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After their escape from military custody, Loup Garron and her girlfriend Pilar have a chance to reinvent their lives thousands of miles away from the forgotten and disenfranchised Texas border town and military zone of Santa Olivia.
Thanks to Loup’s genetically engineered gifts of strength, speed, and an innate fearlessness, as well as Pilar’s unexpected skill with a pistol, they find new careers as high-priced bodyguards for a world famous British rock band. Back in the States, an investigation into the existence of Santa Olivia, also known as Outpost 12, begins in Washington, D.C. When the key witness with evidence to expose the military cover-up, their old comrade Miguel, vanishes, the case seems lost.
The abandoned citizens of Santa Olivia need a champion, a voice raised on their behalf, which pushes Loup and Pilar into a hard choice. If Loup returns to U.S. soil, she’ll be an outlaw. If she’s caught, she’ll be taken into custody again; and this time, there may be no escape. But if she and Pilar don’t fight for the freedom of those they left behind, no one will.
Table of Contents
The world was a very, very big place.
That was Loup's first impression as the sun rose over northern Mexico. By the time it had cleared the horizon and begun to cast strong light over the landscape, they'd been driving for an hour. Still, the road stretched before them, empty and endless.
And except for Pilar, fast asleep with her head on Loup's shoulder, everything and everyone in the world Loup had ever loved was behind her, behind the vast concrete wall that sealed off the U.S. border and sealed in a town once known as Santa Olivia, known in Loup's lifetime only as Outpost—Outpost 12.
The thought made an empty space in Loup's heart. In the light of day, the thrill of their daring escape through the excavated smugglers' tunnel had worn off. If she were capable of feeling fear, she was fairly sure she'd be feeling it now.
Pilar yawned and lifted her head. "Are we almost there?" she asked sleepily.
Behind the steering wheel, Christophe laughed. "Not even close."
Pilar's hazel eyes widened. "Seriously?"
"Oh, yes." He glanced over at the girls. "It's over a thousand kilometers to Mexico City. Over six hundred miles," he added, seeing their perplexed looks.
"Wow." Loup tried to think about what that meant and couldn't. She knew miles as units measured on a treadmill, going nowhere, not as actual distances to be traveled. It was only the third or fourth time she'd ridden in a car, and never farther than a few blocks before. "So a few more hours, huh?"
"More than a few."
The cousin-of-a-sort she'd only just met squinted at the convertible's speedometer. "I drive fast. We ought to be there by late afternoon."
"Shit!" Pilar said in dismay.
Christophe slid her a laughing glance. "Big world, eh?"
"Yeah, no kidding." She turned to look at the empty highway behind them. "So we're safe? No one's after us?"
"I imagine the army is tearing Santa Olivia apart searching for Loup, but no one has the slightest idea she crossed the border, and it is quite possible they do not even know you are missing, bonita. Go back to sleep," he said kindly. "Both of you, if you like. It will make the time pass faster. I don't mind. You had a long night."
"No kidding," Pilar repeated, but she closed her eyes and nestled her head back on Loup's shoulder, worn out with terror and happiness. "You okay, baby?"
Hot wind whipped all around them. Loup studied her Mexican-born sort-of-cousin. Aside from the soldier who had killed her brother in the boxing ring, he was the first person Loup had ever met that was like her—not entirely human. He was the only one she had met who was truly like her—conceived naturally, not created in a laboratory like the father she had never known.
It had been dark when they'd escaped from Outpost. By daylight, she could see him better. He was young, not much older than her. Seventeen, eighteen at the most. Well, that made sense. He couldn't have been conceived much earlier than her. His hands were steady on the wheel. His skin was darker than hers, brown instead of caramel. He was taller, lanky. But he had the same high, rounded cheekbones, the same wide, dark eyes, wiry black hair, and sweeping lashes that she did.
"You knew my father, didn't you?" Loup asked him.
"Tío Martin? Yes, of course."
"What was he like?"
"Quiet," Christophe said, concentrating on the road. "Very intense. All of them were, the original kin. My father, too."
"Henri," he agreed in acknowledgment. "He was the leader, the smart one."
"He died, too?"
Christophe spared her a sympathetic glance. "They all died, Loup."
He sighed. "Because they burned too bright, too hard, and too fast. You know?"
"I know," Loup murmured.
After a lifetime of hiding her true nature and pretending to be something she wasn't, she'd burned bright and fast and hard in Outpost, in the town known as Santa Olivia before it was cordoned off from the rest of the world and occupied by the U.S. Army, creating a buffer zone to protect the country from a pandemic that had decimated a generation, from a threat of invasion that might or might not have been real.
The threats were gone, but the safeguards remained.
The only way to win a ticket out of Outpost was in the boxing ring, defeating one of the general's hand-picked fighters. No one ever had ever done it. Only Loup's brother had ever come close. She had dedicated her life to a single cause—redeeming her older brother's death, making it turn out right. Reliving Tom Garron's destiny. A tight canvas square hemmed by ropes. An opponent like her, like her newfound cousin.
Not quite human; strong and fast and fearless.
"How many of us are there?" she asked Christophe.
"Of us kids?" He grinned. "Only seven here, but it seems like more when we're all together. We're not so quiet. All boys, too."
"What about in America?"
"I don't know." He shook his head. "The army did a lot of genetic experiments before the program was shut down; there are maybe a hundred soldiers like that guy Johnson, maybe more. There are a lot of rumors, and no one knows the whole truth. But as far as I know, we're the only natural-born ones. And you're the only girl."
"Is it true you beat him in a fight? Johnson?"
"Yeah." Loup rubbed her right eyebrow. The gash had healed cleanly during her confinement, leaving a thin pink scar. "Yeah, I did."
Christophe whistled. "That must have been a hell of a fight."
"It was." She replayed the moment of victory in her memory. The crowds roaring, John Johnson climbing to his feet before she knocked him down for the third and final time. Still fearless, but surprised and rueful, knowing himself outboxed and beaten. She had trained long and hard for that fight. For one shining moment, before the soldiers put the handcuffs on her, Loup had given hope to a town that had none. "You know he killed my brother?"
He nodded. "Yes, I am sorry. Your half brother, was it not?"
"I guess. I mean, we had different fathers, but Tommy was my brother. He was the one who taught me to be careful all the time. It was an accident," Loup added. "Johnson didn't do it on purpose. It was his twin that Tommy was supposed to fight. A normal guy like Tommy, not like us. The army was afraid he'd lose. They pulled a switch and Johnson took his place in the ring." She was quiet a moment. "Tommy seemed okay at first. Afterward, he collapsed. They did try to save him at the army base." Her eyes stung, making her blink, though there were no tears. There never were. "It's just weird to think, you know? Johnson killed Tommy, then I beat him. Then he helped me escape."
"We're not like other people."
"No." A thought struck her. "Hey, Christophe? What do we call ourselves? Do we have a name for us?"
"No." He looked surprised. "We're just us."
They began to pass through towns and villages, seeing more traffic on the road. It felt strange to see so many nonmilitary cars, but the towns didn't look so different from Outpost except that all the signs were in Spanish. Christophe stopped in one town that looked much like the others, parking the convertible and turning it off.
Pilar woke with a start. "Are we there?"
"You think you slept for eight hours?" He smiled. "No, but in about ten minutes, we'll be getting on the toll highway. Best to get some breakfast before we do."
"Okay." She stretched, breasts straining against her T-shirt.
Christophe eyed her. "You're going to have seven very envious cousins," he said to Loup.
Despite everything, Loup smiled.
"Better believe it," Pilar said amiably.
They ate empanadas filled with potato and chorizo at an open-air diner. Pilar finished long before the others and watched with awe as Christophe devoured enormous quantities, fueling a metabolism as heightened and unnatural as Loup's.
"Wow. He's worse than you, baby."
He swallowed. "I am a growing boy."
"I'm just happy to have food," Loup commented.
"Aww." Pilar's voice softened. "You eat all you like. I'm not making fun. It's just kind of amazing that we're here, you know?"
Loup had always known the army would take her into custody after the fight, once she had revealed her true nature. If it was just that they'd discovered what she was, it might not have been so bad. As Father Ramon had once observed, it wasn't illegal to be the illegitimate offspring of a genetically altered soldier.
But there was the Santa Olivia business from years earlier, when Loup and the other Santitos, the Little Saints of Santa Olivia, had administered what the Father called vigilante justice to a couple of soldiers. Although it was never proved, the orphans under the church's care had succeeded in helping Loup impersonate the town's patron saint.
It had made the general very upset… and when Loup was imprisoned, it had given the army an excuse to discover what it would take to break the will of a subject unable to feel fear, pressing her to give up her allies.
As it transpired, the question remained unanswered. Loup had confessed freely to playing Santa Olivia, knowing it was a foregone conclusion from the moment she stepped into the ring. She had refused to admit to having help.
Loup shook her head in wonder. Half a day ago, she'd been stuck in a hot, stifling cell, half-starved and deprived of sleep, resigning herself to years of wondering whether she'd get the hose and conspiracy questions or another smarmy bribe attempt.
Then her unlikely savior John Johnson had arrived, breaking her out of the cell, smuggling her off the base, and leading her through the derelict tunnel beneath the wall to find a new cousin, a new life, and the unexpected gift of Pilar's presence, reversing the hardest choice Loup had ever made, undoing the hardest sacrifice.
As grateful as Loup was for it, the thought of everything and everyone she had left behind and the promise of hope unfulfilled still made her heart ache.
She might not be able to cry, but she could still hurt.
"You okay?" Pilar asked.
"Yeah." She smiled at her. Pilar had left everything behind, too, and in many ways, she'd lost more than Loup. Life in Outpost wasn't easy, but it was better than a jail cell. "I'm glad to be here. And really, really glad you're here."
Pilar turned pink. "Me too."
"Okay!" Christophe said cheerfully. "Time to drive!"
The world was big and the road he called a toll highway was huge. Four wide lanes filled with whizzing traffic.
"Holy crap!" Pilar said the first time they approached a city. "Is that it?"
"No," Christophe said patiently. "We're still five hours away."
"But it's so big!"
"Mexico City is much, much bigger."
They drove and drove and drove. After countless miles of concrete unspooling like a ribbon, Pilar wore out her sense of awe and went back to napping. Loup fought against a rising tide of exhaustion and stayed awake. She was pretty sure she trusted her newfound cousin, but Tommy had conditioned her to be careful all her life, to be mindful of the dangers she should fear, but couldn't.
"She feels safe with you here," Christophe observed.
Loup raised her eyebrows. "She is."
"Yes, of course." He gave her a quick sidelong smile. "You beat Mr. John Johnson, you don't need to remind me. I guess you can… what do you call it? Kick my ass. No, but when we were waiting for you to come through the smugglers' tunnel, she was so scared. So scared. I never saw anyone so scared, not in real life. Only in the movies."
"Yeah." She stroked Pilar's wind-tangled hair, brown silk streaked with blond. "But she did it. You ever wonder what it's like?"
He hesitated. "Finding someone like the two of you did?"
Loup shook her head. "Being scared."
He smiled wryly. "Not really, no."
They ate cold empanadas and kept driving and reached Mexico City by late afternoon. And it was big, bigger than any city they'd passed. It went on and on, sprawling in every direction.
"Whoa," Pilar said, awake. "Does it ever end?"
"Yes, in time," Christophe said. "But the old people say it used to be you could not even drive in the city. Too crazy, too much traffic." He made a turn. "Then so many, many people died of the influenza."
"Yeah," Loup murmured, thinking of her mother's death. "We had that, too."
"Everyone did." He was quiet a moment. "The worst had passed here when I was born, but I think it must have been a very terrible time. Only now are things beginning to return to the way they were long before us."
The buildings grew taller, awesome in scale. Everything was taller and vaster than anything Loup had ever imagined. Fine and elegant, like pictures from the pages of fashion magazines worn as thin as onionskin that Pilar and Katya used to pore over for hours at the orphanage. Christophe pulled into the entrance to one of the most elegant of them all, a huge building with outflung wings and rows of arched windows.
"Are you serious?" Pilar asked, wide-eyed.
He grinned. "Oh, yes. I told you, you are guests of the Mexican government. And there is some American senator who wishes to talk to you, too. They are paying the bill for most of this. Tomorrow, I will take you shopping for suitable clothing so you may make a good impression."
Loup frowned. "Why?"
Christophe shrugged. "Does it matter?"
Before Loup could reply, a man in a crisp uniform opened the car door on Pilar's side. She looked at Loup in sudden panic. "Ohmigod. Loup, we can't go in there. I look like I crawled through a tunnel, then rode six hundred miles in a windstorm. 'Cause… I kind of did, you know?"
"Pretend you are a rock star, eh?" Christophe suggested, handing his keys to another uniformed man. "A rich and famous rock star who does not have to give a damn, yes?"
"Oh." She thought about it. "Okay."
It was enough for Pilar. She got out of the car and tossed her windblown hair, then sauntered past the doorman with a considerable amount of attitude. The doorman smiled and surreptitiously checked out her ass. Loup followed, amusement fighting with bone-deep weariness and the haunting empty sensation of apprehension she couldn't feel. They waited in the lobby while Christophe talked to the woman at the registration desk. It was amazingly opulent, with rich lighting, gleaming wood, and elegant gold-hued furniture. Beyond they could glimpse marble floors and a huge, curving staircase. Everything was hushed, not even the familiar hum of a generator to break the silence.
None of it seemed real to Loup. A part of her wondered if all of this was just a dream, and she would wake to find herself in the stifling cell, waiting for the next in a series of endless interrogations.
"Look at those flowers!" Pilar whispered, nodding at a massive arrangement. "Jesus! I've read about places like this, but I didn't really believe they still existed."
Loup blinked, wavering. "Yeah."
Pilar gave her a sharp glance. "Loup, how long has it been since you slept?"
"I don't know." She shook her head. "Not much in a couple of days. Maybe three. Not much for weeks, really. I never knew what time it was in prison and they kept waking me up to ask questions or hose me down."
"You're dead on your feet." Pilar grabbed her hand. "C'mon. I'm gonna tell Christophe to hurry up, then I'm putting you to bed. And not in a fun way."
Five minutes later, all three stood in the elevator. It seemed like something out of a movie. The gleaming doors closed and there was a strange sense of moving that both Loup and Pilar found disorienting. It stopped and the doors opened onto a posh hallway.
"Here you are." Christophe led them to a room and showed them how to unlock the door with a plastic card. He carried in the satchel full of Pilar's crumpled secondhand clothes. Loup, sprung from a military jail cell, had nothing. "I'll be two doors down in Room 223. I arranged to have the bathroom stocked with extra toiletries. Anything else you need, charge to the room."
"How?" Pilar asked.
"Just put your room number on the bill and sign it." He stifled a yawn. "Call room service or the concierge. Or call me, though I will probably sleep very hard for a long time. It was a long night and day for me, too."
She examined the phone. "Push the buttons where it says to, right?"
"You've never used a phone?"
"There haven't been working phones in Outpost since before we were born," Loup said mildly. "Only for the army guys. No phones, no TV except old movies that were all shot to hell."
"Right." Christophe nodded. "I keep forgetting. We think of America as being a sophisticated place despite the troubles."
"We weren't in America," she said. "We were in Outpost."
"Not Outpost," Pilar said adamantly. "Santa Olivia."
They exchanged a glance, both of them thinking of the only home they had ever known, the home they couldn't return to.
"Santa Olivia," Loup agreed.
Christophe showed them how to use the phone. "Okay. You call me tomorrow when you're ready. No hurry."
With that, he left them.
"Okay." Pilar gave Loup a gentle nudge in the direction of the bathroom. "Go take a shower, baby. Then go to bed."
"What about you? You slept almost all the way here, Pilar. You're probably not even tired."
Pilar picked up the remote control and hit the power button. A vast screen filled with vibrant images. She pushed different buttons, changing channel after channel, and smiled. "Oh, I'll be fine."
It was late morning when Loup awoke.
The room was filled with glorious light. She wriggled, reveling in the impossibly soft sheets and the luxurious feeling of being truly, utterly rested for the first time in at least a month. At the foot of the bed, Pilar glanced over her shoulder. She was lying on her stomach perusing an array of glossy magazines, the pages as crisp and new as though no one else had ever read them, not worn by dozens of fingers over dozens of years. Her smile made the bright room brighter.
"Hey, yourself." Loup smiled back at her, feeling her heart roll over with unexpected gladness. She sat upright, running her hands through hair tangled by sleeping on it wet. "You didn't go to bed?"
Pilar laughed. "Honey, you were out for like fifteen hours. I got up a while ago. You hungry?"
Her stomach rumbled, and she realized she smelled food. "Starving."
"I figured. It's still hot. I didn't know what you'd want, so I just ordered everything I thought you'd like."
Loup reached for the thick cotton hotel bathrobe that was nicer than any item of hand-me-down clothing she'd ever owned, and got up to explore two trays full of covered dishes. The domes covering the dishes were shiny, the silverware unscratched. The napkins were made of clean white cloth, and there was even a tiny vase with a real live flower on each tray. "Wow. This is so fancy! How'd you guess when I'd wake up?"
"I didn't." Pilar's smile turned smug. "I sent the first order back when it got cold."
Loup stared at her.
"What?" She shrugged. "I might never get to pretend I'm a rich rock star again. Who the hell knows what these government people want with us? And this place is amazing." She fanned the magazines in front of her. "I started thinking I didn't want to go shopping without knowing what was in style, you know? I mean, how would we know? So I called the concierge like Christophe said and asked him to send up some fashion magazines. Check it out. They just did it! Like you could ask for almost anything!"
Loup lifted one of the domes, inhaling. "You know there's no way this comes without a price, right?"
Pilar smiled wryly. "You think you need to tell Rory Salamanca's ex-girlfriend that, baby? Everything comes with a price. His was his witch of a mother, and giving up you. Until we know what this one is, we might as well enjoy it. Eat."
The food was delicious, fresh and hot, made with ingredients that tasted nothing like government rations. Loup ate her way steadily through a plate of eggs and potatoes and crispy bacon, French toast, and a plateful of fruits that she'd never tasted before, passing only on the pastry basket. When she was finished, she felt better than she had since the day of the fight. "Thanks. That was great."
"I told you I was gonna take care of you." Pilar sat cross-legged on the foot of the bed and gave her a serious look. "You're my hero, baby, but even heroes need someone to take care of them. Especially cute little heroes who don't have the sense to be afraid. And we don't have the first idea what we've gotten ourselves into here. So just promise me you'll let me, okay?"
"I'm serious. Promise."
"Good." Pilar caught a fold of Loup's bathrobe and tugged, pulling her down to kiss her. "Mmm. You taste like maple syrup."
"I thought you were in a hurry to go shopping."
"Are you kidding?" Pilar shot her an incredulous glance, then uncoiled from the bed. She crossed the room to pull the gauzy inner drapes over the window that looked out onto a vast courtyard. The brightness grew soft and muted. She came back and wound her arms around Loup's neck. "Two days ago, I thought I'd lost you, probably forever. Now I've got you and a fancy hotel room with a bed as big as a swimming pool. You think I'm gonna walk out that door without taking advantage of both?"
Loup smiled happily. "No?"
Pilar kissed her. "Damn right."
It was slow, smoldering sex, urgency tempered with luxury. The room was luxurious, the sheets were luxurious, the sheer pleasure of being together was luxurious. Loup felt the endless hours of deprivation and abuse melt away under Pilar's lips and tongue and hands.
"God, I love the way you feel," Pilar whispered against her skin, straddling her.
"When's it going to be my turn?" Loup whispered back.
"Mmm." She lifted her head. "Once you start, you'll send me through the roof, Supergirl. I wanna take my time."
She took a long, long time before playing fair.
Afterward they lay in bed and talked until the phone rang. "You go," Pilar said, lazy and sated. "I'm not sure I can walk yet. My legs are still wobbly."
"Liar," Loup said fondly, but she answered it. "Yeah, hi. Um… sort of." She raked a hand through her now extra-disheveled hair. "We kind of both need to shower." She lowered the phone. "It's Christophe. He's tired of waiting. Can we be ready in an hour?"
"Yeah, okay," Loup said into the phone. "Okay. See you then." She placed the receiver carefully back into the cradle, concluding her first-ever phone call, then turned to see Pilar watching her. "What?"
"Nothing." She smiled, folding her arms behind her head. "I just like looking at you. And all of this, it's like a dream. So far it's a really, really good dream. I don't wanna get out of bed."
Loup picked up a fallen magazine and held it out enticingly. "Shopping, Pilar."
"What about all of those cute little bottles of shampoo and stuff in the shower? And the stall's big enough for both of us."
"Ooh." Pilar got up with alacrity. "I hadn't thought of that."
Christophe arrived an hour later to find them damp but dressed, Loup working her way through the previously bypassed basket of pastries, having expended a fair amount of energy. He glanced around the room with amusement, taking in the tossed bedsheets, the empty trays of food, and the scattered magazines. "You made yourselves at home. Good."
Pilar flushed. "Well, you said to."
He gave her a courtly little bow. "And I meant it. Are you ready?"
Outside, the city seemed even larger than ever. Cars thronged the streets, not a single military vehicle in sight. Streams of pedestrians flowed along the sidewalks, not a single one of them in uniform. It felt like a different world, a world that had forgotten Santa Olivia and the Outposts on the other side of the border.
Christophe took them to a store that was only a short walk away, four stories tall and filled with an enormous, dazzling array of clothing and accessories. It was brightly lit and everything was new, new, new. In Outpost, almost everything had belonged to someone else. Loup stared, dazed by the selection. "How does anyone ever choose?"
Even Pilar was temporarily overwhelmed. She froze for a moment, awed by the array of choices confronting her, before rallying and making a beeline for the nearest rack. "Don't worry, baby. I know what looks good on you, and I read lots of magazines this morning."
It wasn't long before a pretty young saleswoman glided over to help. Between her and Pilar, with surprisingly helpful input from Christophe, they quickly amassed a large pile of clothing in a private dressing room.
"Very nice," the saleswoman said in approval when Pilar modeled her first ensemble, a narrow pencil skirt with a cute top. "Nice for business casual for a young person. You have good fashion sense." She exchanged a quick spate of Spanish with Christophe, then turned to Loup. "We need for you."
Loup eyed Pilar's skirt. "I'm not wearing something I can hardly walk in."
"Okay, no. Not for you. But nice for meeting." She rummaged through crowded hangers, handed her linen pants and a jacket, a black camisole. "Try this."
"Isn't this fun?" Pilar whispered in the changing room.
"Pilar, those look like jeans you have."
"No, they don't!"
"They're all faded."
"That's the style." She pointed. "Look at the stitching on the pockets. It's all different. And they don't flare as much. Anyway, they're new."
"I guess." Loup went out to model her outfit.
"Very nice," the saleswoman said. "With the jacket, it is business, but soft. Then take off the jacket…" She gestured at Loup, who complied. "A nice necklace and earrings, and you go out to dinner. Now you see how the pants hug the hips, very young and chic, and the nice sexy camisole makes…" She put her hands on Loup's waist, then blinked and pulled them back, startled at the feel of her not-quite-human musculature. "Um. Yes. So you are a dancer or a gimnasta, I think?"
Loup glanced at Christophe. "Gymnast," he clarified.
She shook her head. "Boxer."
"Oh." The saleswoman blinked. "Yes, well, because you have the toned physique, you can wear small tops like such that can look vulgar on someone more…" She demonstrated with her hands.
"Voluptuous," Christophe supplied. "That is the word, I think."
"Point taken," Pilar said mildly, spilling out of a low-cut shirt that was a size too small. "Christophe, can we buy just one nice dress? Like for going out dancing?"
He spread his hands. "I was told you have a line of credit here for twenty-five thousand pesos. Spend it how you like."
"How much is that in real money?"
PRAISE FOR SANTA OLIVIA"Terrific... a deep piece of literature that left me breathless and cheering. Kudos to Ms. Carey." -- Patricia Briggs, #1 New York Times bestselling author"Santa Olivia draws you in... daring you not to turn away as you are captivated by every single page. A fabulous read into the paranormal as only Carey can deliver!" -- L.A. Banks, author of The Vampire Huntress Legends series
- On Sale
- Nov 22, 2011
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Grand Central Publishing