Title: Heart’s Prey
Author: Natalina Reis
Genre: Dystopian/Post-apocalyptic Romance, Speculative Fiction
The world Jia and Cees knew no longer exists. Amidst chaos and terror, they find each other and fall in love—a love that goes against all castes’s rules. As their civilization is ravaged by genetically-altered beasts, the caste system relied upon for ages crumbles. The privileged and wealthy are just as vulnerable to the onslaught as are the disadvantaged. Faced with impossible odds and unsettling secrets about their society, Jia and Cees must decide which part of their dying world to take with them and what they should leave behind. As they travel in search of a safe haven, they face unspeakable horrors, which shake deep-rooted beliefs and their old way of life. Will they look past prejudice and centuries-old traditions to join forces against annihilation? Or will they give in to society’s pressure and fight alone?
A hand behind his neck, cushioning his head against the hard wall, Cees smiled. “We go to school to learn our letters and our numbers and a few other things, nothing else. There aren’t many teachers available to my people. Central wants to keep us ignorant and docile.”
Not sure whether he was being serious, she watched him with curiosity. “How do you learn your trade or craft?”
“Sponsorship…on the job type of thing,” he replied, his eyes suddenly icy and hard. “But Zuivers like me are only allowed enough schooling for the basics.”
“Zuivers like you?” she asked, even though his eyes were telling her not to.
“Tainted Zuivers.” He didn’t offer any further explanation, and she thought it wiser to let it go.
But curiosity gnawed at her insides. What did he mean by tainted? What had he done to deserve such a label? Was she locked in that bunker with a criminal of some kind? The thought made her shiver. Cees looked so…not quite harmless, for his dark hair and tanned skin gave him a certain aura of danger and mystery. Pure was the word she would have chosen to describe him. He had an aura of purity as if whatever had happened to him did not mar his soul, his outlook on life. Or maybe the noxious fumes in that place were making her delirious.
Jia studied him from beneath half-closed eyelids. The black stripe over his eyes. Did it have any special significance? She didn’t know much about the Zuivers. They were considered a lower-race, an ethnic group with low standing in the social hierarchy of Wêreld. They were believed to be weak in academic skills and emotionally unstable due to their rather primal instincts. Because of these, Zuivers were not given sophisticated weapons to defend themselves or much technology at all. They also had not been offered the gas masks that were supposed to protect people from the toxic gases Central had promised would deal with the Predators. The whole group had been relocated to a commune far away from all other cities. Out of sight, out of mind, she remembered people whisper.
There were rumors, though. Whisperings of special gifts, special talents that rendered them even more unstable, more dangerous. Cees didn’t hit her as unstable in any way. In fact, he looked perfectly capable and in full control of all his senses. Had she met him in Wêreld, she would most likely pursue him the same way she pursued Aart. There was a wild beauty to him that attracted her like a magnet.
Are you crazy? You know nothing about this man, this Zuiver. But he had taken care of her wounded knees and kept her warm through the night.
“What’s it like?” Cees asked out of nowhere. He stared at her with those unsettling blue eyes.
“Being a Gezegenden?” At first she didn’t understand him. Then she realized he was using an Old World word for ‘blessed’.
“I’m not sure what you mean?” Jia said, her cheeks flushing. How do you explain from someone from an inferior race what it was like to be one of the upper echelon of Wêreld?
“What does it feel like to feel superior to all other humans?” His words cut like knives. “To feel like you’re better than every other creature in the world and be perfectly happy knowing you have privileges that most don’t even dare dream about?” Bitterness dripped from his words, like blood from an open wound. “How does it feel to create a world where you are judged by your circumstances and not by your deeds or skills?”
“You obviously know everything about us, the Blessed. So why even ask?” She could play this game of accusations and sharp barbs.
“The Gezegenden are given advanced weapons and protective gear while we, the dirty Zuiver, must survive on our street smarts,” he continued.
“A lot of good those weapons did to us when the Predators came,” Jia said, matching his bitterness with her own.
Cees looked properly chided. His icy eyes softened and spoke of sorrow and sympathy. “I’m sorry,” he said, his voice also softening. “I shouldn’t judge you and your people. You have suffered great loses just as the Zuiver have. In the end, we are all just humans.”
Jia’s anger of a moment ago was replaced by a nagging sense of regret and shame. Here she was in the same exact position as this young Zuiver who had not hesitated to help her, and she was still measuring him by the social rule that had divided them in the first place. What did that say about her as a human being? Had she grown so jaded that her bouts of rebellion as a teenager were nothing but memories? Had she really changed so much, she had lost sight of what she felt and believed in her heart?
“I’m sorry too,” she said, apologizing for so much more than just their angry exchange. “I’m eternally grateful to you. If it wasn’t for you, I would be hungry, thirsty and alone. I owe you big.”
A tiny smile lifted the corner of his lips. She wondered whether he realized how handsome he was. “I didn’t do anything that I wouldn’t do for anyone else,” he said, springing to his feet in a graceful move. He walked up to her and offered his hand in peace. “Friends?”
Jia looked up, her neck complaining—he was very tall—and accepted his hand in hers. “Friends,” she said, his warm skin sending waves of shivering pleasure up her arm. “Now, where’s the bathroom?”
Buy Links (including Goodreads and BookBub):
All links: https://books2read.com/hearts-prey/
Amazon US http://bit.ly/HP_US
Amazon UK http://bit.ly/HPUKingdom
Amazon AU: http://bit.ly/HPAustralia
Amazon Ca: https://bit.ly/HPCan
Why is your featured book a must-read?
Heart’s Prey is a speculative story about how nothing is quite the way it looks and even the most privileged of us humans might not be as privileged as they appear. It’s a story of hope, discovery, and new beginnings. Never underestimate the power of love and the need to survive.
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Runs December 8 – December 13, 2020.
Winner will be drawn on December 16, 2020.
Natalina wrote her first romance at the age of thirteen. Since then she has published eleven romances that defy the boundaries of her genre. She enjoys writing all kinds of rebels and outcasts into her stories and she always roots for the underdog.
After earning a degree in tourism and foreign languages, she worked as a tourist guide in her native Portugal for a short time before moving to the United States. She lived in three continents and a few islands, and her knack for languages and linguistics led her to a master’s degree in education. She lives in Virginia where she has taught English as a Second Language to elementary school children for more years than she cares to admit.
Natalina doesn’t believe you can have too many books or too much coffee. Art and dance make her happy and she is pretty sure she could survive on lobster and bananas alone. When she is not writing or stressing over lesson plans, she shares her life with her husband and two adult sons.
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