The Long Night of Betrayal

THE LONG NIGHT OF BETRAYAL might tear them apart.

Book 5 of the Fallen Star Series.

Betrayed by her best friend and handed over to people who would torture her in the name of science, Shirai-Leron is an anomaly amongst her people. Implanted with a chip and filled with nanites to save her life, she is one in a thousand recruits with natural talent—a talent that has her banished by the very people who saved her life. The chance discovery of her life pod by pirates gives her a second chance at life.
Devral escaped from the cyborg coalition to search the universe for something. When he sees the female in the life pod, he knows she is what he’s been searching for and he will do anything to bring her out of stasis. Even if he’s risking his own life to wake her.
Shirai wakes to find herself on a strange ship, amongst people she can’t understand and confronted with the male who betrayed her. Confused and emotional Shirai’s implants spiral out of her control and forge a connection with the male who insists he’s never met her before. Desire draws them together, but will it be enough when they are confronted with the people who tortured them both and want them back?

Length: 119 pages

Read Chapter One

Chapter One

I knew I had precious minutes to get away as I stuffed clothes in my bag. My chest tightened at what I’d be leaving behind. My family, my friends. Everything I’d ever known, but I wasn’t going to stay.
I couldn’t stay.
If I stayed, they’d come for me, if they weren’t already on their way. My parents couldn’t protect me from this. Not this time.
My father had pulled every string, asked for every favor owed to him to get me in the program to save my life, and he’d done it. They’d accepted me, and I’d gone through the procedure that had saved my life.
I’d become something more. More than what they planned, more than what they expected. I was an anomaly. I’d let them into my head, letting them implant me with their devices because I wasn’t ready to die. I’d wanted to live. I wanted years with my family. I wanted to see my siblings grow and find their cerant. Their one, their love, the person who would give them children and grow them a family, even if I could never find my own. Even if I could never have a family of my own, I could watch them have theirs.
Things had started to go seriously wrong, though. Really, really wrong, and I’d known the first time it had happened that I was different from all the other recruits. I’d heard things from the minute I woke, my head in bandages, my body swimming with nanites.
Those nanites were what had healed me, what continued to heal me every day. They kept me alive. Without them, my body would begin to wither and die, the degenerative disease eating away at my muscles until I would become a wasted shell of myself.
With the nanites, I was strong, and my time at the program’s academy had made me sleek and powerful. I’d excelled at the training, putting everything I had into it. I hadn’t wanted to disappoint my father. He’d done so much for me, and I wanted him to be proud of me.
I pulled the strings on my bag, closing it tight before pulling the flap over and doing up the small buckle. After tonight, I would never see my father look at me with pride again.
He’d look at me as if I was some kind of monster. I’d heard the whispers among the other recruits. A one-in-a-thousand chance that the implants would amplify a natural talent—a talent I’d never known I had until I’d woken up in the recovery room with my family around me and the doctors out in the hall.
However, I’d heard. God, had I heard.
I could hear thoughts, but they were not my own. They’d been distant, quiet, and it wasn’t until they let me out of the facility to return to my home that I’d realized whose thoughts I could hear.
It wasn’t my family, and it wasn’t the doctors or nurses who cared for me. It was others like me, people who had been implanted. They were recruits for training just like me.
Those in the program.
I left my bag on the bed and moved to the small desk that I’d studied at since I was old enough to bring schoolwork home. After picking up a note cube from the tray at the back of the desk, I pressed the small red button and held it up to my lips.
“Pater, I’m sorry. Please believe me when I say I never wanted this to happen. I love you and Mater. Please forgive me.”
To end the recording, I pressed the small red button again. I set the note cube down on my desk and turned away before I let emotion overwhelm me.
I was strong. I’d survived a debilitating and painful disease, and I’d survived recruit training, so I could survive the latest challenge my life had thrown at me.
It was time to go. All I had to do was pick up my bag and head for the wide window that looked out onto our backyard. With my bag strapped to my back, I pressed the button on the panel beside the window to lower the flexi plas panel. It shimmered a rainbow of colors before dissolving in front of my eyes, leaving a soft breeze blowing in through my window.
One last look at my room, at the place that had been my refuge for as long as I could remember, and my thoughts drifted to my family. My gaze touched on the neatly made bed, the plush rug my father had surprised me with on his return from a neighboring sector, and the beautiful statue of a trilis my brothers had brought me for my last birthday. Its wings spread in flight, its regal head held high, the colors of its feathers matched the colors of the rug on my floor.
I would miss my family desperately, and I’d miss my best friend. Riordan-Terant. We’d become fast friends the first day of training, and our friendship had only deepened the more time we spent together. There was something different about him, a difference I’d gravitated towards, sensing that in some way, he was like me.
He was the only recruit I’d come across whose thoughts I couldn’t hear. I sensed he had secrets of his own and had almost told him about my strange abilities on more than one occasion. It had become harder and harder to hide it from him, and lately, I’d begun to suspect that he knew there was something different about me, but I trusted him to keep whatever he suspected to himself. He wouldn’t give me away. We were best friends.
I swung my legs over the windowsill and climbed down the three stories using all the strength and training I’d received over the last five years. From windowsill to downpipe, to trellis that grew my mater’s prized Eblom flowers, to the ground.
The back yard was dark. The dense trees and bushes that gave us privacy from our neighbors rustled gently in the breeze. The light from the lower levels of the house didn’t shine through the one-way flexi plas windows. As long as I stayed away from the windows, I would be able to make it safely without my parents being any the wiser.
Until they came knocking.
Then my parents would know exactly what I was. I wouldn’t be able to hide it anymore and I’d have to see the horror and disappointment on their faces. God, it would kill me.
All I had to do was make it to the shuttle-launching platform and slip onto the shuttle that I knew was there. I could hide on it until it took off in the morning, then purchase my way to wherever the ship that was at the docking ring was heading .
I made use of the shadows that fell across my parents’ backyard, and with careful steps, I slipped between the trees and shrubs that bordered our property and into the neighbor’s yard. If I tried to get to the shuttle platform by foot, it would take me an hour at least.
An hour I didn’t want to be exposed. An hour where they could catch me if they were already coming for me.
There had been others like me. A few, not many, but every single one had disappeared without a trace.
I’d searched the archives, opened all the secret files, using my new abilities to see the things they wanted to keep hidden, and I knew that those of us who displayed any unusual talents somehow ceased to exist. There were no records of what had happened to them, no death files or autopsies or records of reversal operations.
There was nothing.
I didn’t want to become a nothing. I didn’t want my life to cease to exist. So I was running. As far and as fast as I could, but first, I had to get to the shuttle.
I ran, crouching as low as I could get, across the back yard of our neighbor towards the street and the houses on the other side.
I’d barely made it halfway down the side of the house when a black shape detached itself from the shadows of the house and stepped out in front of me.
Unable to see who it was in the dark, I dropped to a defensive crouch and stared back at the shape, waiting to see what they would do.
“I knew you’d come this way, Rai.”
The deep, husky voice of my best friend washed over me. Almost immediately, I felt a deep sense of relief but quickly followed by fear.
Oh, damn!
“What are you doing here, Rio?” I asked from my crouched position, my voice low so as not to alert my neighbors that we were there.
“I’m here to help you.”
Grief struck me hard and fast. “You can’t help me…nobody can help me.”
I wouldn’t put his life in danger by asking him to help me. I couldn’t, any more than I could ask my parents to help me after everything they’d done for me.
He took a step towards me. “I can help you. Tell me what you planned, Rai, and I’ll do everything I can to help.”
He stepped towards me as I shook my head. “It’s better if you don’t know what I planned. It’s not safe to be with me anymore, Rio.”
Rio took more creeping steps that made me frown at him and shift uneasily on my feet. Dressed all in black, he was one with the shadows of the yard. A shadow himself, Rio had received training that made him a dangerous adversary. We sparred and fought on a regular basis to keep our skills sharpened, and I’d never won. Not once.
Something about the whole situation left me feeling cold inside and sent me stepping back away from him. How did he know I’d be there? How did he know tonight would be the night I chose to leave?
I repeated my earlier question. “What are you doing here, Rio?”
A quick flash of white teeth as a grin split his face and the humor I heard in his voice told me Rio wasn’t taking me seriously.
“I know how you think, Rai. We’ve been friends a long time, and you can’t hide things from me.”
God, no! Rather than calming me, his words sent fear racing through me, my heart pounding at the predicament I now found myself in. He knew, and now I knew that he did. I couldn’t hide it anymore, not from Rio. Not from myself. If I was going to get away, I had to accept the very thing that made me different from every other recruit in the program and use the skills that came naturally to me.
Rio took another step towards me as I tentatively reached out with my mind, searching for him in the dark, searching for the connection that would allow me to manipulate his implants.
I’d never purposefully attacked another recruit before, and I didn’t really know what I was doing—I was just following my instincts. The instinct to survive that I’d honed over the last five years. The one that had warned me telling anyone about the things I suspected I could do would be writing my own death sentence.
The cool, calm rational of Rio’s mind and the cold metallic touch of the implants in his brain were easy to find. I tried to access his implants as if I’d practiced accessing computers, but I came up against a wall. A cold, solid impenetrable barrier that stopped me. Confused, I tried again, but that cold barrier kept me out. No, no, this wasn’t happening.
“Hmmm, Rai. If I’d known how good you’d feel in my mind, I would never have agreed to what they wanted, but I did, and it’s too late now. I could have protected you if you’d only told me. We could have been together, sweetheart, and nothing would have been able to stop us.”
A deep sigh escaped from him and the emotion of it shocked me almost as much as what he’d said.
“But it’s too late now,” he repeated. “They know what you are, and I have a job to do.”
I processed his words, shocking as they were, quickly making a split-second decision. I could spend more time when I was safe thinking about what he’d meant by being together and how that made me feel. Right now, I wasn’t safe, and even though the betrayal of his words almost crushed me, I couldn’t just stand around talking to him. God, it hurt to think Rio would just hand me over.
So I ran. I turned on my heel and raced back the way I’d come, cutting across my backyard and heading for the neighbors on our left. I slipped through the trees and bushes and crossed the open yard, pumping my legs as fast as I could go.
I had to put distance between us as fast as I could. Rio was taller than I was, with legs a lot longer than mine, and would catch me if I even hesitated for a second.
I vaulted over the low wall that separated my neighbor from the next yard, then headed for the back and scaled the taller fence and ran through the corner of that yard, dodging children’s play equipment and outdoor furniture.
The yards were dark, but not so dark that I couldn’t see. The light of one of our moons shone down, a pale blue glow against the deep, deep purple of the night sky. No light shone out of the flexi plas windows and doors at the backs of the houses, the one-way surfaces keeping the light inside.
My hearing strained, searching for the sound of pursuit, the pounding of feet behind me, but all I could hear was the huff of my own breath and the pounding of my heart. My bag was slowing me down, the heavy weight bouncing against my back, and I made the decision to leave it. I could buy whatever I needed when I got away.
I wouldn’t need much, and the funds I had would be plenty to set me up in a new life. A quick drop of my shoulders let the bag slide from me to drop heavily to the ground and I put on a burst of speed before vaulting over another low fence.
A heavy weight crashed into me, sending me flying to the side to land with a pain-filled grunt on the ground. Pain seized me momentarily before my desire to live, to be free of whatever future they had planned for me kicked in and I started to fight. I couldn’t be taken in. I just couldn’t.
I twisted and turned, lashed out with fists and elbows, but found myself pinned with my arms pulled above my head with strong hands holding my wrists and a heavy body pressing down on me. My body bucked and strained as I fought frantically to get away.
“Rai, stop.” Rio’s husky voice came right beside my ear, his breath brushing against my skin in a warm caress.
I didn’t stop. I heaved and grunted with my effort to get him off me, to get away. I fought like a trapped animal, wild and untamed, caught in a hunter’s trap, knowing that to remain caught would mean death.
“I don’t want to hurt you, sweetheart.”
The calming tone of his voice should have eased some of my fears, but I was too far gone for his words to penetrate. Panic tightened my chest in a viselike grip. I continued to struggle against him, pulling muttered curses from him as he tried to restrain me.
A sharp, piercing pain shot through my middle, coming from the exposed skin where my top had ridden up in my struggles and dragging a cry from me.
Almost instantly, lethargy started to slow my movements, my struggles becoming sluggish. Every twist and turn of my body seemed to happen with painstaking slowness until I stilled, my heart racing in my chest from the panic gripping me and my struggles. No, no, no. How could he do this to me?
A low sob escaped me as my body stopped moving. All I could do was stare at the dark shape of Rio above me, the pain of betrayal a living, breathing entity inside me. I couldn’t move, and I couldn’t talk. All I could do was wait.
“Shh, Rai. Nobody’s going to hurt you. I won’t let them.”
Gentle fingers traced down my cheek and swept away the tears that trailed down the sides of my face into my hair. I could feel the cool night air against the wet trails.
I wanted to demand to know what he was doing. Why he’d betrayed me. The pain was like a slice through my heart, almost unbearable in its intensity.
He gathered me close with his strong arms, holding my still body against his warm chest.
“I’m going to come for you, Rai. I don’t know how long it will take me, but I won’t leave you out there alone.”
I didn’t know what he was talking about. What did he mean by out there?
I could barely see in the dark backyard that, like my own, had shrubs and trees all around. I could barely make out his dark face above me, so I didn’t notice his head lowering towards mine.
Nothing in our past could have prepared me for the gentle press of lips against mine, the soft suckle of my bottom lip between his, or the gentle tease of the tongue that slid between my parted lips and gave me a taste of my best friend.
Nothing could have prepared me for the fear or pain that followed in the hours after he carried my still body from the dark yard and handed me over to those who wanted me to disappear.
Rio’s betrayal and lies caused a burning fury in me that was the only thing that kept me sane as the same people who had saved my life tried their damnedest to discover why I was different from all the other recruits.
Until one set of tests sent me screaming into a void of darkness and I didn’t wake up.

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