Altered: Prologue and Chapter One
Out August 12!
That sunny July day in Maine, the serrated blade of death inched ever closer.
Kit knew that only too well as she and her sisters, Sybi and Bree, struggled to hike the Flying Mountain Trail to the top of Acadia’s St. Sauveur Mountain. Yet the forest of tall pines, the blaze of summer sun, the twitter of birds made the day a glorious one.
~ Prologue and Chapter One ~
Altered, The Made Ones Saga Book 1
That sunny July day in Maine, the serrated blade of death inched ever closer. Kit knew that only too well as she and her sisters, Sybi and Bree, struggled to hike the Flying Mountain Trail to the top of Acadia’s St. Sauveur Mountain. Yet the forest of tall pines, the blaze of summer sun, the twitter of birds made the day a glorious one.
Her accident, her illness—two thieves who’d robbed her of choices. But she could still do this, still could choose to walk Acadia’s trails, paths she’d trod hundreds of times that never grew old. Her chest expanded, inhaling the scents of pine and sea.
As they ascended, the air grew thicker, closer, muffling bird song and the skitter of small forest animals, an oddity. The towering pines prohibited all but a thin strip of blue above their heads, but the life-affirming sun remained. She savored the forest’s embrace. Startled by a seagull’s caw, she leaned on her staff and paused, recalling how Elphaba, the wicked Appaloosa she’d loved so dearly, had insisted on chasing seagulls trolling for crumbs. So long ago. She smiled, and the tug on her scars ached in response.
Her hand instinctively rose to her face to touch the ugly map of her accident. Some parts were shiny and hard, others ridges her fingers climbed with seasoned knowledge. She dropped her hand. How foolish to revisit those planes and angles, yet their familiarity soothed her, proclaiming her Kit, and no other, her life’s joys and sorrows embedded in her flesh.
A mosquito bit her thigh and she slapped it away. “Damn you! And damn me for wearing shorts.”
As the trio climbed, Kit’s breath came harder, sweat beading her brow.
“You guys okay?” she called back without looking.
“Doing fine,” her sisters chorused.
No, they would not die today, though she cursed the aberrant gene that had stolen their tomorrows—Huntington’s took no prisoners.
A friend once asked if she’d considered suicide. Suicide? They wanted to live. They might be in their 50s, but there was still so much to explore, to feel, to taste.
Kit paused to catch her breath. Sybi and Bree’s heads were bowed as they scrambled up the mountain after her. “Hurry up, lazybones! I’m the gimpy one here. We might be dying, but we’re not dead yet!”
Bree and Sybi laughed. She joined them, drinking in their joy like a fine cabernet. Their happiness made her feel free, and she released the clip binding her silver-streaked auburn hair, letting the breeze play with her curls.
Her nose wrinkled at the scent of ozone, her ears catching murmurs whispered through the trees. Stepping forward, an odd pressure rippled through her. What the hell? She turned, and her ankle gave, the pain searing. Kit clutched her staff, stopping her fall. If she didn’t pay attention, she’d land on her ass and with her luck, break her other leg. That damned weak leg had been acting up again, curbing her martial arts practice, one of the few things stitching her sanity together.
Kit marched up a rise, around a bend, and froze. Impossible. Before her yawned a jagged crevasse where far below a river raged.
Sybi and Bree stepped beside her.
“Holy shit!” Bree said. “Where’d that come from?”
Sybi crossed her arms. “This can’t be real.”
“No?” Kit scooped up a stone and dropped it down the fissure, watching it disappear into the abyss.
Which was when the granite bank they stood upon vanished.
Kit clamped her jaw, refusing to scream as she tumbled toward the raging river hundreds of feet below.
Enveloped by calm waters, Kit sputtered to consciousness, kicked, and broke the surface with a gasp. She tread water in a lukewarm pool surrounded by boulders and towering rock walls the color of burnt sand. She scrubbed her face. Dizzy, she swam, hindered by the strange flowing tunic that covered her neck to ankle, shoulder to wrist.
But… She’d been wearing shorts and a tank top when she’d fallen.
How am I even alive?
She scanned the pool.
“Sybi!” she screamed. “Bree!”
Panic choked her. They’d fallen, too. She saw neither of them, though her eyes scanned the bank. She plunged beneath the surface, the water clear as she searched for Sybi and Bree. Her body shivered, her eyes combing the empty depths. No fish, no plantlife, no sisters.
Hands and feet growing numb, Kit scissor-kicked to the surface where snowflakes drifted down from a gunmetal sky. Her sisters weren’t there.
Where were they? Dead? Alive? What if they were hurt?
Snow continued to fall. If she didn’t get out of the water, she’d die.
Using the protruding rocks as handholds, Kit tugged her way to the bank and paused. Gathering her strength, she crawled out of the pool, her efforts earning her bloody knees, and she rolled into a sitting position. Walking along the bank would be useless. She saw no exit, no path or steps.
Half frozen, she trembled as the snow continued to fall from a leaden sky. With dread, she peered up the cliff face. Could she climb it? Would she make it? Did she have a choice?
Hand over hand she scaled the rock face, made awkward by the drag of the strange tunic. Given the weather, she would be a fool to remove it. Adrenaline gave her the juice to put one hand above the other, one foot after another pushing her upward, finding hand- and foot-holds, scraping shins and breaking nails.
Clawing her way onto the summit, she collapsed, panting with relief, the icy ground cold against her cheek. How she’d climbed with her crippled side, she didn’t know, didn’t care. Once she caught her breath, she lay prone as she scoured the terrain for shelter. All she saw were jumbles of rocks and a dead leafless tree, a skeleton reaching toward the snow-burdened sky.
Not that it mattered. She was done, so exhausted she couldn’t even pull herself beneath the dead tree’s limbs.
No. I will try.
She stretched out an arm and curled her toes, attempting to push and pull at the same time. An inch. Then two.
Her shivering worsened, and yet something within her was growing warm, comfortable even.
Kit wished she’d seen her sisters one last time. Her horses and pups and the Maine Coon cat who woke her each morning with his ridiculous tapping. Or perhaps…
Radulfr was royally pissed. First off, he wished he’d ridden Nightfall for the retrieval. The mistral would have served him better than driving the hovercraft into the Pellopine mountains’ unforgiving wilderness. The choice of transport was on him. But the second was on his father, who’d pulled his Alpha card and ordered Rafe to do cleanup for the Alchemic Clan’s mess.
The Alchemics had brought over another Made One, much to his dismay, and sent her to the wrong convergence point. Or perhaps the Anti-Made Ones’ faction had interfered. Either way, even using the coordinates the Alchemics had given him, he’d been scouring the mountains for hours.
Where the fark was she?
Rafe was tired. He’d fought too many battles of late. Hard to miss the irony of him fetching a Made One.
Should he fail to find her before sunset, she’d die, a priceless treasure taken by the wild country. Teams should have been out searching. Legions. But the shoting Alchemics insisted on him—only him—all to keep the Alchemics’ mistake under the radar.
Even as Wolf Clan’s best tracker, he couldn’t perform miracles. He’d prayed to the Fates to guide him. So far, they hadn’t listened to his plea.
Far up the mountain, an incongruous light snagged Rafe’s attention, the glint coming from a shelf near the mountain’s peak. His keen eyes took in the long, shiny tube high above. It didn’t belong.
He slipped his binocs from the hover and raised them to his eyes. A frozen object lay within a giant cocoon of ice. Unnatural and strange.
His blood fired.
Rafe retied the strip binding his braid, then hauled the coiled rope from his hovercraft and slung it over his shoulder. He locked crampons onto his boots, then strapped claws onto his palms. Even now, the goddarts could be watching. The semi-sentient simian predators were the bane of the Pellopines. Which was why at the last minute he shoved his laseblaster into his shoulder holster.
His phone chimed. “Hush!” he said, silencing the annoyance. He peered up the rock face, memorizing the best foot- and toe-holds, then began to ascend. Inching up the frigid mountain he tried to imagine the Made One.
What would she look like? Would her voice be low or high? Her hair blond or blue? Her smile warm or chill?
His imagination failed, so he climbed faster.
Rafe stared down at the six-foot length of ice melting beneath the sun’s warmth. Not fast enough. Dropping to one knee he examined the thing again. Encased in the ice lay a woman, clothed head to toe in golden-yellow, lying on her belly, one arm outstretched. Dead.
His heart thundered. A tragedy of epic magnitude.
Even so, he would never leave a Made One in her icy prison.
The laseblaster would release her in seconds, but it would damage her flesh, and that he wouldn’t do. The task called for delicacy.
Rafe’s strapped-on claws ripped apart the icy upper layers, then he slowed, taking care not to hurt her flesh. Gradually, the woman emerged as auburn-haired and lovely, her face heart-shaped, with high cheekbones and plush lips, and he somehow knew she smiled often. Had smiled often.
He worked with even greater care, unwilling to injure her, though she was long gone. Intolerable. He paused, panting, vapored puffs bursting from his lips. He wanted to touch her. Badly. But if he did so, her iced flesh would confirm the truth, no matter how much his heart wished otherwise.
Clouds darkened the sun, and it began to snow again. Fark. He’d better move it. Once she was fully revealed, her thin gown clinging to her lush curves, he shucked off his coat and wrapped it around her.
An inhuman cry sliced through the keening wind, maybe fifty yards to the east. He settled her over his shoulder and began his descent.
At the very least, she deserved a pyre to guide her way to the Other land.
Three-quarters of the way down the cliff, an arrow zinged by his cheek. Shote. Those farking goddarts. He returned fire, clamped the woman tight to his chest, then plunged the remaining distance.
A jutting rock sliced his arm, making him tumble out of control, trees, mountains a blur. One, two, now—he flipped, landing with a thud, knees bent, and dashed behind the hovercraft, narrowly avoiding the goddarts’ lethal “stings.”
A long, calming breath later, he slid inside the hover, placing the Made One onto the passenger seat with care. Once settled in the driver’s seat, he wrapped a kerchief around his bloody bicep.
Thunk. Thunk. Pause. Thunk.
Fark those creatures and their poisonous arrows. Even if they never left the mountains, they caused destruction wherever they went. Fark them. Fark them all.
The adrenaline receded, and his shaking hands fisted. This wasn’t the goddarts’ fault. They hadn’t killed her. Those shoting Alchemics, screwing up the coordinates, had done so.
The snowstorm’s intensity increased, his climbing rope flapping in the wind. No way to retrieve it now, so he punched the start button, his craft rose, and he turned up the heat. Though chilled, he was unwilling to remove his coat from the Made One. He punched the nav’s Home button and sighed.
His lids grew heavy, and he leaned back in the seat and stretched out his legs. But like a fished reeled in by an angler, the Made One drew him. One more look.
She was lovely, and so easy to picture alive. He’d bet she’d been determined, with that strong chin and bold, aquiline nose. But her wide, plush mouth softened her—he could almost see her welcoming smile and the sparkle in her eyes when she did so, eyes that would never again light.
Had she been unbending or pliable? Both, perhaps. Yes, a woman firm in her viewpoints. Stubborn, even. Yet she’d laugh easily and embrace others with warmth. Her curls might be frozen, but he imagined them springy and soft.
The Fates. He was a practical man, pragmatic even. What was he doing, spinning stories about a dead woman?
He leaned back and pumped up the heat. After a couple swigs of warming troff, Rafe fell asleep as the hover took him home.
Kit opened her eyes. Leaden weights of exhaustion dragged at her lids, melted her muscles. Movement felt near impossible. Someone had wrapped a shearling coat around her. She was dry, and the chill was leaving her bones, her brain slowly coming back online.
Everything felt strange. Even the air smelled odd with a scent she couldn’t identify.
Where was she?
Fuzzy memories of being in a pool, climbing to a cliff top, then…nothing.
Heat pumped from somewhere, warming her. Soft leather cushioned the fingers of one hand. Cool glass chilled her cheek. Except the window was convex, the world outside blurred by a raging snowstorm.
Absurd. She feared moving as if she’d shatter the spell enthralling her. But snow? In August? Winter came early in Maine. But not that early.
The dense pine forest slipped by, yet even through the storm, she glimpsed huge peaked mountains rearing in the distance, far larger than the ones of Acadia.
Fine. She was in a strange place that most definitely wasn’t Maine. In winter. In a car. Ergo, she wasn’t alone.
She inched her head far enough left so she could spy on the driver.
He was a large man with muscles bulging beneath a long-sleeved t-shirt. Thirtyish, perhaps. The blowing heat blew wisps of tawny hair that had loosened from his braid. The smile lines fanning from his eyes softened his hawkish nose and the bladed cheeks carving his tanned and weathered face. A striking man.
Who was he and where was he taking her?
He leaned against the opposite door, hands in his lap. Sleeping.
Tingles skimmed her body. He wasn’t driving. No one was driving.
She would not panic. She never panicked. Think.
Of course. The car must be a Tesla. They drove themselves, didn’t they? Horses she knew. Cars, not so much.
She remained statue still, but let her eyes survey the dashboard, the steering wheel, the seats.
What an alien-looking car.
Aliens had not kidnapped her, even if Bree would say exactly that. She chuffed a laugh, imagining her sister’s reaction.
The man’s eyes snapped open, then widened. “You!”
Words caught in her parched throat. She swallowed, or tried to.
He paled, a typical reaction to her mangled face, and then reached for her.
Kit pressed back against the car door.
“You’re alive,” he said, his bewilderment obvious. He touched her hand, his fingers warm. “They must have put you in stasis. They knew, yet they didn’t tell me.” His voice trailed off, his eyes bright with wonder. “Are you warm enough?”
She nodded. Though he’d thought her dead, he’d wrapped her in his coat.
The hand he swiped across his face shook. “Water?”
Again, Kit nodded.
He retrieved a glass bottle from the console, unscrewed the top, and went to place it to her lips. “Yes?”
She tried to say “yes,” but coughed instead.
The bottle he pressed to her lips contained cool, soothing water. She drank it down. Heaven.
She wanted to ask a million questions. Best to wait, to see what he offered about who he was and where they were going. The world was off-kilter, the car, the snowstorm—even she felt odd, like inside her an indefinable change had occurred.
“Better?” he said.
“I’m Radulfr. Rafe.” He squeezed his thumb and forefinger to the bridge of his nose, then his light honey eyes sharpened. “You’re… Safe. You are safe.”
Sure she was. As safe as if surfing a hurricane. She remained silent.
“I’m here to help you,” he said.
Ted Bundy had probably said the same. Her lips twitched. Sybi would claim she was being far more jocular than the situation called for. Lucky stars, where were her sisters?
Corralling her mind wasn’t easy, but first things first. Her circus years had taught her to read not just her beloved horses, but people as well. The man’s eyes had warmed and his face, so harsh when asleep, had softened to welcoming. One callused finger trailed across the back of her hand that rested on the seat.
She snatched it away.
“You’ll be okay,” he said. “Rest assured.” He pressed two buttons on the dash.
“Changing route to MedSurge,” came the mechanical voice.
A doctor, they would see a doctor. She fisted her hands. With each medical visit, some new ailment or hurdle rose to thwart her. “I don’t want to go.”
His jaw hardened to implacability, yet his eyes gentled. “We must.”
“I can’t take you home until you’ve been checked. I’m sorry.”
“All right.” Kit cleared her throat. “When you found me, did you see two other women?”
He shook his head. “Just you.”
“Are you sure?”
“I am,” he said, his concern palpable.
Where were Sybi and Bree? They needed her.
She gripped his arm. “Find them, please. You must find them.”
“My sisters.” Her eyes burned, and she was growing frantic. “They fell the same as I did.”
His jaw bunched. “I wasn’t made aware of them. Let me find out. I’ll make a call.”
He pressed a series of buttons on the dash, tapped his earpiece, and spoke low, too low, so she couldn’t hear. That terrible exhaustion was creeping over her again. She squeezed her eyes tight, then blinked fast. She had to stay awake to hear if there was any news. Please, please, please.
Kit startled when he punched the dash, tore out his earpiece, and flung it into the console bin.
She forced herself not to cringe. He was one scary-looking dude, his face taut with fury. If his anger erupted, and he hit her, she’d bite him and go for his eyes.
He clamped his hands to the wheel, knuckles white. “People are looking for them.”
“Others are searching. That’s the best I can tell you right now.”
“We should look, too.”
“They’re not anywhere near here.”
“But they must—”
“My information is accurate. They’re nowhere in these mountains.”
“But they…” Frustration seized her. “They’ll keep looking?”
“They will. Until they’re found.”
She wanted to look, too. To find them. To make her world right.
He handed her another water bottle. “Try to finish it, to hydrate. Are you hungry?”
“No.” So tired she could barely lift her hand, she clenched the bottle and sipped. Her hand. Her scarred hand. The one with the floral tattoo. Her scars and the tattoo were gone.
Stars alive, her brain had cracked.
Yet for being so tired, she felt fine. She reached for the visor to look in the mirror. There wasn’t one. Nor a rearview mirror, either. “Do you have a mirror?”
“I don’t.” His big hand enveloped hers. “I know everything’s strange. Please. You’re in a different place, one you’re not familiar with. We’re going to the MedSurge to have you checked out. I know it’s hard, but try to relax. I swear to the Fates, you are safe.”
Her lids dragged downward. Safe? Her lips twitched. Oh, the irony of that word. She tumbled into sleep.
Rafe watched the rise and fall of her chest as she dozed. He couldn’t believe she was alive. Breathing. Talking.
The Alchemics must have triggered her stasis from a distance, which meant they knew exactly where she was, his search for the woman yet another one of their foul experiments.
The Made One rested her head against the doorframe, soft puffs of breath exhaled through her parted lips, his coat snugged around her as if for protection as much as for warmth.
He didn’t know what to say or how to advise her, something his packmates would find as astonishing as the woman beside him. More than seventy years had passed since the Wolf Clan included a Made One—those rare women from parallel worlds whom the Alchemics remade and were prone to produce female children.
The phone buzzed. His Alpha, his father, kept calling. He sent it to voicemail along with all the others. Duty called him home. But she was his duty now, and he wouldn’t awaken her. At the best of times his father was abrasive and high-handed. The Made One would learn soon enough. Though it would add another hour to their trip, he was right to change their route from The Keep to the MedSurge. By the time they arrived home, his father would be fully cooked and ready to blister him. How could he when Rafe returned a hero, having found the Made One? Quite the conundrum for his dear Alpha.
The Alchemics said she was from Earth. Rafe tried to imagine being ripped from Eleutia to land on a different world. He couldn’t.
Sketches he’d seen another Made One draw of Earth disturbed him—hard highways and glass-and-metal towers, streets crawling with people and cars, and few open spaces for their humans and animals to roam free. How could they stand it?
He leaned back, watching her, waiting for her to again awaken, to prove she truly was real and alive.
The blizzard gave way to rain as they descended the mountain, the clouds clearing to leave sun-dappled prisms of beaded water on the pines. When they pulled into the MedSurge entrance, the still-wet grass blanketed the lawn. Once parked, he settled the hovercraft. She still didn’t waken, and his patience ran out.
“We’re here,” he said, trying to gentle his voice’s rasp so as not to startle her.
She leaned forward. “I fell asleep.”
“You did.” Her deep green eyes held all the forest colors within them. They also held confusion and panic. His chest tightened, squeezed by his deep need to erase her fear.
When she learned the truth, he’d be there to help her through it. “We’re at the outlying MedSurge. They’re an emergency clinic, and they’ll examine you to make sure you’re uninjured.”
Kit didn’t feel injured, she felt… How the hell did she feel? She flexed her fingers. Even her scarred ones moved easily. Her joints no longer ached, her head didn’t pound, and her bad side wasn’t in pain. How odd. She tugged the shift up to her thighs.
“What are you doing?” he said.
“I want to see my legs.” She felt good. Too good.
The light pouring in from the now-sunny sky confirmed her suspicions. The scars on her twisted left leg had disappeared, just like the ones on her hand. In fact, her leg looked straight and silken and fit. Too fit for a woman in her fifties.
She raised her hand to touch her face and its map of scars. She fisted it, bolts of fear stabbing her gut.
Could Bree be right, and aliens had abducted her? Rafe looked like a normal man, but… She tamped down her fear. “Let’s go, shall we?”
He nodded and pressed a switch that opened the winged doors. “Stay there. I’ll come around to help you out.”
Kit stepped from the car and fell flat on her face. Ow. A combination of dirt and gravel scraped her chin, but she managed to get to her knees. How mortifying. Silly. Her clumsiness was from the absurd long dress she wore, not to mention the enormous coat.
She got her feet under her and using the car for leverage, she stood on her good leg, easing her bad one down and putting some weight on it. More weight. The leg held. Other than her scraped knees, both legs felt fine. Strong, even. She hadn’t felt that strength in thirty-plus years.
When she looked down, she understood why she’d fallen. She’d misjudged the step. The car hugged the ground as if it had no rims or tires. The tires must fold up or…
A flying car whooshed into the parking lot. The vehicle hung in the air for a moment, then murmured to the ground.
Oh. That was how. Flying cars. Brain freeze, like ice cream’s piercing pain through her head.
The car she’d just traveled in must have been flying, too. The car. Flying. Where the hell was she, Roswell?
Rafe clasped her upper arm, eyes narrowed. “All right?”
“No, but not because I pancaked in the dirt.”
His quizzical frown said she made little sense to him. She wasn’t making much sense to herself, either.
“This is Tallylow,” he said. “The nearest town down the top of the mountain. Since I found you encased in ice… Fark.” His face stiffened.
He hadn’t meant to tell her that. Encased in ice. “Like a popsicle?”
There was that puzzled look again, poor man.
“Where am I?”
Not a country or even a world she’d ever heard of. The tattered threads holding her together began to pop. “So I was abducted?”
Fark. Rafe drowned in those deep green eyes, the truth burning the tip of his tongue. She’d straightened her spine, her head held high, demanding the truth.
He couldn’t. It was one thing to disobey his Alpha, quite another to defy the Alchemics’ order not to explain before they chose the moment. The Clan would be made to pay. “I can’t. Not yet.”
She crossed her arms. “Why not?”
“Others will suffer.” Would that he had a better answer.
She looked away from him toward the woods that ringed the MedSurge, as if she wanted to bolt. That’s what he would do. His wolves could corral her in an instant, but that would only increase her mental turmoil. “Please. You’ll learn everything soon. I don’t even know your name.”
Her left eye twitched, and he wondered if that tell was for fury or fear.
“It’s Kitlyn. Kit. Let’s go see the doctor.”
Whatever was going on, Kit would figure it out. She’d survive. The circus accident hadn’t defeated her. Nor had the death of her husband. Not even the Huntington’s. She hadn’t faltered then, and she wouldn’t now.
The man—Rafe—seemed sincerely troubled, but whether it was truth or a performance staged to ease her fears, she couldn’t tell.
He cupped her elbow as he guided her up a brick path to the circular building, his hand warm and protective. A predator cloaked in kindness would do the same.
Majestic pines encircled the area, the soil sandy, the grass emerald green. Another flying car zipped into the parking lot, and yet a roan horse stood tied to a fence post munching on a feed bag.
Eleutia, huh? She’d tumbled into a strange drama where she didn’t know her role. Perhaps her looming death had created a fantastical world in her head. Yet the pine scents, the man’s firm grip, the heat of him said all she saw, smelled, and felt were utterly real.
Until she understood what game she was immersed in, best to play ball.
She pinned her eyes on the safety of the entryway’s banal silver and glass doors, shiny and clean but for myriad vertical scratches on the metal frame’s bottom half.
When the doors slid open, a man sitting behind a large, semi-circular counter walked over. He raised his hand in greeting, looking perfectly human, with eyes that tilted upward, a full mouth, and purple hair. Lots of people colored their hair purple nowadays. Lots.
Rafe released her. “Are you good, Kit?”
“Yes. I need to use the ladies’ room.” She wanted to look in a mirror.
“We’ll be right back,” Rafe said to the receptionist.
Kit didn’t bother to protest his escort.
With the bathroom lock’s satisfying snick, she leaned her forehead against the warm wood and took a couple of deep breaths. It felt good to be alone.
She shrugged off the sheepskin coat, then ripped the damned dress over her head. Naked, eyes squished tight, she ran her hands across unnaturally firm flesh—unnatural for a fifty-eight-year-old woman, at least.
No middle-aged pooch. No cellulite dimples. No swollen left knee. She opened her eyes, the ceiling’s glow filling the small room with ambient light. But she wasn’t ready to look in the mirror.
The arm she held in front of her was long and lean, the skin pale and dotted with a few freckles. Her fingers traced her bicep and forearm muscles, slightly defined and strong. Her arm hadn’t looked like that since her vaulting days with her beloved circus horses. Voltige demanded strength, discipline, and endurance to execute the tricks while riding the ring before an audience of thousands.
Her hand glided over her muscled thigh, her firm abdomen, and her round, upthrust breasts—the way they’d been in her twenties.
She had missed this body.
With deliberate steps, she moved in front of the silvered mirror that hung above the sink. Gathering her courage, as she’d done before that first leap onto the horse’s back, she stilled. Paused. Breathed. Then she raised her face to the mirror.
She gasped. The woman staring back at her was in her prime. Maybe twenty-eight or thirty. She gripped the sink, afraid she’d topple over from shaking so badly.
Kit pressed her palm to the mirror.
She pinched the tip of her nipple hard, twisted.
“Damn!” Pain. Real pain.
“Are you all right in there?” came her rescuer’s voice.
“I’m fine,” she said back, though her voice wavered.
Hands pressing on the mirror, she leaned in close. The nose that once had a bump from a childhood soccer injury was now aquiline. No spiderwebs of red threaded her eyes, nor did the clouding of cataracts gray them, her irises darkened to their original green. Her forehead was clear of lines, and lips once distorted by the pull of age now bloomed with youthful fullness.
The scars mottling the left side of her face, the ridges and rills, the flesh hard and shiny since that disastrous day at the circus—gone, her face unblemished.
Her fingers trailed down her cheek seeking the familiar texture of her disfigurement only to brush across the cream of flawless skin.
The face of her youth stared back at her. She wasn’t just whole again. She was young again.
Tears spilled over her lids and tracked down her rosy cheeks to hang suspended on her undamaged chin.
Kit whirled, putting her back to the mirror and crossing her arms around her waist.
But what about her Huntington’s?
“Kit!” She’d been in there too long, and Rafe hadn’t heard a sound. “Open the door.”
She didn’t answer, so he waited a few more minutes, then told the receptionist to get the key.
When the receptionist returned, he took the key and unlocked the door. “Kit?”
She stood before him wearing that Alchemic tunic, fists balled, shaking. “Am I losing my mind?”
He reached for her and she skittered back.
“No!” she said. “Answer me.”
“You are sane. You are young and whole.”
“I can’t tell you that. Not yet.”
She gave him her back. “I don’t like games.”
He stepped forward, close enough to catch her soothing lily-of-the-valley scent. He froze. The Alchemics gave each Made One an individual scent. Too preoccupied to pick it up earlier, it enfolded him in sweet-painful memories of his mam.
Then he caught the additional hint of lilac.
Oh, they were clever, as if they’d purposely designed her scent for him. “Kit.”
If possible, she straightened further. He should’ve protected her from this, never should have left her alone. She was traumatized, and who wouldn’t be, wearing new flesh in a strange place?
“Hey there,” he said. “You’re out of danger. Everything you’re seeing and hearing is real.”
She whirled, her face taut, cheeks flushed, and jaw firm. She blazed like a fiery Wolf warrior, making his blood race. What courage she had.
“Real, eh?” Her eyes narrowed. “Then let’s find the doctor and get this over with.”
I hope you loved this small taste of ALTERED as much (or more!) than I loved writing it! Thanks for reading! ~ Vicki
Out Aug. 12