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Love Forbidden

Aberrant Series : Book One

By: Ruth Silver
Published By: Lazy Day
Copyright: Copyright � 2013 Ruth Silver & LazyDay Publishing
25 Chapters / 66,000 Words
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“I could no more control who I loved than how I came into this world.”

My existence is illegal.

In a world that is barren
And children are conceived through IVF
Love is forbidden.
Marriage is determined by the government
And I discovered on my wedding day
That I was conceived naturally.
The government wants me dead.

CHAPTER 1

Lying on my stomach beneath the tall oak tree, the branches covering the morning sun, I glanced behind me at Joshua. He had made himself content, lying with his head in the small of my back. I nearly laughed as he situated himself as if it was completely normal and something we usually did. It wasn't.

"Comfortable?" I laughed, looking back as his legs stretched out just past the shade, his feet in the sun. My fingers moved through the blades of grass, playing with them as I spoke.

"I am, actually." He nodded and, though I couldn't see his movements, I could feel them. It was strange and oddly calming.

"I'm not ready for today," I whispered, afraid someone else might overhear my fear. I knew no one else was nearby, but I still found it hard to voice.

He reached for my hand, finding my fingers and giving a tentative squeeze. "I don't think any of us are," he confessed. "I keep thinking how everything is about to change for us." He paused before casting a glance at me. I could feel him staring, even as I avoided making eye contact. "We could always refuse the match."

I scoffed at the idea. "And die in the Gravelands?" I shook my head once. "No thanks." I wasn't looking forward to getting married. It was the requirement of the government for those who turned eighteen. Without the system, society would not survive. We had poisoned ourselves, made it impossible to conceive children naturally, and had to trust the government to keep us alive.

I wasn’t the most trusting person.

Joshua moved to sit up. Immediately, I felt the loss of his body's warmth against mine. "Maybe it won't be such a terrible waste," he suggested. "There must be a few guys you wouldn't mind being matched with?" Sixteen boys and sixteen girls were part of the marriage ceremony; our entire graduating class.

"Right," I sighed, thinking it over. I knew the boys in our class, but I couldn't imagine seeing any of them every day, let alone sharing a home with one of them. It was preposterous.

"You're telling me you've never thought about today?" Josh asked with mild curiosity. We'd always known the day would come, that our match would be one of the sixteen from our school. It would be a lie to tell him I never wondered who I'd marry. Joshua smiled brightly. "I always imagined you'd be my match."

"Really?" I felt the slightest bit of warmth spread across my cheeks that he would want to spend the rest of his life with me.

He laughed, nudging my arm. "No." I tried not to hide the embarrassment coloring my face as I stared down at the grass. "Come on, wouldn't that be weird?" Joshua smiled at me. "We're best friends. It's not natural."

I bit down hard on my bottom lip to keep from crying. I didn't quite understand what I felt, but I needed to keep my emotions from surfacing. Ignoring Joshua beside me, I glanced up from the grass and across the land at the graveyard, my father's home, just a few yards away.

I closed my eyes, feeling the ache in my heart returning.

"Mom, please, you have to come with me," I begged. My hands held purple and blue wildflowers I'd spent all afternoon picking with Joshua's help. Today was the first anniversary of my father's death, and I wanted to celebrate him in some sort of way.

"I'm not going there. I have too much to do." She shook her head once and walked into the kitchen, farther away from me. She dug through the fridge, but it was too early to make dinner. She was stalling. Even I could see that.

I followed her, flowers in hand, and placed them on the counter. "What else do you have to do, Mom? What could be more important?" My eyes pleaded with her to come with me to his grave. I wanted to remember him as he was and shower his home with flowers.

"You wouldn't understand. You're a child," she scolded me. "Now get the flowers off the table and go wash up for dinner."

My hands ripped the flowers from the counter. I took off running out of the house toward the cemetery. Tears burned my eyes and ran down my cheeks as I stomped through the graveyard over dying grass, searching for his resting place.

Finding it, I dropped to my knees, the flowers spilling from my hands. "I'm so sorry, Dad. I wanted her to come, but she couldn't. She was too busy—you know how she is." I wiped the tears away as I fixed the flowers on the ground and rearranged them properly. "I love you so much." I sniffled once, shivering from the cold autumn air, but refused to leave.

My body froze in place, feeling a warm gloved hand on my shoulder. I glanced back, surprised to see Joshua, his blue eyes staring down at me as he sat beside me on the ground. "Hi, Mr. Parker."

"Olive?" I felt Joshua's voice in my head and shook it once, bringing myself back. The sun felt warm, and I realized now he'd placed his arm around my shoulder. "You spaced out for a minute."

"I guess I did," I whispered, glancing from the graves back down to the grass. I didn't want to tell him it was a welcome escape from what he'd said just moments ago—that he'd joked about us being matched and then seemed somehow repulsed by it.

He nodded slowly, keeping me close beside him. "There are a few girls I wouldn't mind being matched with this afternoon," he confessed, bringing us right back where we started. I wasn't sure I was grateful for the conversation, but I also didn't want him to see he'd hurt me. I was sure it wasn't intentional. He'd been joking. "I just keep thinking, what if they refuse me?"

"What?" That caught me off-guard. It was unheard of to refuse your match. It wasn't illegal per se, but it might as well have been. If you denied the match, then you were defying the government of Cabal, which ruled our town of Genesis. The law stated someone could choose not to marry, but then the government no longer had the need to represent that person. As such, the unmarried were banished from any and all government cities and forced to reside in the Gravelands. Anyone who was sent beyond the walls without food or transportation would die. It was no secret that starvation and dehydration would likely be the first to kill you. If you didn’t die from lack of food and water, there were plenty of men that would have their way with you—torture, rape, and kill you.

"I'm worried one of the girls might look at me and not want to marry me," Joshua repeated. He must have thought I hadn't heard him. I had. I just couldn't fathom who would ever turn their match down. I'd never seen it happen, but long before I was born, there were stories of it.

"Oh, come on." I rolled my eyes and nudged him. His grip on my shoulders loosened, and I wrapped an arm around his waist. My head came to rest on his shoulder as I let out a soft sigh. "No one would rather seek death than marry you." I laughed softly. "You're not that bad of a catch."

Joshua laughed under his breath. "Thanks."

"I'm serious." I smiled, glancing at him from his shoulder. "You're a really nice guy. Besides, marriage isn't like…" I paused, unwilling to finish the sentence.

"What?" Joshua waited for me to continue.

I couldn't very well confess I'd been reading illegal texts. I chewed my lip anxiously trying to reconsider my words. "Marriage is just about sharing a house and food together. It's not like it used to be."

Joshua stared, waiting for me to elaborate. I wasn't the best consoler. "After today," Joshua whispered, "you and me, we won't be able to do this."

"I know." I sighed. Just thinking about it made me miss him already. "It's not like we're doing anything wrong," I reminded him as much as myself. We merely spent time together.

"The government won't see it like that," Joshua reminded me. "They'd charge us with adultery." It was an unwelcome reminder of the perfect system.

I knew he was right. It was a dangerous game we'd been playing for years. Although it wasn't forbidden to befriend a member of the opposite sex, it was frowned upon. I never quite understood why, until today.

Hesitantly, I pulled back, giving Joshua a shy smile. "I should head home before Mom worries." If I left now, I could shower and be ready in time for the marriage ceremony. "I'll see you later." I smiled, giving a wave as I headed through the graveyard toward home. Already I missed Joshua, with his dark hair and eyes as blue as the sky; I felt my heart leap in a strange, unexplainable way. I hated to think that after today I would probably never see him again.

I gazed into the mirror, saddened by my reflection. My hair, though still damp after my shower, was a shade darker than its usual warm honey. My eyes seemed a muted shade of green, duller and less intense, matching my sour mood. I didn't feel pretty, and if the boy I was matched to would think the same of me, what then?

I missed my father. It had been thirteen years since he'd died. I'd come to terms with his passing, accepted his fate as I had no other choice, and that meant that I was ready for new beginnings.

The only problem was that the government officials had their own minds made up about our fate. My stomach tensed with butterflies as I swallowed my nerves as best I could.

I opened my closet, surprised to find a white gown. My favorite part of the dress was the bottom and sleeves covered in lace. One of the Keepers must have brought it in while I was out. It took only a matter of seconds for me toss my towel and slip into the dress. The white cotton material reached just past my knees. In the corner of the room, on the floor, sat a pair of white heels. I knew they were left for me, but I doubted I'd be capable of wearing them. I slid my feet into the shoes, stumbling slightly as I tried to walk the length of the bedroom. I glanced at my reflection in the mirror; the gown fit perfectly, and, as I twirled, a faint smile spread across my face.

"You look beautiful." My mother grinned as she watched from the door. Our school uniforms were usually muted gray. Work attire was provided by the government, based on job position, but white was never a color. It was reserved for the marriage ceremony. I felt incredibly awkward in a dress. However, I knew the other girls would be wearing the same thing and took comfort in their pain.

My blonde hair was down past my shoulders, and my mother ushered me into her bathroom, grabbing her hair dryer and curling iron. "Are you excited?" She chattered away as she dried my hair and then curled the ends, barely leaving me time to speak. "I bet you're thrilled. I remember my marriage ceremony like it was yesterday. Your father looked so handsome when he came up on stage. All I could think about was how lucky I was to have the government choose him for me." She let large curls hang several inches past my shoulders before nodding in approval when she was finished. "Oh, one more thing. Almost forgot!" She held up one finger to tell me not to move.

"Mom?" I called back, wondering where she went. She rushed back to me, bringing a bobby pin and purple wildflower into the bathroom. It took only a minute for her to clip it into my hair.

"Perfect." She admired her work before ushering me out the door. "You can't be late!" I rolled my eyes and groaned in protest. I knew I shouldn't be mad at her, but it was hard not to be. I dreaded what the afternoon would bring.

As we walked outside, our neighbors did the same. Those with children in the graduating class joined at the front of the stage, and their families were just behind them in the city square. Those not participating stood farthest back and watched with great admiration. Gradually, I approached the front and walked up the stairs as I took my place on the stage. The girls from my class all gathered, one by one. My eyes searched the crowd for a recognizable face to calm my nerves. I spotted my mother standing proudly alone. My eyes scanned the front row of potential candidates. They were all dressed the same in midnight black suits. It took less than a second to find his dark brown hair in the crowd. Joshua's blue eyes pierced through mine. Was he as nervous as I felt? He looked good. I wanted to give him a smile or a brief wave, but all I could do was lock eyes on him as we stared at one another.

I knew I should be happy, but all I could feel was nauseated. I swallowed the bile rising in my throat. I felt as though I'd been tossed on a ship in the middle of a hurricane, swaying violently from side to side. On one side is Governor Craynor and the other is the husband I'm forced to marry. My stomach shifted in waves, and my skin grew ashen and clammy. My hands trembled as I tried to stay strong, but I felt as though I was failing miserably. I let my mind wander as I did my best to calm my nerves. If I had the choice, who would I choose to marry? Glancing toward Governor Craynor, the thought vanished as he studied the list of names on the sheet in front of him. I was the fourth in line—the fourth to be chosen and married off today. I knew I shouldn't be nervous, but not knowing what awaited made me want to vomit. I studied the sixteen faces in the crowd of familiar boys. I was sickened to think I could be married to Levi Keller, the most obnoxious and gross boy in school.

I grimaced as my teacher Ms. Steiner informed us we would be reading in pairs. We had just learned our alphabet last year, and I wasn't the strongest reader. I didn't even like reading, but Mom would occasionally sit me down with the Genesis Times to read what our government told us was going on in the world. In Ms. Steiner's class, we had textbooks. I sat beside Levi, trying my best not to be repulsed. His hair was dark and matted down to his skin. Though I knew his natural color was blonde, it had been a long time since he'd bathed. Dirt showed on his face and hands. I raised my hand, hoping Ms. Steiner would call on me. She ignored me. I would have played sick, asked to go to the nurse because I wasn't feeling very well. I didn't think she'd believe me, but I didn't want to sit next to Levi. He reached toward me, poking me in the arm

"Why's the hand up, Olivia?" Levi's eyes narrowed and he tilted his head, studying me. "Afraid I have germs?" He laughed and the rest of classroom erupted in nervous laughter. They all must have felt it, too, mustn't they? No one ever wanted to be paired with Levi Keller. Today I was the unlucky chosen one. I felt my cheeks redden in embarrassment. He scooted his chair closer to me, and the putrid stench made my stomach somersault. Maybe I really would get sick and go home.

"Forget it," I muttered. I was better than this. Better than him. He couldn't scare me. I grimaced when I felt him push the edge of the book into my arm. I knew he did it intentionally.

"Start reading, Olivia." He pushed the open pages in front of me. "One of us has to do the work. It isn't going to be me." He smirked as I studied the letters on the page. I leaned closer, trying to focus, quietly sounding out the words as I felt him grip onto my pigtails and pull.

"Oww!" I squealed as the pain radiated up into my head.

He snorted like a pig, mocking me.

I jerked around, my fist finding his face as I punched him once. That was all it took for Ms. Steiner to scold me and send me home for the day.

I didn't want to imagine a life tied with Levi because the government thought we were the perfect match. My eyes scoured the stage and then the mass of people standing before us. I could deny the match, but what then? I'd be immediately escorted to the gate and left on my own to die out there alone. I'd never see my mother again.

There had to be another way. Pretending to marry would at least buy me time to pack some food and water. I could say goodbye or maybe even convince my mother to come with me. She'd understand, wouldn't she? Then we'd climb the wall or find a way to forge through the entrance. It was an impossible task, but less revolting than marrying Levi Keller.

The governor read off the first name, "Janessa Becker," and a silence filled the city square as anticipation flowed from the boys waiting to see who would marry her. She was a nice enough girl with porcelain skin, auburn hair and freckles. She'd never done anything wrong to me, but we weren't best friends. The governor adjusted his spectacles while reading the names. "Martin Scavenger." A soft clapping erupted through the crowd whether they wanted to celebrate the news or not. Martin caught sight of Janessa and stepped away from the boys and made his approach toward the stairs. The governor waited until Martin made his way up the platform and stood before Janessa before reading off the second girl's name.

Two additional girls' names followed, as did the boys'. None of the girls had been paired with Levi. I knew my turn was next and held my breath. Levi was a bully. In all our years of schooling, he'd never changed. I'd witnessed him pick on the younger children at the playground. Maybe I should have stopped him. Maybe I should have stood up and done something different. I couldn't change the past any more than I could change where I was right now.

Governor Craynor read off my name next. "Olivia Parker." I stood awkwardly, staring down at the boys who were still available. I could deal with most of the other boys in school. Marriage, though, seemed like such a long time with someone you had to tolerate. My eyes scoured the crowd, seeing a guard a few feet from my mother. What would happen to her if I refused my match? I knew the guard was watching the ceremony and not standing by the gates because his daughter was on the platform today, to the right of me. Was he not still on duty? He was dressed in the black Cabal uniform with a gun slung over his back. I doubted he would be so forgiving.

Did Governor Craynor remember me from all those years ago, reading my father's eulogy at the funeral? He hardly interacted with the townspeople. He liked to stay holed up in his mansion. For a system where everyone was treated equally and provided the same things, Governor Craynor lived in the largest, most elegant home in Genesis, the Governor's Mansion. It wrapped around the street with a private swimming pool in the back, and several people in town worked for him, cooking and cleaning. It was no secret that he thought of himself as better than us. I had no idea what he did as governor, but I didn't imagine it involved much work. His responsibility was supposed to be to the people. I couldn't remember a time when he'd ever done anything to help the people of Genesis. He seemed more about controlling us and instilling order. I doubted he had any real training to be a leader and half-wondered how a man of such power came into the position of governor. I couldn't remember a time when anyone else had ever watched over our town. I knew there were other governors in the other cities, but didn't know who they were. Once a year, sometime in the early spring, there was a Governor's Ball when they'd all visit our town. Very little work was done—mostly it was an elaborate party to celebrate how fortunate we all were.

I despised Governor Craynor. I had no personal reason to hate him; he'd never spoken directly to me, and I doubted he ever would again after today. He was plump and graying, and his voice was gruff. I was almost certain as he spoke I could hear a slight slur in his speech, and wondered if he'd had too much grog. I'd heard of people getting sick from grog, but I'd never tasted it, nor had I ever seen it in our home. The government provided our food—it was unlikely the people would ever get anything more than we absolutely needed.

I realized I had let my mind wander and glanced back at Governor Craynor as he used his spectacles to read the name of the person I would be marrying. He took a moment, and I was sure the air had left my lungs and I would pass out. My heart quickened and my eyes widened as I leaned forward. My hands were visibly shaking, and I felt more than just nervous, I felt sick. I gasped as I heard his name: "Joshua Warren."

I couldn't believe what I heard. Had I imagined it? Joshua walked down the aisle past the other boys and headed for the stairs, an eager smile on his face as he slowly approached me. I never imagined Joshua being the government's match. I could see it in his eyes as he stood facing me. He felt it, too—relief.

I didn't listen as the governor finished calling the girls' names and their matches. Instead I reached out, taking Joshua's hand in mine. I glanced down at our hands together and felt my breath quicken as the world seemed to pause around us. No one else followed my lead. Everyone stood there awkwardly, putting on their best smile, pretending to be happy. It was a big adjustment today, for all of us. We live in one of the better cities. We are of the few lucky ones, or so we're told. I hardly felt lucky, yet standing there with Joshua was more than I could have hoped for. I glanced toward my right and saw the marriage ceremony continuing. It all felt like the perfect dream.

Once the last couple was called, the ceremony continued to our vow exchange. I followed the lead as, one by one, each girl who stood to the left of me twirled in a circle. As it was my turn, I followed suit, twirling and stepping out of my heels, absently missing my footing. I nearly fell to the floor as Joshua reached out to catch me. A slight gasp emitted from the town. My face flushed red from embarrassment, and I knew I'd made a mockery of the vows exchanged for marriage.

The governor laughed it off. "Children." He shook his head, "You are no longer that today," he chided, scolding us for our actions. He stared at me, his gaze lingered, waiting for me to further disobey him. Did he think I did this on purpose? I merely nodded as the governor continued the tradition and gestured for the next girl beside me to twirl. Down the line, all sixteen girls had followed suit and then the boys all took a step forward and then a step back. Each boy, now considered a man, held out one hand, and if we accepted them as our husbands we gave them our hands in marriage. One by one, each girl accepted. As the ceremony came to a close, the crowd softly clapped and one by one the new couples walked off the stage and down the aisle toward their respective families. I took Joshua's hand, still surprised by the sudden turn of events. I had feared what today would bring, that marriage would be the end for me, and instead it was clearly the beginning.

"We should go find your mother," Joshua told me, squeezing my hand as he dragged me through the crowd.

Joshua's family found us first. His mother, Rebecca, grinned excitedly. "We're so happy to have you in our family!" She squeezed me tight in her arms, and I knew she was being honest. Most families accepted this as fate, but his mother would never lie. It wasn't part of her nature. His father reached out and shook my hand with a faint nod. I glanced around, wondering where my mother was, when she pushed her way through the crowd toward us.

"Mom!" I reached for her, pulling her close to me, thrilled with how things had turned out. Just hours ago I was terrified about getting married, but it hardly seemed so bad now that it had been to Joshua.

"I have to talk to you later," she whispered into my ear as her eyes glistened with tears.

"What's wrong?" I frowned, not understanding what she'd want to talk to me about. Was she upset with my match? I couldn't believe that was the case. Whatever it was could wait. It would have to. I glanced around at the other girls from my class. They looked less than thrilled. I was happy, though—nothing could dampen my spirits.

After visiting and receiving several rounds of congratulations from our family and the town, we headed toward our new home together. My stomach was a flurry of butterflies. I’d never spent a night away from my bed and now I was to live in a new home with my husband.

Joshua smiled and opened the door for me as we stepped into our new home. Our families would bring our belongings, though we didn't own much. The government provided food and furniture. The fridge was perfectly stocked, exactly like the one back home. It was mildly refreshing to feel at ease. All the worries that had surfaced vanished as I stepped inside our new home together. Even the house smelled the same as the home I grew up in with my mother. How was that possible?

I glanced around. Our place was small and quaint—a two-bedroom government-issued house. The layout was precisely the same as my childhood home. Everyone in our stature received the same goods, and it was considered fair and right. No one questioned such authority. No one had need or reason to. The government seemed to know what was best for the people. I'm not sure I always agreed with their means, but people in our city had homes and food. No one starved if they followed the rules. It was meant to be fair.

"So, what do you think?" I heard his voice behind me and jumped.

Joshua took a tentative step back to give me some space. I laughed it off, shaking my head. "Sorry. I'm just not used to you being in my house." In all the years we'd been friends, we'd never once set foot in one another's home. It was forbidden.

Joshua laughed, glancing around. "Well, it's our house now."

After a beat, I glanced at him with a faint smile. "My mother mentioned she wanted to tell me something after the marriage ceremony. She might stop by this evening."

Joshua nodded. "That's fine. I'm sure she'll come by before curfew."

I chuckled softly. "I would expect so." Breaking curfew meant, at the very least, a flogging. It was rare for adults to be whipped. Mostly children and teenagers were the ones punished for being out past nine.

Joshua rested his hand on my back, guiding me to the sofa to sit down. It was the simplest and lightest touch, but it sent a shiver coursing through me. "Any idea what she wanted to talk about?"

I shook my head. "She seemed worried to tell me in town," I remarked. "She's my mom, though, and I'm sure, whatever it was, she had her reasons."

"Do you think it has anything to do with your father?" Joshua asked and immediately my eyes widened. The thought hadn't so much as crossed my mind. He'd been gone for over a decade.

"I don't know," I whispered resting my hands in my lap and staring down at them. I glanced at Joshua curiously. "What could she possibly tell me about him that I don't already know?"

There was so much I hadn't known about my father, Gavin Parker. He had died when I was five in a fire at his work. I hadn't asked the specifics. I was too young to know them when it happened, and talking about it never made me feel any better.

Joshua glanced at me. "Maybe he wrote you a letter before he died?"

"It's not possible. I mean, he died in a fire, Josh. It would have burned with him. Besides, there is no way my mother could have kept something that big from me." I felt hopeful, though—even just the slightest bit—at the notion he could have written me a letter for the day I got married.

Joshua smiled reassuringly. "I'm sure, whatever the reason, it'll be a good one." He was always so optimistic.

I knew he had to be right. Why give me bad news after the marriage ceremony? It seemed not only unlikely, but unheard of. Watching him, I reached out, taking his hand as my thumb brushed against the back of his palm. "Do you ever wonder what it's like outside of the walls?" He had to feel the same curiosity.

Joshua smiled weakly at me, glancing down at our entwined hands. "I've climbed a few trees, but they're never taller than the gates. There's no possible way to see over the walls." He wasn't the only tree climber.

We only knew what was in the Gravelands from the stories we'd learned in school and the slideshow projection of rotted corpses in the desert. Every year, they showed us new footage to remind us that we were better off inside Genesis, taken care of, protected. Those few that roamed the Gravelands were outlaws, horrible men who would rape and pillage anyone who crossed their paths. You were lucky to die of dehydration or starvation first.

I knew it was impossible to see beyond the wall. Only couriers were granted access with permission to return. I had no chance of being assigned this position; couriers were always men.

"What else have you done that you've never told anyone about?"

Joshua laughed. "Well, let's see. Do you remember the cow that had red stripes painted on it?"

My eyes widened, remembering Mr. Mercurial's cow. He was one of the few people who had fresh milk that wasn't brought in from a neighboring town. One night the cow was completely ordinary, the next day it had bright red stripes painted all over it. Thankfully, the paint washed off, but I had always wondered who had pranked Mr. Mercurial. "You did that?" I never knew Joshua had a bad bone in him.

Joshua laughed, seeing my jaw on the floor. "Well, for the record, he deserved it."

I shook my head. "The cow didn't deserve anything. Mr. Mercurial might have, but I can't believe you did that. I also can't believe you didn't tell me sooner." I nudged him.

Joshua grinned, his eyes shining as he stared at me. I shifted my head slightly as it rested against his shoulder. I could smell him as he sat beside me. He smelled sweetly of almonds and milk. Had his story made me imagine the scent? "Your turn to tell me a story," he said. I could feel his breath against my skin.

I nodded faintly but didn't move from his embrace. It was warm and comforting as I closed my eyes. "Let's see." I tried to think of a story that wouldn't break the banter between us. I was enjoying our time together, married. "Okay, how about this." My eyes flashed open, glancing at him. "When I was six, I went over to your house. I wanted to ask if you would come out and play on the swings. Except, after I rang the doorbell, I was too nervous. I ran off and hid."

Joshua laughed. "You did that on more than one occasion. I actually remember that. Mom was swearing about some kid playing a prank on us. That was you?" He hugged me tighter. "What were you afraid of?"

"That your dad would answer the door. He scares me. At least, he used to," I admitted. "Then I started asking my mom to come with me. She'd knock on your door, and then, if you were home, we'd go to the park together."

Joshua nodded. "I remember that. I can't believe you didn't tell me sooner."

I laughed. "Yeah, right. So you could tease me?" I sighed softly, and did something I'd only read about in forbidden novels. I leaned in, brushing my lips against his. The kiss was soft and chaste. It lasted no more than a mere second before I pulled back.

"What was that, Olive?" He gave me a horrified look, and all I could feel was my stomach somersault. I knew romance and love weren't ever spoken of in Genesis. There was no need, when the government knew who was perfect for one another and children were won by lottery and conceived in a lab via IVF. Intimate acts were considered unnecessary.

"I read about it in a book," I whispered, afraid I'd done it all wrong. "It was a kiss," I breathed, chewing on my bottom lip nervously. I'd never kissed anyone before and worried he thought it was terrible. I'd never seen two people share a kiss; I didn't quite know what it was supposed to look like, but I thought I'd done it right after reading about it. My hand reached out, grabbing his arm. "Please don't be mad at me," I breathed. "You have to swear you won't tell anyone!" Joshua hesitated for only an instant before he leaned in, taking another taste from my lips, trying again. The second kiss was softer and satisfied both of our curiosities. My heart raced and my skin warmed to his touch. "I thought today was going to turn out so much worse," I confessed.

Joshua laughed as he pulled back slightly, staring at me. His eyes had darkened, a deeper, richer shade of blue. I'd never seen his eyes change colors before. His fingers moved to tickle my stomach with a grin. "Worse? Really? You're not happy you married me? You're just relieved it wasn't someone worse?"

"No!" I shrieked. "That's not what I meant!" I tried to catch my breath, but he hardly gave me a second more than necessary. I pulled from his ticklish grasp, jumped from the couch, and ran across the room in a fit of laughter. He quickly followed, jumping over the sofa, and he was just inches from me. He was close now, smiling and trailing behind me as I ran toward the bedroom. It was probably the worst place I could go, trapped between Joshua and a mattress. I felt him tackle me down onto the plush bed. His hands skimmed my stomach, but he was no longer tickling me. The laughter still hadn't subsided.

"Breathe," Joshua said, staring intently at me.

"Trying," I gasped between fits of laughter. Lying down helped settle the feeling of my racing heart, and after a moment I shifted along the mattress, reaching out to him. "I want to tell you a story," I insisted as my fingers found his cheek. "One I read in a book." I wanted him to learn the things I had about love and romance. I couldn't help but feel my body stir with a strange fire and warmth as he loomed just above me. Staring up at him, I froze on the mattress, hearing the latch click on the front door. I knew it had been locked.

"Who could that be?" I asked, glancing back as I heard the heavy clatter of boots and saw Governor Craynor stalking into our home with guards standing behind him. They raised their guns and pointed them toward us as they entered our bedroom.

"Arrest this girl!" Governor Craynor pointed at me. Joshua moved off my small frame, standing in front to protect me. I shifted further back on the bed, scooting away from the governor and his posse, eyeing the window. I doubted I could get it open in time and jump through, but I didn't have too many other options.

"What crime has she committed?" Joshua demanded an answer. I was grateful he was stalling, and I flipped the latch on the window. Trying to pull the glass upwards didn’t work; it didn't budge.

"What did I ever do wrong?" I cried out, eyes wide in horror as I glanced behind me and saw them shove Joshua aside, slamming him forcefully into the wall. "Joshua?" I reached for him, but the guards were quicker and stronger. They pried me from his grasp and pushed me face first into the mattress. My head was turned slightly, watching as one guard held a gun to Joshua's head.

"Go ahead and move. I dare you," the guard threatened Joshua. Fear coursed through my veins as another guard pulled my hands tightly behind my back, causing pain to surge in my arms. I screamed in agony as they secured my wrists with iron cuffs digging deep into my flesh. Joshua didn't budge, afraid the guard wasn't bluffing.

"Why are you doing this?" I cried into the mattress, and felt the governor pull me up in one swift motion as I gasped for air. He gripped my arm, clearly satisfied I was of no danger to him as he led me outside of my home.

"Help me!" I screamed. My voice echoed through the streets as neighbors glanced out their windows and stepped outside to see the commotion. "I've done nothing wrong!" I insisted, trying to break free from the guard's hold, but it was impossible. Any movement dug the iron further into my skin, and I cringed in pain.

From a distance, I could hear footsteps and finally his voice. "What are you charging her with?" Joshua demanded. "You can't arrest her without a warrant."

The governor laughed but refused to answer. I felt everyone's eyes on me, and my stomach somersaulted. "Joshua?" I called back in horror as they pulled me further down the road to the only place I knew they held the condemned—the worst place they could take me. My feet scraped the dirt pavement, and I knew my white dress was now covered with dirt as the dust kicked up from my fight. There were holding cells beneath our town of Genesis for the criminal and the insane. The guards dragged me down the street toward the prison. I hadn't done anything wrong. "Please!" I gasped as they pulled me harder, gripping my arms. There would be bruises tomorrow. "This has to be a mistake!" I screamed, trying to break free but once again finding it impossible. The prison held men who tried to betray our government and those who had acted out of revenge or hatred. I'd done neither.

"I'll find your mom," Joshua offered. I could hear his footsteps pounding the dirt as the guards pulled me from the street and toward the prison. One guard unlocked the door before we descended down the dark spiral staircase. I felt my wrists burning as I struggled with the binds. Even if I could manage to break free, how would I escape? These men carried guns and were twice my size. I didn't stand a chance.

"Please, tell me what I've done wrong. What crime have I committed?" I begged for answers, but when I paused at the bottom stair I felt the guard push me with the barrel of his gun, hard.

"Walk," he commanded. I glanced behind me, no longer seeing Governor Craynor. Where had he gone? Was he rounding up other people or just me? What had I done that would elicit such a response? On occasion I had snuck into our old cellar. I'd read a few illegal books that I had assumed were my father's. Had they been found? Had I been caught? I couldn't assume anything without incriminating myself.

The guard unlocked the cell, and I shuddered from the loud creak echoing through the prison. The bars were heavy and thick, cast of the same iron binding my wrists. They screeched as the door opened and another man pushed me inside. "Turn around," he instructed and I did so, feeling the restraints loosen and then release. A moment later the doors swung shut with a heavy clank as they locked me inside.

"Please, you have to tell me what I've done wrong!" My voice wavered with uncertainty. One guard retreated up the stairs while the other watched me cautiously. I recognized him. He was the guard from the marriage ceremony. His daughter had been married today, just as I had. Did he take pity on me? Could I use this to my advantage to break free? "Please," I begged him watching as he stared at me.

"We take orders. We don't ask questions." He walked toward the stairs, and I took a final step back, surveying my quarters. This wasn't the home I expected to find myself in after being married.

SL on 07/11/2014 02:43pm
I loved this story. It had action, it had romance. It was a post war, every man or group for themselves. There is the government, rebels, and special ops groups. All had a different agenda. Each group was striving to get the upper hand in the chaos. The book was well written. It made you care for the characters and the betrayal they felt. Olive and Josh had been friends since three years old. They shared their thoughts and secrets and love. They were told who to marry. There was no sex or touching in marriage, only working together in the state assigned partnership. Babies were made in test tubes. Olive was different. She had been conceived the normal way. You felt for her. She didn’t find out about any of this until she was arrested with her mother on her state assigned wedding day. She was arrested because she was born in the normal way and shouldn’t have been allowed to live. Every group either wanted her dead or forcing her to have babies to spark the rebellion. Everyone had an agenda. It is a story of their running from one fire into another. Not sure who was friend or foe. Olive and Josh letting their guard down, only to find out that the group they ran to had its own agenda. There is the normal love growing as they face danger. The story ends in kind of a cliff hanger. You are almost on the edge of your seat waiting to see if they are with friend or foe again. It was a well thought out story.
SL on 07/11/2014 02:43pm
I loved this story. It had action, it had romance. It was a post war, every man or group for themselves. There is the government, rebels, and special ops groups. All had a different agenda. Each group was striving to get the upper hand in the chaos. The book was well written. It made you care for the characters and the betrayal they felt. Olive and Josh had been friends since three years old. They shared their thoughts and secrets and love. They were told who to marry. There was no sex or touching in marriage, only working together in the state assigned partnership. Babies were made in test tubes. Olive was different. She had been conceived the normal way. You felt for her. She didn۪t find out about any of this until she was arrested with her mother on her state assigned wedding day. She was arrested because she was born in the normal way and shouldn۪t have been allowed to live. Every group either wanted her dead or forcing her to have babies to spark the rebellion. Everyone had an agenda. It is a story of their running from one fire into another. Not sure who was friend or foe. Olive and Josh letting their guard down, only to find out that the group they ran to had its own agenda. There is the normal love growing as they face danger. The story ends in kind of a cliff hanger. You are almost on the edge of your seat waiting to see if they are with friend or foe again. It was a well thought out story.
Cassie on 07/09/2014 08:44am
This was just an okay read. It was fast-paced, with a fair number of twists and turns, and was involving enough to keep a reader entertained. Unfortunately, both writing and story were on the simplistic side. I found the characters likable, but they suffered from the shallowness of the storytelling. Their motives weren’t examined deeply, their emotional reactions weren’t believable, and their actions weren’t very well thought-through. They seemed to pretty much float through the story, reacting to what happened around them rather than thinking and deciding on a course of action. The plot had potential, but ended up full of cliches and logical holes. As an obvious example, the idea of the government choosing who a person marries is a bit cliche (Matched, anyone?), but it could have worked here if we were given a good reason for it. However, the reason we’re given makes no sense. A breeding program. Okay. But no one actually ‘breeds’. It’s all done in a lab. So why the need for marriage? On a side note, if no one is allowed a second child, and all children must be conceived in vitro, why do second children even exist? Confusing. Also, I never could quite figure out what the Rebel Alliance was all about (not to mention the name is distracting). Who are they, and, frankly, why are they rebelling if the government is leaving them alone? This supposedly cruel and oppressive government clearly knows there are large ‘rebel’ settlements, but they don’t do anything to interfere with them — we’re even told they mostly ignore them…. And, by the way, how are the rebels getting children? Do they have their own in vitro labs? They seem to have quite a lot of advanced technology (not suffering a huge amount of deprivation, it seems), including a teleporation device that for some reason our fleeing heroes are not put through. Perhaps some of these questions will be answered in the sequels, but I’m not holding out a lot of hope, except maybe for more details on the rebels. I still haven’t decided whether or not I’ll actually read the sequels. Overall, I would say this is a decent book for a very light read, for someone who enjoys the young adult dystopian sub-genre, but for anyone looking too closely, it could be a disappointment. *I recieved this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.*
Cassie on 07/09/2014 08:44am
This was just an okay read. It was fast-paced, with a fair number of twists and turns, and was involving enough to keep a reader entertained. Unfortunately, both writing and story were on the simplistic side. I found the characters likable, but they suffered from the shallowness of the storytelling. Their motives weren۪t examined deeply, their emotional reactions weren۪t believable, and their actions weren۪t very well thought-through. They seemed to pretty much float through the story, reacting to what happened around them rather than thinking and deciding on a course of action. The plot had potential, but ended up full of cliches and logical holes. As an obvious example, the idea of the government choosing who a person marries is a bit cliche (Matched, anyone?), but it could have worked here if we were given a good reason for it. However, the reason we۪re given makes no sense. A breeding program. Okay. But no one actually breeds۪. It۪s all done in a lab. So why the need for marriage? On a side note, if no one is allowed a second child, and all children must be conceived in vitro, why do second children even exist? Confusing. Also, I never could quite figure out what the Rebel Alliance was all about (not to mention the name is distracting). Who are they, and, frankly, why are they rebelling if the government is leaving them alone? This supposedly cruel and oppressive government clearly knows there are large rebel۪ settlements, but they don۪t do anything to interfere with them we۪re even told they mostly ignore them_. And, by the way, how are the rebels getting children? Do they have their own in vitro labs? They seem to have quite a lot of advanced technology (not suffering a huge amount of deprivation, it seems), including a teleporation device that for some reason our fleeing heroes are not put through. Perhaps some of these questions will be answered in the sequels, but I۪m not holding out a lot of hope, except maybe for more details on the rebels. I still haven۪t decided whether or not I۪ll actually read the sequels. Overall, I would say this is a decent book for a very light read, for someone who enjoys the young adult dystopian sub-genre, but for anyone looking too closely, it could be a disappointment. *I recieved this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.*
Ria on 07/06/2014 06:45pm
A futuristic YA novel based on the journey of newlyweds, as they try to find a future together. A major portion of the story provided insight to Josh and Olive's thoughts. Readers were able to use this to rationalize actions and decisions. The storyline was interesting as different adventures led them to a new town. There were times when a situation could have lent itself to more excitement, such as when they met Milo. I felt that the author could have expanded on those encounters. However, with the audience in mind, I would recommend this as an interesting read for young adults.
Ria on 07/06/2014 06:37pm
A futuristic YA novel based on the journey of newlyweds, as they try to find a future together. A major portion of the story provided insight to Josh and Olive's thoughts. Readers were able to use this to rationalize actions and decisions. The storyline was interesting as different adventures led them to a new town. There were times when a situation could have lent itself to more excitement, such as when they met Milo. I felt that the author could have expanded on those encounters. However, with the audience in mind, I would recommend this as an interesting read for young adults.
Ria on 07/06/2014 06:37pm
A futuristic YA novel based on the journey of newlyweds, as they try to find a future together. A major portion of the story provided insight to Josh and Olive's thoughts. Readers were able to use this to rationalize actions and decisions. The storyline was interesting as different adventures led them to a new town. There were times when a situation could have lent itself to more excitement, such as when they met Milo. I felt that the author could have expanded on those encounters. However, with the audience in mind, I would recommend this as an interesting read for young adults.
Peggy on 05/02/2014 09:53am
Not the usual type of book I expect when ordering from Blushing Books. It was not spanking or erotic. Therefore, imagine my surprise when I thoroughly enjoyed the whole series and read all three books in a matter of hours. More please....
Peggy on 05/02/2014 09:53am
Not the usual type of book I expect when ordering from Blushing Books. It was not spanking or erotic. Therefore, imagine my surprise when I thoroughly enjoyed the whole series and read all three books in a matter of hours. More please....

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