Twelve men are willing to fight and die for her.
Only one will triumph.
In a world where fertility is a rare and treasured thing, Jane—the breeder for Windy City—is ready to fulfill her destiny and repopulate the earth, with the help of the one man strong enough to have her. The man she’s dreamed of for as long as she can remember.
One fight. One winner. One month of uninhibited pleasure. For Ethan, losing Jane isn’t an option. He’s spent years preparing for this battle, for his woman, but marriage and family are a thing of the past, and happily-ever-afters don’t come easy.
No matter the temptation, they can’t stay lost in each other’s bodies forever. The clock is ticking, and Ethan means to keep Jane for always. No matter what it takes.
This book is approximately 18,000 words
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Edited by Stephanie Doig
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Windy City, 2218
I'd had six years to prepare for today, the day when I'd become the most famous woman in the country, but still I shook with nerves.
"You're a pretty one, aren't you?" The older woman swiped some more shadow over my eyes. She'd introduced herself as Sophie. I was in a large government-run media studio getting ready for my first public appearance. I'd only been broadcast once before. That was the day I'd been introduced as a future Breeder for Windy City. Everyone knew my name, like everyone knew all potential Breeders' names.
We were celebrities.
Last time the world had seen me, I'd been an awkward fourteen-year-old. Now they'd get to see me in the coveted Breeder role.
"Not really," I muttered, hunching over more on the dented, battered wooden stool so she could reach me. No matter how much calcium they pumped into women, most females past the age of fifty were shrunken. Sophie had to be nearing eighty, she was that little. I worried her bones would crack if I made any sudden movements.
"Oh, you're pretty, all right. The candidates will do anything to get to you. They'll want a taste of your pretty, sexy body." Her words carried the knowledge of someone who'd painted the faces of dozens of Breeders.
I smiled at hearing her say I was sexy. It was an odd word. According to research I'd done, sexy used to be a compliment of the highest order and thrown around in ordinary conversation. Women tried to dress sexy, showing lots of skin. Crazy. "They spent enough to make me pretty," I said.
Sophie chuckled. "What'd they do to you? Boobs?"
I nodded. After graduation six months ago, I'd been moved from the only home I'd ever known to Windy City to be made ready to take on my official Breeder role. The process had involved some surgery, and a lot of lectures about sex and my position as the future of the country. That's when I had learned, sex was much more than an act of procreation.
"No." My finger brushed the skin of my straight nose. "They made my boobs bigger and put extensions in my hair." I curled a finger around a lock of the perfectly waved, silky mass hanging from scalp to nipples. They'd debated a long time about whether to color it blond or not, but in the end, agreed my natural light brown was better for my skin tone. These days no one was naturally blond. Plenty of women dyed their hair as soon as they graduated from school, but almost none of us had light hair. With the absence of traditional procreation, blond hair was a recessive trait that was close to extinction.
I was glad they'd allowed me to keep my hair color. It was odd enough looking in the mirror and seeing my reflection with the large chest and perfectly polished skin, usually covered in a glow of makeup.
"You're lucky," Sophie said. "Too many times, they go overboard. They make the Breeder look fake."
"Isn't that the point? We're the Unattainable Woman." My hand briefly touched the talisman in my pocket. It was a final note from Ethan that I carried on me always. I hoped to someday see the boy who held my heart.
Though he wasn't a boy anymore. He was older than I was, and I was twenty.
"No, you're the dream woman. The one every man fantasizes about." Her gnarled fingers stopped brushing color onto my face, and she stepped back to survey her palette.
"Well, since I'm one of the few women in the world who can procreate, I'd think they don't care what I look like. We get to have sex!"
"Ain't that the truth." Sophie and I shared a secret smile. For all my bold words, the momentousness of the situation was starting to hit me. In about one hour from now, I was going to be pushed onto a stage with a camera focused on me. I'd be introduced as this year's Breeder from Windy City. Everyone would be watching. I knew this because I'd watched every year since I was fourteen. Every citizen over the age of sixteen did. I'd been granted permission to watch earlier since I was a future Breeder.
In our teen years, my friends and I lounged around our school rec room screen and waited to see the current year Breeder. The fifteen major US cities went in alphabetical order, so we were toward the end, but it only made the anticipation grow. Who would she be, and would she be prettier than the other Breeders? Would she make the men in the audience desire her?
Now that it was my turn, I realized I'd never asked an all-important question. I'd been so focused on whether the men would desire the Breeder, I'd never stopped to think whether she would desire the men. And now that she was me. The girls back at my school would be watching. Would they remember me as Jane, the girl who'd raided the kitchen with them at midnight? Or would I no longer be the girl they remembered, and instead be as strange and remote as the Breeders we'd watched year after year?
I forced myself to stop thinking about home. I didn't live there anymore. The sad truth was that once I'd been designated a Breeder, everything had changed anyway. Losing Ethan had been only the first thing. Once I'd been declared a Breeder, I couldn't walk down a school hallway without stares and whispers. It was worse once my body started changing and turning into a woman's body.
I'd heard the Breeders in Manhattan and Los Angeles were taken from their schools and moved to a facility for future Breeders. Part of me wished that had happened to me. Maybe it would've been easier. Nothing had been the same since I'd had my first period.
My fingers curled tightly around the arms of my chair while I tried to calm my anticipation about the next few hours. After six years of being in wait mode, it was finally here. Today, the day I'd lose my virginity. And the whole world would be watching.
Sophie circled the chair and examined her work. She nodded and futzed a final time with a curl placement on my forehead. "Beautiful," she declared. "Wardrobe is next."
I stood on shaky legs and followed the direction of Sophie's wrinkled finger. When I got to the large room, I saw I was not alone. Three of the walls were covered in racks of clothing. Clothing that didn't faintly resemble anything Schoolers or Workers wore these days.
A rainbow of colors in materials that weren't practical for actually doing anything other than being admired. The clothes caught my attention so completely it took another minute to notice the room wasn't empty. Two other women faced each other in the center of the room arguing and gesturing at an outfit slung over a spindly chair next to them.
One of the women was fat and beautiful. White-blond hair hung nearly to her waist and her skin seemed to sparkle with every movement of her hand. I couldn't stop staring at her hair. I'd never seen such a color before. Both women abruptly stopped their heated conversation and turned to face me.
"The newbie," the blonde woman said. Her low voice floated my way, wrapping me in a coil of fascination. As she turned, I realized she wasn't fat. She was pregnant. Now I couldn't take my eyes off her belly.
There was a baby.
Did it hurt? Did it cry or make noises she could hear? I realized my palm was pressed to my own flat stomach. In a few months that could be me.
"What are you staring at?" the woman said sharply. "Never seen a pregnant woman before?" Both women laughed, and a reluctant smile came to my lips. No, I'd never seen a pregnant woman before. Almost no one had except for on television. In all my excitement about my own debut as the Breeder, I'd totally forgotten last year's Breeder's role in tonight's ceremony.
Zoe, as I now remembered her name to be, was last year's Breeder. How could I have forgotten that hair? The men had gone crazy when she'd been revealed. We'd also gone wild in our dorm room lounge. I'd been surrounded by most of the girls in school as we watched the ceremony. The closer my time came to being the one, the more the other girls at my school pretended to be friends with me. We'd gasped as Zoe stepped onto the stage, then there'd been silence as the girls examined the screen then me, silently comparing me to her and finding me lacking.
"Get in here," Zoe said, gesturing with a hand to come closer. She pointed to the chair. "The powers that be want me in that." Her derisive tone made it clear what she thought of the spangly bikini top. It was tradition. The government wanted her pregnant belly to be the shining star of the night.
My throat went dry at the thought of such disobedience. Any other citizen could be arrested or questioned for daring to not follow orders. Maybe a Breeder had more flexibility, but to actually disobey? Terrifying.
"What ... what do you want to wear?" I swallowed, surprised my voice had worked in the presence of such a star.
Zoe reached for a silk blouse. I'd call it blue, but that wouldn't do it justice. It was like the sky on a perfect spring day. It would be amazing against her hair. "It's beautiful." My whisper tiptoed its way across the room.
"That settles it. I'm wearing it," Zoe said and started to pull her cotton t-shirt over her head.
"But your belly," the other woman moaned. "We have to show off your belly."
I could feel annoyance float off Zoe. "I'm used goods," she said. She pointed to me. "Jane's the star now. Make her gorgeous."
I wanted to help Zoe. We'd met five seconds ago, but there was a connection. She was the only other person I'd ever met who was a Breeder. She knew what it was like to feel crampy pain every month and to bleed from her private place. She'd likely endured stares and whispers for years as I had. And, most importantly, she'd had sex. Something I was about to learn about firsthand.
I wished we had more time for me to question Zoe about the intricacies of the sexual act. All the videos and books I'd devoured were nothing compared to a firsthand account.
"How about that top?" I said, the words spilling out of my mouth as easily as gossip flows from teens. I yanked a sheer pale green blouse off the rack. It would cover her breasts, but was totally sheer along the midriff. Her belly would be covered but seen. Relief passed over the costumer's face. Zoe pursed her lips, angling her head while she pondered the blouse.
"Give it. I'll try it on." She reached and plucked the top out of my hands. I helped smooth it over her shoulders then stepped back as she turned for our approval. Smiles broke out on all our faces. She looked gorgeous. She was gorgeous.
"All right. All right," the dressing room woman muttered.
"Now your turn," Zoe said, collapsing into the chair, sitting on top of the rejected bikini top. My heartbeat increased to a rock-and-roll drum tempo as I remembered I wasn't here to admire and help Zoe. I was here to become her.
The older wardrobe woman bustled around pulling potential outfits from racks, each more glittery and decadent than the rest. The materials were luxurious, I discovered, as I ran a hand down some of the selections. My nervousness started to fade while my excitement built at the prospect of playing dress up. I was nowhere near Zoe's league, but maybe with the right outfit, the candidates wouldn't notice.
"No." Zoe nixed every selection the dresser displayed.
"Why not?" I protested. "Some of those are pretty."
"They're too much," she said with calm authority. "You're so naturally pretty, the clothes will hide you."
"But ..." I frowned, looking at the clothes and recalling all the past Breeders' debuts. I glanced from the clothes to Zoe, wondering whether to believe her. She seemed to think I was pretty and the makeup person had said so too. I didn't know how to judge whether I was pretty or not.
For the past six years I'd been taller and heavier than all the girls in my school community. The standard of beauty there was thin and wispy. Compared to my classmates, I'd felt huge and ungainly in my woman's body.
"Trust me," Zoe said, seeing my doubt. "Consider me your mentor, something I never had." There was a bitter quality to her words, and then I remembered. The Breeder before Zoe had committed suicide the night before Zoe's reveal. She'd never gotten pregnant and couldn't face it. I muttered a quick prayer that twelve months from now I'd be in this room, pregnant and advising the next Breeder. The alternative was too horrifying to contemplate.
They claimed it was okay if a Breeder didn't get pregnant her first year, but everyone knew it wasn't okay at all. It was a failure. Please God, don't let me fail.
"What do you think I should wear?" I asked Zoe, deciding to trust her. She'd gotten pregnant early in her term as Breeder. Maybe some of her luck would rub off on me.
"Something like this." She pushed herself slowly to standing and waddled over to a filmy emerald green dress. It was like the sister to her blouse, only darker, more vibrant and all the way sheer. It had simple straps and a few embroidered flowers on the hem, which looked as though it would hang just below my butt.
"Is that a dress or a halter top?" I asked.
Zoe and the costumer laughed. "It needs to be short," Zoe said. "The men will want access."
Again the nervous anticipation fluttered up. This time I let it run through me. The male candidates would all take a turn touching me tonight. The strongest would actually take me. A part of me was scared, but a larger part of me was excited. I'd been training for this moment for six years.
I'd been allowed to stay in my same class at school, but the day after I got my first period, I got special lessons. There'd been movies and books all designed to help me understand the changes my body was going through. I'd been encouraged to embrace the sexual desires my body started craving.
There'd been only stolen moments of privacy at school for me to explore my newly mature body. None of my classmates pressed their fingers between their legs, rubbing until an urgent rush of sensation exploded. It was only for me to do furtively under the dark bed covers of night.
Tonight I'd finally understand fully what my mature body was designed to do. Tonight and tomorrow and all the rest of tomorrows, I'd get to explore and learn about my body.
"Try the dress on," Zoe said. Her words were an order from the General to the Lieutenant.
When it was on, I stared at my reflection in the mirror. Zoe had been right. The simple dress both hid and revealed something about me. I was Woman in it. The camera would pick up my nipples and my carefully groomed pubis, but the color and shape of the dress declared me feminine. I felt pretty in it.
Zoe appeared in the mirror's reflection behind me. "Now for the important stuff," she said quietly against my ear. She was taller than I was, and I'd been the tallest in my school. No surprise there, as I'd been the only person, teachers and students alike, to go through puberty.
I turned to face her. "What else do I need to know?" The minutes were slipping by before I'd be called and escorted to the stage. Zoe would go first, meaning we had to get any last-minute advice out of the way now.
"They're going to offer you a drug," she said. "You should take the drug. I couldn't have made it through the selection process without its help." We stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the mirror, our lips practically touching as we exchanged necessary information.
"What does the drug do?"
"Trust me. You'll want it. I wish I still had it. Now," she continued, "most important. When the twelve candidates are on stage, look at them. If you see one you want, let him know."
"Let him know?" I asked. "How? I'm not allowed to talk." Once they introduced the Breeder and let the viewing audience and live candidate audience get an eyeful, an assistant would come on the stage and help the Breeder onto a bed of a sort. It was tilted so the camera could see everything.
"With your eyes and your lips. Blow a kiss or something," Zoe said impatiently. The expression on her face told me she'd learned more in the past year than I had in twenty years of schooling. She was almost like the big sisters I'd read about in books. "You stare at him, maybe wink. Let him know you want him. He'll kill to have you."
"Is that what you did?" I asked.
"Yes," she said.
"Did it work?"
"He won, all right, but he didn't get me pregnant." She frowned. "Candidate number three managed that feat, and now I'm stuck with him. He'll be the father of my children. Turns out he's a bastard."
I felt my eyes widen at the uncommon word, father, and at her dismissal of the male. I'd grown up thinking of the candidates as larger-than-life superheroes. To hear Zoe's take, she partnered with a jerk. A jerk with whom she had to live.
Zoe's children with candidate number three would live with her until they likely developed and were partnered up with other Breeders' children from other cities. The goal was to recreate the human species the old way.
"Zoe." A man stood in the entry to the wardrobe room. I immediately recognized him as the Selectioner, Michael Dauson. He had the important responsibility of playing announcer and host while I chose the names of the twelve candidates who'd compete to be my partner.
Excerpted from "The Breeder"
Copyright © 2018 Lynne Silver.
Excerpted by permission of Carina Press.
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