Authors: Lee Strauss,Elle Strauss
By Lee Strauss
(Book 2 in the Perception Series)
By Lee Strauss
Copyright © 2012 Lee Strauss
Cover by walkingstickbooks.com
This is a work of fiction and the views expressed herein are
the sole responsibility of the author. Likewise, characters, places and
incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are represented
fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual
event or locales, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form
The exciting continuation of the Perception Trilogy:
Zoe Vanderveen is on the run with her captor turned rescuer,
hey're in love.
Or at least that's what he tells her. Her memories have
returned but her feelings are dreamlike--thin and fleeting.
Her heart can't
. Just look at what happened with Taylor Blake.
Senator Vanderveen's new team of cyborg agents are in hot
pursuit, and a reward for their capture is broadcast nationwide. Record
breaking cold and snow hinder their escape.
fight for survival
has only begun.
, the final book of the Trilogy is coming FALL
Noah’s eyes repeatedly darted to the rearview mirror and I
swiveled to see out the back window. The sun disappeared behind the mountains
bruising the horizon. Shadows stretched across the road, and my heart skipped
when I thought I’d spotted motion—a vehicle, but then it was nothing.
I felt like we’d been swallowed by a monster, caught in a gel
capsule, catapulting down a dark, curving intestine. The car smelled like nervous
sweat and the interior squeezed down on me, pressing my lungs against my ribs.
It had gotten dark and I was glad for the cover. I didn’t have
to peek into the mirror to know I looked like a plate of raw chicken. Plus, it
meant I could cry without worrying Noah, as long as I did it silently. I leaned
my head against the cool window, eyes closed, surreptitiously wiping salty tears
off my face.
We drove in silence for what seemed like hours, with only the
noise of the wipers intermittently squeaking across the windshield.
I wanted Noah to reach over and take my hand or grip my leg, or
anything to reassure me that everything was going to be all right.
For us and with us.
He didn’t. His hands remained firmly on the wheel at two and
I dozed off.
It’s pitch black until a strike of lightning jags across the
starless sky. Shadows flash, trees bow in the wind. Noah’s face. Water streams
down his olive skin, drops falling from long dark lashes.
His hand clasps mine and we run.
The wind whips my hair across my face. I can’t see. My heart
pounds, loud, along with the heaving of my rapid breaths.
We’re being chased.
But by who? And why?
Rain batters my face. It drenches my hair, soaks my shirt.
Noah disappears through a hole in the fence. I go next.
My shoulders scrape. My shirt’s caught. I writhe and twist,
but I can’t move. I’m stuck.
They’re going to catch me.
I awoke with a gasp.
Noah shook my shoulder. “You’re dreaming.”
The sound of his voice after so many hours of silence was
“Are you okay?” he asked.
My head throbbed and I drew circles on my temples with my
fingers. “I dreamed about us, running away from Grandpa V’s house. They were
chasing us. I got stuck in the fence.”
Noah swallowed. “There’s Tylenol in my pack.”
I reached for it, retrieving the pills and slugging back two with
what was left of our stale, days-old, bottled water.
“The battery’s low,” he said, lifting his chin toward the dash.
“Are we going to run out of juice before we reach Reno?”
We’d used the back roads to get here which was why it had taken
three days. Main highways had better surveillance systems, something we needed
to avoid at all costs. Agent Grant was on our tail.
The GPS on the dashboard indicated that we were about ten
minutes away from the outskirts of the city. I pulled my knees up to my chest,
feeling a strong need to curl into a ball, wishing I could make myself
Noah glanced my way. “How’s your head?”
“Okay,” I lied. Pain sliced through my brain.
Lights glimmered like jewels in the distance and the sight of
it energized me for some reason, like sparkles of hope.
Or at least like something new.
Noah geared down. “We need to get something to eat. I’m
My stomach twisted at the thought of food, but maybe a few
carbs would help to settle it.
“It’s pretty late,” I said. The time on the dashboard indicated
“Reno is open twenty-four hours. There’ll be something.”
He reached over and tugged my hair. “We’ll have to get a
“You want me to cut it?” I was startled by the thought.
He paused and I waited for him to say no but instead he said,
“We don’t have any scissors.”
He slowed as we passed an abandoned fuel station, left over
from the gasoline years. The wooden structure leaned precariously in the wind
and I thought it would cave in any minute.
Noah pulled up beside it. “We’ll deal with the battery
tomorrow. Help me push it to the back,” he said. I groaned with the effort but soon
it was well hidden in the long grass.
I fished out my shoulder bag from behind the seat and slid the hand
gun between my flesh and waistband, sucking back as the cool metal passed along
my skin. Noah ripped out the interior side board of the driver’s door and I
jumped. My eyes widened when he pulled out stacks of bills and stuffed them in
“Where’d you get all that money?” I asked.
His eyes flickered toward me then back to his bag. “I made a
rather large withdrawal. Before…”
“Before you took me? I didn’t know you had that much money.”
He shrugged, and awareness dawned. He’d had access to my chip.
“You withdrew from my account!”
He straightened and shifted the bag to his back. “I didn’t have
a choice. Besides, you still owed me.”
He was right. I’d hired him to help me find out what happened
to Liam and didn’t get a chance to pay. Still, I felt violated, though I knew
the feeling was irrational. He’d taken it to save
I stepped in behind him as we made our way through the long
grass back to the main road. We traveled along the shoulder, careful to watch
out for the soundless hybrids.
“Don’t make eye contact,” Noah said. “We’re not hitch-hiking.”
I was completely exhausted when we finally entered the suburb
sprawl. I, at least, had slept a little in the car. I didn’t know how Noah did
We came to a convenience store.
“We can get something to eat here,” I said.
Noah grabbed my arm, stopping me from entering. “You can’t go
in. Someone might recognize you.”
“They might recognize you, too.”
“It’s not as likely.” He pulled a ball cap out of his bag and
twisted it on his head.
I was beginning to wonder if he was ever going to touch me
again, when he put his hands on my shoulders.
The evenings were chilly, I couldn’t contain my shivering. Noah
unbuttoned his top shirt and wrapped it around me. “This should help.”
He maneuvered me toward the window. “Keep your eyes on me. I’ll
try to stay in your line of sight. Bang on the glass if you get nervous or
I nodded and he kissed me lightly on the forehead before
heading in. I stared through the glass into the brightly lit store, feeling
like I’d just got left behind on the moon. I placed a hand on my lower back,
comforted by the loaded gun there.
Noah moved about the store, keeping his face toward me. He was
taller than the shelves in the middle aisles and he kept his eye on me as he
grabbed at items.
The clerk watched Noah’s hands, not trusting that he wouldn’t
pocket something without paying. Noah placed a couple of sandwiches and
something else I couldn’t identify on the counter and paid with cash. The clerk
gave him a double-take before accepting the cash, then shrugged and shook his
head. No change.
“I have to use the restroom,” I said when he returned.
“I figured. They’re around the corner.” He handed me a key and
shoved something else in my hands. “Put this on.”
“A wig?” I blurted out. “It’s pink!”
“They’re stocked up for Halloween. It’s this or green.”
A deep moan escaped my lips when I looked in the bathroom
mirror. A bare bulb hanging from the ceiling gave off a green hue. My hair was
a mess and my skin was pasty due to lack of sleep and too much stress. I looked
ghoulish. Perfect for Halloween. I tore the wrapping of the wig open with my
teeth. The glossy neon-pink nylon strands were attached to a cheap membrane. I
twisted my hair into a pile on the top of my head and covered it with the wig.
It felt awkward and I patted it with my hands to flatten the hair underneath.
Noah’s lips pulled up in a tight grin when he saw me.
He ran his fingers through the nylon strands. “You look cute.”
I grumbled a response, then unwrapped my sandwich.
We walked until we spotted the flashing of a motel sign. It was
attached to a long, stucco building with paint-chipped trim and wooden doors. The
woman in the office sat behind a desk, casually dressed in poor-fitting slacks
and a blouse. Her eyes diverted back to the little TV hanging on a bracket on
the wall. I recognized the soap opera, and was glad she found the program more
interesting than us.
Noah paid the lady with cash. I kept my pink head down and
followed him to room 109.
Noah used the key card to open the door and we were hit with a
waft of air that reeked of cigarette smoke. It felt like a cramped storage
room, with only a tiny table, two wooden chairs, an ancient TV attached to the
wall, and a double bed. The orange carpet was worn through to the flooring
beneath it. It took two steps to get anywhere, including the bathroom, which stank
like urine. I winced at the thought of having to use that shower to get cleaned
I raised my eyebrows at Noah. “This is the best we can do?”
Noah closed the door behind us and fiddled with the thermostat.
I rubbed my hands together, not sure what to do with myself. For the last three
nights we’d slept in the car. This was the first time since we’d become
fugitives that we’d shared a real, if gross, room together. I tossed my handbag
on the table and then sat in one of the wobbly chairs.
“It should warm up quickly,” Noah said, turning to me. “Do you
mind if I have a shower first? I’ll be quick.”
As much as I’d like to stand under a spray of hot water, I
wasn’t eager to remove my layers now that I was finally starting to beat the
chill. Plus, that shower stall…
I folded my arms and closed my eyes. I started trembling, my
heart racing, and my forehead grew clammy. Was this what post-traumatic stress
“TV on,” I said, then chastised myself. Of course it hadn’t
been programmed to recognize my voice. I went to it, scanning the surface of
the screen. The voice-programming feature wasn’t obvious. This model was so
old, it probably didn’t have that. I searched for a way to turn it on, finding
a hand held remote in one of the drawers. I clicked it and turned it up, barely
loud enough to hear. I didn’t want to watch anything; I just didn’t want to
Noah reappeared. His hair was glossy and damp, dripping onto a
wrinkled shirt. “Your turn.”
I nodded and shuffled to the bathroom and began peeling off the
layers. I could smell myself. Yuk. I needed a shower desperately.
I turned on the hot water and stripped down as fast as I could.
Noah had left his soap and shampoo for me to use. I sniffed the lid. It smelled
I scrubbed down as fast as I could, finishing just as the hot
water depleted. I jumped at a tapping on the door.
“Zoe?” Noah’s voice reached me and I shut off the water.
“I’m going out for a bit. I won’t be long. Wait for me, ‘kay?”
I wrapped a towel around myself, water pooling on the floor,
but when I reached the door to ask Noah what he was going to do, he was already
At least the room was warmer. I stood in my underwear as I blow
dried my hair with a unit attached to the bathroom wall.
I stared at my image in the mirror. My hair was long and
yellow. It belonged to another girl. A girl who wasn’t me.
I didn’t know who I was anymore. Grandpa V, my parents and my
ex-boyfriend, Jackson, were to blame for that. The pink wig sat on the counter
where I’d left it when I’d taken it off to shower. I twisted my hair into a bun
and put it back on.
Was I this girl now?
And who exactly was she? The Zoe Vanderveen I was just a month
ago no longer existed. That Zoe had an older brother she adored, wealthy and
esteemed parents, and lived in a house on the ocean in the gated utopian
community of Sol City.
That Zoe fell in love with a natural on the outside.
I bit my lip, remembering everything. The problem was I didn’t
feel anything. It was like a movie I’d watched on my digi screen in my bedroom.
An incredible epic romance.