Manipulated, p.1

Manipulated, page 1

 

Manipulated
 


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Manipulated


  Manipulated

  A Setenid Blight Novel

  The Albuquerque Outbreak

  Kimberly Montague

  Cover images are courtesy of:

  iStockphoto.com Photographers: Marketa Ebert and Matthew Scherf

  Dreamstime.com Photographer: Captblack76

  This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and incidents are fictional or used in a fictitious manner and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is completely coincidental.

  Manipulated

  A Setenid Blight Novel

  Smashwords Edition 8.18.12

  All rights reserved.

  Copyright © 2012 by Kimberly Homer Montague

  No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any manner without written permission from the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

  Visit my website at www.kimberlymontague.com

  If you are reading this book and you have not purchased it or won it in an author/publisher contest, this book has been pirated. Please support the author by deleting it and purchasing the ebook from one of its distributors.

  For my husband, who feeds me, takes care of me, entertains the pets, and does just about everything he can so that I can keep writing. And not once has he accused me of being a psycho Infected controlled by fictional characters in my own head.

  For Mom, always my first beta-reader, always the one I'm most interested in making proud.

  But most of all, for my readers. Your enjoyment of my stories always makes me giggle and want to hide under a bed thinking you can't possibly be talking about my books. You keep me going when characters are stubborn or I have to start another rewrite or something in my real life tries to shut me down. Thank you for your support.

  Table of Contents

  An Infamous Man-Whore

  Goodbye Peacefulness

  Use It

  Roomies

  Snap Out of it

  Fitting Into the Puzzle

  I've Kissed Plenty of Guys

  Sleep With Me

  The New Flavor of the Week

  Like Jumping Off the High Dive

  Keeping Me Around

  Who Did That to You?

  Another Chance

  Risa Likes it Like This

  Permanent Damage

  Get the Things You Want

  Natural Looks the Most Natural

  Commitments and Green Circles

  Did That Hurt?

  Easier to Believe the Bad Stuff

  The Only One You'll Give In to

  Experiences

  Quarantined

  Scared as Hell

  I'm His Daughter

  Pointless

  Don't Hurt Her, Please!

  An Infamous Man-Whore

  In the twenty-first century, you'd think we would have invented something more advanced than a couple of metal sticks to hold our butts up when we have a damaged limb. Seriously, when were crutches invented? It had to have been like in the days of cavemen, and here we were still using the archaic things. I stared at my crutches with as much hatred as I could possibly muster, and with completely raw underarms, believe me I could muster pretty freaking good.

  "If you didn't have them, you'd be forced to hop on one foot wherever you went, so stop trying to ignite them in flames with your death stare there."

  I rolled my eyes at Ms. Gunn, the school secretary. She'd been great ever since I'd moved to this godforsaken school in this godforsaken city with these godforsaken kids. When the guidance counselor informed me that there weren't any digital arts electives anywhere near the equivalent of what I had at my old school, I was at a loss as to which horrifically awful course to take instead: International Cuisine—I so do not cook—or accounting—I so did not do math. Ms. Gunn came to my rescue and mentioned she had an office assistant opening thereby saving me.

  Since then, she seemed to make it her personal duty to keep me from throwing myself off a building. She did off-the-wall things like actually talking to me like a freaking person, making sarcastic and often rude comments about the criminals others referred to as "students" and allowing me to get away with whatever I wanted to get away with.

  "Can't I just take the wheelie chair to class?" I said in my constantly annoyed tone. "Or better yet, why do I need to go to class when I can stay here and learn just as much on the internet."

  She huffed, but was smiling kindly at me as her soft brown eyes danced under the fluorescent lights. "You think I want to put up with you all day? You're supposed to be assisting me, and instead, you spend all your time distracting me with your whining and complaining."

  I waved off her comment. "Pffff, you couldn't survive one week without me now. You had no filing system, your tardy slips were so all over the place, and you can actually find things in that supply closet of yours now. I have revolutionized your office, and you know it."

  "Meh." She brushed her shoulder-length blonde hair back over her shoulder. "You've helped, but you're expendable. There are a hundred other students on this campus that could do the same job."

  Just then, Jose, Mr. Habitually-Tardy himself walked in with a fast food cup in his hand and sunglasses on, smiling like he had all the time in the world.

  I pulled out a yellow tardy slip and looked up at the clock. "You know there's only like twenty minutes of class left, right?"

  He looked up at the clock and nodded at it, laughing and bobbing his head up and down. "Riiight. Short class today."

  I threw my head in Ms. Gunn's direction and raised my eyebrows at her.

  She shook her head at me. "Well, Mr. Reyes, at least this means you'll be on-time for fifth period."

  He stared at her with his mouth parted and his forehead wrinkled in complete confusion. "Uh, why?"

  I loved the very even expression that came over her kind features when she was doing her best to remain patient. "You have a fast food cup in your hand." He nodded at her and she went on. "So you've already eaten..." He just stared and her eyebrows rose higher on her forehead as did her voice. "So you won't be going off-campus…" He tilted his head from side to side and she slowly put her palm up to cover her eyes. "For lunch, Jose… In a few minutes? And then you'll return late again… You won't need to do that—be late—because you've eaten." She pointed to his cup again and stared down at it.

  His expression continued to remain as blank as his homework papers in math class. Finally, a light bulb seemed to turn on very, very deep in his mind, and he laughed. "Naw, Ms. Gunn." He pointed to his cup. "This was my break-time snack. I'm headed out for lunch soon as I get my crew from fourth."

  Ms. Gunn opened her mouth to say something, but seemed to think better of it and closed it quickly. She gave him her I'm-smiling-because-I-don't-know-what-else-to-do-with-you look and gestured for me to hand him his pass.

  He stared down at it. "Rise-a. Rise—uh."

  I let out an exasperated sigh. We went through the pronunciation of my name every day he looked down at the tardy slip. I tried to think of him as a two-year-old, which was sometimes difficult since he was much taller than me and about three times as wide. "Reeeeesssaaa. Like Lisa, but with an R."

  "Releasa?"

  "No, Jose." My patience was wearing thin. "Reesssa. Like Reece's Peanut Butter Cups."

  His eyes were clueless for a moment then he laughed. "Right, Reece's. Love those things. Bye Reece's."

  I shook my head as he left the office. I leaned back in my wheelie chair and folded my arms across my chest, raising an eyebrow at Ms. Gunn in what she called my "haughty" face. "What was that you were saying about hundreds of students capable of helping you like I have?"

  She narrowed
her eyes at me, but ruined her attempt at anger by smiling. "Okay, maybe it's closer to twenty, but there are still replacements."

  Ms. Molin poked her head around the corner and looked at me. "Risa? Are you doing a lunch run for us today?"

  I sighed heavily and dramatically, feigning extreme inconvenience. "I suppose I could be persuaded."

  Ms. Molin spread her almost permanently coral-colored lips, revealing her perfectly straight teeth. Her smile was the epitome of perfection. Always perfect lipstick, always perfect makeup, always perfect words, perfect rules, perfect expectations—it was enough to make a person crazy. She was nice enough to me, but that perfect smile had been the precursor to a lot of suspensions and expulsions. Always polite, always concerned, then POW, you're a bad seed, get out. In her defense, there were a lot of bad seeds. There were way, way, way more than at my previous high school, Los Gatos, which is where I went when I lived with my mother. But Los Gatos was the type of school that made sure the "unsavory folk" were weeded out in the first few weeks of every school year.

  I grabbed my small memo pad and a pen and made the rounds, wheeling myself through the office to get lunch orders. Ms. Gunn handed me the empty backpack I'd spent the last few weeks carrying on lunch runs—it was the only way I could hop along on crutches and carry food for seven people. With Principal Schrader's credit card in hand, I began the trek over a block to the burger place we frequented.

  It was a nice trade-off really. In exchange for spending a half hour of "class time" hobbling over to some food source, I got free lunch and a stress-free place to eat and hang out. I'd been at Armstrong High for almost two months and had managed to avoid making any friends my own age. Everyone in the office seemed to love me, but my classmates were a whole other story. At least, when I dyed my cutesy blonde hair jet black, they stopped antagonizing me and started to look at me as if I might be the next student caught bringing a gun on campus. Yes, that had happened often—I knew because it was the only thing that ever made Ms. Molin's perfect smile falter just a smidgen.

  I was fine with everyone thinking me unstable. I wasn't, but if it meant they left me alone, then I'd play it up as a total emo freak. Dad barely said anything when I dyed my hair. I think he knew all about me and why I did everything I did, he just didn't give a damn about any of it. Absentee, that was dear ole dad, but whatever. Crying and whining about that was so ten years ago.

  As I stood in line at Love These Buns, my mind wandered to my friends at Los Gatos, or the people I thought were my friends. It's funny how you think you know people. I'd texted Annmarie and Nikki, but they never replied. I guess they believed the rumors my stepsister Kelsea spread—the bitch.

  "What the fuck, Brodie!" A pissed off female voice behind me interrupted my thoughts. "I told you to cut that shit out."

  "Come on, you know you like it. Who else is gonna smack that ass of yours?"

  The smooth male voice made my insides do strange things, but I shrugged it off as hunger.

  "Fuck you, Brodie," the female growled.

  "You have, Scianna."

  I ignored the deep laughter and looked down at my list again. I was just about to move forward with the line when someone knocked into me, sending me crashing to the floor, crutches and all.

  Hideous female laughter followed. "That's what you get, Brodie."

  "Fucking bitch," the guy who knocked me over cursed before looking over at me.

  With his language and the behavior I'd just witnessed, I could easily guess they went to my school and fell into the "criminal" category. What I wasn't expecting was the face that looked up at me. I'd seen him before, his grayish-green eyes set against olive skin with almost black hair. His full lips and sharp jaw were seriously attractive, but he was clearly still of the "criminal" element.

  "Sorry about that, sweetheart." He stood up quickly and put his hand out to me. "Let me help you up."

  I stared at his long eyelashes for far too long before my senses returned and made me rightfully incensed. "I don't need your help," I spat at him as I tried to get to my feet. Inwardly, I cursed the damn brace on my knee, but outwardly, I tried to look like getting up was no big deal. Finally, he just leaned down, put his arm around my waist, and picked me up. "Get off me." I shoved at him.

  "Just trying to help, sweetheart."

  I put my hands on my hips as he picked up my crutches. "Well I wouldn't need your help if you'd learn to behave like a normal person, at least in public."

  "Normal is highly overrated." He winked at me, and I completely hated myself for the absurd flip my stomach did. "Do you always have this much trouble taking help from people?"

  "Do you always have that much trouble standing in line without knocking down everyone around you?"

  "I was pushed," he clarified.

  "Okay then, do you always have that much trouble not pissing people off to make them shove you into others?"

  His smile widened, showing a small dimple in his right cheek. "You're feisty, aren't you?"

  I glared at him, but my attention was pulled to the counter where Sara, the cashier, was waiting to take my order.

  "You ready?" she asked, laughing.

  I yanked my crutches from the douche and hobbled forward. Slapping my hands on the counter, I let out an annoyed sigh.

  Sara's laughter didn't help to tone down my annoyance. "You okay?"

  I nodded and tried to let my frustration go. Sara was super nice. She didn't need me to be impatient. "I'm okay." I looked around at the other employees behind the counter. "Is your manager around, or can I just hand you the list?"

  She rolled her eyes. "She's at some conference thing this week, thank God. Gimme the list." Her manager had this thing about customer service. Apparently, "taking a customer's order" specifically meant I had to speak my order. She got all over poor Sara a week ago when I'd handed her the list I always came in with. It pissed me off the way she treated Sara.

  I'd gotten to know Sara, who was also a senior at Armstrong, because she'd been in the office so much over the past few months. She had the most adorable baby girl, but she struggled to stay in school and work. She'd nearly dropped out when I first came to Armstrong, but Mr. Schrader pulled out his awesomeness and got her a job at Love These Buns. He set up her little girl in the small student-run daycare on campus, and his wife tutored Sara in the conference room to help her get caught up. At Los Gatos, she would have been stamped "undesirable" and shipped to an elsewhere. But Mr. Schrader seemed to go out of his way to help those who really wanted help.

  Sara leaned forward, her pink-streaked brown bangs swiping across her forehead. "Stay away from that one." She pointed behind me.

  I didn't need to look back to know who she was talking about. I nodded, but she didn't look convinced.

  "Brodie's a man-whore, but he's smooth. Don't let him near you."

  "Hey." The warmth of his body was suddenly directly behind me. "I am not a damn man-whore, Sara." He put his arm around my shoulders. "You're givin' my girl here the wrong impression."

  I shrugged off his arm. "I am not your girl!"

  He gave me this lop-sided smile that simultaneously made me want to smack him and wrap my arms around him. Whoa, wrap my arms around him? Where did that come from? I did not want to wrap my arms around him—okay maybe a little, but no way would I act on that.

  He winked again. "Well, the offer stands if you're ever interested."

  I rolled my eyes and titled my head, glaring from the corner of my eye. "I won't be."

  He turned back to Sara. "She's playing hard to get."

  "Do you even know her name?" Sara's voice was high with laughter and what sounded like incredulity.

  He shrugged. "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

  My jaw literally fell open. He'd precisely quoted Romeo and Juliet. What was a gorgeous, criminal, man-whore doing with an exact Shakespearean quote rolling around in his head? But as he noticed my expression, his changed
to very clear worry.

  "Where'd you pick that up," Sara taunted, "some movie? Or something some chick said to you? No, no, I got it." She leaned forward and smacked his arm a few times. "You have that line ready to go for when you forget the name of the chick you're screwing." She laughed at her own joke.

  Brodie stayed serious for only a moment, before looking back at Sara and laughing with her. "You can't be too careful, you know?"

  He was trying to play it off, but he'd given me a very small glimpse into the fact that he had a brain and was afraid that someone else might pick up on it. He must not have realized I had a brain—a very large one at that. I knew Romeo and Juliet like the back of my hand along with practically everything else I'd ever read. Still, I had to give his criminal stupidity the benefit of the doubt and assume it was the only Shakespearean line he knew.

  A minute later, Sara brought me several bags of food, and I carefully loaded them into my backpack. I had to shift my weight since the fall to the floor seriously felt like it put a dent in my hip.

  "Here, let me help you." Brodie grabbed for my backpack, but I roughly yanked it away from him. "Are you always this stubborn?"

  "Are you always this pushy?" I countered.

  "Yeah," he said evenly. "Pretty much."

  "Figures." I huffed before pulling the straps of my backpack over my shoulders. I smiled back at Sara. "Thanks."

  "Good luck," she called out as I hobbled away.

  I'd gotten pretty far down the sidewalk when Brodie caught up to me. Once again, I cursed the crutches, but I added in a solid curse for the brace and one for my own stupidity at deciding to literally run away from home, which is how I tore up my knee. If I'd been smart enough to take money and get in a cab or even take my cell phone to call someone—but that was water under the bridge or over it, or whatever the stupid saying was. No point in dwelling on spilled, rotten, and smelly milk.

  "Hey, sweetheart, what's your hurry?" Brodie mumbled as he shoved fries in his mouth.

 
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