The Hydra virus killed 94% of the population. The only hope for a cure lies within the Sanctuary. But when Amelia finally makes it inside the walls, what she finds is the last thing she expected.
Separated from her friends, unsure whom to trust, and surrounded by danger, Amelia must face her greatest threat alone. And as rebels bent on vengeance gather outside the Sanctuary, Gabriel and the others find themselves caught in the crosshairs of a looming war.
With the fate of humanity at stake, how far are they willing to go?
The penultimate book in The Last Sanctuary series, Breaking World is a near-future apocalyptic thriller perfect for fans of Hunger Games and Maze Runner.
Books in The Last Sanctuary series:
A stand-alone companion novel: No Safe Haven
*Rated PG-13 for non-graphic violence and mild language.*
Praise for Breaking World:"I started the book and didn't breathe until I was finished! So good." -Goodreads reviewer
"The suspense, action and complex relationships keep you on the edge of your seat!" -Amazon reviewer
"Full of twists, turns, and unexpected surprises." -Amazon reviewer
"Don't blink! It's that good!" -Amazon reviewer
"Kept me on my toes! Fantastic read!" -Goodreads reviewer
Release date: June 15, 2018
Publisher: Paper Moon Press
Print pages: 262
Content advisory: Rated PG-13 for mild language and moderate violence.
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Amelia Black lay belly-down against the hard, snow-packed dirt, dressed in camouflage tactical gear, a semi-automatic rifle in both gloved hands. She peered through the scope of a weapon she had no intention of firing.
Most of the time, you didn’t know death was coming until it was already looming over you—a shadowy demon of howling fear. She felt that fear now, cold and sharp as a knife. Not for herself—for her mother.
Yesterday, a team had chosen the best location for the ambush— just after a steep bend, where the road carved deeply into the hills. Amelia, Gabriel, Micah, Willow, Silas, and two dozen New Patriots took the high ground. They were hidden among the trees and boulders along the steep hills bordering either side of the two-lane road leading off the highway.
They were surrounded by old forest, towering oaks interspersed with bristling pines and barren maple, birch, and hemlock trees. The underbrush was thick and tangled, sheathed with thorns.
Amelia sheltered beneath two pine trees. She couldn’t see any of their people on the opposite hill, but she knew they were hiding there —waiting, ready. They had rubbed Georgia clay and dirt on their clothes and faces and covered themselves with dead leaves, twigs, and pine boughs.
Melting snow clung to the uneven ground in dirty patches. The air was bitterly cold. The sky was a brooding iron-gray, forecasting another snowstorm.
A dark sense of foreboding crept over her. Though it was Christmas morning, this was not a day that promised hope.
Two days ago, New Patriots scouts had sighted the Headhunters skirting the northern Atlanta suburbs on their way to the Sanctuary. Celeste, Finn, and Benjie remained at the compound, but everyone else insisted on joining the rescue mission.
She wasn’t a skilled enough shooter to take part in the ambush.
But she’d refused to remain at the New Patriots’ compound, useless.
This was her mother. This was the rescue she’d traded her own freedom for.
She’d agreed to infiltrate the Sanctuary and offer herself to their scientists so they could formulate a cure from her blood. She was the only known survivor of the deadly pandemic known as the Hydra virus, which had wiped out most of the world’s population.
Once the scientists formulated a cure, she was supposed to somehow steal it, escape the Sanctuary, and give it to the New Patriots.
The Sanctuary might offer salvation—or be crawling with the surviving members of the Unity Coalition. The powerful, corrupt government officials had secretly released the Hydra virus as a bioweapon against their own country. Declan Black, her father, had designed and implemented the entire thing…
She couldn’t let herself fall down that rabbit hole. She had to focus on the now. First, they had to rescue her mother.
“Targets sighted,” said a voice in her earpiece. “Two miles out.” Beside her, Gabriel Ramos Rivera said, “Copy that.”
Amelia pushed a strand of her short white-blonde hair behind her ear. She breathed in the cold air through her mask, trying not to shiver. The adrenaline had faded after two hours spent stiff and unmoving, but the warning sent ice spiking through her veins. “The Headhunters are coming.”
A vicious biker gang of thugs and criminals, the Headhunters had attacked them at Sweet Creek Farm after Harmony, the leader of Sweet Creek Farm, had betrayed them. The Headhunters had attempted to kidnap Amelia, Celeste, and Nadira to sell as “resources.” They had succeeded in stealing Amelia’s mother. Their friend Nadira had been killed in the battle.
Her stomach knotted at the haunting memory. But now the tables were turned. They were the ones setting the trap.
Still, there were too many questions, too many unknowns. Was her mother alive? Would they get her back safely? Would anyone she cared about get hurt in the process?
Gabriel shifted next to her. His breath came in shallow puffs of white steam. She could feel the tension in his body, a coiled spring ready to snap. His broad shoulder bumped into hers. Her stomach fluttered—from nerves, but also something else.
“How are you feeling?” His black hair curled over the collar of his uniform, one stray lock falling across his forehead, which furrowed in concentration. He adjusted his gaze from the scope of his rifle to glance at her. Those dark, smoldering eyes pierced her with both pain and longing.
Gabriel. The handsome, enigmatic Puerto Rican boy who’d both betrayed and saved her. More than once on both counts.
“I want it to be over.” She meant more than just this moment, more than the ambush. She was tired of running, scavenging, of fighting for their lives, never knowing what dangers the next minutes, hours, and days would bring. She was exhausted to the marrow of her bones.
Gabriel nodded as though he understood all the things she hadn’t said. “It will be. We’ll finish this, I promise.”
Before she could reply, she heard them. The low, spitting growl of motorcycle engines approached rapidly. Heart hammering in her throat, she kept her gaze on the road, waiting for the men who’d stolen her mother and killed Nadira.
The Headhunters rounded the bend with the roar of dozens of motorcycles. She recognized the furred animal pelts rippling from their shoulders like capes: dogs, wolves, leopards, tigers. The men wore menacing weapons strapped to their backs, waists, and thighs. They rode in formation: two dozen bikes up front, a dozen more riding on either side of a transport truck, even more taking up the rear.
Her breath caught. She scanned the bikers; no female riders or passengers. Her mother must be locked inside the transport truck.
Her mind barely had a chance to register the Headhunters’ pres‐ ence when the voice in her earpiece—Captain Cleo Reaver—spoke again. “Detonate now!”
The road in front of the lead Headhunters exploded. Chunks of asphalt sprayed the air in a cloud of fire and smoke. Six motorcycles were caught in the blast, the bikes and their riders instantly shattered. Two more bikes burst into flames, their owners lighting up like matchsticks.
Another slammed on his brakes, but it was too late. He careened into the steep cliff-face and smashed against a car-sized boulder.
Another explosion rocked the rear of the convoy. Five more Head‐ hunters gone in a fiery blink. The explosives Gabriel and Micah had carefully planted in potholes yesterday had paid off.
The Headhunters were still dozens strong, immense and hulking in their animal pelts—like beasts themselves, animalistic killers, hardly even human. Even knowing it was intentional, the pelts still had the desired effect. As instinctive as breathing, an equally primal fear shot through her, the terror of prey in the face of a predator.
The surviving bikers slammed their brakes, leapt from their bikes, and knelt behind them, using the motorcycles as shields. They swung their weapons from their backs and aimed into the hills on either side of the road.
“Duck!” Gabriel hissed.
A volley of automatic fire peppered the air. Bark spit from the pine trees next to her, raining pine needles down on her head. They both rolled and ducked behind a boulder a few feet to their right. Rocks and twigs dug into Amelia’s belly and thighs. She barely felt them.
“Come fight us like men!” shouted a Headhunter.
A chill ran through her. She knew that voice. Cerberus, the fierce leader of the Headhunters. The man who had killed Nadira.
She and Gabriel exchanged wary, uneasy glances. They’d both hoped he was dead from the gunshot wound Gabriel had inflicted back at Sweet Creek Farm.
Amelia dared to peer over the boulder. Cerberus stood tall behind his bike, shoulders back, legs splayed, not even crouching. Two of his men stood on either side of him, their machine guns leveled, sighting the trees, searching for prey.
Cerberus cut a formidable figure. He was tall and barrel-chested, with brown hair shorn close to his skull and a beard stubbling his solid jaw. Most of his body was covered in protective gear, but she recalled the blue digital tattoos squirming like snakes across his thick, bulging arms and neck. She remembered his eyes, cunning blue-gray, as cold and soulless as that of the wolf whose striking white pelt draped across his broad shoulders, all the way down to the tops of his shiny black boots.
“Why do you cower like curs?” Cerberus shouted into the silence. “Let me take this scumbag out!” Amelia’s brother, Silas, snarled into her earpiece. He was somewhere a few dozen yards to the right of her and Gabriel, half-buried in a rut between the roots of a giant red oak. “I have a clean shot.”
“Wait for the signal,” snapped Cleo Reaver, a New Patriot and the daughter of the New Patriot commander, General Reaver, who’d put her in charge of the mission. “Activate smoke bombs now.”
Amelia grabbed the spherical object on the ground next to her and pressed her thumb to the biometric scanner. The scanner identified her thumbprint as a pre-approved user and activated, blinking once. The New Patriots had programmed it to detonate in five seconds.
She half-raised herself and lobbed the bomb at the transport truck. Next to her, Gabriel did the same. The rest of their team hurled two dozen smoke bombs at the Headhunters.
“What the hell!” one of the Headhunters shouted, shooting at the bomb as it landed a few feet from him. The sphere clicked open with a faint hiss. Smoke poured out from all sides, filling the air with dense gray smoke.
“Snipers, activate now,” Cleo said into Amelia’s earpiece.
From above, their tactical team could still see clearly enough to shoot. But the disoriented Headhunters, who could barely make out their hands in front of their faces, wouldn’t be able to tell the direction or location of the shooters, keeping their own people as safe as possible.
“Remember, not a single bullet better hit that truck,” Gabriel growled.
He aimed carefully and took a shot. A Headhunter in a German Shepherd pelt dropped to the ground with a shriek. Two more fell to the right, each taken out by Silas and Willow. Amelia couldn’t see what was happening on the other side of the truck, but by the sporadic gunshots and the cries of the Headhunters, the plan seemed to be working.
Cerberus shouted something. Several Headhunters crouched and staggered through the smoke toward the transport truck. While four men did something to the truck’s rear doors, two provided cover, shooting wildly into the trees.
Amelia ducked again, dropping the rifle and covering her head with her hands. Bullets chewed through the air, striking trees and smashing into the hillside behind them. A pulse blast hit a large maple branch. It thudded to the ground with a sizzling crash.
Gabriel lifted his head, aimed, and cursed. “They’re too close to the truck. I can’t risk a shot.”
“What are they doing?” she asked. Gabriel cursed again.
Amelia lifted her head, risking a glance. The Headhunters were dragging people out of the truck—their hands bound and cuffed behind them—and forcing the prisoners in front of themselves. They were using the prisoners as human shields.
Fear speared through her, icing her veins. “Tell them to stop shoot‐ ing!” she gasped. “Stop shooting!”
“Cease fire!” Cleo commanded. Her voice was tinged not with disgust or rage, but reluctant admiration. “Those filthy scumbags outmaneuvered us.”
No one fired as the smoke slowly dissipated. A dozen Head‐ hunters held prisoners—mostly women and children—while the others crowded in close to the truck, weapons pointed toward the woods. They had figured out what their attackers wanted.
“We have more hostages inside the truck,” Cerberus announced loudly. He pressed a woman against his chest with one hand. With the other, he held a gun to her head. “Now, I think this is what we call a stand-off. So why don’t you put down your guns and show yourselves, and we can talk turkey like real men. That is, if you have the balls to face us.”
Her friend, Willow Bahaghari, let out a stream of curses into Amelia’s earpiece. Willow was short and solid but fearless, fierce and unrelenting as a bulldog. Amelia always felt better knowing Willow had her back.
“I’ll show him what real balls look like,” Willow snarled.
Amelia might have laughed. But she recognized the long, curly auburn hair of the woman gripped in Cerberus’s meaty fingers—the perfect, ramrod-straight posture, the elegant profile and high cheek‐ bones. Even now, every inch dignified and graceful.
Elise Black was alive—and Cerberus’s human shield. Amelia froze.
“I see her,” Gabriel said softly. “Target sighted. She’s with the leader—the white wolf.”
“Don’t shoot,” Silas said. “Target not clear. Not even close.”
The cold wind blew more of the smoke away. Soon, they would lose their advantage. Her whole body went numb. Icy tears stung her eyes. They were so close. Yet everything could still slip away between their fingers. Cerberus could still kill her mother in the space of a heartbeat.
She took a breath. “Gabriel.”
He turned to her, a questioning look in his dark eyes. She swallowed. She knew what she was asking.
Gabriel gave a short jerk of his head, his jaw set. He clicked off his comm. “I’ll get her. I’ll bring her back to you.”
She should tell him no, that it was too dangerous. But the words wouldn’t form in her mouth. She hated the part of herself willing to trade Gabriel’s life for her mother’s, but she didn’t stop herself, didn’t stop him. She needed her mother. “Be careful.”
He nodded once, and then he was gone.
Gabriel Ramos Rivera left Amelia tucked safely behind a boulder. He clicked his comm back on. “Silas, are you with me?”
“Already moving,” Silas said.
“I’ll provide cover,” Willow said, her voice calm and steady. “Me too,” Gabriel’s brother, Micah, said into his earpiece.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Cleo snarled. “I haven’t approved—”
“Apologies, cupcake,” Silas said sweetly. “Let’s continue this nagging session at a later date, shall we?”
Cleo sputtered. Willow laughed.
Gabriel ignored them all. They had less than two minutes before the smoke dissipated. He had to act before then. “I’m going in. Cover me.”
He moved swiftly but silently through the trees, his rifle high and ready, careful not to trip on a root or stumble over a jutting rock. He made his way parallel to the road until he reached the still burning motorcycles destroyed in the explosion. The biker who’d smashed into the boulder lay crumpled on the side of the road, dead.
Gabriel reached down, unhooked the cheetah pelt strapped around the dead man’s neck, and pulled it free of the body. He draped it around his own shoulders and hurried back toward the transport truck, the milling Headhunters, and the smoke.
He was betting everything on the New Patriots maintaining the ceasefire. Otherwise, he’d just painted a giant target on his back.
The smoke shifted and swirled around him in a thick, eddying soup. He blinked his stinging eyes. Everything was a dingy gray, every shape more than a foot away dark and indistinct.
The truck loomed in front of him in the haze like a monstrous beast. He turned to the right, resisting the urge to flail his arms.
Fear and adrenaline pumped through him. He might die here, on this road, surrounded by Headhunters and this bitter, choking smoke.
But his sense of purpose was stronger than his fear. He would save Amelia’s mother. He knew he could do it. It would never pay back the wrong he’d done to Amelia, the betrayal that had almost cost her life, but it was something.
And he could take his revenge for Nadira’s death. Nadira, who’d been kind and sweet and gentle, the only one to offer him grace and forgiveness when he—a murderer and terrorist—had least deserved it.
He didn’t have the time to reach into his pocket and feel the square of pale blue cloth, part of Nadira’s head scarf. He knew it was there.
In the battle at Sweet Creek Farm, Nadira had leapt in front of Cerberus’s gun. She had taken the bullet meant for Gabriel. She had sacrificed her life for his, offering him a redemption he’d believed was beyond his grasp.
Nadira had given him a new life, a new purpose. The least he could do was kill her murderer.
Gabriel skirted carefully around the truck, passing within inches of several Headhunters. His pulse thundered in his ears. If they even glanced at him…but their eyes were on the hills, their panic causing tunnel vision, blinding them to the enemy in their midst.
He moved among them, unseen, unnoticed.
Several men cursed, aiming wildly at nothing. A skinny Head‐ hunter in a coyote pelt leaned against the truck, clutching his leg as blood gushed between his fingers. The women being used as human shields whimpered and cried softly.
A Headhunter in a bristling black bear pelt held a child to his chest. A girl, tiny, not more than five. Gabriel glimpsed wide, panicky blue eyes and stringy blonde hair before a swirl of smoke rose between them.
Bile churned in his gut. An image of the little girl in a yellow bathrobe flashed through his mind, her black hair flung around her delicate face like a halo, blood seeping from a hole in her chest. The girl from the heaving, burning deck of the Grand Voyager. The child who’d died because of Gabriel’s actions, his single-minded determina‐ tion to win at any cost—even innocent lives.
He forced himself to turn away from the blonde girl. Helping her now would only doom Elise Black and the other hostages. He wasn’t abandoning her; continuing with his mission was his best shot at saving them all.
A few Headhunters let loose a volley of automatic fire into the hills.
“I’m out!” someone cried.
“I’m low, too,” a man in a leopard pelt said.
“Save your ammo!” Cerberus hissed. “Don’t shoot at ghosts!”
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