Numbers Ignite (#2)
Numbers Ignite (#2)
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They think the deadly numbers game is over. They're wrong--and now everyone they love is in danger.
Experience the thrilling dystopian series for fans of Divergent, The Hunger Games, Uglies, and Legend.
- Kick-butt heroine
- Love triangle
- Enemies to lovers
TREENA AND VANCE THINK THEY’VE ESCAPED THE GAME FOREVER.
After Treena’s disastrous attempt to unite the nation, she has the deaths of hundreds haunting her dreams. Now, with hatred and accusations following her past the border, she’s determined to leave that horrible day behind and find a peaceful, uneventful life with Vance and the settlers. But when she starts seeing mysterious figures hiding in the abandoned cities at night and uncovers a strange desert population, she realizes there’s a danger much greater than NORA to worry about—and she just abandoned her people to their fate.
Vance is a prisoner. Being rejected by the girl he loves and put on trial for betraying his clan are bad enough, but now he’s been framed for a crime he never committed. Their less-than-perfect refuge has become the political game of a madman, and Vance is the only one who can stop it—if he can keep from being executed first.
Treena and Vance are still very much in the game, and this time it will take everything they have to save those they love.
Sneak Peek: Chapter 1
Sneak Peek: Chapter 1
I stood on the threshold of an abandoned stucco building and reached out, fingering a flake of orange-pink paint on the splintering wood. My senses had played tricks on me over the past few days as I stumbled through this awful desert wasteland. Choppers overhead that never appeared, the smell of pine trees where there were none, giant puddles of elusive water, and cities that vanished when I drew close.
A sharp pain registered in my finger, and I pulled it away to examine it. A splinter had pierced the skin. I pulled out the piece of wood and stared at the tiny wound, watching it fill with blood. Definitely real.
A town in the middle of the desert. The people of Old America were a special kind of crazy.
I tried sucking on the sore finger, but my tongue was too dry and swollen. Water. That was my first priority in this creepy place. Any water left outside would have evaporated long ago under the hot desert sun, but maybe there was something in one of these buildings. There had to be. The mountains—and Vance—were at least another week away. If I didn’t find water or food soon, I wouldn’t last through tomorrow. I couldn’t wait to find the thieves who had befriended me and then stolen my supplies while I slept, including the nutrition pills they hated so much.
They’d be sorry. Assuming I could survive until then.
I stepped inside the musty house. A section of the roof had fallen in decades ago. Broken roof tiles and debris filled the small space, which opened up to the darkening sky above. A light wood table knelt on two legs in the far corner, revealing the only clear area in the entire structure. Tables meant cooking areas. It was as good a lead as any.
I picked my way through the debris, stumbling and sliding, until I reached the table. It was covered in roof tile pieces and mouse droppings, but there was no sign of food containers or water packets. Kneeling carefully, I peered underneath.
I yelped and scrambled away too quickly and fell backward onto some debris. The ancient pile of roof materials, undisturbed after decades of rest, groaned in protest under my weight. I jumped up, ignoring the sudden dizziness that seized me. Within seconds I had leaped through the door. I plastered myself against the wall and panted.
It wasn’t like I was surprised that someone had died here. Every citizen knew what happened back in 2024, the destruction leaving gutted towns and darkened cities dotting the country. We’d studied it in ridiculous detail, including the political factions that had split Old America in half. Historical clips depicted people rioting, looting, shooting each other in the streets. A president assassinated, then the next and the next, until finally nobody would step up. The wreckage of government buildings and monuments and then entire cities as law enforcement was disbanded.
Worse, their weapons had emitted toxins that bounced around in the atmosphere, latching onto water molecules and burning them up before they could hit the ground. That was the beginning of the end. Water became currency. Those who hadn’t been killed in war hid in the wreckage of their homes, watching their crops and livestock die off, and then their family members. I’d known all that since Level One school.
The thing was, NORA was supposed to be far from all that—and yet death was right here in front of me, just days from the border. The human remains under the table were proof. The decayed body flashed through my head again, as hard as I tried to stop it, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to forget the sight as long as I lived.
The skeleton of a child.
I leaned against the outside of the building, closing my eyes against the bright sunlight. When my heart finally slowed, I shaded my eyes and squinted at the huge expanse of land between me and the mountains. So far away. Even if by some miracle I made it, how would I know where to find them? Vance and his settlement could be anywhere. It could take days of wandering before I found them.
You can go back.
I shoved that thought away. It wasn’t an option. And, frankly, I was done with this town as well. No more grave robbing for me.
The blue sky was fading into pink as I reached the edge of town. It felt as if an entire world, endless and dead, lay between me and Vance. The thought of spending another night on the hard desert floor, shivering in the chilly night air and jerking awake at every sound, made me grit my teeth in dread.
I froze, then relaxed. I’d heard voices in my head for the past two days, and they never turned out to be real. It was just the creepiness of the ghost town getting to me. Or maybe the dizziness of my dehydrated mind.
The voices grew louder. The words sounded scrambled, strange. It took me a moment to realize they weren’t speaking English. And they were arguing. Footsteps crunched on the road.
Instinct took over then. I leaped behind the nearest structure, a tiny building that had probably once been a shed. An entire wall was gone, and the roof had fallen in and buried various pieces of equipment, but there was enough left to hide me. I sat back on my haunches, not daring to look around the corner, every muscle taut as I listened. The arguing had intensified, although I still couldn’t understand what was being said. As the men passed, I gathered my courage and looked around the corner. Two dark figures made their way along the road, backs toward me.
A headache throbbed behind my eyes. It would’ve been better had my brain made this all up. There were still people here. Scavenging was definitely out of the question now.
But maybe if I begged for just a little water . . .
No. I couldn’t risk being recognized.
When the voices died off, I slowly stood. The sun had begun to touch the horizon, painting the usual brown a colorful blue and purple. If I hadn’t already lived out here for eight days, it would be a beautiful sight.
You can go back.
It would be easy enough. NORA sent out scouting planes once a week. I could head back toward their usual route to the east and be home in days.
As exhausted as my mind was, as weak as my body felt, I knew that would never be an option. My ex-boyfriend, Dresden, had stolen the throne from me. My stepfather, Konnor, had gladly handed it over. If Dresden got his hands on me, he’d either throw me in prison for life or parade me around like a prize, using me like he’d used me since the beginning. That wasn’t even the worst part. Sooner or later I’d have to look into the accusing eyes of those who had lost loved ones. They’d died for nothing. They were dead and I was still here, and that was the worst part of all.
With one last glance at the empty road, I headed back the way I’d come. It would be safer to go around the town than through it. If its previous inhabitants had left anything of value, those men had probably found it already. Time to put some distance between me and the skeletons of the past.
I made my way down the slope, picking my way carefully through the sagebrush. It hadn’t taken long to learn that lesson. My pant legs had torn long ago, and my calves looked like they’d been whipped, all crisscrossed with dried blood. Now if only I could make it down before dark fell—
Fire shot through my ankle.
With a shriek I stumbled backward and fell, lifting my foot to wipe the fire away. A soft click-click, a rattling, sounded from my left as a long animal slithered off. Pulling my ankle closer, I could see two tiny dark circles in the skin.
A snake. I’d never seen one, but that was all it could be—Oh, fates. The pain was growing by the second. My ankle had already begun to swell.
Snakes were poisonous. No, that wasn’t the word. If only I had water to wash the wound out. But what good would that do? The poison was in my bloodstream, not on the skin. I wrestled with my brain, wanting to scream in frustration. How was I supposed to treat something like this when I was too weak and tired to think straight? My body began to shake, a violent, uncontrollable shiver.
Those men. There it was, a hint of reason in the murkiness of my mind. I turned and looked upward at the shed I’d just left. If I screamed loud enough, maybe I’d be heard. “Help! Somebody!”
My voice echoed, then died off. I tried a few more times, then listened for a long moment. The men didn’t return. Or if they had, they couldn’t find me down here.
I positioned my foot and tried to stand, then screamed in agony. How was it possible for such a small bite to hurt like this?
My injured leg couldn’t hold weight. I knelt on the sandy ground and tried pulling myself along by the elbows. The world tilted and spun. When had I last eaten? I couldn’t remember.
My elbows buckled. I collapsed to the desert floor with a strangled gasp and rolled over to face the blood red moon. “Help,” I called out again. Nothing.
It was ironic. The empress had tried to have me killed several times in the past weeks, and I’d survived the desert heat for days with no food or water—only to succumb to a pair of sharp fangs. Tali would find it funny, I was sure. She’d lived just like the bomb that had taken her life, torridly and explosively. She’d managed to die twice. Not many people could say that.
My leg was stiff and swollen now. Even moving it would be excruciating, much less trying to walk on it. The molten fire had already begun to move up the veins in my leg.
I lay on my back, facing the navy-blue sky and letting the heat from the desert floor burn through my clothes. Purple clouds floated lazily by. Puffy, rainless.
It was a shame that I’d never gotten the chance to feel snow on my skin. The mountains had snow in winter. Vance had described it to me once. I wondered if the moon looked red from the mountains as well. The sad thing was, he’d probably be happy to find out I was gone. He had come back for me, admitted his feelings and opened his heart, and I’d rejected him. I deserved this.
A thought swirled in my head and began to scream through the haze. Don’t you dare give up. It sounded a lot like Tali.
“Are you happy now?” I yelled at the moon, hoping the fates were listening. My voice sounded like a croak. I tried to lick my lips, but my tongue felt like sandpaper on my sunburned mouth. Not that it mattered now. “I’ve already lost everything. Guess that wasn’t enough for you.”
I heard rustling in the gravel, and the hot, dry wind seemed to pick up a little.
“I didn’t even want the throne,” I muttered. “Never asked for it, you know. I just want—” Pause. It was hard to say what I wanted now. My dreams were a series of images, fleeting wishes no more real than puddles of water in the desert. Peace. A new life, far from NORA. One last day with Vance. A chance to tell him I felt the same way.
My body sunk deeper into the hard ground. My feverish accusations had taken all that I had left. Consciousness flickered like a broken transmission. Snake. Strangers speaking in gibberish. Dresden’s blue eyes flashing in anger. The stone Vance left behind inviting me to join him. My mother choosing to run. Always running.
Can’t go back.
“Somebody help,” I whispered.
The last thing I saw was a shadow above my head. A man. I tried to focus, to see if it was Dresden or Vance, but then the darkness claimed me.