Lena has to face a future she never wanted.
Alex has to face the past he buried deep.
The revolution could bring them closer or separate them forever.
Forced from her home in the desert, Lena Gracey joined the Spark revolution. She saved a group of powered girls and enjoys a maddening partnership with double agent Alex Reyes. She thought the future was set. But by the end of the summer, she faces conspirators within the movement ready to strike against her and discovers the Dust is somehow evolving. With the Council issuing warrants against her, it’s time for her to do what she does best. She’ll take her girls and go rogue in the high desert of Zone Three.
Alex Reyes knew his role in the revolution: the bad man, willing to do bad things for the good of Sparks. He never expected Lena Gracey. He never expected she’d uncover feelings long buried…including his conscience. Facing suspicion from every corner, there’s no time for soul-searching. His mission to the eastern Zones will make or break the movement. Mysterious, powered young men are tracking him. He’s got to work the angles, charm the willing, and force the hands of everyone else.
And the Dust is ready for her to wake…
SPARK AWAKENING, the sequel to SPARK RISING, is now in wide release. I’m thrilled with the book, and I hope you readers will love it, too.
You can pick up your copy at the following retailers…and don’t forget to leave a review! 🙂
Just for you, here is a sneak peak at the first chapter!
Chips of stone fell to earth like spattering raindrops following the boom of his gun. In spite of the miss, the sound made him happy. No, not the sound. The woman lining up her next shot made him happy.
These moments fell on Alex’s heart like a soft rain. They renewed him. They encouraged tender, soft things long hidden to unfurl and grow. They scared the shit out of him, not that he’d ever let it show.
He stood to the side and traced the line of Lena’s body, her arms still extended and palms curled around his gun. More and more often this summer, he’d found himself watching her, committing some part of her—of them together—to memory. He wanted more of it all–more time, more them, more her.
She took a long, shaky breath that became a sound somewhere between uneasy and laughter. When she spoke, her raised voice echoed in the canyon. He guessed her ears still rang.
“I did not expect to be able to see fire coming out the top of it.”
“Gunpowder and Dust,” Alex reminded her. He chuckled, and his warm breath puffed back from her skin as he leaned in to kiss the back of her neck. “Remind me again why I’m out here in the sun teaching you to fire a gun instead of back in the cabin playing find my favorite freckle?”
“I don’t know why you’re out here.” She carefully sighted down the barrel like he’d taught her. “But I’m out here because I believe in reciprocity. I teach. You teach.” She slid her index finger from along the side of the gun and curled it so just the pad of her finger touched the trigger.
Damn, the woman learned fast.
The boom as his gun went off cracked against the canyon wall a half mile away and echoed back to them. Lena missed again, but her second shot landed closer. She turned her head to him with a cheeky grin. “Well, reciprocity, and because Thomas said I couldn’t.”
He snorted, believing her. She turned back to sight again. This time, she fired several shots in a row, took a breather, and finished the mag. Her last few shots caused bark to fly up and scatter from the big deadfall he’d leaned against a pair of boulders.
She sighed in satisfaction and looked back. “So why are you out here in the sun teaching me?”
“Because you asked.” He flashed her a quick smirk and winked. “And because Thomas said I shouldn’t.”
“Clearly we both have issues with authority.” She laughed, then her face became pensive. “What’s his problem with me? Ever since we all got back, things have been…”
Alex shook his head. “It’s not you.”
Lena snorted. Alex couldn’t blame her for doubting. Thomas had made a series of decisions without her that summer—starting with the decision at the Conclave to place the blame for a missing shipment of girls on her shoulders. Once they’d returned, she’d finally confessed that she’d overheard Fort Nevada men plotting to take her out. Alex had been raring to go hunt them down. Thomas had played it cool. He’d thought perhaps she was overreacting or having an emotional response to the decisions they’d made without her at Conclave.
That was bullshit. Thomas’s responsibilities overwhelmed him, but he wouldn’t delegate anything kicking his at this point. And the man couldn’t or wouldn’t see that all that frustration got dumped on Lena’s shoulders.
“It’s not you. We’ve reached critical mass at this point…stretched thin and on the cusp of achieving what we’ve dreamed of. But we’ve also got new problems, new players. I think it’s got him rattled. It’s a lot to manage.”
“He’s just…dismissed all of my concerns. You were there. You were mad, too.”
Thomas had told her he’d been working on finding the threat against her, but they’d found nothing, and they needed the men investigating elsewhere. If she could find more evidence, he’d draw them back again. It wasn’t fair. And as Alex had expressed then, it wasn’t smart, either.
Alex smiled down at her and stepped around to take the gun with one hand and stroke her cheek with the other. “He’s overextended. It’s not you.”
A frown fluttered across her face, but his fingers on her skin had the desired effect. She smiled, willing to be soothed.
He dipped his head down and left a trail of soft kisses across her lips. “This is our last day out here…by ourselves…and I leave in the morning for six months. Maybe we should head back to the cabin. I can think of ways to make these last hours more memorable.”
Instead of answering, he pulled her tight against him in a one-armed embrace and stole her breath with a long, deep kiss. When he pulled back, he was satisfied to see the heated, dreamy look in her eyes that he craved.
The rolling crack of a rockfall came from behind them. Alex spun, releasing the mag, and removing a spare from his belt to smack it into the gun. He raised the weapon.
They waited, but there only the slither of earth settling back into place sounded off to the left. His eyes scanned for movement.
Lena laughed at Alex’s automatic response. “It’s just an animal—a cougar or a wild dog.”
“Make me feel better.” He pointed with his chin, eyes narrowed. “Check.”
Still laughing, Lena focused her attention on the other side of the rocky canyon wall. She abruptly stopped laughing.
“It’s a man.” She automatically lowered her voice to a tense whisper. “Moving away and heading toward the red rock and pines up the other side of the canyon.”
Alex nodded, grabbed the empty magazine from the ground, and ran to the wall that separated them from whomever had been watching a moment before. He refused to lose him. That meant sacrificing subtlety for speed.
He ignored the rocks that slid down behind him and crested the wall minutes later. Lena moved behind him and to his right. She silently pointed, indicating their prey moved away from what was left of the gravel road into rougher country of tumbled boulders and steep canyons. Alex didn’t worry about losing the man. He had an advantage. He had Lena.
He cut across on the descent. At the bottom, Alex gestured her down the middle of the canyon with him, intent on pulling ahead.
They ran down the canyon. When he judged they might be ahead of their watcher, he glanced back at Lena to confirm.
Her eyes became faraway as she reached for the Dust. Her brows drew down. A moment passed before she shook her head.
“He’s gone.” She swallowed and made a slow circle. Alex knew she reached, asking the Dust to show her where the man hid. “It’s not possible. But he’s really gone.”
She raised one arm in the air. “How could he be gone somewhere I can’t see him?”
“He can’t be. He’s not gone. He’s hiding.”
“Alex, he can’t hide from the Dust.”
“Unless he’s using the Dust.”
She stared at him. “How? I’ve never even…” She looked around, and a new fear rose in her eyes. “We need to go back.”
“We need to go back! If there’s someone out here stalking me, and he can do that—the girls are in danger, too.”
“We don’t know that he was stalking you.”
She tilted her head at him in disbelief.
He closed his eyes, acknowledging the truth. Between the Council and the hidden conspiracy at Fort Nevada, odds were someone stalked her. They needed to head in. He scanned the canyon around them one more time.
“You’re right. We’ve got to get back. You’ve got to get to the girls, and I’ve got to report this to Thom and get a message to D—to Councilor Three.”
She gave him a sharp look. “To D—Councilor Three?”
“I was going to say ‘Dumbass’,” he lied. “The man likes to think he can plan for himself.” The second half wasn’t a lie. Lena’s brother Dan had definite ideas about how to lead Zone Three. Unfortunately, he was put in place by Alex. And Alex expected Dan to toe the line.
Part of toeing the line meant keeping his mouth shut and not trying to reach out to Lena. Alex planned to tell her the truth. He just wanted them stable enough to weather the deception first.
Alex couldn’t believe he’d been so distracted by the Dust-hidden watcher that he’d almost slipped. He could see from Lena’s face that she knew he’d held something back. Her eyes had clouded over, and she stepped away from him, her body a little more stiff.
“Let’s head back then,” was all she said. She turned away and started up the path to the cabin and the little electric vehicle that would return them to Fort Nevada. Their weekend interlude was over.
Alex swallowed. He couldn’t keep lying to her. You didn’t lie to someone you wanted to build a life with.
Not unless you know the truth might make her walk away for good.
Alex couldn’t risk that.
They drove back in silence. Alex imagined Lena thought about the watcher from the canyon and her girls. Perhaps she wondered what Alex was hiding. Alex’s mind kept working over the watcher. It helped him not deal with his fear of losing her.
Once they arrived, they hoisted their small bags onto their shoulders and marched through the halls. They’d reach the intersection where they’d part ways soon, her to head off to her classrooms where she’d find the girls, and him up to report to Thom. Alex sighed heavily. Morning would come too soon, and with it, his trip to the east. He’d worked hard to have everything prepped in advance of his departure so he’d have this time with Lena. Uncertainty and fear spoiled all of the precious stolen moments.
He cursed the unknown man from the canyon and reached out to gently take her arm and pull her back to him. “We still have time tonight for a proper goodbye.”
She looked past him, over his shoulder. He waited in silence until she finally turned her gaze to him. Anxiety pulsed there.
“And you’ll tell me what Thom says. All of it?”
He nodded. Before he could reassure her, someone called his name from down the hall.
A haggard, travel-worm man stood at the end of the hall. Dust and stains covered his patched uniform. Even his sandy hair curled and stuck out at odd angles.
His old friend’s face split into a wide smile. They met halfway down the hall.
Alex slapped his friend on the shoulder. “What are you doing here? You look like you’ve been traveling rough.”
Patrick nodded. “I have, for weeks. I’m about to go up and report in to Thomas. My cover was blown. I barely—” He stopped, looking over Alex’s shoulder.
Alex turned. Lena had trailed him down the hall, curious. He gestured her over. “This is Patrick. He’s one of the Originals.” He referred to the original band of dorm mates who’d banded together as Wards to form the core of the founders of the revolution under Alex and Thomas. “This is Lena.”
Patrick dipped his head at her. “The infamous Lena, huh?”
Lena gave the man a small smile and flicked her gaze between the men. “You said your cover was blown?”
Alex knew her visible concern went deeper than just the movement or an agent’s safety. She wasn’t looking forward to his trip. He’d make a circuit through the badlands of Texas and to the southern Zone Two, then north to Zone One, and across to the very dangerous Zone Six before heading home again while dodging winter weather. But Alex wasn’t using a cover for this trip, so there was no danger of being “blown”. Instead, he risked traveling into hostile territory as himself, the man whom many suspected was involved in revolution. Reactions to him and to his access would tell him a great deal about where people stood. In a new identity, he’d lose that access and add the risk that someone who knew him would recognize him. Then he’d run the risk of arrest.
Patrick looked at Alex to gauge how openly he could speak, and at Alex’s slight nod, he answered, “It was. And I had a persistent little bastard trailing me back, too. I managed to slip him about a day out. Though he probably figured I was heading for the school. There’s not much else out here.”
“You were being followed by a single man?”
“As far as I can tell, just one, yeah.”
Alex cocked his head at Lena. “You see? It’s entirely possible the man in the canyons had nothing to do with you or the girls at all.”
“Entirely possible?” she answered, voice tart. “It’s also possible the Council decided to move against me after you and Thomas made me the poster girl for the movement. It’s also possible it was one of the internal conspirators. I’m not interested in possible. I want answers.”
Thanks to decisions Thomas made at the end of the Conclave two months before, the Council knew of Lena and the girls they’d all saved. Thomas had taken it upon himself to create a figurehead for the movement they were calling Spark Rising. All he wanted was a charismatic woman for Sparks to rally to as they moved forward. Alex and Ace, Lena’s friend and a Dragonfly House trader, had stolen the latest shipment of powered girls meant for Council prison camps. Thomas planted a taunting note he’d signed with Lena’s name. If Alex had been the one to find it, he’d have destroyed it. But he’d been busy hiding the girls, and by the time it had gone up the Security chain of command, he’d had no choice but to present it to the Council.
They’d stolen the six five-year-old girls, smuggling them back to Lena and safety. Instead of allowing the theft to be a mystery, Thomas had handed the responsibility to Lena. He wanted to build her legend, he’d told Alex. On the heels of the attack on Councilor Three’s caravan, it made her even more dangerous. The Council wanted Lena now. Warrants had been issued for her. Those warrants put her, and by extension her girls, at risk.
She must have been thinking much the same, because her brows drew down as he watched.
Alex settled his hand on the side of her face. He traced over her brow with his thumb, smoothing the anger from it.
“One way or another, I will get you answers. And even though we came back early, I’m hoping we can talk more tonight.” He gave her a lopsided smile. “We can reserve tonight for us alone?”
Lena narrowed her eyes, playing with Alex. “I don’t know,” she said. “I’ll have to see if I can clear my schedule.”
His snort became a laugh. “Good idea. Do that.”
She stuck her tongue out at him.
He took it as an invitation, swooping his head down for a quick kiss that left her breathless. From her gusty sigh as he pulled away, he figured she wanted more time for the two of them, too—and not time spent arguing with each other or Thomas.
“Go report, then,” she managed. “Both of you.”
Alex glanced over at Patrick. He eyed Alex and Lena, brows raised high.
“It was nice to meet you,” she told Patrick as she turned away down the hall to the classrooms she’d taken over.
“Likewise.” Amusement tinged his voice.
She looked back as she turned the corner at the hallway intersection. “Real answers,” she called back to Alex. “I’m tired of being put off. By both of you.”
Alex saluted her, and she disappeared around the corner. He turned back to find Patrick grinning at Alex, hands on hips and still laughing. “Well…that’s…a development. Were you planning to share with the rest of us?”
Alex gave him a sharp look. “Excuse me?”
“The news. Not the woman. Although with the corona around that one, I have to imagine—”
Alex shoved his laughing friend ahead down the hall. “Don’t,” he growled. He glanced over his shoulder where she’d disappeared down the hall as he went, then took a deep breath to center himself. His focus needed to be on Patrick’s blown cover and getting more answers out of an increasingly cagey Thomas. He had the afternoon to make it happen.
The weight of the truth hanging over his head grew every day, and it hung by an ever-thinner thread. He had to give her something. Perhaps smaller truths along the way would make the eventual crash when she discovered the truth of his deception about her brother easier to bear? Perhaps they’d even make it forgivable?
I hope you enjoyed the first chapter! Want to read more? Grab it at your favorite online retailer!