Authors: Heather Hildenbrand
Tags: #Young Adult, #Romance
©2014 Heather Hildenbrand
Elephantine Publishing, LLC
Cover by Emily Tippetts
Editing by Kristina Circelli
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All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher. The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
A post-modern skyscraper in the epicenter of uptown isn’t the sort of place you suspect houses a torture chamber. And to those very same unsuspecting socialites, scientist-prodigy Titus Rogen doesn’t seem the type capable of an evil so large he could use it to furnish every room of his not-wanting-for-anything penthouse apartment. But both of those things are so true that even something as inarguable as the earth being round pales in comparison. The only difference? The earth’s shape isn’t a lie I’m forced to tell to every single person I’ve met since taking up residence in Rogen Tower.
My name is Raven Rogen.
I’m the closest thing to human Titus Rogen is capable of creating. I’m also the closest thing that passes for his daughter. I imitate both. I am grateful for neither.
In the weeks since being brought from my secret home in Twig City to pose in the glittering spotlight as Raven Rogen, I’ve been beaten, threatened, chased, and betrayed. I’ve been photographed, gossiped about, touched against my will, attacked, and belittled.
I will endure every single one of those if it means one day defeating Titus Rogen.
That is my purpose. It is the thing that keeps me from hurling myself off the roof during personal training sprints. It is the thing that allows me to cope with the tyranny and oppression that comes with living under the same roof as Titus Rogen. It is the thing that keeps the utter hopelessness of my pointless existence and inevitable death at bay.
I will have my freedom. But to achieve that, Titus Rogen can’t be allowed to keep his.
I have no idea how I will do it. I’m up against the most powerful man in the city. And I am, by far, the weakest. No one even knows what I am. That I exist. And so, I watch, and wait. For a chink in the armor that is my prison. A wormhole out of here, into a new life.
Fear is a coating in my mouth as I wait for someone to come for me. I am terrified of death but, more, I am terrified of who will be used to hurt me if I am caught. Lonnie and Ida, my two friends back in Twig City, are safe despite being prisoners in an underground city the world doesn’t know exists. They are fed and clothed and cared for. They know nothing of the dangers of the outside world. I would do anything to keep it that way.
Obadiah Whitcomb is sensitive and vulnerable and adorable and sweet. He is the exact copy of Ida in a male’s body. I still don’t know how or why—but I love him just the same. I would do anything to protect him.
Linc Crawford is the kindest, gentlest, deepest Authentic I have ever met. I am more in love with him than I thought my DNA capable. I would do anything to keep him safe.
And Titus Rogen knows it. If I am found working against him, I have no doubt one or more of these people will suffer in my place. The only thing keeping it from being me is my promise to Titus. If I help him locate his missing Imitations, his
, he will let me live.
But if he finds out I’ve agreed to this only to use it against him. If he finds out I do, in fact, know where his precious products are hiding, he will surely reduce my list of loved ones. I cannot let him find out, but I also can’t do nothing.
Allowing myself to be locked inside a room with Daniel Ryan is not nothing.
I check my reflection in the mirror again. My creased black slacks are a little long but the heels bring the hem up enough to keep me from tripping. My blouse is heavy. I’m already sweating from the nerves, but I don’t dare change to something lighter. Something more suggestive of my skin underneath. It doesn’t take much to encourage Daniel, although that’s exactly what Titus is hoping to do by putting us together. He wants information. He doesn’t much care how he gets it.
I go back to fidgeting with my hair.
Maria, the maid, enters in a whirlwind of frowns and barked instructions. “No, no, outfit wrong,” she says in a slight Spanish accent. She hustles into the closet and back out again. A thin piece of fabric hangs from the hanger in her hand.
“Mr. Titus says you will wear this.” She shoves the dress at me. “And hair down,” she adds.
My heart sinks as I take in the minimal fabric that is just this side of transparent. “Fine,” I mumble, knowing there’s no other choice.
It is three more hours before Titus sends someone to bring me to the cells on the lower floor. Linc’s shift in the surveillance tower has already begun. There is no reason to ask for him to accompany me, anyway. Or none Titus will allow. Our time together has become more and more limited as the weeks have passed. I know if I had something for Titus, some piece of information to give, that would change. I would be rewarded. But I have nothing. A lie is too risky. I am on my own as I follow the silent security guard down the tunneled stairway.
There is no elevator here. The stairwell is the only way in or out. It makes escape next to impossible, I realize as we wind our way downward. It’s not only frustrating, it’s terrifying to be reminded that I am about to come face to face with someone I promised to do this very thing for.
I still have no idea how to fulfill my oath of freedom to Melanie. Our deal was her staged death in exchange for the location of the Imitations she kept hidden. She’d already made good on her end. Four weeks into her captivity and I still had no idea how to make good on mine. Linc either didn’t know how to help or didn’t want to. We’ve had little time alone to talk about it.
I breathe in a whiff of stale air as I pass from the stairwell into the dim hallway downstairs. The stillness sends a chill over me. Goose bumps coat my bare legs. If a soul screamed down here, not a single person would hear or ever find them again. Daniel and Melanie are proof of that.
One week after Titus took Daniel into the depths of his prison block, civilian police came to Rogen Tower. I saw dark uniforms and heard snippets of conversations in hushed voices, but Titus kept me far from the policemen. I know he was afraid I wouldn’t lie, or couldn’t. Either way, the search for the abruptly disappearing politician’s son has tapered off. I know because Taylor keeps me informed at every gala and dinner party I attend. The gossipmongers have cycled through the absent bachelor and moved on to the next big scandal, whatever that is.
I saw his father, Senator Ryan, at a dinner two weeks ago. He doesn’t know that I know his secret, that he is an Imitation replaced by Titus for political gain. And if I hadn’t overheard Titus say so, I wouldn’t have believed it. He is so convincing in his somber gray suit and red “remember” carnation pinned to his lapel. Everyone shakes his hand and offers comfort to a man that has no concept of the loss he is purported to have experienced. He is not Daniel’s father. Daniel’s father, the only person who could’ve truly mourned him, is gone.
I wonder if Daniel realizes how little the rest of the world cares about him. How easily he is forgotten. I wonder if he knows Melanie is the only person left who would sacrifice everything to save him. I wonder if she’s still capable.
The guard stops and produces a thin plastic card that he swipes over a panel on the wall beside the door. The panel is black and sleek—a modern addition in this forgotten tunnel. All around it the wall is faded from white to yellowing beige. I don’t dare touch it for fear of mussing myself. Titus hates that.
The panel beeps from red to green, something inside the door clicks, and the guard pushes it open. I watch him slide the card back into his pocket and hold the door for me to pass. The second I step inside, the door slams shut behind me. I jump and whirl but the guard is gone, standing watch on the other side, I assume.
“Ven, come here,” Titus orders.
I spin and find him waiting in front of what looks like a large window. It has been somehow dimmed to show no picture, but I know it’s more than just an ordinary wall. I can see my reflection as I pass by. The short, gauzy dress Titus made me wear. My hair curled at the edges where he insisted Maria take a rolling iron to it. My elaborate makeup that’s supposed to look subtle and natural but makes my skin heavy. I hate that I’ve been made to feel like bait on a string.
I don’t know if it’ll be worse for me in the end if Daniel takes the bait or leaves it.
I walk toward Titus, my nerves on edge but mixing with the bitterness in my mouth that always manifests when I am faced with the Creator. It is the passion of my dislike and it has kept me sane at moments I thought I might lose it. I swallow but the taste remains.
“Yes, Ti—Father?” I correct myself just in time to see his eyes narrow.
Titus gestures to the tray on the table. It is laden with fruit and meat and drizzled desserts. It is the quality of meal I eat with Titus and I know it’s not something Melanie or Daniel has experienced since being taken down here. “What’s this?” I ask quietly.
“It’s for Melanie, the redhead. I want you to take it to her.”
I meet his gaze, unwilling to simply comply even though I know obedience is inevitable. “But she tried to hurt me,” I say, voicing the only true thing I can say without betraying myself. “You said I was only coming to see Daniel.”
“Don’t argue with me,” he snaps.
“I wasn’t ….”
“She won’t hurt you again. Her hands and feet are tied,” Titus says. He looks at one of the guards with raised brows and seems satisfied at whatever gesture they give. “She can’t get up,” he finishes.
“How will she eat?” I ask.
“I don’t know. Spoon feed her,” Titus says. He picks up the tray and pushes it into my hands. I have no choice but to take it or risk dropping it all. I am not quite brave enough to make a mistake like that.
“What do you want me to say?” I ask.
“Whatever you have to. Be friendly or be a bitch. I don’t care either way. Melanie has information. I want it.”
“I don’t think she’s going to talk to me—”
He cuts me off. “I don’t want to hear your excuses. We have a deal. One that, thus far, you haven’t made a single inch of progress toward keeping.” His eyes narrow. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you no longer care whether your friends live or die. Maybe I’ll pay them a visit after all.”
“No, don’t. I’ll … I’ll see what I can find out.”
“I expect results. Not tomorrow. Not four weeks from now. Today, Raven.”
I mumble a response to do my best and concentrate on steadying the tray in my hands. Titus watches with a frown. Apparently satisfied I won’t drop it, he nods at one of the men behind me. “Show her in,” Titus tells him.
The guard leads the way. I’m careful to balance the tray’s contents as I follow the guard back out the door and into the stale hallway once again. He stops at the next door down and swipes his card over the reader. It beeps from red to green and something clicks. Without a word, he pushes the door open and steps back to let me pass.
The room is lit by a single bulb hanging from the ceiling. Where my new accommodations upstairs are a million times better than my old room in Twig City, Melanie’s cell is a million times worse. The entire room is fuzzy with the singular color of gray concrete that has been coated in dust. The air is stale and thick, leaving a coating in my throat every time I inhale. There is a cot shoved against the back wall, a steel frame with a mattress as thin as a rug laying over it. There is no pillow and the wool blanket is worn to threads and stained red. It’s as if Titus purposely went looking for the worst of the worst. And then decorated it in her blood.
In the center of the room, under a dim and dingy spotlight, is a wooden table with a chair on each side. Just outside the reach of the light, I see her. The shadows swallow her features so that all I can see from the threshold is the silhouette of her body, the outline of arms and shoulders, before the table obscures the rest.
The moment I step fully inside, the door slams shut behind me and the lock clicks into place. I jump, rattling the dishes on the tray. I steady it and shoot a glance to my right, to the wall I know is somehow not a wall where Titus waits on the other side. I know instinctively that he is watching even if I don’t know how.
I walk forward slowly.
When I am almost to the table, I finally see her and I almost lose it again. In that moment, I don’t need the benefit of spoken word to know Melanie still wants to kill me. The murderous glare she wears as she tracks my approach is evidence enough. I squeeze the handle of the tray and send a silent thank you to the guards for leaving Melanie bound. I know Melanie hates me even if it is more about the other Raven than it is about me. I doubt the torture helped.