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Into Despair
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-340-7
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Suspense/Thriller/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 213 Pages
Published: October 2016

From inside the flap

Fifteen-year-old Alexandra Spencer returns to the City to release the Drifters that are held there. Then Rich is captured and her hope turn into desperation. If she’s going to rescue any of them, she must get past her ex-fiance, her ex-father, hostile guards and a glimpse into a bleak future. What price is she going to have to pay to save herself and her friends?

Into Despair (Excerpt)


Chapter 1

ALEX

"You don't have to go." Will's forehead creased with concern. A gust of wind blew his black curls across his face and he brushed them away with the back of his hand, his eyes never leaving mine. "There's still time to change your mind."

I glanced from him to Rich, and then to Emily Jane. The four of us had been each other's only family since we'd run from Elder Grey Prison and I loved them more than I could say. If the next hour went the way we'd planned, by tonight I'd be back to the City looking for a way to break their loved ones out of the Council's secret prison. Apprehension clouded all of their faces, but Rich and Emily Jane's eyes held something more.

Fear. Not for the risk I was taking-fear that I was about to go back on my decision.

I dropped my gaze to the layer of dead pine needles that covered the floor of the bush beneath my feet. I was scared about having to spend time with Marcus, but not so scared I was going to back out.

A cool gust of wind whipped my hair about my face and I put my hands under my armpits trying to keep warm. I'd miss the three of them more than I could say. I'd even miss living rough in the bush, but at least I'd only be away from them temporarily.

With my lips pressed tightly together, I tried to smile. Will was wrong, it was too late to stop. Not that it mattered.

"I'm still going. And I'll be fine."

Emily Jane let out a breath, her shoulders relaxing a little. She shoved her hands into the pockets of her tiny shorts, not seeming to care that it was too cold to be wearing such an item.

"The City's a dangerous place, Alex."

Rich's arms were folded across his chest, and his hat was pulled low over his blonde hair. He no longer looked as bleak as he had right after our escape from Elder Grey-the night Cassidy had died in his arms. It would be a long time before any of us could put that night behind us, but despite everything he'd lost some of the old Rich was gradually returning, and I was grateful. This time I smiled properly as I tilted my head back to look up at him.

"For you, maybe. But I lived there for most of my life. I'll be fine."

It would never be home again- I'd learnt too much about the atrocities committed by the people of the City, atrocities sanctioned by the man I'd once thought was my father, to ever call it that again. Yet if I was honest with myself, I was the tiniest bit excited to go. Images of beautiful dresses, manicures, haircuts and a huge bed with fluffy pillows filled my mind each time I thought about it. I was looking forward to having some of those little comforts again. Even if it was only for a short time. Plus, thinking about those things meant I didn't have to think about the one thing that truly terrified me.

Marcus.

I pushed him out of my mind, not wanting anyone to see how frightened I was, and met Rich's eyes. "The City's far more dangerous for you."

Rich let out a burst of rolling laughter, and my nerves disappeared. "Maybe." He stepped towards me and leaned down, drawing me into a bear hug. "If this works, I'll owe you everything."

I hugged him tightly. Rich was going to the City too, not that I had much chance of seeing him-he was going to pretend he was in the Armed Guard, watch out for me from a distance as if he didn't know me. Even though this wasn't a proper goodbye, I was still sad to leave him. I spoke into his ear.

"Be careful, Rich." He gripped me firmly, then stepped out of the way giving Emily Jane the chance to say goodbye. Her hug was silent and full of love, but there was tension running through her entire body. "We can do this, Em. We can get your sister out of that place."

She gave me a tight smile and stepped away. Then she and Rich headed down the track and disappeared amongst the thick bush, leaving Will and I to say our goodbyes privately.

Will stepped forward and kissed me gently on the lips. Then he pulled me into a ferocious hug. I took a deep breath, trying to etch into my memory the wood smoke smell that clung to him. Without words he was simultaneously asking me not to go and telling me to be careful. Well, without words this time. We'd had that particular conversation so many times over the last couple of weeks that now there was nothing left to say. Except goodbye. And I'll miss you.

"Give me your left arm, princess."

From the very first day I'd met Will, when he'd won the ballot to escort me to Elder Grey prison, he'd called me princess. He hadn't meant it as a term of respect back then. So much had changed since that day. So much I could never have imagined. I held my arm out for him. Without meeting my eyes, he strapped a tiny knife to the inside of my wrist, pulling my jacket sleeve down over top so it was completely hidden.

"Just in case."

I nodded, trying to think of something else to say, something that would make Will linger a second or two longer. But I couldn't think of anything. He stared at me as if he was trying to memorize my face, touched his fingertips to my cheek, then turned and followed the others into the bush.

I watched him disappear into the thick mass of foliage that surrounded us. Then I stood and watched that same spot for another five minutes, imagining I could still see him moving away. I didn't want him to leave. It took all my resolve not to curl up in a ball on the ground and cry like a baby. It was only because I knew Emily Jane was out there that I was able to refrain. If she saw me do that this would be over before it began-none of them would want me to go.

Finally, when I couldn't put it off any longer, I turned around and took the narrow path beside the river, my pace slowing with each step. The bush felt quieter than usual today: birds, cicadas and wind all muted to match my mood. I slipped my fingers inside the sleeve of my jacket touching the knife, a physical reminder I had of Will. I was going back to the City for him. For all of them, really. I was even going back for myself I supposed, to say goodbye. But right now, none of those thoughts helped make me walk faster.

When the cliff face appeared I almost spun around and walked back the way I'd come. Beside me the river turned abruptly to the right and on the other side of me, the bush was so thick that it was almost impossible to pass through off the track. There was nowhere else for me to go.

This was the place I was to wait. The place where, after weeks of running, I would let myself be found.

I bit down on the inside of my lip-there was no backing out now. Closing my eyes I waited, trying not to tremble.

When he arrived, he was with ten Guards, running and out of breath. While the Guards spread around us in a semi-circle, his eyes darted all about me, frantically searching the bush. He'd barely come to a stop when he started shouting.

"Metcalfe! Get out here. Now!"

Major Marcus Rutherford, my one-time fiance and the man who'd let me go to prison for him, was screaming at shadows. The last time I'd seen him, he'd had a knife sticking from his neck. I'd put it there. Until this second I hadn't known for certain that he was still alive.

His face was flushed red with rage and his voice echoed off the cliff face at my back. A vague sense of dejŕ vu washed over me. Not because Marcus had spoken those exact words before, but because I knew he wanted to hurt Will the same way he had at Elder Grey.

This time, at least, there was no chance of that.

"Where is he?"

The question was for me, even though he hadn't bothered to acknowledge my presence, let alone look at me.

"Will's not... he's not here."

As I answered, Marcus' pale blue eyes finally fell on me and for a second his features softened.

"Alexandra."

Closing his eyes, he blew a quick breath out his mouth before focusing on me with a smile. Once, not that long ago, I would have thought that he was pleased to see me, but now I knew the truth. He was pleased I was alive because it meant he could still marry me. He didn't love me. But, as far as I could tell, the Judge still considered me his daughter, and because Marcus and I were engaged to be married, through me, Marcus would one day inherit the role of Judge-the most powerful person in the City. I doubted there was a single thought for my welfare in his handsome, conniving, blonde head.

"Hi, Marcus."

It took all my willpower not to turn and run. I wanted to scuttle into the thick bush on my right, or scream out to Emily Jane that I'd changed my mind, that I couldn't do this. I pushed the thought away, instead focusing on my ex-fiance.

Marcus looked the same as he always had, except today his golden hair was pushed flat against his head rather than spiked, and his usually immaculate navy blue Armed Guard uniform was splattered with mud. He watched me while I focused intently on his shoes, or his hands, or his chest. Anywhere but his eyes. I was terrified that by looking at him I'd be reminded of all the horrific things he'd recently done.

Not that I'd ever forget.

Taking a deep breath, I wished bravery was something that came naturally to me.

As Marcus stepped forward, the Guard beside him put his arm out making Marcus stop mid-step. I hadn't taken much notice of his people-Armed Guards from the City. I knew they were there of course-ten of them, all scattered at even distances in a semi-circle around me. But now that this boy had touched Marcus' shoulder, he'd forced me to see him.

I stiffened.

Even without the conspicuous brown dreadlocks that fell to the middle of his back, I'd have known this boy. I'd only seen him one other time. Yet I recognized him. He must have felt my stare, because he turned to me with the slightest smirk on his face.

Jerome Dupree.

I wanted to rake his eyes out with my fingernails.

Jerome had given a false testimony at my trial. That testimony was the sole reason I'd been convicted of a crime Marcus had committed and then sent to Elder Grey Prison a little over nine months ago. He'd changed my life.

"Wait." Jerome's voice was quiet, his eyes scanning the bush. "They might have set a trap."

Swallowing, I took a step towards Marcus, desperate that he believe me. "I'm not setting you up. I just want to go home. Will you take me? Please?" I shoved my hands in my pockets so he wouldn't see them shaking.

Jerome made a noise in his throat and shook his head, his eyes never staying on anything for more than a moment. One finger of his right hand tapped against his thigh. Marcus followed Jerome's lead, casting his eyes around the surrounding bush before letting them rest on me.

"Jerome believes you have people hidden out there. People that might want to hurt us. Is this true?"

Nerves made my voice wobble, but at least Will was long gone and I could answer almost without lying. "I'm alone."

"Bullshit!" He spat the word at me, his voice echoing off the cliff face even louder this time. "Metcalfe wouldn't just let you leave. He's here, hoping to kill us, isn't he?"

I took another step towards him shaking my head. "Please. You have to help me, Marcus."