It’s Release day For Of Blood & Magic: Blood Descent Book One!


Woo-Hoo! Of Blood & Magic: Blood Descent Book One is here! And you can grab the ebook on sale for $2.99 during it’s release week, Oct 4th – Oct 12th! Super awesome, right?! It’s also free to read in KU! Check out the cover and blurb below along with a peek at the first two chapters. 🙂 Of Blood & Magic is a YA Urban Fantasy full of magic, vampires, a little romance, and so many twists and turns, you’ll never see what’s coming. Sink your teeth into this tale today, but be warned, you might be up all night. 😉

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Secrets can’t stay buried forever.

I’m Indi Bellamy and my whole world is about to come crashing down.

I thought I was living an ordinary life, but it was all a carefully constructed lie. Truth is, I’m not ordinary at all. I might not even be human.

Vampires tell me I’m a threat that must be eliminated. Witches steeped in black magic are targeting me. Abilities I never knew I had are rising to the surface, and the person who can help me figure this all out is the one guy I’m certain I shouldn’t trust.

My very existence is forbidden. My past has been taken from me. For me to survive, I must discover why I’ve been declared too dangerous to live.

A YA Urban Fantasy with plenty of dangers, demons, and delightful twists, Of Blood and Magic is a spellbinding story of paranormal creatures hunting down a strong heroine with powers she has yet to unveil. Fans of dark tales of magic, vampires, angels, paranormal romance, and urban fantasy with splashes of horror will be hooked.

***

One

~

 

“Indi, wake up. We have to go.”

“Mama?” I rub at my eyes with fisted hands. “Is it morning time? I’m still sleepy.” I pull the covers up over my shoulders, my eyes drifting back shut.

“Indi, no arguing. I need you to get up and walk.” There’s an urgency underlying the softness of her voice and I open my eyes a crack, but they’re still so heavy. I can’t keep them open.

“Just five more minutes, Mama,” I mumble. “Wait.” My eyes spring open wide-awake. I squeal and sit up fast with a smile, no longer sleepy. “Is it my birthday now? Am I six? Are there presents?” I glance at the window, then at the nightlight plugged into the wall before looking back at Mama. “Where’s the sunshine? How come my nightlight’s still on?”

Mama takes my hand in hers, gently helping me up from my bed. She glances over her shoulder at my nearly closed door before focusing back on me. With a smile, she brushes the hair from my face. “It’s still nighttime sweetheart. But it is after midnight, which means technically it is your birthday. And you know what? I’ve got all kinds of presents for you, but we have to go to the attic to get them.”

“Is one of them a dolly? I really want a dolly.” By the time we make it to my bedroom door, I’m so excited I can hardly keep from jumping up and down.

Mama gives my hand a squeeze as she places a finger to her lips, urging me to be quiet. “Let’s play a game, okay, Indi?” I nod my head and she smiles. “I want you to be as quiet as a mouse all the way to the attic. And when we get there, you can open the biggest and bestest present ever. Does that sound like fun?” I nod my head again, and this time I bounce a little.

Opening the door slowly, Mama pokes her head out, looking both ways up and down the darkened hallway. “Okay sweetie, remember to be very, very quiet.” Tugging me behind her, she leads us down the hall toward the attic staircase.

A loud crash from somewhere downstairs causes a small scream to escape. I freeze in place as Mama pulls me close, her hand over my mouth. She holds us still.

“Mama, I’m scared,” I mumble against her palm, the quiet game now forgotten.

There’s another loud crash and Mama scoops me up into her arms. I mold my body around hers with my arms squeezing tight around her neck and my legs wrapping around her waist. Something warm, wet, and sticky, smears against my inner thigh. Mama cries out as though I’ve somehow hurt her.

“I’m sorry Mama,” I say as I start to cry.

She holds me tight with one arm while she readjusts my leg along her right side. “It’s okay, sweetie.” Her eyes squeeze shut, shiny tears glistening along her lashes. “Everything will be okay once we get to the attic, you’ll see.”

She tries to run, but with every step she takes, she sucks in a sharp, pain filled breath.

It makes me cry even harder.

“We’re almost there.” Her voice is shaky and whispered, her heart pounding so hard in her chest I can feel it against mine.

My legs involuntarily tighten around her waist, eliciting another sharp gasp from her, as my hands fist in her shirt. “Mama! Mama! There’s a man.”

Mama turns us around so fast I almost lose my grip on her. I squeeze tight, as I shift, staring at the man at the end of the hall. A thick smear of blood covers one half of his face from a large gash on the side of his forehead. It drips off his jaw onto the shoulder of his long coat. His fingers flex over the handle of something long and metallic, shimmering in the dim light spilling out of my room.

“There is nowhere left to run Abigail. You and I both know the abomination needs to be taken care of.” He points the sharp object in his hand at me before directing it toward Mama. “Allow me to rid the world of this un-holiness and I promise to spare your life.”

“You will not touch a hair on her head, so long as I live.” Mama inches backward toward the attic stairs as she reaches into the back pocket of her jeans. She slips out a row of metal rings then slides them over her fingers. Taking a few more backward steps, she wraps both arms back under my bottom.

“Then death shall come to you both.”

The man walks toward us and I stiffen, my fingers digging into Mama’s back.

“Close your eyes sweetie,” Mama whispers in my ear. I do as I’m told while she shifts her hold on me to free one of her hands. She speaks in a language I’ve never heard before, but somehow understand completely. I want to ask her how I know what she’s saying when the air around us grows heavier and warmer. There’s a light so bright I can see it through my closed eyes, and then suddenly it’s gone. The man screams as Mama turns and runs us the rest of the way down the hall.

I know I’m not supposed to, but I look at the man. Flames cover him from head to toe. I bury my face in Mama’s shoulder, the sight of him smacking at the fire still playing out behind my eyes.

“We’re almost there sweetie. We’re almost there. And then everything will be okay, I promise.” She squeezes me tighter with one arm, the other reaching out for the edge of the entryway leading to the attic stairs.

Her chest heaves up and down, her breaths labored and warm over my neck. Near the top, she comes to a sudden stop, her back arching, as a scream tears its way out. She falls forward onto her knees, her grip on me slipping. I drop from her arms onto the top step with a thud. Mouth pulled back in agony, fresh tears roll down her freckled cheeks. She steels her face as she reaches over me to open the attic door. With frantic hands, she shoves me inside. Over her shoulder, my gaze lands on the metallic object the man was holding moments ago now protruding from her upper back. Bright red spreads out around it, soaking through her favorite shirt. My bottom lip trembles at the sight.

The stairs squeak and my gaze shifts to the man staggering up the stairs. His face and body are badly burned, his clothes charred and stuck to his melted skin. Yet somehow, his wounds seem to be healing faster than they should be. I start to scream.

“Run Indi. Run and hide!” Mama yells at me, but I can’t. My body won’t move. She pushes me further into the room as the burned man continues to climb the stairs. “Now, Indi! Go!”

Mama pulls the object from her back, her scream filling the air. Breathing heavily, she throws the pointed object back at the man. It impales through his shoulder, knocking him off balance. He reaches out in search of something to hold on to. Finding nothing, he falls backward down the stairs. Mama turns to me, her eyes wild. “Run!” This time my body obeys and I run through the moonlit attic. Too afraid to look back, I find a place to hide behind the Christmas decorations.

The attic door slams shut, the sound echoing through the darkness just before a soft blue glow illuminates the room. Curiosity becomes too hard to ignore, and I peek out from behind the boxes. Mama is at the door, her hand moving in quick motions as she draws strange shapes around the frame with something shiny on the tips of her fingers. She dabs at her side then draws another shape with what I now realize is blood. Each shape she draws, turns from a dark shiny red to a bright glowing blue all around the door. When the last symbol is drawn, the lights from each one merge together where they then meet in the center. Spreading outward, the glow covers the entire entrance. It pulses, sending ripples over the surface, before fading into the wood.

“Mama?” I whisper.

“I’m here, sweetie.” She pulls on the chain in the middle of the room. A dim yellow light washes over everything. I glance at the door, afraid to come out in case the man comes in. “It’s okay Indi, you can come out. He can’t get in. At least not yet,” she adds in a whisper I don’t think I was meant to hear. I take a small step out then run into her waiting arms.

She hugs me so hard I can’t breathe.

The doorknob rattles back and forth. I squeeze my arms tight around her neck. “Mama, the man.”

She glances back at the door then pries my arms off. “It’s okay. We’re safe for now.” Her hand shakes as she takes mine, her fingers stained with blood. I try not to look at it as she leads me over to the bricks on the far wall that make up the upper part of the chimney. “He can’t get in, so we have time.”

“Time for what Mama?”

“We’re going to go on a trip to see Uncle Caleb. It might be a little scary, but I’ll be right here with you to hold your hand, okay?” She waits for me to nod.

“Why will going to Uncle Caleb’s be scary?”

A violent bang reverberates over the attic door causing one of the shapes Mama drew to flare an overly bright blue before it sizzles out. The other shapes shimmer and flicker in its absence before holding strong, their crisscrossing lines covering the door locked in place as they once again fade back into the wood.

“You can’t protect that abomination forever, Abigail. You know she must die. Power like that—”

“She’s not an abomination and you will never touch her!” Mama yells. My hand trembles in hers and she focuses her attention back on me. There’s fear in her eyes, making them a deeper shade of brown. I’ve never seen Mama this afraid before. My whole body shudders in response. “We’re going to go to Uncle Caleb’s now, okay. You’ll never have to see that man again. I promise.”

“What is an abomination, Mama? And why does the man want me to die? Did I do something bad?” My bottom lip quivers and I bite it, trying not to cry. I want to be brave for Mama since I know she’s really scared.

She moves down to my eye level, fixing me with a hard stare. “You are not an abomination Indiana Grace, and you did nothing wrong. You are a bright, beautiful, special little girl who will grow up and do amazing things. Don’t let anybody ever tell you differently.” She kisses my forehead, then wipes at the tears slipping down my cheeks before tucking a lock of her dark red hair behind her ear. “Now, what do you say we get out of here?” Keeping hold of my hand, she faces the bricks on the wall as she drags her finger through the blood still soaking through her shirt at her side. I can’t help it. When I see the wound through the tear, I cry harder.

“Mama?” I choke out. My eyes follow the drops of blood falling to the floor. “Are you going to die?”

Spinning me around, she kneels in front of me once again, even though I know doing so causes her pain. She puts on a brave face to hide it, her brown eyes burning with resolve as she grips my shoulders. “No, Indi. I am not going to die. You don’t have to worry about me. I’ll be fine. As soon as we get to Uncle Caleb’s house he’ll patch me right up good as new. I promise. Okay?”

“Okay.” Mama has never lied to me, so if she says she’ll be okay then she’ll be okay. Still, as much as I want to believe her, I can’t stop the little voice inside my head whispering, Will she?

She wipes more tears from my eyes with a gentle stroke of her thumb. Her mouth upturns with a smile meant to reassure me as she caresses my cheek. “Are you ready to go to Uncle Caleb’s?”

I nod my head as she stands. “Mama?” She looks back down at me. “How are we getting to Uncle Caleb’s if we’re in the attic? Are we going to climb out the window? Is that why going to Uncle Caleb’s house might be scary?”

“No honey, we’re not going to go out the window. We’re going to use magic.” Smearing her finger through the blood on her side, she mumbles under her breath then draws shapes against the bricks of the chimney like she did around the attic door until there’s a large glowing rectangle. Placing her hand flat against the center, she recites more words in the same strange language she used in the hallway. The bricks ripple and pull apart, like a door opening. The surface where the bricks used to be shimmers blue then clears. Uncle Caleb is waiting for us on the other side, but he looks funny. He’s all wavy as though he’s underwater.

Mama’s grip tightens over my hand and we take a step toward Uncle Caleb. She looks at me, hesitates, and then glances back at the door the man is still beating against. With every pound of his fist, one of the shapes Mama drew lights up and flickers out as cracks form over the door. She squeezes my hand. “Indi, sweetie, stay right here.” She looks over her shoulder. Five symbols light up around the frame. “I’ll be right back.”

I do what she says even though I don’t want to let go of her hand.

The bad man pounds on the door harder, and I jump with each hit. What if when the last shape goes out he gets in?

“Mama?” I call out just as she returns with a package covered in pink wrapping paper.

“I promised you a present.”

I wrap my arms around her legs, ignoring the gift in her arm. I don’t want her to leave me ever again.

She places a hand on my back. After a moment I pull away and she hands me the package before taking my other hand in hers once again. “Don’t be afraid, Indi. This is the easy part.”

I swallow hard and nod.

She nudges me forward and I take a small step into the shimmery doorway. It’s cold. Almost as cold as the time I fell through the ice covering the lake in our backyard. Uncle Caleb reaches out for me with both hands, an eager smile on his face that quickly falls when his gaze shifts past me. He yells as he frantically points at something behind Mama and me, but I can’t hear what he’s saying. There’s only a whooshing in my ears. I feel Mama jerk behind me and for a moment I’m jerked back with her, but then she shoves me forward. Everything goes black and then suddenly, I’m on the floor at Uncle Caleb’s house.

Uncle Caleb snatches me up into a fierce hug, crushing the box in my arm before pushing me out to arm’s length. His eyes roam over me from head to toe. Satisfied by what he sees, he hands me off to Aunt Claudia. “Get her out of here!”

“Where’s mama?” I ask. Uncle Caleb doesn’t answer and Aunt Claudia tries to drag me over to the door. “I want my mama! Mama! Mama! Mama!”

Aunt Claudia pulls me to her, half picking me up so my bare feet are dangling in the air as she tries to cover my eyes with her other hand to keep me from seeing what’s happening. I drop the box and grab her arm. Pulling it down, I bite her hand as hard as I can. With a yelp, she drops me and I run back toward the shimmery doorway before she can grab hold of me again. “Mama!” I reach out for her, but Uncle Caleb hooks an arm around my waist, stopping me in my tracks.

Our attic is on fire and Mama and the man are fighting. He backhands her across the face, knocking her down. She hits the floor, so close to where we are on the other side of the doorway. If I can just reach out a little further, I can touch her. I can help her come across. She gazes at me with a smile that says everything will be okay, despite the look in her eyes saying otherwise. “I love you,” she tells me even though I can’t hear the words. Bringing her hand to her mouth, she speaks over the metal rings wrapped around her fingers. Tiny blue shapes ignite along its surface.

The man stalks toward her, a dangerous determination etched onto his scarred face. She rolls out of the way, kicking his leg out from underneath him. He hits the ground hard, the metal object in his hand bouncing free. It skids across the floor as Mama jumps on top of him. She punches him in the face, the glowing shapes on her band of rings flaring with every hit. His healing burnt flesh breaks open, fresh blood spilling free. Mama goes to punch him again just as his fist slams hard into her side. She cries out, her body bending with the pressure. He shoves her to the side where they both struggle for control of the metallic object on the floor, the flames around them getting closer and closer.

“Mama! Mama!” I stop struggling in Uncle Caleb’s arms long enough to gaze at him over my shoulder. “Uncle Caleb, please, you have to help Mama.”

Tears stream down his face. He shakes his head side to side, his hold around my waist never wavering as he falls to his knees, taking me with him. “I can’t. The doorway only goes one way. I can’t get to her. She has to come to us.”

A part of the roof falls to the floor, barely missing Mama and the man. Mama grabs the metal object then stabs it into the man’s shoulder, pinning him to the floor. On hands and knees she crawls toward the shimmery doorway. She reaches out and I reach back. The man grabs her ankle and pulls her toward him. Her nails dig into the hardwood, leaving marks behind. Twisting around, she rears a leg back then kicks him square in the face. Blood gushes from his nose, giving her a few precious seconds to crawl forward again. Clawing at the floor, she trips over her own hands and feet as she tries to stand and run.

More of the roof crashes to the floor in a heap of flames. Mama covers her head with her arms as a large beam detaches above her. It hits her back, pinning her down beneath it. She struggles to get free, her face contorting with effort and pain, but nothing she does seems to work. Giving up, she looks up at Uncle Caleb and me. “Keep her safe, Caleb. Promise me you’ll keep her safe,” she mouths. Her big brown eyes find mine, the fear in them shifting to acceptance, and then to an overwhelming amount of love. “Be safe my sweet girl.” She slips off the band of metal rings on her fingers and slides them across the floor toward the shimmery doorway. It comes to a rest at my knees. I pick them up, hugging them close to my chest. She shouts something I can’t make out or hear as the man makes his way toward Uncle Caleb and me.

Mama smiles at me one last time, then slams her palm down on the floor, her lips moving without sound. A streak of blue rushes out from beneath her fingers toward the doorway like a bolt of lightning striking down from the sky. The passageway explodes in a burst of bright blue light in front of my eyes; the pieces falling away in a shower of sparks.

Tears run down my face, my chest heaving as I scream and scream for Mama, but she’s gone.

She’s gone, and it’s my fault.

 

Two

Eleven Years Later

~

 

I wake up screaming; the sheets stuck to my body like monstrous hands trying to hold me down. I struggle and thrash, imagining the burnt man has finally gotten hold of me and is dragging me down to hell, as flames lick over my bedroom walls. Smoke fills the air, choking me with every breath I attempt to take.

Someone shouts my name and I see a small figure running through the haze of smoke toward me. Her body crashes into mine, words tumbling out of her mouth in rapid succession. Pinning me down, she blows some kind of powdery substance in my face, temporarily blinding me and making it even harder to breathe. I try to knock her off, but my arms have become so heavy. In fact, my whole body has, and I can’t seem to keep my eyes open, no matter how much I try to.

“Who…? What…?” All my thoughts swirl together into an incoherent mess within my head.

“Sleep now Indiana, and when you wake up everything will be fine,” the girl sitting on top of my stomach tells me. She heaves herself off, then pulls the blankets up over my shoulders.

I roll onto my side, her face swimming in and out of focus. “Okay,” is all I can slur out before my eyelids become too heavy to keep open a second longer.

 

***

The sharp shrill of an alarm going off has me bolting upright. Reminiscent thoughts of a terrifying nightmare claw at the back of my mind just out of reach of being remembered consciously. My body remembers, though, judging by the hammering beats of my heart pounding in my chest. That and the fact my hands are wrapped so tightly around my sheets they physically hurt. Taking several deep breaths, I release the death grip on my bed covers as I look around at the familiar things in my room to reassure myself I’m okay. Whatever my nightmare was about it’s over now.

“It wasn’t real and it can’t hurt me,” I say aloud, ignoring the small whispering voice in the back of my head, trying to tell me otherwise.

My bedroom door flies open, giving me a mini heart attack. I slam my hand against my chest, the beats of my heart erratic beneath my palm. “Geez Liv. Ever heard of knocking?”

“Have you ever heard of turning off your alarm?” Striding across the room, she jabs her finger down on the snooze button lit up on the screen of my iPhone. “It’s been going off for like ever.”

“You do know you hit the snooze button right, and it’s just going to go off again in another nine minutes?” I can’t help but smile a little at the flustered look playing over her face. Liv is not a morning person and hates being woken up even if it’s for a good reason—like getting ready for school.

“Yeah, well, I meant to hit stop.” She rakes a hand through her gorgeous red curls before plopping down on my bed. I swear the girl never gets bedhead. She could probably stand in the middle of a tornado and still look picture perfect. Me, on the other hand, let’s just say my appearance upon waking scares the dog daily.

She reaches over, grabbing my phone from the bedside table. She taps her thumbs over the screen then tosses the phone at me. “Now it’s off and I can get at least twenty more minutes of sleep before I’m forced to drag myself to that horrible place referred to as school.” She climbs over my lower half, splaying her body out over the bed beside me. “You’ll wake me up won’t you when you get out of the shower?”

“What’s wrong with your bed?” I half tease.

“Nothing. But yours is conveniently right here, saving me a trip back down the hall. Besides, your bed is so much more comfortable than mine.” She snuggles in with a blissful smile.

“I’ll give you that one. My bed is definitely way more comfy than yours.” Hers is several years past its prime with evil springs that like to jab you in the ribs no matter where it is you lay. I sprawl out beside her, tempted to go back to sleep myself. I fluff up the pillow under my head, getting a faint whiff of smoke. I take a deeper sniff, conjuring up an image of my room on fire. Vague tingling’s of my nightmare dance across my mind and I stiffen, my heart speeding up. Impossible. It was just a dream. I’m obviously mistaken. I smash my face into the pillow; inhaling as deep as I can to prove to myself it’s all in my head.

Liv kicks me in the leg and I let out a startled yelp. “Dude, can you stop shaking the bed? I’m trying to get some sleep here.”

“Does this smell like smoke to you?” I shove my pillow into her face.

She pulls it from my hands, irritation and something else—fear, maybe—held within her green eyes. She brings it to her nose, the bottom half of her face covered, and I can almost swear she’s mumbling something against it. “Nope. Smells like laundry detergent to me.” Tossing it into my lap, she climbs over my legs and off the bed.

“Where are you going?”

“Back to my room. I’m obviously not going to sneak in a few extra minutes of sleep in here.” At the doorway she pauses at the threshold. “By the way, Happy B—”

“Don’t say it,” I interrupt. “You know how much I hate this day and what it reminds me of.”

“I know. I just don’t think your mom would want you to keep treating your birthday like a black cloud of doom. It’s been eleven years, Indi. She’d want you to celebrate. You only turn seventeen once, you know? You deserve to have some cake and some fun.”

“I don’t deserve anything. If it weren’t for her running back into a burning house to save me, she’d still be alive. It’s my fault she died,” I mumble under my breath.

“What did you say?”

“I said maybe next year.”

“You always say that. What happened to your mom wasn’t your fault, Indi. You should stop blaming yourself.” I catch a glimpse of pity in her eyes before she turns away to head back down the hall. I don’t deserve her pity. I don’t deserve anybody’s pity.

I stare at the pillow in my hands, teetering on the verge of my own pity party, which I don’t deserve either. Bringing it up to my face, I take another whiff. It smells like laundry detergent just like Liv said. I throw it onto the other side of the bed, convinced now the smoke smell was all in my head. Just my subconscious way of reminding me of the fire that spared my life, but took my mother’s eleven years ago today.

I toss the covers off and head for my closet. The faster I can get this day over with, the better.

“Hey cuz, catch.”

I turn just in time to catch a flying package heading my way. Jack smirks at me from the doorway. Tiny beads of water drip from the ends of his dark brown hair onto his shirt. Being an early riser, Jack is usually the first one in and out of the shower. He also likes to use all the hot water, which means it will probably be another cold shower for me this morning. Yay.

He claps his hands then shakes his pointer finger at me. “Nice catch. But one of these times, you’re bound to miss.”

“I wouldn’t hold my breath. I’ve got the reflexes of a cat.” I smile until I see the birthday wrapping paper. “I told you no gifts.”

“I couldn’t help it. I had to get it and it was time sensitive. It’s not my fault the date just so happens to coincide with your birth—” At my steely glare he amends his choice of words. “With a certain day that shall not be named. Just open it. You’re going to love it.” He heads back out into the hall then pokes his head back in. “Oh and don’t be late for breakfast. Mom’s making banana pancakes, your favorite. Nice hair, by the way. I love how it sticks up all crazy like on one side of your head.” He shoots me a wink then disappears down the hallway.

“Ugh.” I comb my fingers through my hair, getting them stuck at the halfway point. “What are you looking at?” I say to Coco, the family Pomeranian who replies with a weird half growl, half whiny bark before darting after Jack. I sit the gift down on top of my dresser as I try to get my fingers unstuck. Why couldn’t I have been born with perfect hair like Liv, instead of a monstrous curly mess that tangles into a giant rat’s nest every time I go to sleep?

Fifteen minutes later, I bound down the stairs freshly showered and ready to go—in record time I might add; cold showers are no fun—with my belly growling in anticipation of breakfast. Aunt Claudia makes the best banana pancakes in the world.

Whispered voices mentioning my name float out into the hall from the kitchen. I slow to a stop just outside the doorway. Normally I don’t eavesdrop, but when it’s about me, color me curious.

“It was close this time Mom,” I hear Liv say.

“Maybe it’s time we tell her the truth,” Jack adds.

Tell me the truth about what?

“Yeah, before she—”

“Good morning birthday girl.” Uncle Caleb drops a hand down onto my shoulder, keeping me from jumping straight up into the air. All whispering from the kitchen ceases, replaced instead with Liv’s announcement she has a hot date with Chuck Bryant Friday night and would like to extend her curfew from midnight to one a.m. “Hope you’re hungry this morning, Indiana. Claudia’s outdone herself with the pancakes today.” His hand slides across my back to my other shoulder as he ushers me into the kitchen.

“Yeah, super hungry.” My words come out a little breathless, but that’s what happens when you’ve just seen your life flash before your eyes. Uncle Caleb smiles at me with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, enjoying the fact he caught me eavesdropping and is the sole reason my heart is still racing at a hundred miles an hour. He’s a little devious like that. He’s always jumping out from behind something to scare Jack, Liv, and me.

Aunt Claudia pulls out a chair at the table, motioning for me to sit. Next she places a plate of banana pancakes smothered in syrup and topped with Cool Whip down in front of me. She sits down then jumps back up. “Oops, I almost forgot the tea.”

Aunt Claudia makes me a cup of herbal tea every morning. She’s been doing it since I moved in with them eleven years ago. I’m not complaining though. It’s fantastic tea and it’s become kind of like a security blanket. I even take it with me if I spend the night over at Taylor or Paige’s house, my two best friends.

“Thanks, Aunt Claudia,” I say as I take a small sip, and then a bigger one. She always makes it just right, not too hot and not too cold. “Mmm, it’s a little stronger today. I like it.”

She shares a look and a small nod with Liv and Jack before flashing me a million watt smile. “You’re welcome, sweetie.”

She’s acting weird and I start to wonder about the snippet of conversation I overheard her, Jack, and Liv whispering earlier before Uncle Caleb scared me into a near death experience. What truth do they need to tell me? And what was close? God, I hope they’re not planning another surprise birthday party. The last one they attempted when I turned ten was an absolute disaster. Since then they’ve been pretty good about leaving me be, aside from the occasional ‘Happy Birthday’ that gets them the evil eye.

I turn my eyes upwards, silently praying to the powers that be. Please say they haven’t all lost their minds and are going to try again this year.

Liv slams her empty glass of orange juice down on the table. “Well, I’m off to shower and get ready for school.” She doesn’t get up, though, and I know it’s because she’s forming a plan to skip school by the devious look in her eye. Plus, she does this at least once a week. She brings her fist up to her mouth then fake coughs as she looks at her mom with equally fake sick eyes. “Although, I seem to have developed this nasty cough and should therefore stay home today.” For dramatic effect she fake coughs a few more times.

Aunt Claudia rolls her eyes with a headshake and a half smirk. “I think you’ll survive, Olivia. Now go get ready.”

“If I must.” Liv shuffles her feet over to the doorway. “But don’t complain when the whole school becomes sick because of my cough and they have to shut the place down.” She winks at me then skips out into the hallway.

Twenty minutes later, I slide into the backseat of Jack’s twilight blue 1994 Ford Tempo. He bought it from an old man two streets over who’d had it parked in his garage for the past decade, shortly after he got his license last year. It’s not the most attractive car with its rust spots and primer paint touchups, but it gets us where we need to go. Also, it’s the only thing he could afford with the money he’d been saving up from cutting grass over the past two summers. Uncle Caleb and Aunt Claudia offered to help him get a more current car, but he insisted on doing everything himself. He’s pretty independent like that. Liv, on the other hand, will definitely take her parents up on purchasing her first car when she turns sixteen in six months. As for me, I’ve already failed the driver’s test three times so…

“You forgot to open this.” Jack tosses the gift I left on my dresser over the driver’s seat and into my lap as I’m closing the car door.

Liv slides into the front passenger seat. “You got her another gift again this year?” She eyeballs her brother like he’s dumb for wasting his time and money, which he is because I have no intention of opening it. I never open them and he knows this. Why he keeps getting me something every year is beyond me. I don’t do gifts and this year won’t be any different. He’ll just have to take it back like I make him do every year.

“Yep.” He adjusts the rearview mirror so our eyes meet. “And she’s going to open it this year. It’s non-refundable and I won’t take no for an answer.”

I hold it out for him to take back. When he doesn’t, I fling it up onto the dashboard. “You know the rules, Jack. No gifts. No exceptions.”

He throws it back at me. “Your rules suck. And if you don’t already know, rules are meant to be broken. Now open it or I swear we will sit here in the driveway listening to country music as loud as possible until you do. Since I know how much you love it.” He says the last part with a heavy dose of sarcasm because he knows how much I loathe country music. I’d rather rip my eardrums out than have to listen to it.

“I’ve got a test worth half my grade today Jack, and we’re already running late because somebody took forever in the shower.” I give Liv a pointed stare to which she replies with a shrug. I switch my gaze back to Jack. “Can we not do this this year?”

He turns on the car radio then switches the station over to country, giving me my answer. Staring at me with challenging hazel eyes and a smirk, he slowly turns the volume up. I do my best to ignore it… until I can’t take it anymore. “Ugh, fine. Then I’ll walk.” I pull on the door handle only to find the door won’t open.

“You got to love old cars with questionable power locks.” Jack grins from ear to ear and it’s all I can do to not smack the stupid grin off his face.

Liv taps his arm approvingly with the back of her hand. “Good one.”

“Okay, fine. Turn off the music and I’ll open it. Are you happy now?”

“Yes.”

Jack and Liv both turn in their seats to get a better look.

“Well, come on we’re waiting,” Jack prompts.

I rip off the paper revealing a small narrow box. I lift the lid and bite my bottom lip to keep from smiling. Truth is, I love this gift, but there’s no way I’m giving him the satisfaction of seeing me go all girly and squeal.

“And?” He rolls his hand trying to illicit a response.

“Thank you,” I say with as much of an emotionless voice and straight face as I can muster.

“Thank you? All you’re going to give me is a measly little thank you?” He squints his eyes, studying my face. A know-it-all grin has his mouth turning up at the corners. “On second thought, I’ll take it. Your face might say ‘nothing affects me’, but your eyes are screaming, ‘Hells yes! This is the best gift ever! Jack is the most awesomest cousin on the planet for getting me tickets to see Imagine Dragons, which is my most favorite band ever!’”

I throw the wrapping paper in his face, but truth be told, he isn’t wrong.

 

***

I pull my chemistry book out of my locker and tuck it into the backpack at my feet.

“Good morning beautiful.”

I smile up at Evan, my newly minted boyfriend. He’s leaning against the lockers, his blonde hair perfectly disheveled. He holds out a hand, pulling me up and into a kiss.

“I have something for you.” He places a finger against my lips. “Before you say anything, it’s not for your birthday, it’s for just because.” He kisses the tip of my nose then pulls out a long-stemmed rose from behind his back. “My mom got a fresh shipment into the flower shop this morning and I thought of you.”

“It’s beautiful. Thank you.”

“Not as beautiful as you.” He’s so cheesy, but I have to admit it’s working for him. He plants another sweet kiss on my lips.

A throat clears and my cheeks redden. Evan and I both look over to see Principal Anderson staring at us with his arms crossed over his suit jacket. His foot taps up and down on the tiled floor. His bushy white eyebrow twitches upward, commanding attention. “Mr. Lewis, Miss. Bellamy, do I need to remind you two of the school’s policy on displays of public affection?”

“No sir,” we say in unison.

“Then how about we get to class then, shall we?” Principal Anderson waves his hands out in front of him, motioning for us to move along.

“Yes, sir.”

I close my locker and Evan goes to kiss me on the cheek. He stops at the sound of Principal Anderson clearing his throat again before his lips can make contact. “Right. No PDA.” Evan smiles sheepishly at the Principal’s shiny leather shoes before he awkwardly pats me on the back. “Uh, see you at lunch, Indi.”

“You too.” I look at the floor, hoping my prayers will be answered and I’ll melt into it. “See you later, Principal Anderson.” Before he can reply, I haul butt down the hall, as I will my face to not be the lovely shade of beet red I imagine it is when I walk into class.

I slide into my seat using my dark auburn hair as a curtain.

“What’s with the red face?” Paige asks as she scoots her desk a little closer to mine. “Principal Anderson catch you and Evan sucking face in the hall again?” She closes her eyes then puckers her lips, making kissing noises.

I kick her.

“Ow.” Paige rubs her leg with a laugh. She loves teasing me when it comes to Evan because she knows how embarrassed I get with all the touchy-feely, lovey-dovey stuff. Especially since Evan and I as a couple is still so new. “You guys are so cute it’s sickening.”

Taylor swivels around in her seat, folding her arms over the top of my desk. “Never mind that,” she says as she slightly nods her head to the right. “New Boy’s staring at you again.”

As subtly as I can, I peek across the room, and sure enough, Taylor’s right. What is this dude’s problem? He’s been staring at me every day since he got here a week ago. To the point he’s gotten in trouble with the teachers for not paying attention in class. It’s an unnerving stare too. Sometimes he looks at me like I’m some kind of an evil monster he needs to take care of, and other times it’s like he knows me from somewhere and he’s trying to figure it out. Either way, it gives me the creeps.

Maybe I should confront him and see what his problem is.

“I heard he killed someone at his last school,” Paige whispers and all the tiny hairs on my arms stand up. What does she mean killed someone? Surely if that were true he wouldn’t be sitting in class right now because he’d be behind bars. But for just in case there’s some truth to what Paige is saying, no matter how crazy it sounds, maybe confronting him isn’t such a great idea. What if he looks at me the way he does because he’s chosen me to be his next victim or something?

Imagining it has my heart skipping ahead and my feet itching with the urge to get up and leave, but then the rational part of my brain steps in to snap me back to reality. This is ridiculous. He’s not some psycho killer. He’s just a new kid with a bad boy vibe in a school full of imaginative teenagers with nothing better to do than make up scandalous rumors. I’m sure of it.

Pretty sure of it.

I shift toward Paige to get more info only to catch her staring at him with what I can only describe as cartoon hearts dancing in her caramel colored eyes. “Paige.” I wave my hand in front of her face when I don’t get a response.

“Huh?” She looks at me like I’ve snapped her out of a trance and she’s forgotten where she is. I’ve noticed New Boy seems to have that effect on most of the girls in school, some of the guys too, for that matter. What’s up with that? So, he’s new. So, he has an aura of mystery around him. So he’s kind of good looking in a bad boy, loner type way.

Okay, so he has the face of a model that just stepped out of a magazine, but he’s a possibly murderous model.

“Seriously, Paige? You just said you heard he killed somebody and you’re looking at him like you’re about to take advantage of him in class.”

“Can you blame her?” Taylor props her head up in her hand not even hiding the fact she’s staring at him too. “I mean look at him. The dude is seriously H-O-T.”

“He’s not my type.” I force myself to look straight ahead at Mr. Jackson scrawling today’s lesson across the board for all of five seconds before I too am staring at New Boy. Albeit more discreetly than Paige and Taylor, but staring nonetheless.

“He’s everybody’s type,” Taylor mumbles as she twirls her chestnut hair around her finger. I roll my eyes, then silently chastise myself since I’ve yet to look away, despite my claim of having no interest in him whatsoever.

Dark raven hair sweeps across his forehead, the ends a little long and curled around the edges. His eyes are a deep shade of blue and so familiar—which if I’m being honest—is what really scares me the most about him. It’s like I know him on some deeper level, but I have no idea how or why. My gaze falls to his mouth, his bottom lip fuller than his top lip, and for a second I wonder what they would feel like. Heat rushes into my cheeks and I force my eyes from his face, taking in the rest of him. A black leather motorcycle jacket covers a Falling In Reverse t-shirt stretched across a body he obviously spends time perfecting in the gym, followed by dark blue jeans and black leather motorcycle boots. His hands rest on the desktop, his knuckles scabbed over as if he’s been in a recent fight. He’s the very definition of the word ‘trouble’ and I can’t help but get this feeling of trepidation, like I’m about to discover what kind of trouble first hand.

My gaze travels back up where it meets his. The whole room suddenly feels electrified.

Definitely trouble.

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