“If you like the TV show Bones (I do) or Maximum Ride, you’ll love Virals.”—James Patterson
Another thrilling Virals adventure from New York Times bestsellers Kathy and Brendan Reichs.
When twin classmates are abducted from Bolton Prep, Tory and the Virals decide there’s no one better equipped than them to investigate. But the gang has other problems to face. Their powers are growing wilder, and becoming harder to control. Chance Claybourne is investigating the disastrous medical experiment that twisted their DNA. The bonds that unite them are weakening, threatening the future of the pack itself.
The Virals must decipher the clues and track down a ruthless criminal before he strikes again, all while protecting their secret from prying eyes. And everyone seems to be watching.
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Kathy Reichs (www.kathyreichs.com), like her iconic character Dr. Temperance Brennan, is a board-certified forensic anthropologist, and creator of the Fox television hit Bones, now in its ninth season. Reichs has written fourteen books in the Temperance Brennan series, all New York Times bestsellers, including #1. Exposure is her fourth novel for young readers.
Brendan Reichs (www.brendanreichs.com) was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. He graduated from Wake Forest University in 2000 and The George Washington University School of Law in 2006. After three long years working as a litigation attorney, he abandoned the trade to co-write the Virals series. He lives in Charlotte with his wife, Emily, daughter, Alice, and son, Henry. He plans to keep writing novels until they drag him from his desk.
“Someone spent a lot of time and energy cleaning that area.
My guess is, they were concealing evidence.”
“Of a violent crime,” Shelton finished. “Oh Lord.”
Hi gulped. “The Gable twins didn’t run off, did they?”
I shook my head. “I think somebody snatched them.
Or . . . worse.”
I didn’t want to finish that thought.
“What should we do?” Ben asked.
I considered our options. “We already took pictures. Now we treat this entire room like a crime scene. I’ll dust the door for prints, while—”
A loud bang broke the stillness.
My head whipped to the windows facing the backyard.
I saw a dark form kneeling in the grass outside.
Also by Kathy Reichs and Brendan Reichs
Beads of water tumbled from the darkness above.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
The girl shifted, angling her pale face away from the cascade. Sodden blond hair hung lank to her shoulders, filthy with grime and debris.
The boy rose from where he crouched. Ushered the girl across the narrow stone chamber. Silently took her place. Dirty rivulets began rolling down his cheeks, gathering at the chin before dropping to the earthen floor. He took no notice. There were no dry places.
Outside the dim, moldy cell, beyond a line of rusty steel bars, a red light glowed. Steady. Unblinking. Their sole companion.
Shivers racked the girl’s body. She began to whimper.
The boy reached without looking and squeezed her shoulder. The crying ceased, replaced by a smattering of snotty hiccups.
The red light watched. Fixed. Indifferent.
Time passed, unmarked by any further movement.
The whimpers soon returned. This time, the boy didn’t bother to reach.
Suddenly, a loud bang broke the stillness.
Two pairs of eyes darted, nervously probing the impenetrable gloom.
The noise repeated, followed by a shriek of metal.
Instinctually, the boy and girl drew closer together.
The rasping clatter grew, echoing off the ancient stone walls.
A shadow, blacker than the surrounding dark, materialized overhead. Descended.
The boy and girl watched, breathless, their fingers interlocked.
The shadow took form—a bucket. Wooden, bound with frayed rope, and splintered along its sides. It lowered steadily on a thick metal chain.
The bucket lurched to a stop. Dangled five feet from the floor.
The boy stood. Cautiously peered over the rim.
Inside was a hunk of stale bread, already wilting in the damp, fetid air.
The prisoners attacked the loaf ravenously. Devoured the paltry meal in seconds.
“I’m still hungry,” the girl whispered.
The boy shook his head.
With a squeal, the pail began to ascend. Angrily, the boy lashed out with both fists, sending the bucket arcing and spinning as it rose.
“What do you want with us!?” the boy bellowed. “Let us out of here!”
A chuckle echoed from somewhere high above.
The girl began to weep.
The bucket swung its way skyward. Disappeared into the gloom.
The red light gleamed.
In moments, all was dark and silent once more.
What I’d like from you is the truth, Miss Brennan.”
The defense attorney’s gravelly voice boomed inside the courtroom.
A jolt of adrenaline tore through me.
My mind had wandered. Impossible, I know, given the circumstances. But a second hour of questioning was taking its toll.
And this pompous toolbag showed no signs of winding down.
I cleared my throat. Shifted on the witness stand.
“Could you repeat the question, sir?” Stalling for time.
Parrish sighed dramatically. “Again?”
Parrish sneered, doubling his already abundant collection of chins. No doubt he thought me rattled.
Honestly, I was just tired. Tired, and incredibly on edge.
I had to watch every single word.
“Do you need a break, Miss Brennan?” Crossing his arms, Parrish nodded toward the district attorney’s table. “Perhaps a chance to get your story straight with counsel?”
“Objection!” Nell Harris shot to her feet, suit jacket flapping, her ice-blue eyes radiating anger. “Mr. Parrish is impugning the witness before the jury! His false, incendiary comment must be stricken from—”
Judge Felix DeMerit raised a placating hand. “Sustained, Ms. Harris.”
Afternoon sunlight slanted through the tall windows behind his lofty bench, reflecting from his liver-spotted scalp.
“Watch yourself, Counsel.” DeMerit glared at Parrish over the rims of his old-fangled reading glasses. “Miss Brennan is a minor, and not the party on trial here. Make your case, but she shall be accorded proper treatment. Am I understood?”
“Of course, Your Honor.” Stroking his scraggly beard, Parrish aimed for contrite. Aimed, and failed. “My sincerest apologies to both Miss Brennan and the Court.”
Whispers swirled inside the cavernous room, Charleston’s largest chamber of justice. Though camera crews had been barred from the chamber—due to the presence of minors as witnesses—dozens of other media members packed the gallery. The remaining seats were filled by government officials, police functionaries, members of the Bar, and the city’s elite. Armed bailiffs lined the aisles and walls, and double-manned every door.
Charleston hadn’t seen a trial like this in years, nor dealt with a crime remotely as sensational. Everyone with enough pull to wrangle access had squeezed onto one of the long wooden benches.
To watch me.
The fourteen-year-old schoolgirl who’d outsmarted a psychopath.
It was Monday, the first day of the year’s fourth month.
A local blogger had already dubbed me “April Fool.”
“The jury shall disregard the last comment made by Mr. Parrish.” Judge DeMerit swiveled to face me. “Do you need a short break, Miss Brennan? This isn’t an endurance contest, it’s a court of law.”
I wasn’t. Not even close. But I wanted this nightmare over ASAP.
Despite the courtroom’s subarctic temperature, my sweat glands were starting to churn full tilt. I was thankful my Bolton Prep blazer was a deep navy blue.
Pit stains do not increase credibility.
I fiddled with my ponytail before remembering Harris’s advice: Don’t fidget. Sit up straight. Address your answers directly to the jury. Try not to lose your cool.
So far, I was struggling on all counts.
I hoped my face wasn’t paler than my usual Irish white. And that freckles didn’t really multiply when you lied, as my mother had warned when I was little.
If true, I’d soon be covered head to foot.
A quick glance at the jury. All twelve were eyeballing me.
Was that pity in their eyes? Skepticism? Boredom?
I couldn’t tell. Wasn’t sure I wanted to know.
Just get through this. Ben did. So can I.
My gaze flicked to the gallery, though I knew Ben wasn’t there. Couldn’t be. By rule, one witness can’t be present for the testimony of another. To avoid collusion, I think, though it’s a stupid rule—if people want to lie, they’re going to lie. Period.
Because Ben and I were definitely lying. Some.
There was no way around it.
We couldn’t tell the whole truth. Not without exposing what we were. Revealing the hidden powers we possessed. Announcing our warped DNA to the public.
Putting our lives at risk.
Not gonna happen.
Inadvertently, my eyes drifted to the one spot I’d avoided since taking the stand.
Another set was staring back.
No welcome there.
Only anger. Oh yes, plenty of that.
The Gamemaster beamed pure hatred from his seat at defense counsel’s table. He wore a cheap gray suit and a pair of “innocent man” glasses. But the fake plastic lenses failed to mask his palpable rage. I nearly gasped at its intensity.
Had he been glaring at me the whole time? Couldn’t everyone see he was crazy?
I tore my eyes away, searched for a more comfortable landing spot.
My father manned the first seat of the front row, his mop of curly brown hair disheveled by constant worrying with his fingers. Kit looked equal parts incensed, fretful, and supportive. Catching my eye, he gave me a firm nod and flashed a thumbs-up.
I exhaled slowly. At least one person was in my corner.
I knew this day was killing him—Kit had made it abundantly clear that he didn’t like my being called as a witness. He didn’t want me in the same room as that monster.
But Harris had been adamant—Ben and I were the keys to a conviction. Uncomfortable as testifying might be, I had no intention of letting the Gamemaster go free.
Side note. I wasn’t speaking to Ben. Hadn’t since the hurricane.
Not now. Focus.
I spotted Hi and Shelton, sitting beside Kit. Relaxed a fraction more.
Those two had been spared this ordeal—Harris thought two eyewitnesses were sufficient, and Ben and I were the obvious choices. Shelton had nearly passed out in relief, but I suspect Hi was disappointed. That boy loves a show.
They sat side by side, wearing matching Bolton uniforms—white button-up shirts, maroon ties, tan pants, and navy sport jackets adorned with griffin crests. Hi was wearing his blazer properly, rather than his usual inside out.
Even Hiram Stolowitski was taking this seriously.
Noticing my glance, Shelton nodded encouragement, his thick, black-framed glasses bouncing on his nose.
Hi winked. Raised and shook both fists. Then beat his flabby chest like a gorilla.
Okay, maybe not too seriously.
“I’ll try again.” Parrish adopted an expression of long-suffering patience, tossing a quick glance at the jury to measure the effect of his performance.
“You claim that five of you—” Parrish turned to squint at Hi and Shelton, before returning his gaze to me, “—were lured to and trapped inside a basement by my client. Correct?”
“This group included Mr. Benjamin Blue?”
Parrish pivoted to face the jury. “That would be the same Ben Blue who has already admitted complicity in these crimes.”
I sat up straighter. “Ben only helped before The Game turned dangerous. He didn’t know what the Gamemaster really had planned. Once Ben did, he tried to stop—”
“So he claims,” Parrish interrupted. “How very convenient for him. And for his deal with the prosecution.”
“Objection!” Harris popped up once more, looking daggers at Parrish. “Withdrawn.” Parrish crossed to his table and picked up a thick file marked Exhibit B. “Miss Brennan, in a statement to police you asserted that a massive steel grate trapped your group inside a ventilation room.”
Not a question. I didn’t respond.
Parrish smirked at my small defiance. “Yet when police arrived three days later, they found the way clear, and the metal grate lying broken and to the side. The report described its condition—thick steel bars, twisted, with some pieces snapped clear in half.”
My perspiration waterfall resumed its flow.
Parrish adopted a quizzical expression. “Can you explain that?”
“Explain what?” Lame response, even to my partial ears.
“You claim that this grate was a sinister trap, designed and constructed by my client.” Parrish moved in closer, like a buzzard circling a carcass. “So how did it end up mangled on the basement floor?”
“We managed to escape.” I couldn’t look at the jury.
“You managed to escape?” Parrish’s brows rose theatrically. “This inescapable prison? How, pray tell?”
I swallowed. “We dislodged the grate from the wall.”
“You dislodged it?” His eyes widened with exaggerated wonder. “A five-hundred-pound metal barrier, composed of interlinking steel bars?”
“That’s right.” Curtly spoken. His habit of repeating my answers was beyond irritating. “There were four of us pounding on the thing. It was stressful. We must’ve had enough adrenaline pumping to pull it off.”
Parrish snorted. “That’s pretty darn impressive, to snap steel bars like matchsticks.”
I felt blood rush to my face. Hoped the jurors didn’t notice.
My explanation sounded sketchy, even to me. But I couldn’t reveal how we’d really done it. Couldn’t tell the jury we have freaking superpowers.
You see, fellow citizens, my friends and I were recently exposed to a canine supervirus, and have developed tremendous physical and super-sensory capabilities as a result. We ripped that grate from the wall by unlocking wolf-like powers hidden in our DNA.
I wasn’t sure which would happen first—the Gamemaster’s acquittal, or my committal.
The jury stirred. I saw doubt creep onto several faces.
Parrish moved in for the kill. “Isn’t it more likely that you found that big ol’ grate already lying on the ground? Where it’d been resting, broken, for years? That your friend Ben Blue took you straight to it, as part of his dangerous prank?”
“Of course not!”
Parrish’s voice sharpened, his drawl disappearing. “You were never trapped in that room, were you, Miss Brennan?”
Enough defense. Play offense.
“Maybe the bolts were poorly seated,” I said firmly.
Parrish paused, assessing my words. The Gamemaster shifted in his seat.
I pushed ahead. “Police investigators found three-inch steel bolts scattered on the electrical room floor. Look in that report you’re holding—they matched a series of drill holes surrounding the ventilation room’s doorframe. Keep reading, and you’ll see where CPD confirmed that those holes were newly excavated, and that the runners flanking the doorway had recently been greased.”
Parrish held up an index finger. “That’s neither here nor—”
I cut him off. “CPD also confirmed that the quarter-inch screws securing the steel bars were purchased locally, only a month before the incident. Same with the grate’s track-locking mechanism. And please reread the statement of Max Fuller, a freelance welder in Myrtle Beach. He recalls building the wheel assembly just six months ago. The DA sent you that one, correct?”
Parrish’s face purpled. “Listen here, missy. I’ll ask the questions.”
“I thought you wanted a response?” I shot back. “Evidence proves the grate was recently constructed and attached to the basement wall. It slid down from the ceiling and locked us in. As its maker intended.”
Parrish struggled for words. He waved a hand weakly, attempting to regain control of the exchange. I declined to let him.
“Why did the grate fail?” I shrugged, then turned my most earnest face on the jury. “I honestly can’t say for sure, but my friends and I are only alive because it did. It was a gift from God. And for that reason, I don’t question my good fortune.”
Smiles. Nods. I noticed the Gamemaster seething in his chair.
“Who knows?” I met his glare directly. “Maybe the whole apparatus was poorly constructed.”
“Liar!” The Gamemaster slammed both fists on the defense table. “I built it perfectly!”
The courtroom froze in stunned silence.
“The Game was flawless!” Spittle flew from the Gamemaster’s mouth as he suddenly sprang up and vaulted over the table. “You cheated! You had help somehow!”
Screams. Breaking glass. The sound of cha...
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