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One last chance...
for Max, Fang, and Dylan...
before it all ends.

Are you ready for the final chapter? Are you ready for the ultimate flight? Because THIS IS IT. One last incredible, explosive adventure with an astonishing ending that no one could have seen coming.

BOOK ONE | Before

Chapter 3

FANG OPENED ONE alert eye to see the early-morning sky lightening on the desert horizon. The slow, even breathing around him told him his gang was still asleep, and Fang felt the familiar weight of anxiety closing in on him snugger than his sleeping bag. They had to get going. He could feel it—the new threat was developing exponentially with every minute.

Get up, his instincts hissed. Go. Now.

But Fang felt the warm body in the sleeping bag next to his stir slightly in her sleep and knew there was something else entirely that was making it difficult to breathe. It was this whole situation. It was her.

He studied her relaxed features: the familiar cheekbones; the strong arch of the brow, making her look surprised in sleep like she never would in daylight; the full mouth he knew so well, the mouth he wanted to kiss, but wouldn’t, not now… She still looked so heart-stoppingly like Max that it made Fang wince.

Fang wriggled up out of the cocoon of his sleeping bag and leaned over her. He reached one tentative hand out and ran his fingers through her short hair. She sighed.

“Time to get up,” he whispered into her ear. “We have to get going.”

“Stay,” the girl murmured dreamily, pulling him back down next to her. She nuzzled into his neck and stretched one smooth arm over him. Fang swallowed. Even through the sleeping bag he could feel the heat coming off her body, sense the outline of her shape. It felt so natural, so familiar.

He felt so guilty.

Fang had never imagined he’d be sleeping next to a different girl, ever, in his life. And here he was, with Maya, of all people—Max’s clone. The cute, short pixie cut she’d gotten two days ago helped. No ratty mane to get tangled when I’m flying, she’d said. But Fang knew she needed it for other reasons, too. She wanted to look different. To distinguish herself from Max.

And she was different. She was tough, but she seemed less angry than Max did, more accepting of her Gen 54 status. She smiled more often, and more easily. It made him feel way disloyal, but in some ways, Maya was just easier to be around than Max was.

Very carefully, with Fanglike stealth, he eased out from under Maya’s arm, lifting it and placing it back on his sleeping bag without waking her. He needed to… not be lying there anymore. He wasn’t comfortable with where his mind—or his heart—was taking him.

One glance showed Fang that the members of his small gang—Maya, Ratchet, Star, and Kate—were all still asleep. He poked at the sleeping bags and shook some shoulders but got little more in response than annoyed grunts and thick snores. These kids were definitely not the light sleepers the flock had been. Fang sighed. First, some fuel.

The previous night’s fire had been banked, and now Fang stirred the embers and added more tinder. Five minutes later he had a nice blaze, and he opened his wings, letting them bask in the heat. On the horizon, the sun was just starting to spill its pink glaze over the mountaintops. He tried to swallow the sense of urgency building within him. They weren’t actually being chased, he reminded himself. He was in charge.

Years on the run had taught Fang how to make almost anything edible, including desert rats, pigeons, cacti, dandelions, and stuff reclaimed from restaurant Dumpsters. But this morning he had better raw materials to work with. He set the collapsible grill over the fire and pulled out a lightweight bowl and the one small frying pan he had in his pack.

Max was… Max. She wasn’t easy, she wasn’t restful, she wasn’t a little dollop of sunshine. But since when did he need a little dollop of sunshine? It wasn’t exactly what a life on the run tended to create. Max was… his soul mate. Wasn’t she? She knew him better than anyone.

He cracked some eggs open a little more forcefully than he needed to and started whisking them in the bowl. He and Max had been through so much together—losses, betrayals, joyous reunions. Life-threatening injuries, gunshots, broken bones. Christmases and birthdays and Max Appreciation Days and Angel’s—

A pain almost physical made Fang pause as he chopped the supermarket ham. Don’t think about that, he told himself.

Anyway. Max. She was so familiar to him. So familiar. Maybe even… too familiar?

No! He couldn’t believe he was thinking that way. She still surprised him, after all. It was just that he hardly knew Maya. He couldn’t predict what she would say or how she would say it. It was all really… new.

He’d thought leaving the flock would simplify things, make things easier. Instead his life was just more complicated, more confusing.

He blinked when Maya’s arms came around his waist. Only years of pseudo-military training had kept him from jumping a foot in the air. How had she snuck up behind him?

“Mmm,” Maya said sleepily, leaning her head against his back. “That smells like heaven. Where’d you learn to cook like that? You’re amazing.”

Fang swallowed again and shrugged. “Just picked it up.”

Maya came to stand next to him, one arm still around his waist. Her hair was just so… cute. He blinked again in surprise. When had he ever thought someone’s hair was cute? Not since… never.

Frowning, he looked down at Maya, who met his frown with a slow smile. She reached up on her tiptoes as he stood, frozen, and kissed his cheek. Her lips were cool and soft.

“Thanks for… breakfast,” she said, and Fang got the feeling that he was caught in an undertow. And he didn’t know if he wanted to get out of it.

Copyright © 2012 by James Patterson

Read by Rebecca Soler

Rebecca Soler is a New York-based actress who voices numerous principal characters for the CW's Saturday morning cartoon lineup including: Viva Piñata, Huntik, The Winx Club, and Chaotic. Other audiobooks include Lock & Key by Sarah Dessen, After by Amy Efaw, for which she was awarded a 2009 AudioFile Earphones Award, and Monster High by Lisi Harrison.

Audio Excerpts (MP3)
Clip #1
Chapter 1 to Chapter 4
Clip #2
Chapters 5 to 8
Clip #3
Chapters 9 to 12
Clip #4
Chapters 13 to 16
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