Defector: A Variants Novel

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9781595146564: Defector: A Variants Novel
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Praise for Susanne Winnacker's Impostor:

"An unpredictable page turner with shades of terror reminiscent of a Stephen King novel."—VOYA

"Fresh and inventive. . . . the strongly-written mystery component takes center stage."—BCCB


Tessa has finally made peace with her life as a Variant. She and longtime love Alec are officially a couple, and for the first time, she has everything she wants. 

But the air is tense at FEA headquarters. An agent has disappeared, and rogue Variant organization Abel's Army is likely the culprit. 

When Tessa is summoned for her second mission, she is unexpectedly launched into a massive conspiracy. Her best friend Holly is kidnapped, and Tessa knows it was meant to be her. But who is after her? And more importantly, why? 

When the FEA's efforts to rescue Holly don't yield results, Tessa takes matters into her own hands. Desperate to save her friend and uncover the mystery behind Abel's Army, Tessa launches her own investigation—but nothing could prepare her for what she finds. 

Finding the truth will take her out on the road and out of her comfort zone, with danger lurking at every turn. Summoning all of her courage and strength, Tessa must decide who can be trusted and what is worth fighting for. Her final decision will leave readers breathless.

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About the Author:

Susanne Winnacker studied law before becoming a full-time writer. She lives with her husband, a dog, and a rabbit in Germany. Susanne loves coffee (in every shape and form), traveling, and animals. When she isn't writing, you can usually find her in the kitchen, experimenting with new vegan dishes. Visit her website at and follow her on Twitter @SusanneWrites

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


Date night. My favorite night of the week—along with my evenings spent doing “girly stuff” with Holly (her words). Sometimes it was still hard for me to grasp that Alec and I had been dating for a couple of weeks, that it had been that long since I’d returned from my first mission. The time felt like a blur.

Though Alec and I didn’t go to the movies or out to a fancy restaurant (or even leave headquarters) for our dates, they were a big part of the reason why everything between us started to feel real. Holly had tried to talk me into dressing up. She’d even laid out an array of four outfits for me to choose from. Maybe she took this a bit too seriously. I’d explained to her in carefully chosen words that it would have felt wrong to get dolled up. Alec had seen me at my worst: crying and sobbing over my mother, beaten up and covered in blood. It would have felt as if I was putting on a mask if I’d dressed up for movie night. It was bad enough that I had to be someone else for my job; I didn’t want that in front of Alec. This evening was about Alec and me as we really were.

Despite Holly’s disapproving frown, I wore my favorite shorts and a T-shirt with ten rules to surviving a zombie apocalypse on the front. Alec greeted me with a peck on the lips as I slipped into his room. A small smile of endorsement spread on his face when he noticed my shirt. Happy that my instinct had been right, I stepped out of my shoes and lay back on his bed while he pushed the DVD into the player. With a buzzing, it snapped shut. A swarm of butterflies fluttered in my belly as I watched the muscles in Alec’s lower back and shoulders flex beneath his white T-shirt when he straightened. Alec kicked off his sneakers and locked the door. Date night number three, and it was the first time he’d done that. My imagination went into overdrive, and the fluttering in my stomach turned into a riot.

Alec turned slowly, as if he’d only just realized how his actions might look. His eyes were cautious as he glanced at me. Did I look nervous? “Because of Tanner. I don’t want him to barge in.” Then he added with a hint of annoyance, “Again.”

Good thinking. Tanner had already walked in on us kissing on the bed twice. If I had to bear his teasing and kissy noises one more time, I’d shave his beloved mohawk off while he was sleeping.

I gave Alec a smile, though the mix of nerves, embarrassment, and excitement had me feeling like I was going to combust. Nobody would interrupt us tonight; anything could happen. Alec was experienced—after all, he was older than me, and he’d dated Kate for months. How far did he want to go? How far did I want him to go? This felt momentous somehow.

“I can unlock it, though, if that’s what you prefer,” he said softly. It was pretty obvious from his expression that it wasn’t what he wanted, but it made me happy that he was trying to make me feel comfortable.

“Don’t be stupid. Come here.” I patted the bed and made more room for him. His expression lit up, but I could still detect a hint of uncertainty in the way he moved. He was always worried about me and constantly protective of me. That would probably never change. I had to show him that I wasn’t some breakable porcelain doll. I had extraordinary abilities; I’d recently survived a serial killer, for goodness sake.

He sank down beside me and stretched out his long legs. Then he paused and pointed at a big, round red candle on his nightstand. “Do you want me to light it?”

That was too much. I couldn’t help it. I burst into laughter. “Did Holly put you up to this?” I could imagine only too well how she’d followed him around, trying to teach him what constituted a romantic date. Alec smiled sheepishly. “Maybe.”

“Okay, well, I’m not the candlelight type. The glow of a lightsaber is more my thing.”

“Thank god. This thing smells like apples and cinnamon, and I hate the stench.” The last bit of tension leaked from Alec’s body, and he sank into the crisp (the laundry staff loved starch) black cushions with Chucky’s face on the front propped up against the dark wood headboard. I pressed myself against his chest, breathing in his woodsy smell as he wrapped his arm around me. I couldn’t stop myself from wondering what his date nights had been like with Kate. Had she liked candlelight? He pressed a kiss against my temple, and I looked up, bringing our faces closer together. Our breath mingled. I leaned forward, trying my best to bury my worries. He was mine now.

“You can trust me,” he said quietly, gray eyes earnest and open. Once again, it was almost like he’d read my thoughts.

I inched toward him until I could almost feel the heat of his mouth. I kissed him and smiled against his lips. Besides Holly, Alec was the only person I’d ever allowed myself to trust completely. The feeling was comforting and thrilling at the same time. “I know.” My skin tingled from the friction as I spoke.

His lips moved against mine, softly sliding over them, tasting, claiming. The prickle of his stubble sent a sliver of desire into my belly. My eyes fell shut, and I relaxed against the mattress. Alec’s hard body pressed against me, hipbone to hipbone. His hands traveled up my throat into my hair, fingertips feather-soft. My palms marked his back as mine, pressing him tighter against me. His muscles flexed beneath my hands. His kiss was slow, unhurried, and spread fire in my body before it pooled in my belly. His lips brushed the corner of my mouth, then moved to my chin and throat. A sound tumbled out of my mouth—a sound I hadn’t known I was capable of. When I opened my eyes, Alec was watching me. A small smile played around his lips. I pushed my fingers into his black hair, relishing in the silkiness. With a groan, he climbed on top of me, careful not to crush me with his weight, and pressed his lips against me again. The feeling of his body on me, his warmth seeping into me, his smell surrounding me, I felt safer than I’d ever felt before. I felt at home. He kissed the hollow of my throat, and I tilted my head back to give him better access. His tongue darted out and flicked across my collarbone. I gasped and dug my hands into his arms. His muscles twitched under my grasp. Something was unraveling inside me—a feeling unlike anything I’d ever felt before. There was no use holding it together—I felt no need to. His hand, warm and strong, crept under my shirt. His palm rested on my stomach, friction of skin on skin raising goose bumps all over my body. But then his fingers traveled up to my rib cage, and I froze.

His fingertips rested on the mark left by my mission. The glaring red of the A had faded, but the scar hadn’t. It had entirely lost feeling, but it was there and always would be. Alec stopped kissing me, closed his eyes, and rested his forehead against mine, releasing a harsh breath.

“Sorry,” I whispered, feeling inexplicably sad—and just as guilty for ruining the moment.

“No,” Alec said fiercely. He pulled back to look at me, and his gray eyes held mine with a startling intensity. “Don’t you dare start feeling guilty for this.” He brushed his fingertips across the scar. I shivered.

I stared at the candle, the way its wick was bent. “I know it bothers you. I mean . . . it’s ugly . . .” I trailed off, unsure what else to say.

“It doesn’t bother me because of how it looks. It bothers me because it reminds me of the danger you faced and how I failed you, how you could have died. How I couldn’t protect you from that monster,” Alec said.

“Alec, you won’t always be able to protect me from everything. I’m capable of protecting myself. There’ll be missions in our future that we’ll have to do alone. It was my first time out in the field. I let my guard down when I shouldn’t have, and this scar is a reminder of that.” I touched his arm and kissed his cheek. “It’s in the past.”

I could tell that Alec didn’t want to drop the topic, but he pulled me against him and settled us against the pillows. His lips hovered against my temple, tension coiling in his body. He released a harsh breath and started the movie. The screen turned black before the quote “Revenge is a dish best served cold” appeared.

“Kill Bill,” I said, laughing with approval. “That’s my kind of movie for a romantic evening.” I grinned, and I could feel the gloom of our conversation fall away from me.

The tightness around Alec’s lips vanished. “I know. That’s what makes you so perfect.” A blush crept up my neck, and I hastily put my head down and rested it against Alec’s shoulder so he wouldn’t see it. The opening song, “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” started playing, and I hummed along with it. The Kill Bill soundtrack was one of my all time favorites. And when Alec whistled “Twisted Nerve” along with Black Mamba in her nurse costume, the moment was perfect. But no matter how much I tried to allow myself to relax, a thought haunted me. “Does she still try to talk to you?” I asked, my voice strangely hoarse.

“Hmm?” Alec’s fingers stopped tracing the skin on my arm. “What did you say?”

“Kate,” I clarified. I could see his body tense, feel it in the shift of his muscles, and I regretted ever bringing it up. “Does she still try to talk to you?”

“Tessa, do you really think this is a good time to talk about Kate?”

Of course it wasn’t. But would there ever be a time when talking about his ex-girlfriend wouldn’t be hurtful and awkward? “I need to know. Kate’s been between us for such a long time, and somehow in some way it feels like she still is.”

Alec stopped the movie. “All right,” he said slowly. “But you know that there was never anything real between Kate and me. We were friends, but the spark was never there between us. She and I had just been clinging to the relationship out of habit and because it seemed like the right thing to do.” That was a strange thing to say, I thought. Why was keeping up a relationship the right thing to do?

He continued, “She’s still pissed, and she never misses a chance to make that clear to me. She even tried to blackmail me, but—”

“Blackmail?” My neck bristled. What could Kate possibly use against Alec?

He was silent for a moment. “Yeah,” he said reluctantly. “We spent so much time together on our joint mission that we were bound to share a few secrets.”

“The mission where you and Kate first became a couple?” I still remembered the utter shock and heartbreak I’d felt when Kate and Alec had entered headquarters as a couple for the very first time. And just as vividly I remembered the twisted smile on Kate’s face and the triumph in her eyes when our gazes had crossed. I’d thought I would never hate someone more than I hated her in that moment.

Alec nodded, but I could tell from the set of his jaw and the tightness in his shoulders that that mission—or the secrets that went along with it—wasn’t something he wanted to talk about.

“I still don’t get it. If you and Kate never really loved each other, then why did you get together in the first place?” The words escaped me, even though I knew I should stop before I got a reply I didn’t want to hear.

“The mission formed some kind of bond between us. I guess that happens if you aren’t allowed to talk to anyone else about it. We only had each other, and we couldn’t help but grow closer. Our relationship was born out of practicality.” I could sense he was keeping something from me, but it was obvious that he had absolutely no intention of telling me more.

I opened my mouth, but Alec silenced me with a kiss. “Don’t let Kate ruin this evening. The relationship was a mistake. All that matters now is what’s between us.”

I nodded reluctantly and relaxed against him, though part of me didn’t want to let the topic go. Alec turned the TV back on. But suddenly seeing Kiddo’s pursuit of revenge wasn’t so funny anymore, because I was pretty sure Kate would be on a similar quest soon—not to kill me, but she would certainly make my life hell.

· · ·

I woke with a start. Someone was trying to beat the door down. I sat up, brushing back a few unruly brown locks of hair that had fallen into my face. Straining, I blinked against the light. It was then that I realized I wasn’t in my room. I didn’t own bed linens with Chucky on them, or a Freddy Kruger figurine. My eyes found Alec, already on his feet, sliding his jeans over black briefs. My skin flushed with heat, and I hastily stared down at myself. I was still dressed in my T-shirt and the shorts I’d been wearing last night. I must have fallen asleep before Alec had taken his jeans off.

He gave me a quick smile. “You look adorable with your hair all over the place.”

I groaned. I knew exactly how I looked after waking up, and it definitely wasn’t adorable. My hair was naturally curly, but in the early morning light it tended to look like someone had given me electroshock therapy. Alec frowned, as though he could read my thoughts. I tried to smile, but when that failed, I trained my gaze on the Alien poster on the wall.

The knocking at the door grew even more insistent and made the door shake on its hinges. A tiny ball of unease gathered in my stomach. What could be so urgent this early in the morning? Had something happened?

Alec unlocked the door and pulled it open. Tanner stood in the doorway, and before I could hide under the blanket, his eyes settled on me. His eyebrows shot up—they were the same neon green as his mohawk. Somehow he pulled it off, and it looked impossibly cool with his dark skin. I waited for his teasing remark, but it didn’t come. That’s when I knew something really was wrong. I untangled myself from the blanket and staggered to my feet.

“What’s the matter? It’s not even eight on a Sunday,” Alec said, but the anxiety in his voice ruined the flippancy of words.

“You can get your beauty sleep on another day. Major wants to see you,” Tanner said. “Another agent has disappeared.”


Tanner left without further explanation to fetch Kate. Our only directions were to head to Major’s office ASAP. In the hallway we almost bumped into a group of older agents deep in conversation, voices panicked and expressions strained. Word about another abduction must have already gotten around.

My stomach tightened. What had happened? Who was the newest victim?

When Alec and I stepped into Major’s office, I was surprised to find that Devon and Phil were already there. There was a moment of hesitation in their expressions. Even after living at headquarters for almost a week and seeing me pretty much every day, they still seemed to struggle with seeing me in my “real” body, and not as the person I’d pretended to be back during the Livingston mission. Devon’s blue eyes held mine briefly before his gaze quickly anchored somewhere else. It had been like this ever since he arrived at FEA headquarters, and I couldn’t really blame him. I couldn’t have forgiven him either if I’d been in his stead. I just wished he’d give me a chance to talk to him, but so far his evasive tactics had worked.

Phil occupied the second chair across from Major’s desk, and unlike Devon, he definitely wasn’t trying to avoid me. Quite the contrary, he stared at me with unmasked curiosity like I was a puzzle he needed to figure out. His eyes were a pale, watery b...

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