he has outside, watching, would race in and I would be dead. Jackson would still be lost, and the Ancients who came with me would be left unprotected.
I zero in on Law, on the way his left leg jumps every few seconds as though it knows something he can't or won't say. Hmm, I wonder what has him so on edge?
My attention returns to Kelvin. "The Ancients and humans that came with me. Where are they now? Are they safe?"
"Of course," he says simply, then he stands just before a knock on the door, like he knew it would come even before we heard the sound. "Your visitors are waiting. But first, we should help you relax."
"What? What does that mean?"
A pair of Ops slip into the room, a Chemist on their heels, advancing toward me. I back away, my eyes scanning the room for an escape. I don't want to go into that coma again, my mind trapped in nightmares, my body unable to wake.
"I will kill anyone who touches me," I say, conjuring my xylem to the surface. "I won't go back under that spell. I will cooperate." For now. "But I won't allow you to drug me again. If I die today, so be it."
Kelvin considers this, his jaw set tight. He doesn't like me, that much is clear, and it isn't just the part of me that's Ancient. He views me as a coarse strand of hair he's unable to tame. "You mock authority. It will land you in a grave." He walks toward me, stopping mere feet away. "But not today." He glances at the Ops. "We will respect her wishes ... for today." Then he focuses back on me. "Should you step out of line, I will do a lot more than simply drug you. Do you understand?"
I lift my head, crossing my arms, the words "I'd like to see you try" on the tip of my tongue. But for now I need to play along. That's the only chance I have of finding Jackson.
"Until tomorrow then, Ari."
He starts for the door when I call out, "What happens tomorrow?"
He spins on his heel, his expression lethal. "You tell us everything you know. I'm sure you can guess the importance of this information ... and the measures we are willing to go to obtain it."
A shudder creeps down my back, but I refuse to acknowledge it in front of Kelvin. He can make his threats. I have no interest in keeping anything about Zeus private, yet I can't shake the feeling that Kelvin wants the information for other reasons than to simply help us prepare to fight.
The door closes behind Kelvin and Law starts to say something, but then it slides open again and Mom and Dad rush inside, immediately wrapping their arms around me. I smile as Mom presses a kiss to my temple. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Law walk out, his head down, as if in defeat. Good. I hope he does feel defeated. I hope he feels like scum.
I remember the days after the neurotoxin first poisoned me, how Law was at my side every day, there with my family—a part of my family. And now ...
Mom walks me over to the sofa and we all sit down. "Tell us everything. Are you okay? Are they taking care of you? Kelvin said you were well cared for, but we weren't sure. He's—"
"Ari," Dad says, interrupting Mom with a sharp look, some unspoken understanding passing between them. What was that? "How are you feeling?"
I open my mouth, but I'm still caught by the look they shared. "I ... I'm good," I say. "Groggy, but good. Have either of you seen Cybil?" I explain to them what happened back in the lab, and Dad's jaw tightens with each word
"He was supposed to monitor you, not injure you," Dad says.
"Grexic," Mom warns, and again, I'm left staring between them.
"What's going on?" I ask, but they both shake their heads.
"Nothing. Just ... things have changed," Mom says. "But enough about that. Let's get you to your room."
She gives a little sad smile. "Yes. We live here now. It isn't safe on the mainland anymore. We're in the Underground."
"Underground?" I had assumed I was just in the Chemist labs. "So we can't go home?" Mom's face falls, and she reaches for my hand. Memories pour in of our house, of long talks on our back porch, of the forest that once held fear for me, then contentment as Jackson and I walked hand-in-hand to the Unity tree.
Jackson. My chest tightens. How will I find him when I'm stuck underground, with him a world away?CHAPTER 3
I listen tentatively as Mom explains that soon after all the humans crossed over to Loge, Parliament decided to use the Underground, a complete world below Sydia, built when the capital was first developed, when WWIV was still fresh in everyone's minds. It would be used in case war broke out again, but for years it sat untouched. Then after the neurotoxin was released, and Zeus announced that he'd used it against us, and thousands of humans died, they realized war wasn't a fictional, future thing. War is imminent. The question isn't if, it's when.
We walk down a long composite-steel hallway that reminds me of the Chemist labs, all business with no hint of emotion or care for decor. Mom stops at the end of the hall and Dad presses his thumb into a keypad beside a door. "This is our room," he says, motioning me inside. "We had yours linked to ours. They installed the adjoining door the day you arrived."
I follow him in, my stomach sinking at the thought of how much things have changed, from a three-story house to just two rooms, one for my parents, one for me, each space the size of my bedroom back home. The only similarities are the furnishings themselves, which are at the very least real blankets, real pillows, real beds.
"We live here?" I ask.
Mom drapes her arm around me, hugging me close. "At least we're alive. For now, that's all that matters." I can tell by the way her voice shakes that some part of her never thought she would see me again, but she's forcing herself to act casual, which worries me all the more. Mom was never one to hide her feelings.
"Can I see my room?"
"Sure," Dad says. He gestures to a door on the left-hand wall, and I press my thumb into the keypad, as he did before, causing the panel to slide open, a gust of artificial air whooshing over me. I step inside and peer around. It's smaller than my parents' room and contains nothing more than a bed, a dresser, and a small table and chair. I imagine identical rooms line the halls, and I realize that we, the wealthy people of Prospect Park, are now living like we forced Landings' people to live.
Excerpted from Collide by Melissa West, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2015 Melissa West. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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