Don’t miss today’s Teaser Tuesday from Tarnished by Kate Jarvik Birch, book #2 in the Perfected Series, which is available now!
The door to Penn’s room sat in shadows, closed tight. I stopped in front of it and rested my hand on the knob. If I closed my eyes, would I be able to hear the soft strains of Ray LaMontagne drifting under the door the way I had the very first time? All the memories of what lay just beyond the threshold flooded my mind: Penn’s hands moving across the strings of his guitar, the sticky ice cream sundaes, the feel of his sheets beneath my skin. My skin prickled with excitement, as if my body could already sense the presence of him there, the magnetic pull of him.
The handle creaked ever so slightly as I pushed my way inside, but I wasn’t worried. I was a thief now. Silently, I pulled the door shut behind me.
The blinds on the window were pulled shut, shrouding the room in black. Only a small beam of moonlight slanted across the floor, inching partway up the bed so that it illuminated Penn’s hand where it dangled over the side of the mattress. It was too dark to see his face, but even the sight of his beautiful fingers made my throat constrict. I hadn’t even realized how much I’d missed those hands. Those beautiful hands, strong and capable and tender. I’d missed watching the way they plucked the strings of his guitar. I’d missed the way he lifted them to his face to push away a stray lock of hair that had fallen into his eyes. I missed the way he would trace them across my nose, my cheeks, my mouth.
In a moment I was at his side pressing that hand to my lips. How had I gone so long without touching him? His hand was warm, the skin a little rough. I wanted to savor every inch of him; to kiss each finger, to feel the calluses on their tips, worn smooth from the strings of his guitar.
But my kiss only lasted a moment. My touch woke him and he pulled back, startled, fumbling for the lamp at the side of his bed. He flipped the switch and light spilled across the bed, bathing him in a warm yellow glow.
He blinked, allowing his eyes to adjust to the brightness. His face was still disoriented from sleep. A few crease marks from his pillow lined the left side of his forehead and cheek, and his dark hair stuck up a bit on one side. I wasn’t used to this short cut. Even messed up from sleep this new haircut looked too tame, too adult. He was only a year older than me, but it seemed like he’d aged ten years in the few weeks we’d been apart.
He rubbed his eyes. It was the most vulnerable I’d ever seen him and the scene made my head spin with a pure and burning love, so overwhelming that I couldn’t think, couldn’t speak.
He blinked one more time and a look of recognition dawned across his face.
“Ella.” My name on his lips, so soft, so sweet. In the time it took to draw a breath, he slipped from the bed and cupped my face in his hands, kissing my eyes, my cheeks, my lips, my chin. He kissed me like he was drinking me in, like he’d never be able to get his fill. Unquenchable.
He pulled back a few inches, just enough to take in my face. His lips trembled as his hands traveled down past my neck, drifting over my shoulders and arms. They stopped at my wrists and he took a deep breath, slowly turning my hands so they lay open, cupped like I was waiting to hold onto something. He brought his mouth to them, brushing his lips across the lines that creased my palms.
And then his mouth was on mine and the time that we’d been separated melted away. That empty space inside my chest, which had felt so cavernous, so expansive, filled with the shape of him, the smell, the taste, as if I’d opened the barred cage of my ribs and he’d crawled inside me, making a home beside my heart. And like my heart, it felt like he’d always been here, as essential as the blood running through my veins.
“Oh God, Ella, I…” He moaned and then, as if the words had startled him, he drew back, holding me at arm’s length.
The happiness that had shone from his face disappeared with a shake of his head. The small circle of light that enveloped us seemed to shrink, darkness pushing in from all sides.
“You can’t be here,” he said. “You’ve got to leave.”
Freedom comes at a cost…
Ella was genetically engineered to be the perfect pet—graceful, demure…and kept. In a daring move, she escaped her captivity and took refuge in Canada. But while she can think and act as she pleases, the life of a liberated pet is just as confining as the Congressman’s gilded cage. Her escape triggered a backlash, and now no one’s safe, least of all the other pets. But she’s trapped, unable to get back to Penn—the boy she loves—or help the girls who need her.
Back in the United States, pets are turning up dead. With help from a very unexpected source, Ella slips deep into the dangerous black market, posing as a tarnished pet available to buy or sell. If she’s lucky, she’ll be able to rescue Penn and expose the truth about the breeding program. If she fails, Ella will pay not only with her life, but the lives of everyone she’s tried to save…
Want to read more? Buy Tarnished (Perfected, #2) now: