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       Prized, p.32

           Caragh M. O'Brien

  “It’s a lot to ask, actually,” he said. He ran his thumb over her fingers, slowly. “I guess I should be happy you’re being honest with me. Would it be different if you weren’t running Sylum?”

  She hesitated. “But I am running Sylum now.”

  “That’s what I thought.” He was quiet for a moment. “If I give you more time to decide, I want you to give me something, too.”


  “Promise me you won’t go sneaking off to be alone with Peter. Or anybody else. Take the time you need to think things over, but just about us, you and me, with nobody else dropping in to say ‘Hey, Mlass Gaia, let’s take a little ride through the woods.’ You know what I mean? You’re the Matrarc now.”

  Peter wanted nothing to do with her. There was no danger of any little ride. At least, not another one. She glanced over to the bonfire and could just make out Will through the flames, sitting beside Dinah, splitting seeds for her son. She wondered if Leon ever knew about Will.

  “What’s that mean, ‘I’m the Matrarc now.’ Don’t you trust me?” she asked.

  “I trust you. But plenty of these men would love to get close to you, and they’ll be trying all the time, especially now that the rules are changing.” His gaze narrowed briefly. “It would kill me to have you peeling off with them. I have to know you won’t do that to me.”

  “I wouldn’t.”

  “I mean it,” Leon said quietly. “Tell me now. We don’t have to go any further.”

  Further. That was where she wanted to go with Leon.

  Maybe they could go further while they weren’t getting chased around the Enclave or overthrowing the cuzines of Sylum. Maybe they could have some normal life together while they prepared to lead an exodus of two thousand people across a hundred kilometers of wasteland to a walled city that might very well be hostile when they arrived there. Then again, maybe normal would never be possible.

  She slid her arm shyly around his waist and felt his arm go around her, too, drawing her close even as he cradled the sleeping baby in his other arm.

  “I can be loyal, Leon. I know what that is.”

  He laughed. “Finally, the girl gives me a crumb.”

  She focused on the collar of his shirt and the warm gap next to his neck. The truth was, even if she wasn’t brave enough to make a commitment forever, she did love him. She was who she was because of him. Certainly he must know that. She thought of how she’d felt the day he got her sister back for her, and the way he’d kissed her, up in the winner’s cabin, and the way he’d helped her into the stocks and been there when she woke up afterward to turn her bruised hand in his. She knew what it felt like to be with him, right then, with an aching happiness just teetering inside her, ready to spill.

  “What is this?” he said. “I know you love me back, Gaia. I can see it in you.”

  She nodded. “What I feel for you, it’s like this, right here between us. It’s everything we’ve gone through, and Maya, somehow.”

  He tilted his forehead against hers and held her tight. “Don’t be afraid of it, then,” he said. “It could be what’s ahead for us, too.”

  “Soon, okay?” she said.

  He had to give her a little more time. Had to. She searched his eyes, anxious, until finally his smile eased, turning lazy and warm.

  “All right,” he said. “Come here.”

  She was already there, but she managed to get closer still. The loon called far out across the marsh, and all along the shore, humans tried to mimic the wild cry, hooting and whistling back from around the bonfires, and then laughing at each other, but Gaia hardly heard them. She was perfectly busy kissing Leon.

  When at last she looked down the beach again, scatters of sparks were cascading upward into the deep sky. The moon, a glittering, full orb, was rising over the marsh to illuminate a shimmering path along the water. Dovetailing her fingers with Leon’s, she drew him toward the sweet, shifting smoke of the bonfire.

  And for once, she was happy. Very.


  Prized evolved into this story only because my editor, Nancy Mercado, encouraged me to grapple with what matters, so I offer her my warmest gratitude. Thanks, also, to my agent, Kirby Kim, for having faith in my work. I’m grateful to Amy Sundberg O’Brien, Francine McNiel O’Brien, and Nancy O’Brien Wagner for trusty input on dodgy drafts. I’d like to thank my children, William, Emily, and Michael LoTurco, both for sending me off to Gaia’s world and for asking if, on any given day, I made it off the couch. As always, I thank my husband, Joseph LoTurco, for everything.

  Caragh M. O’Brien

  November, 2011

  Text copyright © 2011 by Caragh M. O’Brien

  All rights reserved

  Published by Roaring Brook Press

  Roaring Brook Press is a division of

  Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership

  175 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10010

  Roaring Brook Press books are available for special promotions and premiums.

  For details contact: Director of Special Markets, Holtzbrinck Publishers.

  eISBN 9781466802698

  First eBook Edition : September 2011

  The author is donating a portion of the proceeds of this novel to the Global Greengrants Fund, a non-profit, international, grassroots organization that provides small, pivotal grants to people dealing with environmental destruction. Interested readers may find more information at

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data O’Brien, Caragh M.

  Prized / Caragh M. O’Brien.—1st ed.

  p. cm.—(The Birthmarked trilogy bk. 2)

  Summary: Sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone is in the wasteland with nothing but her baby sister, a handful of supplies, and a rumor to guide her when she is captured by the people of Sylum, a dystopian society where she must follow a strict social code or never see her sister again.

  ISBN 978-1-59643-570-4

  [1. Midwives—Fiction. 2. Sisters—Fiction. 3. Survival—Fiction. 4. Genetic engineering—Fiction. 5. Parents—Fiction. 6. Science fiction.] I. Title.

  PZ7.O12673Pri 2011



  First edition 2011



  Caragh M. O'Brien, Prized



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