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[Young Adult Fiction (Ages 12-17)]
[Read by Melanie Brockmann]
Destiny has chosen Skylar, and now it might destroy her.
Skylar is a girl with extraordinary power -- a girl with a mission to use her Greater-Than gifts to stop the makers of Destiny from getting people hooked on their deadly drug. But Sky is still mastering her new abilities, and her first mission to destroy a Destiny lab leaves her best friend addicted to the drug. For a few days Cal will be able to walk again -- until it kills him. Time is running out for Sky to save the world without sacrificing her friends -- to become truly Greater-Than.
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Suzanne Brockmann and her daughter Melanie Brockmann have written a pulse-pounding novel set in a near future both fantastic and frightening.
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Suzanne Brockmann and her daughter, Melanie Brockmann, have been creative partners, on and off, for many years. Suzanne is a New York Times bestselling author of more than fifty books and is widely recognized as one of the leading authors of romantic suspense novels. Her work has earned her numerous awards, including the Romance Writers of America's #1 Favorite Book of the Year, two RITA Awards, and several awards from RT Book Reviews. When she's not writing, her daughter, Melanie, plays clarinet and saxophone, sings in a wedding band, runs seven-minute miles, and is one of Sarasota, Florida's, most sought-after personal trainers.
Milo was gone.
Correction: Milo had been taken, just like Sasha had been taken. Just like Lacey had been taken.
And even though it didn't make a bit of sense that a healthy, muscular nineteen-year-old boy could have been kidnapped as easily as two tiny, defenseless little girls, I believed what Dana had just told me when she'd called and woken me out of a deep sleep.
Milo is missing.
I'd gone from pajama clad and snoring in my bed to fully dressed and moving fast as I used my Greater-Than homing powers to race to find him. First, I'd hopped onto the back of Dana's motorcycle, because she'd called me, ready to roll, from the midnight-dark suburban street outside the house I shared with my mom.
But now we were on foot. We were running on a trail through one of Coconut Key's many abandoned town parks as I felt the familiar tug of Milo's presence calling to me, getting stronger by the second.
He was here. I was getting close, I knew it, so I ran even faster.
I can run pretty fast.
But right now it didn't seem nearly fast enough, as thick branches from the overgrowth of the tropical, beachside brush crashed against my sides like horse whips, reminding me of the way that Sasha and Lacey and dozens of other kidnapped little girls had been herded together and tortured like farm animals.
"Slower," Dana huffed from behind me. "Bubble Gum! You need...to go...slower."
My heart pounded manically in my chest, which had nothing to do with how fast I was running. I needed to find Milo. I needed to find him. I glanced back to see Dana lagging behind, pumping her arms furiously by her sides.
She'd ditched her knee-high leather stiletto boots and resorted to bare feet. Still, she was clearly winded and struggling. But I was already going far more slowly than I wanted so she could keep up.
My hair slapped me in the face, and I had to spit out several long, red strands to tell her, "Faster! We both need to go faster!"
Dana tried, her red-leather bomber jacket making squeaky sounds as she moved. "Remember," she called breathlessly as I pulled farther ahead. "Remember...that...there wasn't...blood..."
Oh! And that was supposed to make me feel better?
Apparently, there'd been no blood when Dana returned to Milo's campsite, but she'd told me that there had been signs of a serious struggle. And Dana had such a bad feeling about it, she'd woken me up in the middle of the night to help find him.
That was saying something. Because Dana was way better at this Greater-Than-slash-superhero thing than I was. Also? It took a lot for her to ask for any kind of help.
So no. I didn't slow down.
The thick, wild brush opened up to the toddlers' playground, long deserted and vandalized. Bent and twisted swings creaked drunkenly in the warm wind, and what had once been whimsical rocking animals listed forlornly on their springs. I leaped over the still-noxious residue from a pair of split-open port-a-potties, shooting a quick "Don't step in that" back to Dana.
Back in the fall, just a few months ago, before we'd rescued Sasha, Dana and I had been in this very park. Tonight that seemed like forever ago.
So much had changed since then.
"Skylar...please!" Dana huffed. Even her use of my real name instead of one of her vaguely insulting terms of endearment didn't slow my pace.
But then my foot caught on something, and I looked down to see a decapitated head grinning up at me from the gravel of the path. I screamed but tried to swallow the sound, because I immediately saw that it wasn't Milo. It wasn't even human. It was the head of a stone statue of a little girl, complete with pigtails and a button nose. She'd once adorned the park, along with a little stone boy and their little stone dog. I might've been able to keep my balance if I hadn't then tripped over her dismembered stone legs. I was going too fast, and now I was going down, and that gravel was gonna hurt.
But Dana caught me with her powerful telekinesis, and for a few short moments, I knew what it felt like to fly. It was nice to have friends with Greater-Than superpowers. But then she put me down and pinned me in place as she finally caught up.
"You need to breathe. Take a moment and think." Dana's voice was low and intense, and in that moment, I realized how quiet the rest of the world was too. The loudest sound was my own labored breathing. I could hear the creaking of the swings and the wind in the leaves of the trees that formed a canopy overhead.
But Milo had been taken. It was all that mattered to me right now.
I felt like I was going to throw up.
"Use your brain, Sky. Signs of a struggle. But no blood. What does that mean?"
I looked around me. Still thoughts. Still thoughts. "It means he's probably still alive."
"Good," Dana said in a gruff whisper. "What else does it mean?"
I didn't know. I just wanted to find him. Now. I could feel him. He was somewhere nearby. I shook my head as I struggled to sit up, but Dana held me securely in place.
"If someone's taken Milo," she asked again, less patiently this time. "What. Does it mean?"
But the moment she said Milo's name, a barrage of images exploded inside me like a rapid slide show of the most heart-wrenchingly magnificent photos I'd never taken. His dimples. His skin. The way his eyes softened when he smiled at me. The crazy feeling of his thoughts in my mind whenever we touched. The sweetness of his lips, the heat of his body against mine...
It was then that I smelled it.
Vanilla, coming from somewhere nearby.
And Dana could no longer hold me back. In fact, as I launched myself to my feet, I knocked her onto her ass.
"Sorry," I hissed as I took off running again.
I could hear her cursing and scrambling to follow as I spotted a dark, squat building in the distance. It was a typical Florida hurricane-proof, concrete-block, fugly one-story structure, its outline illuminated by a full moon peeking through the thick branches of the banyan trees.
But as I got closer, something told me to slow down. It wasn't necessarily a danger-just a presence. I could smell it, along with Milo's familiar vanilla. And yeah. I know it sounds crazy. But I can smell things like evil and fear and anger and even love. It's one of my biggest Greater-Than skillz-being able to smell intense emotions. Frankly, I'd rather be able to burp deadly lightning bolts, but you are what you are, and that applies to Greater-Thans like me and Dana, too.
This time, though, I couldn't quite pinpoint the other non-vanilla smell. It wasn't unpleasant. It was just-there. And the familiarity of it, lingering around me, was irritating.
I was about to tell Dana that someone else was with Milo-but then that vanilla scent-the unmistakable, lovely, perfect scent that I knew belonged to my almost-too-perfect boyfriend-enveloped me like a fleece blanket around my psyche, and I was certain about the most important thing in my world at that moment.
"Milo's in there," I said, pointing at the building. "We have to get to him. Now."
Dana nodded and pressed a deliberate finger against her lips, instructing immediate quiet. She then began moving closer to the structure with the stealth of a cat.
I followed alongside her, longing to simply race inside the building to where Milo most certainly was being held. I could feel him now, his presence pulling me like a rope pulls a boat to shore.
It was all I could do not to call out his name in the darkness.
But Dana kept her movements deliberate and slow, and I knew, despite everything vibrating inside of me, that this was the safest way.
Dana tapped me twice on the arm as we continued toward the building. I looked over at her, at the intensity in her eyes.
"What do you see, what do you think, what are you feeling? What should you be paying attention to?" Dana's whisper was so quiet, I wondered if maybe I was simply reading her lips instead of actually hearing her voice.
What did I see? Concentrating, I gazed ahead. The building was dumpy and gray looking, a soiled and windowless stucco mass. On the left-hand side I could see the sad remains of a fabric awning, its colors a faded candy-cane-striped pattern. Underneath it, a ledge jutted from the outside of the wall, and an ancient sign with the words "Hot Dogs 6.99" was festered and yellowed against closed aluminum.
The side we were approaching had two open doorways, although I couldn't see inside to where they led. To bathrooms, maybe. And yes, there on the wall were the vandalized remains of the familiar signs, with the woman's icon a now-headless triangle with legs.
I squinted as we edged closer to the abandoned snack kiosk, as if somehow that would make it possible for me to see inside the building without actually being inside.
But while I could literally smell trouble, X-ray vision wasn't on my superpower résumé. And the visions-comma-psychic I was sometimes able to have were still about as reliable as the phone and Internet service these days-which meant they were seriously hit-or-miss. And, to make everything ten trillion times worse, I have even more trouble capturing important visions when I'm stressed out or scared.
Like right now. When, for all I knew, my perfect, wonderful, amazing boyfriend was in mortal danger.
Stress level on a scale of one to ten? Yeah. It was hovering between thirty-seven and thirty-eight, with occasional spikes of five million.
Dana, on the other hand? She had some G-T powers that could help us out. "How many people inside?" I hissed, my super-quiet whisper not quite as super-quiet as hers.
As a seasoned Greater-Than, Dana had excellent control over her unique powers-one of which was an ability to sense all of the living beings around her, both visible and hidden. Most of the time, if she focused hard enough, Dana could tell me the number and proximity of the rats in the nearby palm trees. Or of the number of bad guys in a makeshift Destiny farm. It wasn't X-ray vision, but it was pretty close.
This particular talent of Dana's had helped us out a lot, back when we rescued little Sasha from an Alabama Destiny farm. It wasn't foolproof, of course. There were times when Dana couldn't access her power. Like me with my fledgling psychic visions, her ability ebbed and flowed, with no clear rhyme or reason. But right now I wanted at least an idea about what we were fighting here... Were two bad guys holding Milo prisoner in that kiosk? Or twenty? I looked to Dana, hoping for the answer.
But she shook her head and grabbed at her temples. "I can't-" she started.
"Yes! You can. Try!"
"Trying." Dana shook her head. "No go."
I opened my own eyes wide and threw my palms up in the air, staring at her like maybe if I looked pissed enough she'd snap out of it and make things happen. But Dana's eyes were narrowed and intense as she nodded past me at the building that squatted in the darkness. Taking one hand, she nudged me against the side of the nearest banyan tree. It was the last large object keeping us hidden before we reached the clearing surrounding the kiosk.
It was kind of obvious that Dana wanted me to suggest a game plan.
I shrugged again, exhaling in exasperation. I didn't know. How was I supposed to know what to do? Dana was always the one with the plan.
But I didn't care anymore. Milo's presence here was drawing me like a magnet, and, for all I knew, he had mere moments left to live.
Dana was watching me, waiting impatiently, so I used both my pointer fingers and waved them in opposite-moving circles, to signal that Dana head to the left and me to the right. We'd check for other entrances or windows, and meet up around the other side.
It was all I had to work with. I didn't know what else we could do.
For a second, I thought about channeling my water-based telekinesis and overflowing the toilets inside-maybe that would make whoever was in there come running out. I could definitely do that, providing there was water in the long-abandoned pipes.
But it seemed like a ridiculous, stupid plan compared to actually going inside.
I didn't tell Dana this because I knew she'd think it was too dangerous and try to talk me out of it, but once she turned that corner, I was planning to say eff it and run right through the men's room doorway. Because I didn't care who-or what-was waiting in there anymore. All I cared about was finding Milo.
Dana looked unhappy, but she nodded, and together we backed away from the banyan tree. Her movement was still silent, but I immediately stepped on a branch. The crack underneath my sneaker might as well have been a gong, and I winced.
Dana glared at me but kept moving to the side of the building with the awning. I took several more baby steps, keeping my pace excruciatingly slow as I pretended to angle right.
Once Dana rounded the corner and could no longer see me, I stopped crawling and started sprinting, moving like lightning toward the doorway that was now directly in front of me.
Milo. Milo. Milo.
"Freeze or I'll shoot you, your boyfriend, and your little dog, too!" The distorted voice rang out-deep and authoritative, but computerized with a metallic filter. Whoever had spoken was about eight feet to the right of me.
It was more of a feeling than a thought, and it came to me immediately, even before I stopped and sharply turned, twisting my neck so fast that nerves shot painfully down my spine.
Shadowy shape-low, almost square, and solid.
Nope, not a threat.
All those hours of training paid off as I moved instinctively into a defensive crouch, even as I strained to see more clearly in the darkness.
Black male. Seated. Five foot eleven, one hundred sixty-four pounds. Definitely not a threat.
"Calvin?" I called out, my voice clear as a bell in the darkness.
The figure inched forward-or, I should say, wheeled forward-out of the shadows.
It was definitely Calvin.
"Order me to blast him with my power!" And that was Dana, rocketing herself around the corner of the building with the intensity of a SWAT team member, minus the whole humongous-gun-and-Kevlar-vest thing.
"What?" Order her...? And double-what because... "No, Dana, it's Cal," I told her. "It's"-I searched for the words-"robot Cal."
My best friend, Calvin, was wearing a ridiculous-looking padded jacket, along with a helmet that seriously resembled something Darth Vader might rock on a fashion-flunk day. His legs, bent and resting against the sides of the wheelchair, were covered in what looked to be oversized steel pants, of all things. And even though I couldn't see Cal's face, thanks to his helmet, I knew he was grinning inside that absurd costume.
I realized at that moment that if Cal was here and safe...
"That is not Cal!" Dana insisted as she continued barreling toward us. "That is an evil, terrible monster!"
I ignored her, because if Cal was safe... "Cal! Where's Milo? Did you already find him?" I asked, but t...
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