a Denazen novel by Jus Accardo
When a Six saved Kale’s life the night of Sumrun, she warned there would be consequences. A trade-off. Something taken for the life they gained. But Dez never imagined she’d lose the one thing she’d give anything to keep… And as if it’s not enough Dez finds her immunity to Kale fading, the Six brought in to help Kale learn to control his killer touch starts drooling on him the moment they meet. Worse than that? Jade can touch Kale. But bimbo Barbie is the least of Dez’s problems.
After Dez and Kale got away at Sumrun, her father lost not only his most powerful weapon but an important piece of the Supremacy project. Forced by Denazen to remedy the situation, he poisons Dez and offers her a choice—surrender to Denazen for the cure…or die. Determined to find a solution that doesn’t involved being bagged and tagged—or losing someone she loves—Dez keeps the poison a secret. But when a rash of Denazen attacks hit a little too close to home, Dez is convinced there’s a traitor among them. Jade.
Sacrifices, broken promises, and secrets. Dez will have to lay it all on the line if there’s any hope of proving Jade’s guilt before they all end up Residents of Denazen. Or worse, dead…
Title: Toxic (A Denazen Novel, #2)
Author: Jus Accardo
Genre: YA Sci-Fi
Length: 336 pages
Launch Date: October 2012
ePub ISBN: 978-1-62061-017-6
Print ISBN: 978-1-62061-016-9
2012 © Jus Accardo
Most people probably wouldn’t advise downing Jell-O shots before racing to the top of a thirty-foot crane.
Me? Well, it sounded like a good idea. Plus, Jell-O shots? My fave. The slimy glob of vodka-infused jelly—strawberry banana—went down nice and easy. Probably due to the sweet Jell-O-y goodness…or possibly the four that came before it.
I set the empty plastic cup down in the dirt and scanned the crowd. My new group of friends. Sixes. Every last one. Not that there was anything wrong with my old friends—I actually missed them like crazy. My antics weren’t nearly as impressive when there was a guy in the crowd who could walk on water. Or a chick that could breathe underneath it.
But this was safer. For now. These kids all knew about Kale’s ability. They knew to keep their distance, while at the same time, doing their best to make him feel welcome.
There were about twelve of us scattered around the construction site. From the base of the crane, I could see our own personal lightning rod—David, I think his name was—starting some of the construction vehicles by simply touching them. His ability drew off electricity, allowing him to receive and channel it through his body. The electric current spitting from his fingers brought the engines to life, accompanied by a round of enthusiastic applause.
What the hell was it about guys and big equipment?
Squealing metal filled the air as one of the dump trucks tipped its bed, sliding debris onto the lot. A few seconds later, a large chunk of concrete rocketed into the air. A blue-white ball of twitching light followed, leaving a shimmering trail in its wake as it shot across the night sky. The two objects collided with a deafening crack, and the concrete shattered, raining tiny bits and pieces over our heads. There was a chorus of cheers, followed by hysterical laughter.
Six or not, all drunken teenagers found destruction an epic source of amusement. At least some things in life were static.
Good thing Paul was with us, or someone might have heard all the noise. With his ability to cloak stationary people, places, and things, the rest of the world could only see the future home of the new Parkview strip mall. A silent, empty construction site after dark.
Yep. Nothing going on here.
There were a million and five things I should have been doing at that moment. Obsessing over my meager wardrobe of suitable school outfits. Looking over my shoulder for stick-up-the-ass men in Armani knockoffs just salivating to snatch me. Worrying about the fact that I had roughly five months—possibly less—of sanity left.
It was a new and vicious trend. Worry, worry, worry.
What was I doing? What I did best. Crazy shit.
“Last chance to step off, Dez,” the girl on the other side of the crane said, waving. She had brown eyes and long purple hair that twisted down her back in an intricate braid.
Step off? Someone had been sniffing some serious glue. I gripped the bars of the crane and arched my back. Snap, crackle, and pop. “Not a chance, baby.”
Kiernan was a fairly new recruit to Ginger’s Six mafia. We found her over the summer by following the list my cousin Brandt had given me before he left town. Her gift allowed her to blend into the environment, creating a bubble that rendered her pretty much invisible and silent. It was something Dad was drooling all over himself to get.
He’d tried, too. In an attempt to win her trust, Kale and I had taken her along on an amusement park trip. Dad’s men used the opportunity to try snagging all three of us. It nearly ended in disaster, but in the end, we more than proved which side of the good versus evil fence we stood on, and Kiernan came back to the Sanctuary with us. She was crude and abrasive, and there was a good chance she was even crazier than me—and I kind of loved her.
Kale cringed beside me as I arched my back again to get rid of a stubborn kink. He hated the sound of my joints cracking. His eyes darted between me and the top of the crane. “What’s this called again?”
“And why do you do it?”
“Because we’re not supposed to? That’s what makes it so damn fun.”
Instead of stepping back to join the gathering crowd, he took position beside me. “I’m going up, too.”
“I’ll be fine,” I insisted.
Above us, thunder boomed, and a blast of cool wind blew through the lot. A shiver ran through me. I prayed the rain held off because Kiernan had won the last race. I wanted a chance to even the score.
Kale rolled his eyes—a fairly new thing for him. “Of course you will. But you said it was fun. I’d like to try.”
My heart gave a little squeeze. Deep, dark voice. Check. Soulful eyes. Check. Well-muscled arms that could make a girl’s legs go rubbery—and a penchant for the dangerous. Check frigging plus. Could any guy be more perfect?
“You both goin’ up?” Kiernan kicked the crane twice, and it gave an echoing rattle, sending vibrations up the bars. “Remember, no cheating!”
“I don’t need to cheat,” Kale called to her. He flashed me a lopsided grin and stepped through the metal rungs to the inside hollow. Poking his head back through the bars, he kissed me. Not a quick peck on the cheek, either. No, kisses from Kale were enough to make a porn star blush.
Just part of the awesome that was my boyfriend.
My über hot, strangely innocent-yet-could-kill-you-with-a-bar-of-soap boyfriend.
“We’ll see about that, Ninja Boy.” Kiernan laughed. She’d been calling him that since the day she met him, and it’d kind of caught on. Last week she’d even bought him a black I’m a Ninja T-shirt. Kale pretended to be irritated by it, but secretly, even though it was short sleeved, I was pretty sure he loved the thing.
Hands ready, she turned and nodded to Kirk—a small guy with the ability to manipulate wood—and nodded.
“GO!” someone screamed.
Kale winked. “See you at the top.”
And he was gone. There was actually a moment of stunned stupidity as I watched him glide from rung to rung like a monkey-man on steroids. No normal guy should be able to move like that.
Oops. Kale wasn’t a normal guy. When the smallest brush of your skin could obliterate a WWE wrestler, you left normal behind pretty damn fast.
“Crap,” I spat as he disappeared from sight. Climbing. I was supposed to be climbing.
Fingers gripping the cool metal, I began my ascent.
At first my progress was impressive. Twice I caught sight of Kale, and Kiernan was way below. But the higher I went, the more tired my arms got. The wind wasn’t helping, either. It’d picked up to the point that I had to stop and yank the hoodie over my head because the flapping material was so distracting.
About halfway up the tower, things started getting sloppy. Several times I misplaced my foot, almost slipping, and my fingers were starting to get numb. Kiernan still trailed behind—but barely, and Kale was now nowhere in sight.
Hooking an arm around the closest bar for balance, I stopped to catch my breath. Someone below screamed something that was followed by a symphony of laughter. I heard my name, but a cacophonous clap of thunder drowned out the rest.
Then, because I’d obviously done something to piss Mother Nature off, it started to pour.
“Oh, you’ve gotta be shitting me.” At that point, a normal person would have given up. Not me. This was the kind of thing I lived for. Swiping a hand across my forehead, I pushed rain-soaked bangs back and continued to climb.
“Ready to give?” Kiernan shouted over the thunder. I couldn’t help smiling. Judging by the slight tremble in her voice, she was the one ready to give.
“Not a chance,” I yelled back.
She said something else—it didn’t sound happy—but her words were lost to the howling wind.
When I finally reached the top, Kale was there, each leg hooked through a metal rung for balance. He flashed me a wet but devastating smile. “You’re slow,” he said, extending a hand.
Our fingers laced together, and instant warmth spread throughout my entire body. Funny how just a single touch could do that. I let him help me up the last few inches and followed his lead, threading my legs through the closely spaced bars at the top. “I think Kiernan gave up.”
He sighed and flicked a strand of dripping black hair out of his eyes. The rain had let up, trickling to nothing more than a light drizzle. The storm wasn’t done, though. In the distance light blazed across the sky, with an occasional boom still splitting the air. “The weather conditions weren’t optimal for climbing.”
Anyone else would’ve earned a duh or ya think with a statement like that, but not Kale. The guy could’ve informed me that apples tasted like apples, and I’d be livin’ large on cloud nine if for no other reason than hearing his voice.
“So, give it to me straight. You’re part monkey, right?”
He blinked. “Of course not.” A few moments later, his lips turned downward. “You’re referring to my climbing skills, aren’t you?”
“Yep. That was pretty frigging awesome.”
He smiled, but it was only a shadow of his normal grin. “I can scale a building, if necessary. It’s part of my training.”
His training. Of course it was. That explained his less-than-enthusiastic reaction.
“Is there a name for it?”
“It’s called Parkour, I believe.”
Parkour! That was it. “I’ve seen videos on YouTube.” I grinned and leaned closer, nipping lightly at his bottom lip. “Seriously hot.”
It was all the motivation he needed. With one arm still wrapped around the crane, he circled my waist and pulled me close as his mouth covered mine. There was something incredibly hot—in a scorch-the-sun kind of way—about a toe-numbing kiss while balanced high in the air during a thunderstorm.
Warm fingers slipped under the bottom edge of my tank top and skimmed the line of my spine.
Incredibly, incredibly hot.
Kale’s feather-light touches did more for me than any adrenaline rush ever could. I worked an arm free and ran my index finger over the thick scar hidden beneath his T-shirt. It went from collarbone to shoulder. Four inches below was another. The result of a training session gone wrong, he’d once said. I knew each and every one by heart—a map of the days and events leading to his eventual freedom. He’d told me about most of them, but there were still a few holdouts. Some stories he refused to share. I never pushed—even though I wanted to. He’d tell me when he was ready.
With his fingers tracing fiery paths up and down my spine, the whole world faded away. There was no storm. Denazen didn’t exist, and our new friends below weren’t waiting for us. There was no pressure about senior year, no hard knot churning in my stomach every time I thought about the Supremacy project and what might happen when I turned eighteen. It was just me and Kale at the top of the world.
Electrifying each other.
The kiss built slowly, all-consuming and raw. I was flying. The warm sensation creeping from my stomach to my spine and through my limbs was like mainlining pure adrenaline. It stole my breath while somehow breathing new life into me.
“I like the feel of your skin when it’s wet,” Kale whispered into my mouth as the rain kicked up again. He pulled back a bit and caressed the outline of my jaw, then let his fingers drop to the neckline of my tank top. “But wet clothes are annoying. They make it hard to get to you.”
I nodded and tugged on the shoulder of his dripping T-shirt. Leaning forward a bit, I nuzzled his ear and whispered, “I think the best way to fix that is to lose the clothes.”
He leaned away and, in a flash, had his shirt pulled over his head and tucked safely through one of his belt loops. “Okay.”
Not exactly what I’d meant—but no complaints from me. Kale was ripped. I opened my mouth to tell him we should head back to the hotel, but he kissed me again, and all coherent thought evaporated.
Every inch of me was alive and humming—and then, suddenly, in pain.
Like someone had wrapped a rubber band around my chest, it was impossible to breathe. I struggled to fill my lungs with air but ended up choking instead, a series of body-wracking coughs lodging in my throat. Each fingertip burned like it was pressed against a red-hot stove burner, and every muscle felt ready to snap. It was hell.
Holy shit—we’d been struck by lightning.
It would have been logical if David hadn’t been on the ground below, attracting electricity. But maybe he’d left? I pulled away with a gasp, heart nearly freezing as my legs almost untangled from the bars.
Blue eyes wide and confused, Kale reached for me. “Dez, what happened?”
“I don’t know.” Even though the early September air had a definite chill, sweat beaded across my forehead. My heart thundered as every muscle twitched. Everything felt hollow and raw. After a few seconds, my breath finally returned to normal, and the air cooled a bit.
I leaned against the cold metal and closed my eyes as Kale pulled me close. With both his arms wrapped tight around me, I took a deep breath. “All of a sudden it was like—”
An entirely new feeling—an intense wave of vertigo—came out of nowhere, accompanied by the sensation of rushing air. I slipped backward on the slick metal, legs unraveling from their perch like they were made of pudding. My knees caught the bar for a fraction of a second before the entire world flipped upside down. In a flurry of misty rain and bright ribbons of light across the sky, Kale disappeared.
And so did the crane.
For a brief moment, nothingness. The world spun into blackness as my arms flailed, trying to grasp something—anything—solid. Once my fingers brushed the side of the crane, but thanks to the rain, they slipped effortlessly off.
A sudden stop jarred my body, the halt of momentum slamming me violently against the side of the crane. My head connected with the metal in a deafening clang, and everything blurred and stretched before finally snapping back into focus.
“I got you,” Kale huffed from somewhere over my head. He’d stopped me from falling, strong hands clamped like a vice around my wrists, and started to pull me up—but his foot slipped. The squeak of rubber against metal threatened disaster. A low curse escaped his lips as we dropped several inches, and in that moment, I was sure we were going down.
When my body stopped swinging, I turned to the side and peered over my shoulder. It was a long way to the bottom—which didn’t bother me as much as the sudden stop it ended with. I hoped Kiernan made it down all right. The voices of everyone below drifted up—an occasional hoot, followed by roaring laughter. They had no idea what was going on up here.
“Hang on. I need better footing,” Kale called. He sounded completely confident as he wound his leg between the two nearest rungs, then bent his knee and wedged a foot under the one below.
I didn’t share his confidence. The constricting feeling was creeping back, making it increasingly difficult to take anything more than short, shallow breaths. My muscles burned, and my throat was sore. Like I’d been screaming.
Something horrible nipped at my subconscious. An unthinkable thing that turned my blood to ice.
“Kale,” I said, trying to keep calm. There was a noise—an odd hum—that kept getting louder. It was making things spin a little and had started drowning out all the ambient noise. “I think—”
His face appeared over the edge, the rain from his hair hitting the top of my head in soft plops. “I have you, don’t worry. Get ready. I’m going to pull you up.”
He adjusted his grip on my wrists, and the fire spiked—then exploded. The pain trickled up each finger and to my shoulders. From there, it leaked into my chest and crept down my legs. It was like someone had ripped me open, lit a bonfire, and stitched everything back up with a rusty needle. I kicked out, trying to hook the edge of my sneaker around the closest bar so I could grab the crane, but it kept sliding off.
The movement jarred us both, causing Kale’s grip to shift just a little.
“Dez, stop moving!” There was a slight trace of panic in his voice. That in itself was enough to freak me out. Kale didn’t panic. He was Mr. Stone Face in a crisis. Another part of his training.
Normally he wouldn’t have had an issue holding on—those muscles weren’t all for show—but with the brief rain and my insistent squirming, his right hand slipped past my wrist, over my thumb, and then free. Instantly, the fire in my limbs cooled a little. Not enough to stifle the pain but enough to be noticeable.
Enough to confirm the unthinkable.
“Kale, let go!”
A flash of lightning darted across the sky. Close. The hair on the back of my neck sprang up like I’d jammed my finger into an electrical socket.
Another surge of pain. The humming grew louder. The wind went quiet, and the raindrops lost their tiny plinking noise as they pelted the metal. Our friends below quieted, and distant traffic seemed to come to a standstill. Even Kale, whose lips were moving frantically, was silent.
Desperate, I tried again to brace my feet against the metal, but it was useless. My sneakers kept sliding off.
“Please,” I begged, wondering if he could even hear my voice above the strange hum. “Let go.”
When he didn’t, I let my fingers go slack.
Horrified, he readjusted his hold and made a swipe with his free hand, but the rain made it impossible. Without my help, his fingers glided past my wrist. He managed to grab my other hand with both of his, but they were already slipping. His lips began moving again, and I thought I saw him say my name.
I forced a deep breath. The pain was worse than anything I could have imagined. Like trying to breathe through broken glass. I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Kale, you’re killing me. LET GO!”