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Ultraviolet Catastrophe

A brilliant mind is a terrible thing to waste.

When sixteen-year-old Lexie discovers her parents have been using drugs to suppress her outrageous IQ, she understands why the advanced theories in her physics books have suddenly started making sense. But they’re not done dropping bombshells. Branston Academy, a school run by the world’s most powerful scientists, is searching for her so she can join them – as a research subject.

Her only safe haven is Quantum Technologies, a secret scientific community where her father works as a lead scientist. Now Lexie must prove herself at QT’s school-for-geniuses, where competition is cutthroat and the other student prodigies make Albert Einstein look like an amateur. Including the infuriatingly hot Asher, QT’s resident boy wonder.

But after a series of suspicious accidents in the restricted labs, Lexie discovers that Branston plans to unleash an ultraviolet catastrophe that will destroy everyone she loves. With the enemy closing in, Lexie must find the strength to face her past, or risk losing her future forever.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

You know your life is never going to be the same when your mom pulls a gun at the shopping mall. It started out as just another boring Saturday in August. Mom was tired of me moping around the house, so she dragged me out to spend the day shopping in the air-conditioned mall. About half of Columbus, Ohio, had the same idea.

We pushed through the crowds gathered around the Cinnabon and I paused to inhale, but Mom tugged me away from the sweet, cinnamony goodness.

“Let’s get some school shopping done,” she suggested, pointing at one of the anchor stores. “I know we have a few more weeks, but you need some new clothes.”

I smoothed the front of my faded t-shirt and frowned. “What’s wrong with my clothes?”

Mom shook her head and grabbed my sleeve. “Lexie, you look like you’re homeless. Look at the fraying at the hem. I’m going to get picked up for neglect.”

“Moooom.” I brushed my bangs out of my eyes and gave her my puppy dog expression. I hated shopping with a fiery passion.

She slung an arm around my shoulder. “Fine,” she said, raising an eyebrow. “But when they haul me away, it’s on your head.”

“Ha ha. You’re so funny.” I let her lead me to the store anyway. If I was going to have to shop, at least Mom had pretty good taste. Even better, she usually paid for everything.

She headed for a table full of pastel-colored t-shirts, and I wrinkled my nose. “Nothing yellow. I hate yellow.”

“I know. How about this purple one? It would look so pretty with your dark hair.”

I sighed and let her hold it against my chest. She chewed her lip and studied me for a moment before her gaze slid past me deeper into the store.

She stiffened, her hands turning into claws that dug into my shoulders.

“What?” I whipped around to look behind me.

Mom dropped the shirt on the table and shook her head. She’d gone pale but pasted a smile to her face. “Nothing. I just don’t think purple is your color.” She peered past me again and clutched her purse closer to her side. “You know what? I’m not feeling so well. I think we should head home.”

I frowned at her. “Home? Seriously? You dragged me all the way to the mall just to turn around and go home? I should at least get a smoothie out of it or something.”

Her right hand slid into her purse and stayed there, like she was searching for something, but she kept her eyes trained on the back of the store. “I’m not dealing with your smart mouth right now, Lexie. Let’s go.”

She moved to grab my arm, but I jerked out of her grasp. “What is going on? Why are you being so weird?”

Her eyes darted around the store one last time before she turned to me. “Nothing. We just need to move.” Slowly, she slid her hand out of her purse and slipped it into her pocket.

I froze in place, gasping at the shiny, black gun in her grip. Blood roared in my ears. “What the hell is that? Is that real?”

“I’m sure you’ve seen a gun before. It’s for protection.” Mom pulled me from the store.

“Protection from what?” My voice threatened to erupt in a shriek, and I swallowed back my fear. Oh my god. Had she gone crazy?

Something that felt like an electric shock zapped inside my brain, and the world spun. I clutched Mom’s arm as my mind lurched and sputtered. A strange buzzing sound filled my ears until it blocked out the babble of the mall. My gaze focused in on the small details of the gun she tried to hide behind her purse — the curve of the handle, the faint etching on the barrel. Thoughts reeled through my head, and suddenly, I recognized the gun was a .38-caliber, snubnosed revolver by Smith & Wesson.

Even though I knew absolutely nothing about guns. Even though I’d only ever seen a gun on TV.

“What’s wrong, Lexie? Are you all right?” Mom tucked her hand, the gun still in it, into the pocket of her sweater before inspecting me with a worried gaze.

“Do you think I’m all right? You have a gun.” And my brain might be broken. It was enough to totally freak a girl out.

“Yes, I do. Now, come on.” She tugged my arm, and I let her speed walk me through the rest of the mall. I was in too much shock to resist.

Mom and I burst through the glass doors, and as soon as the humid Ohio summer hit me, I found my voice. “Mom. Stop. What’s going on?”

She kept moving across the parking lot despite the heat turning the pavement into a shimmering river. “Get in the car. We’ve got to go.”

I dug my heels in until she stopped. “How long have you had that thing? Do you even know how to use it? You’re just a scientist for god’s sake!”

She threw a worried glance back at the mall doors, tucking a strand of her honey-colored hair behind her ears before turning to me. “We’re two single women living alone. It’s for our protection.”

I shook my head. “What exactly do you expect to happen?”

“Anything can happen,” she said with a frown, her glance flicking past me again. “Now, really, we need to get home. Will you please get in the car?”

“Fine.” I yanked open the door and slid into the sweltering interior. Mom had us in reverse before I’d even shut it behind me.

I glanced at her from the corner of my eye as she drove. Her knuckles were white against the steering wheel, and a muscle jumped in her temple. Dread felt like a heavy hand on my chest, and I stayed quiet until we pulled into the driveway. She switched the car off, but I didn’t move.

“What’s going on?” I asked softly. “You’ve never lied to me before.”

Mom turned to face me, her eyes serious. “I’m not lying. The gun is for protection. I want to make sure you’re safe.”

“Safe from what? What did you see back at the mall?”

She shook her head. “Nothing you need to worry about. I promise. Now, let’s get inside before we melt in all this heat.” She used her firm tone of voice, the one that told me the conversation was over even though I still had more questions. I had no choice but to follow her into the house and ignore the fear already twisting my insides into knots.

“Lexie, your dad’s on the phone,” Mom called from downstairs.

I tugged my headphones off with a frown. Music was the only thing keeping me from freaking out about what had happened at the mall earlier today. Now Dad was on the phone? What the hell was going on?

“What does he want?” I called back.

“I don’t know — just pick it up.”

I sighed and stared at the phone beside my bed. I hadn’t talked to Dad in over a month. He’d been away on some sort of top-secret research trip to Japan, and before that, he had been busy at work. Talking to his daughter had never exactly been a priority. Why would he choose now, of all days, to call?

A sudden lump formed in my throat. Even worse, what exactly was I supposed to say to him? About Mom? The gun? Or that weird flash of knowledge I’d had?

It wasn’t the first time that had happened either. A few months ago, while I was taking a math test, all the answers had popped into my head without even having to work at them. It had freaked me out, but I thought it was a fluke. Now, I wasn’t so sure.

I pushed aside all of that, took a deep breath, and picked up the phone. “Hey, Dad.”

“Lexie, honey, how are you?”

His warm, familiar voice made me miss him even more than I usually did, but I kept my voice emotionless. “Fine. How was your trip?”

“It went really well. I think Quantum Technologies is going to be opening a new branch in Tokyo.”

My stomach clenched, and I clutched the phone in my suddenly sweaty fist. “Are they sending you over to open it?”

Dad let out a surprised laugh. “Oh, no, that’ll be someone else’s job. I just went to scope out the location and talk to some of their scientists.”

I forced my hand to relax. I barely saw Dad now; it wouldn’t really matter if he moved to Japan. Much. “Cool. So, um, what’s up?”

“I wanted to see how you were doing.”

“I’m fine.” Mostly. If I didn’t think too hard about what had happened today. Oh my god. Was that what he was calling about? Had Mom said something? But that was unlikely. She never talked to Dad if she could help it.

“Your mom said you’d been having some headaches lately. Are you still taking your ADHD meds?”

Well, evidently she’d told him something. “Yeah, of course. It’s nothing — I’m sure it’s just the heat.”

“Just make sure to tell your mom if they get worse, okay? I worry about you.”

I frowned at the mouthpiece. Mom had basically said the same thing earlier when she explained about the gun. My skin erupted in goosebumps. “Why are you guys so worried about me all of a sudden?”

Dad paused and then said softly, “We’re your parents. It’s what we do.”

“Not like this. It’s like you guys are watching for something. What — am I suddenly going to develop magical powers?”

“Of course not. There’s no such thing as magic.”

I rolled my eyes. “It was a joke, Dad.” Sometimes I wondered if the job description for rocket scientists had a no-sense-of-humor requirement. “Just forget it. It doesn’t matter. I’m fine.”

Another awkward pause stretched between us. “So how’s that little project of ours going?”

I gritted my teeth. The “little project” wasn’t so little, especially after he’d abandoned me to work on it alone. “It’s just fine. No thanks to you.”

“Sweetie, I’m sorry. You know how crazy it gets here at QT.”

“You just dumped some circuit boards and project plans on my desk six months ago and expected me to take care of it. Well, you know what? I did. The quantum sensor is up and running, I attached the thermometer to the heat sink, and it’s ready to start reading the gamma-ray spectra of nuclear materials. If I had access to any. Look at me — I’m a freaking genius.”

Dad cleared his throat uncomfortably. “What did you do about the infrared sensitivity?”

“I redesigned the bolometer to measure the electromagnetic radiation.”

“Wow. I’m impressed. That’s really advanced work.”

And I’d figured it all out on my own. When he’d suggested the project, I’d thought finally we might have something to work through together. Something in common. Obviously, I’d been wrong.

I didn’t bother to respond, and Dad finally cleared his throat before saying, “So I was thinking you could visit me and try the sensor out in my lab. I’d love for us to spend some time together. I haven’t seen you in months.”

Whose fault is that? I bit back my angry response. I’d learned a long time ago that the drama wasn’t worth it. “We’ll see. I have plans with some friends next weekend. And then school starts up again in a few weeks.”

“Honey, I think — ”

“Was there anything else? Mom’s calling me for dinner.”

The line between us practically throbbed with hurt feelings, but finally, he said, “No, that’s all I had.”

“Well, glad you’re home from Japan. Talk to you later.”

“Love you, sweetie.”

“Bye, Dad.”

I clicked the phone off and threw it down on the bed. He couldn’t be bothered to visit more than twice a year. How dare he try to guilt me into feeling bad about our lack of relationship?

My head throbbed even worse than usual, and I rubbed at my temples. It was seriously none of Dad’s business if I’d been having headaches. He’d lost the right to care when he left us ten years ago. He meant well, but Mom and I were just fine on our own.

Maybe I’d ask if she’d let me learn how to shoot her gun.

Ultraviolet Catastrophe

A brilliant mind is a terrible thing to waste.

When sixteen-year-old Lexie discovers her parents have been using drugs to suppress her outrageous IQ, she understands why the advanced theories in her physics books have suddenly started making sense. But they’re not done dropping bombshells. Branston Academy, a school run by the world’s most powerful scientists, is searching for her so she can join them – as a research subject.

Her only safe haven is Quantum Technologies, a secret scientific community where her father works as a lead scientist. Now Lexie must prove herself at QT’s school-for-geniuses, where competition is cutthroat and the other student prodigies make Albert Einstein look like an amateur. Including the infuriatingly hot Asher, QT’s resident boy wonder.

But after a series of suspicious accidents in the restricted labs, Lexie discovers that Branston plans to unleash an ultraviolet catastrophe that will destroy everyone she loves. With the enemy closing in, Lexie must find the strength to face her past, or risk losing her future forever.

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You know your life is never going to be the same when your mom pulls a gun at the shopping mall. It started out as just another boring Saturday in August. Mom was tired of me moping around the house, so she dragged me out to spend the day shopping in the air-conditioned mall. About half of Columbus, Ohio, had the same idea.

We pushed through the crowds gathered around the Cinnabon and I paused to inhale, but Mom tugged me away from the sweet, cinnamony goodness.

“Let’s get some school shopping done,” she suggested, pointing at one of the anchor stores. “I know we have a few more weeks, but you need some new clothes.”

I smoothed the front of my faded t-shirt and frowned. “What’s wrong with my clothes?”

Mom shook her head and grabbed my sleeve. “Lexie, you look like you’re homeless. Look at the fraying at the hem. I’m going to get picked up for neglect.”

“Moooom.” I brushed my bangs out of my eyes and gave her my puppy dog expression. I hated shopping with a fiery passion.

She slung an arm around my shoulder. “Fine,” she said, raising an eyebrow. “But when they haul me away, it’s on your head.”

“Ha ha. You’re so funny.” I let her lead me to the store anyway. If I was going to have to shop, at least Mom had pretty good taste. Even better, she usually paid for everything.

She headed for a table full of pastel-colored t-shirts, and I wrinkled my nose. “Nothing yellow. I hate yellow.”

“I know. How about this purple one? It would look so pretty with your dark hair.”

I sighed and let her hold it against my chest. She chewed her lip and studied me for a moment before her gaze slid past me deeper into the store.

She stiffened, her hands turning into claws that dug into my shoulders.

“What?” I whipped around to look behind me.

Mom dropped the shirt on the table and shook her head. She’d gone pale but pasted a smile to her face. “Nothing. I just don’t think purple is your color.” She peered past me again and clutched her purse closer to her side. “You know what? I’m not feeling so well. I think we should head home.”

I frowned at her. “Home? Seriously? You dragged me all the way to the mall just to turn around and go home? I should at least get a smoothie out of it or something.”

Her right hand slid into her purse and stayed there, like she was searching for something, but she kept her eyes trained on the back of the store. “I’m not dealing with your smart mouth right now, Lexie. Let’s go.”

She moved to grab my arm, but I jerked out of her grasp. “What is going on? Why are you being so weird?”

Her eyes darted around the store one last time before she turned to me. “Nothing. We just need to move.” Slowly, she slid her hand out of her purse and slipped it into her pocket.

I froze in place, gasping at the shiny, black gun in her grip. Blood roared in my ears. “What the hell is that? Is that real?”

“I’m sure you’ve seen a gun before. It’s for protection.” Mom pulled me from the store.

“Protection from what?” My voice threatened to erupt in a shriek, and I swallowed back my fear. Oh my god. Had she gone crazy?

Something that felt like an electric shock zapped inside my brain, and the world spun. I clutched Mom’s arm as my mind lurched and sputtered. A strange buzzing sound filled my ears until it blocked out the babble of the mall. My gaze focused in on the small details of the gun she tried to hide behind her purse — the curve of the handle, the faint etching on the barrel. Thoughts reeled through my head, and suddenly, I recognized the gun was a .38-caliber, snubnosed revolver by Smith & Wesson.

Even though I knew absolutely nothing about guns. Even though I’d only ever seen a gun on TV.

“What’s wrong, Lexie? Are you all right?” Mom tucked her hand, the gun still in it, into the pocket of her sweater before inspecting me with a worried gaze.

“Do you think I’m all right? You have a gun.” And my brain might be broken. It was enough to totally freak a girl out.

“Yes, I do. Now, come on.” She tugged my arm, and I let her speed walk me through the rest of the mall. I was in too much shock to resist.

Mom and I burst through the glass doors, and as soon as the humid Ohio summer hit me, I found my voice. “Mom. Stop. What’s going on?”

She kept moving across the parking lot despite the heat turning the pavement into a shimmering river. “Get in the car. We’ve got to go.”

I dug my heels in until she stopped. “How long have you had that thing? Do you even know how to use it? You’re just a scientist for god’s sake!”

She threw a worried glance back at the mall doors, tucking a strand of her honey-colored hair behind her ears before turning to me. “We’re two single women living alone. It’s for our protection.”

I shook my head. “What exactly do you expect to happen?”

“Anything can happen,” she said with a frown, her glance flicking past me again. “Now, really, we need to get home. Will you please get in the car?”

“Fine.” I yanked open the door and slid into the sweltering interior. Mom had us in reverse before I’d even shut it behind me.

I glanced at her from the corner of my eye as she drove. Her knuckles were white against the steering wheel, and a muscle jumped in her temple. Dread felt like a heavy hand on my chest, and I stayed quiet until we pulled into the driveway. She switched the car off, but I didn’t move.

“What’s going on?” I asked softly. “You’ve never lied to me before.”

Mom turned to face me, her eyes serious. “I’m not lying. The gun is for protection. I want to make sure you’re safe.”

“Safe from what? What did you see back at the mall?”

She shook her head. “Nothing you need to worry about. I promise. Now, let’s get inside before we melt in all this heat.” She used her firm tone of voice, the one that told me the conversation was over even though I still had more questions. I had no choice but to follow her into the house and ignore the fear already twisting my insides into knots.

“Lexie, your dad’s on the phone,” Mom called from downstairs.

I tugged my headphones off with a frown. Music was the only thing keeping me from freaking out about what had happened at the mall earlier today. Now Dad was on the phone? What the hell was going on?

“What does he want?” I called back.

“I don’t know — just pick it up.”

I sighed and stared at the phone beside my bed. I hadn’t talked to Dad in over a month. He’d been away on some sort of top-secret research trip to Japan, and before that, he had been busy at work. Talking to his daughter had never exactly been a priority. Why would he choose now, of all days, to call?

A sudden lump formed in my throat. Even worse, what exactly was I supposed to say to him? About Mom? The gun? Or that weird flash of knowledge I’d had?

It wasn’t the first time that had happened either. A few months ago, while I was taking a math test, all the answers had popped into my head without even having to work at them. It had freaked me out, but I thought it was a fluke. Now, I wasn’t so sure.

I pushed aside all of that, took a deep breath, and picked up the phone. “Hey, Dad.”

“Lexie, honey, how are you?”

His warm, familiar voice made me miss him even more than I usually did, but I kept my voice emotionless. “Fine. How was your trip?”

“It went really well. I think Quantum Technologies is going to be opening a new branch in Tokyo.”

My stomach clenched, and I clutched the phone in my suddenly sweaty fist. “Are they sending you over to open it?”

Dad let out a surprised laugh. “Oh, no, that’ll be someone else’s job. I just went to scope out the location and talk to some of their scientists.”

I forced my hand to relax. I barely saw Dad now; it wouldn’t really matter if he moved to Japan. Much. “Cool. So, um, what’s up?”

“I wanted to see how you were doing.”

“I’m fine.” Mostly. If I didn’t think too hard about what had happened today. Oh my god. Was that what he was calling about? Had Mom said something? But that was unlikely. She never talked to Dad if she could help it.

“Your mom said you’d been having some headaches lately. Are you still taking your ADHD meds?”

Well, evidently she’d told him something. “Yeah, of course. It’s nothing — I’m sure it’s just the heat.”

“Just make sure to tell your mom if they get worse, okay? I worry about you.”

I frowned at the mouthpiece. Mom had basically said the same thing earlier when she explained about the gun. My skin erupted in goosebumps. “Why are you guys so worried about me all of a sudden?”

Dad paused and then said softly, “We’re your parents. It’s what we do.”

“Not like this. It’s like you guys are watching for something. What — am I suddenly going to develop magical powers?”

“Of course not. There’s no such thing as magic.”

I rolled my eyes. “It was a joke, Dad.” Sometimes I wondered if the job description for rocket scientists had a no-sense-of-humor requirement. “Just forget it. It doesn’t matter. I’m fine.”

Another awkward pause stretched between us. “So how’s that little project of ours going?”

I gritted my teeth. The “little project” wasn’t so little, especially after he’d abandoned me to work on it alone. “It’s just fine. No thanks to you.”

“Sweetie, I’m sorry. You know how crazy it gets here at QT.”

“You just dumped some circuit boards and project plans on my desk six months ago and expected me to take care of it. Well, you know what? I did. The quantum sensor is up and running, I attached the thermometer to the heat sink, and it’s ready to start reading the gamma-ray spectra of nuclear materials. If I had access to any. Look at me — I’m a freaking genius.”

Dad cleared his throat uncomfortably. “What did you do about the infrared sensitivity?”

“I redesigned the bolometer to measure the electromagnetic radiation.”

“Wow. I’m impressed. That’s really advanced work.”

And I’d figured it all out on my own. When he’d suggested the project, I’d thought finally we might have something to work through together. Something in common. Obviously, I’d been wrong.

I didn’t bother to respond, and Dad finally cleared his throat before saying, “So I was thinking you could visit me and try the sensor out in my lab. I’d love for us to spend some time together. I haven’t seen you in months.”

Whose fault is that? I bit back my angry response. I’d learned a long time ago that the drama wasn’t worth it. “We’ll see. I have plans with some friends next weekend. And then school starts up again in a few weeks.”

“Honey, I think — ”

“Was there anything else? Mom’s calling me for dinner.”

The line between us practically throbbed with hurt feelings, but finally, he said, “No, that’s all I had.”

“Well, glad you’re home from Japan. Talk to you later.”

“Love you, sweetie.”

“Bye, Dad.”

I clicked the phone off and threw it down on the bed. He couldn’t be bothered to visit more than twice a year. How dare he try to guilt me into feeling bad about our lack of relationship?

My head throbbed even worse than usual, and I rubbed at my temples. It was seriously none of Dad’s business if I’d been having headaches. He’d lost the right to care when he left us ten years ago. He meant well, but Mom and I were just fine on our own.

Maybe I’d ask if she’d let me learn how to shoot her gun.