By: Ella Drake | Other books by Ella Drake
Published By: Liquid Silver Books
Published: Nov 21, 2011
ISBN # 9781595788726
Published By: Liquid Silver Books
Published: Nov 21, 2011
ISBN # 9781595788726
Word Count: 26,400
Available in: Epub, Microsoft Reader, Mobipocket (.mobi), Adobe Acrobat, Mobipocket (.prc), Rocket
DescriptionRapunzel was made with technologically advanced hair. As a trained Mother agent, Zel can't escape the DNA that makes her a pawn in corporate espionage. Kidnapped and held in a tower on Gothel Island, she falls prey to the sexual allure of her captor’s son, Langley, a man whose every tantalizing touch makes her forget she wasn’t born human.
Langley Gothel protests the existence of creations such as Zel, but when faced with losing her, he sees the truth: Life is precious, whether born, modified, or shaped in a Petri dish. He does the one thing he thought he'd never do. He has to give up Zel, or become a mod. But will that be enough go get them down from the floating islands and safely to ground?
Content Notes: Science Fiction, Adult Fairy Tale
Reader Rating: Not rated (0 Ratings)
Sensuality Rating: Not rated
Rapunzel shaved her head in protest. Her dead hair now lay at her feet in strands of unique protein filaments.
The follicle hand laser dropped to the floor from her slack fingers with a clank. Rubbing the top of her unnaturally smooth scalp, she fought back the sting in her eyes and the burn in her nose. Her below-the-waist hair, made of an uncuttable substance, had never been sheared. She blinked rapidly, willing the vanity at bay as she steeled herself to gather all the strands and pitch them out the window of her room in the top tower of a floating island, far, far above the city of New Castle. The city where she’d dump all that hair to rain down on landers, people who toiled so the rich in the sky never had to touch the ground. The landers would never see it coming.
“What have you done?” The deep baritone from the doorway startled her.
Hand pressed to her chest as if it’d calm her racing heart, she stared out the window at the passing clouds and didn’t turn to the door she hadn’t heard open. The door she’d tried and failed to escape through many times. The hand laser skidded across the floor and against the wall where her visitor kicked it.
“I see. So you managed to steal the laser from Mère’s lab.” Langley Gothel, veritable prince of this forsaken floating island, pulled a chair from the hall with a screech along the cold stone floor. “Sit.”
Unwilling to be used any longer, she’d managed to steal the laser before it’d been used by her kidnapper. This stalemate had come to a head at that moment. She’d let herself be distracted by Langley Gothel for too long. When the follicle hand laser had sat on a lab cart—unnoticed by all but her the last time Madame Gothel poked and prodded her for research—she’d tucked it into her pocket. Better she get rid of all her hair than let it go to the bitch who’d put her in this tower.
Langley lowered his voice and said again, “Sit. Let me see the damage.”
As all their assignations started, she ignored him. Ignored the zing of lust that trembled through her. Ignored the longing to stay wrapped in him, a longing nearly as fierce as the one to escape. And as it always progressed, he entreated her again, as if daily he courted her in an accelerated fashion of gentling, wooing, and taking. “Turn around. Face me. I didn’t put you in here.”
He knew just how to make her spin around, rage snatching at her, heating her skin, and snarl at him. “You didn’t get me out.”
His luscious mouth frowned below deep pools of bottomless eyes that his glasses did nothing to detract from, and he ran a hand through his dark black curls, the texture of which she knew by heart. She’d clutched at the shoulder length silken threads, giving herself over to the bliss of forgetfulness. He had her whenever he wanted her, and she gave it to him, melted for him with one touch. Willingly, even if she hated him for it, and herself. They’d started the affair in a desperate clash of groping hands and impatient mouths before they’d settled into a consuming, fiery intimacy.
“Uppity-ass.” She sneered the insult at him. The helpless anger propelled her forward. She swung a hand back in her usual swipe to lift the mass of long hair behind her back. The course strands weren’t there. She ignored the sense of loss and pinioned her body, rotating on one heel, and brought her other foot around.
Before she connected, Langley ducked. The harsh sound of his grunt as he reached for her thrummed through her belly. She swirled away from the heat of his fingers as they brushed across her waist.
They sparred daily. At first, she’d done it to strike out, but then they’d simply continued the practice that always ended in foreplay. He admired her talent and applied himself to the lessons. Now, she wanted to hurt him, to block the pain he caused her and she caused herself by killing off her hair to force the end of her imprisonment and the end of their affair.
“Get me out of here.” She thrust out an arm and knocked him back with a palm to his chest.
“I won’t do that.” He spun away and circled.
“You know it’s not right—” she whipped about to keep his flushed face in view—“to keep me here.”
His chest rose and fell, his sensual lips half curved, and the sun spilled through the window to sparkle on his glasses. A curl of hair fell across his forehead, and she battled the urge to push it back.
He lunged. Spinning her, he gripped her close from behind and pinned her arms to her body. She fought against him but couldn’t break free. The scent of salt and warm, clean fabric clouded her senses.
His hold loosened. She dove away, sliding across her bed, away from the window, to crouch in front of the door. Panting, she grudgingly admitted, “You’ve gotten better. You didn’t telegraph that move.”
“I had the best teacher.” He slid up out of his stance, a graceful, sleek movement that made her knees weak. Then he glanced at her head with a frown and did something different, unexpected. He stepped back. It went entirely against the usual give and take before they fell to her bed in a heated thrashing. His gaze dropped to the floor at her hair scattered like golden hay beneath his shiny dress shoes.
His head tilted, and he didn’t look at her, making her nose sting again with unshed tears. He moved to the window, face averted. Visibly stilling his body from the exertions of their interrupted sparring, he swallowed hard. She tracked the smooth glide of his throat as he talked, rich and sultry, convincing. “Zel, I haven’t helped you escape, but you aren’t my prisoner. I didn’t bring you here.”
She didn’t answer. She stared at him in profile during this rare, quiet moment between them. They’d never simply been in her room. No exchanging stories of their ludicrous lives. No fighting. No arguing. No sliding off the bed to the floor and not noticing, or caring.
With a greed that frightened her, she fisted her hands and let her gaze take him in, memorize him, because she’d shorn her hair and there would be retribution when her kidnapper found it missing. Her time here was at an end. And she knew he had his own reasons for not freeing her—reasons he did not share with her—but she couldn’t keep herself from asking.
“Why? Why don’t you get me out of here?” she whispered, the enormity of what she’d done weighing her tongue.
“Mère will have no use for you now,” he muttered, not answering, still not facing her as he spoke of his mother. “She stole you for your hair. Now she’ll have nothing to do with you. She’ll discard you. Like the others.”
Zel had never had use beyond her hair. Created by the Mother organization, the secret spy arm of the Global Organization of Strategic Equity (GOoSE), Zel trained as an agent, spent her free time tinkering in her garden, and reported in for research on her hair once a month. She’d never been free. Until kidnapped, she’d never even left the Mother compound without her creator, Monsieur Bovine, who took pity on her and had her work as his botanical research assistant.
Her hair had been modified in-vitro to contain a special keratin, a protein that created unbreakable fibers. The marketability of such a product might have enormous financial impact. But the very nature of her hair—unbreakable—made it impossible to study. No one had delved into its potential until Madame Gothel had broken into Zel’s house with four armed guards. She’d been here for months because Gothel hadn’t found a way to replicate her hair. It didn’t break down, even enough to analyze the individual cells.
Gothel, a bio-researcher, wanted to study the properties of her hair to create indestructible prosthetic limb replacements. So far, she’d been unable to gather any useful data as the proteins didn’t allow sampling, but every time Zel went for another day of poking and prodding, Madame Gothel was exuberant, convinced she’d make her breakthrough given time. Her latest idea had been to kill a small patch of Zel’s hair follicles to take a few strands to study.
And Zel had stolen the tool to kill all of it.
Now Zel was no use to Gothel, and she’d likely never see the outside of this room again. “What do you expect from a girl they named after a plant and then trained as an agent? They kept me out of the field. Even as a researcher, I’m not much use to anyone.”
“That’s not true.” With no elaboration, he turned to her suddenly, a fire lit in his expression, and he ripped the sheet off her mattress and gestured to the floor. “Help me. We need every silken strand.”
His determined air suited his handsome appeal, even though he wore those fancy slacks only Islanders could afford. The tan of his chest peeked through at the top of his silky button down shirt. The smell of clean male drifted to her as he knelt. The scent teased her.
She knelt beside him, breathed deeply, and croaked, “Why should I let you have it? Why not pitch it out the window?”
He was the reason she’d taken this chance at freedom. Her feelings for him had clouded her judgment and when she saw the laser, she’d realized it. She’d stopped trying and she had to start again. The only way to get out of this room was to get rid of her hair. She had to leave, before this gorgeous man destroyed her from the inside out.
His shoulders tensed, and he frowned at the floor, still not looking at her. He whispered, “We have to do something. You’ve made a mess out of everything.”
Twelve weeks, over. Even during their most personal moments together, his emotions had been closed from her, Zel the creation, someone beneath him, not human. But he’d made her body feel alive, as fertile as the spring soil, if not loved.
They were done though it’d never really started for him. He was a good man, at heart. If he didn’t see her as a real woman, he’d still free her since she was in real danger, much like he’d set an abused dog free. She could see it in his demeanor. Whatever secrets he had, whatever reason he hadn’t helped free her no longer mattered.
“Get me out of this room, Langley.”
He looked at her, then. Deep brown eyes, full of secrets, thick lashes, dark slashes of brows. The angles and planes of his face fascinated her. “Do you trust me?”
She shook her head, leaned in to whisper against his full lips, “No.”
“You will. Now. No questions.” He kissed her. Engulfed her senses with his essence. Male. Masculine. So potent, the first time she’d seen him, incredible as it seemed, he’d made her mouth run dry with want. The absolute frenzy to mate—so strong she couldn’t think straight until she’d climaxed beneath him—became less crazed after the first encounter, but he still made her burn with his presence.
With an effort, she pulled back from the tangle of tongues and panted, all her muscles tight against the urge to jump his bones. She’d never understood what it was about him that made her nipples tighten to smell him, hear his deep voice, or feel the heat of his body.
“I can’t.” She sat back on her heels to put some distance between them.
“You’ve had sex with me. A lot of sex. Good sex.” Her heart thumped hard in her chest as his voice deepened. “You know the danger of my being here with you.” He frowned, and the expression seemed real, as if she’d hurt him. “Yet, you still can’t trust me. I didn’t put you here.”
“But you didn’t get me out of here, either.” She squelched the inner voice she let slip out. Now wasn’t the time to put him on his guard against her. They were enemies. They never should have started this crazy affair.
After pushing his glasses back up his nose, he kept sweeping her hair onto the sheet while a shame weighed on her more and more with each passing second. With a shaking hand, she palmed strands of the tech that until moments ago, had grown out of her head as if it were actually hair. It was coarse but shiny. Langley had loved to run his fingers through it.
“You still heading to the ground to go to your anti-bio rally?” She extended the olive branch, hoping to repair the connection between them she should sever, but her heart was breaking in the stony silence. They’d had this argument before. If bio didn’t exist, she wouldn’t be here. She’d been created in the lab, not as he had, in a womb. Granted, it had to be a cold womb, as motherly as the dish her donor’s egg had inhabited.
That he’d had the convictions of his belief, with a mother like his, proved he had a core of goodness inside him even if his belief meant she could never have him.
All of her hair now collected onto the sheet, he gathered up the edges of the fabric into a bundle and stood. He didn’t answer her question. “I’ll be back tonight. Be ready to go.”
Without another glance, he walked out. It wasn’t as if she had anything to do, anything to prepare. The small room held the narrow, hard bed she’d slept on, books, a game station, and a treadmill. None of it hers. None of it something she wanted to remember. The only thing she wanted to remember had walked out the door.
She should trust him, but somehow, she knew tonight would be a disaster. And even if she left this room, she had nowhere to go—except back to Mother.
“Plans have changed.” Langley walked through his suite, to his desk, and carefully put down Zel’s bundled hair.
His valet, Bennet, appeared as usual—as if out of thin air—with a concerned frown set all over his typically stoic countenance. “This looks like hair.”
“Zel’s.” He fingered a strand and couldn’t put it back with the others lying in a glittering coil on the plain white sheet. “I need you to make this into a rope somehow.”
Bennet, the only man he could trust on this floating island, stroked a hand gently over the strands and a surge of jealousy and rage roiled in Langley’s stomach. He clenched his hands to tight fists. To see anyone touch even her hair left him seeing red. The realization he didn’t want anyone—not one single other man—touching her, even in this way, made the room spin around him.
Stunned all the way to his core, he came out of the haze of brutal possessive need with Bennet’s continued questions. “I can make a braid, I suppose, but what are you doing with it? How in the world did you…”
“Enough for now.” He spun away, unable to see Bennet touching the golden tresses. “Zel has caused too many delays in our mission. For weeks, we’ve been altering our tactics.”
He swallowed hard, denying the guilt he’d been using her—not just sexually—but as a distraction for Mère so she wouldn’t notice his betrayal, and as another point of evidence in his mission to make bio-creations illegal. He’d been watching Zel intently, trying to find her flaws, what made her different from the natural born. So far, all he’d found to be different was her hair and her depth of compassion, something he’d never found in anyone else.
“We haven’t made much progress in studying her.” Bennet’s naturally soothing voice sounded like it came to him from a great distance, as if Langley were at the bottom of a deep, dark well. “The only thing we’ve been able to find that sets her apart from humans is this hair. Now we have it. You can turn it over to NOMBIO.”
“No,” Langley shouted, and spun toward Bennet, who only raised his brows at him in the imperial fashion that always got his attention even as a boy entering manhood. He blew out a long breath and rolled his shoulders. “No.”
“You love her.” The soft statement from Bennet didn’t come with condemnation, but it settled heavily on Langley’s shoulders.
“I can’t love a bio-creation.” That was all the truth he understood. But it wasn’t everything. “How can one love a being who has no right to exist? They have no rights, no birth certificates, no parents.”
His mind continued the litany as Bennet nodded serenely and bent over the hair, gently braiding it with amazing dexterity.
A bio-creation had no future in the world of the rich on the floating cities. They had no place on the ground in the movement he’d contributed to as much as possible. NOMBIO—No Mods or Bios—worked to end the practice of creating bio-tech and would’ve forbidden Zel’s very life before her creation. Rapunzel Denmark was not human. NOMBIO would ban any new mods or bios, and protect the ones in existence from the atrocities they were frequently victim to. If NOMBIO had its way, Rapunzel would be the last of her kind and would live her life out of sight. This was the mission Langley had dedicated his life to and it’d gotten all muddled in the past few weeks.
The need to run his hand over the shorn head of Zel had sucker-punched him with a longing so intense it caused a sweet ache in his chest to look at her, the pinch so keen it threatened to bring him to his knees. He’d never felt the like.
Something about the way Bennet moved his nimble, mod-enhanced fingers put Langley’s teeth on edge. He couldn’t watch his valet do this work. Crossing to the other side of the desk, he reached beneath the drawer and pulled the hidden data button from the hollowed-out shelf he’d made for it. With one finger push, it slid across the glossed surface of the desk toward Zel’s hair and Bennet, who stopped his motions and stared at it.
“Finish the braid. I’ll use it to get Zel out of here. Take the button with the evidence and once we’re on the ground, retrieve the braid and meet me at the condo.”
Ever the one who knew Langley’s intent before he did himself, Bennet nodded and bent over his task again.
Langley resisted the urge to say something personal to Bennet, to thank him. The man didn’t want his thanks. His hand fisted around a bit of silk in his hand. Surprised, he opened his fingers and stared. He’d braided the strand of hair, not even knowing he’d done so. Pocketing it, he left his suite with purpose in his stride.
Zel was in real danger from Mère’s anger. There was no doubt. Once Mère was done with Zel, she’d do the same as she’d done to the other bio-creations. She’d decommission Zel, all the life drained from her before being discarded. Some Mère killed outright with an injection. Some, she took apart for other uses. Langley shuddered.
Until today, he’d denied Zel’s pleas for freedom. She was a bio-creation. She didn’t require freedom. Her existence here was as good as on the ground, actually had more purpose here because he could use her to stop the factory process of creating bios, but the sure knowledge Mère would now dispose of Zel changed everything.
Moving through the long halls of marbled floors, he stared sightlessly out the tall windows opening to endless sky. This mansion in the clouds symbolized everything wrong in New Castle. Megacorps ruled everything, including the defacto government, GOoSE. He couldn’t do anything about that. He couldn’t join Mother, the spy organization that investigated the megacorps, but he could stop Mère’s cruelty. Shutting off all softness for the woman who’d given him birth, he set his life purpose to gathering the evidence to shut her down and take over Gothel Island. He’d even decided to use Zel to do it.
His secret mission was to give NOMBIO evidence of Mère’s past experiments to build a persuasive case against the creation of bios at Cupboard Labs. He’d been humoring Mère’s discussions of research for weeks, all the while planning to take over Gothel, and ban all use of bios and mods.
If he compromised himself with Zel, all his work would be for nothing. None of the others in the upper echelons of the megacorps would support him when he finally took over Gothel Island. And NOMBIO would kick him to the curb.
Langley had to face the truth.
NOMBIO wouldn’t take evidence from a man who’d had a passionate affair with a bio-creation, and Mère would continue her unconscionable research.
He couldn’t continue his good work and have Zel, too.
He stopped in the downstairs of his private wing and stared at his expensive black shoes. Surrounded by a rich and plush carpet made by weavers—landers who lived forever beneath the smog, his unflawed loafers never saw the ground or suffered marring by dirt. He shook off the maudlin thoughts and strode through the corridors reminiscent of the Hospital Island, stark, sterile, and barren.
His time with Zel was over. As soon as he got her to the ground.