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Hidden Illusions (The Hunted, #2)

Hidden Illusions (The Hunted, #2)

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Hidden Illusions (The Hunted, #2)

Length:
222 pages
3 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jun 15, 2015
ISBN:
9781513065120
Format:
Book

Description

She's driven by one purpose.

Janey Jones may have escaped the Hunters, but the scars they inflicted still mark her, inside and out. One goal keeps her moving forward: kill Captain Reed, the man who tortured her, destroyed her Gift, and murdered her mother. She’ll do anything to succeed.

He's seen what blind ambition can do.

Will Brown protects people. First his family, now the people he leads in the Gifted army. He knows what needs to be done to keep everyone safe: destroy the Hunters for good. And that’s exactly what he plans to do. The right way.

But one secret binds them, and its ramifications are explosive.

When Will and Janey are thrown together, they’re forced to put aside their differences for a greater purpose: find a way to stay alive—and salvage the mission to cut the Hunters down, once and for all.

What they uncover will change their lives forever.

Publisher:
Released:
Jun 15, 2015
ISBN:
9781513065120
Format:
Book

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Hidden Illusions (The Hunted, #2) - Amanda Shofner

Amanda

HIDDEN ILLUSIONS

(The Hunted, #2)

Amanda Shofner

Text copyright © 2014 Amanda Shofner. All rights reserved.

Cover design by Jenny Zemanek of Seedlings, LLC.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, live or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

To Kyle,

for seeing beyond my prickliness.

Chapter 1

The weight of the knife in her hand was familiar, comforting. Janey Jones balanced the knife, watching the hilt and blade wobble, and wished it wasn’t the symbol of everything wrong. Knives were strength. They were protection. They were revenge and justice. They were not reasons to find herself in trouble again.

The low, urgent sounds of Sam Benson lecturing faded into the background. The same litany of complaints she’d heard a million times before—and disregarded.

You don’t follow our rules and policies.

Your recruits aren’t ready for weapons.

You’ll be the death of someone.

But wasn’t that the point of war? Kill or be killed. Everything she did—every choice she made—was a move toward survival. Not just hers, but her recruits’ too. They would be the last ones standing, by whatever means necessary.

That Sam and Coop failed to understand that, well, it wasn’t her fault. They knew her. Knew what she’d been through, who she was. It was an easy connection to make. One plus one equals two. Two plus two equals four. Janey Jones, living and fighting as Jane Johnson, acted boldly and always, always came out on top.

But instead, people like Will I always follow the rules Brown took everything the wrong way. If he hadn’t walked in the practice room at the precise moment her recruit was releasing the knife, she wouldn’t be in Sam’s office.

She’d be providing her recruits with the tools and skills they need to win.

Just as she’d been asked to do. After they’d pulled her out of the fighting and onto the base. They should know enough to trust her by now.

But no.

All thanks to Will Brown, the asshole.

Janey—

Jane, she corrected automatically, setting the knife on the chair next to her. She hadn’t been Janey since she’d escaped her dad’s clutches and teamed up with the Gifted army. Four years, at least. Long enough to see the last of the outlying Hunter holdings seized and closed. Practically a lifetime. And she didn’t want to be Janey, even to someone like Sam, who’d known her then.

But instead of continuing, Sam sighed and leaned back in her chair. Despite the strain of commanding an army that didn’t always get along and fighting an enemy who proved more stubborn than anticipated, the years had been good to her. Her brown hair held no gray and her dark eyes gleamed with intelligence.

Coop would claim it was his loving presence. Sam would blush. Jane would roll her eyes.

But a quiet Sam pulled Jane’s attention away from her pacing. Now what?

You know those recruits aren’t ready for knife-throwing. I have a knife in my practice room floor to prove it. Sam rubbed her forehead. We already had to pull you out of the field after that stunt in the north.

I told you, there was a noise. I had to check it out to make sure it wasn’t a Hunter sneaking up on us. I’m cautious and thorough.

You nearly killed one of our scouts.

She hitched one shoulder. Nearly killed is still alive.

Sam’s eyes narrowed. We already had to pull you out of the field, she repeated. We’d hoped training recruits would be good for you. We need your skills. But knife-throwing at the first stage of their training? That’s dangerous and reckless, even for you.

The rebuke stung. She slid a finger into her bracelet, twisting it around her knuckle. Sure, her boldness was often mistaken for recklessness. But she wasn’t. Her jaw clenched. If Will could stop being so anal—the asshole—he’d stop being the reason she landed in Sam’s office. Repeatedly.

Sam knew what the Hunters could do to the Gifted. They’d captured her. Tested her. Jane knew it, too. Fighting wasn’t the controlled environment training was. Her recruits would never learn to take care of themselves when something went wrong if she didn’t give them the proper training.

Physical strength could only take you so far. The weapons skills she taught them were valuable.

Even if they went against the rules. But rules were meant to be bent. Suggestions, her dad had called them. Sam wouldn’t appreciate the view, but she was an idealist. She believed rules would create a better world.

As if words could change the world.

How are my two favorite ladies?

Jane averted her eyes, annoyed with the public display of affection she knew was coming, as Coop slid into the room and dropped a kiss on Sam’s lips. Okay, so maybe rules could come in handy. Like no kissing. At least she had the sense not to go smacking lips. She had priorities.

One of us has found our way into trouble again, Sam replied.

Coop straightened and regarded Jane, rubbing his chin. So I heard. What’s your excuse this time, Janey?

Ja—

Your excuse. His tone snapped her back straight.

It’s not an excuse. They need to be able to protect themselves. The way she hadn’t been able to protect herself when the Hunters had captured her.

Understanding lit Coop’s blue eyes and he softened. What are we going to do with you, Janey?

She balled her fists. The last thing she wanted was for them to associate her with the broken girl she used to be. She wasn’t Janey Jones anymore. She was Jane Johnson, and she was no longer the vulnerable little girl.

Being broken was still up for debate.

But they didn’t know that. No one knew that secret.

She picked up her knife, flipping it the way her father used to. The repetitive motion, the slice of the blade through the air, took away the tightening of her neck muscles and calmed her.

The Hunters had stolen her Gift. No, it was Captain Reed, the man who’d kidnapped her and killed her mother, who had done the stealing. He’d poked and prodded and threatened her. He’d directed the scientists to pull more of her Gift while she’d been strapped down, restrained. After Coop helped her escape, she’d made him stop at the house she’d been taken from to recover the bracelets she’d been making when they’d killed her mom. She wore the bracelet, and one of her mom’s charms, to remind her.

Reed was the reason she couldn’t hold an illusion, even a decade after escaping.

And she was going to kill him.

She just hadn’t decided how. Oh, she’d entertained plenty of ideas over the years. A quick death by slitting his throat was an option, which she’d chosen because that was what he’d done to her mom. An eye for an eye, a throat for a throat. Justice. But it wasn’t her first choice. It was too quick. He deserved to suffer.

She rubbed the scar over her right eye. Reed had backhanded her once when she’d been unable to create an illusion, and his ring had cut into her skin. No one had bothered to tend to it—why, when they expected her to die, anyway?—and it had left a deep scar.

It seemed only fair to return the favor. Not that any small wound she inflicted on him would be able to progress to the scar stage—she’d kill him long before then—but she hated leaving favors unreturned. It upset the scales of balance. One corner of her mouth hitched up as she caught the hilt of the knife.

A gut wound. That was her current favorite idea. She’d knife him in the stomach and watch as he slowly—and painfully—succumbed to blood loss. Maybe she’d see some of his insides. She’d always wondered if he was like normal people or if his insides were as black as his soul.

Thinking about killing Reed made her happy. The hint of a smile grew into a grin.

And that’s why we’re removing you from your teaching duties for the next three days, Coop finished.

Missing a lecture never bothered her—she tuned them out—but removing her? It tipped her world dangerously. She pointed the knife at Coop. You can’t stop my classes. Those recruits need me.

Ignoring the knife, Coop settled down in the chair next to Jane’s. He looked across the desk at Sam. I think you’re forgetting who’s in charge, Janey. And we’re not stopping your classes. Brown will take over while you have time off to contemplate how to follow rules.

Will Brown, the tattler. She battled the inherent hatred that rose up at his name. He’d been the one who’d reported her for this knife-throwing incident. It wasn’t the first time he’d reported her, either.

She all but growled. "You’re letting him train the recruits?"

Sam folded her hands and rested them on the desk. He’s one of our top field agents and he’s between missions.

Jane gritted her teeth. He’d probably just bore the recruits to death lecturing them about the rules. And she would be a top field agent too if they’d let her. If they’d only give her a chance to prove it. Which she told them. Being in a position to kill Reed was all she’d ever wanted.

Sam and Coop did some kind of annoying silent discussion. They stared at each other, eyebrows moving, noses twitching—communicating. Annoying. Gifted weren’t mind readers. But they seemed to understand each other perfectly.

Coop shrugged and held out his hands. Sam said, If you can stay out of trouble for the next three days, we’ll consider reinstating you.

Really? When they’d banished her to the base to train recruits, they’d been adamant she’d lost all her chances. Not that it’d stopped her from campaigning for more.

Really.

She whipped to Coop then, the humor in his voice and answering twinkle in his eye making her suspicious. You don’t think I can do it.

Coop’s smile only got broader. Go prove us wrong, Janey.

Three days of following the rules? Easy.

*****

Will! Got a moment?

Recognizing the voice, Will checked his watch—he had a few minutes to spare until he stopped by to see his aunt—and stepped to the side of the hallway, out of the way. The army base was busy this time of day, filled with people coming and going to their assignments.

What’s up? he asked when his friend joined him.

He’d known Marcus for a couple years, ever since Will had interrupted Jane Johnson, the incessant troublemaker, with a knife to Marcus’s throat, mistakenly thinking he was a Hunter.

Need your opinion on something. Marcus ran a hand through his hair, already uncharacteristically disheveled. Will raised an eyebrow, encouraging him to go on. There’s this woman…

Will didn’t need to know the rest. Not worth it. It’s against the rules to fraternize and it’s a small base. You’d have to continue dealing with her when the relationship implodes.

But she’s—

Not different. Will shook his head, raising his voice over the sudden increase of noise in the hallway. A distraction. A distraction you don’t need.

Before Marcus could respond, someone tapped Will on the shoulder. Davidson—assistant to Sam and Coop, master strategist, and someone who seemed to have his fingers in everyone’s business—pointed to a practice room farther down the hallway. Trouble, was all he said.

Jane Johnson.

The increasing noise took on a new light. A new, unwelcome light. He’d have to deal with this, of course. Another glance at his watch said that he was going to be late, but some things, like maintaining order and safety, took precedence. His aunt had stopped noticing the passage of time; his tardiness wouldn’t be remarked on.

He felt the beginnings of a headache in the middle of his forehead. Don’t do whatever it is you’re planning, he said to Marcus. If it’s against the rules… He didn’t finish; Marcus, like the rest of the base, knew what would happen.

Will pushed his way through the throng, fighting his way to the overflowing practice room. He wasn’t the tallest man, but he had muscle, and he put it to good use, elbowing and shouldering until he made it inside. He spotted Jane Johnson immediately.

Not because it was easy to spot her, facing off against someone, but because her presence sat like a prickly burr in the space between his shoulder blades.

A disturbing sort of ability to find her anywhere when she was nearby.

She stood in the center of a practice mat, her hair braided and her bangs swept to one side. Hiding her Gifted mark. He’d always wondered at that. Those who had their mark in a place easily displayed took every chance to show it off. His was high on his hip. But hers… it didn’t make sense.

He couldn’t see who she was facing off with, but she balanced on her feet, knees loose and ready to pounce. Winding up for a fight. Where there was a hint of violence and rule breaking, Jane Johnson was sure to be in the thick of it.

He gritted his teeth. When would she learn to temper her recklessness? She put people in danger. Hell, she’d nearly killed Marcus. It didn’t seem to matter how often he reported her for violations—those in charge seemed to let her continue doing things her own way. Hazardously, without care for anyone but herself.

And Will knew with aching heartbreak—one only had to look at his aunt—how disastrous ignoring rules could be. His own uncle had been captured by the Hunters when he’d gone out collecting samples and subjects for his studies on the Gifted. After their sect’s curfew. Rules served a purpose—they were designed to keep everything safe and orderly.

Nothing about Jane was safe or orderly.

He shoved his way out of the practice room and detoured to Coop’s office.

*****

Sam seemed to simply appear before Jane, stepping in between her and her opponent. She was lucky she hadn’t been injured. Jane had had to pull back a sweep of her legs to avoid taking her down. All Jane could do was blink, riding the wave of adrenaline still coursing through her. She vibrated with the desire to push Sam aside and knee the blighter in the balls.

Sam held her hands up. Stop.

Adam Iverson, who she’d been fighting, crossed his arms and smirked. Fuck. He knew—he knew which buttons of hers to push. Bile rose. She twisted her bracelet around a knuckle and fought the bile down. The bastard had done this on purpose. Her blood boiled and she took a step forward, ready to brush Sam aside, but a hand fell on her shoulder, stopping her and spinning her around.

Johnson. Report to my office, Coop said, his voice carrying through the hushed room.

But he—

My office. Now.

I didn’t start this!

Coop’s glare promised retribution. Everyone out, he ordered the crowd.

The crowd. For the first time since she and Adam had tumbled into the room, tossing barbs and insults, Jane’s awareness expanded beyond the urge to strangle him. The crush of bodies seemed to seal her fate. Their collective groan when they realized the show was over—that she was the show—made shame burn through her, heating her face.

Great. Now she was turning into Sam, who blushed at everything.

This wasn’t my fault.

Coop held up a hand and pointed to the door, where a few stragglers lingered. You still have an audience. We can do this now, and let the whole base know, or go back to my office.

She could practically feel the interest coming off the remaining people. It was the exact same feeling she

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