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Exiled: Book One

EXILED

Immortal Essence Series

Book One

 

By:

 

 

RaShelle Workman

 

www.rashelleworkman.com

 

This edition published by Polished Pen Press for Shakespir.

Exiled (Immortal Essence, Book One)

Copyright © 2011 by RaShelle Workman

Published by Polished Pen Press Corporation

All Rights Reserved.

 

Shakespir Edition

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

No part of this book can be reproduced in any form or by electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without the express written permission of the author. The only exception is by a reviewer who may quote short excerpts in a review.

 

Cover Design by: Polished Pen Press Corporation

Interior Design by: Polished Pen Press Corporation

 

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Website: www.rashelleworkman.com

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The Immortal Essence series has been rearranged to make reading it more enjoyable. The series is complete!

(((Hugs)))

RaShelle Workman

Dedication

For my family.

The Immortal Essence Series

EXILED

BANISHED

DISPLACED

BEGUILED

TEMPTED

MERGED

UNITED

 

Start the epic bestselling series that’s been read more than two million times worldwide! This series is complete.

 

WORLDS DIVIDED THEM. DESTINY BROUGHT THEM TOGETHER. ONLY LOVE WILL SAVE THEM.

 

Venus isn’t from Earth, she’s from Kelari. On her planet she’s next in line to rule, but there are those who will go to great lengths to make sure that doesn’t happen. Including frame her as a traitor.

 

Accused and sentenced, the gods of her planet exile her to Earth. They’ve given her one week to help a human find his true love. If she doesn’t succeed, she’ll die, but if she does she might lose her heart.

 

 

[*Praise for this series: *]

 

“Michael and Venus have probably been the best pairing/couple that I’ve read about this year! GO READ THIS BOOK! You will love it. Seriously.” Nancy, reviewer Tumbling Books

 

“Writing that moves readers to ponder their hearts is good writing, and that’s what readers will find with Workman. Her protagonist is strong willed, her antagonist is easy to hate, and her mentor is easy to love.” Kathleen Brebes

“What a ride!” Taffy Lovell 

CHAPTER 1

The End of the Innocence

 

 

Venus escaped her party. It’d been hailed, ‘The Celebration of the Century.’ Had they asked her opinion, she would’ve called it, ‘The Motley, Molten Party of the Month.’

No one did.

Still, there’d been cake.

A decadent piece balanced on a plate in one hand as she hurried down the enormous, column-filled hall toward her bedroom. Her faint footsteps bounced and echoed around her, the only sound.

At the entrance, she waved a hand over the Carania family crest. The door shimmered and vanished. She paused and peered inside. Everything looked in order.

There’s nothing dead in there.

It was the unknown she didn’t like. Doors kept out help and could hide secrets. They allowed evil.

“When I’m queen, I’ll banish all doorways,” she whispered fiercely. Holding her breath (for she believed that by doing so, the bad stuff, whatever that might be, would disappear before she saw it), she rushed through, moving past her bed to her vanity, where she placed the cake on top, and fell onto her overstuffed green chair.

“Happy birthday to me.”

There’d been presents at her party, too. One in particular she’d been most excited about.

The Kelvieri’s Boots.

To receive her own pair meant she’d reached the age where age no longer mattered.

They were black as a starless night, soft as feathers, yet stronger than any metal ever discovered.

Thrantum. That’s what the Gods called the material. None of her people knew where the boots came from. The shaman would pray and they’d appear for the kelphi child. The word meant permanent, which fit perfectly. The boots would last as long as she would, after her transformation—forever.

Inside the clear wedged heels were symbols of her imperfections. The symbols were unique only to her and would be a guide as she crossed into immortality.

Of more significance, at least to Venus, the boots represented change. She could hardly wait. Venus was sick of looking like every other kelarian under the age of sixteen. White hair, silver eyes and metallic white skin. When she completed her metamorphosis into a kelvieri, her physical features would transform as well. No more same, same, same.

“Hey doof! You weren’t supposed to leave. What will the guests think of their perfect princess? So un-queenly of you.” Amberlee had entered Venus’s bedroom without permission. The brat!

“Yeah, well I’m not the queen yet. What do you want?” Venus studied her little sister, annoyed at how much they looked alike.

Today, Amberlee had spiked her short hair. Around her white lashes, she wore thick, black eyeliner, which made her skin pasty. On her right cheek a star had been drawn and she’d chosen a short, black coverlette. She reminded Venus of a beautiful but bad-mannered banshee.

“I brought you a present.”

“You did?” Venus worked hard to hide the surprise from showing on her face. Normally, the only things Bratterlee gave her were bruises and scratches.

Amberlee reached into her pocket and held up a necklace. Silver in color, its chain hung fine and thin. From the center dangled a gleaming black irrihunter charm.

“It’s beautiful.” Venus bent forward to get a closer look. Worry twisted within her, like a tornado. What’s wrong with it? Immediately after that thought, came another. She’s trying to be nice. Still, Venus wasn’t sure. With a careful hand, she touched it. The charm radiated warmth.

“It won’t bite. Cret, sis! Don’t be so dramatic. It’s no secret you have a thing for the animals. You fly one every day. Besides, you only turn sixteen once. Here, take it.” Amberlee flung it into her outstretched hand. She’d sounded harsh, but a touch of rosy orange spread over her sister’s cheeks.

Without thinking, Venus hugged her. “Thank you.”

Amberlee pushed Venus away. “Back the helker up. Now’s not the time to start getting mushy.”

She sat back, the words like a slap in the face.

It wasn’t that Venus couldn’t show emotion. She could, if she tried, but feelings weren’t necessary. Encouraged? Sure. She found the whole concept to be a waste of time. As the one day queen, those around her had groomed her to be concerned for the majority. If she let sentiment rule, she wouldn’t be able to make the big decisions for the good of the kingdom. She had to care for everyone, not anyone. Amberlee hadn’t been taught to understand. She didn’t need to.

“Will you put it on?” Venus asked, holding the necklace out.

“Okaaaay.” Amberlee took it from her hands.

Venus stood and turned, pulling her long hair out of the way. When Amberlee swung the chain around her neck her sleeve tugged up. About halfway up Amberlee’s inner forearm was a black tattoo. The skin looked irritated, as though she’d recently had it done.

Resisting the urge to comment, Venus studied it, the circular shapes, like a sun and a half-moon. Or an eye . . . the pupil contained a strange symbol. Venus knew some of the younger kels inked up their skin before becoming kelvieri, as a way of expressing themselves. After the change, the art would disappear anyway. But she hadn’t expected to see one on her sister.

“What does your ink mean?” she finally asked when Amberlee stepped away.

A look of horror crossed her face. “Oh! None of your business. Some friends and I got it done together.” She yanked her sleeve over the symbol and cleared her throat. With a trembling smile, she pleaded, “You won’t tell Mom?”

“No. Of course not.” She touched the charm that rested below her collarbones. A jolt shot through her fingers. “Ouch!”

Unease crossed Amberlee’s face. “What’s your problem?”

Venus let out a laugh. The pain had vanished as quickly as it’d come. “N-Nothing.” She glanced at her fingers. There wasn’t a mark.

“Swear you won’t tell?”

Irritated, she fought back the urge to smack her sister. “I swear, Amberlee. Cret! Hey, I’ll tell you a secret. That’ll make us even. K?” She sat back down and turned toward her vanity. Venus kept an eye on her sister in the mirror as she picked up her gold-toothed comb and ran it through her hair.

Amberlee crossed her arms and popped a hip. “Really? You have a secret?”

“You have to promise not to tell anyone.” Venus set the comb back in its exact spot and turned. “Promise?” she asked, mocking.

“Yeah, Princess. Now what is it?” Amberlee smirked, picked up the small, perfectly squared piece of cake and shoved the whole thing in her mouth. Cheeks full of cake, she glared and had the audacity to laugh. “Come on, tell me,” she said around all the cake.

Already regretting that she’d agreed to tell, Venus let out a huff. “Sadraden is pregnant, due in about ten days. Her baby will be the first irrihunter born in years.”

“Those animals scare the helker out of me. And now there’ll be a baby? Yeah, that’s just what the kingdom needs.”

“Hey, don’t be mean. What’ve irrihunters ever done to you? They’re the most incredible creatures. And to ride one is . . . well, it’s perfection.”

Amberlee pressed her lips together, her stormy eyes squinted. She swallowed. “Uh-huh. If you say so. But, what about your journey? Are you still planning to ride her?”

“Absolutely. She’d be devastated if I didn’t.” Venus stood, an urgent need to get started overwhelming her. “I’d better finish packing since I’m leaving tonight instead of in the morning.”

Amberlee nodded. “Thanks, Venus. It means a lot you . . .” she trailed off and her eyes glazed over, like her mind had gone elsewhere. A second later, she finished, “. . . told me.” She walked to the door and waved a ring-covered hand over the family crest. The golden door twinkled and disappeared. Before moving over the threshold, she asked, “Did you see Zaren at your birthday party?”

“Sure. Why?” As her personal Formytian, he kept close, sometimes annoyingly so. She’d been seeing him every day since age two, probably longer.

“I noticed him watching you, a lot. He’s quite handsome. Black hair. Green eyes. Tall. Rippling muscles. Immortality looks good on him, don’t you think?” She nodded encouragingly, as she scrunched a chuck of her hair with a hand.

Venus huffed. “Yes, Amberlee. When I get back, do you want me to put in a word for you?”

“By the Gods, no! I meant for you. Forever, Venus. Do you really want to live eternally without love?”

Pressing her hands together, Venus dug her nails into her palms. Her sister knew a union based on attraction or . . . or love, wasn’t in her future. “Palmo and I are promised to each other. Our kingdoms need us united. Life is about more than love.” Venus walked to the large bay window next to her dresser. The suns were setting, the bigger one slightly higher than the smaller. Various shades of scarlet and gold shot through the clouds like long, glowing swords.

She turned in time to watch Amberlee’s silver face grow hard and pale as their first moon.

“Love is everything,” she said, her eyes fierce. Without waiting for Venus to respond, she stalked from the room.

Yet another reason why I was born first.

She carefully removed the mid-thigh length coverlette. It was certainly beautiful. Her mother had given it to her that morning. “A special dress for a very special girl.” That’s what the Queen had said.

It was gauzy and light. Thread the color of sunshine glowed at her wrists, neckline and hem. The long sash shone in the same color. As though the designer had somehow captured a piece of a sun and fashioned it into the sash. She placed the dress on the back of her chair and picked up her pack.

A few more necessities needed to be added before she left, like her cleaning tablets and some food patches, which she hated. But they were tiny and easy to carry and would sustain her for the few days it took to journey to the home of the Gods and back.

At her closet, she ran a hand over the Carania family crest. The doors shimmered. She opened the console next to the closet door and pressed buttons to bring up the coverlettes section. Different holographic choices appeared on the screen. Venus selected one in dark blue. Its soft material spun from the magical cairna spiders. It sparkled with what looked like clear dew drops. The thick ribbing along the front as well as the sash glistened with red rosithia flowers.

The closet spun through her clothes on an invisible belt until the coverlette she wanted arrived in front of her. She held her breath and reached in. After pulling her arm back, she exhaled, and as she put on the coverlette, went to the mirror. Her reflection appeared normal, but a sudden and complete fatigue engulfed her. Like giant hands, the unseeing force crushed her with its heaviness.

Through weighty eyelids, she peered at herself in the glass and noticed a line of thick, blue liquid streaming from beneath the charm around her neck. She reached up and touched the substance.

“It’s blood,” she whispered. “How?” Her mind went decidedly numb and no answer would come. Darkness fell over her eyes. Her limbs turned weak. It took all her effort to keep herself upright.

“What’s wrong with me?”

On rubbery legs, she staggered to the bed, arms stretched out in front of her. Venus used the wall, her dresser and a chair as her crutches to help her get to the bed. She knew once the Body Sensors attached to the bed scanned her, they’d contact help. When she sat, sure enough the Sensors screeched a blazing warning.

“Your life organs are unwell. A re—” a monotone female voice began and then abruptly stopped, as though turned off.

Venus wanted to be angry or afraid, but one physical need overrode everything else. Sleep. She laid her head against the silky pillow.

I’ll begin my journey tomorrow, she promised herself.

CHAPTER 2

Alone

 

 

Michael tossed a rock into Crystal Lake. It skipped three times before disappearing beneath the murky depths. He went to pick up another, but stopped at the sound of a noise. He rose to his full six feet and searched for the culprit.

Around the water, tall bare trees stood, their branches reaching toward the sky like skeleton fingers. Interspersed between the naked branches of the elm and aspen were the fir, their needles a soft silvery-green and the prickly forest green needles of pine.

The small lake rippled, a slight wind pushing the water to and fro against the muddy shore. He turned, zipped his letterman’s jacket, and grabbed a blanket from the hood of his car. A little ways off stood a thicket of long yellow weeds, the strands bending in the breeze like bullied children. At the base of a gigantic tree, he shook out the large blanket over a patch of dried grass. The ground was firm, though it hadn’t frozen. That would change soon. Mid October meant freezing weather in Wyoming. At the moment, it was a beautiful afternoon and the spot would serve as the perfect table for the picnic he’d prepared his girlfriend, Cheverly.

With all the crap that went on in his not-so-happy family, he’d been surprised—still was—that he and Chev had been in a relationship. Somehow they’d managed and today marked their six month anniversary. As a surprise, he’d made a meal, put it in a basket and asked Cheverly’s best friend, Lori, to help him plan their date. On top of that, here next to Crystal Lake and their favorite elm, Michael planned to tell Chev he loved her.

In the past, they’d argued about it, the fact that he never said the words. It wasn’t that he didn’t have affectionate feelings toward her. He did. He even believed the feelings might be love. Most of his life had been spent keeping emotions at bay. At the ripe old age of seven, he’d come to recognize that expressing fear, anger, pain, or for that matter, happiness, joy and, heaven forbid love, only caused his father and then later his mother’s abuse to be more severe.

Michael had scars on his back, feet and a long, thin scar on his cheek to prove it. Showing no emotion kept the violence to a minimum. As for real love, if it existed, he figured that might be what he felt for Cheverly. He had no idea, but to keep the peace between them, he’d decided to tell her. Say the words.

Lori should’ve dropped Cheverly off already. He knew getting Chev to do something without knowing all the details demanded skill. Michael’d been cryptic today, during school, and that’d caused Chev to give him dirty looks. Probably upset and a little hurt, too. A surprise around her required stealth and he’d wanted the moment to be special. So when his cell rang, Michael felt relieved.

“Hey, Lori. Where you at?” He’d begun to pace.

“I’m sorry dude, but I can’t find her. I’ve called. Left messages. Texted the girl like ten times. She isn’t answering me.”

He allowed his mind to run through the various places she could’ve been. Work. Cheerleading practice. At the mall. “I guess I’d better call her. Hope she isn’t too mad.” With his old, orange converse, he kicked a hole in the ground.

“Yeah, you know how Cheverly feels about surprises, though.”

“Thanks, Lori.” Michael hung up and dialed Chev’s number. It went straight to voice mail. He left her a message. Then he texted her.

“ Happy Anni, Chev. Wanted 2surprise U. @the lake nxt 2r tree. Com hang w/me.” He debated about whether or not he should add the words, those three words she’d wanted him to say for so long. “Might as well.” He spelled them out completely. “I love you.” And hit send.

He sat on the blanket and leaned against the old tree. A large bird flew overhead, calling out. An eagle. He watched it circle the lake, drop its claws into the water and pull out a fish.

Food. His stomach rumbled. Digging around in the picnic basket, he pulled out a PB&J sandwich. No, it wasn’t gourmet, but hey, not a chef. He’d gone the extra mile and baked sugar cookies. When they cooled, he dipped one side in melted milk chocolate, which happened to be her favorite.

Michael looked forward to them as well. It’d taken all of his restraint not to help himself while he baked them. Every once in a while the buttery-chocolate smell would drift through the air and hit his nose, causing his mouth to water. If Chev didn’t hurry, he’d probably eat them all. He unwrapped another sandwich and wolfed it down while he waited.

A ways off, he heard a motor. Michael turned toward the sound. A large cloud of dust swirled high in the air. Seconds later, a gleaming, black truck drove into the clearing across the lake. He knew the truck, with its huge halogen lamps, chrome roll bars and beefy silver-coated grill. It belonged to Vinny Smith. Dirt clung to the air even after the 4×4 stopped.

The motor shut off. If he’d come with friends to party, they’d have jumped out by now. Other cars would’ve followed. Vinny’s truck sat alone on the opposite side of the lake, which meant he probably had some girl in there with him. The possibility of what might be going on got Michael to thinking about him and Chev. They’d had some good times.

Totally his type, she had long, dark hair that smelled of jasmine, a heart-shaped face, the softest skin, and a perfectly curved body. The girl rocked a tight sweater. That was another reason he’d decided to say the words.

I love you, he practiced.

Michael checked his phone. No messages. No texts. He decided to call her again.

While it rang, Michael noticed the car door to Vinny’s truck open. A girl got out and slammed the door. Her ringing phone tinkled through the silence around him.

“Hey, Michael.” Not only did he hear her voice in his ear, but it sang across the small lake. He froze, too stunned to answer. Had she not seen his text? Or did she? He stood. “Michael? Are you there?”

“Chev,” he whispered. “I texted you. Did you get it?” The dank, sour smell of the lake had begun to irritate his stomach. And, the afternoon chill, which felt crisp not five minutes ago, vanished. Sweat covered his back, causing his plaid button-up shirt to stick and scratch, even through his undershirt.

“No, hang on.” He watched her lower the phone and tried to imagine what kind of look would be on her face as she read. Horror. Fear, maybe. Or she might find the whole situation funny. She raised the phone to her ear, her face lifted so that he knew she watched him. But the distance made it impossible to see her expression. In the background Vinny’s country music blared. “I’m so sorry.” A hand went to her mouth.

Anger blistered hot and he struggled to think straight. Michael wanted to beat Vinny to a pulp. The two of them played football together. Michael had believed Vinny was okay. The scum was his favorite receiver. Damn him! He’d deal with Vinny in his own way.

As for Chev, evidently they meant nothing. She’d made a choice, made a fool of him. Into the phone, Michael said, “When you’re done doing . . . whatever it is you came to do . . .” He trailed off as images of his girlfriend and Vinny making out, or worse, entered his mind. He pounded the side of his head with the palm of a hand, trying to knock the thoughts away. “Chev,” he whispered, kicking at a loose rock. “How could you? I guess I should’ve known.” The words came out bitter, cold.

“Cheese on crackers, Michael. I’m not . . . we aren’t—”

“One more thing.” He interrupted as his fury rose. She was making excuses and he didn’t want to hear them. If they weren’t doing anything, then why come here—with him—today of all days? Murder would’ve been better than this. At least he wouldn’t have had to feel this-this pain. Damn her!

“Michael, I—”

“You can take that text, those words you so badly wanted to hear, and shove em up—”

“Jerk,” she shouted, and hung up.

“Ha,” he yelled into the phone. Then slammed it shut. “I’m the jerk. Me,” he hollered across the lake as he grabbed the basket, turned it over, and let the food fall into the dirt. He picked up the blanket and jogged to his car—Red—the only girl who didn’t irritate him. The only one who’d remained loyal. With a key, he opened the trunk and chucked the basket and blanket inside. Then gently pushed it closed. He got in the driver’s side, started the engine and adjusted the mirror. His reflection glared. “You’re such an idiot. Crap!” He slammed on the gas and peeled away.

While Michael drove, he tried not to think about Chev, but that proved impossible. She was laughable, in a very unfunny way. How dare she do this to him?

What’d you expect? It’s what you deserve.

It served him right. He’d seen how love affected his parents, and the way they’d taken it out on him. Why had he figured he and Chev would be any different? Love didn’t exist.

Love. He blew out his breath.

No way would he allow himself to be swayed again.

CHAPTER 3

Poison Arrow

 

 

“Michael, can you come into the kitchen?”

“Sure, mother.” He walked into the house from the garage. Stink from cigarette smoke assaulted his nose. All the lights were off and, as usual, the blinds were closed. Michael was surprised to see his mother in the kitchen. At this time of day, she usually watched a talk show, still in a good mood. Her “happy” pills saw to that. From her tone, the pills weren’t working at the moment. He set the blanket and empty picnic basket on the counter.

“What’s this?” she asked, taking a drag from her menthol flavored cigarette. A smoky haze caused the stainless steel appliances and walnut cabinets to appear like apparitions. The house mourned in silence, except for the sizzle and burn as she sucked deadly chemicals into her lungs. She wobbled, unsteady on her feet, a frail shell of a woman.

He’d seen old pictures of his mother before his parents divorced. When they’d been together, she’d worn her hair up, in curly piles of blond. Her skin had always been tanned and her honey-colored eyes alert. Not long after dad left, everything changed. She stood in front of Michael now, her hair stringy, skin patchy, and vacant eyes underlined with dark circles. Brown sweats, four sizes too big drowned her body, and fuzzy, drab-looking slippers that at one time were probably white, adorned her feet—a wrinkled potato.

Michael towered over her. She barely reached his bicep. But, as she stood there, a cigarette in one hand and a half-filled wine glass in the other, his stomach started to twist in knots of fear. For her, for him, for the way he knew their confrontation would end.

Michael hated days like today.

“I made dinner for my girlfriend and me.” No point denying. Despite her dirty, half-stoned looks, she was quick as a bull whip.

“Ah, young love.” She crushed the cigarette in an ashtray on the counter, picked up the basket and put it away, on the bottom shelf, in the pantry.

Right then, it occurred to him that perhaps he shouldn’t have used the stupid thing. It belonged to his parents. Who knew how many memories it contained? He also noticed bread crusts on the floor near the trashcan. In his hurry to clean up, he’d apparently missed. Ah crap. Any sort of mess pushed a mad-button on his mother, setting her off.

When she faced him again, her wine glass had been refilled and she held an extra glass. Michael knew she’d filled it for him. Not good. He pulled a barstool from under the counter and sat.

She placed his glass on the marbled granite countertop next to him. Then set hers down, too. From the elastic of her sweats, she pulled out a box of cigarettes, opened it and grabbed one along with a banana-yellow lighter. In a quick motion, she sucked the cigarette to life. Her ashy hollowed-out face and bony body reminded him of a rotting carcass.

The time had come. No sense trying to fight the inevitable. That only made matters worse. He hunkered down, pressing his forearms into the edge of the counter. With a flick of his chin, he motioned toward the wine. “No thanks, I have a game tomorrow.”

“Suit yourself.” She scooted his glass over next to hers and before he’d totally prepared, backhanded him across the face. “That’s for taking my stuff without asking.” No need to yell, her hand spoke volumes.

“Yes, Mother. It won’t happen again.” Michael lowered his gaze. His face stung a little, but he didn’t let the fact that he’d felt anything show. He breathed in deeply and swallowed. She wasn’t done.

“You make me sick. It’s your fault your father left.” He watched her face now, could see the near frenzied anger dancing in her eyes. The silvered light from outside made them flicker. “If you’d never been born, if that stupid ali—” She stopped, frightened and looked around the kitchen. After a moment, she continued, “Frank and I would still be together. You ruined everything.”

He closed his eyes and forced his heart to slow down. Do not feel. Don’t let her get to you. It didn’t help. Rage tore through him. He hated everyone. His dad, the guys on the football team, and girls. Cheverly. His mother. He pounded a fist on the counter, allowing the fury to build.

“Mother.” The word came out more anguished than angry. He opened his eyes in time to see the wrath on his mother’s face ease. She caused him pain to lessen her own. He knew it, accepted it, and allowed it. But, he’d only suffer so much.

Maliciously, he went on, “It’s your fault I’m alive. Remember that!” Her hand came up to hit him again. He smacked it away. “Enough!” He may’ve allowed her emotional abuse and permitted her to slap him around some, because he felt sorry for her, but he wasn’t taking any more. Not today.

“Don’t talk that way to me. I’m still your mother,” Catherine yelled, pounding her cigarette on the edge of a quartz ashtray.

Michael glared, but didn’t say a word, stifling the rest of the words he wanted to spew her direction. There wasn’t any point and he knew it, so he held his tongue.

“Fine!” She picked up the glass of wine she’d poured for him and threw it across the kitchen. It smashed against one of the mahogany stained cupboards, next to the refrigerator. He watched it shatter, the broken pieces flying everywhere. One of the glass shards struck him below his right eye. He felt the cut line with blood and trickle down his cheek. The stench of copper and fermented grapes swirled in the air, an interesting combination, especially when added to the lingering cloud of smoke. “Clean up the mess in here.” She lifted her wine glass and shuffled out.

“Yes, Mother.” He went and picked up a piece of glass. A drop of blood dripped onto the bone white tile. I have to get out of here.

CHAPTER 4

Second Chances

 

 

Dervinias was kelvieri by species, and a scientist by trade. As he leaned over his microscope and peered into the lens, a high-pitched ping flicked behind his right eye.

Only one person had access to him by this means of communication—the King of Canaru—his boss, and adulterer father. The man who’d banished him to Earth almost two centuries ago. He closed the lid over his eye and touched the center of it with his middle finger. An image of the King blipped into his eye. “Your Highness, to what do I owe this honor?”

“Listen closely. Palmo has royally mucked up. Venus is headed toward Earth.”

“How many times has he screwed up? When will you learn, fa—”

“Hold your tongue.”

“But Earth. Why? That wasn’t part of the plan. She was to be sent to Jihyra.”

“I know that,” he roared. “He was at least successful in convincing all of Kelari that the princess is a traitor and a murderer. And that she’s run away to avoid her fate.”

“Still—”

“Quiet! Venus must be destroyed. Immediately upon her arrival.”

“You know I can’t kill our kind. If I did, you know what’ll happen, unless you’ve forgotten. And I’d be no use to you there.” As he spoke, he dropped a blue liquid onto the cells. Under the microscope, he watched them writhe, multiply and suddenly start to die. Damn.

“You’re of no use to me now. At least not yet. This is your chance to redeem yourself. Though you cannot kill her yourself, I’m sure one of your teenaged followers would be more than willing. They’ve been killing for you quite a while now, have they not?”

Dervinius threw the slide into the trash and froze. “Wha-What are you talking about?”

“Do not disrespect me with your lies! Did you really believe I had no idea what you’ve been doing on that planet? I know everything. Make this happen or the next time we speak, I won’t be so understanding.”

“Yes, your Highness.”

But his father had already gone.

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 5

I Know You’re Out There Somewhere

 

 

Fields of yellow wave and sing

White as cream, an iridescent peak

Oceans so meek burst slimy moss

Hide us from the Albatross.

 

The lyrical words replayed themselves in her mind. It’d come from some obscure American poet years ago when Venus had been studying Earth. She liked the way the consonants and vowels bounced around in her head.

A riddle of some kind, she’d spent hours pondering what the poetry meant. Venus reached the conclusion the poet meant a jellyfish or squid. They were both cream colored and lived in the ocean. Also, the albatross ate those creatures. So, it seemed plausible that the slippery little things would hide. Lastly, the fields of yellow were anemone. Puzzle solved. But, a part of her guessed there was a deeper meaning—another layer. What the layer could be, she had yet to discover.

“Princess. Are you hurt?” His voice sounded far away, but still annoying as a giant mosqarite, the constant buzzing almost worse than the bite. “Venus.”

“Zaren, I’m trying to sleep. Get out.” Her mouth felt stuffed with cotton. She licked her lips and cleared her throat. What the cret is Zaren doing in my room? “Liquid, please,” she commanded the Sensors while trying to sit. That’s when she realized she wasn’t where she should’ve been. No relaxing bed with Body Sensors keeping track of her sleeping needs. If she’d been in bed, Venus wouldn’t have had a pounding headache or a crick in her back. She’d have been much more comfortable.

“I’ll find you some as soon as I know you’re alright.” His large hands wrapped around her wrists and tugged. “Anything feel broken? Are you hurt? Can you sit?”

With effort, she moved into the upright position. The air, the light from the Kelarian suns, even the smells around her all smattered together and formed a strange heaviness. Questions swam around in her head. How did I get out here? When did I begin my journey? Had Zaren come with me? Where was Sadraden? “Zaren, what’s going on?”

“Open your eyes. Try,” he pressed, gently.

She forced her lashes apart, blinked a few times. Zaren, his handsomely concerned face swirled blurry in front of her.

“Huh,” he said, raising one of his thick eyebrows. “What about the rest of you?”

Venus straightened her back, listening to it pop as she moved her neck in slow circular motions. Her insides felt heavy, like trying to push out of the water, but someone held her in.

Maybe my body’s started the metamorphosis. Maybe it has something to do with my boots . . .

Her Kelvieri’s Boots.

The shaman had bestowed a blessing upon her after presenting them. Perhaps that was where the weightiness came from. She didn’t know. She’d asked, but never received a straight answer.

The boots were surrounded in mystery. Her professors and parents had advised that their secrets would be unlocked with time. They’d said all she needed to know was they had to be worn in order to find the entrance to the Manshum Mountains, home to the Gods. The boots were like a pull or a guide, tuned into their Creator—Aetha—the first to have risen with the immortal’s boots.

Without them, a young kel wouldn’t be able to finish the ceremony. Venus had also been told that taking the journey and making the change from a young kelphi into a kelvieri came at a price.

“Princess? Answer me. Everything working in there? ” Zaren tapped her on the head.

“Stop,” she said, shifting away from his hand. “I guess I’m fine. But the way I’m breathing, even the way you and I sound . . . Hey, wait a second. Why are we speaking English?”

“Venus, we need to talk.” Lines creased his forehead. Zaren appeared anxious about whatever they were going to discuss. She studied his face. The angle of his jaw, the way his lips pressed together, and wondered what had happened.

“Yeah, I’d say so. What the helker’s going on?” She teetered to her feet, brushing away the mental cobwebs. Her brain screamed that she’d slept through a problem of cosmic proportions.

“Someone sent you to Earth.” His intense green eyes watched her. Clear. Steady. Anxious.

She peered back, blown away.

Venus had always appreciated his straightforwardness. He never minced words or tried to hide the facts. It’s why they’d worked well together for so long. But this, well she wasn’t prepared. It was too outrageous. How? Why? Who?

“Wha—” She knew how un-princess-like that sounded. Nausea made her stomach turn. That explained why they no longer were speaking their language. Her head, clogged with jumbled madness, pulsed like a beating drum.

She remembered Amberlee had stomped from her room. Going backward over the details, she recalled her and Amberlee talking—about Sadraden and the necklace. The necklace. She reached a hand to her throat. It wasn’t there.

After Amberlee left, Venus had finished packing, dressed and . . .

Blood.

Irrihunter blood. The deep blue substance seemed to have come from the necklace. What could’ve happened to it? Maybe the same place as her coverlette, which was missing, too. She wore only her boots and unisa.

“Princess, talk to me.” He grabbed her under the chin.

“I’m thinking.” Then she said, “Where are we?”

“Near Fort Collins, Colorado. In the United States.” Zaren stretched his arms above his head. Limbering up, Venus supposed.

“Oh.” Why the helker would someone send me to Earth? From her studies, she knew Colorado was located in the western portion of America.

Venus needed to pace. It helped her think when she didn’t have something to organize. So much needed to be done, she had to get back. What must her parents be thinking? They were probably worried sick. And her irrihunter, Sadraden. Holy cret! Venus could only imagine how anxious the animal would be.

Feeling Zaren watching her, she snuck a peek. His face lined with worry. Probably thought she was freaking out—losing it. “Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked, kicking a rock that’d been unlucky enough to be in her path. Technically Zaren’s position was that of a servant. Her personal guard. Her very own Formytian. But he and Venus were more. Not brother and sister, not even best friends anymore. Venus trusted Zaren with her life.

“Your eyes, they’re so beautiful.” His smile dazzled and she forgot for a moment she’d been sent to another planet. “No longer silver, but the loveliest shade of blue.”

“Really?” Venus couldn’t help but grin back. “Wait. They aren’t supposed to have changed yet. I’m not kelvieri.”

“I know. It’s probably this planet’s atmosphere. Your skin, too. It’s . . .” His large, tanned hand brushed against her arm. She followed his touch, unable to ignore the slight tingle. “. . . no longer metallic white.”

Lifting her arm into the light, she saw he spoke the truth. Her skin had changed color. Peaches came to mind. Definitely not even a hint of silver.

“Holy cretity-cret, you’re right.” She giggled in a very un-princess-like fashion. As the future queen, she probably needed to work on her demeanor under pressure.

His lips quivered, as though he were holding back a laugh. Lifting a piece of her hair, he brought it around for her to see. It glimmered against the sun’s rays, no longer stark white, but the color of the Phoebis Rurina. According to her Earth Studies book, the beautiful yellow butterfly originated in Peru. It’d been one of her favorites—the color of its wings melding from a light to bright yellow—as did her new hair color. Also, her hair curled at the ends, like a spring. She pulled at one and it bounced back into place.

“Much better, don’t you think?” She looked to Zaren for approval with a hesitant smile. His opinion meant a great deal to her. He’d been the only one to understand how much the constant kelarian sameness upset her.

With gentle hands, he brushed her hair back, off her face. “You’ve always been unique and lovely.”

Venus huffed.

He caressed her cheek with his thumb. “Yes, you look wonderful.”

She briefly relaxed and leaned into his caress. That was what she’d needed to hear. “Thanks, Zaren. I can’t wait to see my eyes.” She watched his face change, noticed the urgency in his features. That look. She knew the opportunity to check out her new features would have to come later. Right now, she needed to be serious. “How did this happen? Where are the Transports?”

He dropped his hand and turned. From experience she knew this meant he wrestled with whatever he needed to say. “Zaren?” Venus touched him on the shoulder, turning him to face her. “Whatever it is, you might as well tell me.” She smiled, hoping it came out encouraging. He kept his gaze down and she followed. With a strange expression, he focused on her boots.

After the boots had been given, the Gods gave young kels one week to complete their journey. That meant she needed to get back quickly, to finish the ImmoTrans Ceremony. No problem, right? She hadn’t any idea how long she’d been out of it or what day it was. “Formytian? Talk to me.”

Their eyes met. She saw his worry. His anger.

When he spoke, she sensed his fear. “I went to your room a few hours after you left your birthday party. You’d told both Agen and I you were to begin your journey later that night. The stable master came to me saying Sadraden grew impatient. He wanted to know when to expect you.”

Venus nodded, knowing Sadraden would’ve been upset. Worry for the irrihunter tugged at her. Venus hoped Agen had been able to calm the animal. Stress bothered her. Hopefully no one had died. Sadraden’s large razor-sharp claws and giant mouthful of pointed teeth were lethal. Her pregnancy had increased her ferociousness and she’d become moody in the, I want to kill, way.

He continued, taking her hand. “I knocked, but you didn’t answer. Protocol demanded I leave you alone, but . . .”

CHAPTER 6

Trouble

 

 

Venus chortled. As her personal Formytian, her safety overrode everything else.

“I entered your room and noticed your packed bag. I called out. When you didn’t answer, I began to worry. As I searched your room, I noticed a small drop of irrihunter blood on your sheets. Normally, had any sort of bodily fluid touched your covers the Body Sensors would’ve gone off. After a quick check, it became apparent someone had tampered with the mechanism. Knowing foul play was afoot, I ran to get your father . . .”

He paused, running a hand through his glorious, black hair. His eyes had glazed over, as though he were back on Kelari, reliving what’d happened. “. . . but he’d vanished as well. The same goes for your mother and your sister. As of this moment, I have no idea where they are.” He watched her, his gaze full of sorrow.

Panic gathered in her stomach and settled like too much food. She moved away, watching a squirrel scamper up a tree. “Zaren, do you think they’re alright?” She turned toward him, dreading the answer.

He shook his head, bent over and ripped a long blade of yellow grass out of the ground. “I hope so. As I headed toward the stables, hoping you’d found your way there, I heard a Transport charging in the Travelling Room. I tried the door, but it’d been jammed from the inside.”

“How’d they do that?”

“I’m not sure. If I’d have stayed I probably could’ve figured it out. But I wanted to hurry. As it was it took some time to override the signal. When I finally got in, the Transport had left its dock. I hailed it, praying to the Gods there was a reasonable explanation, but no one responded. So I turned on the holographic imaging and saw you, out like a light. Pulling up the computer’s Voyage Log, the coordinates revealed your destination—Earth. I punched in an emergency return travel plan, but the mechanism had been jammed. That left one option—follow you.” He threw the now mutilated weed to the ground. “I’m sorry. This wouldn’t have happened had I stayed with you.”

“You can’t be with me every second.” She bent to retrieve a blade of dried wheat grass. The texture was similar to anony, a tall weed on Kelari. With a fingernail, she split it open and then pulled it apart, forcing her anxieties on the helpless weed.

The notion of being on Earth caused her heart to beat rapidly. Earth Studies had been her favorite subject in school, but then she’d been hundreds of millions of miles away. Studying a planet and living on it were not the same. Sure, their species had similarities to humans, many in fact. There were many similarities between the planets, too. That was the main reason kelarians studied Earth. There were differences as well. Technology, for one. The way kels treated their world was another.

Worst of all, Earth’s air was poisonous to unchanged kelarians. Kelarians like Venus.

She could survive here, but not for long. Of course, once she’d made the change, become kelvieri, she could survive anywhere. Now though, this planet’s atmosphere was too thick with oxygen and pollutants for her blood.

Never had a kelarian been sent to Earth before the metamorphosis. Differences in the air being of the upmost concern. The other obvious problem had been the physical differences. Unchanged kels were all metallic white and silver. Certainly, she could’ve pulled it off, had she needed to. Silver teeth and white lashes might be considered cool in some parts of this country.

At least she wasn’t blue or green and slithery, like the Smartians and the Skelters.

When she returned she’d be sure to advise the chancellors of the way this planet’s atmosphere affected her body. The physical alterations, almost like a chameleon, making her appear more human. She worried that when she returned to Kelari, her physical appearance would return to the way it had been. A silver clone!

On the inside, her organs were much different. But that wasn’t what Zaren hadn’t told her. What more could there be?

“What else?” she finally asked.

“Else?” he repeated. His hands were clasped behind his back, eyes averted.

Fine, she’d wait a moment. Gazing around, she looked for the Transports.

She and Zaren stood in the middle of a field, near the peak of a mountain. Patches of yellow and green grass surrounded them. Purple flowers, she knew to be aster grew in clumps. A few wild sunflowers swung in the breeze as did the red paintbrush and goldenrod. Blister beetles, honey bees, and spiders that reminded Venus of crabs, ventured among the large, yellow clusters. Almost like a dance, they moved away or toward each other, searching for pollen or prey.

In the distance, she heard birds singing. They were too far away to tell which species. A large brown bird with a white head flew over, tilting its head toward her. Out of curiosity? Maybe sizing her up for its next meal. She knew the variety—a bald eagle. She searched for another, knowing they were one of the few birds who mated for life. But she only saw the one. She followed the bird’s graceful flight toward a row of enormous pine trees until it disappeared from her sight. Water from a stream ambled downhill, not too far away, a low roar. Venus took a deep breath, smelling the crisp, mountain bouquet.

The landscape before her was much more beautiful than the pictures in her holographic textbooks. She realized the biggest reason was that the holographic picture didn’t include the perfume—the mixture of dirt, pine trees and flowers. She was at least glad she’d experienced Earth’s beauty for a moment. Venus definitely wanted to return after she’d become a kelvieri. When death wasn’t a worry.

Once again she searched for the Transports. There was something big Zaren hadn’t told her.

Closing her eyes, she counted.

Three. Two. One. “Zaren, tell me.”

He swore. “Princess, we can’t go back. Not yet.”

“What? Why not?”

He blew out his breath in frustration. “As soon as we landed, I requested a return flight authorization. When Galdred finally answered, he told me something . . .”

“He told you what?”

As though realizing he couldn’t avoid the truth any longer, he faced her and continued, “Venus, you’ve been accused of serious crimes . . . against the Gods. And—”

He stopped and ripped another blade of grass from the ground.

She watched him tear the weed to shreds, stunned. Who would accuse her of such a thing? Why? She’d never done anything to hurt anyone. “Continue,” she whispered.

“Your irrihunter has been killed. Galdred said several witnesses are claiming you did it.”

“What? No! Not Sadraden!” She fell to her knees, burying her face in her hands. Unspeakable pain slashed at her soul. Her heart felt shattered. Sadraden had been her best friend.

“I’m so sorry.” He sounded defeated. “While in the Transport, I contacted the Gods.”

Even through her sorrow, she was surprised. That took courage. Kelarians of higher status had died for doing such a thing. The task required much emotional stamina.

He went on, “I explained what happened. Asked if they knew who’d done such a thing. Told them it wasn’t true. It seems . . .” he trailed off.

“Zaren, this isn’t like you. Tell me all of it. Now,” Venus wiped the tears from her face and then gripped her hands into fists at her sides.

“They’re willing to listen to your side of the story, on one condition.”

“What is it?”

He growled, “They expect you to complete a mission here on Earth.”

Venus opened her mouth to speak, but couldn’t get anything out. A mission? What kind of mission?

“If you complete the commanded task, they’ll allow you to return to Kelari. But not until.”

“I’ll die in the next seven days. Don’t the Gods care? Is that what they want?” She was incredulous. Surely there’d been a mistake. Clearing her throat, she went on, “Please say you know it isn’t true. You believe I’d never say or do anything blasphemous against the Gods. And as for Sadraden . . .” She crumbled, sobs replacing her words. That she’d never see her irrihunter again . . . she thought she’d explode in agony. “She was pregnant, you know.”

Zaren fell to his knees in front of her, pulling her to him. “Oh, Venus. I’m so sorry.” He rocked her back and forth, comforting her in a way she’d never needed before. “I’ve no idea who would’ve done such a thing or why the Gods have requested you accomplish—” He paused and Venus heard him grind his teeth. He went on, “such a ridiculous task, but they have. And somehow, so help me, I’ll get you back to Kelari. I won’t let you die. Understand?” He spoke the last words with ferociousness.

Venus straightened, pulling herself from his arms. “Tell me.” Whatever the undertaking, she’d do it. She had to get back so she could hunt down and destroy those who’d framed her. And when she found them, they’d suffer, in ways that would make them wish they were dead. As for whoever murdered her irrihunter, they would pay for their betrayal with their lives.

“They’ve ordered you to help a boy from this planet find his soul mate.” He looked incredulous, as though saying the words out loud made the request seem more absurd.

Venus blinked and waited for more. Surely there would be. When Zaren didn’t continue, she let out a deep breath of relief and slugged him on the arm. “What’s wrong? This’ll be easy. I can’t fathom why they want me to help a human find his soul mate, but I can do this.” She gave his shoulder another smack and stood, looking around, her confidence returned.

Amberlee had said that life without love meant nothing. Her sister held such sentiment and she was kelarian. Humans were worse. They fell in love effortlessly. Venus had witnessed the phenomena many times during Earth Studies. They let their hearts lead them, did stupid things for love, made fools of themselves. She’d help this boy find his soul mate in three days, five at the most, and then return to her planet. When her Gods understood she’d done nothing wrong, she’d be free to pursue those who’d set her up and make them pay.

If anything, Zaren seemed tenser when he spoke. “If the boy doesn’t find himself truly in love, you cannot return to Kelari. And that means you’ll—” He growled. “It’s ridiculous!”

She watched him, curiously. Didn’t he think she could do it? Maybe not, and he worried he wouldn’t be able to return after she’d died. Having been proclaimed her personal Formytian, he must’ve felt honor bound to stay, even after her death.

“I will do this, Zaren. But if, for some reason, it doesn’t work out, you’re free to return without me. I release you from your vow. As of this moment, you are no longer my Formytian. I don’t know what you did with the Transports, but if you desire, you may return home now.” Secretly she hoped he wouldn’t. She didn’t want to be alone, and though she sounded confident, she’d no idea how to find the . . . human.

He rose and swept her into his arms. “Thank you, Venus. Being your Formytian has always been a pleasure. And though you’ve released me, my vow to protect you will remain forever. Now, though, I can be more. I can be the man who longs—”

Venus pushed away and put a hand to his mouth. She wasn’t ready to hear the words. Not right now.

“Zaren, if for some reason I don’t make it, I have one request.”

“Anything.”

She pulled him closer, “I want you to hunt down whoever is responsible and I want you to make them suffer. Will you do that for me?”

He brushed her forehead with his fingers, moving aside some hair that had blown over her eyes, out of the way. “Yes, Princess. I’ll do what you ask.” He’d spoken in such a tender way, Venus questioned whether he understood. She was about to clarify when he wrapped his arms around her, holding on tight.

She rested her head against his chest, breathing him in. Lemons and honey.

A force pressed against her ribs, swelling, awakening warmth she hadn’t known existed.

“Princess. Venus, I—”

“No. Don’t.” She didn’t understand the emotional and physical stirrings, nor did she have the time to discover their meaning. Tugging herself out of his arms, she asked, “What’s this boy’s name and where do we find him?”

He cleared his throat. “First we must find a place to stay and change our clothes. Physically, we appear human, but we aren’t properly dressed.” He pointed at their clothing. Venus only had on her cream unisa, which on Earth would probably be called a one-piece camisole. The fabric came from the gigantic Harras worms. The material so smooth and breathable that she had all her unisa’s made by them.

Zaren wore his supple Formytian uniform and a sword strapped to his back. The jacket and pants were formfitting and cool, like a snake’s skin. The onyx material glinted in the light. To the untrained eye, the uniform might appear to be only a matching jacket and pants. It was much, much more. Otherworldly. Multiworldly, in fact. Having been created from different magical creatures. None of them from this planet, of course.

“Yes, I suppose you’re right.”

The thundering stream off to the right piqued her attention and reminded her she still required water. “I must have a drink first. Come.” She took off at a slight jog, hoping he’d catch up to her, but he didn’t. Her dry mouth pushed her onward.

CHAPTER 7

Venus

 

 

When she reached the water’s edge, she fell to her knees, eager to quench her thirst. Before the water touched her lips, a warning of danger stopped her. The hairs on the back of her neck rose. She glanced around.

She heard him before she saw him, his words sailing over the rapidly moving stream.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Startled, she glared, trying to make out his form. When her eyes finally found him, she stared, open-mouthed. Awed. Amazed.

Her first human encounter.

He’s . . . handsome I guess. Then quickly reprimanded herself for such triviality.

Setting her mouth in a firm line, she asked, “Why not? I’m thirsty.” The words came out whinier than she’d intended. Years of combat training taught her to be on alert. But she hadn’t been prepared to run into a human so suddenly. Questions about the dark-haired boy bombarded her.

Her dehydration encouraged her to set them aside. She needed a drink, now or she worried she’d faint. Still keeping her eyes fixed on the boy, she bent at the waist, ready to plunge her mouth into the water.

The boy spoke again.

“Come here, you can have some of mine.” His voice reminded Venus of soft velvet, though the words came out slurred. One leg shook, like he’d been filled with writhing ants, the back of his thigh pounded against the thick, rotted tree stump he’d folded himself on.

Everything about him screamed dark and handsome, except his skin, which resembled hers. He appeared to be brooding, eyebrows scrunched, faraway look in his eyes. Plus, he reeked of angry attitude.

From where Venus stood, his eyes looked black with dark lashes and eyebrows. There was a scar, which ran straight as an arrow, from the tip of his nose to his left cheekbone. His clothes were all dark. A long-sleeved black shirt over a black t-shirt and dark blue jeans, at least that’s what she thought his trousers were called, and black lace up boots. Had a storm cloud come along, he probably would’ve been invisible to her eyes.

“What’s wrong with this water?” she yelled, though she’d already stood and started across.

“It isn’t clean. You could get sick.” His mouthed twitched, like he barely contained a smirk or a snide comment. “Nice boots, but where are your clothes? Not that I mind.” He leaned forward, resting his forearms and elbows on his thighs and watched her cross.

The icy water splashed against her legs. It reminded her that all she wore were her boots and unisa. She’d spent time with Zaren in nothing more . . . in fact less, because she didn’t like to wear shoes, and never experienced a need to cover up. Looking down, she realized how much of her body was exposed. A blush tried to creep across her cheeks, but she ground her teeth, shaking it off.

“Uh, I lost them. Are you sure you don’t mind if I have a drink?” She inclined her head toward the thermos next to him. Her throat became more parched, if that were possible. She resisted running over, chugging it.

“No, go ahead.” He picked up the red thermos, unscrewed the lid and held it out.

Venus rushed over. After a swallow, she realized it wasn’t water. The liquid burned all the way down. She gasped, dropping the thermos. Grabbing her throat, she watched the honey brown liquid spill onto the rocky dirt.

Her throat constricted, but she choked out, “That isn’t water.”

He chuckled, wicked. “It’ll warm you up. Soothe your insides.”

Gagging, she fell to her knees at the water’s edge, stuck her mouth in the stream and drank. With relief, her thirst started to subside. After several mouthfuls, she stood and turned. Water had soaked the ends of her waist-length hair as had some mud. When the frosty ends touched her skin, she jumped and swore. He snorted at her noticeable discomfort. His face revealed a look she’d seen before, on male kelarians, especially after they’d had too much of what humans called alcohol.

“I’d be happy to help warm you up, too.” As he spoke, he stood.

“You can take your foul thoughts and go straight to your—”

“Hey, I’m trying to be chivalrous.” And before Venus realized the tainted plan he’d devised, he grabbed her by the shoulders and kissed her.

Until that moment, Venus hadn’t considered what her first kiss would feel like, but she knew this wasn’t right. Hard, full of anger. He pressed her lips open and she tasted the alcohol on his tongue, sickly sweet. His arms locked around her, crushing her body to his. She sensed a pleading in his embrace, a longing for an unfulfilled wish.

“Release her. Now,” Zaren yelled.

The human pushed Venus away, wiping his mouth.

“Come on, Venus,” Zaren grabbed her hand, pulling her from the foul boy.

She watched stunned, as the brooding human smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes.

“Venus. Funny,” he said, his words full of venom, like her name had been laced with poison.

She pulled her hand from Zaren’s. Anger ripped through her along with a gripping sadness at the loss of her family and her irrihunter. That this boy had the audacity to find humor in her name, at her, Princess Venus, daughter of King and Queen Carania, rulers of Alayeah, the biggest kingdoms in all of Kelari, was unacceptable. How dare he? She wouldn’t have it. Her heart ached and her body hurt, but she ignored the pain. Head held high, she marched over and slapped his face. Hard.

“Don’t ever touch me again.” She gave him a defiant stare, daring him to try.

“Well, Venus, you’ve no reason to worry. Your name alone will keep me as far from you as possible. The Goddess of Love, how ironic.” He chuckled without humor and turned. Head in his hands he sunk onto the dead stump.

At the sight of him in such a condition, her anger abated, replaced by an unbidden grief. She pushed the bizarre feelings away with vehemence. Surprised she felt anything but furious at him, she made her way to Zaren.

When they were a small distance away, Venus said, “What an annoying human. If I never see him again, it’ll be too soon.”

Zaren cleared his throat and walked ahead.

“What?” Venus asked, catching up and grabbing his arm.

“That annoying human is Michael, the boy you’re required to help.” He took a step forward, but stopped. “Humans and love,” he grumbled and stomped ahead.

Venus stopped and looked back, profoundly shocked. “But—”

He sighed. “Clothes, first.”

CHAPTER 8

Angel

 

 

Michael rubbed his eyes, trying to forget everything. His deadbeat father and the way he’d loved to carve into Michael with anything sharp. His mother and all of her . . . B.S. Cheverly! School! He could go on, but he didn’t want too. The alcohol had almost worked, almost numbed him into oblivion. Then Venus had come along. Beautiful, glowering Venus. He hated her. Hated that she hadn’t put him out of his misery. He let out a harsh laugh, remembering the way she’d looked when he first saw her. Like an angel he’d seen in a book as a child.

The Angel of Death.

Rising, he went to the red thermos and picked it up. A swig or two remained and he downed it rapidly. Not even the burn could soothe his angry soul. Tossing the container into the water, he watched it sink and then bob back to the surface. When it’d floated out of sight, he turned back to his dead, hollowed out log and sat.

Michael pulled the gun from where it’d been hidden in the waist of his pants, under his shirts. He’d found it in a dusty old box in the garage the other day. When he’d checked the chamber, he noticed a bullet remained. The gun must’ve been his fathers. Michael had taken it and tucked it between his mattresses. At the time, he hadn’t been sure why he kept it.

Holding it up, he put a finger on the trigger, turning it back and forth, watching it gleam in the morning rays of the sun. It was a .45; silver, except the handle, which was black. Solid. Heavy. Loaded.

Maybe now he knew.

Maybe he’d found the gun so that he could end his life.

He pressed the business end against the side of his head. And waited. For what, he wasn’t sure. A sign. When he’d seen Venus he’d believed she was his sign . . .

I’m done. It’s over. He pushed the gun harder against his head.

Coward!

The word zinged. Stung him. Punched him in the gut. An unfamiliar voice inside his head.

Then came images of Venus, the softness of her lips, the way she’d felt in his arms. There was something different about her. He tapped the gun against his head, bugged he still thought about the arrogant girl.

Coward!

The word ripped through his mind again.

“I’m not a coward,” he shouted.

Immediately all sounds of the forest stopped. No birds, no rustling of animals in the underbrush. Only the snarling stream and the breeze whistling through the trees interrupted the silence.

Breathing heavily, he stood and turned, sensing a presence.

CHAPTER 9

Dead Man’s Party

 

 

Killing humans had become sort of a hobby for Dervinias. It wasn’t that he despised them so much as he detested their weakness. The human condition. Their flimsy bodies and limited minds. The way the creatures were swayed by a television commercial or a beautiful temptation. Every time he slaughtered one, the best part came right before they died. The moment each person realized how much more could’ve existed in their menial lives. It filled him like a drug. And he wanted more.

With billions of humans to choose from, and more born every second, his options were limitless.

In truth, Dervinias had bigger plans for the defective race. After two hundred years of immortality, he’d had plenty of time to make plans, form secret alliances and set up Earth as the planet he would rule. Very shortly, all the pieces would be in place, and then he could begin.

For now, it was enough to demonstrate his power over them. Tonight a man by the name of Thaddeus Holstrom needed to lose his family. He and his irreverent employers had to be taught a lesson. Stalking him and his absurd government group—A.L.T.—proved too easy. Finding his little family and ending their lives—a pleasure.

Thaddeus and his family lived in Westbrook Run, a quiet neighborhood in the city of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Filled with children, evenly trimmed hedges, and two parent families, everybody knew everybody. From the outside, this neighborhood appeared perfect. For the most part, the appearances were true.

Except today. Today Dervinias would change all that.

Innocence had already been murdered. Another death would now begin. If only humans weren’t so naive. So trusting . . .

“It’s time to make you bleed.” Dervinias spoke reverently. The terrified woman, Judy, had been bound to her dining table. She’d been forced onto her back; pale hands tied in front, mouth gagged with a black strip of fabric. Frightened eyes flicked back and forth between Dervinias and the five blue-robed figures. Off to the right sprawled her two dead children, Alice and Henry. Their bleeding bodies face up. Eyes open, mouths frozen in terror. The smell of death and furniture polish saturated the air, almost solid enough to touch.

The five in navy blue stood in a semi-circle behind Dervinias. As leader, he wore white. A large hood covered each of their heads. Long bell sleeves hung together at the wrists, where those in blue had their hands clasped. Their robes were long and made of terrycloth. A ridiculous material, but it served its purpose. The statuesque forms of his followers hummed continuously, heads bowed.

The table Judy had been tied too appeared to be made of oak. It was thick and held stable by two large-columned pedestals. Heavy. Substantial. Dervinias traced a hand along the intricately carved roping which trimmed the edge. It would serve as the perfect altar.

A large, glittering chandelier hung over the table, in the center of the room, basking everything in light. Golden curtains were closed to keep out the daylight and deafen the sounds of mortal destruction happening within. Plush white carpet covered the floor beneath their feet.

Judy whimpered, a sound like a baby kitten crying for milk. Dervinias pushed a stray strand of hair off her tear-stained face. Judy’s mewing egged him on, as did the harmonious humming of his followers—an inspiring melody.

In monotone, he began the first words of his sacrament. “Your blood is weak. Death will bring new life. This sacrifice is to honor those who live forever. Our species. Humans believe they are above all. I take your life and the lives of your children to prove otherwise. As a reminder to those who pursue us. We cannot be destroyed. When the time is right, Earth will be ours. We are The Order of Eternal Fire.”

From beneath his robe, Dervinias retrieved a large knife. It gleamed in the chandelier’s light.

Raising the knife, he drove it into Judy’s chest, the sound of flesh parting around its sharp edges like a shovel forced through wet dirt.

Lowering his head to be even with her face, he admired the way her irises grew large as a polished black plate. The way they filled with knowledge.

“Yes, now you understand the power you possess. Your life was worth more than manicures and massages, more than your next martini. When it’s too late.” Dervinias kept his words soft. Only the dying woman needed to hear the last words he’d chosen to speak to her. She gasped one last time. The movement caused his blond hair, which had fallen over his eyes, to shift. Her breath smelled of tarnished metal. Dervinias breathed in, letting her last bit of life fill him and then released the knife, leaving the black handle protruding from her chest. Within seconds, she died.

The five others came forward and knives emerged from beneath their robes. It was time to carve the mark—the eye of the All Knowing. At the moment, only The Order would understand what it meant. In time, this world would know its meaning, would come to either fear or embrace what the emblem stood for.

They bent before Judy, sliced away her pants and her shirt. Then, Dervinias set a glowing yellow bowl, which had been previously placed on the table, under her left thigh and cut the femoral artery. He needed her blood to complete the ritual.

It took some time, but the bowl filled.

His young followers—two guys and three girls—proceeded to carve the mark of The Order into her body. Six total—one on the forehead, each cheek, her stomach and thighs.

After Kelvin, a huge blue-robed guy, completed his symbol, he walked to a black duffel bag on the floor, near the entrance. Retrieving a meat cleaver from inside, he moved back over to Judy and hacked off half her calves, her ankles and feet.

He continued the process on the children, too. And then Kelvin stacked the gruesome appendages into a pile on the floor, like bloodied firewood.

When the others finished carving, they retreated to the doorway. Dervinias collected the three glowing bowls. Setting two on the table, he held the third. A little at a time, he flung the sacrificial blood around the room, spattering the walls and curtains, the chandelier and chairs. The carpet no longer looked white, but a splotchy red. After the first bowl emptied, he handed it to one of the female followers, and repeated the process with the remaining two bowls. Then he turned to the detached limbs and spoke.

“We claim your souls. May they burn for us in the eternal fire.”

From beneath his robe he pulled out a sphere about the size of an apple. Palm flat, fingers outstretched, the orb began to spin clockwise, slowly at first. It contained a piece of the soul of four different stars—blue, red, yellow and orange in color.

As the orb picked up speed, it lifted off his hand, a kaleidoscope of colors. With more speed, it moved until it hovered above the severed body parts. Hungry for the sacrifice, it exploded into thousands of tiny blue, red, yellow and orange colored gems. Instead of falling to the floor, they remained linked, each gem to another, by tiny sunlit threads. A dot-to-dotted dome surrounded the graying appendages. Light emanated from within. Growing brighter and brighter until only a white light could be seen.

A twinkle.

The broken, bloodied legs disappeared and the orb became whole again. In a slow, circular movement, it returned itself to Dervinias’s palm.

He closed his fingers around the fiery sphere. Sizzling smoke radiated from his hand, burning his flesh. But he held on. After a moment, he tucked the now-quiet orb beneath his robe.

“The ritual is finished,” Dervinias said to the others, facing them.

Their humming stopped.

“Rockin’ ceremony, Dervinias,” Kelvin said.

The over-excited human nearly pounded him on the back, but Dervinias glared, and Kelvin put his hand down. He questioned, for the hundredth time, if allowing Kelvin to be part of The Order had been a good choice. Physically, Kelvin made a perfect candidate and he needed humans for his plan to work. Sure, Kelvin was a bit thick, but Dervinias appreciated his willingness to accept him—an alien—as his leader. He’d known the boy for many, many years. Kelvin worshipped the ground he walked on, and would do anything for The Order’s cause.

I won’t kill him, for now.

Once they collected the cleaver and other knives, placing them back in the duffel bag, (except the one in Judy’s chest, a gift for Thaddeus) Dervinias gave the teenagers a nod and said, “Go.”

Each figure removed their robe and departed.

Except Dervinias.

He waited. Watched from the porch as a tumbleweed bounced and rolled down the street. Thaddeus Holstrom, the man who’d been tracking him and trying to kill him for years, would be home soon, and Dervinias wanted the alien hunter to know who’d done the killing.

Only moments later, he heard a car coming down the street. He sensed the driver was Thaddeus. Walking forward, Dervinias stood so he could be seen immediately. He removed his hood and brushed a hand over his thick blond hair. The car stopped in front of the house. Thaddeus threw open his car door and started firing shots at Dervinias. The bullets struck his flesh and bounced off. This planet’s basic technology couldn’t harm him. Thaddeus already knew that. Dervinias smirked, admiring the A.L.T. leader’s willingness to continually try.

“What have you done? If you’ve harmed even a hair—”

Dervinias interrupted with a laugh.

When Thaddeus reached the porch, Dervinias dove over his head, like a giant cat. He briefly touched the concrete sidewalk with his hands, pushed off and flipped, landing on his feet. Crouched low, he swiveled back toward Thaddeus. But he’d gone inside the house already.

Dervinias heard a mournful scream.

CHAPTER 10

Material Girl

 

 

Venus heard him shout. Michael. But ignored him. He might be a challenge . . . Nah. He was human after all. It’d still be easy. He only had to fall in love, for cret’s sake. And love was an uncomplicated, silly emotion. Right?

Zaren had moved on ahead of her. She guessed he was frustrated. Venus used the opportunity to admire his broad shoulders and narrow waist. The confident way he walked. Proud, yet calm. Collected. Until he whipped around, apparently done with his momentary skulking, and came back, towards her.

With a grin, he lifted her into his arms.

“Seriously,” she ranted.

He ignored her and ran.

Fast.

But he was more than running. Her people called this method of travelling: Britorent—to bend time. All Zaren or any kelvieri had to do was move and think of the destination. Then, as though time were an accordion, the fabric of space between where they began and where they wanted to go would fold together. The amount of time it took to get from one place to another depended on the planet and the parameters within that planet.

On Earth, Zaren could move four miles in one second.

Venus had experienced the sensation once before. When she was seven, she’d opened a door within the family castle and discovered a child—dead. The first thing she’d noticed was a substance dripping like rain from the ceiling. The room had been dark. When she felt something sticky wet hit her head and then the back of her hand, she’d commanded the lights to turn on. Blood had been everywhere. In the center of the room, she’d seen the girl, curly white hair spread out around her as though she rested on fluffy cotton. Venus ran to the girl and screamed. She’d kept screaming until her father came. He’d lifted her into his arms and used britorent to take her to their shaman . . .

She shook her head, trying to get rid of the memory.

Wind rushed through her hair and pushed against her body. She leaned her head on her Formytian’s shoulder and watched the barrage of colors, like a Monet painting, swirl around her.

When Zaren set Venus down, she had to lean over to catch her breath. Within a few moments, the dizziness evaporated. She stood and peered into the window of a little clothing shop.

The store was called Casual Treasures. It sat near the end of a long strip of stores in between two food businesses. One was a cupcake bakery with the name, SweetCakes, and on the other, a Subway. The sugary aroma and the smell of freshly baked bread hit Venus from both sides. Her stomach growled.

She’d read about different kinds of cupcakes—Bavarian cream, banana, chocolate-chocolate. Each had looked more delicious than the first. Her mouth watered. Maybe I’ll try one of each.

Zaren watched her, his arms crossed. He appeared to be worried. She had a feeling she knew why. Michael. He’d known the boy was there, at the stream.

“You knew. That’s why you didn’t hurry to catch up to me. You knew I’d run into the human.” Venus really wanted to be angry with him for not telling her . . . Her natural reaction, to ream him, but she didn’t.

“Yes, I knew. I’d hoped a friendship would form. Hadn’t planned on him being so vile.” He grasped her hand and pulled her into the store.

She almost didn’t have time to hold her breath.

Zaren stopped immediately inside the shop.

Venus was glad. Her eyes needed to adjust to the change in light. With a quick scan of the area, she slowly released the air in her lungs. Zaren made a noise, like he was choking.

“What?”

“You know that doesn’t help. Whatever awaits you on the other side of the door will be there whether you—”

“Stop!” She looked away, concentrating on a spot on the floor.

He took her hand and said through a smile, “Hey, I’m sorry. Holding your breath might help.”

“Don’t patronize me, Formytian. It’s my prerogative to do as I please.” She knew he wasn’t patronizing her—that he wanted to help—but any mention of her stupid need to hold her breath only embarrassed her.

His eyes turned sad. “Yes, Princess.”

Zaren knew everything about her, including her superstitious quirks. She wished she could stop. But not knowing what might be on the other side? The last time she’d walked into a room, without holding her breath, there’d been a murdered child—her friend.

“Come on. Let’s shop.”

A female clerk stood near what Venus knew to be a cash register. When Zaren put a hand on the counter, the girl looked up.

“Whoa, looks like she could use some clothes, pronto. Sheesh.”

Venus glanced down. Yeah, the unisa and her boots wouldn’t do.

Zaren rescued her. “Sometimes it isn’t good to party so hard. I tried to tell her.” He winked at the girl and let out a laugh.

The beautiful clerk shook her head. Giggled. “Serious?” Dark hair and icy blue eyes danced as she laughed. When she came around the counter, Venus noticed they were the same height, though she had more on top.

“Nice boots.”

“Thank you.” Venus slugged Zaren in the arm and shrugged. “Trust me; I won’t party that hard again.”

The girl looked like a model for the store, with a tight red t-shirt, the number 94 painted in white across the front, high-heeled, black shoes and dark jeans. They were similar to the jeans on the rack. All sorts of sparkling jewels covered the pockets.

“Of course not. What size are you? You look,” she paused to give Venus a thorough once over before continuing, “petite.”

Venus only ever had her clothing made by those at the palace. The seamstresses would measure her. Then make her clothes. Sometimes they used magic or special thread, but never told her a specific size. Would this seem inhuman? A glance in Zaren’s direction revealed he was checking out clothes in the men’s section. “I’m not sure,” Venus finally admitted.

“No problem. I’ll get a couple of different sizes in the same jean and we’ll go from there. Okay?” Before waiting for Venus to reply, the girl pulled two jewel-encrusted pants off a rack. In another section of the store, she removed a long-sleeved white t-shirt. After that, she went to the jackets, grabbed one in black leather, with buckles and more jewels and studded things all over it.

What type of person does she take me for?

Venus moved toward a disorganized rack and began rearranging the pants so they were in order by size, the smallest in the front and the largest in the back. No way will I be leaving the store with that jacket or those jeans. I’ll try them on, at least, to figure out my size. She stepped to the next section and worked.

“Wanna job?” the clerk asked with a light giggle.

“No, sorry. I have a thing for organization.” Venus ran a hand through her muddy hair and pulled it to one side.

“All righty then. Well, follow me.” She moved past Venus and made her way to the back of the store. Venus couldn’t help a sigh. When they reached one of a line of maple-colored doors, the girl unlocked it with a key attached to a bracelet packed full of keys. Venus had to wonder how she could tell which one to choose. The door swung open with a squeak.

“Cheese, that sound is awful.” The girl stepped inside the little room and hung the clothes on a hook. “Try these on and let me know what you think. I’m Cheverly, by the way.” Cheverly moved past Venus and directed her in with the wave of a hand.

“Venus,” she returned. Apprehensively, she glanced at the threshold and sucked in.

Here we go. She shut the door.

“A goddess of love.”

“That’s right.”

“Great name.”

“That’s debatable, but thanks.” Venus leaned back and shut her eyes. The time had come to see what she looked like. What if I look worse than I did before? It isn’t vanity, she told herself. I want . . .

“Oh, open your eyes fraidy cat,” Venus whispered. Three. Two. One. She popped them open.

The first thing she noticed was the tangled grubby mess in the ends of her hair. Though it still looked better than all white, she decided to get it out of the way. One thing she’d had been taught as a small kelni, even before she could walk, was how to wrap her hair in a bun and make it stay. Bending over, she pulled all her hair together and twisted it tight. Then she continued to twirl the dirty strands until it’d formed its own bun. Venus tucked the ends under. Standing, she checked her reflection. “Better.”

With her hair out of the way, she easily noticed her eyes. Different. Pretty. She tried to think of a human word to describe the shade of blue. The word cyan came to mind. Brown lashes surrounded her eyes instead of the frosty white she’d grown sick of. Her face shone a faint peach and her lips, once a misty silver, were now stained the shade of rubies. For many kelarians, her new coloring might be considered bland. Venus had to smile at the changes. She liked them. “No silver anywhere.” In the mirror, her reflection revealed stark, white teeth.

“Everything all right in there?” Cheverly asked.

“I’ll be another minute.” She put the white shirt on. It fit fine. The second pair of jeans fit and the jacket fit okay, too.

When she opened the door, Cheverly took one look and shook her head. “Yeah, that jacket really isn’t you, is it?”

“No,” Venus admitted and slipped it off. “Also, do you have any jeans without the jewels on the pockets?”

“Cheese on crackers, you’re right. With those stunning boots, you don’t need all the bling on your behind. Plus, skinny jeans will work great tucked into the boots.” Cheverly continued to rattle on, more to herself than Venus. She looked her up and down, like sharp cheddar on a grater. “You’re wearing the smaller jeans, right?”

“Yes,” Venus agreed.

“Be right back.” Pivoting on her heels, she walked toward a jean rack without bling.

While waiting, Venus left the little room and searched the store for Zaren. His intense green eyes caught hers. Without meaning to, she gasped. Her alien heart already beat too fast, but seeing him . . . well he looked so handsome. Zaren had changed out of his Formytian uniform into human clothing. A flutter brushed low in her stomach, sending waves of warmth to different parts of her body. Her legs felt weak.

He had on a white long-sleeved shirt, with a fox head on the front. The jeans he’d chosen looked worn. There were creases and even a few holes in a couple of places. Brown lace-up boots were on his feet and he held a dark brown leather jacket. Next to him, on the floor, leaned a bag, which Venus guessed held his guardian attire.

“Your boyfriend’s totally hot. You’re so lucky,” Cheverly said wistfully into Venus’s ear.

Startled, Venus whipped around, knocking Cheverly in the face with the back of her hand. Not hard. It was a reflex to being snuck up on.

Surprised, Cheverly simultaneously lifted her hands, grabbing Venus by the arms, and stepped backward. Together, they both fell to the floor. Venus landed on the girl.

“Oh! I’m so sorry,” Venus said, jumping up and sticking out a hand to help Cheverly up. “You scared me.” The whole idea of someone sneaking up on her wasn’t fathomable. Never would’ve happened on her planet.

Cheverly appeared stunned; a red mark shaded her left cheek. She took Venus’s hand and stood. “It’s okay. I-I’m sorry, too.” She bent over and picked up the clothes she’d brought for Venus to try on. Awkwardly, she asked, “What do you think of these?”

“Beautiful. May I?”

“Yep. Can’t wait to see them on you.” She handed them over.

Venus headed back into the little dressing room. Before closing the door, she said to Cheverly, “He isn’t my boyfriend.” As she spoke, her eyes locked with Zaren’s. He looked crestfallen.

“Ah, helker,” she swore quietly, closing the door and locking it.

Cheverly said, “Good to know.”

A pang jolted Venus at Cheverly’s words. Jealousy? A word she’d heard, but never understood. Whatever.

Quickly, she removed the clothes and her boots again, a big no-no according to her parents and their shaman. At least until she’d completed her metamorphous and became immortal. Kelvieri. She didn’t know why. Figured it might have something to do with the way the boots led her to the Manshum Mountains. What could it hurt? Besides the Gods had commanded her to remain here, so they’d better cut her some slack.

After she’d pulled on the skinny jeans, she slid on the boots. As she watched the five buckles seal themselves around her calves, she thought of the symbols in the clear heels. A beating red heart surrounded by smoke from the Valley of Ga. When she held still, she could feel the thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump coming from within. In the other heel bobbed a glowing arrow encircled by irrihunter blood.

What did the symbols mean? She had no clue.

Taking a sequined gold tank from its hanger, she pulled it on. Over the top of the tank, she put on a sheer, navy blue empire waist top. They didn’t fit as perfectly as the clothing from the palace designers, but they’d work out fine. Cheverly had picked out a different coat for her as well. A metallic plaid in black and gold, it was double breasted and had a belt which tied in the front. She shouldered on the coat and admired the outfit in the glass. Not bad. I like them.

Before she had the chance to step out, Cheverly asked, “Rockin, yes?”

“Thank you. These are perfect.”

Cheverly beamed at the compliment. “So you’ll take them?”

“I’ll take them.” Venus sucked in discreetly, stepped out of the dressing room, blew out a little air and followed Cheverly.

“Good.” She moved briskly to the register. Zaren met them there. A large pile of clothing covered the counter in front of them. “Cheese, guys. Did you two want all of this?” Cheverly asked, incredulous. There were several more jeans; some looked like they were for Zaren and others for Venus. Two separate piles of underwear, tanks, pajamas, belts, socks, and on and on . . .

Venus picked up some irrihunter blue undies. Holding them by a finger, she turned to Zaren.

“Seriously?”

A twinkle shone in his eyes. “Yes. Bag it up,” Zaren replied, his focus on Cheverly.

Venus grabbed Zaren by the arm and yanked him away from the counter. “Can I talk to you privately a moment?”

He walked with her. “Yes?”

“I said three days, five at the most. You know I can’t last longer than a week. There are enough clothes there for a month.” Venus knew she’d sounded harsh. More subdued, she continued, “Besides, how are we going to carry it all? Where are we going to—?”

As if on cue, the front door to the store clanged open. A lanky blond guy entered and headed toward them.

“Vinny,” Cheverly called. The girl’s face betrayed a mixture of wonder and worry. “What’re you doing here?”

Zaren touched Venus’s cheek, turning her to face him. “I’m aware of the timeframe, Princess. Allow me this extravagance on your behalf. Please.” He winked and took her hand. “Please?”

She nodded. “Okay.”

Together they moved back to the counter.

“Hey, Chev,” Vinny said, but was looking at Zaren. He gave the Formytian a brief nod. “I’m actually here to pick up some friends from out of town. Aren’t you supposed to be in school?”

“Work release. I’m half-day, today. I could say the same about you.”

“Cool. Yeah, I took the morning off,” he said, walking over to Zaren.

Cheverly scanned a pair of red undies. Folded them and set them to the side. “You’re going for it?” She waved her wand over the clothes.

“We are,” Venus said, pushing down the urge to ask if Cheverly would be turning the clothes into coachmen.

“Sweet! So, you three know each other?” Cheverly asked, flicking the scanner in her hand from Zaren to Venus to Vinny and back to Zaren.

“I-I—” Venus began, but stopped. She’d let Zaren handle it. “Zaren?”

Venus watched Cheverly fidget. First tucking her empty hand into a tight, front pocket and then pushing some loose hair behind an ear. Finally she must’ve realized she still had lots of clothes to ring up. Picking up a pink shirt, she scanned, folded, and placed it in a pile.

Vinny put a lopsided smirk on his face and said, “Zaren and I go way back.” He pounded Zaren on the shoulder. “How ya been, buddy?”

Zaren smiled. “Vinny, huh? Interesting choice.”

“I like it. Dervinias sounds so . . . foreign,” Cheverly said as she continued swiping tags.

Venus couldn’t help but wonder under what circumstances Zaren and Dervinias would’ve met. He didn’t act like the sort of person Zaren would be friends with. Anything was possible though. She realized she didn’t know all that much about Zaren outside of his constantly shadowing her every move as her guardian.

“If you say . . .” Zaren’s jaw suddenly clenched. But he quickly relaxed it and grasped Vinny’s inner arm with his right hand. Vinny did the same to Zaren—the Formytian handshake. “I wasn’t sure if you’d received my, ah, communication or not.”

Dervinias said, “Your communication came over loud and clear.”

The exchange between the two kelarians had Venus intrigued. She’d seen Zaren with his fellow Formytians before. With Dervinias, he acted different, less assured. And Dervinias—he was an enigma.

Dervinias turned to face Venus, and for some reason, she stood taller. She had nothing to prove, but her upbringing demanded that she be a princess at all times.

“Hello, Venus.” His eyes raked her over, starting with her boots, going up her thighs, past her waist and breasts and finally stopping on her face. “Your eyes. Such an amazing shade of blue. I don’t recall ever seeing such a color.”

Cheverly chimed in. “I was going to comment about them earlier, but figured they were contacts.”

“They are . . . contacts,” Venus said to Dervinias first. Then found Cheverly’s eyes and nodded. “Do you like them?”

“Oh yeah, they’re awesome,” she agreed.

It took a mountain of time to ring up all their clothes. Venus used the opportunity to check out the store, with its obscene amounts of clothes hanging on the walls and on racks everywhere. The clothing store wasn’t nearly exciting enough to distract her from the strange Dervinias.

Every few seconds her gaze found the two kels. They seemed deep in conversation. Maybe they did know each other. Maybe he was a Formytian, like Zaren. If so, who was he protecting? He didn’t look the type or act it either. Still, she had a plethora of questions for him.

Like: What was he doing on Earth? Was he an Explorer? A Discoverer? A Metals Detector? If he were on Earth, there had to be a reason.

It also intrigued her that he knew the girl, Cheverly. And that he went to a human high school. What could he gain from doing that? What were the benefits?

All questions she’d be sure to ask him when an obvious human—Cheverly—wasn’t around.

As if Dervinias had read her mind, he turned and winked.

Humph! She looked away and sighed, moving closer to the counter. A small flame flickered inside a glass container. The jar held a thick, red substance, except at the top, it appeared liquid. A fruity smell found its way up her nose, and she realized it came from whatever the flame burned. Pretty, but potent. A combination of rosithia flowers and oraney, with a hint—

“It’s a blend of apples, cinnamon and vanilla,” Cheverly said.

Venus cocked her head, curious, not quite certain she understood. The fire had a scent?

Cheverly added, “That’s the smell of the wax—the red stuff burning. Haven’t you ever seen a scented candle before?” She pointed the wand toward the glass jar.

“Ohhhhh, sure. Of course I have.” Venus nodded, irritated, and trying to cover for the fact that, no, she hadn’t ever seen a scented candle before. She’d taken years and years of Earth Studies. It’d been one class her parents insisted she continuously study. But her professors hadn’t ever mentioned this candle contraption. Clearing her throat, she continued, “It smells good.” As if to prove it, her stomach rumbled.

Cheverly giggled. “You should try a red velvet cupcake from next door. They’re divine.”

“Thanks, I might.” She looked at Zaren, hoping to catch his eye, but he and Dervinias were still in a heated conversation.

“Zaren?”

He turned and opened his mouth, but Dervinias interrupted. “You and Zaren are going to stay with me. I insist.”

Zaren closed his mouth, his lips tightening into a thin line. But he nodded.

“Great.” Venus turned back toward the pile of clothes.

“Ah, Vinny, you’re so sweet.” Cheverly finished ringing up their clothes and started bagging them. When she was done, Zaren handed her a plastic card to pay for everything. Afterward, he handed a few bags to Dervinias. Venus took a couple and Zaren carried the rest. “All right, I believe we have everything. Thank you, Cheverly. We appreciate your help.”

“Oh, sure,” she said waving a hand, her cheeks coloring. She seemed smitten with the Formytian. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”

“Maybe.”

“Thank you,” Venus added as she walked toward the entrance.

“Oh, no problem.” She waved and giggled.

“Later Chev, baby!” Vinny added as he opened the door.

“Laters.”

Venus followed Zaren and Dervinias out of the store.

CHAPTER 11

Blister in the Sun

 

 

Michael groaned. It was the bottom of the fourth quarter and, once again, he was on his back, under a pile of sweating guys. No, he wasn’t having a good time. He was pissed off—in a great way. In a way that pumped him up, and made him push harder—allowed him to think. Put life into perspective. His mind easily focused during a game. When the opposing team breathed down his neck right before he threw the football. It was a battle. And he intended to win.

On the field, it didn’t matter that his girlfriend had screwed around with another guy. Or that his mother wouldn’t be winning any ‘Mom of the Year’ awards.

Out here, amongst the sweat and the turf, what mattered was that his teammates were playing like crap. They needed to suck it up and win this effing game. His freaking life depended on it. Podunk Cheyenne, Wyoming was sucking the life out of him. He needed out. There were a couple of scouts in the bleachers tonight. Impressing them meant a full-ride scholarship. He wanted to go anywhere that wasn’t here.

With only twenty seconds left on the clock, the South High Bisons were down six points. Come hell or high water, they were gonna score. The barrage of red and black from the opposing team quickly untangled themselves and moved off him.

A guy from the opposing team stuck out a hand. “Have fun under there, Hawke?”

“You’re such a comedian.” Michael ignored the jerk’s hand and stood. Then, with his hands he made a T and called time out.

After talking to Coach Gann, he brought the guys into the huddle.

“All right, I’ve had about enough of winding up on my ass. Davids, Porter, Reagan, do your jobs and protect me. Got it!” Michael pulled on Vinny’s helmet. “Smith, go long. We’re getting a touchdown. End of story.” Smith nodded, sporting a huge smile, showing his gold mouth guard. “35 slot cross. Let’s do it.” They all stuck their hands into the center and yelled. “Go Bison.”

Michael got into position, hollered the play, grabbed the ball, took his five steps back and waited for Smith to get down the field. The dude had always been faster than most, but the opposing players were after him quicker than expected.

Come on; hold em back.

Okay, he’s there. Michael cocked his arm back and threw. It flew perfectly. He watched the ball arc. Catch it. C’mon, catch it. He knew it’d hit Vinny in the numbers. All Vinny had to do was wrap his hands around the ball and run in for the touchdown.

He caught it. Michael took a quick breath before Vinny turned and ran. The dude was fast.

Touchdown!

“Yes,” Michael shouted, as he watched Vinny do his stupid touchdown dance. Good job, ya jackass.

CHAPTER 12

Little Red Corvette

 

 

After the game a bunch of the team decided to meet up at The Village Inn for a post game celebration. The place had people filled to the rafters. Once they got their spots, Michael ordered. He didn’t mind that the place smelled of greasy burgers and body odor. Because more importantly, the diner also reeked of a win, and against their biggest rivals, Central High.

“Hawke, man, that was an awesome throw,” Davids said, pounding Michael on the back.

“Yeah, Mikey. I’m sure the scout from U of U saw and will be calling.” Phillips tossed the football at him. “Is that where you wanna go?”

He shook his head. Truthfully, he wanted to go much further away. “Not sure.”

He’d played okay, certainly not his best. Michael shouldn’t have let yesterday’s breakup with Cheverly or the fight with his mom get to him like he did. Stealing that bottle of bourbon and going drinking—not his best pre-game show. Then he’d met that chick and her boy toy . . . What sort of weirdness had the dude been wearing anyway?

He dodged around his feelings of ending it all. It hadn’t been one of his brightest moments. When he’d returned home, he tucked the gun between the mattresses. Mostly he worked hard to forget about the voice that’d shouted inside his head. The word: Coward! He’d searched for someone, so sure an actual person had said the word. But no one else was around.

Now that some time had passed, he wondered if he’d heard the word at all. He decided he didn’t care. The whole morning had been bizarre and he wanted to forget about it.

After changing clothes, Michael had sucked it up and finished out the school day, a little tipsy. By the start of the first quarter of their game that night, he’d been sober—overly so. But that was for the best. He played well and his team won their game. Go Bisons. Blah. Blah. Blah . . .

“Hey, who’s that with Vinny?” Phillips punched Michael on the arm, bringing him back to the noisy diner. He looked in the direction of Phillips finger and saw—her.

Venus.

“Kinda bony, but I’d do her.” Phillips always knew how to get right to the crude.

Her soft lips pressed against his had tasted like warm apple cider. Even with mud in her hair, she’d been beautiful. And her angry, blue eyes. Amazing. The way she’d stood up to him—proud and furious. Those strange boots and her lack of clothing. Her frail hands slim, but firm.

“I’d stay away. She’s a total hag,” Michael said to the guys.

“What, you met her already?” Davids asked. “Figures.” He and the other guys were still staring though. It was hard not to.

She radiated . . . what?

Beauty? Sure.

Vitality? Definitely!

Michael struggled to find the right word.

Perfection.

Even the light seemed brighter around her silhouette, like it’d been drawn to her essence and wanted to shine its brightest, for her. As he watched, the disgust inside him grew. And the fact that she knew Vinny? That only added to his need to take Vinny down. Idle threats weren’t his thing. He intended to punish Vinny, but he hadn’t figured out how yet. As if he’d heard Michael, Vinny looked over. Anger flashed across his face, but quickly vanished. He nodded. Michael returned it. Davids, probably thinking Vinny nodded at him, waved back.

“Hey,” he hollered.

Vinny leaned over and spoke to Venus. She grinned, which irritated Michael. Then she looked over. Those eyes. He almost turned away when she smiled—at him. Okay, in his general direction. He wasn’t sure, but, to him, she appeared unhappy. The smile forced. Michael understood, if that were the case.

Regardless, the smile lit her entire face and took his breath away. He sucked in, lowering his eyes to his fisted hands, the knuckles white. What’s wrong with me?

“Hey, Hawke, you want some?” Phillips sat next to Michael in their booth. He held a chrome flask of liquid courage in his hands. Michael took it and lowered his head, covering his face with his letterman jacket, throwing back a giant swig.

Feel the burn.

“Dude, save some for us.”

Handing it back, Michael said, “Thanks.” He snuck a glance back at Venus. She’d picked up a menu and appeared to be engrossed.

A waitress named Sarah dropped off his food, giving him a sexy smile. He smiled back, glad for a momentary distraction. When she left, he put a large bite of burger in his mouth. Phillips offered him another drink. He helped himself to more and then some more.

By the time his food was gone and the flask emptied, Michael had a good buzz going.

“Party at AnnaBeth’s tonight,” Davids said, his words slurred. “You in?”

“You know it!” No way he wanted to give up his buzz. He wondered if Venus would be going, which irked him. He knew Vinny usually never missed a party. He couldn’t help but give a quick glance in her direction again. This time, to his shocked dismay, Cheverly sat in the booth, next to Venus and across from the guy who’d been wearing those weird clothes. Though they’d split up, Chev sitting with Vinny annoyed him.

Chev peeked his way, her face sad. He watched her try to smile. Michael knew that look. Chev wanted to talk. He grinned back, which pissed him off. He’d decided he hated her. Hated Venus. Hated everyone! “I’m outta here. See you at the party.” Michael paid and bolted into the windy night.

It hadn’t snowed yet, but it would any day now.

As he walked to his car, he heard light footfalls following. When he turned, there stood Cheverly, her midnight hair blowing everywhere.

“What do you want?” he snarled.

“We need to talk. Can I drive?” The words came out tentative, but he knew she wouldn’t take no for an answer. He’d been drinking, and Michael knew she didn’t like it. Chev never participated. It’d been an attribute he secretly admired about her, even though everyone else called her a prude.

“You know I won’t let anyone drive Red but me.” Most of the anger had fizzled out of him. Michael figured he should let Chev drive. Red was his baby. A 1968 completely restored Corvette. He adored his car—bathed her, rubbed her down, glossed her, changed her—you name it, he did it.

“Don’t be a donkey-butt. You’re drunk. You want her wrecked?”

“Fine,” he grumbled and tossed Chev the keys. The alcohol had smoothed the edges and he wasn’t in the mood to argue.

CHAPTER 13

Cruising for a Bruising

 

 

They were travelling southbound on South Greeley Highway, heading toward Terry Ranch Road. AnnaBeth’s house sat on three acres and wasn’t too far from the Colorado border. Michael felt his eyes droop as they passed the Big Country Speedway. Giant floodlights lit up the arena. He ignored the high-pitched whining of the racing cars and focused on the roads yellow stripes. Neither he nor Chev spoke, each seemingly lost in their own thoughts.

All of a sudden Cheverly slammed on the brakes, whipping Michael forward against his seatbelt.

“What the hell, Chev?”

Smooth and unwavering, she said, “Holy cheese, what an idiotic truck driver.”

Michael knew his mouth hung open. He was stunned by Chev’s calm demeanor.

She gave him a quick glance and then said, to the back end of the semi truck, “I’m not going to flip you off. I’m not going to honk my horn . . .” She flicked on the left blinker and sped into the left lane. “. . . I’m just going to drive on by.” And she did, completely disregarding the semi truck that had pulled in front of them.

Michael, on the other hand, did flip him off. “Asshole,” he shouted. Then to Cheverly, “You handled that . . . well. If anything happened to Red . . . or us, I’d have been peeved.”

“Thanks. Glad nothing happened to your car . . . or us.” She giggled. “Staying relaxed in stressful situations helps keep me sane.”

By the gleam in her eyes, he knew she meant more than this moment. She was talking about yesterday, too. Her, Vinny and their botched anniversary date. Those thoughts made him realize he needed more alcohol—needed to be numb.

“Nothing happened between Vinny and me,” she began.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” He peered out into the darkness, his head resting against the cool window.

“We talked. That’s it. I swear.” She blinked a few times. “I was mad you’d ignored me all day. I figured you’d forgotten.”

Michael turned toward her. “But the lake, our lake?” Seemed too coincidental. He watched her push a dark strand of hair behind her ears. Admittedly, he was still attracted to her.

They’d arrived at AnnaBeth’s. The sprawling rambler was bathed in light. Music blared into the night. Chev put the car in first and turned off the ignition. “I’m sorry, Michael. I promise nothing happened. I’d never do anything to hurt you.” Tears trickled down her cheeks.

A part of him, the part that had gone and made her chocolate-covered sugar cookies wanted to lean over and wipe them away. Tell her not to worry, that everything was okay, all was forgiven . . . “I’ll have to think about it.”

CHAPTER 14

Take My Breath Away

 

 

Neither Venus nor Zaren went to the party.

Dervinias’s little house had two bedrooms. He’d given the smaller one to Venus. The room was basic: a window, closet, dresser, nightstand and a bed. The décor on the walls—not so basic. The top half had been painted a cotton candy pink. The bottom half had paper stuck to it, covered in (get this) little princesses. There were hundreds of vertical rows of blond, brown and black-haired girls wearing a long bright pink gown. Each had a tiara and scepter. An off-white border cut the walls in half and a hot pink colored word, ‘Princess’ repeated itself over and over and over and over all the way around the room.

At least the bed looked comfy. A white comforter covered it and tons of different sized pillows had been propped against the headboard. It’d reminded Venus of a fluffy cloud. The pillows were pretty. Some covered in lace, pearlized shells, ruffles and tiny roses. Over the bed hung a small chandelier and with the lights on, the room sparkled with hundreds of tiny diamonds. On the white nightstand sat a lamp, the shade a soft pink. And the curtains dressing the window were thick, fluffy white.

When she’d first entered, she nearly died of humiliation. Dervinias swore he hadn’t done it. He said the previous owners had sold him the house furnished. Both Zaren and Dervinias had laughed. Yeah, hilarious.

The cute little room, clearly decorated for a little girl, brought concern and twisted her gut with worry. She couldn’t help wondering about the people who’d lived in the house before Dervinias. What’d happened to them? Why had they left everything? The girl? What sort of sadness or trouble had caused them to up and move? Humanity! Crappy new-fangled emotions for people she’d never met. They coursed through her body, an unfamiliar strain, the effects almost as poisonous as the air.

She’d asked Dervinias about the family, but he’d said he didn’t know. Somehow she didn’t believe him. Something felt off. He seemed too happy, too cheerful about . . . everything. Even when Venus had asked questions and he’d complained she was giving him ‘the third degree’, he’d continued with his too upbeat attitude. It was irksome. Irritating. The worst part was he seemed to enjoy bugging her.

“Look,” he’d finally said, “your fiancé’s father has a great desire to understand all things human—especially the younger generations. Teenagers to be specific. A lot of it probably has to do with the fact that we kelvieri look sixteen and will forever. But I’m sure it’s more. Over the centuries, he’s witnessed the younger generation become smarter and smarter while they’ve grown lazier and lazier. It’s made him curious. So here I am—an experiment.”

Venus nodded. Her parents had talked about sending an expedition to Earth for the same sort of reasons. They had questions about why humans seemed to die at such a young age.

“So you’re here to study the humans? You’re a Discoverer?”

“Well, yes and no. My official title is Geneticist, but I’ve gone on several expeditions before this one and discovered many different worlds, so Discoverer fits, too.”

“What have you learned? Are humans bound to become extinct?” Her Earth Studies teacher had given humans another century at most before they destroyed each other and their beautiful planet.

“Probably, though I find their take on emotions fascinating.”

Venus shrugged and went to bed. She’d had more questions, but Dervinias seemed anxious to get to the high school party and Venus had been tired.

Still was.

But so far sleep eluded her. Two hours of tossing and turning, trying to get comfortable enough, relaxed enough, to close her eyes and drift. Without success. A faint mildew odor tickled her nose and the bed wasn’t as comfortable as it’d looked. Kind of lumpy. She’d changed into pajamas for sleep, a black tank and boy shorts. The material, though softer than the clothes she’d been wearing, scratched her skin. And human underwear—awful! Talk about riding into areas they didn’t belong. No wonder humans were grouchy. She missed her silky unisas and her lovely, comfortable bed that read her body’s every need, both internally and externally. She guessed that if clouds weren’t vapor, but as soft and squishy as they looked, they’d feel like her bed back home.

“Cret,” she swore and flipped onto her back. Forcing her breathing to slow, she closed her eyes. If only I didn’t have to breathe. If only there was a switch to turn off my mind.

But it refused to shut down. Scenarios on how she’d ended up on Earth coursed through her. Who would’ve done it? She knew her family had enemies. That went along with being royalty. What they did about it was a different story. Their counselors, chancellors and especially her parents had always kept that part of ruling the kingdom away from her. They’d said she was too young to understand. Now she was on her own and she didn’t know where to start. It could’ve been anyone. How could she help them if she didn’t know where to begin?

And Sadraden? Her irrihunter’s baby? Both dead. Venus felt tears form in her eyes, a human thing to do—cry. She tried to blink them back, but one escaped and she wiped it away. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there to protect you.” Another tear. Pain wrenched and twisted her heart. The tears flowed and she let them.

For the first time ever, she cried herself to sleep.

CHAPTER 15

Electric Blue

 

 

Kelarians can tell the difference between a dream and reality. A part of their minds always remained alert. For this reason Venus knew she’d pierced someone’s consciousness. What she didn’t know was whose. They weren’t hers. The images she witnessed guaranteed that, but this hadn’t happened before. Like a child hiding in a corner, she tried to stay out of the way. She had no doubt getting involved in a dream or a memory could be detrimental.

She watched.

A little boy with a shuck of black hair sat on the floor playing with cars. He looked like he was three. The dark wood floor felt cold against his bare feet and he wriggled his long toes against the tingling numbness. He wore a yellow t-shirt and khaki shorts. Venus could hear yelling in the background and felt the boy’s mind fill with fear. He was scared of the angry voices—of his parents. He didn’t think they loved him. That he was bad and was to blame for their constant fighting. Suddenly, the voices got quiet and then the man called for him.

“Son. Come here.” A command. Venus watched the boy stand and followed him into a bedroom. Smoky haze and the smell of cigarettes overpowered his senses. A man sat in a stuffed orange and white flowered chair. Black hair, like the boy’s, covered his head. Gray peppered the edges, near his ears. He was clean shaven. Handsome even. Across from him, a woman sat on the edge of a bed, rocking back and forth, her eyes red and puffy. “Sit on the floor.” The man pointed to the ground. The boy obeyed, head lowered. Afraid. And the man knew it. He looked away, like he had to gather himself. Venus watched the man’s eyes. They were the eyes of a devil.

Fear for the boy slashed at her heart. He was like a lamb to the slaughter.

“Let me see your feet.” The words dripped with malice.

“Why?” the boy asked. Innocent.

“Don’t question me, stupid.” He grabbed a foot and lifted it with one hand. In the other he held what looked like a thick piece of glass. “Catherine, this is your fault. Yours and this boy’s. You two make me do this.” Then he cut the boy’s foot.” Blood poured onto the floor—a red river.

Venus turned away, unable to watch the boy’s suffering. She could still hear him scream. Sorrow filled her for the tortured boy. How she hurt for him—with him.

The memories continued. And so did the abuse. She witnessed, experienced every cut and bruise, externally and internally. Years and years of his suffering strangled her, like rope on a noose. She struggled to breathe. He’d been right. His father blamed him for everything.

By the age of seven his father left and Venus felt a momentary relief. He’d be safe. But, no. The mother, Catherine, continued with the abuse.

In spite of his parents, he managed to stay kind. He began playing football so he could feel like a winner in some area of his life. It’d worked. People flocked to him. A born leader. He escaped the pain by reading. Developed a love of poetry: William Blake, Emily Dickinson. He devoured books. All of Shakespeare, War and Peace, Frankenstein, anything by Hemingway, Faulkner, Mark Twain. He also held a secret hope that his mother, in her way, still loved him.

Venus watched him grow, felt his losses, experienced his crushes on girls. He decided early that they used him. Many of his decisions were a product of his mother’s hurtful words, which taught him to never let himself get too close. Still he’d fallen for a beautiful girl. Cheverly! These were Michael’s dreams. Michael’s memories. Deep down, she’d known. She watched the two of them together. He seemed to love her and she loved him. Venus also witnessed the day he’d seen Cheverly with Dervinias. The pain he’d experienced. And though hate seethed within, she felt his underlying love for the girl.

She also saw the way his mother treated him and felt the intense rage he harbored. Like a ship in a storm, he’d been pummeled and beaten at every turn in his life. With every relationship he dared have. He was growing weary. Ready to sink and disappear into the churning waves . . .

Unexpectedly everything in his mind went dark. His heart began to beat fast, like a frightened rabbit. Excitement? Fear? She didn’t know. Maybe both. It was as though a blindfold had been placed over her eyes. Venus couldn’t comprehend, nor see what happened.

Only felt his confusing emotions.

Then his soul soared with an unexplained pleasure. And when she finally understood why, she was devastated. He wanted to die. It saddened her to realize he considered death as a means of relief. She tried to dig deeper, see if there was a specific reason, but he wouldn’t let her in any further. Frustrated, she pushed, trying to advance further into the recesses of his mind, but she wasn’t sure how and didn’t want to hurt him or herself.

She’d almost given up, but like a light bulb, his mind flipped back on. She heard birds singing, a fast moving stream, smelled the Larkspur and the Sunflowers. He was remembering that day on the mountain. The day the two of them met. Venus stayed on the fringes, now familiar with the sounds. And then she saw herself, moving toward Michael.

It was strange, seeing herself as he did: long blond hair flowing behind her as she ran. The sun hitting the strands made him think of a glowing halo. Ethereal was the word he used. His heart quickened as he watched who he believed was the Angel of Death.

Michael believed she’d come to kill him. Take him from his pain. Save him.

When he first saw her, he’d thought she ran naked toward the stream. The sunlight had blurred her skin and her cream-colored unisa together. All he noticed were her Kelvieri’s Boots. Her skin shone, radiant. And the way the light hit her eyes, he kept thinking of a song—Electric Blue—by some group called Icehouse.

As she drew nearer, his heart softened. But, almost as quickly he cursed himself for having any sort of feeling. Once they’d started talking, he hungered for an emotional and physical bond. Craved it worse than the alcohol he’d been drinking. So tormented.

He longed to be taken from his forsaken life. It caused him pain to realize she hadn’t brought relief. Hatred. Agony ripped through his body. She watched him pull out the gun, tap it against his forehead. Venus wanted to reach out and take it from him. Then she heard the word he’d heard: coward. It’d saved him, but where did it come from?

She was drowning with him in his sorrows. So much about their first meeting made more sense.

And then she saw him again at that diner, where he noticed her. Desire coursed through him whenever he pondered their kiss. Apple cider. But Venus shook her head. That didn’t matter. What was of the upmost importance, he’d gone to the party with Cheverly. They’d talked. He’d allowed his feelings for her to bubble to the surface, though he hadn’t wanted them too. He had so much pain, yet he still cared.

How Venus hurt for him. The more she learned, the more her soul connected with his. He needed her help. He needed love more than anyone she’d ever known. And, Venus wanted to help him.

She had no idea how or where to begin. Love was an emotion foreign to her, at least the true, everlasting love that could exist between two people . . .

She woke abruptly, covered in sweat. Entering Michael’s mind had been exhausting. She felt damaged, having suffered his every cut and each emotional cruelty, as he had. Venus felt the inklings of understanding ripple inside her mind. There was a reason the Gods, Ith and Aetha, had linked her to this boy. It wasn’t merely a punishment. It was much more.

A whispered confirmation enveloped her. “Yes.”

The Gods hadn’t sent her here, but they would allow her to learn from the experience. This had become part of her immortal’s journey—part of her quest toward becoming kelvieri. If immortality were to be hers, if she wanted to return home and find the truth behind what’d happened to her family, her irrihunter, and, if she wanted to someday rule Alayeah, Venus needed to do this.

CHAPTER 16

Here I Go Again

 

 

“C’mon, hurry up.” Dervinias stalked out of the house, grateful for a break from the electronic dance garbage shaking the walls. Three of his supporters followed. One was Kelvin, the large lug he wasn’t sure about. The others were called Tawny and Selena. He went past the steaming hot tub full of screaming girls in bikinis and smelly chlorine and headed toward the far end of the yard.

“Hey baby,” one of the wet girls called, waving. Stephanie was her name, Dervinias remembered. Hot body. She’d make a perfect candidate for his plan—whether she wanted to or not. They had Trig together. He ignored her, for now, and continued toward a large tree.

The bark appeared thick and brittle. Almost all of the leaves had fallen. They crunched under his feet sending a faint tang of nutmeg into the air. At the tree, he stopped and pressed his back against its trunk, propping a foot.

“What is it, Dervinias?” Tawny asked, looking peeved. He knew she wasn’t happy with the group dynamic—Chev being his leading lady.

He let a smile curve his lips. “I have a job for the three of you.”

His father had failed to mention that the princess’s Formytian had followed her to Earth. That made killing the girl even more difficult. The over-protective guardian had discovered the treachery and followed her. His exuberance would be the death of him.

“Tell us,” Tawny said in whispered excitement. He knew she lusted after the chance to kill. Though she’d never know, that was the reason she hadn’t been chosen to rule by his side.

“Well darling, before we can move forward with our plan, you have to kill a kelarian princess. You think you can handle that?”

“Isn’t she l-like you?” Kelvin asked.

“No, she isn’t.” Dervinias breathed, trying to keep his patience. “You don’t need all of the details, but trust me when I say she’s vulnerable. She can be killed. This planet’s atmosphere will take care of her in seven days, but I want her murdered corpse brought to me tonight.”

“Uh, Dervinias, sir?”

Give me strength. “What is it, Kelvin?”

“If Earth will destroy her in a week, then what’s the big deal? Why do we have to kill—again?” Dervinias noticed he shuffled his feet; his shoulders slouched inside his letterman’s jacket.

You’d think the way he hacked off body parts, Kelvin would be excited at the prospect of another death. But, apparently not.

“Because, Kelvin. She has a mega-enthusiastic guardian who is like me, and he’s going to do everything in his power to help her get back to Kelari. What happens if he finds a way before she dies? Mmmm?” Dervinias crossed his arms and stomped his foot on the hard ground.

“I guess,” Kelvin said.

The quiet one, Selena, stepped forward. “What’s she to us?”

“Let’s just say if we don’t kill her our plans will be ruined. Good enough?”

Tawny stepped forward. “How do you want us to do this?”

Ferocious, beautiful Tawny. He pulled a slip of paper from a back pocket and handed it to her. “Get the knives I’ve given you. You’ll need them. And then get your butts to that address and kill her. You’ll have the element of surprise. She’ll be tired. Murder her while she’s sleeping.”

Tawny unfolded the paper. Kelvin and Selena leaned in to read the address.

“Isn’t this your house?” Selena asked, giving him a strange look.

“And her name’s Venus?” Tawny confirmed. “Right. But that doesn’t matter. Follow the map. You’ll find her in the far bedroom.” Dervinias pushed away from the tree, moving closer to the humans. “There.” He pointed at a large X.

“Is she the girl from the diner tonight? Wow, she’s fine,” Kelvin said.

In an instant, Dervinias grabbed Kelvin by the throat and hefted his large body in the air. “Yeah? Well I need you to shut up and destroy that fine girl. Got it?”

“Yes,” he gasped.

Dervinias dropped him and spoke to the girls. “Good. Remember to be careful. Her guardian can read her mind as well as yours. I’ll make sure he’s incapacitated. So if you make it quick, he won’t realize anything’s happened until it’s too late. I’d kill her myself, but I’ll need an alibi.” They each looked at him with uncertainty. He was sure they wanted more information. Like little children, he could almost hear their whining.

But there was no way he’d kill her. Not with the curse the Gods had placed upon him. He’d rather live eternally amongst humans than forever in the lowest realm of Helker. A fate worse than death.

Besides it wouldn’t be long now before he’d created a new race. A species that would call him a God.

“We’ll do it,” Kelvin said.

“Of course you will,” Dervinias agreed.

CHAPTER 17

Another One Bites the Dust

 

 

Venus had no idea what time it was. The dreams and memories she’d witnessed in Michael’s mind hung over her thoughts like wet clothes. She pulled back the covers, about to get out of bed and get a drink, when she heard a shuffling noise in the hallway, outside her bedroom. If it’d been Zaren, she wouldn’t have heard him, so it had to be someone else.

“Dervinias,” she whispered, figuring he’d come home from the party.

The noise stopped, but she watched the door handle turn slowly. Moving forward, she went to see what Dervinias wanted. He bugged her with his incessant cheerfulness, like an obnoxious Mary Poppins. Worse, Venus knew he made Zaren uneasy. That’s all the warning she needed about the guy.

Three. Two. One. She flung the door open and immediately took a step back, shocked to see a very tall, very bulky person at the threshold. It wasn’t Dervinias. She knew this because of his height and width, but she had no idea who he was. His face covered in shadows by the hood over his head.

Her body was still heavy with sleepiness, but she worked to sound tough. “Who are you? Are you one of Dervinias’s friends?”

“I’m the death of you, gorgeous,” he said, softly, his tone and inflections exposing his youth and confidence. Hulking, but obviously a teen. From behind his back, he revealed a large knife, the blade long and curved, like a sickle.

Venus felt her pupils grow large—not in fear—but in preparation. This boy had no idea who he planned to murder. She’d been trained in more than one form of what humans called martial arts, but the warriors she’d studied under weren’t from this little planet. If she wanted to, she could slaughter this poor kid with his own knife before he knew what happened.

“I think you’ve got that backward, you overgrown mingtar. If you don’t leave now, I’ll be the death of you.

He raised his head and Venus squinted, working to see his face. “That’s not what he told me. He said you’d be easy to kill. You’re tiny. Killing you will be like snapping a hummingbird’s bones.” He sounded less sure of himself, though. The knife in his hand drooped slightly.

She bent her knees, shifted her feet to find a more grounded center. Through her nose, she took a deep breath . . . and choked on the stifling air. Multiple coughs racked her body.

Cret! She’d momentarily forgotten what the air was doing to her lungs, her body.

Luckily she had enough sense to put her hands into their striking position—elbows bent, hands up, palms facing forward.

“Leave,” she’d meant to yell. The word came out strangled.

He lunged at her. “No. I won’t leave until you’re dead. I can’t.” The boy spat the words, like they were dirty.

She stepped forward as he came at her, keeping her body low. Her intent had been to flip him over her left shoulder, causing him to land on his head. He went over her shoulder all right, but she wasn’t prepared for his weight. It was like he paused in midair before mashing down on top of her, pushing her stomach to the floor. Her chin smacked against the carpet. His weight nearly knocked Venus out. As if that weren’t bad enough, the stink of his body odor—rotten eggs—caused her to gag. Venus heard him groan a curse, his knife clanged against something, probably her bed frame.

With great effort she tried to push him off, but he was too heavy. Flailing about, he made a klutzy effort to untangle himself from her.

“Are you a boy or a baboon?” she hissed, frustrated she hadn’t been stealthier. Her Senji master would be humiliated if he’d witnessed this tragedy.

When she felt the kid’s weight shift, Venus scrambled from under him, and onto her feet, facing his hulking figure. He jumped up, knife in hand. It gleamed in the moonlight that shone through the window. She steadied herself, finding center, waiting for him to come at her again. This time she’d make Master Yoiru proud.

“Arrrrgggghhhh,” he roared, shaking his head, reminding her of a lion.

“You ready to call this quits? Maybe you want to try again some other time, when you aren’t such a clumsy ox?” Venus tried on an evil smile, hoping to intimidate him.

“Listen, I don’t have a choice. He said it’s your destiny—”

He couldn’t finish. Dervinias was suddenly at his throat, a hand over his mouth. He wasn’t as tall or as wide as the huge boy, but it didn’t matter. Dervinias was stronger—much stronger. Venus watched the boys eyes grow wide, she guessed in fear. The boy looked like he wanted to talk, but he didn’t get the chance. Dervinias twisted. Venus heard the sickening snap of his neck and watched his body drop, like a bowling ball, onto her carpet.

“Did you have to kill him?” she shouted. Her rubbery legs carried her forward.

“He tried to kill you and you didn’t seem to be dealing. Lucky I came home when I did,” he said, full of cockiness.

“He was just a boy.” Venus slugged Dervinias in the arm, still too weak to show more rage. She fell to her knees next to the boy’s head. “I’m so sorry.” With two fingers, she lowered his lids over his empty eyes. “What are we going to do? Zaren will know.”

She stood and yelled, “Zaren.” When he didn’t come right away, she called again, louder. “Formytian.” To Dervinias, she asked, “Where is he?”

“He’s probably exhausted. Leave him be. I’ll take care of it.” Venus heard the biting tone rip from his throat.

“What’s your plan?” She crossed her arms.

“Does it matter? Go sleep on the couch. I’ll handle it,” he growled, facing her.

She sighed, unbidden tears glossing over her vision. “Why did he want to kill me?” she whispered.

He shook his head, turning back to the boy. “I don’t know.”

She needed to leave the room. The smell of death already permeated the air. Careful not to let any of the white comforter touch the floor, she carried it into the living room. Venus wanted to see Zaren. He should’ve been with her, but the bedroom door remained shut. She shrugged it off, knowing nothing on this planet could harm him, figuring it was as Dervinias said. He’d been exhausted.

Lying on the lumpy red couch, she tried to go back to sleep, but it was difficult. She wondered what the teen had meant about her destiny. The boy had been trying to do someone else’s bidding. Whose?

She was also curious about what Dervinias might be doing. With the boys body? With the room?

Overhead, the ceiling fan whirred and she watched it until fatigue finally hit. There was much to do in the morning, lots to talk about. Venus still had to make the rude human boy, Michael, fall in love.

CHAPTER 18

Forever Young

 

 

Dervinias lived in a tiny house. The kitchen/dining area felt cramped with the three of them pressed into the rickety, black table, which snuggled next to a rusty-red stove. Behind Venus, the morning sun shone through the window. Its warmth, along with the heat of the stove, was making her sweat.

“Where’s the body?” Zaren asked through clenched teeth. The table separated Venus and Zaren, yet she still felt the force of his anger. He wouldn’t meet her eyes, and she figured he was mad at her, too.

“It doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that I have some people who helped out. He’ll be found. His family will be able to mourn the crazy S.O.B. . . . It’s all good,” Dervinias said, forking a piece of pancake and shoveling it in his mouth.

Zaren pounded a fist on the table, rattling the silverware. A bit of her milk spilled. Venus rose to get a towel and clean up.

“I’m sorry, Zaren.” She kept her focus on wiping up the mess.

Tenderly, he replied, “Venus, you’ve no reason to apologize. I’m the one who’s sorry. I should’ve been there to help you. I can’t understand why I slept through your danger.” She looked up in time to see him glare at Dervinias.

“What?” Dervinias smirked. “Be grateful I arrived when I did or you’d have a dead princess on your hands.”

“The kid was working for someone else. He kept saying ‘he’. He also mentioned my destiny. Where would he get such ideas?” Venus chimed in, throwing the wet towel at Dervinius.

“Don’t look at me, unless you want to say thank you for my saving your life. You could be a bit more grateful.”

She didn’t feel gratitude though. She felt angry, edgy. “Thank you.”

“And you,” He threw the towel at Zaren and continued, “sleeping through the whole thing. Did you dip into the alcohol last night? Sip a little too much sauce?”

“I don’t know . . .”

 

 

Rage flashed through her. How dare he speak to Zaren that way? “Speaking of dead, I have six days to make Michael fall in love or your rescue won’t matter.”

Zaren heaved a deep sigh, but she continued to focus on Dervinias.

“True. You’d better get crackin!” Dervinias stuffed another bite of pancake in his mouth and then took a huge gulp of milk.

Venus wanted to wipe the floor with his arrogant hide. Grabbing her fork, she stabbed it into her breakfast. Pancakes. The food she’d been most excited about trying. She’d read about them, drooled over the imagined flavor. Now that she finally had the chance to try them, her excitement was tempered by memories of the dead boy.

Still, the pancakes on her plate were large, thick and fluffy. The brown syrup covering them tasted delicious. Dervinias had warmed it and his house smelled of maple and butter. Better than the death stench in my room. Even with everything that had happened, Venus managed to eat three. They tasted better than she’d expected. Problem was she’d overdone it. Her tummy rumbled in frustration.

Venus pushed her plate away and studied Dervinias. His physical appearance remained close to that of a kel before the change, except his skin, which was exceptionally tan. His hair was white-blond and his eyes were dark gray. At the moment, he wore a light pair of jeans, black boots and a plain gray t-shirt. A lanky guy. Very handsome. He’d made all the ladies giddy at dinner last night, including their middle-aged waitress. Why go to high school? At his age, it must’ve been boring for him.

“Quite the contrary, I find high school on this planet fascinating.”

“So you can read my mind? My thoughts?” That explains a lot! “What the cret!” Venus frowned. “Is this a quirk of all kelvieri or just you?” She had to wonder how much of her thoughts Zaren had listened in on. Very intrusive! She thrust a harsh look at him.

“Princess, this only recently occurred, for me anyway. It must have something to do with our being on Earth. I can’t read Dervinias, only humans . . . and you. I’ve made every effort to avoid intruding on your mind.” He sounded genuine.

“I see.” She once again frowned at Dervinias. She believed Zaren. He was good, trustworthy. He’d lay down his life for her if necessary. Venus had no reason to suppose he wasn’t telling the truth.

“Vinny, stay out! It isn’t nice to invade a person’s mind. But, since you brought it up, what’s so great about it? High School.”

“Everything. The drama. The way teenagers react to life.” He paused and gave a huge grin. “And the girls get prettier each time I attend.”

“Each time? You’ve gone more than once?” Venus couldn’t help but glare. A shallow kelvieri.

Surprise. Surprise.

“I’m not shallow. I know what I like. And this is my third time. Once in Hawaii. Man, I loved the surfing and the laid back local girls. Then I went to a private school in New York. Those girls are gorgeous, driven and, oh sooooo uptight. Now here. I can understand why the West was won.” He shoveled another bite of pancake in his mouth, winked, chewed twice and then swallowed. “First time playing football though. I love it.”

“Mm-hmm. A question?”

“Yes?”

“Why’d you take Cheverly to that lake, of all places? Especially since she and Michael were together?”

At least now she wouldn’t have to go into detail about her entering Michael’s memories and dreams last night. No need to, what with the alien mind-readers in the room! Especially the blond one. Venus fumed. For a two-hundred-year-old kelvieri, he seemed kind of dense. Definitely insensitive, rude and completely cocky. She hadn’t known him for long, but she didn’t like him. Even if he had saved her last night.

“Why not take her?” He gave her a boyish grin.

“You’re so crude.” She shook her head. He didn’t seem to care that he’d been the cause of breaking up two people. Nor did he seem bothered that he killed a child last night.

Venus ached with guilt over the death. An emotion she wasn’t fond of—at all. Yes, she probably would’ve killed him herself, if it’d come down to it. First, though, she would’ve questioned him, tried to figure out why he wanted her dead. Sadly, at this point, she couldn’t change anything. The damage had been done.

If she didn’t come up with a plan to help Michael, none of this idiocy would matter. She had to focus on getting home.

Zaren rubbed his temples. He didn’t seem to be enjoying the pancakes as much as Venus had. Part of the first one still sat on his plate getting soggy. “She needs to get close to the boy and fast. It’d be practical if she could attend this school. Perhaps as your guest. Do you think that’s possible? He needs to get to know her, start trusting her.”

“Of course it’s possible. I’ve got the front desk lady wrapped around my sexy alien finger.” He held up his pinky.

“You know, I’ve been thinking about it. Maybe he doesn’t need to get to know me. Maybe I need to get to him through Cheverly.”

Both Dervinias and Zaren looked at her.

“Interesting,” Dervinias said. “Why do you say that, V?”

She shot him a dirty look. “Well, it’s simple. I’m positive Cheverly still loves Michael. And I know, up until two days ago, Michael believed he loved her, so I need to get them back together and there you go. True love. I get to go home and figure out who did this to me.”

Zaren nodded. He seemed to approve, but Dervinias had a curious look on his face.

“What? You don’t think it’ll work?”

“You know there’s a difference between love and true love, right?” He winked before popping another huge bite of pancake in his mouth.

It was Venus’s turn to slam her fist on the table. “It’s a start, Vinny. Why did you take her to the lake?” she yelled.

He shrugged. “She wanted to go and I wanted to take her. I had no idea you were coming and that you’d be required to accomplish such a-an interesting task. She’s hot.” He shrugged again. “Sadly, Hawke called her and nothing happened. I’ll keep my paws off now that I know what your plans are.” He lifted his hands up, like Venus had seen actors do in the movies when they were held at gunpoint. “Promise.” He smirked and chugged the rest of his milk. Checking his watch he said, “Well, if you guys are coming to school with me, you’d better get a move on.”

Zaren seemed about to protest. Before he could say anything, Venus said, “You’re my guar- . . . my friend. If I’m going, so are you.”

He picked up his plate and put it in the sink. As the water ran, Venus waited, watching the strange way dishes were cleaned on this planet. It seemed so much more beneficial to use particle soap and steam—dizipter—the way everything got cleaned on Kelari.

Zaren turned to her and waved a hand toward the sink. “They still have a lot to learn, Princess.”

She snorted and he turned back to his task. She watched his muscles flex through his white t-shirt and wondered if he’d grown tired of her. If he was sorry he’d come after her. She’d released him from his Formytian vow, and he was no longer obligated. Truthfully, she was glad he stayed. She needed him.

The water clicked off and he turned. “I’ll never leave you and I’ll always be both—your Formytian and your friend.” Their shoulders brushed when he reached her. Zaren paused, a sensation she barely felt.

She wanted to fold herself into his arms, allow him to stroke her hair . . .

“We’re going to be late, Princess.” Dervinias tossed his dirty dishes in the sink and pushed past them. “Move it!”

CHAPTER 19

A View to a Kill

 

 

Venus chose a black pleated mini-skirt and a horizontal black and white striped tank. Over the top of the tank she put on a see-through lace top in maroon. Then, over the top of that, she slid on a vertical pin striped black blazer. It’d been one of the outfits hanging on a display in the store. Chev had said she’d look perfect in it. It wasn’t bad.

Turning back and forth in the full-length mirror attached to the bathroom door, Venus decided she looked adorable. Zaren had also bought scrunchies and barrettes. Since her hair hung to her waist, she was grateful for them. Venus made a braid and wrapped a maroon-colored lace scrunchie around the end.

Finished, she picked up a small black purse, which she’d filled with cherry-flavored lip gloss, a couple of pens and another scrunchie, and hurried to the living room, where she knew the guys were waiting.

“I’m ready.”

“You look beautiful,” Dervinias said.

“Yes, you do,” Zaren agreed.

“Thanks.”

With a flick of his wrist, Dervinias opened the door. “We’d better go if we don’t want to be late.”

Once outside, Venus snuggled deeper into her coat. Her body longed to really inhale, take a big, deep breath, but she resisted, knowing her lungs couldn’t take it. Instead she studied the neighborhood—all of the houses crammed together in their neat little rows. Somewhere there was a fire. The smell of burning wood cut through the chill. A twinge of alarm hit her stomach until she remembered humans had fireplaces and she looked up. Sure enough, smoke puffed into the sky from the roof of a house across the street.

Hundreds of birds flew over in a large V formation. Their chirping and tweeting sounded like a room full of talking people. Venus paused to watch as they landed on a telephone wire. Grief overwhelmed her senses. Sadraden. Dead. She’d never fly with her friend again. She’d never get the chance to meet her baby.

“Ready?” Zaren asked, resting a hand on her shoulder.

Venus turned slightly to search his face. He knew what she’d been thinking about, his sorrow evident. “Yes,” she answered and they walked to Dervinias’s enormous black truck together.

CHAPTER 20

Wild, Wild West

 

 

When they arrived at school, she watched kids whisper and gawk at them.

She gawked back.

One of the strangest parts about being on Earth was how alike the human teens and kelarians looked. Two eyes, a nose and a mouth. Hair in different lengths, and limbs long and lanky or short and stubby, same as kels. Sure unchanged kels were silver and white, but that almost seemed tame when compared to what some of the kids here did to their faces, bodies, and hair.

Piercings in all sorts of places—eyebrows, lips, cheeks, noses, even tongues. Hair the color of the sun, or purple pansies. Their nails were all sorts of colors, and some even had jewels on them.

Zaren wrapped a hand around her arm. She leaned into him, thankful again for his nearness, his coming after her so she wasn’t alone on this strange planet. They were in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The West. Home of cattle, wide-open spaces, and Frontier Days . . .

“Where are the cowboys? The hats? The horses?”

Dervinias snorted. “This isn’t Earth Studies, V. These kids do everything they can to avoid the mold. But if you must see a cowboy, check out the group over there, yonder.”

She turned and sure enough, there were cowboys! They had on cool hats and large belt buckles, jeans that looked too tight, and fantastic boots. “So they do exist.”

“Well, of course they do. One of the kids over there—the tall one with the black hat—he’s the calf roping champion of the state. And see that girl with hair the color of hay and the turquoise belt buckle?” He paused and waited for Venus to acknowledge she saw her.

“Yes.”

“She’s an amazing barrel racer.”

“Barrel racer?”

“Are you sure you took Earth Studies?”

Venus frowned.

“It’s when the horse and rider race around two barrels . . . You know what those are, right—”

She smacked him on the arm.

He continued, “In a figure eight.”

“Oh, that’s fabu.”

“Yeah, right. Fabu! You’re a dork.” He laughed and winked.

She looked away and noticed a few girls whispering and pointing in her direction. One even called her a name—tramp—whatever that meant.

“What’s their problem?” Venus asked.

“They’re angry at you, V.”

“Why? What did I do?” Her body gravitated closer to Zaren.

“You’re a girl and he’s fresh meat.” Dervinias inclined his head toward Zaren.

“What?”

“They want him. But they think you’ve already got your scrawny claws in him. It ticks them off.”

“Oh.” She realized she could feel their anger, like pointed daggers in her flesh.

“Cret! Zaren, you’d better let go.”

Both of the guys chuckled. But Zaren dropped his hand.

She couldn’t blame them for desiring the guys. They were both incredibly handsome, especially Zaren. Perhaps it was that they were kelvieri, but in contrast to the other boys (actually all humans), it was as though Zaren and Dervinias were in complete focus while everyone else was blurry. She especially liked the way Zaren looked in human clothes. He wore a long-sleeved, brown shirt and a dark pair of stone-washed jeans (that’s what Dervinias called them), with Dr. Marten boots. His black hair and lime green eyes made him breathtaking.

Zaren shifted his head slightly and caught her checking him out. He gave her a secret smile. “Focus, Princess.”

“You focus,” she said, feeling her face flush that he’d caught her. Since she’d come to this crazy world, she’d been unable to control her feelings. They kept creeping in. Maybe it was because she wasn’t being forced to behave like a princess all day.

Kinsfolk weren’t following her every move, every minute of every day, watching what she ate so they could copy it. If Venus had Incaria tea to drink with breakfast, then that was all the rage until she switched to a new drink or a new meal or . . . whatever. If she had the court designers shorten her coverlettes by even an inch, the rest of the females noticed and by the next day, theirs were shortened too.

When Venus wore trousers, they wore trousers. If she chose to learn a new weapon, all of the women were doing the same. The men too, sometimes. If she got sick, suddenly half the kels in the kingdom were ill. At times, it drove her insane.

Her mom explained that they copied her as a sign of admiration, that it was important and her obligation as their one-day leader. She said Venus should worry if they ever stopped. Venus tried to be understanding. Her mother’s words made sense, but it was still exasperating. The only thing most kels wouldn’t copy was her irrihunter flying. They were Kelari’s most feared animal. Sadraden had saved Venus, kept her sane. And now she was dead.

“I’ve never flown on one.” Dervinias gave Venus a blinding, white smile.

Zaren looked back at her, sympathy carved on his face.

“You two need to stay out of my head.” She smacked them both in the arms.

Dervinias laughed out loud. “Sure thing, V.”

She doubted he’d stop.

Zaren shrugged, which meant he didn’t think Dervinias would stop either. She smacked Dervinias again.

“Damn, girl,” he said rubbing his bicep.

South High School was made of brick. Different shades of brown, mustard and every shade in between. Row after row of windows lined the walls. The school looked to be three stories high. Ugly. The front doors were a pumpkin orange. Zaren reached them first and held one side opened. Dervinias walked through and swatted him in the stomach.

“Thanks man.”

Venus let out a snort at the glare Zaren gave Dervinias. “Thank you, Zaren.” She smiled big, a bolt of happiness zinging her heart.

He smiled back and followed behind, letting the door swing shut. “You’re welcome.”

They tried to keep up with Dervinias as they zigzagged through the throngs of students and teachers. Venus immediately had the urge to bolt back outside. The air hung thick with all sorts of odors, the overall effect revolting. Zaren reached over and grabbed her hand, giving it a squeeze.

“I agree. This place is . . . overwhelming.”

Dervinias turned around and hollered. “Hurry. We aren’t strolling through the park.”

They sped up. Dervinias pulled open a glass door and disappeared inside.

At the door, Venus hesitated. She wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was that attending this human school meant her predicament was real. Dervinias leaned against the counter speaking amicably to a woman with short, gray hair. He dropped his backpack onto the carpeted floor and began fiddling with a pen. Venus heard him laughing.

“Let’s get this over with. It’ll be fun.” Zaren reached in front of her and pulled the door open.

“Right,” Venus agreed.

Dervinias turned back and said, “See, here she is. And this is her . . . brother, Zaren.”

Brother? When was this decided? She flung the question into her mind, knowing at least Dervinias was listening.

Dervinias smirked, shrugging his shoulders. Venus had a strong urge to punch him again.

She glanced at Zaren and he shrugged. “Ugh,” she growled. Guys and their serious lack of communication skills.

Mrs. O’Hare (that was what the plaque resting on the counter said was her name) gave Venus a look, which she took to mean the woman thought she had issues, and then she handed first Zaren and then Venus some paperwork. “Sit down and fill those out. When you’re done, bring them back to me. Understand?” She looked directly at Venus.

“Yeeeeesssss.” She turned around and went to sit next to Zaren on an orange plastic chair. The first thing the paper wanted to know was her name. She wrote, “Venus” and paused.

“Smith,” Zaren answered.

“Really?”

“Really,” he replied, firmly.

“Fine.” She sighed and wrote it down. What’s was wrong with Carania?

“Nothing’s wrong with it. But it’s easier if we have the same last name as Dervinias—since we’re all supposed to be related. Less peculiar and easier to explain. We need to fit in.”

She huffed. A chuckle sounded on her left and she looked to see Dervinias watching her. It was really starting to bug her that he acted like she was there for his amusement. Venus realized that probably sounded childish, to which Dervinias nodded. Sticking her tongue out at him crossed her mind, but she resisted.

“You’re right.” Venus turned back to the paperwork. “Why brother and sister, though?” She didn’t like the idea, especially since she was having all of these physical desires for Zaren, and none of them were the way a sister would feel for her brother. They should’ve talked about all of this beforehand.

Zaren smiled.

Cret, this was ridiculous. “Whatever,” she whispered and continued on with the paperwork.

If she had a question, Zaren helped. After she’d finished, Zaren handed her the required documents. He’d pulled them from his bag. Venus raised an eyebrow, surprised and even more curious to know where he’d got them.

“I have my ways,” he said with a cheeky chuckle.

“I guess so,” she agreed.

They both stood at the same time and walked to the counter to hand in the paperwork.

Mrs. O’Hare looked them over, making grunting noises every once in a while. When she finished, she handed them each a badge with big, bold letters reading: VISITOR across it. The badge was attached to a necklace made of . . .

“Is this macaroni?” She guessed by the half-moon shape of the hard noodles.

“Yes, aren’t they cute? The cheerleaders made them. They did a good job; cute-patooties that they are.”

“Oh,” Venus started, but the woman continued.

“Wear them all day. Don’t take them off. When school’s over, bring them back and hand them directly to me. No one else. Got it?” Mrs. O’Hare growled.

“We’ve got it,” Zaren said, placing the macaroni necklace over his head.

Venus admired his strong chest. He still looked hot—macaroni necklace and all.

“Good.” She smiled at Zaren and then turned back to Venus. “Keep close to Vinny, here. He’s a good boy. Go where he goes. Do what he does. The only difference will be that you’ll go to the gym when the boys go to the pool. That’s the rotation we’re on. Any questions?”

“No,” Venus and Zaren answered together.

She handed Venus a map. With a big red marker, she X’d the Gym. “Go here for P.E..”

Venus nodded and turned.

Zaren said, “You’ve been such a huge help. Thank you.”

“Yes, thank you, Mrs. O’Hare.”

The woman grumbled and slapped two notebooks and two Welcome to South High pencils. “Enjoy.”

After they’d left the office, Dervinias said, “We have English first. Michael’s in there, so try to be cool. Smooth. Friendly.”

“I’ll do my best,” Venus said.

“Let’s go.”

He took off and once again, Zaren and Venus trailed Dervinias. He seemed to be right at home amongst all the kids. Happy even. She tried to duplicate his attitude, but it wasn’t happening. The hallway no longer had throngs of students bustling about. Pumpkin orange and mustard yellow lockers lined the walls with spaces in between for classroom doors. Candy wrappers and soda cans littered the floor. Someone slammed a locker.

They went up a set of stairs, avoiding a couple of kids tangled in each other’s arms, making sucking noises.

Some guy pushed past them and yelled, “Get a room!”

The couple broke apart—barely. Hand in hand, they walked up the stairs.

When Zaren, Dervinias and Venus entered the crowded classroom, she froze. Kids were everywhere, sitting on top of their desks or on each other. Music blared. Dervinias gave her a shove toward the back of the room. She’d never been so pleased to see seats available on the last row. When she’d been younger, she really wanted to go to school with the rest of the kelni’s. She knew if allowed to go, she’d sit in the front. Eager to learn. An example to her peers. Now, here was an opportunity and she choked, heading straight to the back. Nerves electrified her veins. Embarrassment, too. A feeling she wasn’t familiar with. Venus threw herself in a seat and lowered her head.

“Hey Venus. Love the outfit.”

She raised her head to see Cheverly waving, her seat near the middle. Venus waved back, trying to be cheerful. “Thanks.”

The bell rang. A man with mousy brown hair, so messy it mesmerized her, walked into the room. He had his face buried in a book, but shut it before she had a chance to read the title.

“Gatsby,” he said, pulling off his tortoise-shell glasses and tucking them into the collar of his yellow polo shirt. “Open your books to chapter seven. Who can tell me what’s going on?”

“Mr. Lundy. Hey, Mr. Lundy. We have some visitors.” A girl with short, raven black hair made the comment. Her shirt was light pink as were her tights. She wore a fuchsia mini-skirt. On her feet were four-inch purple and hot pink Mary Jane’s (yes, she knew the name of the shoes, especially since they were gorgeous), a hot pink ribbon tied across the top, holding the shoes to her feet. Cute, if you longed to look like a piece of bubblegum.

Mr. Lundy gazed at the students, as though disappointed he had to make eye contact. “Fine. Fine. Bring up your slips and introduce yourselves. Hustle.”

Zaren went first. He placed the slip on Mr. Lundy’s desk and then turned toward the class. Clearing his throat, he began, “I’m Zaren Smith. Dervinias is my cousin. My, ah, sister and I will be staying with him for a while.”

The whole sister-thing irritated her again. I’m not his sister, for cret’s sake.

Giggles and whispers went around the room. All the girls were smitten. Why wouldn’t they be? He was gorgeous. Still, Venus threw daggers, in the form of dirty looks, toward any girl who made eye contact.

“Young lady, are you going to keep us waiting all day?”

Dervinias smirked. He’d obviously been following her thoughts again. She glared. “Apologies, sir.” She rose and went to the teacher’s desk, dropped off the slip and turned. Her eyes immediately found Michael’s. She hadn’t meant to seek him out. A glimmer of surprise, maybe even pleasure crossed his face. He looked tired after last night’s game and the party. It probably wasn’t a good idea to wreak such havoc on a body, drinking and celebrating until all hours, only to get up the next day for school. Yet, even amongst the exhaustion on his face, there was a quality . . . He radiated a gentleness, which he seemed set on trying to hide, but it was apparent. His eyes were a caramel in color today, a hint of gold flecked around the edges.

“Venus is it?”

She jumped and looked at the teacher.

The class laughed.

Michael lowered his gaze.

“That’s correct.” Venus raised her chin, lowering her hands to her sides and clenching them into fists.

“I think your brother told us everything we need to know. Have a seat.” He waved her away.

As Venus walked by Cheverly, she gave her a strange look. Dervinias was laughing again. “That was the epitome of cool.” Clearly he needed a good alien butt kicking on a regular basis. Venus decided she was the kelarian to do it.

Zaren gently grabbed her arm and whispered, “You good?”

She took a deep breath struggling against the pressure on her lungs. “Perfect.”

After the initial humiliation, the rest of class dragged on. The teacher nearly put her to sleep. One guy, with curly red hair and freckles, actually snored. When the bell rang, they all bolted. Next, the three of them had Government. Then Computer Science. Michael wasn’t in either class. It gave her a chance to relax, settle in.

Both classes were slow, the computers primitive. There was a moment of horror when she reworked a program to increase its speed. The teacher slathered her in praise. Her face turned hot with embarrassment and Venus made a mental note to avoid messing with anything after that.

Then they all went to Spanish.

In a moment of bravery she picked a seat in the middle. Leaning over, Venus grabbed the South High notebook and dug around in her bag for the pencil. She must’ve forgotten it. “Cret,” she whispered, still searching in a panic.

“You’re in my seat, Venus.” His tone sounded mocking. She knew instantly it was Michael. Raising her head, she watched him bend down so his face was centimeters from hers. She could almost taste the spearmint freshness of his breath. “Need a drink?” He chuckled.

“No, I’m looking for a pencil.” Venus wanted to be nice—needed to be—but he was making it difficult.

“Well, do it in another seat.” He pointed toward the back with a thumb.

Nervous, she glanced at Zaren, who gave her a smile. Then she grabbed her bag and stood. “Great, Michael. I will,” she said sarcastically.

“Good,” he responded with the same attitude.

Venus found a seat in the back and slumped into it. How am I going to become friends with a guy who hates me? She glared at the back of his head.

Thankfully this teacher didn’t make her introduce herself. Many of Earth’s languages were effortless to her. So when the teacher had them repeat after him, she did so beautifully. Zaren and Dervinias, too. But beyond parroting the teacher, she ignored the lesson. Instead she went back and forth between throwing curses at Michael in English and Spanish, and contemplating her dilemma.

Each breath she took challenged her body. She knew it would only get worse. What if he didn’t love Cheverly enough? What if she couldn’t help them get back together. Once again she decided the way to Michael was through Cheverly. What else was there?

When class ended, she hurried down the aisle, in a hurry to escape the claustrophobic room. As she walked past Michael, he grabbed her arm. At his touch, a jolt of . . . it felt like she’d been lit from within . . . shot through her. Like a fire had started in her heart and burned its way through her veins. It scared her and she pulled away.

“Next time, take a picture, it lasts longer.” He scowled.

“How about if I slap you again?”

A wicked smile stole over his lips. “How about—”

Venus ran.

End of EXILED.

Turn the page to continue the story with BANISHED.

 

 

CHAPTER 1

Live to Tell

 

 

Lunch with Zaren and Dervinias was uneventful. But, at least she left for her next class feeling better. Renewed. Zaren had that effect on her. It didn’t last long, though.

All around her girls were changing from their regular clothes into what they called: gym clothes. Oddly, they put the clothes they’d been wearing into a tall rectangle, pulled out others and changed. After they’d slam the door, some girls would twist a black circular thing. Watching a few minutes, she realized that was where the numbers for the combination went. Right 23. Left 42. Right 11. Her combination number. She tried it on the locker with the number she’d been given.

It worked. Inside was . . . nothing. She went back to the long wooden bench and sat, panicked.

What should I do? Leave. I could walk back to Dervinias’s. This whole school thing’s a waste anyway.

“Hey,” a girl with long red hair said. “You gonna sit there all day?” She was about Venus’s size, with porcelain skin and honey eyes. “You’re new, right?”

“Visiting.” She held up the macaroni badge. “I didn’t plan on P.E.” Venus peered down at her clothes for emphasis.

“I have an extra set you can borrow.” She opened her locker and threw Venus a pair of gold shorts and a white t-shirt, with some sort of gold animal head on its front. Across the top, outlined in black, the shirt said: South High Bison. “What size shoe you wear?”

Venus shook her head.

“Here, try them on.” She tossed her a pair of white shoes.

Ah cret! She’d have to remove her boots again. “Thank you, ah—”

“The name’s Tawny. And you’re welcome. Those boots are way sexy. Where’d you get them?”

Venus searched the locker room, pretending to think about it. Casually, she tucked her feet under the bench. Other girls had stopped to listen and she didn’t want too much attention drawn to the thumping heart or the glowing arrow in the heels. “I can’t remember the name,” she replied, facing Tawny again.

“Huh, well hang on to those. You wouldn’t want to lose them.” Venus detected a flicker of envy, and . . . cunning. She’d seen the look on her sister many times. Right before she accused Venus of something awful. There were also the Cairna spiders, the way they lured you into their invisible web using what her people called The Soul Song. Once they sensed your presence, it was almost impossible to escape death. Was Tawny luring her with kindness? Perhaps.

She took a breath in an effort to speak with force, but an overflow of perfume, shampoo, hairspray and sweat in the air pummeled her lungs. And she coughed. And coughed. And coughed.

Tawny cleared her throat. “You okay?”

Venus nodded. “Fine.”

“Who are you visiting? Dervinias, right? I know him, so I can find you if you don’t give me back my stuff.” She smiled. It looked wild and cruel.

“Of course.”

Tawny and the other girls turned and walked out of the locker room.

Alone, she took off her boots. Apprehension at the idea of leaving them tore at her. She hoped continued removal wouldn’t make the toxic air even more detrimental.

YES, a voice shouted inside her head.

To her knowledge, no kelarian had ever removed their boots before finishing their immortal’s journey. She’d already taken hers off a few times. And, to make matters worse, she kept doing it on Planet Killer—Earth.

“Cret,” she swore, knowing she was going to take them off anyway. It’d only be for forty-five minutes, she told herself, hoping such a short amount of time wouldn’t make a difference. Three. Two. One. Venus pulled on the tongue and watched her boots unlatch themselves. Removing them, she carefully put them in an empty locker. Then she changed and went to the gym.

 

CHAPTER 2

Cherry Bomb

 

 

Venus was a total skank. She’d killed Kelvin, and she was going to pay.

Dervinias had said she was royalty on her planet. Ha! He had his reasons for killing Venus. Well Tawny had her own. Watching her cough in the locker room, she had a hard time believing the weak-looking thing could hurt a fly, let alone the hulking Kelvin, but Dervinias said he witnessed it. She had no reason to doubt him.

So it was payback time. Tonight she’d find her and finish what Kelvin couldn’t, but right now she wanted the alien’s boots.

They were wicked-cool.

Sometime during the next hour she’d find a way to steal them.

When she saw Venus stumble into the gym, she knew what she needed to do. To her friends, she said, “Time to make the visitor feel welcome.”

“Oh yeah,” Carla agreed.

 

CONTINUE THE STORY BY CLICKING: BANISHED.

 

OTHER BOOK BY RASHELLE WORKMAN

Blood and Snow Series

Across the Ages Series

Undercover Empath Series

Because of You

Amongst the Little Lies

Summer Love

 

 

About the Author

RaShelle Workman is a bestselling hybrid author with books published through Curiosity Quills and her own company, Polished Pen Press. She loves baking, coming up with new taco recipes, and spending time with her family.

Her most popular series to date is BLOOD AND SNOW, featuring all of your favorite fairy tale characters set in an urban world. In these books, the stories are reimagined and incredibly twisted. They’ve sold more than a million copies worldwide.

Currently, RaShelle lives in Utah with her husband, three children, and their three dogs.

Check out all of her books at: www.rashelleworkman.com. Or, sign up for her newsletter to receive the latest updates here: http://eepurl.com/sd_xP.

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Exiled: Book One

Start the epic bestselling series that's been read more than two million times worldwide! This series is complete. WORLDS DIVIDED THEM. DESTINY BROUGHT THEM TOGETHER. ONLY LOVE WILL SAVE THEM. Venus isn't from Earth, she's from Kelari. On her planet she's next in line to rule, but there are those who will go to great lengths to make sure that doesn't happen. Including frame her as a traitor. Accused and sentenced, the gods of her planet exile her to Earth. They've given her one week to help a human find his true love. If she doesn't succeed, she'll die, but if she does she might lose her heart. Praise for this series: "Michael and Venus have probably been the best pairing/couple that I've read about this year! GO READ THIS BOOK! You will love it. Seriously." Nancy, reviewer Tumbling Books "Writing that moves readers to ponder their hearts is good writing, and that's what readers will find with Workman. Her protagonist is strong willed, her antagonist is easy to hate, and her mentor is easy to love." Kathleen Brebes "What a ride!" Taffy Lovell

  • Author: RaShelle Workman
  • Published: 2016-04-19 02:35:21
  • Words: 28925
Exiled: Book One Exiled: Book One