After exposing the dark secrets about NuPet’s breeding program, forcing them to repeal the law that allowed genetically modified girls to be kept as pets, she thought girls like her would finally be free. She never dreamed that it would backfire. NuPet may have convinced the public of their intentions to assimilate pets back into society, but Ella knows it’s a lie.
They aren’t planning mass rehabilitation…they’re planning a mass extermination.
Now, with the help of a small group of rebels, Ella and Penn, the boy she’d give up her life for, set out to bring down NuPet for good. But when her group gets implicated in a string of bombings, no one is safe. If she can’t untangle the web of blackmail and lies that extends far beyond NuPet’s reach, she won’t just lose her chance at freedom, she’ll lose everyone she loves.
The Perfected series is best enjoyed in order.
Book #1 Perfected
Book #2 Tarnished
Book #3 Unraveled
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I owed Missy my freedom.
And tonight, I'd repay her.
I grabbed Penn's hand in the dark. Above us, a hint of the moon's glow crept over the fortresslike wall of the warehouse. It wasn't enough light to read the expression on his face, but if we ended up dead before morning came, at least I'd have the memory of his fingers twined through mine.
What a waste it would be to come so close to happiness. So close. But at least I could savor this moment: the press of his leg against me, the warmth of his hand in mine, the taste of his mouth still on my lips. I could draw courage from it. He'd always been a part of my strength. After all, it was his love that showed me we were equal ... that this heart of mine was every bit as human as the one that beat in his chest.
"I have a bad feeling about this," Penn said, his voice a soft breeze near my ear. His grip on my hand tightened. "Why don't you let me go in with them? You wait out here. If something goes wrong, it'll be easier for you to get away."
No. I needed to get in there. The Liberationists had a good lead that the other pets who'd been ripped from their homes or dumped at kennels by their owners in the upheaval over the NuPet scandal were in danger of being killed. If the intel was to be believed, we'd find them hidden inside.
I trusted the Liberationists. Markus, Ian, Jane, Dave ... all of them. Of course I did. After all, they were the ones who'd saved Penn and me when NuPet's men were closing in on us. Without them, I'd be just another girl in this warehouse in need of rescue, or worse. And Penn? I hated to think what his father would do to him for stealing me away again, for betraying his father the way he had, all to keep me safe. Even if it got him killed, Penn would come with me to the ends of the earth.
I'd love him for the rest of my life.
I took a deep breath, tucking that love into a safe corner of my heart so I could focus. "She's my friend." The last word stuck in my throat and I shifted away from him, readying myself to stand, to run, to fight. If Missy was inside, I was going to be the one to go in and get her. "I can't push this off onto someone else, not after what she did for me."
Penn nodded silently, his warm brown eyes telling me he understood. We'd already been through this debate. He knew my conditions. He knew my priorities. Number one: rescue Missy. I couldn't even begin to think about anything else until that happened. This was my fight, and Missy was my responsibility.
I couldn't turn my back on her now, not after she'd helped me escape from Canada. Not after she managed to hide us both in the black market so I could get all the way back to Penn. And certainly not after she sacrificed herself when NuPet's men came.
She was all I'd thought about for the past nine days. Missy was the closest thing I would ever have to a sister, and I'd allowed them to take her in my place. I'd let them mistake her for me. As we'd hunkered down in the Liberationists' headquarters after the raid, I played our last moments together over and over in my mind, her final words whispering past my ear in a perpetual loop.
"If anyone can fix this thing, it's you."
And maybe I had begun to believe her.
Markus must have, too. It was the reason he and the Liberationists had tracked me down. Why he'd rescued me from falling back into the hands of the congressman. And I was grateful to him for that, even if I wasn't sure how much of an asset I could be.
I shifted, anxiety prickling in my chest. The brick wall of the warehouse was cool and thick at my back, completely unwilling to share any of the secrets that lay behind it. If I could only look through it, like glass, and know whether I'd find Missy there.
In front of us, Markus crouched next to Ian, his second-in-command. Other than their coloring, they looked like they could be brothers: the same fit, compact bodies, the same almond-shaped eyes, and strong jaws. I didn't know their exact ages, but they couldn't have been more than ten years older than me.
Honestly, it still shocked me that there were male pets in the world — not that NuPet had created them, just that they had existed all this time without my knowing. There was so much NuPet had kept from us. Our ignorance gave them power.
Now, the secret was out. Pets like Markus and Ian craved the same freedom we did. That need boiled in them. I could see it simmering in Markus now, amping up his already intense demeanor like he might erupt from it at any second.
He turned around, and the group of us drew in a collective breath, waiting for his signal. We'd rehearsed the plan at least twenty times. The side door would be open. The informant had told us that much. Ian would hold the door, making sure we each made it inside.
Ian met my eye. The corners of his mouth curved up ever so slightly, and he nodded. It wasn't a large gesture, but it felt as reassuring as a hug, as calming as if he'd placed his solid hands on my shoulders and looked into my eyes, telling me that he believed in me.
Markus and Ian had kept Penn and me involved in their planning, treating us like we were one of them from the moment we'd arrived. Penn was a natural. He joked that all the time he'd spent watching crime dramas had been like years of free training, but it didn't come easily for me. For days my head had ached with the newness of it. How could there be so many words I didn't know? Intel, floaters, moles, informants, leaks, bona fides, covers ... I felt like I was fresh out of the kennel again, when everything was unfamiliar and overwhelming.
They couldn't slow the pace to wait for me to catch up, so I did my best to take it all in. There were phone calls to intercept and whispered conversations to record in back rooms and alleys. They rolled out maps of the warehouse for us to familiarize ourselves with. But even though I knew I needed this information, I couldn't concentrate. I kept going back to what the reporter, Ms. Westly, had told us before the men from NuPet broke down the door and took Missy.
"They aren't going to recondition the pets. They're going to kill them."
Kill them. Those words echoed in my ears along with Missy's.
None of the girls had shown up at the kennel yet for NuPet's promised "reconditioning" program — Markus was 100 percent confident about that. He had eyes stationed inside and out of the NuPet facilities. But it wasn't until the tip came in the night after I arrived that he learned about NuPet's plans to dispose of the girls outside the kennel grounds.
The tip had been accompanied by a grainy cell phone photo of at least fifty girls huddled together in the middle of the warehouse — this warehouse — each shackled around the ankle to a long chain winding around their feet like a giant snake.
Fifty girls. It didn't seem like that many, not compared to how many there were still out there in other parts of the country, but to me it looked like a thousand. I had searched their faces for Missy's, but the photo was too grainy. Any of them could have been her. And in a way, they all were. Each blurry face ripped at my heart.
The warehouse was the perfect location. It sat in the middle of an old industrial complex on the edge of town, one of a dozen identical buildings. All of them were vacant now, free from prying eyes. Large cracks crisscrossed the blacktop surrounding the building, a map of jagged lines that had sprouted feathery grasses and lacy weeds, as wild as the fields and woods growing behind Penn's house in Connecticut. It was the kind of place that disappeared in plain sight. It was old, useless, a place you forgot about the moment you passed it.
On the other side of the parking lot, a few of NuPet's black SUVs were parked beside a group of trees that blocked their view from the road, and next to them sat a large white trailer. This was how they'd gotten the girls here, I was sure of it. They'd have packed them inside and unloaded them like packages at one of the warehouse's large dock doors.
Heat flared behind my eyes, and I blinked back the thought.
With the smallest wave of his hand, Markus brought the group of us to our feet.
It was time.
"Are you ready for this?" Penn whispered, giving my hand one final squeeze.
"Yes." I swallowed down the lump in my throat. "Let's get those girls."
Ian darted forward, twisting the rusted handle of the small back door. It creaked open and Markus gave a clear nod. Behind me, our head of intelligence, Jane, sighed in relief. Her intel was good — at least so far.
Jane was a regular citizen and one of the few women who'd volunteered for this mission. Even though Markus and Ian were pets, like me, I felt more of a connection to Jane. Her presence calmed me. There was a boldness in her personality that reminded me a little bit of Missy, and that endeared her to me from the moment we met.
As the person responsible for gathering intelligence, it would have been fine for her to stay at headquarters, but she wasn't the kind of person to sit back and watch other people do a job she could do herself.
It was something I related to.
Ian propped open the door with his body, and we slipped past him into the darkness. A blast of hot air, thick with dust and the musty smell of old paper, struck my face as I ducked in. It was obvious no one had been inside this space for a very long time. It was too dark to see very far into the room, but in the small amount of light the open door allowed, I could make out a stack of old, disintegrating brown boxes leaning against some cracked wooden pallets.
Markus stopped a few feet inside, and the rest of us drew to a halt behind him.
"Don't use your lights," he whispered. "The goggles are bulky, I know, but you'll get used to them soon enough."
I pulled on the goggles that dangled around my neck. We'd been able to try on a pair like them earlier, but the room we'd tested them in at the house hadn't been very dark, and I hadn't gotten a real idea of what it would be like to wear them.
Markus was right. I could see, but not in any way I ever had before. More like the world had been washed in green. In front of me, the boxes I'd noticed when we first entered solidified. They weren't brown anymore; instead, they were an eerie emerald color.
"We'll split up in the hall," Markus said. "You know your routes."
The six of us nodded. The maps Markus had shown us had this room listed as an office, but from the looks of things, it had been used most recently as a dumping ground for trash. Past the door, I could already imagine the line the hallway made running along the back of the building. It led to what the map labeled "conference rooms and offices."
We picked our way through the debris littering the ground. Penn and I were supposed to go right, curving through an old lunch area that would lead out into the main chamber of the warehouse while the others looped around the other way. They would split up once more, so that by the time we all entered the warehouse, we would be spaced far enough apart that at least one of our groups would have a good path to where the girls were being held, no matter where they were in the room.
Markus and Ian stopped short in front of us, and I thudded into the back of Penn.
The group stood perfectly still. Silent. Was someone out in the hall? Had we been spotted?
My stomach clenched, but my feet stayed planted solidly on the ground. I wasn't stupid enough to run. I'd follow the protocol they'd set up, even if it got me killed. Nine days' worth of training wasn't much, but I was good at following instructions. Sixteen years learning to be an obedient pet for the rich and powerful had made me a perfect student.
"What's going on?" Dave asked, pressing close behind me.
Dave was the equipment man, responsible for the night-vision goggles we wore, the stun guns we had strapped at our sides, the bolt cutters and saws and masks that a few of them carried secured in bags on their backs. He knew about every kind of gadget, but he didn't exactly look like the kind of person you wanted to have next to you in a fight. He wasn't strong like the other men. His long, wiry limbs always seemed to confuse him, as if they were even longer than he remembered. It was hard to see what Jane saw in him, but it had been clear to me when I saw them together that they were an item, even if no one else had mentioned it.
"There's a little hiccup," Markus said, pointing over his shoulder.
The hallway behind him, the one we had all seen so clearly on the maps, looked totally different. It continued only about twelve more feet to the left before it ran into a wall. I couldn't tell what the wall was made out of, but it looked solid.
"When did this happen?" Jane asked. She folded her arms and glared at the wall. The annoyance in her voice was plain. She'd helped Markus formulate the rescue. The two of them had spent hours in front of the warehouse maps.
"Well, we can't go through it," Markus said. "That much is clear. It's thick. Cinder block probably."
I frowned, peering closer at the wall. "That brick looks newer than everything else," I said. "Doesn't it?"
"Of course it does. It's not on the maps." Dave scoffed. "I've probably got something that can cut through it." He reached for his bag.
"Not without making way too much noise," Markus said. "There's no way we're making a hole in this thing."
"So we lose routes one and two?" Jane asked. "That makes this whole thing impossible."
Markus pursed his lips. "Not necessarily."
Jane gaped at him. "There's not another entrance besides the one at the front of the building," she said. "They've got it covered. You saw their guys."
"We're all going to have to use route three. We'll spread out once we get inside the warehouse floor." Markus sighed. "Look, it's not like the place is going to be entirely empty. There should be plenty of cover. We'll make it work."
"That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard," Jane hissed.
"So we just drop the plan?" Dave asked. "Come on, Jane." He snaked his arm past me and squeezed her arm above the elbow. I'd seen him touch her this way before, when no one else was looking. "Those girls are counting on us."
"I don't know. I think Jane's got a point," Penn said. "We shouldn't risk it."
Dave glared at Penn. "Stop being a wimp." He dropped Jane's arm and hitched his pack up on his back. "We've got this. If you can't roll with the punches, get out of here. You two are just slowing us down anyway."
Penn stiffened beside me.
"Please, Markus —" Jane started.
"No." He shook his head. "Come on, guys. It's just a little change in plans. We'll make it work. Who knows if we'll get another tip like this. We can't risk losing them."
His face locked in a look of resolution. Through my goggles, the green glow seemed to radiate from inside him, his determination shining as bright as a neon sign.
No one argued. Markus was our leader. We'd do what he asked, even if not everyone was happy about it.
Still grumbling, Jane turned, leading the group down the one remaining hallway toward the small lunchroom where Penn and I had planned to travel alone. We scuttled past old office chairs and filing cabinets, squeezing by an old desk that blocked most of the passageway.
Around the corner, the space opened up into the small cafeteria. A half dozen tables were pushed against the far wall next to an old refrigerator with its door flung open. Inside its gaping black mouth, the remnants of a few old bottles and jars smiled back like rotten teeth.
Markus paused in front of the swinging door that separated this room from the warehouse beyond. He raised his finger to his mouth and leaned closer.
Was that ... sound coming through the door?
Silence engulfed us, but then more sounds seeped into the room, even clearer this time: the unmistakable low mumble of voices, humming, murmuring from inside the warehouse.
Penn grabbed my hand and gripped it tightly. I squeezed back, hoping he knew I understood. Hoping the press of my fingers could say everything my mouth couldn't. The girls are here! Missy's here! And we're going to get her back!
Markus gestured toward the door, and Dave crept forward to stand next to Jane. We were ready. In mere seconds, we'd fan out across the warehouse. The girls wouldn't be far away. From the picture we'd seen, the chain binding them was tethered to a large metal support beam in the center of the warehouse.
NuPet had two guards stationed near the front door and another one seated near the girls, but this late at night, we were hoping fatigue would slow their reflexes. There were enough of us to get the job done, but we'd have to hit our marks quickly. We couldn't afford to have any of the guards calling for backup.
Excerpted from "Unraveled"
Copyright © 2018 Kate Jarvik Birch.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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