Duals and Donovans: The Different, Book 4
by Teresa Noelle Roberts
eBook ISBN: 978-1-61922-433-9
[ Paranormal Romance ]
Contains an oceanful of sex between a blind heroine who swears like a Marine, an serious otter shifter, and a would-be beach bum descended from a Norse god, in permutations as fluid as the sea. Also features a superpowered baby, government-sanctioned villains, and themes of abuse and recovery.
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“I’d like you to take me to the ocean for my birthday.” Meaghan forced her voice to stay calm, to make the request seem utterly bland, like she was an ordinary young woman who wanted to do something particular on a special birthday. Forced herself to turn in her chair and look toward Garrett, her nurse and caregiver. Most sighted people seemed perturbed that she could meet their eyes as often as not, but not Garrett. He said it was a combination of attention to detail and her magic.
Shaw always said the same thing but she wasn’t going to think about Shaw now.
Any more than she was going to dwell on the minor issue that because she’d lived in this Agency hospital since she was a child, she wasn’t sure what state she was in, let alone how close they were to a beach. If she spoke calmly enough, maybe Garrett would just go along with it. Sometimes he would bend the rules for her, but this went beyond bending and into outright shattering.
Especially since she had no intention of coming back. She suspected Garrett knew it.
He knew she was weary of being the Agency’s pet seer, a prisoner even if they called her a patient. Knew she was dying. Maybe that was why he wasn’t saying anything.
She had to break the silence. “Or a lake, if the ocean’s too far away. I just want to be near water. Outside the compound and near water.”
She felt Garrett smile at her. She could do that sometimes, when she concentrated, but only with him. It might be because he was Different too, like her, or maybe he smiled more profoundly than most people at the research hospital. “I wish I could, sweetie. It’s a couple of hours to my favorite beach, but that’s worth it for a special day. On a week day, it’s so quiet and peaceful we’d probably have it to ourselves. But I don’t think they’ll let me take you that far. You’re so delicate. They wouldn’t want to risk you.”
She sighed. “Garrett, I’m not delicate. I’m dying from a neurological disorder. I’m about to turn twenty-three and I’m not likely to make it to twenty-four. But I’m not dying in a way that a day at the beach will make worse.”
Unless her plan worked. Then she’d be dead on her own terms.
If it didn’t, at least she’d get that day at the beach, which would be one more pleasant thing to remember while she was stuck in the hospital, spewing out visions for the Agency.
Betraying others like herself, like she was bound to betray the baby she’d been seeing since early spring, the one that everyone wanted to know more about.
“You’re not dying.” Garrett moved a few steps closer to her, close enough she could feel his body heat, or maybe just the subtle warmth of his slight healing magic.
She snorted. “I can hear everything when I’m sedated. Also, some of the doctors seem to think that because I’m blind, I’m also deaf and not very bright.”
Garrett’s arms closed around her. “Your neurological problems are getting more severe. The doctors are trying to figure out how to arrest the progress, except we don’t know exactly what’s wrong with you, and that makes it hard. But it’s not hopeless.”
She leaned in to Garrett, enjoying the warmth of human contact. He smelled…well, she couldn’t put a finger on exactly what he smelled like. Medicine and fried chicken, she thought, not spicy and sexy like a hero in one of the books she was always listening to. But he was the hero she had to work with.
She hoped he would come to no harm because of her choices, or nothing worse than losing a job he’d probably be better off without. She could feel he had a bright spirit. He shouldn’t be working for the Agency. “It’s close to hopeless, though, isn’t it? They don’t even know what’s wrong with me.”
He sighed and she felt a couple of tears fall on her face and shoulder. “Oh, sweetie,” he said, answering her question by not answering it. “I’ve been taking care of you for close to fifteen years now. You’re practically like my own daughter. And every day of those fifteen years, I’ve wished I had stronger healing magic, not the tiny bit I have. Then I could cast a spell or two and you’d be able to live a normal life.”
She touched his face. Garrett’s skin was damp with tears. “I don’t think healing a major illness is that easy, even if you have a lot of power.” Not that she knew. Her visions were strong magic, or so she’d been told, too strong for her to live in the outside world, but she didn’t understand how the power worked. The visions just happened, and occasionally other weird things did too, like sensing other people’s thoughts and emotions more than she gathered was normal. But no one ever taught her how to use it.
Probably because they didn’t want her to control the visions. If she developed any conscious control over the magic, she wouldn’t have any more visions for the Agency.
“I guess not. Otherwise someone would have done it by now.”
She nodded. But deep in her heart, she wasn’t so sure about that. She’d started having visions as a little girl, around the time the neurological problem started claiming her sight. If curing her would inhibit her visions, would the Agency want her cured? She didn’t think they actually wanted her to die, but the visions were too useful to risk losing them.
And valuable meant capable of destroying the lives of other Differents, other freaks like her. The lion man in New York had gotten away, but there were others. And now there was a baby at risk. Canada. Donovan at first, and now Oregon. Donovan. She’d managed not to say the words out loud, she thought, but sooner or later, during a seizure, her control would shatter and they’d know.
Garrett broke her pensive silence. “I’ll do it, damn it. You’ll get your birthday wish, even if I have to spring you out of here like a jailbreak in an old Western.”
She stood and hugged him. Her head pressed against the broad, comfortable expanse of his chest. His heart was beating far faster than normal and his magic flared against her skin.
Garrett knew what she was going to do. And he was frightened, but he was going to help her anyway.
The wind off the water cut through to Meaghan’s bones. Meaghan hadn’t expected that. She’d imagined beaches to be warm places, and it was late June, supposedly warm. At least that was the impression she got from the audiobooks her other nurse, Becky, loaned her.
But today was chilly and raw. She supposed if it had been a hot day, the kind of day that brought people flocking to the shore, she wouldn’t be here. Garrett had gotten permission to take her out, he’d told her, only because the beach was so secluded. Meaghan understood why. The Agency didn’t want her meeting people because they feared she might accidentally tell them things she shouldn’t.
They were wrong. It wouldn’t be accidental at all.
Shaw had always told her the Agency worked to protect the ordinary people of the country, the normies who didn’t have magic like she and Shaw did, and to help the Differents, the magical people, integrate into mainstream society. For a long time she’d believed it. But the people in charge of the Agency had let Shaw get away with torturing people. Had let Shaw seduce her and use her and then abandon her so he could go torture people on the other side of the country. Shaw was dead now, but the Agency was still going to steal the baby she’d learned about in her visions and harm anyone who got in their way.
Yeah, she’d tell anyone she could, if there was anyone to tell.
Instead, there was cold wind and cool but delicious sand under her bare feet, because, fuck it (to use a Shawism), if she was dying, she was going to walk barefoot on the sand once. That vast, amazing crash and roar, a sound that was a whole-body experience, must be the ocean. The Pacific, she guessed, though she knew that only because when Shaw had gone away, he’d told her that the Agency was sending him back East. That meant they were on the West Coast, and she knew from books and movies that the Pacific Ocean lay on the west side of the US. More than that she didn’t know.
Now that she was actually here, at the ocean, Meaghan wasn’t so sure of her plan.
The ocean smelled alive, green and wild and cold. She could hear it calling her, inviting.
But she thought it was calling her to live, not to die.
She didn’t want to die, she realized, breathing the free, salty-sweet air. She just didn’t want the life she had, didn’t want to be trapped in an Agency hospital as their “pet seer,” Shaw’s nickname for her.
She might not have much choice about dying. If the Agency doctors were right, she was terminally ill. But she had time left. Time to experience life before her life ended. Time for a taste of freedom before her body caught up with her.
But where could she go?
Frantic, she began to run.
Garrett shouted something—she thought it was “You go, girl!” Poor Garrett, he tried so hard and he was so kindhearted. But he couldn’t understand, not fully. He didn’t know about Shaw—how evil he’d been, how she still loved and missed him, and hated him at the same time. Didn’t know Shaw had been her lover as well as her father figure, and that she craved his touch in the night despite herself.
Didn’t know how much she’d hated what Shaw had made her. How much she despised the freakish visions that were her only value to the Agency.
Water splashed around her legs. She’d reached the water’s edge. That had been her plan all along, to run to the water and keep running and let the waves carry her away. Let the Agency think she’d had a seizure and drowned. Hell, let them realize the truth, that she’d died to get away from them and the weight of betrayal on her soul.
But as soon as the water—frigid, yet somehow welcoming, bracing—hit her skin, her plan washed away.She kept running along the water’s edge, letting the wavelets carry away some of her burden of guilt.
The world shifted suddenly to the left, the way it did when she was about to have a seizure, but she didn’t seize or even get dizzy.
Instead, she was thrown headlong into a startlingly beautiful vision. She felt a man’s arms around her, a man’s body taller and younger and stronger than Shaw’s pressed against her, his long hair brushing at her skin erotically. Another man was beside him, touching them both, only that lithe, slender man was sometimes an animal of some kind. He was the size and shape of a human—a well-built human, probably handsome—but Meaghan felt dense, short fur as she stroked him.
He must be a dual. They were some of the Different people that Shaw had used her to destroy, but this dual didn’t seem to hold that against her. No, instead, he held himself against her.
They were in the water, bobbing gently as they made love.
The way the men touched her was like nothing in her limited experience. A little rough at times, a little controlling, but with an underlying affection and gentleness that was new. She couldn’t see them—even in her visions, she could rarely see—yet she somehow knew they were touching each other, enjoying each other, as well.
In her vision—or maybe it was just a vivid daydream, but she didn’t really care—she could orgasm without seizing. She didn’t know how she knew, but she did, just as she knew that soon one of the men would penetrate her while the other fucked him, and she craved that moment so much it hurt.
She sank to her knees at the water’s edge, lost in the vision, lost in pleasure.
Then her vision was bathed in blood and she heard a baby’s piercing, panicked cry.
She’d had this vision before. A child of five bloods, she’d said, and everyone had been excited about that. She’d prayed she’d never learn more about this child, nothing that would help the Agency find her. But prayers weren’t always answered.
She heard the dangerous words again, the ones that would betray the child if she spoke them: Oregon and Donovan.
A wave broke over her, drenching her, knocking her down, jarring her from the vision.
It was only a matter of time before she had another vision at the hospital and those words slipped out, dooming that child and all the child’s family—if they hadn’t already. She didn’t always remember clearly after a vision.
The smell of the salt air, the cry of the gulls, the blood pounding in her veins still called her to live, but she owed it to the baby, and the baby’s parents, and the lion man, and the others she’d inadvertently helped Shaw capture. No more. Never again.
Shakily, Meaghan got to her feet.
Then she walked straight into the roar of the surf.
The first few steps weren’t bad, although a strong current fought against her. Then suddenly, the sand wasn’t where she expected it below her feet and she staggered into a hole or trench. She fought her way back to her feet. This was still too close to shore. She might get tossed back by the waves rather than pulled out.
The waves were breaking over her now, knocking her around. She thought she heard Garrett cry out her name. She turned toward where she thought his voice came from. “It’s my choice, Garrett!” she yelled. “My death, not theirs.”
And he answered, “Go! Be free.”
She took two more steps forward, struggling to touch bottom in water that now reached her chest even when the waves weren’t battering her.
The crash and shush of water disoriented her. She navigated by touch and sound, and always in the familiar confines of the hospital. Now all around her was the same rush of sound, the same numbingly cold water.
Fear washed over her along with the waves. This was the only choice she had, her only chance to stop the cycle of betrayal, but as the water surged around her, her body wasn’t with the program. For a second, she hesitated, just breathing, reminding herself of all the reasons she was doing this.
A huge wave bowled her over.
The water caught her up, tossed her around. She gasped, swallowing icy, bitterly salty water. Spewing, she fought her way to the surface and gulped a lungful of air. She might have good, wise, logical reasons to die, but her panicked body wasn’t with the program. One foot brushed the bottom. Before she could stand, though, another wave surged, flipping her over and over. She no longer knew which way was up, let alone which way the beach was. She flailed her legs and arms, trying to swim or at least propel herself to the surface, but she had neither the skills nor the strength. She managed to surface a few times, draw a quick, instinctive breath, but it was sheer luck. The water had a mind of its own, drawing her along.
At least the waves weren’t tossing her around as much. For a while, she’d been ass over teakettle, but now a current had caught her and was pulling her along.
Meaghan supposed it was taking her out to sea.
It was just what she’d hoped would happen, but her body was still fighting it. Terminal illness or not, some instinct she couldn’t quell wanted her to survive.
Her mind, though, was calm. The choice, in the end, had been the ocean’s, not her own, and that felt right. The ocean felt right. Coming here at the end, she knew now, had been a call of some sort. The water was exhilarating, almost sensual, rough and silken at the same time, and she liked the sensation of riding the current. She wasn’t even feeling the cold anymore, though she supposed she’d gone numb. Her muscles ached, but the numbness was taking care of that too.
And that insistent awareness of things she wasn’t supposed to know that hovered around her, waiting for a seizure to crack her reality so they could stream in, was gone for the first time in her memory.
The ocean, this previously unknown vastness, felt like the home she’d never had, like an old friend rediscovered after a long separation. She only wished she’d had the opportunity to splash and play in it, learn to swim and surf. To develop a relationship with it, not just give herself to it like this.
But she would die in its embrace. That was something. She wouldn’t be dying alone.
With that thought, Meaghan let her body go limp and sank beneath the surface.
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