Authors: Sophie Davis
Copyright © 2012 by Sophie Davis
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means – electronic, mechanical, photographic (photocopying), recording, or otherwise – without prior permission in writing from the author.
Printed in the United States of America
Learn more information at: www.sophiedavisbooks.com
To my late Aunt Heidi,
creativity and dedication to the arts will truly be missed.
The Talented Saga
Talented (Talented Saga # 1)
Caged (Talented Saga # 2)
Hunted (Talented Saga # 3)
A Talented Novella
Created (Talented Saga # 4)…Summer 2013
Pawn (Nightmares Trilogy #1)
Sacrifice (Nightmares Trilogy #2)…Winter 2013
Blind Barriers Series
Blind Barriers (Volume #1)…Summer 2012
The knock at the door came again. Just like the last three times he’d tried to get my attention, I ignored his appeal. Instead, I continued to stare at the metal lock that was barring him from entering.
“Natalia, open the door,” his deep voice demanded.
Concentrating harder, I watched as the latch switched from the locked to the unlocked position. The sound of the lock engaging and disengaging was barely audible to me, but I knew that he heard the click loud and clear. Confirming my thoughts, he quickly tried turned the knob again just as I re-engaged the lock.
“Natalia,” he warned.
His exasperation made me smile. “I will break this door if I have to,” he said, his voice low and threatening. The harsh tone left little doubt that he would do just that if I didn’t quit playing games. With a heavy sigh, I finally relented, disengaging the lock and leaving it that way. He turned the knob so hard, the metal screeched in protest – I thought that it might break off in his hand – and then Danbury “Mac” McDonough burst into the room.
I sat on my king-sized bed, propped against the fluffy pillows, my arms crossed over my chest, my legs crossed at my ankles and a smirk on my face.
Mac, the Director of the Talented Organization for Extremely Interesting Citizens (aka TOXIC), stared at me disapprovingly. “Are the games really necessary?” he demanded, clearly annoyed.
“Am I not allowed any privacy?” I retorted, not bothering to hide the irritation in my own voice.
“No, you are allowed all the ‘privacy’ you like, but you are not allowed locked doors,” he said with mock patience.
“Locked doors, privacy, what’s the difference?”
“The difference, Natalia, is that if you have a seizure and the door is locked, these seconds that we lose could prove lethal.” His voice was hard, but the tenderness in his eyes touched me. The steely reserve that I’d been holding on to faltered a little, but I quickly recovered.
Pasting on a small smile, I said, “I’m fine, see?”
I spread my arms wide to prove my point. He studied me carefully through narrowed gray eyes, inspecting every detail of my appearance for signs of damage. I felt like a child under Mac’s hard gaze, but refused to avert my eyes. In addition to my seizures, Mac feared me so depressed that I might injure myself. His unsubstantiated anxiety had landed me in weekly therapy sessions with the Head of Psychoanalysis for the Agency. “You wanted to talk to me?” I prompted when I couldn’t take his scrutiny any longer.
“How are you feeling?” he finally asked.
How was I feeling? Where to begin? Expressions like ‘lab rat,’ ‘caged animal,’ and ‘prisoner’ came to mind, but Mac wouldn’t appreciate those responses.
“Fine,” I replied shortly.
“Fine?” he repeated lightly, raising one bushy eyebrow in challenge.
Just like I felt fine yesterday. Just like the day before that. And exactly how I felt the day before that.” My voice raising an octave as I punctuated each word.
Mac continued to look me up and down as if the only way that he would believe my words was if he couldn’t detect otherwise.
Returning his stare, I tried to match the cold glint of his gaze with my own. He was careful to avoid direct eye contact, afraid that I might read his thoughts. As if I needed such contact to access his mind. We both knew better, but we also both knew how much he hated the intrusion, which is why I normally refrained.
“I have been thinking, maybe you would like to help out with some of the classes at School?” he said it like it was a question, but I knew that he wasn’t really giving me an option.
Mac wasn’t in the habit of offering choices; he was more accustomed to barking orders, and few people had the nerve to disobey. I used to be one of his sheep. His approval and praise had meant the world to me, but over the last nine months, I’d distanced myself from the flock. Despite that, option or not, I was eager to do something – anything – besides sit in this room.
I replied, almost ashamed by how excited the prospect of leaving my bedroom made me. I tried not to let the excitement show, but I could barely contain myself. I had been locked up in this room, in this house on same grounds as the McDonough School, for months. The only time that Mac permitted me to leave was to make the short trek to the School’s Medical facility for my daily blood drawing and injections with Dr. Thistler. Even my therapists, Drs. Wythe and Martin, came to Mac’s house for our sessions.
Well, maybe locked up was a
exaggeration – the door was only actually locked when I locked it from the inside. And the room wasn’t exactly small; it was bigger than most accommodations for teenagers, even bigger than some families’ entire homes, and lavishly decorated.
My large bed was covered in a burgundy down comforter with silver embroidered swirls and occupied a space in the middle of my bedroom.
One wall of the bedroom was glass and covered with draperies the same burgundy and silver pattern as the comforter. A mahogany dresser stood about waist high, extending almost the entire length of the wall opposite the bed, and a wall screen for watching movies stretched above it. A third wall contained a roll top desk made of the same mahogany as the dresser.
Huge black-and-white paintings of icy lakes and snow covered mountains, painted by a well-known artist, hung on the three true walls. Next to the desk were giant French doors, made of the same mahogany with an intricately carved design.
Behind the wooden doors sat a walk-in closet that stretched nearly half the width of the room itself. Most of the clothes in the closet hadn’t been touched in years (two years to be exact).
The shelf that ran around the top of the closet held many shoe boxes filled with pictures of me as a teenager.
My curly, chestnut hair highlighted my purple eyes and framed my small face. My smooth olive complexion was marred only by a smattering of freckles across the bridge of my slightly upturned nose. Beside me in most of the pictures was a slightly older boy, a comparative giant, with shaggy blonde hair and clear blue eyes, his skin as light as mine was dark.
The pictures used to decorate the walls and the bedside tables; when I’d moved back into this room, I’d packed them all away, not wanting to see them every day.
“I thought that it would be good for you to get out and rejoin the living,” Mac said dryly, interrupting my thoughts and bringing me back to the present.
“Funny, considering you’re the reason that I’ve been denied access to the ‘living,’” I snorted.
The fact that our house was so close to hoards of students and teachers, but I was barely allowed to interact with them, seemed almost cruel.
“Yes, well, your health has been much better in the recent weeks, and Dr. Wythe seems satisfied that your mental state is stable.”
, I thought,
the man who overanalyzes everything has decided that I’m not crazy – that’s reassuring.
“I could go back to Elite Headquarters,” I replied, hopefully.
I knew that Mac approving my return to the Hunters was about as likely as me rehanging those photos, but I had to try.
“You have not been cleared by Medical,” he stated, the annoyance from earlier returning.
Lately, we’d been having this conversation a lot.
“Medical doesn’t seem to be any closer to
me than Medical was nine months ago,” I snapped angrily. Toxic had access to the absolute latest and best medical research, yet somehow, the exact cause of my seizures still baffled them.
Nine months I was a Hunter Pledge, living at Elite Headquarters, located in beautiful Brentwood Springs, West Virginia.
The Hunters are a division within a government bureau called TOXIC, simply referred to as the Agency. The Hunters devote most of their time to collection information about the Coalition, the largest threat to national security. My solo mission, the culmination of the Hunters’ Pledge program, had brought me in contact with Ian Crane himself, President of the Coalition and my parents’ murderer. Even though my official assignment hadn’t been to kill Crane, I hoped to do just that if the opportunity presented itself. When I finally did come face-to-face with him, things didn’t exactly as planned; I’d been injected with an unidentified chemical and shot while trying to flee. The drug lingered in my bloodstream, now causing me agonizing – and, at times, embarrassing – seizures.
The Coalition doesn’t believe that being Talented is a good thing.
They believe that me and people like me, those with gifts, are unnatural. Their sole mission is to bring down the Agency and put an end to the training of special children. If Crane gets his way, Talents will be ostracized, forced to return to the days when we had to hide our abilities or face ridicule.
“Natalia, we have been over this, we are doing everything we can.
I just need for you to be patient. It is best for everybody if you stay here until Medical can isolate the compound in your blood,” he said with exaggerated patience. “Besides, even if Medical clears you, there is no guarantee that the Placement Committee will make you a Hunter.”
Mac’s not-so-subtle reminder that in addition to nearly bleeding to death, I’d pretty much botched my solo hunt, stung.
The solo hunt was a necessary mission that each Hunter Pledge needed to complete to actually become a Hunter. Mine had gone less than stellar. I knew that there was a very real chance that my performance would prevent the Placement Committee from actually assigning me to the Hunters. Despite that, I was counting on my team captain, Henri, going to bat for me when the time came. Henri would, hopefully assure the Committee that I’d done very well, on all of my group missions and that I was ready to be a full-fledged Hunter.
Still, my proverbial ace in the hole was Mac.
As Director of the Agency, he was an important member of the Placement Committee – as far as most were concerned, his word was gospel. If he voted to place me with the Hunters, the others would likely fall in line. At one time, the mutual confidence that Mac and I shared would’ve left me with no doubt that he would sway the vote in my favor, but the current state of my mental and physical health made it uncertain.
“Fine,” I snapped when it became clear that he wasn’t going to give me any good news.
“Fine, you will help out with the classes at School?” he clarified.
“Fine, I will help out with the classes at School,” I answered grudgingly.
Not that helping students at the McDonough School for the Talented was high on my to-do list, but it sure beat twiddling my thumbs in my bedroom.
“Glad we settled that,” he sounded relieved.
“Oh, and Natalia? Keep your senses open,” Mac added, seemingly as an afterthought. I could tell that this was his real reason for sending me to the School, and now I was intrigued. Maybe this was more like an assignment than a way to get me to stop brooding. At least, I hoped that was the case.
“Why?” I asked suspiciously.
“I am not sure yet, but I think that we might have a leak in the Agency ...a spy.”
I asked stupidly, my mouth gaping. How could there be a spy in the Agency? Didn’t we take extreme measures to prevent things like that?
“After studying your official report from Nevada, I can only conclude that we have a spy.
Your identity was compromised. Crane knew who you were and, based on the events in his home, I believe that he was tipped off by an Operative on the inside here. I have been quietly investigating this theory, but have not made any progress. I think that it’s time that we took more aggressive measures,” he paused, waiting for my reaction. I kept my face impassive while I mulled over his words. I had entertained the notion that my identity was leaked to Crane, but I hadn’t really considered that it might be from someone within the Agency. Now that I thought about it, Mac was probably right. Crane had clearly known who I was, and it’s not like I carry identification on me. He’d also been prepared for my arrival. I guess we really did have a spy.
“Are you thinking that one of the teachers or administrators is selling the information?” I asked carefully, gauging his predictably guarded reaction to my question.
If Mac had planned to fill me in on all the details, he wouldn’t have broached the subject the way that he did. Ordinarily, he was so direct. The fact that he was beating around the bush could only mean that he was intentionally hiding important details from me. When his expression remained unchanged, I once again considered reading his thoughts. After all, the spy – the traitor – who had compromised my identity had nearly cost me my life. Mac’s refusal to divulge details infuriated me.
“Could be,” he shrugged noncommittally.
“Honestly, I’m not sure. Like I said, I’ve quietly investigating this using only a handful of trusted Operatives, those that I am positive are not involved. I think that your specific Talents could be useful since I have all but exhausted my other options.”
Great, I’m a last resort.
This time, I did read his mind.
His mental barricades were firmly in place, but since I was the one who’d taught him to build the barriers, they were easy for me to knock down.
Mac was telling the truth; he really didn’t have any idea who the spy was. His inability to make any progress in his search frustrated and scared him. He was afraid that if the traitor wasn’t found soon, we would lose more Operatives. But he was most terrified by the certainty that if the interloper got another chance, this time, he would make sure to kill me.