Alpha Warriors of The Cause - Tamara Rose Blodgett



Waves lap gently at Beth's feet as she wades into the cold, unfeeling water that is her portal to Papilio.

Merrick's hand grips hers as the water level rises to Merrick's shins and just above Beth's knees.

Beth shivers at the contrast of warm air and cold water.

She glances over her shoulder at the unforgiving faces of Reflectives who've never accepted her.

The very thing they loathe about Beth is now their collective redemption.

Her ability to jump is all that matters.

The lake stills in the breezeless heat of high noon. Blood and grime covers everyone. Beth's jaw still throbs from the hit she took in the illegal fighting ring on Sector One.

Ryan is nowhere to be found. And searching for that loose end is not as important as returning to reclaim the ravaged Papilio. Merrick has not elaborated on the severity or type of compromise, and Beth's speculations have run rampant.

At least a hundred Reflectives converge behind her and Merrick; their weight presses on her shoulders.

They wait.

Beth steadies herself, centering her energy for the jump, trying not to think of the why and how to come.

I just want home.

“Salire verum, Beth,” Merrick encourages.

Jump true. Beth nods, not trusting her voice because the heat from her body makes her feels as if she's on fire—as though she always has been.

Merrick's hand convulses in her own. In her peripheral vision, Beth sees his head tip back, mouth agape as he groans against the rush of warmth created by her reflective energy.

The heat ripples away from her as if she were a thrown stone, sending shock waves of fire-tinged water behind her across the surface of the lake. A soft chorus of acceptance, revelry, and want surrounds her as the Reflectives are uplifted by her jump.



She and Merrick land in perfect synchronicity then jog for several meters before slowing.

Merrick spins Beth into his arms, burying his face in her hair. He pulls her more tightly against his frame.

“I thought I'd lost you.”

No, Beth thinks, I lost me.

Merrick pulls away, scrutinizing her face. “Beth, we're here—in Papilio. You're safe.”

Beth was safe with Slade, too. She covers her face with her hands as a choking sob bursts from her at the traitorous thought of the Bloodling. How can she think of her captor as anything but someone she survived?

Because I can still feel his lips on mine.

Beth covers her mouth to keep the words from forming.

“Wait? What is this?” Merrick gently removes her hands, and thumbs away the wetness.

“I have abandoned the Bloodling.”

Merrick's expression darkens. “The one who fought Reflective Ryan?”

She nods. “Yes. He saved me—protected me. I don't know what has happened to him.”

Merrick steps away, surveying her miniscule expressions. “I'll tell you what happened—he and Slaver Dimitri must find a new battalion of people to abuse. We have brought our fellow Reflectives home, Beth.”

Instantaneous rage fills her. Merrick doesn't know what happened on One. Only Slade knew. And how did she repay him? She left him to die.

Beth doesn't dare touch the memories of Reflective Ryan and how he'd almost killed her in the ring.

She walks away from Merrick as chaos ensues all around them and Reflectives begin running to The Cause headquarters.

“Wait!” Merrick bellows, gripping Beth's upper arm. She jerks it away.

He easily swings her to face him, his face stern. “Beth, hang on. It's volatile right now. I've not had time to recount… on what Papilio has become.”

Two dozen Reflective warriors pause, their heads whipping in Merrick's direction.

Merrick's words are grim as he addresses them. “Use caution. We were unable to locate Reflective Ryan while on One.” His eyes land purposefully on each face. “He could be anywhere. Iver and Quaker are in cahoots with him, as well as up to a dozen others—from what Calvin and Kennet report. Be vigilant.”

Several people nod, their eyes moving curiously over Beth.

Some expressions are neutral… others, not so much. Merrick opens his mouth to add something, clearly thinks better of it, then clamps his lips.

“Go!” he commands harshly.

The Reflectives scatter, and Merrick wraps a strong arm around her shoulders. “Beth,” he says, cupping her chin. Pale gray eyes storm into hers and Beth blinks back sudden tears. She feels nothing but pain. She's in control of nothing. Her life as she's known it is over.

“Do not feel guilt, Beth. You were dragged to One by Ryan, from underneath my nose. Thrust into a world the likes of which you've never seen. The Bloodling proved honorable. But”—Merrick dips down to catch her gaze—“a male of that integrity would