Tangent

Prequel to the Liminals series by Maree Anderson

Revealing his lethal power could save her… or doom them both.

For two years, lone wolf Rix has protected Lily… and lied about his true feelings. Best to keep treating her like the younger sister he never had, because how could she possibly love a hulking great lummox like him? Then Lily vanishes, and Rix discovers someone is snatching liminal kids to use in covert experiments. Rix will risk it all to find Lily. And once he tracks her down his plan is simple: phase in, grab her, get the hell out. But Lily’s merely bait for the real target: Rix.

Vaughn Kincaid, the man behind the experiments on lims, is a driven, sadistic bastard—even his own sons are horrified by the things he’s done. He won’t hesitate to torture Lily and use her as a means to control Rix. Rix’s only ally is Kade, one of Vaughn’s long-term lab-rats. But despite Kade’s willingness to share information, he has an agenda and Rix isn’t convinced he can be trusted. To keep Lily alive, Rix may have to reveal the dangerous liminal ability he’s kept secret his whole life, and risk becoming the one thing he’s vowed never to be again: a killer.

***
AUTHOR’S NOTE

This novella was first published June 2016 in the Downunder YA Authors’ Dangerous Boys anthology.

***

 

Genre: Young Adult
Format: eBook
Length: Novella, approx 30,000 words
Price: US $0.99 (or US$ equivalent)
Publisher: Maree Anderson
Release date: Feb 2018
ISBN: 978-09941160-7-9

 

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Reviews

Liminal: Apple iBooks AUS/NZL Best Books of August

“Self-published Kiwi author Maree Anderson has already established a loyal following with her Crystal Warriors series. In this novel, she embarks on a new storyline featuring Wren, a sassy 16-year-old who finds she’s starting to disappear from her life–literally! She teams up with mysterious bad boy Kade and learns a thing or two about living between worlds. This is great young-adult fun for fans of paranormal fiction.”

~*~

 

Artwork

Cover design by Rob Anderson
(Click on the image to see the full-size cover.)

~*~

 

Read an excerpt from TANGENT

By Maree Anderson

This time Rixon came to sprawled on a single bed, in a room-cum-cell that could have been a twin to the one where Lily was being held. He groaned, stretching aching, throbbing limbs that felt like he’d put them through a week of abuse. Staring at the ceiling, determined not to give in to the despair that lay coiled in his gut, he muttered a heartfelt, “Well, shit.”

“Got your arse royally Tasered, huh? Been there. Suffered a dose of that. Makes you feel like shite for sure.”

Rix rolled off the mattress to his feet, fists raised, poised to inflict grievous bodily harm… except the room spun, and the tiny pulsing spots dancing before his eyes made him sway like a drunk on a major bender.

“Hey, easy there, mate. Give yourself a moment or three to recover, eh? Not to mention it’s only polite to check whether I’m a friendly before you come out swinging. Just so’s you know, I’m mostly harmless.”

Rix honed in on the direction of that voice until he spotted a kid leaning on the wall by the bottom of the bed. He was barefoot, dressed in gray sweatpants and a white t-shirt. He was tall but lanky—all arms and legs—making it hard to gauge his age. A year or so younger than Lily, maybe?

“Take a load off before you fall over and knock yourself out or something,” the kid advised. “Which would be a truly dumb-arse thing to do, considering I’m about to fill you in on how things work in this bloody hellhole. Such as don’t waste your time ’n energy trying the door. Ditto with phasing. Take my word for it, you’re stuck here.”

The kid nodded approvingly when Rix flopped back on the bed. Not that he’d had to think too hard about complying. For one, the kid wasn’t brandishing a motherfucking Taser so there was no harm in chilling for a bit. Beat the heck out of falling on his ass, anyway. And two, knowledge was power. If this kid wanted to share what he knew, Rix had nothing to lose… and Lily’s freedom to gain.

“Good decision,” the kid said. “Cool dreads, by the way.” His eyes were freaky—a light shade of blue that looked too bright and intense to be real—not to mention just plain weird paired with the black of his pupils. And his accent was English—like that vamp from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

With the memory of the TV show that had been his mom’s secret vice, came a pang of loss. If his parents had been alive, they could have taken Lily in, given her the stable home and love she deserved—

Rix clipped the thought before it could take root. This wasn’t the time to mourn the past and get all wishful about what might have been.

“To be honest,” the kid was saying, “when His Terribleness brought you in and dumped you here, it just about scared the bejesus outta me.”

Rix stilled, his full focus now on the kid. “Did this guy wheel me in or—”

“He phased you in. Hence me being taken completely by surprise.”

Shit. Shit! “Describe this guy to me. Was he around seventeen-eighteen, white-blond hair and green eyes? Did he have—?”

“A truly unoriginal facial piercing?”

Rix nodded, hiding his dismay. “Gold hoop through the left brow.”

“That would be Liam Kincaid, AKA Terrible Twin Number Two. His father is the guy who runs this hellhole.”

Well, hell. Looked like Blondie had managed to get through Rix’s defenses to force a sync. Which meant that if Blondie was as good as Rix suspected, he’d mapped Rix’s energy sig, too. Just his shitty luck to encounter an unusually well trained, strong-as-fuck lim.

The kid seemed to read Rix’s mind. “If you’re thinking you’re royally screwed right now, you’d be right,” he said. “Liam’s strong as feck. And when it comes to all things liminal, he’s been trained to buggery and back. Knows all the tricks, does Liam. His twin brother Reilly’s the one you have to watch out for, though. Liam’s got smarts but Reilly’s a whole ’nother level of smart. Like, a laboratory, unlimited funds, and head of his own research team smart. Reilly’s the ‘good son’ who’s being groomed to take over KP from his father when that old fucker finally does the world a favor and turns up his heels—which isn’t looking like it’ll be anytime soon. More’s the pity.”

He scowled as he forked his fingers through his shaggy mop of hair. “Reilly’s highly motivated to do anything Daddy wants. And just between you, me, and whoever’s spying on us right now, some of the stuff Daddy wants will give you nightmares.”

Rix grunted, trying to come across staunch and in control, like he wasn’t borderline panicking about what Lily had gotten them both into. But he wasn’t fooling this kid.

“Look, mate,” the kid said, “if you want to celebrate your next birthday, you need to do what you’re told, when you’re told. They own you now. Get used to it.”

“Who’s they? And what do they plan to do with us?”

They are Vaughn Kincaid, owner of Kincaid Pharmaceuticals, and his sons. The public face of KP is legit, of course. But the whole operation is just a front for Vaughn’s real agenda.”

“Which is?”

“Gonna blow your tiny mind. See, Kincaid Senior’s not a lim but his wife was. He knows all about us. Far as I can tell, he’d give his eyeteeth to be one of us. He’s jonesing to find out what makes us tick.”

“So we’re lab-rats.”

“Gold star for you.”

Rix scratched the stubble on his chin. “Why are you telling me all this? Even if you hadn’t come right out and said it, I’d have to be a fucking idiot to think we’re not under surveillance. Won’t you be in deep shit?”

“Probably.” The kid shrugged, and a weary acceptance that Rix had seen in old guys who’d lived on the streets for decades skated across those wolf-blue eyes. “Be worth it if you can talk some sense into Lily.”

Unease stroked Rix’s skin, raising goose-bumps. “What do you know about Lily?” He pinned the kid with a look that had him throwing up his hands in an “I surrender” gesture.

“Easy, mate,” the kid said. “I’m on your side, remember?”

Rix just stared at him, stony-faced.

“All right. All right. I’d tell you to keep your pants on—if you were wearing any.”

Rix fought the desire to grab the kid and throttle him to within an inch of his skinny, smart-mouthed life.

Some of what he was feeling must have shown on his face because the kid faked cringing and said, “Yikes. No sense of humor, eh?”

A low, rumbling growl escaped Rix’s lips.

“Okay, I hear you. No sense of humor where your girlfriend is concerned. Fair enough.” He heaved a sigh that was genuinely mournful so far as Rix could tell. And then he said, “Lily had no idea what she was getting herself into. And….”

“And?”

“Hate to tell you this, Rixon, but she’s not doing so good.”

Rix snatched a breath, held it until stars danced across his headspace. He exhaled slowly, painfully, insuring he could speak without losing his cool. “Define ‘not so good’.”

“She’s on a hunger strike.”

He clenched his fists, willing himself to calm, willing himself to think rationally. Much as he would dearly love to give in to his rage and fear, he couldn’t afford to indulge. “How do you know about Lily and me?”

“She told me all about you. How you looked out for her—protected her from the pimps and druggies, shared your blanket with her at night when it got chilly. She thinks you’re God’s gift—it’s so gosh-darned cute it’d bring a tear to my eye if I wasn’t such a cynic.”

The kid’s light, flippant tone didn’t match his thin-lipped, this-shit-is-serious expression, so Rix ground his teeth, clenching his jaw until it ached.

Keep him talking. The more information you get him to reveal, the more chance you have of figuring out where Lily’s being held. And just when Rix thought he’d claimed a bit of Zen, the little voice in his head whispered, That’s if she’s still alive….

Panic clutched his chest, constricted his throat. He wasn’t too late to rescue Lily from this… this… whatever the fuck this place was. He had to believe that.

“She figured you’d be all uptight over her going AWOL,” the kid was saying. “But she hoped once you figured out she’d volunteered to become a KP lab-rat, you wouldn’t be dumb enough to come after her.” A long, drawn-out pause for effect. “Apparently she was wrong. And you are that much of a bloody idiot.”

“How bad….?” Rix choked down the words that had clumped together to form a knot in his throat. “How bad is she?”

“It’s only been a few days, so they’re taking it softly, softly, you know? Hoping she’ll give in. But if it goes on much longer they’ll restrain her and force-feed her.”

“God. Why, Lily?”

Rix didn’t realize he’d blurted the words aloud until the kid said, “Because according to her, you’re smart enough to get off the streets and make something of yourself. And she thinks she’s holding you back.”

“Huh?” What the ever-loving fuck?

“She told me you turned down some awesome opportunity because you wouldn’t be around to look out for her, or some shite like that. Bottom line, Rixon? She didn’t want to keep on being a burden.”

Ah crap. Lily must’ve found out about the offer from that fancy-ass art school. Someone on the board of directors had gotten hold of one of the carvings Rix liked to do whenever he could lay his hands on a decent piece of wood, and tracked him down via the café that sold the odd piece of his work.

Rix squeezed his eyes shut, blocking out the kid’s too-knowing, laser-sharp gaze. He pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to get his head around the claim that Lily believed she was holding him back. But the kid’s words rang true—too true for Rix to fool himself it was a lie. “Shit, Lily. You stupid little—”

“Don’t be too hard on her. KP’s got recruiters targeting lims living rough—kids who won’t be missed, like Lily. They talk a good game, you know? Fed her and a bunch of other kids they brought in at the same time a bunch of shite about having a room of their own, regular meals—even a generous allowance—if they’re chosen for a super-secret clinical trial. All the kids had to do was agree to let them run a few tests and take some samples.” He shrugged. “Sounds totally plausible, right? Of course non-lims are never chosen for this—” he curled his fingers into air quotes “—super-secret clinical trial. Instead, they’re given a nice little cash handout, and told to keep their lips zipped or else before they’re shown the door. And by the time the lims figure out they’re neck-deep in the crapper without a spade, it’s too late.”

The kid’s story matched what little Rix had managed to unearth about the people who’d taken Lily. He swore beneath his breath and scruffed a hand over his dreads. “I’m guessing we’re wanted for a whole heap more than blood tests and tissue samples.”

“Yep. It’s no picnic being a KP lab-rat. There’s a reason this floor is off limits to all but a select few of KP’s researchers. Didn’t take Lily long to realize she’d made a big mistake. She’s tried to escape a couple of times. Then she hatched this dumb-arse plan to refuse food until she gets so weak, next time she’s forced to phase she’ll default Between. She thinks she can hide out there until her energy is replenished enough to phase somewhere she can’t be found.”

That’s my girl!

Hope surged through Rix, thawing the chill that had encased his heart. Now he needed to get a message to Lily so she’d know to hang tight Between and wait for him to find her.

As though he’d again tapped directly into Rix’s thoughts, the kid threw him a pitying look. “It’s a stupid plan. Liam and Reilly have mapped her energy sig—it’s standard procedure. Even if she does default Between, they’ll find her. And once they do, Vaughn might decide she’s more trouble than she’s worth and then it’s all over, Rover.”

Shit, that sounded ominous. Rix’s heartbeat thundered in his headspace. “Meaning?”

“Meaning the old fucker’ll put her on incubator duty.”

“Huh?” Rix wondered whether he’d heard right.

“Harvest her eggs. Maybe artificially inseminate her.”

Whoa. This was starting to sound waaay the fuck out-there. These people had to be dreaming if they thought they could get away with—

“I overheard them talking about her, Rixon.”

From the kid’s tone and expression and body language, Rix knew absolutely he wasn’t playing games, wasn’t trying to mess with Rix’s head. He was dead serious.

Fuck. This shit just got mega-real.

“I need to get her out,” Rix said. “There must be a way—”

“Forget it.” The kid made a curt, dismissive gesture with his hand. “The last dipshit who tried to phase out of the building got his brain fried by the security system. Permanently.”

“I phased in without any trouble.”

The kid quirked a brow. “Bull. Fecking. Shite. I’d bet my most precious parts that phasing in here almost ended you. In my opinion—for what it’s worth—the only reason you’re not lying somewhere bleeding from all your orifices, is because they wanted you in one piece.”

Rix’s brain kicked up a gear. “You saying they gave me a free pass?”

“Yup.”

What was this kid’s deal? Why was he so darned eager to share?

The kid’s freaky eyes drilled through him, and Rix got the uncomfortable impression that the kid was reading him like an open book.

“Of course I would say that if I was a plant,” the kid said. “You know, make out like this place was Fort bloody Knox. Emphasize that the consequences for even attempting to break out are life-threatening.” He shrugged again. “Take it or leave it, dude. Of course, Lily might be a little upset when she hears you’re doomed to spend the rest of your days shitting into an adult nappy.”

Man, if this kid wasn’t secretly working on their behalf, then he was doing a fan-freaking-tastic job of convincing Rix to get with the program. And bringing threats made against Lily into the equation was a masterstroke.

“So you’re not a plant,” Rix said slowly, testing the waters.

The kid’s blue eyes gleamed. “Nope.”

“And you’re not trying to manipulate me into being a good little lab-rat by ramming home how upset Lily will be if I’m punished for trying to escape, either.”

Rix was rewarded with a toothy grin. “You got me there,” the kid said.

The grin got a little crooked and foreboding slimed Rix’s skin, raising the hairs on his nape. Seemed likely he might not appreciate what he was about to hear.

“If you think I have an agenda,” the kid said, “you’d be right. Wanna hear it?”

Rix shrugged, channeling I-don’t-give-a-shit-either-way cool. “Got nothing better to do right now.”

“Another good decision. My agenda is getting you to put up and shut up, so you’ve got at least a shit show in hell of seeing out your next birthday. My agenda is to avoid daily visits to Lily while she’s in an induced coma, all the while wondering if today’s the day I’ll be greeted by an empty bed. My agenda, Rixon, is doing everything I can to stay alive and mostly sane. Because one day, I’m getting out of this shithole. And when that day comes, Vaughn Fuckwit Kincaid better watch his back.”

This little speech was delivered in such an inoffensive, conversational tone that it took a minute or so for the last sentence to wholly sink into Rix’s consciousness. And when it did—

Whoa. The back of his neck prickled and he instinctively hunched in a vain attempt to make his big, linebacker-worthy body a smaller target. Rix didn’t think it was paranoia to expect some goon to come bursting through the door to drag this kid out of here—punish him for trash-talking the boss.

The kid seemingly read Rix’s mind again in that uncanny way he had. “Chill,” he said. “Kincaid Senior doesn’t give an arse what I think of him so long as I do what I’m told like a good little lab-rat. So far as he’s concerned, if the tidbits I gab to the newbs scare the shite outta them, all the better ’coz they’re less likely to try anything. So here’s some more advice for you. Now Liam’s mapped your sig, you’d better believe you’ll be targeted the instant you try to phase. So don’t waste precious energy trying to go subliminal unless you’re given the all-clear. The effects in these rooms aren’t as bad as if you try and phase out of the building, but they’re still enough to fuck you up.”

He shot Rixon one of those too-knowing gazes. “That’s right, boyo. They’ve designed an energy-sig-targeted security system to prevent nosy lims from phasing in and spying on them. And I reckon someone tinkered with the security parameters in the expectation of you riding to Lily’s rescue. Otherwise, as I mentioned before, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

Rix croaked an “Oh?” which the kid obviously interpreted as permission to continue. “Since you asked,” he said, “if they’d been serious about keeping you on the outer, your brain would have been shredded. Meaning right now, you’d be on life support and one of Vaughn Kincaid’s cronies would be milking your dick for swimmers. They’re all about recycling here at KP.”

“Thanks for sharing. I feel so much better now.”

The kid ignored the sarcasm. “You’re welcome,” he said. “I’m Kade, by the way.”

“My friends call me Rix.” Rixon cocked a brow at his font of information. “You can keep calling me Rixon.”

His sally met with a snort and a classic ceiling-ward eye roll, followed by, “Nice one.” Pause. “Rix.”

~*~

Tangent by Maree Anderson

© Copyright 2016,  Maree Anderson

 

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