A rebellion is brewing in the world of the Lake of Sins while Hugh Truent sits in prison days away from his execution.
After taking his findings about the genetic similarities between the classes to the Supreme Almighty and the Council, Hugh had been arrested for treason and all his evidence had vanished as if made from smoke.
To protect his family, he cut off all contact with the outside world while he sat in prison for over four years waiting for his execution. He has no idea that some of his reports were leaked to the other classes and that civil war looms on the horizon.
Trinity and her friends have no hope of winning the war unless they can unite the classes. In order to do that, they need someone everyone will follow. They need the one person all the classes trust and believe in. They need Hugh.
That means they have to break him out of a maximum security prison and convince him to lead their army, but that won’t be easy because Hugh wants revenge and he’s not going to let anything get in his way especially mouthy, attractive, know-it-all Trinity.
CHAPTER 1: HUGH
HUGH PULLED THE THREADBARE blanket tighter around his shoulders as he shuffled back and forth in the darkness of his cell. It was getting colder every night and that meant the day of his execution was drawing near. He slid down the concrete wall to the floor, wrapping his arms around his knees. He—High Hugh Truent, the prodigy, the rising star, the Almighty who was supposed to change the world—was a naïve, arrogant fool who’d accomplished nothing but destruction. His mother was dead. His Guards and House Servants were dead or on the run and Viola…
He closed his eyes and she was there, smiling up at him from his bed, and then her mouth opened on a silent scream as her head rolled to the floor. His eyes flew open and he stared into the darkness. Of all the crimes that’d been piled on his shoulders, her death was the one that kept him awake at night.
The lights flickered to life. It was morning. One day closer to his execution. In jail, time almost stood still. His four years here seemed like a lifetime, but the betrayal by his friend Jason, the Supreme Almighty, burned like it’d happened yesterday. He’d trusted Jason with his reports and they’d disappeared as if made from smoke. Conguise’s lab had been clean. The only evidence that had remained had convicted him. He’d declared that the classes were genetically similar but without proof that was treason and treason was punishable by death.
Years ago, he’d come to terms with his fate even though it was based on lies. It was the truth that was hard to accept. He’d become the failure that his father had predicted. He’d never make Conguise pay for what the professor had done to Scar and the other Guards. He’d never bring to light the secret of meat and the genetic similarities between the classes. He’d never do anything except die a traitor’s death. His body left hanging in the Central Commons until it rotted and fell to the ground, serving as a reminder to all of what not to do and who not to become.
Footsteps sounded in the hallway and stopped in front of his cell. It was too early for breakfast. Solitude was bad, but this would be worse. It always was. He stood, his muscles aching from the cold, hard floor. A key scraped in the lock and the bean slot slid open but instead of food there was a clean uniform and shackles.
“Change your clothes,” said the Guard from outside the door.
“Why are they a different color?” He wasn’t due for new clothes yet and these were black not orange like he’d worn since he’d been incarcerated.
“Just do what you’re told,” said the Guard.
His hand trembled above the tray. In here, change was never good. “Why didn’t they give me these yesterday when I had my bath?”
“Do I have to come in there?” The Guard jangled the keys.
“No. No. I’m changing.” He didn’t want to make the Guard angry. Besides his bath, the only other place he was taken was to the basement. Some of the Guards liked to brighten their day by beating the prisoners. He smirked as he put on the clean uniform. He’d be in the best shape of his life for his execution. He exercised every day—the stronger he was the easier it was to withstand the beatings—and he hadn’t had a drink in over three years. He’d said he was going to quit, and he had. One goal accomplished. Hurray, for him.
“Don’t forget the restraints,” said the Guard.
He tightened the cuffs around his ankles and the other set around his wrists like a good prisoner. Delaying only upset the Guards and that made the beatings worse. “Done.”
The door slid open with a groan. Curtis stood in the doorway. He was one of the newer Guards at the facility, having replaced an elderly Guard who’d been retired or put down. Hugh wasn’t sure which, but he’d bet on the latter.
“Come on.” Curtis stepped away from the doorway.
He didn’t move. All the Guards who worked in the prison were solidly built but Curtis was at least twice the size of the others and he really didn’t want to be this Guard’s punching bag. “Where are we going?”
Curtis glared at him a moment and then smiled, his large teeth gleaming in the dim light from the hallway. “Don’t worry. We ain’t going to the basement.” He waved Hugh forward. “The Supreme Almighty would have our heads if so much as a scratch marred your pretty face on execution day.”
It seemed there were benefits to everything, even dying. “Then where are we going?” he asked again, dread keeping his feet in place. This wasn’t routine. This wouldn’t be good.
“It’s visiting day.” Curtis grabbed him by the arm and pulled him out of the cell.
“Visiting day was two days ago.” He’d been told that his sister was waiting for him and like every week for the past three years, he’d refused to see her.
During the first year of his incarceration, his sister and her family had suffered for his crimes. Little Sarah’s husband had lost his job and the kids had suffered at school. He’d told her to publicly disown him, but she’d refused. So, he’d stopped receiving all visitors and all correspondence but every week she arrived as steadfast as the sun. Their mother would’ve been proud of her daughter and although he wouldn’t admit it, he was glad for her stubbornness. He didn’t want to stand on the gallows and stare out at nothing but hatred and violent memories.
“Wrong visiting day.” Curtis’ face was grim.
“Already?” That meant that tomorrow was his execution. “I thought I had a few more days.” His throat was tight and the words came out as a whisper.
“Sorry.” Curtis gave him a slight shove.
He stumbled forward but didn’t move any farther. Yesterday, at his bath they’d made sure to remove every scrap of hair from his body. He hadn’t thought anything of it at the time, but now it made sense. The Supreme Almighty and his council didn’t want any questions about why an Almighty would have hair like the other classes.
“You’re not going to make this easy, are you?” Curtis grabbed him by the arm.
He tried, but his feet wouldn’t move. At his trial, he’d been shocked by the vehemence directed at him. Jason and the Council had convinced the public that the massacre at the Remore household had been his fault. They’d said that it’d been his responsibility to make sure that the Trackers took their serum. It made no difference that he hadn’t known there were any Trackers besides Mirra. All the blame and anger had been given to him, like a gift of sorrow and pain, linking his name for eternity to the tragedy known as the Night of the Trackers.
Curtis must’ve gotten tired of waiting because he began walking, dragging Hugh along. The door to the visiting chamber was getting closer. This was the second to last part of his punishment. He’d sit, chained in the room while family members of those he’d harmed came to have their final say. They wouldn’t be allowed to touch him but he feared their words and heartache more than any beating. He deserved hatred for Viola’s death and Buddy’s and his mom’s, but not the others.
“It’s time, High Hugh.” Curtis stopped.
“I don’t go by that anymore.” It was a stupid thing to say, but it’d slipped out. He hadn’t been called by his title in a long time.
“Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.” Curtis winked as he opened the door.
The room was empty except for three, burly Guards, a two-way mirror on the wall, a table and chairs. Curtis handed him over to one of the Guards and stepped outside, closing the door. The Guard guided him across the room and hooked his cuffed hands to the table and then his feet. He could move about six inches in either direction but there was no escape.
“Sit,” said the Guard, pushing down on Hugh’s shoulder.
He dropped onto the chair behind him, saying a quick prayer that Little Sarah would show up soon. If he could see her first, he might have the strength to face the others—the widows and orphans and the parents morning their dead children. The Trackers had killed many that night. He stared at the wall. It was blue with a hint of purple. It was similar to a flower but he couldn’t recall which one. He’d focus on figuring that out and not what was to come.
One of the Guards coughed. All of them were staring at the door, noses wrinkled in disgust. He sniffed. He couldn’t smell anything but he did hear the footsteps. There were different treads. It could be Little Sarah and her family, but he wouldn’t be that lucky. No, it’d be some mother or parentless child. He tried to focus on the wall, but his eyes kept darting to the door. He didn’t deserve this. The deaths at the Remore party had not been his fault.
The door opened. There were three of them standing outside with Curtis. As they entered, the heavy scent of perfume invaded the room. He breathed through his mouth to protect his nose, but that was worse, the odor clinging to his tongue like the taste of rotten meat. Curtis shut the door, trapping them inside with the stench. The three Guards shifted away, tucking their heads toward their arms to try and block the scent.
Two of the three visitors were Almightys dressed in their black, ceremonial capes. Their bowed heads were covered by hoods, so he couldn’t make out their faces. The other was a Guard. He looked familiar. It was Jackson, but with a beard. The Guard had finally yielded and grew the facial hair of his class. Hugh started to smile but stopped. If Jackson were here, then the other two had to be Benedictine’s family.
He sagged against the chair as the tension fled his body. Of everyone, the Remores knew he wasn’t to blame for the Night of the Trackers. Before his trial, Kim, Jethro and Jackson had wanted to come forward and explain their part in the mess, but he’d convinced them that it’d make no difference. He was going to be executed for treason; there was no point in anyone else dying.
The three guests moved across the room. The male had to be Jethro, but the boy hadn’t filled out like he’d expected. Jethro was still lean and lanky. The other was a woman, a young woman by her posture and stride. So, it was Kim and not Martha. They stopped in front of the table, Jackson behind the others. The Guard wouldn’t meet his eyes. It was for the best. The warden was probably watching from the two-way mirror. It wouldn’t do for him and Jackson to seem on friendly terms. The Guard didn’t pay much attention to Kim either which was odd. Usually, the sexual tension between the two was palpable. He held back a grin. Maybe, the tension had been relieved. Without Benedictine’s watchful eye, his daughter was free to do as she pleased and from what he’d witnessed after the Night of the Trackers but before his imprisonment, what Kim wanted was her father’s Guard.
Kim was different than he’d remembered too—tall and lean with the promise of lush curves shaping the robe. Wait a minute. He may not have seen a female in years but something was wrong. Kim was not and never would be willowy like this female. Kim was short and curvaceous. His eyes narrowed. Since when was Kim taller than Jethro? The boy might not have grown over the years, but he shouldn’t have shrunk.
As if sensing his scrutiny, Kim raised her head. Golden eyes framed with lashes the color of soot met his gaze.
“Hello, High Hugh.” Trinity grinned.
In one fluid movement she was across the room, slashing at the Guard on his right. Jethro, who wasn’t Jethro at all but Tim, launched himself at the Guard on his left while Jackson grabbed the third Guard, placing him in a chokehold. In a moment, the struggle was over. The three Guards lay on the floor and he was standing—he didn’t remember standing—with his mouth hanging open.
“Tie them up.” Trinity grabbed his hands. “Where are the keys?”
“Jackson, stop.” This was all happening too fast and yet not fast enough. They’d come to save him. He had no idea why and he didn’t care but it’d be for nothing if they didn’t act fast. He pointed behind him at the two-way mirror. “The warden and who knows who else is back there. They’ll signal for more Guards if they haven’t already.”
“Don’t worry. We got this.” Jackson slipped out the door.
“I…I.” He had no words. His throat was filled with hope. He wasn’t going to die. He started to run his hand through his hair and stopped, his arms still chained to the table.
“I can’t find the keys.” Tim searched the Guards.
“I got this.” Trinity pushed her hood back and pulled a long needle from the bun in her hair. “Start undressing one of them.”
“This is taking too long.” He turned toward the door. “Where’s Jackson? There was another Guard outside the door. Did you get him?”
She grabbed his hand. He jumped at the contact. It’d been years since he’d been touched by anything but a fist, let alone the soft skin of a female. She dug her claws into his wrist, scraping slightly as she stared up at him, her golden gaze angry.
“Stay still or we’ll all get caught.” She began picking the lock.
“Do you know how to do that?”
Her head was bent over his hands and the light reflected off her hair as it slipped free from the bun and flowed onto her shoulders. Brown was too tame a word for it as highlights of red and gold created a cacophony of glorious hues. It was the most gorgeous thing he’d ever seen. The latch clicked open.
“Yep.” She grinned at him as she grabbed his other hand.
The breath caught in his chest. She used to hide her fangs when smiling. She’d been young and unsure of herself, but now she accepted who she was. Her confidence was in every gesture and move she made. She was magnificent. His eyes traveled down her body, searching for the curves hidden by the cloak. He blinked and raised his gaze to the wall. This was Tim’s daughter. But she’s not your niece. That didn’t matter. She was young and innocent, not for him. He took a deep breath, choking on her perfume.
“If you don’t like the smell, stop breathing.” She continued working on the lock.
“That was the Council’s plan, so unless you want to join me you’d better hurry.” He’d forgotten about her smart mouth.
She raised a brow at him as the second latch opened. She knelt and started working on the chains around his ankles.
“This is taking too long.” He repeated as he glanced at the door. “Other Guards will be coming.”
She unlocked another latch and moved on to the next. “One more to go.”
The door burst open. Trinity jumped to her feet, claws bared. Hugh shifted to block her, but she pushed in front of him, sending him a dirty look.
“It’s us.” Curtis held up his hands as he and Jackson stepped into the room.
“Curtis is with you?” That’d explain why the young Guard had never taken him down for a basement beating.
“Sure am, High Hugh Truent.” Curtis slapped him on the back.
“I…don’t call me that.” He hated that title. It represented the fool he’d been and he wasn’t that man anymore.
They all glanced at him.
“Okay, Hugh. Whatever you want.” Curtis’ smiled faded a bit.
Trinity gave Hugh a disgusted look as she knelt back at his feet. She looked up at Curtis from under her lashes. “Don’t pay any attention to him. If he’s not griping about something, he’s not happy.” She smiled, her eyes meeting his for a moment in challenge and then flashing over to Curtis.
“Hurry up, Trinity.” Tim glared at the young Guard.
“I’m only irritable when you’re around.” He hadn’t missed the exchange between her and Curtis. He didn’t envy Tim. Shy, unsure Trinity had been trouble. Confident, flirtatious Trinity would be a nightmare for her parents.
“Almost done, Dad. I told you that you’d be glad I learned how to do this.” She unhooked the last cuff.
“It’s who you learned it from that I don’t like,” said Tim.
“Let’s go.” Hugh rubbed his wrist and moved toward the door.
“Wait. We need to check you for a tracking device.” Jackson blocked his path, a Tracking Pinpointer in his hand. It was long and thin like a metal stick.
“What are we going to do if I have one implanted?” It’d have to be removed, but sometimes the devices attached deep in the tissue.
“Whatever we have to.” Trinity bared her claws.
“Freedom comes at a price.” Tim grinned.
“You don’t have to sound so happy about it.” Having a device the size of a piece of rice dug from his body by claws was not an experience he wanted to have.
“Sorry. Has to be done.” Jackson turned on the pinpointer.
“I’ll do it. You need to change.” She grabbed for the device.
“I got it.” Jackson jerked away from her.
“Stop arguing and let Jackson handle it.” The words came out almost a shout. He’d forgotten how annoying the squabbling of the other classes could be. “Jackson has experience with locating tracking devices and we need to hurry.”
She stepped closer to him. “You’ve been locked up a long time, Hugh. You have no idea how experienced I am.”
His eyes flew to Tim. She couldn’t mean that the way it sounded.
“Don’t even,” said Tim, sending a glare at Curtis who was grinning at Trinity.
“What did I say wrong this time?” Her eyes darted from one male to the next, red creeping into her cheeks.
“Don’t worry about it, honey,” said Tim.
“I’ll never learn if you don’t tell me.”
“You’ll never learn by spending all your time hanging out in the forest with Gaar and Mirra,” said Tim.
“Now, Dad? Really?”
Tim closed his eyes for a second and took a deep breath. “No. You’re right. We can talk about it later.”
“We’ve talked about it enough,” she said under her breath.
Jackson was trying unsuccessfully not to smile as he ran the wand up and down Hugh’s body.
“What’s that about?” he whispered to the Guard.
“Tim and Millie want her mated but”—Jackson glanced at her—“she’s not ready.”
“I can hear you.” She didn’t bother to look up. “I’m sure Dad will tell you all about how I constantly disappoint him and Mom, but first we need to get out of here.”
“We’re not disappointed in you, just your choices.” Tim’s tone was weary as if they’d had this discussion too many times.
“That’s so much better,” she said.
“All clear.” Jackson slipped the device into his pocket and started changing into the prison Guard’s uniform.
“I told you they wouldn’t waste the money on a dead man,” said Curtis.
“We had to be sure.” Jackson grinned at Hugh as he buttoned his shirt. “It’s too bad. It would’ve been fitting if they’d put your own invention inside of you.”
“Yeah, a real shame.” He’d also forgotten what a warped sense of humor Guards had. He collected the weapons from the prison Guards. They didn’t carry guns but they did carry clubs.
“You can’t have these. Not yet, anyway.” Jackson took the nightsticks from him. “Let’s go.”
“As soon as we put the shackles back on him,” said Curtis.
“No. What if I have to run?” He didn’t want to be chained, not ever again.
“We won’t latch them.” Trinity grabbed his hands.
“Be careful as you walk. You don’t want to lose these at a bad time.” Curtis tucked Hugh’s socks around the cuffs to keep them in place.
“Kind of ironic, a Producer chaining an Almighty.” She hooked his handcuffs loosely around his wrists. “I like it.”
“I don’t.” He wasn’t truly restrained. He could slip his hands free with little effort but after all these years, he didn’t want chains or locks anywhere near him.
“Neither do we.” Her large, gold eyes were brittle.