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Faith of Beasts, City of Angels, Book 1

Faith of Beasts, City of Angels, Book 1

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Budding college sophomore scientist Sia Marquez knows what she wants.

A former foster kid, Sia escaped the system and wants her fellow orphan and secret crush Miguel to join her at the prestigious university she now attends.

Unfortunately, what she gets is a nightmare…kidnapping, genetic engineering, and a struggle to stay alive!

When Miguel goes missing Sia searches for him and is kidnapped by the same men who took Miguel. Used as a lab rat for mind-altering experimentation, Sia develops paranormal powers and manifests a creature the world hasn't seen since the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan fell. Possessed by powers rooted in her darkest memories, Sia engineers an escape for herself and the other "lab rats" with the help of one of her captors, Christopher.

Struggling to understand her new powers while searching for a cure, she must also control the gang she helped free, before they destroy the city or themselves. Despite her relationship with Miguel she's drawn to Christopher, who may hold the key to their salvation. Before she can find a way to reverse what was done to them, Miguel succumbs to the darkness.

Sia will have to make a choice, and the price could be more than just her life!

Faith of Beasts, from bestselling author Lila Dubois writing as E. M. Nally is a science fiction thriller you won’t be able to put down. From mind-altering experiments to supernatural powers, this new adult, dark fantasy will get your heart pounding as Sia tries to save herself and those she loves. Book 1 in The City of Angeles series is a must read!

*Contains mystery and suspense, dark fantasy themes, mind-altering experimentation and genetic engineering. This new adult science fiction thriller is not intended for readers under the age of 13.

Preview:

Chapter 1

The day Miguel became a monster I tried to convince him to go to college. I didn’t understand, and wouldn’t for a long time, that people like Miguel and I were not meant for college, for the lives the rest of the city had. We’d always been monsters. All they did was let the beasts out.

“This is bullshit, Sia.” Miguel pushed away the papers I’d given him. He leaned forward, resting his heavy chest on the edge of the table, bowing his head. I could see his brown scalp through the bristle of his buzz cut.

“Please, Miguel. Just look. These are perfect for you.” I pressed the papers against his arm. “Stop listening to the shit you hear and listen to me. You already did the hard part.” Miguel was nineteen, only a year younger than me, but he was working with a landscaping crew as part of a pre-college program while I was already a sophomore at USC. As orphans we’d both been long term residents in a foster care system designed for short-term stays. Without help he’d slide into a gang or the gutter and no one would care. Except me. I’d care.

A well-meaning, old, probably white, lady with money had created a full-ride college scholarship for a local minority student—meaning black or Hispanic in this part of L.A. Two years ago I’d gotten the money, and moved from a group home to the college dorms. The scholarship gave me tuition, housing and a computer. My DCFS—Department of Child and Family Services—worker got to use me as an example of how well the system worked. In exchange for my scholarship I had to be a college prep mentor. When they told me that, I knew who I wanted to mentor, wanted to spend time with: Miguel. We were both smart enough to escape the minimum wage to crime and welfare cycle that most DCFS kids rattled through. I was going to be someone exceptional, and I wanted Miguel to be too, but he was being stupid. Miguel’s program gave him a place to live and allowed him to take pre-college classes in exchange for time working with a city maintenance crew. It was a bridge between his old life and the new one he’d start in the fall when he entered college, but he wasn’t taking the classes seriously.

The door to the library study room opened and three black girls stepped in, backpacks dangling from the shoulders of their ghetto-trendy overstuffed jackets. One carried a folder with the logo of the local charter school—the same one I’d attended. Her thin legs were sticks in tight pants, heavy gold hoops bouncing against her neck.

Hair in a loose tail at my nape, no jewelry and minimal make-up, I was like an under-dressed, unloved doll compared to these girls.

Chairs bumped over the linoleum as they sat in sun-faded upholstery at a table on the other side of the small room. They took heavy books and spiral journals tagged with gang-gothic lettering from their bags, moving with the quiet deliberation reserved for libraries.

Miguel watched them.

“Miguel?”

He leaned away from the table, back straight and shoulders stiff. “I know her brother.” He jerked his chin towards the closest girl, the movement small, tight and frightening. He was tall and wide, and had played football until the program was shut down due to gang violence among the fans. He’d learned to hold himself still, to move slowly. It was how he kept the anger in.

The loose fit of the ironed button-down shirt he wore open over the white t-shirt camouflaged his size and strength. His shoes were scrubbed clean, his socks startlingly white against his thick brown calves, sticking out of his low-riding shorts. If you looked closely at him, looked into his eyes, you could see the molten-hot core of him, the rage that burned inside him, contained, but only barely controlled.

“Leave it.” My voice shook a little, and I licked my lips. I’d seen him let that anger out, and it was something I’d never forget. I held the papers up, blocking his view. “You can’t start stuff, can’t get involved if you want out.”

“Maybe I don’t want out.” He didn’t look at me, and I was glad, because the words hurt.

He didn’t have to tell me that the girl’s brother, whoever he was, had insulted him. He didn’t have to tell me that he’d considered joining the Children’s Army or La Eme—barrio names for 18th Street and Mexican Mafia gangs—for protection.

The girls chattered in low voices about a project, dividing up duties and making a timeline. They sounded like good students. For one bitter moment I wished Miguel was like them—they seemed simple, eager to please. He didn’t understand that I needed him to succeed as much for me as for himself.

“Please Miguel,” I whispered.

He examined my face, then reached across the table to take my hand. For a minute the mask he wore slipped and I could see the real Miguel—a man who was smarter than he let anyone know, older than he seemed, and kind in a way that didn’t fit his tough exterior.

“It’s okay, Sia baby. I know what to do.”

“I want to help.”

Miguel tipped his head to the side, looking at me. With each heartbeat his regard made me more self-conscious. I was eleven months older than him, and almost three years ahead of him as far as school went, but when he looked at me like that I felt unsure of myself and embarrassed. I didn’t feel older, or smarter. I felt like the scared girl I’d been growing up in the system. The girl Miguel had protected, giving me a chance to focus and get out. I inhaled through my nose and raised my chin.

“I know that face.” His lips twitched.

“I’m not making a face.”

“Yeah, you are.”

“If I am it’s your fault.”

“A lot of shit is my fault, but not that face. That’s all you. You’re trying to save the world.”

“Not the whole world,” I countered.

“Just me?”

He’d made the choices the children of the poor or lost often make—to fight meaningless battles, to run away from something he knew was bad only to find there was nothing better. He’d lost years. And bits of his soul. But now he was on the brink of something amazing, of turning his life around. That’s what they said when they talked about him—social workers and school counselors.

He knew all about me, but had told me only pieces of his own past—he kept his own counsel behind disquieting, steady eyes and hunched shoulders that could mean anything from disinterest to rage—but I was not without shields of my own.

The moment passed, the tension between us fading away.

“Read it,” I urged, one arm stretched along the table, poised to grab, but at what I couldn’t say. If Miguel’s past was marred by graffiti and litter, mine was a foggy, blood-speckled landscape that grew cleaner and sunnier with each step I took away from it. Today, I stood in the sunny, sanitized land of supposed promise—a citizen, getting a private college education with a full scholarship.

I had no family and no past.

His gaze moved over my face once more before he dipped his chin and focused on the papers. He didn’t touch them until it was time to turn the page, quickly tucking his hand back under the table. When he was done reading he looked up.

“So what?”

My fingers curled into a fist in frustration. I released it, took a breath, then another.

“You don’t see how this is applicable to you?”

“Applicable?” He huffed out a laugh and shifted in his chair. “You even talk like them. Unless Congress writes some bill that says ‘pay for Miguel Ramirez to go to college’ I’m not going.”

“You got into USC and UCLA. People kill to get into those schools. You can’t turn it down. We’ll find a way to pay for it.”

Miguel’s grades and test scores were off the charts for someone from our neighborhood, the way mine had been. His caseworker had helped him pay the application fees, but Miguel didn’t want to take out loans and so far hadn’t gotten any scholarships.

“They’re increasing funding for Hispanic students, especially in math and science. Those are your best subjects.” I took back the pages, a printout of a new study detailing recent bills Congress had passed allocating educational funding.

“Who would hire a ghetto Mexican to be a scientist?” He leaned away, legs sprawled beneath the table, his big body completing the triangle between the edge of the seat and the back.

“Anyone would. Once you’re good at science or math it doesn’t matter who you are, all that matters is what you can do.” I couldn’t stop the little smile from curling my mouth as I said it. I was a biophysics major, with plans for a Ph.D. in medical or applied physics. Sometimes I’d lie awake at night and imagine the day I’d stand in front of a packed auditorium talking about my latest experiment or discovery that would save millions. The most important thing about me wouldn’t be my dead parents or my life in foster care—I’d be a scientist, a label trumping the ones I now wore.

“Doesn’t mean anything. They’ll see my record.”

“That was when you were a minor. Nobody can see it.”

He looked at me knowingly. “I’m not going to leave you, even if I don’t go to some college.”

He rubbed my palm with his thumb. I pulled away, barely hiding my frustration.

“You know the difference between us?”

“I don’t dress like a bitch-ass university student and I can cuss?” He tipped his head to the side, eyes lit up with a devilish smile though his lips barely moved. My stomach trembled.

“First of all—” I tucked the pages away in my bag, knowing I’d pushed the scholarship issue enough for one day. “—I am a university student. Second, I can cuss, asshole.”

“That’s hueva, lazy, English cussing. Say hijo de puta.”

The three girls whipped around, Miguel’s words just loud enough to travel. Black or brown, there were few things kids liked as much as words they shouldn’t know, whatever the language.

“We’re sorry about that,” I said with a smile. I kept right on smiling until all three had gone back to their books. Miguel was watching them too, the tendons near his temple flexing as he clenched his jaw.

“What are you working on today?” I asked, desperate to change the subject. I relaxed when Miguel sat up, turning his attention back to me. I was supposed to tutor him, but really he was smart enough that he didn’t need me.

“Geometry 240.” He dismissed that with a head jerk. “You gonna say it? Common Sia, just say it.” He smiled wide enough to show his crooked teeth. Miguel had the kind of smile that made you want to smile back. It was full of pleasure, without malice. As delightful as his smile was, as much as it lit up his face, made him handsomer and more approachable, it was rare that he smiled like this.

I couldn’t resist that smile. I leaned forward and Miguel cupped my cheek. I closed my eyes, savoring the contact. In that moment the world stood still. Laughter from the girls at the other table brought me back to the moment. I jerked away.

“I’m not cussing. We’re in a library; that’s inappropriate.” I pronounced each syllable of the word to make sure I said it right. “Why don’t you do your homework?”

His smile faded, the teasing moment gone easily as smoke, leaving a trailing scent of regret. I shouldn’t have let Miguel touch me. Our relationship was complicated, but we weren’t dating, weren’t fucking—I loved him, but I’d never say that. I wouldn’t risk losing him just to scratch an itch.

Miguel pulled out his book. He was intelligent enough to excel in college if I could convince him it was worth the risk. I pulled out my chemistry homework, glancing at Miguel occasionally. After twenty minutes he looked up.

“I’m…having trouble with this one.” He tapped his pencil on the table, drawing my attention. He said the words as if they tasted bad. I knew he hated asking for help, hated admitting he couldn’t do something. He wouldn’t have asked for help from anyone but me.

I angled the book, with its tattered paper bag cover and defaced pages, towards me. We scooted together. He smelled like clean laundry and sweat.

“This one?” I said, using the tip of my pencil to indicate a problem. I took a moment to study it. “I think it’s a trick. It’s actually a dilation problem, not just a congruence one.”

He stared at the word problem for a minute. “Esta jodido,” Miguel cursed and glowered at the page. “Why do they try and trick us?”

“They want you to think critically, not make assumptions.”

“That’s bullshit,” he repeated. “They want to make sure that only the ones who know English can pass the tests.”

“You know English.”

“Not like this.” He stabbed his finger at the page and the carefully crafted word problem that had misled him.

His gaze met mine, our faces less than two feet apart. The air around us tightened as he looked at me with liquid dark eyes that seemed too bright and too old for his face. He cupped my cheek, and this time I let my head rest in his hand. It felt good to have him touching me.

“Just do the math part.” I moved my chair back and focused on my own reading. My heart was pounding.

Twenty minutes later Miguel and I exchanged homework. I looked over his calculations, our arms touching. He grabbed my OChem book, flipping through the pages to reference something as he checked my lab write up. After a few corrections we swapped back and went over what we’d found. It was a familiar routine, one we’d been performing for years. With a grunt of satisfaction Miguel stuffed his book into his backpack. I too put away my book, but pulled out the next text.

“Want help with the rest of your homework?” He jerked his chin at my reader, grinned. It was meant as a joke, but I knew he would do it, he would teach himself the subject if that’s what I needed.

“It’d be too easy for you.” I returned the smile.

Miguel left the study room to get something to read. We’d stay in the library, which was less than a mile from both Miguel’s group home in one direction and my university in the other, me to study, Miguel to put off returning to his crowded foster home. I stroked the glossy page of my textbook. I’d doodled my name in the margin, next to a paragraph on the functions of the frontal lobe of the brain. Sancia was scrolled in graphite, the S swooping and swirling, the lines strong and sure. I erased it, scribbled Sia in simple, forgettable letters, then erased that too.

Miguel returned bearing the latest editions of several comic book series and a magazine on astronomy and plopped down in a chair. Tossing his backpack on the table he propped his chin on it, his arms stretched out, holding the comic book open. Miguel had told me that comic books got him reading. The complicated plots, action, and half-naked women had drawn him in. The graphic novels, as he called them, took him from a limited vocabulary and guessing at words to knowing the meaning of “vigilante” and defining fatalism. He still spoke like he was poor and uneducated, and needed to stop, or learn to turn it on and off, like I did.

Miguel and I couldn’t do anything about the color of our skin, but if we were smart, and made people acknowledge that by speaking intelligently, ethnicity could be an advantage. I’d taken advantage of it with my scholarship, and hopefully Miguel could do the same. Someday I’d be so smart I wouldn’t need to trade on my background and race anymore, but until then I’d use whatever advantages I had.

I picked up the papers that had fluttered out of the open zipper of his backpack and stuffed them under his elbow. The top piece, a flyer on neon paper, caught my eye.

We want YOUR opinion!

Do you believe in the supernatural? Magic? Are you a fan of monster movies, comic books and zombie video games?

We’re looking for young adults who believe there is more to the world than meets the eye. Earn money just for giving your opinion.

“You know this is a scam, right?” I tapped the flyer.

He looked over. “It’s legit. I get twenty for telling them why I like my graphic novels.”

“Cash?” I asked in surprise.

He snorted, attention moving back to his comic book. “I don’t take checks. Going back tomorrow at five, another twenty in my pocket.”

“Really? That’s interesting.” I picked up the flyer and read over it again. “Can I have this?”

“You need money? I thought you had a full ride. I can get you money.” He stopped reading for a moment, gaze flicking to me. There was concern there. He knew what it was like to live with a hunger that wasn’t just for food, but for the things you couldn’t have. In the past he’d helped me get money, but it had cost him. I wouldn’t ask that of him again.

“I’m okay.” And I was. Some extra money would be nice, but my work-study job paid enough for food. Even if I had needed the money I wouldn’t ask Miguel for help. It was my turn to help him.

His eyes went back to the darkly illustrated images, thumbs turning the pages encased in thick protective plastic. “You wouldn’t want to go. It’s for high schoolers, middle schoolers. I told them I was seventeen.” His eyes sparkled. “They might not want you.”

“They’d want me.” I touched the glossy page of my textbook again, thinking of the coming semester, when I’d have to buy books again.

“Everyone wants you.” The words were so quiet I almost didn’t hear them.

I focused on my book, the letters dancing. “No, just you.”

There was a pause before he replied. “College boys must be stupid.”

I looked away. I didn’t want to talk to Miguel about who I was dating, didn’t want to hear if he was hanging out with another girl. He wasn’t my boyfriend. I wasn’t his girlfriend. We were just friends. Friends who took care of each other, who were there for each other the way family was.

Plus I didn’t want to admit that I was embarrassed to try and date any of the rich boys at the university. If I told Miguel that he’d get angry, blame the boys for being snobs. It was hard for him to admit that since I’d started college he hadn’t been able to protect me, not the way he had when we were growing up.

I put Miguel’s flyer on my bag, went back to my reading for another hour. The sun vanished from the window before I was done, the room now lit by humming fluorescents.

“Are you planning to stay?” I asked Miguel as I packed my bag. He was still hunched over his comic book, eyes flicking and fingers twitching as he tumbled through the story.

“No. I’ll walk you home.”

Together we made our way out of the library.

“You still going camping for Christmas?” Miguel examined the sky as we walked.

My roommates had decided to stay in L.A. for winter break and invited me on a trip to Big Bear. Last year I’d been alone for break, the only one left in the freshman residence halls. I’d seen Miguel on Christmas day. We’d snuck into a movie and then had dinner at his foster home.

This year I’d be skiing and drinking while Miguel went to Catalina Island to staff the marine conservation center with some other people from his college-prep program.

“Not camping. We’re renting a cabin.”

“Be careful,” he warned.

“Of what?”

He regarded me solemnly. “Bears.”

I broke into a smile. “I’m not going to get attacked by a bear.”

“You think so. Maybe they like brown meat better than white. Watch out.”

“You still going to Catalina?”

“They need someone to watch the place while the people with real families go celebrate.”

“Don’t get eaten by a shark.”

“They found an eighteen-foot oarfish not long ago.”

“What’s an oarfish, and does it eat people?”

“I don’t know, but if I don’t come back you’ll know what happened.”

“If you don’t come back I’ll go fishing. I’ll find it and kill it.”

“And I’ll be ready to hunt bears.”

I laughed, bumping his shoulder with mine as we walked.

My winter break plans had been in the works for months, thought they weren’t really my plans. I was just tagging along. At first my roommates had stopped each time they added to the itinerary, looking at me anxiously and asking if I could afford it, offering to pay my share. Finally, I’d lied and told them my work-study job supervisor gave me a holiday bonus.

If I got a ski pass for only two of the five days I could just barely afford to go. I didn’t know how to ski anyway, so it wouldn’t be that bad if I stayed in the cabin by myself. If I asked they’d cover me, but I didn’t want that. I could afford this if I was careful, and I knew how to be careful. An extra twenty dollars from Miguel’s market research place would really help, but I didn’t have time to go. I wouldn’t tell Miguel I needed some extra money, because I didn’t want him to do something stupid trying to help me.

Miguel walked me to the corner of campus. After hours you had to sign in with security to enter campus and Miguel didn’t like to do that.

I wasn’t sure why, but I asked, “Do you want to come up, meet my roommates?” It wasn’t the first time I’d asked him that.

“No.” It was the same response he always gave. I hadn’t asked why he didn’t want to meet them, and never pressed the issue. I waved, ready to go.

“Sia, come here.”

I turned back.

He held out one arm. I slid into the embrace, accepting his hug. He smelled clean and his shoulder was hard and thick with muscle under my cheek. I felt small and safe in that moment.

I pulled back, smoothing my hand over my hair to make sure it was in place.

“Good night,” I said again, not looking at Miguel.

“Full moon.” He pointed at the sky.

“Full moon,” I repeated. “Beware of…what?”

He looked at me with quiet, hard eyes. “Everything.”

I touched his arm in goodbye. My fingers were cold and he radiated heat. I felt him watching me as I slipped through the gate onto campus.

I checked my reflection in the glass on the first floor of the chemistry building. I pulled the tie from my hair, redoing the ponytail. I twisted my head from side to side, examining my face. Nosy people, usually old Mexican women, would stop me on the street, or touch my arm while we sat on the bus and ask me about my ancestry. “Mija, where are you from? You look like my brother’s wife’s cousin, from Guatemala.” I’d heard it all: Was I South American, Spanish, quarter black, native? I didn’t know.

I’d always found it odd that the collection of bones, sinew and flesh in the reflection was me, when I sometimes felt so disconnected from the assortment of features. My heavy cheekbones, almond shaped eyes and thick lips didn’t really match Mexican features common among Hispanics in Los Angeles. Wearing jeans and a USC sweatshirt—the unofficial uniform of college—I now had more in common with the privileged university students than with Miguel, or so I liked to tell myself.

My college friends thought I was exotic looking. One drunken night my roommates told other friends of my mystery heritage and “guess Sia’s ancestry” became a party game. I’d been too scared to stop it despite my embarrassment and anger. I sat there with my fists hidden under my thighs and let them pick me apart feature by feature.

“It’s her eyes. That’s where your hypothesis falls apart. Yes, clearly she’s Hispanic, but look at her eyes. They’re very distinctive,” one girl had said, pointing at my face with her red plastic cup. “They’re almost Asian, except quite open.”

“Don’t knock Asian eyes, eyelids are overrated anyway,” my Chinese-American roommate Lily had commented from her position on the floor. She said it offhandedly and with the easy self-deprecating humor of someone who was confident, beautiful and knew it.

It was at that moment that I realized my friends would never understand the restless, weightless feeling that came with a lack of family and past. They knew how and when their families came to the U.S. and could state their ethnicity with confidence—neither of which I could do. Plus, their families had lots of money, though they insisted they were no more than middle class, despite the fact that Lily’s dad was a CEO of some company.

They couldn’t know what it was like to worry that if you didn’t weave a rope to tie yourself to a boat, whether that boat was college, as I was doing, or a gang, as Miguel would if I didn’t stop him, you’d simply drift away one day. Sink and no one would look for you.

~End of Preview~

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Product Information
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Pages
395
ISBN
9781946363701
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File Last Updated:
November 03, 2017
This title was added to our catalog on October 21, 2017.
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