Seven days, seven challenges. Twelve strangers. Eight thousand cameras. Only one winner.
Welcome to The Ant Farm, a social study in the wilds of interior Alaska, documenting the dynamics between a dozen competitors as they take part in a series of physical and psychological face-offs. With five hundred grand up for grabs at the end of the battle royal, the stakes are high and the tension blazing.
Could the seemingly mild-mannered nice guy win it all? The cutthroat alpha female? The strongest or the smartest, the idealist or the cynic? It's anyone's guess as teams are undercut by alliances, loyalties tendered and tested, and passions inflamed by both affection and animosity.
In this contest where even knives and guns are fair game, sex may prove the most dangerous weapon of all.
Reader Advisory: This book features the recreational use of illicit substances, and non-explicit references to childhood abuse and trauma. It also features an unlikely mix of romance, lust and hate-sex, plus a ton of way crazier crap that the author delights in not preparing you for.
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Skin Game by Cara McKenna
Chloe succumbed to an almighty yawn, covering her mouth with her hand. It was dinnertime, though the sun was still hours from setting. The Ecstasy had officially worn off and the manic energy that had been surging in her veins since that morning in the barracks slumped, leaving her listless. She moved pilaf around on her plate with her fork.
Pike looked up from his own dinner, that disapproving-mother look he was so good at tightening his features.
"We won, Pike. You can quit with the sour faces." She yawned again as Ian sauntered over looking perfectly awake. He snapped a folding chair open and sat down with a beer, popping the tab and lifting the can, presumably to toast their victory.
"And you can quit with the camaraderie," she added to Ian. "It's creepy coming from you. And we're all on our lonesomes tomorrow." Thank goodness. The promise of self-reliance had Chloe breathing ten times easier.
"You'll miss me," Ian said, then turned his attention to his beer. Chloe gave his profile a good, long study. Too goddamn handsome for his own good. And far too handsome to trust. Or waste.
Chloe turned as Pike muttered, "Thank God."
She looked up to see Rory heading in their direction. "Thank God for what?"
"For some company that's not suffering from chemical withdrawal or a personality disorder." Pike stood and jogged to grab two cans from the ice chest and met Rory as he reached their little corner of the yard.
"Hey, man. Good to see you're still here."
Rory's eyebrows rose but he accepted the beer. "Sure."
Pike opened his own can and tapped it against Rory's. "And thank fucking God you guys gave Marissa the boot."
Rory broke into a guilty smile and his posture relaxed. "Sort of a no-brainer, that one."
Ian piped up. "If those lassies had any brains they'd have gotten rid of you."
Rory's eyes narrowed in his direction. "Oh?"
"You're the only one in that group who's any kind of threat."
"Is that meant to be some kind of compliment?"
"Jest saying, your little mate Leah missed a trick. Guess she likes you more than winnin'. No accountin' for taste."
Rory rolled his eyes. He seemed to recede back into some invisible shell, setting his unopened can on a tree stump. "I came to talk to Ian," he said, folding his arms over his chest as though the very idea gave him the chills.
Chloe thought she caught Ian's pupils dilate for a split second as his brain rewired, switching off antagonist mode and flipping on the scheming curiosity.
"Alone," Rory added.
Pike wandered toward where Daisey and Mac were playing some kind of don't-flinch punching game...the weirdest foreplay Chloe had seen in a while, and tempered by that same edgy vibe that had been crackling between the two since the elimination.
She looked up to find Rory staring pointedly at her.
"I'm not going anywhere."
He made an exasperated face and she retaliated with a shrug of profound indifference.
"You've got something private to say to Ian," she said. "How can my being here possibly make that any more tragic?"
"Fine." He turned to Ian. "Leah said Mac said you've got condoms."
The corners of Ian's lips curled, evil. "Oh, well well well."
"So do you?" Rory asked.
"Is there any chance I could have one? Please?" He looked ready to gag on that tacked-on nicety.
"Mebbe. What do I get in return? Free show?"
Rory made a disgusted face and turned to leave. "Fucking forget it."
"Oi, calm yourself, Kiwi. Jest fecking with you. What've you got tae trade? You got any flares? Anything with gunpowder in it?"
Chloe blinked and made a mental note as Rory shook his head.
"Shame." Ian reached inside his blazer and came out with a plastic square. "Here you go. On the house."
Rory's brown eyes snapped between Ian's face and the condom. "What's the catch?"
Ian grinned. "No catch, mate. I'm an old romantic from way back."
Rory took the condom, skepticism tattooed across his face.
"Plus I'm going to feck you over the second I get the chance, so consider it an apology gift in advance." Ian's wicked smile broadened and he forfeited their staring contest to fish for a cigarette.
Rory cast Chloe a look and turned away.
"Check it for holes," she said, meaning it to be more helpful than bitchy. "And have fun."
He shook his head as he left them.
Ian lit a smoke and laughed. "That's too fecking funny."
She watched Rory's retreating back. "I think it's sort of sweet."
"Aye. Good luck tae 'em. They're both wasting their time here. Let 'em have a consolation prize."
Chloe nodded, sleepiness creeping over her again. She watched Daisey and Pike showing Mac some self-defense move, Daisey lunging at Pike with a sheathed knife and Pike twisting down the attacking arm in slow motion.
"He fancies her," Ian murmured, and Chloe turned to find his gaze on the threesome as well.
"Daisey or Pike?"
She nodded, having already suspected as much. "Did you mean what you said before? Did you actually see her naked?"
He nodded and blew out a long jet of smoke. "Aye. I'm a prick, nae a liar."
"You are so a liar. Your lying during the first challenge is the only reason Leah and Pike are still here."
Ian made a grudging face and Chloe countered with a grin.
"So did Mac lose a bet or something, have to strip for you?"
"Prolly jest did it tae get Daisey riled up. Looks like it's working. Anyhow it's keeping his mitts off you for a change, so count your blessings."
"Amen to that." She stared out over the yard for a minute, breathing in Ian's secondhand smoke, that sweet, forsaken stench. She picked up her camera and caught Ian in the viewfinder, took a few pictures of him, those eyes squinting in the sunlight, probably too blue to ever print accurately.
"Ian," she said at length.
He raised his black eyebrows at her and she snapped another shot then set the camera down. "What do you do? Professionally?"
He blew a couple of smoke rings and made her wait. "What d'you think I do?"
"Between the cheekbones and pills and the height and the lack of a soul, I guess I've got my money on model."
Ian smirked, turning his attention back to his vice.
"Do you think it's a coincidence that everybody here is single and straight and decent-looking?" Chloe asked.
"Leah was'nae single when she got here."
"No, but she was supposed to be here with her lover... You think maybe these so-called scientists are really just pervs out to tape a bunch of strangers banging each other in the woods?" She glanced reflexively at Ian's crotch as he watched the others. "I bet we were cherry-picked for just that reason. I bet those psych tests they gave us show we're all hot-blooded nymphos or something."
Ian gave her an appraising look. "I bet any group of semi-anonymous strangers thrown together in competition end up wanting tae feck each other's brains out."
Chloe giggled, blaming the sound on some residual chemical still swimming in her blood. "And I bet you tomorrow's challenge is like a battle-royale orgy."
"Oh aye? And how do you decide who wins?"
"Last one to come?" she offered with a shrug.
"Sounds like it's stacked against us lads. And who do you think would go out fairst?"
She scanned the bodies around the clearing. "Well, I think Mac would go off if Daisey so much as cut a fart too close to her."
"Right. And who'd last the longest?"
"You sound pretty sure of yourself," Ian said through another plume of smoke.
"Nothing turns me off more than losing," Chloe said and checked her watch. Early, but she wanted a solid chunk of sleep to reset her body clock. "I'm off to bed."
"Aye. You'll want tae be nice and rested for the orgy."
She stood and gave Ian's face a final study. "Get some beauty sleep yourself, Ian. I want you looking handsome when I fuck the holy hell out of you tomorrow in the great name of competition."
She smirked at him and spoke in a throaty, action-movie-one-liner voice. "I don't make threats, Ian. Only promises."
One side of his mouth tweaked into a skeptical grin. "You bite, lassie?"
"Only if you piss me off."
"Aye. I'll be sure and do that then."
She turned to head to the barracks. "Sweet dreams, asshole."