by Tonya Kuper
(Website, Twitter, Facebook)Published by Entangled Teen Amazon •
Reality is only an illusion.
Except for those who can control it…
Worst. Birthday. Ever.
My first boyfriend dumped me—happy birthday, Josie!—my dad is who knows where, I have some weird virus that makes me want to hurl, and now my ex is licking another girl’s tonsils. Oh, and I’m officially the same age as my brother was when he died. Yeah, today is about as fun-filled as the swamps of Dagobah. But then weird things start happening…
Like I make something materialize just by thinking about it.
When hottily-hot badass Reid Wentworth shows up on a motorcycle, everything changes. Like, everything. Who I am. My family. What really happened to my brother. Existence. I am Oculi, and I have the ability to change reality with my thoughts. Now Reid, in all his hotness, is charged with guiding and protecting me as I begin learning how to bend reality. And he’s the only thing standing between me and the secret organization that wants me dead…
Copyright © 2014 by Tonya Kuper. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
“Hey, did you hear me?” my boyfriend, Tate, asked. His chestnut hair didn’t even budge in the quick breeze sifting through the school’s outdoor cafeteria. It wasn’t his best feature. “I’m ready to move forward in our relationship, to take it to the next level, but…I don’t think you are.”
My gut knotted.
This ass with his action-figure hair was breaking up with me—on my birthday! I folded my clammy hands. I’d seen public breakups, but this was my first as an active participant. I side-eyed my two friends Charles and Lauren across the table. Lauren had stopped mid-chew of her hummus-dipped carrot. Charles paused with his sandwich halfway to his open mouth.
I felt like I was wearing Princess Leia’s buns at a Star Trek convention.
Tate shuffled his feet in front of our bench. Waiting.
Pulling in a long sigh, I took a moment to think about my response. I knew name-calling wouldn’t do much good, so I settled on calling him out. “You mean I won’t put out, so you’re moving on to the next girl who will?” Tate’s face flamed red. Did I have to say it that way? No. But come on. He was dumping me on my birthday. Total jerk move.
Tate stood, his thumbs tucked into his pockets, and his face returned to its normal tan hue. “It’s not just the physical stuff. You’re…different, Josie. Distant. It’s for the best, for both of us.”
“Um, friends?” he finally asked.
Friends? Um, no. His tongue had been down my throat a few nights ago, and I didn’t let just anyone do that.
He walked past me, and that was it. My first real relationship over. Surprisingly, I felt like I could breathe easier, because I wouldn’t have that pressure of being a girlfriend anymore. But I had managed to defy the high school social ladder. At least for a few months, I, Josie Harper, had succeeded at being a science-loving, Trekkie-dork-to-the-core girlfriend to a popular guy who literally didn’t know the difference between Lord of the Rings and Lord of the Flies. And they didn’t think it could be done.
Lauren and Charles leaned toward me, both of them waiting for details. Lauren still hadn’t resumed crunching. Well, I didn’t have the energy to dish, so I turned away from the table. The relationship was over and it was still exhausting. Leave it to Tate to make this as painful as possible. I watched him stroll off like he didn’t have a care in the world. No one spoke. But really, what was there to say?
“Happy birthday to you!” My best friend Hannah’s soprano voice and dark curls bounced on the balmy Florida air, cutting into the awkward silence. She skipped among the tables toward me, carrying a familiar teal box.
I glanced back across the table to our usual lunch mates, who had just witnessed my humiliation. Charles and Lauren made the “cut it” motion across their throats.
“I agree with those two. Please don’t,” I moaned at Hannah. “It’s been a crap day.”
Hannah’s hazel eyes scrunched up in confusion as she positioned the box in front of me. Cupcakes. I welcomed whatever sugar euphoria they could provide me, but I didn’t think they would improve my mood. They were a bittersweet reminder of the day’s significance.
“How is your birthday bad already? It’s only noon.” She sat next to me, facing the street, and I turned so both our backs were to the school. Conversations resumed among our friends behind us.
“Thank you for that keen observation, Wesley Crusher.” I forced my voice to lilt up with enthusiasm, but the pathetic Star Trek jab hung in the air.
I peeked at my phone. “The exact time of my birth was technically three minutes ago, so maybe the rest of the day will be better.”
“Josie,” she whispered. “Seriously. What’s wrong? Is it your dad?”
Hannah and I had latched onto each other the first day of sophomore year when we were both new to Naples and Oceanside High. We hadn’t let go since. We basically knew everything about each other’s pasts—like, she knew I hadn’t seen my dad in more than a month and that my family was fragile.
Hannah drew a breath next to me. I wasn’t about to make eye contact with her—she could read me like nobody else. She’d asked what was wrong. Well, where to begin… “You want the rundown?”
She nudged me with her shoulder. “Yeah.”
“Okay,” I continued, despite the hollow feeling filling my stomach. “One: my dad hasn’t called, and I doubt he’s coming home. Nice, thanks a lot, Dad. Way to be there. Two: the lab assistant job I landed for the summer? Fell through. They left me a message during second block.”
Hannah groaned. I had been looking forward to that job—I needed that internship. It would’ve been perfect for college applications, and to let me escape this town. Because, for the love of Khan, I needed some space. I’d been on a tight leash since the day I was born, and an acceptance to an out-of-state university was my ticket to freedom. Case in point, the National Physics Honors Award. That was a biggie—and I wasn’t complaining about that. The flippin’ vice president of the country—yes, it was that big—would be hand-delivering my award in less than a week. Heck, that alone should’ve nabbed me this internship. Damn it.
I side-glanced at Hannah. I didn’t think she would fully support me on anything college-related. Any conversation of where we were going for school, well, Hannah was not a fan. Because of my brainy ways, there was no way we would end up at the same place.
Swallowing a lump in the back of my throat, I tried to change the subject. “And three: Tate just broke up with me.”
“He what?” Hannah screeched and jumped up from the cement bench, whirling to face me head-on. Her cheer skirt gave the guys behind her a one-second show. “I thought things were going well. And he knew it was your birthday!” She paced in front of me, muttering and swearing. The interesting ways in which she vowed to eff up Tate’s face made me smile despite the tears that continued to push at the backs of my eyes.
After a particularly colorful threat that involved Tate and “his beloved man parts,” Hannah sat back down and tore into the box. She pushed a cupcake toward me. “So no boyfriend, no dad, no job. Well, look at it this way—now you have even more reason to make a wish.” She ripped into a package of candles and shoved one into a cupcake frosted in the image of Sheldon Cooper. “Plus, now you’re back on the market for the party tonight.” She passed the cupcakes around the table. “Let’s turn this birthday around!” She was a cheerleader on the field and off, an eternally optimist, sometimes annoyingly so.
Lauren whooped in agreement. Charles slid a lighter toward the box, and Hannah’s enthusiasm ignited poor Sheldon’s whole face.
It must have killed her to walk into Cake, Pie, and Chai café and order cupcakes decorated with the entire cast of The Big Bang Theory. She caught me smiling and winked.
True. Best. Friend.
The yellow flame flickered. Hannah whispered, “Make a wish.”
My friends watched me, so I didn’t want to scoff at the silly birthday tradition. Wishes? Puh-lease. Wishes were right up there with Rudolph and Santa doing a sleigh drive-by. Or the Easter bunny delivering eggs. And no, it wasn’t my statistical analysis or scientific surety that told me so. Oh, I’d made wishes. Thousands upon thousands of them. But none brought back my brother.
When Hannah had asked about my craptastic day, I hadn’t brought up missing Nick. But I did miss him. I wished my brother were here with me now. With him by my side, I wouldn’t feel out of place, so different.
“Josie, if you don’t make that wish soon, Sheldon Cooper is going to melt like the wicked witch from Oz.”
No, there was no point in “wishing.” If I wanted results, I’d have to achieve them for myself.
I wish for…choice.
Choice was attainable. Well, maybe. With all the rules and restrictions from my mom, I was pretty limited in the whole “choosing” department. But this seventeenth birthday marked me one day closer to independence. To college. To being who I wanted to be without reservation.
If nothing else, when my eighteenth b-day rolled around, this would be in my grasp. I smothered my own smile. See? A wish could come true, with the proper parameters.
The flame disappeared with barely a blow. My friends clapped, and I was already starting to feel better. They were sweet for trying to make my day special.
Everyone dove into the iced deliciousness, Charles, of course, grabbing for the Penny cupcake and making a gross tongue swipe across her frosted face. Pig. I broke off a corner of mine, savored the equal parts of vanilla cake and smooth, sugary frosting.
A rumble yanked our attention to the street as a motorcycle pulled up directly in front of us, the April sun reflecting off the red lacquer.
Our crew, along with every other student in the courtyard, stared at the biker’s broad chest encased in a blue tee, tan arms bunching as he throttled the bike down. “Yummy,” Hannah said. “And I don’t mean the cupcake.”
Another bike rolled up between the red one and the curb. A black crotch rocket. Black helmet and black tee on a whole lotta muscle. Whoa.
“Maybe my birthday won’t be so bad after all,” I murmured.
I glanced down at my MAY THE MASS TIMES ACCELERATION BE WITH YOU tank top. As I straightened the words across my chest, I licked my lips, checking for leftover frosting. In case the motorcycle guy looked my way, I needed to at least be presentable.
Hannah gasped and hit my hand. “You didn’t happen to wish for a hot dude, did you?”
Both riders cut their engines, kicked down the stands, and shifted to take off their helmets. I watched the guy on the black bike. I definitely had an image of what the perfect guy under that helmet would look like to make my every birthday wish come true. I wanted him to have longish hair. Like a dark-haired young Thor, not old-school, trying-too-hard Jonas-brother long. Light blue eyes. Some scruff, not thick. More scruff meant too old. And a tattoo.
Pain shot through my eyes and magma must’ve taken the place of my brain. Nausea swept through me from head to toe, leaving a cold sweat on my forehead. It all happened in a matter of seconds. What the—?
As soon as I recognized that I might actually yak in front of the entire student body—and the hot biker guy!—the urge was gone. No more migraine. I felt fine.
I wiped my forehead and refocused on the guy in black. His arm flexed as he pulled off his helmet, and the sleeve of his T-shirt tightened over his sculpted biceps. Dark wavy locks fell into the guy’s face. The rest of his hair skimmed his broad shoulders. Holy hotness.
He tucked his helmet under his arm, ran his hand over his face, then leaned down to look into his side-view mirror. “Are you shitting me?” he yelled.
The other rider, who’d already pulled off his helmet, almost fell from his bike, laughing.
Mr. Hottie scanned the courtyard. Who was he looking for? He swung his leg over his seat and continued to survey each table of students. Until he got to us.
The guy stared. At me. Shit, he must’ve caught me checking him out. His eyes locked on mine, and he strode forward to imaginary music that played in my head. Each of his steps matched the beat of the song. Each step held confidence as he moved with the purpose and grace of a uniformed marine.
When he was about twelve feet from me, I noticed the edge of a tattoo peeking out from under his sleeve in the same place as Nick’s had been.
The stranger drew closer. Black lashes outlined his brilliant blue eyes. The contrast between his lashes and irises was startling. Stunning. But there was something behind the eyes. A familiarity. The lingering frosting turned sweeter in my mouth. I swallowed. I didn’t know him…did I?
Four steps away. His beautiful eyes widened as something flickered across his face. He halted abruptly, furrowed brow and narrowed eyes. He stared me down. “Son of a bitch,” he said slowly.
Was he talking to me? I checked out my table, thinking maybe one of my friends was doing something that had earned the hot guy’s curse. Nope. They all just gawked at the dynamic duo like they were Batman and Robin.
“Come on,” the sidekick said as he nudged the hot guy. The dude broke eye contact with me, and they sauntered past our table.
I rubbed my temples, trying to ease the dull headache building. The guy had cursed when he saw me. What did I do? And who the hell was he?
We’d traveled halfway across the country to this chick, and she turned me into some dude on the front of a romance novel. I’d just buzzed my head last week. Good thing she didn’t want me in pigtails. Who was she hoping was under the helmet, anyway?
Santos elbowed me as we passed the last of the lunch tables. “Man, you look good in long hair. Add a couple dreads and eye makeup and you’d make one helluva Captain Jack Sparrow.”
Santos gave me a shove, and we moved closer to the entrance of the school.
She had to be able to see me in order to change my appearance, so I had naturally looked around for her. But a hot girl had caught my attention first. And then I’d realized the hot girl and Josie were one and the same.
Josie still had the strawberry-blond hair and green eyes like she did when I had a crush on her a couple years ago, but she’d definitely grown up since we’d last seen each other. Cheekbones and curves. Boots and a Star Wars tank. Alluring in every way imaginable. Damn.
I’d made sure she wouldn’t recognize me. It was easier that way—for now.
Well, seeing as how she’d Pushed my new appearance, I guess that answered the question of whether she possessed abilities or not. And from the way she’d grabbed her head as I passed by, she likely wasn’t a stranger to the sickening eye pain and wicked headache that came with the talent. I needed to talk to her in private, preferably before she thought she was going nuts or accidentally hurt someone. Or someone hurt her on purpose.
Most of us knew who her family was and what had happened, but I’d had an inside look. It wasn’t pretty. The worst part was that Josie had been kept in the dark. She didn’t know about…anything.
Her safe little world had to be disrupted, and I was the one chosen to drag her into hell. It was my responsibility to keep her alive and in check. Her life depends on me. My throat felt dry. She didn’t deserve this, but she also didn’t have a choice. She was exactly where Nick had been two years ago—and look how well that had turned out. Sweat beaded on my brow at the thought. Josie’s brother’s death had destroyed a lot of lives.
I shook her and Nick’s faces out of my head as we entered the second set of doors into the building and approached the security guard. The lack of windows coupled with two stories of concrete resembled a jail more than a high school. The sterile cleaning-supply smell didn’t help the illusion.
“What’s your business, gentlemen?” the security guard asked, holding a metal detector wand at his side. “Arms out.” Add the guard, and it felt kind of like a prison, too.
The knife I carried in my boot and the cool metal of the M9 Beretta pressing against the small of my back disappeared. Not a big deal. I could observe one of the weapons into my hand, if need be. I lifted my arms out to my sides, my helmet hanging from one hand. “Checking in at the office, sir. Registering as new students.”
The wand made an outline of my body in the air. Without words, the guard waved me on, and then Santos stepped into my spot and cocked his head toward me. Santos couldn’t Retract, so I made his HK45C, the Navy Seal–inspired pistol, vanish. Like me, he could Push a weapon if and when he wanted to. The wand waved around his body. The guard gave a nod and said, “Welcome to Oceanside.”
Santos tucked his helmet under his arm. “Thanks.”
“I’ll do the talking. You have the paperwork, right?” I said once out of earshot of security.
“Yup. Sorry you have to do high school again. Sucks. But on the plus side…” Santos nodded to a girl passing us. “Hey,” Santos said. The girl giggled.
“Hopefully this is a short-term stint. Besides, I’m not worried about my grades this time around.”
Santos smiled widely. “You graduated a year early. I don’t think you had to worry about grades the first time.”
“It was easy; I didn’t have any of those distractions.” I nodded my head toward the giggly girl walking down the hall. Santos took another few seconds to admire her again.
“While you were cheering the home team and chasing girls on the playground, I got to run with knives,” I said.
“Sounds like a badass school.”
Santos hadn’t gone to school in the Denver Hub like I did. It was a different experience. “There were no football games or dances. It was nothing like a public school or private school—unless it was Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.” I laughed at the thought of having Wolverine’s hair. Good thing Josie wasn’t envisioning Hugh Jackman when I pulled up.
I hadn’t been in “school” for more than two years. It’s not like we’d be here, sticking it out, till the end of the semester. Extractions rarely took long. And I’d single-handedly managed a dozen of them. The protocol was the same. Approach the target. Determine if he/she possessed Oculi abilities. Establish trust. Assess if the target was Resistance material. If they weren’t…Yeah, that’s where this job got interesting. I didn’t want to think about what would happen to Josie if she didn’t agree to come along peacefully.
“Yo,” Santos said. He lobbed his helmet over a streamer hanging from the ceiling like he was shooting a two-pointer. “You do realize this girl is going to hate you, right?” He hustled to catch his substitute basketball and jump-shot it over the next streamer.
“Yup.” She would despise me, and I didn’t like it, but I had to put any feelings aside, because there were more important things at stake.
Santos caught his helmet and faked it to me, then tossed it up again. I’d known Santos about two years. He’d had my back on several occasions and vice versa. He was, is, one of my few friends. But even now, he didn’t know the details of how I knew the Harper family.
We passed a bank of glass surrounding the library. All computers, few books. I caught a glimpse of myself in the glass. Santos was right—hello, Jack Sparrow. A new day, a new face, it felt like.
Santos was one of the few people alive who knew what I’d looked like before the incident two years ago. My change in appearance was the Resistance’s form of a witness protection program. Appearance changes didn’t happen unless it was absolutely necessary due to paperwork and identity shit. I didn’t mind looking different, though. It was all in an effort to keep me safe. And being alive was always a nice perk.
Even with different looks, I was still in danger, and the same held true for Santos. Such was the life of a trainer for the Resistance. Until my trainee was ready for the Hub or life in general, I was also his or her protector. Always on the lookout. Never off duty. Potential death was just another occupational hazard.
I’d already killed more people than I’d ever be okay with. And their friends would be coming after Josie. Soon.
Enigma (Schrodinger’s Consortium #2) by Tonya Kuper
The sequel to the highly anticipated Anomaly is a twisty-turny, romantic page turner perfect for fans of The Matrix
What’s worse than having half of your secret race wanting to kill you? Having both sides want to control you.
Feeling something for Reid Wentworth is not part of the plan. Josie Harper doesn’t have time to think about hot boys when she has to help unite the Resistance against the Consortium.
To say her life has changed since discovering she’s an Oculus would be the understatement of the century. The Consortium is out to enslave humanity—yeah, they aren’t fooling around—and as an Oculus, she’s one of the few people capable of altering reality and thwarting them.
In the largest Resistance hub in North America, Josie learns she doesn’t only have the strongest abilities to Push and Retract reality, she has gifts no other Oculus has. When they get word that the Consortium is flying in a world-renowned tech researcher to their headquarters who may have the knowledge to enslave humans, Josie and Reid assemble a team to intercept the researcher and to bust out Reid’s best friend, Santos, who was taken hostage until they get Josie. But the Board won’t let them leave.
The lines have blurred. The only person Josie can trust is Reid.