Everyone has secrets…
…but not like June’s.
Her secret will cost her father’s life…and maybe her own.
June never asked to be created in a laboratory where human cloning is illegal. She never asked to keep her creation a secret for fear the man who made her—her father—would be arrested for his crimes, but most of all, she never asked for the faulty heart that beats inside her chest.
After avoiding her paranoid drunken father for her entire adulthood, he shows up on her doorstep to warn her that people are after him for the secrets he keeps about how she was created. Without a thought, she dismisses his delusions, but when he disappears, she can’t help believing his claims may be true this time.
June needs help, but she has lived her life alone due to the secret she keeps. The police are not an option because sharing her secret is a prison sentence for her father and an eternity in a laboratory for her. When an AWOL soldier saves her life and insists he can help, she is leery.
How does this stranger know her most precious secret?
Her only hope to find her dad and solving this conspiracy is trusting the man who insists he holds the missing link in this deadly puzzle, but placing her trust in a stranger is the last thing she’s willing to do.
You’ll love this stand-alone romantic futuristic mystery, because it’s a thought-provoking look at the ethics of cloning.
Here’s the first chapter of Love, Lies & Clones.
Six in the morning wasn’t the time for visitors, but Thursday disagreed with me. Before my intercom chirped, he sprang off my bed and rushed to the front door with his tail wagging.
“What is it?” I snatched my uniTab from my nightstand while trying to keep up with my furry companion. The way his entire hind end swayed in rhythm to his tail made me smile. His ears were at full attention, which for a Vizsla-lab mix was saying something.
The man’s image on the uniTab’s screen made me stop. With a shaky hand, I rubbed my eyes. It couldn’t be.
My father had found me. Despite a new pair of glasses, his chocolate brown eyes and round face gave him away. My heart thumped, and I forgot to breathe as memories of our last encounter flooded my thoughts. Was it too late to crawl back into bed and burrow beneath the covers?
Thursday barked and bounded around me, while I took a deep breath.
You can do this, June.
I touched ‘speak’ on the display. “What do you want? It’s been three years.”
“May I come in?” His words were polite, yet his voice was edgier than I remembered.
“This isn’t a good time.” It would never be a good time, especially not today. “I have to go to work in an hour, and I need to get ready.”
My father looked at me like only a father could—one eyebrow raised and head cocked. It reminded me of how he used to wait for me to spill whatever mischief I had been hiding from him when I was a kid. It appeared the look still worked on me as an adult. With a heavy sigh, I clicked ‘unlock’ as I walked to greet him. As I opened my door, Thursday pushed his way through to sniff the guest.
My father rubbed my dog’s head and strolled across my living room into the kitchen, sitting down at the round pine table. I fought the urge to cross my arms over my chest. Nothing like making yourself at home.
He seemed younger. Sure, he sported a few more gray hairs and a couple of extra crow’s feet wrinkles, but he looked good. The last time I saw him, though, he was downing a bottle of cheap whisky.
I scrutinized the sixty-some-year-old man, examining him for bloodshot eyes, glazed expression, or a flushed face. Nothing. Was he sober? I focused on the scents in the room, picking up the faint odor of lemon from my recently scrubbed floors, but no alcohol. His clothes appeared clean. Wrinkles ran deep in his plaid shirt, but he hadn’t been this put together since I was a child.
Keeping the table between us, I leaned against the kitchen countertop and realized how small my duplex truly was. My finger rubbed a worn spot on the laminate while I waited for him to talk.
“Who’s this?” He ruffled the light reddish brown fur behind Thursday’s ears.
My fingertip heated from rubbing the counter, and I pulled away. “How’d you find me?”
“I have my ways,” he said.
My jaw tightened. “Forget it then. Let’s get to the point. Why are you here?”
“There’s no easy way to say this.” He exhaled and ran a hand through his short hair. “You need to get out of town.”
I laughed. “That’s ridiculous. I don’t think so.”
“Sit down.” He eyed the kitchen chair across from him.
“I don’t have time for this.”
“Too bad. Sit down.”
“Can’t you call me later?”
“This is too important.” His voice was firm and, like always, his eyes avoided my face. “Sit down.”
I felt like a child again, even though I hadn’t lived with him in twelve years. I plopped down and folded my arms across my chest.
He still didn’t look at me. “I’ve been asked to help with another cloning project.”
“So? Why should I leave town because of that?”
“I’m going to say no.” His words were calm and firm.
“I still don’t understand.”
“I’m afraid of what they’ll do to make me help them.”
“What who’ll do?”
“That doesn’t matter.”
“You’re paranoid.” Images from my childhood surfaced.
“I’m not paranoid.”
I stood up and pushed my chair in harder than intended. “You’ve always been paranoid.” I glanced at the time on my universal oven. “I need to shower and get to work. I’m not leaving town. I have a career, bills to pay, and a life. I can’t just pick up and leave.”
“June, you must! I can’t leave town unless you do too.”
My fists clenched, and the words exploded from my mouth. “Is this like the time the FBI was after you and we had to stay at a cock-roach infested motel for two weeks? Or the time you barricaded us in the house for a month? I missed a lot of school that year and almost needed to repeat the seventh grade! How about the secret stash of goodies you have buried in the backyard? Have you used them yet? I could go on.”
I waited in silence before retreating to my bedroom. The door banged behind me, leaving him in my kitchen. He was stubborn, and if he didn’t want to leave, he wouldn’t. I needed to move forward.
While taking a few calming breaths, I paced at the foot of my bed.
Don’t let him get to you, June.
Sober or not, this crazy behavior was typical of him. He would make me as paranoid as him, switch to some other made-up crisis, then let me pick up the pieces. Did he enjoy working me up? This time, I wouldn’t show him he was succeeding.
Once I calmed down, I grabbed clothes and went into the bathroom to get ready.
“You probably need your meds adjusted,” I yelled through the door.
“I’m not on meds.”
You should be.
I showered and dressed in a blur as my thoughts still lingered on him. I wiped the steam from the mirror and struggled to brush out my wavy hair. Good enough.
Taking one more deep breath, I opened the bathroom door.
He was still sitting at the table, playing with Thursday.
“I need to take Thursday for a walk.” I pulled the leash off the hook by the door. No matter what he said or did, I was staying calm. It was a big day for me, and I wouldn’t let him ruin it.
My father followed me outside.
A light cloud cover blocked the morning sun. April weather in Wisconsin could be unpredictable; this morning, the crisp air made me wish I had grabbed a jacket. I pushed my pace to warm up.
The streets of my neighborhood were quiet, especially this early. One or two cars hummed as they drove by—their electric motors nearly silent. Most the homes were single families, but there were a few duplexes mixed in. The houses were looking dated, being built at the turn of the century. Many of them still had the original vinyl siding, now riddled with hairline cracks and faded colors. Asphalt shingles still covered the roofs.
Thursday tugged on his leash trying to chase down a package delivery drone flying overhead. A small growl vibrated in his chest, showing it who was boss.
My father panted next to me. “You know,” he inhaled deeply, “how I created you?” He was being careful not to say too much, which was ridiculous because there was nobody around.
“That I’m a clone?” Even though he cloned me and we shared no DNA, we were still father and daughter. As far as I knew, we were the only two who knew this secret.
“Shh.” He looked around and tried to catch his breath. Nobody supposedly knew human cloning had happened.
I shook my head. “Nobody can hear us.”
Of course, a bicyclist chose that moment to whizz by us in the bike lane.
My father shook his head at the bicyclist and lowered his voice, “I’m well known in the scientific community.”
“I know, I’m in that community,” I whispered back.
“Oh, yeah, right. Well, they’re cloning humans again.”
I stopped. Why hadn’t I asked him this before? “Humans? Plural? There are more clones out there?”
Thursday took advantage of our pause, lifting his leg to water a budding maple tree.
“That’s not the point. It’s wrong, and I won’t do it.” He looked at my face. His features drooped, and he snapped his head away. I imagined memories of the woman he cloned me from—his wife, my mother—rushed through his mind. It had to be difficult having a daughter that constantly reminded you of the woman you loved and that you would never hold in your arms again. She died shortly after I was born.
He avoided my question about the number of clones. My words slipped out again, this time, my voice threatened to quiver, but I held it in. “Why don’t you ever tell me anything? She’s as much a part of my past as yours.”
“You know more than you should,” he snapped.
“Urgh!” I tugged Thursday’s leash and headed home.
My father was still right beside me. “The thing is I don’t exactly know what they are up to. You need to understand that if they want to clone humans, they are willing to break the law.” He inhaled deeply. “I’m afraid what other laws they’ll break to have me help them.”
Because human cloning was illegal, I could tell no one how my father created me. Did it matter I had identical DNA as my mother? I was a human, despite how I was created. My fear was that if the authorities found out my father cloned me, he’d go to prison, or worse, get the death penalty. As much as he angered and frustrated me, I’d never wish that on him. He was my father, no matter how I felt about him.
“Who’s asking you to do this?”
He shook his head and his metallic blue glasses slipped down his nose. “The less you know, the better. I need you to get out of town.”
“Tell me what’s going on and I might go with you.” Okay, that may not have been true. I still felt he was delusional.
“It’s for your own safety I don’t tell you.”
There was no arguing with him. If he didn’t want me to know something, he wouldn’t tell me. I picked up the pace and hurried home.
“Well, I won’t leave unless I know why I’m going. When you’re ready to tell me what’s going on, I’ll listen.” I entered my duplex and closed the door on him. I clicked the intercom on my uniWatch. “I need to get to work. Whatever you think is going on, you’re overreacting as usual.”
“I’m not overreacting!” he yelled into my intercom.
“You’ve done this before. In fact, you’ve told me to get out of town before. More than once.” I rubbed my shoulders, they were getting sore from the stored up tension.
“This time’s different.”
“You said that last time too.”
He sighed on the display. “Well, I won’t leave until you agree to come with me. I’ll be back tonight. What time will you return home?”
“Don’t come. I don’t know when I’ll be back—maybe I won’t come home at all.”
“You will eventually, and I’ll be here waiting for you. Be safe and trust no one, okay?”
“Yeah, I know.” I had heard it all before. “It’s okay. I can handle myself.”
His next comment surprised me. “June, I’ve really missed you.” He sighed heavily and leaned one hand against my door, looking into the camera. His eyes softened and for a moment, I saw the father I used to know. “I haven’t had a drink in over a year. I’m sorry for everything I put you through, and I really want a place in your life. You did the right thing…cutting ties with me. It took me way too long, but I realized you’re all I have.” His voice cracked and faded near the end. There was so much emotion wrapped in those few words that I didn’t know what to say.
I clicked off the intercom before he said anything else. I stood there, leaning against the door and got a grip on my emotions. This was what I wanted. He was sober. How long would this last?
I put clean water out for Thursday, packed my lunch, and headed out the door for work.
My father was sitting on my porch when I left.
“June, please listen.” He rose slowly to his feet, giving me time to escape to my car.
“Sorry, but I gotta go. Work’s waiting. I can’t be late.” And I didn’t want to think about our situation now. I carried three years of guilt and didn’t know what to do with it. I shut the car door and gave my father a small nod. My hand shook as I engaged the auto-drive and touched ‘to work’ on my dash computer.
Remember, June, he deserved it.
* * * * *
END OF CHAPTER 1 – Thank you for reading!