Authors: Angela Fristoe
DARKEN © 2016 Angela Fristoe
All rights reserved under the International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, organizations, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
December, 14 years ago
THE BOY STARED BACK at the man peering through the small window in the door. Seeing Dr. Sinclair meant it was his turn. His stomach clenched, mouth went dry. The trembling started in his hands, quickly spreading through his body.
The door slid open, and the boy pressed into the corner, curling his legs into his chest. Dr. Sinclair motioned for him to come, but the boy shook his head vigorously, wrapping skinny arms around his knees and tucking in his head until only the short buzz of dark-blond hair was visible.
“Three, don’t make this difficult. Do you want me to call Aiden?”
The shaking stopped as pure terror enveloped the little body. “No.”
“Then come along. Cooperate, and I may let you spend some time with the others.”
It was a bribe the boy couldn’t say no to. He would do anything asked of him if it meant seeing the others. He stood, keeping his head down, eyes focused on his shuffling feet. When he reached the door, the doctor gripped his arm, leading him into the hall.
He wasn’t sure how long it had been since he last saw them. A month, possibly more. He used to see them almost every day in the classroom. Then class stopped. He missed seeing them and Mr. Walker, their teacher. He was kind and always smiling. Sometimes he brought pictures of his wife and little girl to show them. Her name was Sky. Mr. Walker laughed when he told them. The boy didn’t understand why her name was funny—he thought it must be nice having two names.
Up until a few months before, Ms. Tharp taught them. She hadn’t hurt them like the doctor, but she wasn’t like Mr. Walker.
The first day Mr. Walker came, he made a fuss about their names. He didn’t believe they were only numbers.
The boy was Three. Mr. Walker called him Gavin; said it was a good name for a good boy. It made Three smile to hear it. Having a name made him feel like maybe he wouldn’t always need to go through all of the tests.
When Dr. Sinclair found out, he’d been angry, but that didn’t stop Mr. Walker.
. The boy rolled the name through his mind, clinging to the hope it gave him. It didn’t have much strength left. When your life was determined by the pain you suffer, a month with nothing is a lifetime.
They reached the end of the hall and turned the corner. Gavin glanced up at the window of One’s door and caught a glimpse of his brother’s face—Noah’s face—before Sinclair thrust him toward the lab.
Just inside the room, Gavin spotted Aiden, and instantly his entire body rebelled. His struggle did little good. Aiden was huge—well over six foot and bulging with muscles. Muscles he didn’t mind using to get the boys to do what the doctor wanted.
A massive hand wrapped around the back of Gavin’s neck, and he was dragged across to the table. Aiden let him go, and Gavin forced himself to get up on the table.
He lay back, staring at the apparatus overhead. It moved up and down with a light so bright it burned his eyes. It wasn’t on now; that meant a new test. The lack of food all day should have given him warning, yet part of him held onto the minuscule piece of hope that it would be different.
Gavin knew how the process worked. He’d barely lived through it hundreds of times. The first day of testing the light would be off. Dr. Sinclair would order his assistants around, writing notes as they injected Gavin with needle after needle of drugs and samples. Then they’d wait with him strapped to the table. If he didn’t react within the time they wanted, they gave him more. If he reacted sooner, they administered different things.
Through it all, they monitored and recorded everything. Once the doctor was satisfied, Gavin would go back to his room until the next day. Then they would start the poking, prodding, and cutting, checking whether whatever they injected him with had worked. That would continue until the doctor moved on to testing one of the others.
He swallowed and nearly choked from the dryness of his mouth. A strap stretched across his chest, tightening until it strained his breathing, then his wrists, hips, and feet. Wires were taped to his chest and head.
The assistants worked in silence, never acknowledging Gavin as anything other than a test object. The only person to speak was Dr. Sinclair who barked orders.
Gavin watched as the doctor made his way over to the side of the table and looked down at him.
“This will be it, Three. Today will be the final test.”
Gavin’s blood turned to ice. His fear showed, and Sinclair laughed.
“Oh, don’t worry. You’ll live,” he said and held up a syringe filled with a milky liquid. “Everything I’ve worked for is right here.”
“Gideon?” a soft voice said from behind the doctor.
Lifting his head as far as he could, Gavin strained to see who dared speak in the lab, but other than a fleeting glimpse of brown hair, he couldn’t see anything. No one other than the doctor and his assistants ever entered the lab.
“What are you doing here?” Dr. Sinclair kept working, wrapping a rubber tube around Tobias’s arm and then twisting it for a view of the throbbing veins.
Whoever the woman was, she came over to Gavin’s side where he finally got a look at her. He’d seen a female before; some of the lab assistants were women and Ms. Tharp, of course. That one was different. They usually wore blank expressions, but she gazed down at him with faint lines across her forehead deepening as her eyebrows drew together. It was how he imagined Mr. Walker’s wife might look if something happened to Sky.
Would she help him if he asked? Would she make them stop the tests?
Gavin wanted to ask, but when his mouth opened, only a whimper came out. The consequences of arguing or fighting were too great. The lone time he fought back, Noah had suffered the consequences. The scar slashing across Noah’s face was a reminder to Gavin of what would happen to the others if he dared again.
If Gavin were the one punished for his own actions, he would risk it. Even if it led to possible death, he would do it for the others.
Her next words made him glad he had remained silent.
“Have you considered my proposal to continue the experiments?” She leaned in and, using less than gentle fingers, widened Gavin’s eyes one at a time before moving to one of the randomly beeping machines.
“There’s no need to continue with this formula. You read the data from the other subjects. It’s conclusive. The effects of this serum have been documented for weeks now.” Sinclair placed the syringe on the metal tray beside him and focused on the woman. “We expect subject Six to display early symptoms within the next seventy-two to ninety-six hours. Five was done this morning. Three is the final one.”
“You know I support your work and the findings are … extraordinary. The Board, however, is not prepared to simply end the study.”
“What more do they want from me, Yolanda? Once this is done, they will have six subjects to proceed with to Level 2 training and modifications.”
want to ensure maximum results are achieved.” She wandered across the room and Gavin lost sight of her.
Sinclair huffed, gripped a sponge with a pair of tongs and wiped it across Gavin’s inner elbow, leaving a rust-colored streak of liquid behind. “What do you suggest I do?”
The woman didn’t respond as the needle pressed into Gavin’s arm. The cool liquid spread through the boy’s vein, traveling up his arm.
“Double the dose.”
Sinclair jerked his head up and Gavin flinched as the needle tugged painfully at his skin. “Are you mad? We have no idea what it could do to him.”
. You know better than to humanize the subjects.”
“A slip of the tongue.” Sinclair shook his head. “My concern has nothing to do with the subject being a human. It has to do with the risk of
one of my subjects. In particular, subjects Three or Four. Having two subjects with identical genetic material created a unique circumstance enabling us to analyze the effects of varying formulas.”
“Open your eyes, Gideon. You are not thinking like a scientist right now. Otherwise, you’d realize this is the next logical phase. Four received this treatment and displayed satisfactory results. Administering a large dosage to Three allows us to determine the ideal amount to maximize the effects.”
Gavin listened to her heels click on the hard tile floor—yet another difference between her and the lab assistants. He felt her presence at the end of the table behind his head, so he tipped his chin up.
She smoothed her hands along the sides of his face, a gesture so deceptively gentle his muscles loosened enough that the prick of a second needle hardly registered.
S.I.E.G.E Corporation Shareholder Statement
Scientific Investigations and Experimentation through Genetic Engineering Corporation is excited to announce a five-million-dollar donation to the Sawyer school district to fund the development of their science programs. These programs will enhance learning opportunities and increase access to state-of-the-art technology, further preparing students for college and careers with the high demands of today’s workplace.
The Board of Directors would like to extend their sympathy and apologies to the six young men who suffered at the hands of Dr. Sinclair during his work on the Posthuman Project. In addition to ensuring he is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, SIEGE Corporation is facilitating the adoption of the youths and establishing appropriate reparation.
We would like to also announce the appointment of Dr. Nielson as Chief Science Officer. Dr. Nielson comes to us with a stellar background in genetic engineering, having published her research findings in multiple professional journals. She will oversee the termination of the unauthorized Posthuman Project and spearhead a new study into possible links between fertilizers and the development of neurological disorders. A request for study volunteers will be posted on our website by the end of the year.
SHE WAS THE MOST beautiful woman Gavin Walker ever saw. Raven hair framed wide, brown eyes, and the sultry smile she wore spoke of a secret he longed to uncover. The photograph did little to hide the creamy, tan skin or the glow to her cheeks.
d loved Lela since senior year in high school. For him, there would never be another woman so perfect. This image was a reminder that he found his soulmate.
A soft hand brushed his back and he tore his eyes from the perfection of the photo. He rolled over, flinging an arm over his eyes. A deep sigh coincided with the beep of his alarm.
He fumbled for his cell phone on the crowded nightstand, knocking over a bottle of water. At the absence of the sound as it hit the hardwood floor, he peeked over the side of the bed to find water seeping into a pile of clothing. He cursed. He’d have to throw them in the dryer before he left for work.
“Mmm, sugar, you don’t have to go to work, do you? We could have a little more fun,” Hailey purred, rubbing against him like a cat in heat.
Hooking up with her always seemed like a good idea until he woke with the hangover from Hell.
ocê não é nada para mim
“I love it when you speak Spanish to me.” Her fingers tickled through the scattering of hair on his chest.
Gripping her hand to stop its movements, he peered over his shoulder at her. With black mascara smudged under her eyes, she looked a mess.
“It’s Portuguese.” And if she understood what it actually meant, she wouldn’t be so happy.
You are nothing.
He spoke the phrase to every woman he woke up next to. They reassured Lela and him that he recognized their place in his life. They meant nothing to him because they would never replace
He rolled out of bed and stretched his arms above his head, ignoring Hailey’s wolf whistle. Her clothes lay scattered across the floor with his own. Grabbing anything vaguely feminine, he flung it at her.
“Get dressed. I gotta get going.”
She huffed, and he wondered if he finally pissed her off enough she wouldn’t be the easy lay he was used to. He enjoyed not having to work at getting a woman in the sack, and he refused to pussyfoot around them, either. He was devoted to his single life and had no plans to ever change that status.
“Let yourself out,” he said, striding into the bathroom.
Hailey knew the drill. They first hooked up about six months before. A few nights a month, they played the same game at Porter’s Pub, came back to his place, and fucked their brains out. In the morning, she left and all was good.
He pulled the door shut behind him, muffling whatever she said in response. The cramped space did little to ease the tension in his neck. If anything, the room seemed to close in on him, reminding him of the woman in his bedroom and of his mistake.
After turning on the shower, he stepped up to the vanity, giving the water time to heat. Avoiding his reflection, he rested his hands on the counter and hung his head. The pounding in his skull was nothing new. He dealt with hangover headaches every other day. Looking in the mirror would only make him sick with shame.
When steam filled the bathroom, he climbed into the shower, letting the scalding water wash away his disgust.
An hour later, showered and shaved, he felt passably human as he walked up to the entrance of Porter’s Pub. He might actually make it through his first day working for his brothers.
The name of the pub, a tribute to their mother, Sarah, whose maiden name was Porter, was one of the few things Noah and Logan had left the same after buying the bar from their uncle two years ago. It had come a long way since then. They couldn’t do much about the location on the wrong side of the tracks in Thompson Creek, but they’d fixed the place up and earned the reputation of not taking the same level of crap their uncle put up with.
“You look like shit.” Noah folded his arms across his chest as he watched Gavin wander in. With dark circles around his eyes and the careful holding of his head, Gavin’s problem was obvious. “You need to lay off the beer.”
“Fuck you.” The appropriate finger accompanied this. He got enough shit from their folks; he didn’t need it from big brother, too.
Noah appeared less than impressed. “Well, don’t be drinking on the job. I catch you boozing, you’re gone.”
Gavin’s eyes glanced off the jagged scar slashed across Noah’s check. Noah had stuck his neck out for him more times than he deserved.
What possessed him to take the daytime bartender job at the pub?
He must have been drunk when he accepted. Noah had a major stick up his ass, and Gavin wasn’t interested in being the one to pull it out.
“You listening?” his brother asked. “I catch you drinking, you’re fired. Same as everyone else.”
“Yeah, sure,” Gavin said, gritting his teeth. The flip response worked like a trigger.
“Take it seriously or walk. Keeley asked for extra hours, and she’s damn good behind the bar.”
“Dude, it’s good. I’m here on time, aren’t I?” Gavin ran his fingers through his shaggy blond hair. Despite the lack of interest bartending held for him, he needed the job or he’d be back living with his parents. Not the move any twenty-five-year-old guy wanted to make.
“You sure you’re up to this?” Noah asked, his doubt more than evident. He wandered around to the other side of the bar and crossed his arms, leaning a hip against the counter.
“I’m fine,” Gavin snapped. He didn’t do touchy-feely crap, and his brothers were the last people he’d go to if he did want to discuss his feelings.
“You need to talk about it. Drag your sorry ass out of her grave.”
His gut clenched at the pity in his brother’s eyes.
“I don’t need to talk about shit. If that’s why you gave me this job, then shove it.”
“All right, I won’t push you about Lela.” Noah glanced toward the kitchen door then back at Gavin. “Hailey said you’re having night terrors.”
“Hailey doesn’t know crap.” He’d miss the easy lay, but if she couldn’t keep her trap shut, they were done. “And when the fuck did you talk to her?”
“You denying it?”
He didn’t need any walks down memory lane, and that was exactly where his brothers went when they searched for explanations about how messed up they all were.
“I had a rough night. Done and over. I don’t need you mothering me.” He crossed his arms over his chest and met Noah’s gaze head on. One blink and his brother would move in for the kill, but outlasting Noah in a staring contest never happened. Gavin blinked.
“I’ll back off on Lela, but Sinclair is another matter. You know the night terrors are his calling card.”
There was little Gavin could do to forget the lingering effects of Dr. Sinclair and his sick experiments. Over the last fourteen years, there were moments he almost forgot what he and his brothers went through during their time locked in the SIEGE labs. Nothing, though, ever erased the horrific memories seared into his brain. Reality eventually returned along with the realization he’d never be normal.
The night terrors were simply one way he was reminded. While they all suffered each in their own ways, the terrors were his alone. Sporadically since his release from the labs, they hit him. At first, he brushed them off, but then he began to recognize them as a warning that Sinclair was nearby.
Sinclair and the SIEGE Corporation did so much shit to them, Gavin wouldn’t be surprised if they’d implanted something in his brain to drive him crazy.
Gavin was aware of Noah’s narrowed eyes following him as he moved across the room, but his brother didn’t press.
“Fine, I’ll leave it alone.” Noah shook his head. “I’m heading out. I’ve got a meeting with the rep from the packing plant. We’re hoping to sign on as a team sponsor for their baseball team.”
“What, no training?”
“Cora’s gonna set you up, show you where stuff is. She’ll be here until the end of your shift. I should be back by then.”
“Cora.” The name sunk deep into Gavin’s belly and he fought the urge to puke.
“She’s been working here the past couple of months. Day shift and morning clean up on Sundays. She’s in charge when Logan and I aren’t on site,” Noah said as he pulled off the towel slung over his shoulder.
“As in Coraline Evans?”
“Only Cora I know, and you can thank her for the job. She convinced me hiring you would be good for business. Something about your ugly mug bringing the ladies in a bit earlier, possibly convince them to stay a little longer.”
It had been two years since Gavin last saw Coraline. She’d been in the hospital covered in blood and bruises with a half-dozen broken ribs from the accident. She’d also been comatose, but she’d been alive. That was more than he could say about her passenger.
“This gonna be a problem?” Noah asked when Gavin didn’t respond to the ribbing.
“No.” Gavin knew Noah wanted more reassurance, but it was all he could manage.
“Good.” Noah looked down at his watch, and then grabbed up a ball of black material from the end of the counter. He threw it at Gavin who shook it out. It was a black shirt with neon orange lettering across the back spelling out Porter’s Pub. “Check in with me before your shift is done. I still need you to fill out some paperwork.”
Gavin stared at the double doors long after they closed behind Noah. He heard Cora come in from the kitchen, aware that she waited for him to acknowledge her, but he wasn’t ready.
If he’d known she worked here, he never would’ve taken the job. He could still bail. Living with his folks wouldn’t be as torturous as seeing her every day.
He cranked his head from side to side, producing satisfying cracking noises from his neck. She wasn’t going to disappear no matter how long he ignored her. He pivoted to glare at her.
She looked different. Still tiny, but she’d ditched the short hair that once gave her a pixie appearance. Curly strands of blond hair fluttered against her cheeks, making her softer, more angelic. She’d always been pretty, but now she was hot in a way that begged him to fuck her.
He mentally kicked his ass. It was Cora; one of Lela’s closest friends.
“Why are you here, Coraline?”
“I work here.” She gave a tight smile that vanished as he continued glaring.
“Why are you
?” he repeated.
“I needed a job, and your brothers were hiring.”
“I suppose I should thank you for convincing Noah to give me the job.”
“He would have given it to you anyway. One of the joys of nepotism, right?”
“I thought you were working at some fancy art museum,” he said.
“Yeah, well, life doesn’t always go the way you plan, right?”
Gavin understood better than anyone the truth of that life lesson. A muscle in his jaw ticked as he glared at her.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so scruffy.” She gestured to her cheek.
“I guess that’s what happens when you stop giving a shit about life.”
He slashed a hand through the air, cutting off whatever she was about to say.
“Don’t try to justify what happened, Cora. You’re a pathetic drunk who should be rotting in prison for what you did. I’ll never forget you’re the reason Lela’s dead.”
There was an awkward silence, and with each second passing by, he saw the guilt and sorrow move across her face. For a moment, he regretted laying the blame solely on her.
Her face hardened, wiping away the effects of his spite-filled words. She flung a dishtowel at his head, smacking him right in the face, and he snatched it away, glaring daggers at her.
“You need to grab the kegs and a CO2 canister from the store room. Then meet me in the kitchen and we’ll go over your daily prep work.” She spun on her heel and marched back through the swinging door to the staff area.
Watching Cora stomp away, Gavin almost forgot why he hated her and let himself enjoy the way her cutoff shorts danced along the edge of her ass. Her long blond ponytail swung in time with her hips.
When had cute little Cora turned into a walking wet dream?
“You planning on doing any work today, stud, or are you gonna follow her in there and tap that ass?”
Gavin’s head jerked around to glare at Keeley, a waitress and the bane of his brother Logan’s existence or, at least, the guy’s sex life.
“Work,” he grunted. He tugged off his shirt and pulled on the one Noah gave him.
“Damn, Cora was right,” she said. “You keep flashing that six pack of yours and the whole place will be flooded with the ladies all day. You’re gonna be so good for my bank account.”
He snorted, and she laughed at his unimpressed expression.
“Unless you plan on giving me a strip show and going full frontal, you may want to use the locker room.”
She sauntered across the room leaving Gavin again wondering what the hell he’d gotten himself into. Between Keeley and Cora, he was destined to be in constant upheaval.