The year is 2165. A new blood group has evolved, and biological pairing, called mating, has replaced the old-world marriage ritual. When a stranger saves astronomer Dr. Fraya Riber from drowning, her body goes into a strange state of arousal. Bound to be paired with another, Fraya frantically searches for the answers to the phenomenon that soon becomes an unwelcome addiction. Nothing has prepared her for this painful dependence, and nothing will prepare her for the cure, or the identity of her enigmatic savior.
Can she reject desire for loyalty? Must she choose between her career and her love? Can passion truly craft a bond that will last a lifetime?
Genre: Futuristic Sci-Fi Romance
Release Date: December 4, 2014
The fuel cell car stuttered one last time before it came to a dead halt.
“Please. No.” Fraya pressed the ignition button, but all she got was another shudder from the engine.
“Crap. Crap. Crap.” She rested her forehead on the steering wheel.
She never ran out of hydrogen. Damn Gene. This was all his fault. If he hadn’t confessed his affair with Zita a week before their pre-mating party, she wouldn’t have rushed off like that. Now she sat on the curb of a secluded road in Zone 11, previously known as France, without a purse, ePad or phone. If the car wasn’t such an ancient model it would have had a built-in communication system, but the cheaper hydrogen rental was all she could afford.
The rumbling of thunder made her lift her head to look warily at the sky. Great. This was just what she needed. It was at least an hour’s walk back to Domfront. She glanced in the direction of the woods to her left. There was a shortcut through the green zone, the old Mortain forest that exited on the southern border of the village. If she ran, she could make it in thirty minutes. It was her only option. No one would know where to look for her and it would be dark soon. She sighed. This is what you got from driving around mindlessly in an emotional state.
A plump drop exploded on the windshield. “You are so dead, Gene Anderson.”
Fraya scurried from the Q9, heard the automatic lock activate and walked briskly to a sign she noticed a little way up the road.
When she felt a drop on her face, she swore. How could she have been so irresponsible? It was completely unlike her. Then again, her mate-to-be telling her he had slept with his high school sweetheart was a first. She didn’t even want to come to Zone 11. It was Gene who had insisted they take a pre-mating holiday in one of the last green zones left, what used to be Normandy, and invite their closest friends and family to join them here and then in Zone 13, in the city of New Monte Carlo, for an old-fashioned engagement party. Gene’s father had sacrificed a frightening number of points to enable them all to change zones for two weeks. It was, in her opinion, a terrible waste that made her feel guilty. Those points could have fed hungry people, or advanced research. Besides, she hated big parties. What she really hated, was the idea of facing Zita. She should hate Gene, but realized with a pang that his cheating bothered her less than her humiliation.
Another few wet blobs on her arms and her head, the interval between them shorter now, paused her thoughts as she increased her pace. Fraya stopped in front of the signboard she had seen from the car. It indicated the entry point of one of the forest footpaths. It was prohibited to be in the green zones after dark, and if caught, she could be detained and lose her license to study, but it was either risk it, or stick it out in the car on a deserted road. Without giving it further thought, Fraya jogged down the narrow trail.
It was raining hard now. Her summer sandals, white shorts and thin T-shirt weren’t exactly suitable hiking gear, especially not in this kind of weather. She had to slow her pace when her feet started slipping in her shoes. Only the sharp pebbles prevented her from continuing barefoot. A mossy patch almost had her flat on her back. She swore under her breath again.
After another ten minutes her hair was plastered to her face and a steady rivulet ran down her back. Her body shivered in protest to the storm that assaulted her skin with sharp pricks of water. Fraya blinked the drops away and kept her eyes focused on the ground in front of her. They had been for a walk on this very same path—Gene and she—only two days ago. Why did he have to have an attack of conscience and tell her? It would have been easier if he had kept his mouth shut. The obscenity of that sentiment stuck another warning spike in her wheel of thoughts.
The trees and shrubs around her dripped with water canalled from their leaves to the muddy forest floor on which she carefully contemplated her step. The musty, damp smell she remembered from her previous visit was replaced with the fragrance of wet soil and fern. The path snaked through a towering gorge before bending toward the river. The rain washed out the sound of the waterfall that lay ahead, but she knew it was near when the rapids came into sight. Fraya stopped at the edge of the water. The wooden bridge was flooded.
“Ah, just great.”
She stood, hands on her hips, inspecting the only means of crossing the stream. Technically, it wasn’t even a bridge. Two wooden beams roughly nailed together spanned over the water. It looked more like a pirate walking plank from olden days.
Well, there was only one way forward. Swiftly, she removed her sandals. Clasping them in one hand, she lifted the other to give herself a sense of balance as she stepped onto the slimy wood.
The water flow was weak, but she didn’t want to slip and risk going down the chute at the end of the rapids. She put one foot cautiously in front of the other. Only a few more paces. She bit her lip in concentration.
The male voice calling out above the noise of the storm and the rapids made her jerk her head up. She squinted against the rain, and there he was, his red T-shirt standing out like a lighthouse in a grey sea. She gasped. He clung to the wall of a cliff forming part of the gorge, his feet far apart and his hands gripping a ledge.
“To your left!”
Comprehension came a second too late as she saw the tree stump carried her way by the stream. A scream escaped her throat the same instant the trunk swept her feet from under her.
Fraya was aware of the icy coldness as she plummeted into the water, and of her shoes being ripped from her hand. A sharp pain infiltrated her skull, and then the clouds rolled in over her and her bleak day turned black.
* * * *
Emilio watched in horror as what he had feared happened. The woman’s head disappeared under the water and he only saw it for an instant again as she drifted toward the rapids, in the direction of the waterfall. Disregarding all security measures, he unclipped the safety cable from his harness and, firmly grasping the rope in his gloved hands, almost free fell to the bottom.
With no small measure of relief he noticed the woman’s small body had become entangled in the reeds, her face turned upward. Plucking the restraining harness from his body, he sprinted the few yards to the edge of the stream and managed to hook his hands under the arms of the female, pulling her to safety.
He panted as he lowered her onto the wet grass. A finger on a jugular vein in her neck ensured him she was alive. Emilio did a fast check for neck or back injuries and when he was certain it was safe to move her, he dropped her head back, pinched her nose shut and put his mouth over hers, blowing air into her lungs. She couldn’t have swallowed too much water, because he felt her react under him after two breaths.
Her eyes flew open and she stared at him as if he was a ghost. She had the darkest brown eyes he had ever seen, especially for a blonde like her, and for a moment, he almost forgot himself and the situation. When she moaned and coughed, he tore his gaze from hers and moved his hands over her body in confident strokes, checking for broken bones. Satisfied, he turned her on her side until the coughing eased, and then rolled her onto her back again.
“Are you alright?”
Her huge eyes, pools of hot, liquid chocolate, stared at him. Her body trembled. She should be freezing, and hurting, not to mention suffering from shock. Something inside of him came undone. It was a sensation so foreign he recoiled, alarmed by the intensity of a feeling he couldn’t put his finger on. Emilio had an urge to inch closer again, a protective desire to wrap his arms around her, but she surprised him with the calmness with which she said, “I’m fine.”
“No.” He pushed her down when she tried to sit up. “I think you may have a concussion.”
A frown played between those intoxicating eyes. “What the hell were you thinking?”
Her clear voice washed over him. He was almost enchanted, until her words registered.
He raised an eyebrow. “What was I thinking? I was trying to warn you. What in the devil’s name are you doing out here in the middle of a storm?”
She brushed his hands away and pouted, drawing his attention to her full lips, their sensuous arch now drawn into an expression of annoyance.
“You distracted me. It’s your fault I fell. And speak for yourself. What were you doing hanging from a cliff in the rain?”
Despite himself, Emilio smiled. This time he didn’t argue when she sat up. Why did he get the impression it would be fruitless to convince her to keep still? Blood diluted with raindrops ran down the side of her face.
His hand went to her hair, wiping the blonde strands away to inspect a cut above her ear. “You’re injured. I don’t think it’ll need stitches, but you have to go to a health center for a scan.”
She turned her head abruptly, warding off his probing touch. “No! No health centers.” She tried to get up. “I told you I’m fine.”
He got to his feet to give her a hand, and just as well, because her knees buckled a second before he caught her.
She groaned. “Ouch. Shit.”
“Are you sure you’re alright?”
“I think I twisted an ankle when I fell.”
He thought for a moment. “It’ll be dark soon. We need to get to someplace dry where we can shelter until someone can come for you.”
She put her foot down, stepped on it and flinched.
He sighed. “I can see you’re the hardheaded type.” And too courageous for her own good, he added in his mind.
“Thanks for that unneeded psychological evaluation.”
“I’m not going to argue with you in the rain and the mud in the middle of the woods. There’s an abandoned church not far from here.”
Without bothering with further explanations, he scooped her up in his arms. She was really small. He wondered about her age. Judging by the fullness of her breasts she was no teenager. Still, she looked very young.
Within five minutes they stood in front of the ancient, stone building. The door was locked, but it only took two firm kicks before they were inside.
Emilio deposited her on a stone bench and took stock of the building.
The petite woman caught his eye and gave him a cute, little frown. “This is an international museum dating back to 1200 BC and you just broke down the door.”
He shrugged. “I’ll have it fixed. It was either that, or being stuck outside.” He motioned to her breasts, the inviting peaks pressing against the wet fabric of her T-shirt. “And you’re cold.” He looked around. “I don’t see anything to build a fire with, unless I manage to break the pew.”
She crossed her arms. “And now you want to set fire to a priceless monument?”
He regarded her for a moment. For someone shivering as violently as she was, she was way too worried about a building when she should be concerned for herself.
“Listen, baby, believe it or not, I’m trying to help.” He lifted his arm, and activated the phone functionality on his wrist pad. “Who can I call for you?”
The way her head shot up made him look at her with renewed attention. “Are you in some kind of trouble?”
She shook her head.
He propped his hands on his hips. “You still haven’t told me what you were doing on that bridge, on a day like this.”
She sighed, and suddenly looked tired. “My car ran out of hydrogen and I took the shortcut through the forest to the village. You go along and make your way back. I’ll find my own.”
He laughed. “You’re totally ridiculous. There’s no way you’ll make it anywhere on that ankle. And it’ll soon be dark. I can’t leave you here on your own. If you’re not arrested, you’ll freeze to death.”
She started to seem nervous, so he said, “Listen, I’m not a maniac or a serial killer. If you won’t let me call an ambulance or someone to come and get you, at least let me help you back to town.”
He watched as she bit her lip.
“Alright,” she said after a short pause. “There’s a food bar on the other side of the woods. I’ll be thankful if you could just get me there.”
Emilio deactivated his phone and lifted her into his arms once more. She weighed almost nothing. In fact, she fitted perfectly in the cradle of his arms. He had a thing for short women, but this one woke plenty of things inside of him he couldn’t explain.
“Do you believe in destiny?” he said, surprising himself.
“No,” she said, her tone cold, “only in the shit when it hits the fan.”
Despite her icy demeanor, he felt her hiding her face in his chest as soon as they walked back into the rain. He grinned. She was a very pretty girl with a very cocky attitude. And perfect breasts. Emilio pulled his arms tighter around her to shelter her with his body from the onslaught of the weather.