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Vampire Wishes Books 1-2: Vampire Lies & Vampire Secrets

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Vampire Wishes Books 1-2

Vampire Lies and Vampire Secrets

RaShelle Workman

Polished Pen Press Corporation, LLC

Contents

Vampire Wishes

Of Special Note…

Blood and Snow World Order

Author’s Note

Acknowledgments

VAMPIRE LIES

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Vampire Secrets

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Afterword

About the Author

Connect with RaShelle

Across the Ages

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h1=. Vampire Wishes

An Aladdin Reimagining

Vampire Lies

Vampire Secrets

Vampire Nights

Vampire Prey

Vampire Magics

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h1=. Of Special Note…

[* *** Updated *** *]

The books in the BLOOD AND SNOW WORLD told from Jasmine’s point of view have been updated and rearranged to make it more convenient to the reader. The first change is the series name: It is now called the VAMPIRE WISHES series. Also, the order of Jasmine’s books used to be like this: Vampire Lies, Vampire Secrets, Vampire Nights, Vampire Fate, Vampire Prey, and Vampire Magics. But I decided to update so that Vampire Nights and Vampire Fate have been combined. The reason was simple. More for you, the reader!

Enjoy, and if you have any questions, please contact me at: [email protected] or visit my website at: www.rashelleworkman.org.

Xoxo,

RaShelle

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h1=. Blood and Snow World Order

These stories do not have to be read in order, but you can. It does make the experience more fun. 

BLOOD AND SNOW (Snow White)

blood and snow 1

masquerade’s moon 2

love bleeds 3

_________

SHORT STORIES INCLUDED IN BOOK 3

cindy witch

the hunter’s tale 

Gabriel 

after the kiss 

blood’s rose 

***

THE CINDY CHRONICLES (Cinderella)

witch magic 1.1

witch land 1.2

witch time 1.3

witch kiss 1.4

witch love 1.5

witch end 1.6

***

VAMPIRE WISHES (Jasmine)

vampire lies 1

vampire secrets 2

vampire nights 3

vampire prey 4

vampire magics 5

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SHORT STORY INCLUDED IN BOOK 3

the professor’s origin 0.1

***

BEASTLY (Belle)

a beauty so beastly 1

a beauty so deadly 2 (coming soon)

a beauty so completely 3 (coming soon)

***

ASHA EVER AFTER (Aurora)

asha’s kisses 1

asha’s curse 2 (coming soon)

asha’s ever after 3 (coming soon)

***

DEMONLAND (Alice)

alice in demonland 1

alice fights demonland 2 (coming soon)

alice takes demonland 3 (coming soon)

***

THE FORGOTTEN MERMAID (Ariel)

~ Exclusively part of Once Upon a Happy Ending anthology. ~

Vampire Wishes Books 1-2

Vampire Lies & Vampire Secrets

Copyright © 2017 RaShelle Workman

Polished Pen Press Corp

***

This book in its entirety is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard word of this author.

***

All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written consent of the author, RaShelle Workman, P.O. Box Bountiful, UT. 84011.

***

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

***

Design copyright @2017 RaShelle Workman

Find RaShelle Workman on the web!

www.rashelleworkman.org

Twitter: @RaShelleWorkman

Facebook: RaShelle Workman Author

Goodreads: RaShelle Workman

Created with Vellum

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h1=. Author’s Note

The Blood and Snow World has become so large I’ve made changes to the books and added individual series based on the princess I’m writing about. This will allow readers to keep track of which book goes where in order of how they were released.

Vampire Lies was released fifth in the Blood and Snow World, but it’s the first book in Jasmine’s retelling. Books in the VAMPIRE WISHES series include: Vampire Lies, Vampire Secrets, Vampire Nights, Vampire Prey, and Vampire Magics.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at [email protected]

***

Sincerely,

RaShelle

This book is dedicated to those who love vampires, magic, and twisted fairy tales.

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h1=. Acknowledgments

I start out with an idea. Shape it. Write it. And then turn it over to amazing people who help make it into something great. For this book those people are: Andrea Garcia, Jen Hendricks, Ali Cross, and my incredibly awesome Street Team. I <3 each of you!

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h1=. VAMPIRE LIES

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h1=. Prologue

&“The vampire child& is not performing as expected. She doesn’t care about her destiny or the fate of her kind. She’s a total disappointment.” He slithered his body around the vast darkness that was everywhere and nowhere. The inkiness seemed to expand and contract, like breathing, around them.

“There is always our first inclination.” She glided beside him, producing an orb of light, just big enough so they could see each other. Not that it was necessary, but she liked the way it shimmered.

“Destroy all magical creatures and start over?” he asked.

She came up beside him. Their eyes locked for several seconds or days. Time meant nothing. “They are ours to do with as we please. Why not?” she finally added.

He sighed. “I’m tired.”

She bobbed in agreement. “Perhaps we should sleep for a few thousand years. The way these creatures are, we won’t miss anything.”

He nodded. “I like the sound of that. But first…” He trailed off.

She smiled. “You want to watch her fail.” It was a statement. She knew him as well as she knew herself.

“Yes. It shouldn’t take too long.”

“Right.” She blinked slowly. “Especially if we help her along and I have the perfect solution. A vampire with a craving for revenge.”

His mouth curved into a cruel smile. “I like the sound of that.”

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h1=. One

&Hours& before my life changed forever, my day began like any other. I woke, climbed out of bed and stretched my wings, showered, dressed, and then flew out my window to explore Sharra with my best friend.

We’d already helped a fairy lift a particularly heavy caterpillar onto the branch it intended to use as a home for its chrysalis. We also assisted an ogre in its desperate quest to reach some juicy berries at the top of a rather large tree. Now we were seated on the stone ledge at the top of my tower waiting for the sun to rise.

“Jasmine. Come inside. We have a lot to do today.” My mom stuck her head and shoulders out my window. Her head turned from side to side as she searched the sky. She wouldn’t find me though, because I sat directly above her.

I sighed heavily. “Fine.”

My mom gasped and craned her neck. “You scared the light right out of me.” She clutched a hand to her neck.

“Sorry.” I tried to sound genuine.

“Uh-huh. Inside, please.”

But instead of obeying, I spread my large black wings and shot into the sky, enjoying the rose scented air.

“Young lady.”

My mom always called me that when I frustrated her. I turned to see the emotion on her face so I could gauge just how upset she was, but she no longer stood in the window. I smiled to myself.

Part of the landscape was immersed in shadow. It was right before dawn, my favorite time of day, when life stretched itself awake.

“Hurry please,” my mom shouted from somewhere in my room.

I pretended not to hear, flying further away from her and closer to the forest behind the castle. Pixilettes busied themselves. They were in charge of the seasons. Soon it would be autumn and they needed to gather seedlings to store until the following spring.

“Will you drink unicorn blood today?” Sabrina asked, her little pixilette wings fluttering near my ear. She was dressed from head to toe in different tones of purple. Her dress was the color of lilacs and her tiny shoes were the shade of ripened plums. Lavender wings beat and fluttered at her back.

If Sabrina weren’t my best friend, I would’ve told her it was none of her business whose blood I drank. But she and I had been close for more than ten years. We did everything together. Without her, I’d go crazy.

“I don’t know.” I spun in a circle, enjoying the gentle breeze on my face. Unicorn blood was my favorite, but I took what I was given based on offerings from the different magics within Sharra.

Sabrina shook. It freaked her out that I was a blood drinker.

“Don’t worry. I’m sure your blood is much too sweet for my tastes.” I winked to let her know I was teasing.

She giggled nervously, the sound like tinkling bells. “I’m not worried,” she replied. I could tell it was only a little lie. She glanced away, running her tiny fingers through her violet hair that was the same color as my eyes.

I waved off my irritation. There were plenty of vampires in Sharra. They all drank blood, just like me, but only the blood of animals and the vampires never killed them. It was one of the first laws the new Vampire Queen decreed when she became ruler.

As the only Original Vampire, I required more than the others. In order to grow and thrive, I required the blood of magical creatures. It powered my magic and kept me healthy.

Early morning sunlight broke through the clouds, basking the land in orange and pink hues. Warmth tickled my skin and I lifted my face toward the light.

“Can you hang out today?” Sabrina asked, interrupting my thoughts.

“I’m sure I can.” I held out my hand. Sabrina flew forward, landing on my palm. “I’ll find you—”

“Jasmine!”

I jerked back at the sharpness in my mom’s voice, knocking over Sabrina. She tumbled through the air for the briefest moment until she righted herself.

“Coming, Snow,” I retorted with sarcasm.

Sabrina giggled. “You’re going to be in big trouble for that, princess.”

I gulped, knowing my mom didn’t like it when I called her by her first name. “Nah.” I lifted my chin. “But I’d better go.”

“Yeah, you should.” She waved and then took off toward the forest.

I watched her until she’d nearly reached the other pixilettes. Then I flew to my window ledge, folded my wings at my back and jumped inside.

“Hey, mom.” I rushed past her toward the bathroom.

Mom was standing near my bed, her hands on her hips, looking ferociously beautiful. Her sleek black hair was the exact color of mine. It was pulled back and in a bun at the nape of her neck. She wore a bright yellow gown trimmed in red and blue. On her head was a crown befitting the Vampire Queen.

“How many times have I asked you not to call me Snow?” She followed me, her skirt swishing with each step.

Ciana, the vampire who’d helped raise me, sat in her rocking chair, knitting something. She looked to be in her early twenties, but from stories she told me of when she was human, she was probably three hundred, give or take a decade. Ciana wore her long blonde hair in a bun on the crown of her head. Her dress was long and looked confining. She owned the same dress in three colors, brown, gray, and navy blue. The dress accentuated her tiny waist.

When I was younger she was so full of life. We always had fun together doing little things like chasing butterflies, planting crops, and digging up worms. Of course I never ate the food, but my dad did and I’d enjoyed doing things for him with Ciana.

In the past few years, her demeanor had changed. She’d grown despondent. At first I tried to make her happy, but nothing seemed to help, so I stopped. But she was loyal, a rare find in Sharra, and I wouldn’t dismiss her.

I shrugged. “It’s your name, isn’t it? You’re Snow White, the Vampire Queen.”

When I was seated at a chair in front of the vanity, she came to stand behind me. “Most importantly, I’m your mother.”

She leaned down, our heads side by side and she squeezed my shoulders. Her eyes sparkled with love. I studied our reflections, once again astonished by our similarities. We both had black hair, though mine had a streak of teal in it; and the shape of our faces and our high cheekbones were the same. Our lips had the same sort of thickness and we were the same height.

There were differences too. Her eyes were an unusual color, reflecting the various hues within the spectrum of the seven magics while mine were always violet. My skin was naturally tanner than hers. And then, of course, there was the huge difference between us. I had wings, obnoxiously large wings that protruded from my back like those of a giant black bird.

Although they weren’t my parents in the traditional sense that I didn’t come from my mother’s womb, I still considered them my mom and dad.

I was born of a gem created by their blood and the combination of the seven magics. My parents told me that their love for each other and their love for me brought me from the gem.

Sometimes, especially when I assisted my mom with the birth of an animal, it made me to sad to realize I wasn’t born the same way, that I was different from every other known creature. My mom and dad always tried their best to make me feel wanted and loved, and most of the time I did. But sometimes I got lonely.

“There are several meetings you must attend today so hurry, please. I want to make sure you’ve fed before we start.”

“Okay.” I dabbed some perfume Heathcliff brought for me from the human world. The smell was warm and sweet and I loved it. Almost as much as I loved getting the magazines and music that Uncle Sebastian gave me. It was always my favorite day when one of my uncles or Professor Pops visited.

“Jasmine,” my mom snapped.

I put the lid back on the perfume and glanced at my mom. I wanted to ask her why she didn’t trust me. Why she thought I would pounce on the first warm-blooded creature I encountered. Sure, it’d been a problem when I was little. My hunger would take over and more than once I sank my fangs into something or someone I shouldn’t. But that’d been years ago. Couldn’t she see I was no longer a child but a grown woman. In a few weeks I would turn sixteen. Could I use some blood? Yes. Was I at the point where I’d pounce for it? Not even close. I squeezed some lotion on my hands and rubbed it into my arms. My mom seemed to be getting more and more impatient.

Zenny appeared in the mirror and clapped his hands together. “My two most favorite vampires.”

“Zenny. Good morning.” My mom nodded a hello.

“Hey Zen. Way to rock plaid and polka-dots.”

He crossed his arms and popped a hip. “You know it.”

I covered the smile trying to wriggle its way from my lips with my hand.

Zenny always wore crazy outfits that somehow totally worked on him. Today he had on navy blue and orange plaid pants. They were tight and stopped just above his ankles. His shoes were orange as was his button down shirt, which was covered in small navy polka dots. The collar was up and he wore a white t-shirt underneath. His hair was cropped short and just as bright orange as his shoes.

“Zenny, we don’t need your assistance today. I’ve already picked out her dress and her makeup—”

I glared, unhappy my mom thought it was okay to choose what I wore. “I want him here. Why don’t you go? I’ll meet you in the dining hall in a few minutes.”

Her face fell. “Of course.”

Guilt tore through my insides. I knew my mom meant well. And while it wasn’t her intention to be annoying and bossy, she kind of was. All the time.

She walked to the bathroom doorway and paused. “Please wear the dress I’ve chosen. I’ve pulled it out and it’s waiting for you in your closet.”

I bit back a retort. “I guess,” I said.

My mom looked at me, her eyes sad and filled with frustration. My heart lurched. I knew I was letting her down somehow. She came back and gently touched my wings. “Why don’t you have Zenny help you fluff and clean these?” She ran her fingers through the dark feathers, her touch soothing.

“Okay,” I said, catching her gaze in the mirror. For the past few months we’d been at such odds. It seemed no matter how I tried we didn’t click like we used to. Lately she focused more on what I was required to do as the princess of Sharra and less on what I needed as a teenage girl.

If it weren’t for my uncles bringing me the latest news in the form of entertainment magazines from the human world, I’d be miserable. It just felt like my mom didn’t understand. I had needs, desires, goals… I wanted a life outside the castle. Outside of Sharra. And my wings? Ugh. Why did I have to be the only vampire in the entire world to have them? My life was difficult and my mom just didn’t get it.

Meetings were boring. Listening to the magical creatures of Sharra complain about how so-and-so stole a piece of fruit off their land and asking my mom what she was going to do about it was beyond tedious. I wanted to see a movie. I wanted to go to high school. I wanted to go on dates, attend football games, and maybe kiss a boy or two. I wanted the wings on my back to disappear. I wanted normal.

That didn’t seem like too much to ask. But I was almost sixteen and my life was passing me by.

It wasn’t fair.

Both my parents had attended regular high school. They lived an ordinary life for years before coming to Sharra. Why couldn’t I be given the same consideration?

My dad walked in. “Dad,” I hollered, crossing my arms over my chest, even though I was still fully dressed.

“Hey, sweetie. How’s my girl?” He came over and kissed me on the cheek.

I forced myself not to blush. “I’m too old for that,” I said with pretend haughtiness.

He tapped the end of my nose with his finger. “Never.” Then he turned to my mom and things got really awkward. He pulled her to him and kissed her lightly on the mouth. She gave him a secret smile.

“Gross,” I shouted. “Get out! Both of you.”

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h1=. Two

&They &&laughed&&.&

My dad winked.

And while I feigned disgust, it was a moment just like theirs that I craved. I wanted to love and be loved by someone the way they so obviously loved each other. That wasn’t going to happen in Sharra. There were no swoon worthy guys. The only time I ever saw a handsome man in Sharra was while I was out in the forest when I was a lot younger. But even he had been too old. I didn’t want to admit it to myself, but I knew who he was… And he was out of the question, big time.

There were male vampires in the land, but the old Vampire Queen, Sharra, had created them, which meant they were all way too old for me. Since Mom wasn’t creating any more vampires, the chances of meeting a boy that was also my age and a vampire was impossible. Of course there were elves, ogres, fairies, and other magical creatures that had boys my age, but… ewwwww!

“Breakfast. Five minutes,” my dad insisted.

“I know. I’d get ready if you two would leave.” I applied some black eyeliner. It was a little too heavy for my mom’s tastes, but then she rarely wore makeup. It was Aunt Cindy who showed me how to apply it the way humans did.

I caught my mom’s grimace in the reflection. “What?” I asked, holding the liner like a pencil in my right hand.

She leaned over and kissed the top of my head. “I love you, darling.”

“I know, mom.” And I did. I knew she and my dad both did. Regardless of our uncomfortable conversations or lack thereof. There was no doubt they loved me very much.

“Hustle,” my dad said.

“Okay. Hey, do you think after the meetings maybe I could go with Uncle Heathcliff to his lab. He said I could help him and then he’d take me to see a movie. He said he could hide my wings easily and that—”

My dad came over and squeezed my shoulders. “Honey, you know that’s a bad idea. If anyone were to find out about your wings, about what you are, all sorts of bad things could happen.”

My shoulders sagged. I’d heard the same lame excuse many times before.

“Whatever.” I shrugged off his hands and turned away.

“Love you, Jasmine,” he whispered and closed the bathroom door.

After I heard them leave my room, I let my head smack against the counter.

Zenny cleared his throat. “Those two. Such a love story.”

He had his hands clasped together at his chest. It looked like he had tears in his eyes.

“So you gonna fluff my wings or what?” I asked, standing and facing him.

“Oooh, snappy.” He clapped his hands twice and a machine like a blow dryer popped from the wall and worked on my wings.

When they were finished, I put my hair in a side ponytail and placed my crown on my head.

“Perfect,” Zenny said. “Use the rose colored lip-gloss, it’ll really make your lips pop.

I applied it, rubbed my lips together, and ran a powder brush over my nose.

“So very beautiful.” Zenny exhaled.

“Thanks.” I walked to my closet, stepped out of my jeans and pulled off the tank top that’d been made specifically for my wings to fit through. Then I shimmied into the teal dress my mom had picked out.

It was long, the hem touching the wood floor. The straps were thin and gathered. They crisscrossed in the front and went down to my waist in a V at the back. They left plenty of room for my wings. The front had a sweetheart neckline and was tight at the waist. As soon as I had it on, I stretched my wings wide to make sure they wouldn’t catch on anything.

“You’re magnificent,” Zenny said, appearing in the full-length mirror.

I couldn’t help but blush. “They are annoying,” I said, referring to my wings.

“They. Are. Amazing,” Zenny argued good-naturedly.

“Fine. Keep saying that. But you aren’t the one that has to deal with them. Sleep with them. Shower with them… They are a nuisance.” Which wasn’t entirely true. I did love flying. There was no better feeling. At least not one I’d experienced yet. But that was the only good thing about my wings.

“It’s worth it. You’re unique and glorious. Never forget that.”

I huffed. “Easy for you to say.”

He waved his hand. “Yes, it is.”

I chewed on the inside of my lip, trying to ignore my annoyance. It was hard though. No one understood what I had to go through. No one got it, which was why I wanted more than anything to be normal—even if that meant being just an ordinary vampire—one without wings.

“What shoes are you wearing with it?” Zenny asked, interrupting my internal grumblings.

I went over to my wall of shoes and picked out a beautiful pair of black and deep teal heels. In the center were gems that matched perfectly with the gems at my waist.

Zenny sighed heavily. “Those are divine.”

I lifted my dress and turned my foot back and forth in the mirror, admiring the way the gems sparkled in the muted light. “They are very pretty,” I agreed, grateful Aunt Cindy had such great taste and wishing once again my mom would’ve allowed me to go into the human world. Here in Sharra elves and fairies created my clothes and shoes. They were beautiful, laced with magic, and the craftsmanship was beyond compare, but it wasn’t the same. In the human realm there were entire stores with racks upon racks of clothing. I could choose whatever I wanted.

“Jasmine?” Zenny asked.

I shook away my thoughts. “Thanks for the help.” I blew him a kiss walked from the closet into my room.

Ciana still sat in her chair knitting. “Why don’t you do something fun today?” I came to stand in front of her.

She didn’t seem to hear.

I sighed, leaned in and kissed her cheek. “See ya.”

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h1=. Three

&“We will continue& to supply blood for the princess as you’ve ordered, but we want more land,” Geth, the leader of the ogres growled.

We were seated at a large round table in the Great Hall. There was a glittering chandelier hanging above giving off an ambient glow. The room was lined in gilded wood and pictures of previous royalty hung precisely along the walls.

A representative from each of the seven magics was there, including a vampire by the name of Christopher. My mom and dad had a history with him, I knew that. He represented the magic of the Hunter.

I knew he’d betrayed my mom at one point when she was eighteen, but over the years they’d come to an understanding. They weren’t friendly with one another, and I could tell my dad barely tolerated him. When I was ten, Christopher had been brought before the council. Most wanted him dead, but it was my mom who explained that all seven magics must be represented in order for Sharra to survive. That included Christopher.

He gave off a certain arrogance. Occasionally I’d catch him watching me. A few years ago Mom decided to put him in charge of vampires. If one of them stepped out of line, that vampire was punished, but so was Christopher.

He had submitted the blood offerings required of the others, but my mom wouldn’t allow me to drink his blood. I didn’t know what she did with it. Maybe it was still in the coolers beneath the castle.

As though he realized I was thinking about him, Christopher gave a half smile.

I returned it.

Mom noticed and gave me a curious look before she responded to Geth. “If we give you more land, others will expect the same kind of provision. Then we would run out of room.”

Geth slammed his fist on the table. “It’s bad enough we are required to stay in Sharra, that we can no longer leave and roam the other realms. Something must be done. We have no room!”

I jumped at the fury in his voice, my wings twitching nervously. As far as my taste buds were concerned, I would be fine if the ogres stopped supplying me with blood. It tasted disgusting. I drank it though because it increased my strength and agility.

It certainly made sense that they wanted more land. The ogres were large creatures. They built on as well as below the earth, but they could always use more.

Edinia, the elven leader, spoke up. “We could all use more space, Geth. We elves live longer and our procreation process is much easier than your kind. We are also becoming overwhelmed.”

“We don’t have the luxury of going below the earth,” Kerra, the unicorn leader added. “Ogres have twice the land we do already.” She whinnied and stomped her foot to enhance her words.

“What do you suggest?” my dad asked. He rarely spoke up during these meetings.

“That our Queen take some of the pixilette land and gives it to us.” Geth stood, but one look from my mom and the ogre immediately sat back down.

I knew she would never agree to that. But I had an idea. “What if Sharra were made to be bigger?”

“That’s impossible,” Geth muttered.

My mom patted my hand as though trying to placate a stupid child.

I pulled away, irritated.

“I appreciate Jasmine’s interest in this important matter,” my mom began. “But the land of Sharra cannot be increased. To do so would mean altering the very fabric of our realm, and that is not something to take lightly. It would require immense power.” She paused and gave me a pointed look. “More power than even I possess.” There was a glimmer in her eyes as though she wanted me to understand something, but I didn’t.

I clasped my hands together. “Whatever.”

Geth glowered. It was obvious he found me annoying. “Any other brilliant ideas?”

I lifted my chin, forcing the nervous flutter of my wings to stop. I wouldn’t cower to the ogre. Or to anyone. “You’ll be the first to know when I do.”

“Do not belittle my daughter, Geth,” my dad said. “Unless you wish to deal with me directly.”

The ogre huffed, but backed down. “No, your highness. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it,” Geth said.

No one messed with my dad. His power was less well-defined than my mom’s, but no less potent. He and my mom both possessed the seven magics within them. Their power was strong, stronger than most, but according to my parents, not as formidable as mine.

Still, there was something special about my dad.

I remember when I was three I’d been given fairy blood that had been poisoned. It made me really sick. For a while my mom and dad thought I would die. But as my dad rocked me, I’d bit into his hand and drank from him. Usually he and my mom discouraged that. They didn’t want me biting anyone. It was better if I drank my blood from a glass. They believed it would help the magical creatures fear me less. But this time my dad didn’t make me stop. His blood had forced the poison from my body and I’d been healed.

“Let’s table this discussion for now.” My mom looked directly at Geth. “Your concern has been heard.”

Geth acted as though he wanted interrupt and say more, but my mom raised her hand and he clamped his mouth shut. “Since we don’t have an answer at the moment, let’s move on. Is that acceptable?”

My mom asked the question, but the tone of her voice said the subject was closed.

Geth nodded. “I’ll wait. For now.”

“Excellent. Thank you. What’s next?” my mom asked.

I stifled a yawn. We’d already been in the meeting two hours longer than expected. Afterward, I still had to sit with a private tutor for two hours, attend two more meetings, and speak with the pixies about a new grass seedling they were trying to create.

“Might as well settle in, this is going to take a while,” Edinia said, crossing her legs.

I had no idea what more still needed to be discussed, but I didn’t want to be in the room a second longer. My patience had disintegrated. “This is ridiculous,” I said without thinking.

My mom glared. “Jasmine. Mind your manners.”

Dad squeezed my mom’s hand. “Let her go. There’s a lot she still needs to do today.”

“Yes, but she needs to learn to be—”

My dad gave my mom a look and I knew they were having a conversation without using words.

“Fine,” my mom said, obvious disappointment in her voice.

“Thank you,” I said and stood.

As I walked away, I heard the ogre mumble, “Why does she even come?”

I wanted to fall apart. Shout at him. Grab him around his meaty neck and drink directly from his foul neck. He was big and oafish, but I was at least twice as strong. Instead I rolled my shoulders back and left.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Four

&I took& off my shoes and ran into the woods. I would’ve flown except I didn’t want any prying eyes to see where I was headed.

My bare feet padded softly against the lush grass. I opened my mind, allowing my senses to feel, sense, touch, and hear the surrounding countryside.

There was a family of deer at the stream to my left. On my right was a group of pixilettes collecting seeds from orange peonia plants. I listened extra carefully for a moment to see if Sabrina happened to be with them, but she wasn’t. The pixilettes were talking about creating a new flower color by mixing two seedlings together. It would be called tealender, which was teal and lavender together. They wanted to create it in my honor since I had a streak of teal along the front of my head and my eyes were lavender.

I smiled at their thoughtfulness and the intensity of their conversation.

They continued their light discussion. Some believed my eyes were more violet than lavender and therefore the name should be tealiot.

I thought that sounded too much like toilet so I hoped they didn’t go with that name. However they could use violeal. That wasn’t bad.

“Silly,” I snorted. At the moment there was one place I wanted to be, one place I wanted to go. That was the secret cave Sabrina and I found four years ago. It was a total accident. We’d been flying in a rainstorm. As the water beat down, Sabrina flew under me so I could keep the rain from hitting her wings, but suddenly the rain started coming in sideways, making it even more difficult for her. We’d needed shelter, and the opening to the cave had appeared on the side of the mountain like it knew we were in need.

We flew inside and stayed there until the rains subsided. It felt alive. It was filled with the gems of seven magics. The walls sparkled with rubies, emeralds, topaz, and sapphires. They lit up when I was near and whispered compliments telling me how beautiful my eyes were, how lovely the wings at my back had become, and so on.

But when I realized Sabrina couldn’t hear the whisperings I did my best to ignore them.

As I came upon the entrance point, I closed my eyes, focusing on my surroundings to make sure no one was around. When I was sure I was alone, I touched a charred looking rock. It shuddered and then the cave entrance appeared.

I stepped inside. Immediately the whispering started. I smiled, happy that at least someone… or something thought I was amazing. In the cave I wasn’t a disappointment. Here I wasn’t expected to do something or be something other than who I was. It was refreshing.

“This place rocks. Like literally.” It wasn’t my voice but that of a guy. Deep. Sensual. Earthy.

I swung around surprised I’d been snuck up on. That’d never happened before. The guy stood near the entrance to the cave. He was gorgeous. A dark-haired, total-movie-star hottie. Like one of the actors or singers I’d seen in the entertainment magazines from the human world. He was tall, tan and muscled. He wore a short sleeve white button down with the sleeves rolled up. Each of his wrists were decorated with intricate black tattoos, like cuffs, but his were tribal with what looked like an eye in the center.

My first instinct was to kill him. But he was too pretty to hurt. “Who are you?”

He clasped his hands behind his back and took a step forward. “I’m Laeddin.” Another two steps closer.

I swallowed. “How did you sneak up on me, Laeddin?”

He chuckled. Two more steps. We were toe to toe. I had to look up to see his face. His eyes, twin pools of glorious aquamarine, focused on my face, my body, and my hair. He was amused. “This… is my home.”

“Your home?” I answered. “You live in a cave?” I shook my head, trying to make sense of it. “I’ve been coming here for years. I’ve never seen you before.” I took a step back. “You haven’t been stalking me, have you?”

Laeddin copied my step so we were still close. “I thought you were stalking me.” He smiled.

“Where do you sleep?” I looked around. It was empty except for the gems and a dirt floor. “On the floor? It’s dirty. But you don’t look dirty. You look gorgeous.” I clamped a hand over my mouth, shocked I’d said that aloud. My other hand touched his arm, felt the delicious shape of his bulging bicep. “And perfectly clean. I mean look at your shirt, the way it clings to your chest and shows off the shape of your—” I pressed my lips between my thumb and first finger. I was rambling, saying things I shouldn’t have been saying. It was a problem I had, talking too much when I was nervous, but I couldn’t help it. “I-I’m terribly sorry,” I muttered.

He pulled my hand from my mouth. “It’s okay.” His gaze kept slipping from my eyes to my mouth. It was very disconcerting and sexy.

I licked my lips. “What are you?” I asked, and then blushed. Humiliated. “Sorry.” I turned away.

“I’m a genie,” he supplied. I felt him come up behind me. He placed his hands on my bare shoulders. I shivered at the warmth radiating from his palms. My wings fluttered of their own will and my face turned redder. “Your wings are magnificent.” With the tips of his fingers he stroked them.

I wasn’t sure whether to be okay with him touching my wings or not.

No one except my parents was allowed. “Uh, thanks.” I faced him. “So you’re a genie?” I blinked. “What’s a genie?”

He took my hand. “I’ll show you.” The dirt floor and gem encrusted walls disappeared. In its place was a room befitting any palace. A giant chandelier hung from the ceiling and twelve billowing curtains all in different pastels were strung from the center to the edges of the walls and then hung down the walls. The floor was covered in a thick white carpet. I was barefoot and rubbed my feet across its surface. “It’s so soft.” I gave Laeddin an incredulous look. “Is this real?”

“Of course it is, Jasmine.” He brushed a piece of hair from my eyes.

In one corner, there was a gigantic four-poster bed. Gauzy white curtains hung from it. The bedding was also white and encrusted with what looked like white and black diamonds. At the foot of the bed was a sleek black trunk. I walked over and touched it, sure it would vanish between my fingers. It didn’t. The surface was solid, shiny, and sleek.

“This is where I sleep,” he said, his voice seductive.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Five

&I stepped away,& crossing my arms. “I’ve been coming here for years. Why didn’t you reveal yourself before?”

He looked away. “I enjoyed listening to you and the pixilette, Sabrina, talk. Sometimes I can get a little lonely.”

The idea that Laeddin, a strong and handsome man, felt the way I did immediately softened my heart. “Don’t you have any friends?”

He looked at me, his eyes sad. “I’m not allowed to leave until such time as my master requests it.”

“Oh, and who’s your master?” My heart began to beat rapidly.

“You are, Jasmine.” He came over and took both of my hands in his. “I am yours to command.”

“You are?” For some reason that made my heart speed up and my face get hot. I tried to pull away but he held me fast.

“Yes. And I can grant you three wishes.” His eyes flickered to my lips.

“Really?” My mind whirled out of control at the possibilities. Most of my wishes were selfish. “I can ask for anything?”

“Well, sure. Anything within reason.”

I wanted to snort. “What does that mean?” I walked over to the bookshelf and scanned the titles. There were titles I’d never seen before and several I had, like Wuthering Heights, The Great Gatsby, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

He came over, pulled Wuthering Heights from its place and started flipping through the pages. “I can’t bring anyone back from the dead. I can’t kill anybody.” He turned and touched my cheek. “And I can’t make someone fall in love.” He caressed my jawline with him thumb.

“What can you do?” I tried to smirk. He smelled delicious, like exotic spices and oranges.

“Why don’t you tell me what you want and I’ll let you know if it’s possible.” His thumb touched my bottom lip.

I inhaled and fell back. He caught hold of my arms and pulled me close. My body touched his and I turned into a gooey mess. I was surprised at the way my body reacted to him. I couldn’t think and that was irritating. Well, okay, it was delicious, but kind of irritating too. It was important I be able to think.

He led me over to the bed. My heart raced faster. I sat, internally admiring how soft yet firm it felt. When Laeddin moved to sit as well, I flinched and quickly stood. If he had salacious intentions, I wasn’t ready. He was gorgeous, but I didn’t know him and wouldn’t be doing anything with him on his bed.

“So what is it you want?” Laeddin asked, disappointed.

Great, now I’ve upset him, too. He’d better get in line, I thought.

“Jasmine? I’m serious. I must grant you three wishes. Please?” He got off his bed.

My breathing had just started to calm down but the closer he got, the faster it became. “You seem anxious about it. Why do you have to grant me three wishes? Will you explode or something if you don’t?”

Laeddin chuckled. “Maybe not explode.” He crossed his arms, and I noticed the tattoos on his wrists. “But as I said before, you’ve been my master a long time already and there is an urgency that builds within my body the longer you go without wishing for something.” He closed his eyes a moment. “It’s painful almost beyond comprehension.” His bright aqua eyes seemed to shine with the pain he’d been hiding. “That’s why I showed myself.”

He acted guilty, like he was sorry he hadn’t resisted longer. For some reason seeing him like this made me feel guilty, too.

“Please.” He gritted his teeth.

“Okay. All right.” I tugged at my left wing, working to calm myself. Laeddin seemed to notice what I was doing and smiled. For some reason I was mortified and stopped. “Ugh. How about my wings? Can you get rid of them?” I asked, embarrassed.

Laeddin seemed deeply surprised. “Why would you want that?” He touched the same spot on my wings as I had only moments before. “They’re beautiful.”

“Why does everyone say that?” I stomped over to the bench at the end of his bed, sitting furiously. “They might look pretty and they are fun to use when I’m flying but… there’s no one else like me.” That was the part that hurt the most. Sure there were plenty of other vampires. But I was the only one with wings. “Because of these,” I stretched out my wings to their fullest. “I’m not allowed go into the human world at all. No movies. No high school. No… ugh! Living.”

Laeddin’s eyes beamed as understanding flashed through them. “So you want to go into the human world, live like a human girl?”

“Yes.” I clapped. “Is that a wish you can grant?”

He took my hands. “Yes, by Allah, it is.”

I jumped up, excited. “Okay. I like it.” An image of my mom and what she would do when she found out flashed across my mind. “But what about my parents? Can they stop my wish? Can they make it so I have to come back?”

Laeddin nodded. “It’s possible.”

All the joy left my body.

Laeddin noticed and took my hands. “If you’re specific, you’ll be fine.”

I thought about what I believed living in the human world meant. There should be parties, trips to the local mall, good times at the movies, and hanging out at a friend’s house. “How should I word it?” I asked, coming to stand near him. His scent was consuming, scrumptiously intense.

“I can’t tell you exactly what to say.”

My face fell. “Give me a suggestion, then. Sheesh!”

“My suggestion,” he paused and chuckled. “Would be to word it like: I wish to go to high school in the human world without my wings showing and without my parents being able to bring me back to Sharra. Or something like that.” Laeddin stepped away and went over to a small table where a bowl of fresh fruit appeared. He took a purple grape and tossed it in his mouth.

I started to pace, thinking about exactly how to word my wish. When I felt like I knew, I said, “I’m ready.”

Laeddin swallowed the food in his mouth and cleared his throat. “Then I am too.”

I grinned. “Laeddin, I wish to go to high school in the human world and live like a regular teenage girl without my wings and without my parents being mad or being able to stop me.” I paused. “Is that good?”

He thought it over a moment. “That works.”

“Yay! So what happens now?”

“Now comes the magic.” He clapped his hands together once. The black tattoos circling his wrists suddenly glistened the color of sunny gold. When they stopped my wings vanished.

“Oh, wow. That was fast.” There was a quick pang of loss. They’d been part of me almost sixteen years. But I shook off any regret. Life would be better without them. I moved closer and stood on my tiptoes. “What about school and living like a human?”

He clapped his hands twice and we were no longer in the cave that was his home.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Six

&“Where are we?”& I asked when the smoke cleared.

The room was dark, but I was able to make out empty shelves and pictures hanging on creamy walls. Lamps and furniture were covered in white sheets. Several inches of dust coated the room.

“This is the house your mom grew up in.” He pulled the sheet off the couch and rolled it into a dusty ball. Thick dust puffed in the air. Laeddin coughed, and tossed the sheet on the floor.

“Really?” I’d always wanted to see my mom’s house but she’d never let me. “And my dad grew up in the next house over, right?” My uncles teased that their house was a sprawling mansion while my mom had lived in a shack. She’d laughed but it was obvious there were some painful memories. For that reason I hadn’t pushed her to come. Occasionally she would share a good memory, but it wasn’t often.

The room Laeddin and I stood in was definitely small though. Smaller even than my bedroom in the castle.

“That’s right.” His words brought me out of my thoughts. “I believe a couple of Dorian’s brothers and Professor Pops still live there, including some of your cousins.”

“You know we aren’t really related?”

“No?” His eyes danced with joy. I wondered if he was as excited to be free of his cave as I was to have escaped Sharra.

“Professor Pops adopted the seven brothers.”

Laeddin pulled a sheet off the TV. “Yes, I knew that.”

I wanted to ask him how, but figured it had to do with his genie powers and so didn’t bother. I was too excited. “I can’t wait to see them.”

“Yeah, about that?” Laeddin pulled a sheet off a high back chair. He wadded the sheet and tossed it, averting his gaze.

“What?”

He moved over to the couch and patted a pillow. Dust erupted in the air like a puff of smoke.

“No one can know who you are.” His eyes connected with mine. They radiated sympathy, but also finality.

I felt my mouth drop. “But why?” That totally sucked.

“Because if they know who you are they could tell your mom and dad, which would ruin your wish.”

I sank into the overstuffed chair. That made sense. I wanted to live like a typical teenager, but if my uncles or Professor Pops knew who I was they would have to tell my mom and dad. Of course they would, because their loyalties were to them first and foremost. My uncles had shared enough stories… sleeping out on something called a trampoline, hanging out until all hours. I knew what the brothers, Pops, and my mom and dad meant to each other.

“You get it, right?” Laeddin rested a hand on my shoulder, filling the air around me with his scent.

“I guess so.” I took a small breath. “At least you’ll be here with me.”

Laeddin cleared his throat.

“Wait, you won’t?”

He knelt beside the chair. “Think about it. How would it look if a teenaged girl and unmarried guy lived together? People might get the wrong idea.”

I jumped up and started to pace. “I’ll be all alone. Where are you going? I don’t know what to do. I need help. I can’t do this without you. Besides what if I want another wish?”

He stood. “What do you suggest?”

I tried to pull on my wing like I usually did in stressful situations and then remembered they were gone. For some reason it made me sad. “I don’t know. But you can’t leave. You can’t,” I cried, full of desperation.

Laeddin snapped his fingers. The tattoos around his wrists lit up momentarily and suddenly the entire room was dust free and totally clean. “That’s better.” He snapped his fingers again and a figurine appeared in his hand. He set it on the empty glass shelf. “Look, it’s your twin.”

When I was young, my mom told me about a movie in the human world called Aladdin and that they chose my name from that movie. She said I looked a lot like the animated character. Cindy, my mom’s best friend, snuck me a book about the movie. For weeks I read it at night after my parents tucked me in. I knew the characters’ names by heart.

Another snap of Laeddin’s fingers and the tiger, the genie, the monkey and the boy from the market appeared on the shelf next to Jasmine.

I came up beside him and touched the ceramic figurine. “My mom told me my stepmother had dozens of these when she lived here. She also said that her stepmother was kind of a cookoo crazy collector.”

Laeddin laughed, bringing me out of my thoughts, and I joined in. It eased my stress. Now slightly more relaxed, I reached past my namesake to pick up the figurine of the tiger, Raja. “What if you became my tiger?”

“I might scare the neighbors or get shot. Tigers aren’t exactly indigenous to the area.” His bright eyes glittered with humorous sarcasm.

“Fine,” I huffed. “You’re right.” Behind the Jasmine figurine and the tiger was Aladdin and his monkey, Abu. “A monkey?”

“Again, I’d be shot or taken to the nearest zoo.” He faced me. “Why an animal? How about your twin?” Suddenly looking at him was like looking in the mirror. He’d changed into my exact duplicate.

“Whoa. That’s cool.” I touched his face. “Okay, more freaky than cool. I don’t know if I could deal with this.”

He switched back to himself. “Well, I look too old to go to school. I guess I could play your father?”

“Gross,” I said, trying to contain the strong attraction I held for him. It wouldn’t do for him to play my dad when my body responded to him the way it did.

“Why gross?” He reached out and grabbed my waist, pulling my body against his.

I stopped breathing. My mind stopped thinking. Everything froze and all that was left was Laeddin, his lips, and his very sexy body touching mine.

“Jasmine? What’s wrong?”

I pushed him away. He was toying with my emotions. He obviously knew what he was doing. “Nothing. Just no to the parental idea.” I meandered into the kitchen and opened a cupboard. It was bare, as were the rest. I flipped a switch but the light didn’t turn on. I tried to call upon my power to turn on the light but nothing happened.

“No wings. No magic, remember?” Laeddin walked into the kitchen.

“Right, a regular teenager with a craving for blood.”

“Correct,” Laeddin smirked.

I pulled open the refrigerator. A pungent odor wafted out. “I’m going to need electricity and groceries and…” I spun in a circle. “I’m going to need a lot of stuff.”

“Nasty.” Laeddin wrinkled his nose at the smell. He snapped his fingers. The smell instantly vanished. Fruits and vegetables appeared on the refrigerator shelves; as did the light.

“Nice,” I said, taking an apple and pressing it to my lips. Before I bit, I asked him, “So I’m regular, right? I don’t need blood to sustain me anymore?”

Laeddin looked away.

“Come on. What kind of genie are you?”

Laeddin chuckled. “It has to do with your wish. What you asked for.” He took the apple and bit into it. “Delicious.”

I crossed my arms. “So what? Do I need to wish that I’m no longer a vampire?”

He threw the apple’s core in the trash. “You could, but I don’t think you should.” He looked away. “I mean it isn’t my place to tell you how to wish or what to wish for.” Laeddin bowed low at the waist. “I am simply your humble servant.”

I placed a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t bow to me.” Laeddin’s scrutiny seemed to tear into my soul. “You aren’t my servant. We’re going to be friends.” I patted his cheek, ignoring my pangs of desire. I wanted us to be more than friends.

Laeddin took my hand. “I appreciate that’s what you might think, but the truth is, until your three wishes are granted, I am your servant.”

I gave an exasperated sigh.

“I like you too. But if you knew anything about genies, you’d know we can’t consider ourselves equal when one does the wishing.” He pointed at me. “And the other,” he smacked a hand against his chest, “must grant it.”

I went to the bar stool and slumped over, resting my head in my hands. “Why should you be my servant…” I shrugged. “Or whatever, if I didn’t call upon you… or something.” It was confusing. “Wasn’t I supposed to rub a lamp? Where is your lamp?”

Laeddin sat beside me. “The cave you and Sabrina often visited. That was the inside of my lamp. Basically from the moment you found it, I’ve been your servant. I was just worried about showing myself to you.

“Why me and not Sabrina?”

“Simple. You brought Sabrina into the cave. You found the cave. It’s been you for a long time.”

“Oh,” I said, lifting my head and looking at him. “And I shouldn’t wish to no longer be a vampire?”

He shook his head, a strange emotion flitting across his face. “No, please don’t do that.”

I bit my bottom lip. “Okay. So, I guess I’m wingless and I can’t do any magic, but I still have to drink blood?” That was upsetting. There was nothing ordinary about a girl with the need for a liquid diet.

“Now you get it.”

“I guess,” I said, straightening up. I had my wish. I’d figure out the blood situation later. “So what are the fruits and veggies for? Just part of the typical teenager show?” I asked, giggling not unlike a little girl.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Seven

&“Well that.”& He paused and patted his stomach. “And I’m a vegetarian. You’ll need to feed your servant, don’t you think?” He bowed low.

I giggled. “How very manly of you.” Then I got serious. “So you’re going to stay around? You won’t leave me in this house alone?”

Laeddin picked up my hands. “Correct.”

My fingers found the tattoos and I traced them with my fingers. That seemed to make him nervous. He gently pulled away, taking another bite of apple. “But you’re only allowed to boss me around when you have friends over. And then only within reason.” Laeddin smirked. “Treat me like family.”

“Fine,” I said. That reminded me. “Do you know where my mom’s dad and stepmother are? They won’t come back to the house while we’re here, will they?” Part of me was excited by the prospect of seeing my grandfather. My mom hadn’t told me much about him, but I still wanted to meet him.

Laeddin’s face fell. “Didn’t you know? Your grandfather died a couple of years ago. It was very sudden. The doctors couldn’t figure out what happened.”

“Oh.” Sadness ripped at my heart. “My mom didn’t tell me. I wonder if she knows.”

“She does. She arranged for his funeral and took care of the other necessities required. She kept the house but recently put in on the market. We’ve officially purchased it. So it now belongs to you.” He went to the front room and touched a green and white For Sale sign leaning near the door.

“Okay,” I said, feeling bad that my mom never mentioned such a sad moment in her life. She must’ve felt something at the loss of her father. I knew it would break my heart to lose my dad. “And my grandfather’s wife?”

“Soon after your grandfather’s death, Vivianne disappeared. No one has seen or heard from her for months.”

I got off the stool and went to the stairs. “You know where she is though, right?”

He shook his head. “I can’t see her. I’m not sure what happened to her. It’s as though she vanished.”

“That’s weird.” I started climbing the stairs to see what was on the second floor. Laeddin followed.

The house smelled of Laeddin, like warm spices and zesty orange. I inhaled deeply. When I reached the top of the stairs I looked over the railing, down into the living room.

“It is very weird,” he agreed.

“Should I be worried?” I glanced back, waiting for his answer.

“I don’t think so. She never really liked your mom or this place, so it’s highly unlikely, if she is still alive, that she’ll return here.”

I nodded. “You’re probably right.”

“Of course I am. Besides we own the property now. She’d be trespassing.” He moved to the first closed door and pushed it open.

“Okay,” I said, stepping around him and into the bedroom. It was big. I guessed it was my grandfather’s and his wife’s room. It was nice.

“I want to see my mom’s old room,” I said, continuing down the hall. When I came to the only other bedroom door, I froze. The door was closed, but I knew that it had to have been my mom’s. Suddenly I felt like I was spying. She hadn’t shared a lot about living in the house or living in the human world. It reminded me that I didn’t even know what her favorite color was.

“You going in?” Laeddin asked.

I turned the handle and pushed open the door. Purple. Every inch of the room was covered in purple. “I never would’ve guessed,” I said, stepping inside.

“Me either,” Laeddin agreed walking over to the dresser.

I followed him and leaned in, checking out the pictures pinned to the corkboard above. There were photos of all seven of Professor Pops’ adopted sons, including my father, Dorian; as well as my aunt Cindy and my mom. Even though my mom still looked the same, she seemed younger in the pictures. She dressed like a tomboy. Her hair was short and she wore no makeup. “Wow.” I took down a picture of Cindy and my mom.

“Yeah,” Laeddin added.

“My mom looks so young.” I glanced at Laeddin. His closeness took my breath away.

“She’s lovely.”

For some reason his comment made me jealous. “I guess.” I put the picture back and pulled open the top drawer. It was empty, as was the next. I went to the closet and pulled it open. It was empty too. “What am I going to do about clothes?”

Laeddin smiled. “Well,” he walked into the bathroom. I followed. “I could just snap my fingers and you’d have more clothes than you knew what to do with.” He caught and held my eyes in the mirror.

“Yes, I suppose,” I said.

“Or,” he turned and leaned down so that his cheek touched mine, his lips next to my ear. “We could go shopping.” His breath tickled my neck and I shivered.

I grinned so big I thought my cheeks would break.

“You cold?” he asked. But I felt him smile. He knew the effect he was having.

“No,” I said turning slightly so that I could see his eyes. My bottom lip brushed against his and a bolt of electricity shot through my body. “Oh,” I gasped.

He touched my lip with his fingers. “Shopping?” he asked.

Heat touched every part of my body. I couldn’t speak. So I nodded.

“Excellent.”

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Eight

&Laeddin took& us to a place in New York City called Bloomingdales. We had a sales person help us. I had a bit of a freak out when I saw my back in the three-way mirrors in the dressing room.

Okay, a big freak out.

“What’s wrong?” Laeddin asked, popping in to the dressing room with me. I screamed again, quickly sliding the sleeves of the dress up so the front of my body was covered.

His eyes roamed over my body quickly before focusing on my face.

“Look at my back,” I said, turning it toward him.

His eyes got dark, like emeralds, and he licked his lips. I was mesmerized by the action.

“I—wings are tattooed onto my back.” I tore my gaze from his face and focused on the reflection of my back in the mirror. The wings were outlined in black and filled in along the edges. I knew tattoos were a thing in the human world, but I never thought I’d get one.

“May I?” Laeddin asked, reaching out to touch my back.

My heart raced so hard and so fast, it was hard to hear anything. “Sure.” I bit my bottom lip.

His touch was gentle. He traced one of the wings. I closed my eyes, sinking into the incredible feeling racing through my body.

“They are trapped within,” he said, interrupting my thoughts.

I opened my eyes. “Will they stay away?” I stood and moved so that I was inches from him. He grasped my shoulders and tipped his head.

We were going to kiss. I sensed it, knew it the way I knew which way was up. I lifted my face to meet him halfway. My first kiss, I thought.

I knew I should close my eyes. I’d seen pictures of couples kissing, but I was too fascinated with the way Laeddin moved. The length of his dark lashes and how they cast shadows on his cheeks, the slight dimple in his chin, his mysterious scent, and his warm breath.

Millimeters away. He was so close. I wondered how it would feel, if it would change me.

Someone knocked on the door. “How’s it going, Jasmine?”

I squealed and jumped out of Laeddin’s grasp. “Fine,” I said, but my voice sounded strange.

“Did you need a different size?”

Laeddin smirked.

My face turned bright red, like rich blood. “I’m not sure yet. Hang on.”

I heard her step closer to the door.

Laeddin moved so that he could whisper in my ear. “I’m going.”

He kissed my cheek and then vanished.

I checked my cheek in the mirror. I expected to see a mark where his lips touched. The spot burned, but there was nothing.

“Jasmine?” the clerk said again, knocking with more urgency on the door. I peeked my head out and handed her one of the dresses I’d taken in. “I’d like to try this one in a different color.”

She took it, happy to have something to do. “I’ll see what I can find.”

“Thank you.”

When she was gone, I tried on a tan mini skirt that came to the middle of my thighs and a powder blue button up shirt. I turned back and forth, liking the look. Then I tried on a couple of different pairs of jeans, more shirts, some sweaters, and a couple of different dresses. They all looked great.

By the time the sales girl came back, I was ready for more. “What do you think?” she asked, showing me the dress. It was a pastel purple and matched my eyes.

“I like it.” I took it from her.

“And what about the others? Anything you like?” She gave me a stern look.

“I love all of it.”

“Good. If you want to give them to me, I’ll begin wrapping them up.”

“Sure.” I took the clothes and handed them to her.

“Anything you don’t want?” she asked.

I shook my head. From the corner of my eye, I caught Laeddin watching our exchange. He had his hands in his pockets and was smiling. “Nope.”

“Very good.”

“And I’m going to need shoes. And underthings. And socks, and tights… and coats, and jackets too.”

She followed my gaze and saw Laeddin. “You’re very lucky. He’s so gorgeous.”

“I know,” I admitted and then blushed.

Over the next several days, Laeddin took on the role of tour guide. He showed me around Salem. He took me into Boston, where we walked the streets, until he surprised me with a movie. It was a romance called Across the Ages about a girl who travelled through time and ended up falling in love. There were several cringe-worthy moments. Like when the main character kissed the male lead. It was soft and passionate and romantic and my cheeks went hot.

When the movie was over I could tell Laeddin was relieved, but I wanted to see it again. So we did. He was very thoughtful. I had so much fun spending time with him. He didn’t talk much about himself though. Mostly we talked about me, and my life.

Laeddin also prepared the documents I would need for school. It was mainly just him snapping his fingers, but since Salem high could call and check on the information listed in the transcripts, he had to make sure certain things I didn’t care to understand were in order.

Sunday night, he took me to a symphony. It was our last night together before I was to start school. All he did was snap his finger and he went from wearing jeans and a t-shirt to a black tux with a white shirt.

“You look so handsome,” I whispered. It’d taken me an hour to do my makeup and my hair just right and then to get dressed.

I’d chosen a black dress with loose ruffles in the skirt. What I loved most was that the under part of the ruffles were teal, so when I moved, a pop of color would show. The bodice was tight and sleeveless. A small teal flower was pinned on the right side of my waist. I’d chosen black pumps with a red bottom, but Laeddin changed them to teal. I’d curled my hair and pinned it in a loose bun on the right side, then put a sparkling comb at the top to secure it in place.

“Well you look beautiful.” Laeddin rested his hands on my waist. His warm skin radiated the scent of his blood. I’d noticed that the more time I spent with him, the more appealing his blood became.

“Thank you.” He used his magic and we were suddenly seated in the theater. No one even noticed when we just popped in. It was as though we’d been there all along.

When everyone was seated, the conductor came out and spoke to us about the program. Then they began to play… and for the next hour I was lost in the beautiful sounds of the music.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Nine

&On Monday morning,& I woke with a mixture of excitement and apprehension swirling in my belly. The sun was just starting to rise and my first inclination was to fly because Sabrina would be waiting at my window.

Except she wouldn’t be this morning.

My emotions floated to the surface. I needed Sabrina. She was my friend. I jumped out of bed and ran to the window, pushing it open. Birds chirped their song. Small animals rummaged in the trees that lined the back yard. A deer lifted its head and bounded away.

My throat burned at the sight of the doe. I needed blood. It’d been more than a week since my last breakfast in Sharra and I couldn’t ignore my hunger any longer.

“Where’s a unicorn when you need one?” I whispered fiercely, turning from the window, surprised by how sad I felt. I missed my best friend. Having Laeddin was great, but I was had to be careful of my attraction to him. Or his blood, my mind whispered. Whatever the reason, I couldn’t totally relax. Hiding out in the human world would be so much more fun if Sabrina was with me.

Laeddin and I discussed bringing her. We’d talked and talked about it. But it wouldn’t work. Sabrina was small. Her presence would be noticed.

I took a deep breath. I’d chosen this. Normal. High school. It would get better once I found some human friends and started doing typical stuff.

“Focus, Jasmine.” I went into the bathroom. Laeddin had changed the color scheme in there as well as my bedroom from purple to my favorite colors, which were teal and black.

The style was contemporary. A fresh jasmine flower sat in a pot on the counter near the sink and I leaned in to smell it. After my shower, I fixed my hair. The teal streak that had been in my hair for as long as I could remember was no longer there. I kept turning back and forth in the mirror trying to decide whether I liked myself better with or without it.

I decided it didn’t matter. I left my hair down, curling the ends that hung to my waist with a hot iron. It took me a while to figure it out and I ended up burning two of my fingers. I realized I couldn’t do magic, but I was still a vampire. That meant I could still heal quickly. I kept my makeup simple, using neutral colors that enhanced my violet eyes, and applied neutral lip-gloss.

I’d picked out my outfit the night before, a tan skirt with five-inch heels in the same color and a powder blue button down shirt. I put on a matching lacy blue bra and undies. The bathroom seemed lonely without Zenny. Usually he was around to give me compliments and help me choose makeup colors, hairstyles, and the clothes I would wear. I missed him too.

But I reminded myself that he wasn’t part of my normal life.

I focused on my shoes. They were the favorite part of my outfit. The shoes had a peekaboo toe and a bow at the ankle. Completely adorable.

When I finished, I went down to the kitchen. I needed blood, but wasn’t sure how to get it.

Laeddin was there, leaning against the counter, eating an orange. He was dressed in dark jeans and a green t-shirt. His feet were bare and his black hair was still wet.

I wasn’t sure whether it was the orange or him that I craved more. But he made the orange look so delicious, especially with the juice dripping off his lips. I wanted regular food. I thought about wishing for it, but he’d already told me he didn’t want to change who I was and I didn’t want to waste a wish.

“Morning,” he said, pushing off the counter.

I suddenly felt shy. “Hi,” I replied.

“Ready for school?” He opened the fridge and grabbed a bottle of water, twisted off the lid, and took a long drink. I was mesmerized by his movements. He smelled like ecstasy. It could’ve been his skin or his blood. I wanted to lick at the vein pulsing at his neck, sink my teeth in, and find out. I had a feeling his blood would be as spicy as his scent.

He recognized that I was watching and stopped drinking, placing the lid back on the bottle. I licked my lips. Thirsty.

“You need to feed,” he suggested.

“Yes.” I took a step in his direction.

He faced me, spreading his legs shoulder’s width apart. It looked like he was preparing for my attack. “You want to taste me, don’t you, Princess?” His voice was low, deep and sensual.

“I do,” I responded, moving closer. I was almost in a frenzy, and the need for blood made his smell so heady.

Laeddin tilted his neck as though giving me access. I was on him before I realized what I was doing. My tongue tasted his neck and my fangs released. I pressed against his warmth.

He cleared his throat. “Is this what you wish?” Laeddin asked.

That made me pause. “You mean I have to use a wish to drink your blood?”

“That’s right,” he said, clearing his throat.

That took the heat right out of me. I untangled myself, pushing out of his arms. “Never mind.” I picked up my pink and light green polka dot backpack and walked to the front door. “I’d better get to school.”

Laeddin was immediately wearing shoes. “Here.” He pulled open the refrigerator and grabbed a glass. It was filled with something red. “It’s blood. Drink. You’re going to need it.”

I grabbed and sniffed. “What kind?” I took a sip. It tasted a little sweet and salty with a hint of copper. It tasted different than any blood I’d tried before. There wasn’t any magic laced within as with the blood I normally drank. “Is it an animal?” If so, I knew it would keep me in control for a short time, but wouldn’t satisfy for long. I took another, bigger drink. It was delicious in a way I never imagined. Even better than unicorn blood. Had my mom lied about my not being able to drink animal blood? Would it keep me strong and healthy just like magical blood?

Laeddin smirked. “Something like that.” A set of keys appeared in his hands.

I chugged the remaining blood until it was gone. Usually I drank it warm, but cold wasn’t bad. I could’ve had more, but a quick check inside the refrigerator revealed there wasn’t any left. “You’re driving?” I asked, giving him a sideways glare. “Wouldn’t it be faster to do your magical disappearing and reappearing thing? You know, poof.”

“Of course it would be faster but it might alarm the humans.” He opened the door.

“Oh, right.” I’d forgotten that in the human world magic wasn’t real. “I wish you were going with me. It’d be nice to know one person in the school.”

Laeddin chuckled. “Is that an actual wish? Because it would be awkward, but your wish is my command.”

I covered my mouth and swallowed down my worry. “Oh my gosh. No. You’re right. That wasn’t an actual wish.”

He seemed relieved. “Good.”

We walked outside. Sitting directly in front of us on the circular driveway was a gleaming white Mercedes.

“Hot,” I said climbing in the passenger seat.

After he got in and the engine roared to life, I turned and looked at him. “You called me Princess? What’s up with that?”

He glanced at me as he pulled forward. “It suits you… Princess.”

“I don’t like it,” I told him, leaning back in the leather chair.

Laeddin turned, his face alight with mischief. “All the more reason I’ll continue to call you Princess, Princess.”

“Ugh.”

Laeddin smirked. He did something with the shifter and the car lurched forward, down the driveway. Laeddin flipped a knob on the left of the steering thing as we came to a stop. A large silver truck flew past us. It honked and roared down the street.

“I’m guessing one of your uncle’s kids.” Laeddin turned left and we followed the truck all the way to the high school.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Ten

&The school was big,& bigger than the castle. Laeddin dropped me off at the front of the school. “I’ll be back to pick you up at two thirty.”

I climbed out of the car. “Thanks. See you later.” I watched him drive away. All my senses were heightened. New smells—weird smells—assaulted my nose. And there was so much noise. The sound was like a flock of sea birds. Dozens of human students swarmed past. They went up the stairs and through the front door. I turned, trying not to wobble in my heels, and made my way up the stairs. Inside the air became denser, probably from all the bodies. Straight ahead was an open area with hallways breaking off to both sides. Ahead there were two sets of double doors, with a staircase to the right of the doors.

“Are you lost, honey?” A guy with short black hair and skin much darker than mine bounced in front of me. His face was friendly. Dark eyes sparkled and his smile took up a large portion of his face. He was wearing a hot pink button up shirt. It wasn’t tucked in, but hung loose. His shoes were blue with a hot pink streak. Both of his ears were pierced and diamond studs covered the holes.

I couldn’t stop staring. He reminded me a little of Zenny.

“Hey,” he snapped his fingers.

“Where is the office? I-I, uh am new.”

He gave me a look. “Yeah, I figured.” He took my hand. “Come on. I’ll get you there.”

I froze, surprised by his friendliness and shocked by the smell coming off him. It was like a bouquet of copper, rust, and sweet thick… I smelled his blood. Laeddin had given me human blood for breakfast. I didn’t know whether that was a good thing or not. I guessed it was his way of showing me I could get blood without drinking from animals. But I had to go to school with the humans. They weren’t food. At least not if I wanted to be normal.

My fingers had a death grip on the guy’s hand.

“Hey.” He was giving me a strange look.

“Sorry. Thanks.” I relaxed and followed him.

“It’s alright. Don’t be scared. Most of the kids here won’t bite.” He glanced back while walking and smiled.

I returned his with one of my own. But couldn’t help thinking that the humans might not bite, but I did. At the thought of his blood hitting the back of my throat, my mouth watered. When I saw Laeddin again I was going to give him a serious piece of my mind.

“My name is Cameron, but you can call me Cam. What’s yours?”

“Jasmine,” I responded before I really thought about it. The name on my transcripts said Jackie Ryder, which was the name Laeddin game me. They were fake, of course. But I couldn’t come out and say I’d been going to school in a fairytale land called Sharra where my teacher was a vampire, and that I drank the blood of unicorns and ogres for sustenance. Nope that wouldn’t go well with my wish to be a normal teenager.

So I was from Las Vegas. I went to public school for a while and then I was homeschooled and taught by tutors. It was kind of true. Also, my mom and dad worked in the entertainment industry and liked their privacy.

“Well, it’s actually Jackie but I like the name Jasmine.” I tried not to blush, fiddling with my backpack straps, and readjusting my skirt.

Cam smiled bigger. “I like it, but I might have to call you Jack.”

“Jack. Why?”

Cam’s eyes shone with happiness. “You look like a Jack.”

“I do?” I thought Jack was a boy name. I shrugged. “I guess that’s fine.”

Cam squeezed my hand and pulled me along as he turned right. The sign above the door said OFFICE.

Cam walked me over to the tall counter. A gorgeous girl with blonde hair and bright blue eyes sat behind the desk. “What’s up, Cam?”

“Hey Sydney.”

Cam turned to me. “This is Sydney. She’s the student aide during first period.”

“Hi,” I said and waved.

Cam went on, “This new girl,” he pointed to me, “has been caught in our web of evil and is here to attend our scary school.” He did a faux laugh, like a villain.

Sydney snickered. “What’s your name?” She gave me a once over.

This time I was prepared with the correct name. “Jackie Ryder.” I glanced at Cam.

He slapped his palm on the counter. “We’re going to call her Jack though, because it suits her.”

“Okay.” She pressed some letters on a machine and then stood. “Be right back. You need to speak with the counselor, Mr. Butters.”

Cam gave me a horrified look.

“What?” I asked after Sydney walked away.

“Mr. Butters is crazy and he looks even crazier.”

I giggled nervously and pulled at my hair. “Really?”

“He’s looks like Einstein.”

“Ohhhh,” I said, even though I had no idea who Einstein was. And that had me worried.

“You’ll be okay though. Just don’t look at him for too long or you might turn to stone.” He patted my hand.

When I gasped, he laughed. “I’m totally kidding.” Then his face grew serious. “Don’t test the theory though.”

“Right.” I couldn’t tell when Cam was serious or joking. He kept bouncing back and forth.

Sydney came out of the office behind the desk with a man wearing a green bow tie, a blue, green, and white plaid shirt, and tan pants. His hair was thick and white like the driven snow. He had bushy salt and pepper eyebrows and a matching mustache.

“See?” Cam whispered.

I nodded. If that’s what Einstein looked like, he must’ve been a character.

Mr. Butters came around the desk. “Hello, Jackie.” His voice was crackly and had an accent.

I took his hand and shook, knowing that was a human custom. “Hello.”

Mr. Butters wrinkled his nose, which made his thick mustache move like a caterpillar. “Let’s go into my office and we can discuss which classes will work best.” He motioned for me to follow him.

I cast a glance at Cam, who shrugged. “Have fun, Jack. I’ll look for you at lunch.” He turned and walked out.

My shoulders folded in. I kind of already felt ready to quit. Why had I thought I would like living in the human world? I had nothing in common with them.

“Jackie.” Mr. Butters stood at the entrance to his office.

I went inside.

“Have a seat.” He shut the door as I sat in one of the cloth-covered chairs in front of his desk. When he was seated he asked, “Do you prefer to go by Jack? I heard Cameron call you Jack.”

“Sure.”

“Okay, then, Jack. Give me a second to pull up your file.”

While he tapped some keys I perused his desk. The top was a mess, with an assortment of papers, books, a screen and a telephone, which I’d never actually seen before, but had heard about. He opened his drawer and took out a tin. Then he opened it, pulled out something round and white and popped it in his mouth. “Want one?” he asked, holding the tin out for me.

It smelled like peppermint. “No thanks. I’m good.” One thing I did notice was that the strong peppermint scent blocked out a lot of the smell of blood. I’d have to remember that. Maybe I could wear a peppermint necklace around my neck so that I wouldn’t be able to smell the blood.

Mr. Butters shrugged, closed the tin, and put it back in his drawer. “Now.” He scooted his chair forward and started clicking keys. “Jackie Ryder. Let’s see.” He pulled a pair of glasses from his pocket and put them on. “It says you’ve completed two years of English. Good.” He glanced over, checking for verification.

“Yes,” I said, allowing my backpack to fall into the chair beside me.

“Looks like you’ve taken one year of history and a semester of Spanish.” He continued to look at the screen. “So, you still need a semester of PE and a three semesters of Spanish.”

I grinned even though I had no idea what PE was. “That sounds right.” I thought about asking if being able to speak ogre, elfish, and unicorn would count, but I had the feeling he might thing I was cracked, so I held my tongue.

“Since you’re coming in halfway through the first semester, there is limited availability. You understand?”

“Yeah, I get it.” My heart was pounding rapidly. I had a feeling that at any moment Mr. Butters would see I wasn’t human, and that I didn’t understand at all.

But he seemed to be oblivious.

“Let’s do this.” He spoke while he tapped on his keys. I realized he wasn’t talking for his benefit not mine, and used the opportunity to glance around the room. On the wall behind him were a few different certificates. I guessed they had to do with his schooling. On the wall next to the door was a metal cabinet. Books were stacked almost to the ceiling on top of it. To my right was a window and underneath it was a machine. I glanced outside. It was a bright October morning. The sky was a crisp blue. The office overlooked a grassy area. There was a couple kissing heavily, their arms roaming all over each other.

A bell rang and they broke apart, running in opposite directions.

I turned my attention back to Mr. Butters. He was watching me, a strange look on his face. “So,” he began. “I think I’ve got it figured out.” A noise came from the machine under the window. A paper came out the bottom. “That’s your schedule.”

I took the paper and read over it.

“I gave you the same lunch as Mr. Anderson, so you’ll know one person at least.” He smiled, showing his crooked teeth. Somehow they worked on his face.

“Um, okay.” I had no idea who Mr. Anderson was.

“Cameron. The young man who brought you into the office.” Mr. Butters clasped his hands together.

“Oh. Thank you.”

“Of course.” He began typing again. “Your locker will be on the second floor, which is near several of your classes.” He wrote something on a yellow piece of paper, pulled it off and held it out. “Here’s your locker number and the combination.”

I took it.

“Tell no one your combination. Memorize it and then throw that paper away. Got it?”

“Yes.” I wasn’t sure what a locker was, but I figured I’d find out soon enough.

He stood and opened his door. “Sydney, would you mind giving Jack a tour of the school and help her find her first class?”

Sydney nodded vigorously. “Of course, Mr. Butters.” She grabbed her jacket. “Come on. You’re going to love it here.”

I wanted to believe her. I did. But I wasn’t feeling excited. Instead I felt kind of sick.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Eleven

&The school had& A days and B days. On A days I was supposed to go to different classes than my B days. Each class was ninety minutes long with a thirty-five minute lunch—except Tuesdays. That was what they called a “short day,” which meant school started at eight-thirty instead of seven-thirty.

It was Monday, a B day, and according to the paper schedule I clutched in my hands, that meant I had Creative Writing, PE, something called Homeroom, Pre-Calculus, and history. On A days, I had accounting, Homeroom, chemistry, English, and Spanish.

Sydney walked me around the school, taking me to the cafeteria, the auditorium, and the gymnasium. She even showed me where my locker was.

“This isn’t a bad spot.” Sydney flipped her hair and turned around. She wore tight jeans, a long peach shirt that was see through and had a tie around the hips. Underneath was a white tank top. On her feet were gold ballet flats. She looked cute. But I noticed she wasn’t nearly as friendly once we’d left the office.

“I like your shoes. Where’d you get them?” she asked as I tried to open my locker. I didn’t respond right away, trying to figure out Mr. Butters’ chicken scratch. He’d written left 32, right 12, left 7 so I had an idea what I was supposed to do, but I couldn’t seem to get the locker to open.

“Bloomingdale’s,” I said, spinning the knob filled with lines and numbers.

“Shopping in New York. Nice.” Sydney voice seemed to bubble with excitement. She scooted me out of the way. “Let me help you.” She twisted the knob the opposite direction I’d been spinning it. “What’s the combo?”

I remembered that Mr. Butters said not to tell anyone so I hedged. “Uh, um.” I glanced at the yellow paper with sticky stuff on one end.

“It’s okay, Jack. I won’t tell anyone.”

I really needed her help, so I decided it was fine. I showed her the paper.

“Didn’t your school have lockers in Las Vegas?”

“Yeah, but they were different.” I grabbed a piece of hair and twisted nervously.

“Okay, well this is how our lockers work.” She glanced at the yellow paper again. “Left 32.” She turned until it reached a line two after thirty. “Right 12.” She spun the knob to the right, going all the way around once and then stopping on the line two after ten. “Left 7.” She turned to the line two after five. Then she pulled up on a silver lever and the locker opened. “See, easy.” Her blue eyes twinkled.

I had a feeling it wouldn’t be as simple as Sydney made it look, but I nodded. “Thanks.”

“Sure. Did you want to leave your backpack?”

The inside of the locker had two hooks and a shelf but was otherwise empty. “No. I’m going to keep it just in case I need something.” I patted the nylon strap.

“Cool.” She shut it and leaned into my side. “What’s your first class?”

“Creative Writing.” I tried to inhale a quick breath, not wanting to drool at the scent of her blood so close. Hers wasn’t nearly as sweet smelling as Cam’s or Mr. Butters’. It was weird. Everything about this morning was weird. Humans seemed much more touchy-feely than I’d thought they’d be. I wasn’t used to having my personal space invaded unless it was by my parents and more recently, Laeddin.

“Who with?”

I showed Sydney my paper.

“Ah, Miss Riplinger. You’ll like her. She’s also the cheerleading coach.”

I had no idea what a cheerleading coach was but I copied Sydney’s word and said, “Cool.”

“Her room is on the fifth floor. I think she’s likes it up there because it makes her students have to work out. She’s always telling us we’re getting too flabby.” Sydney patted her flat stomach. “You’re lucky you don’t have to worry about your weight.”

She took in my body. I felt the urge to cover up, but held still. “I do try to eat healthy.”

She snorted. “Yeah, which probably means you only have one donut instead of two?” She raised an eyebrow and slapped my butt. I yelped, surprised. “You’d be perfect on our cheerleading squad. You have a great ass. Maybe second semester you should try out.”

“Try out?” I had no idea what she meant.

“Yeah. One of the girls got herself knocked up. Our coach, Miss Riplinger kicked her off the squad. Safety issues or something, which means we’re a cheerleader short.”

I was getting frustrated. What was knocked up? I didn’t want to ask Sydney though. So I just said, “Sounds fun.”

“It totally is.” She linked her arm with mine. “Come on. I’ll walk you to your class.”

We went up several more flights of stairs. Sydney chatted about all sorts of random things. I didn’t pay much attention until she said my name.

“What?” I asked, snapping out of it.

A look of impatience crossed her pert face. “The cheerleaders and the sports boys sit together at lunch. You can join us if you’d like?”

It was an invitation and I wanted to accept. I had a feeling spending time with Sydney and her group would give me the exact teenager lifestyle I was looking for.

“Does Cam sit with you?” I asked, hopefully.

She shook her head. “No, Cam’s all right, but he sits at a different table.” She stopped walking, pulling me to a stop with her. “You’ll figure out soon enough who you should spend time with if you want to have any fun in high school.” Leaning in, she whispered, “I’ll give you a hint though. My group is the group and I’ve decided you’d be a perfect fit.”

I wondered how she could tell I’d be great for her group. She didn’t know anything about me. Was it the clothes I wore? The way I did my hair? That always seemed important in the magazines. Or maybe it was because of my body. The way a person looked meant something to humans. I recognized that pretty easily. And I should be glad Sydney thought I fit into the human category where I had the right look. But what about Cam? Surely he was perfect for their group too.

“Here’s your class.”

“Thanks.”

“Where’s your cell? I enter my number in your contacts and text you so you can find us at lunch.”

I looked away, grabbing my elbow. How hadn’t I remembered I needed a cell phone. My uncles all had them.

“Your parents won’t give you one, huh?”

“Yeah. Jerks.” I glanced at her from under my lashes.

“Well don’t worry. You aren’t the only one.” She waved and walked away. “I’ll find you.”

“See ya,” I returned, glad she didn’t think I was too horrible for not having a cell phone. Facing the door, I placed a hand on the knob and was about to twist when it flung open and smacked me in the forehead, knocking me backward so that I fell on my butt. “Ouch.” I rubbed my forehead. It smarted, but I knew there wouldn’t’ be a mark. I healed too quickly for that.

“Hey, I’m sorry.”

I glanced up at the sound of the deep voice and into the eyes of a very gorgeous guy. It was the same one who’d been kissing the girl outside Mr. Butters’ window. I blushed at the memory of his hands under her shirt, even as I wondered what that would feel like.

I quickly stood. “No worries. I’m fine.”

He grabbed me by the elbows and scrunched down, peering at my forehead. “It hasn’t started bruising yet. But are you sure?”

I nodded, trying not to concentrate too much of the heavenly scent coming off him. It was a combination of blood and sandalwood.

He stepped back, releasing me. I tilted a little sideways. His hands came back out to steady me. “Maybe I should walk you down to the office where you can lie down with an ice pack.”

I’d just come from there. “No, really. I’m okay. You mostly just startled me.”

“Are you in Miss Riplinger’s class?”

“Yeah,” I said, trying not to sound shy.

“Awesome. Well my name is Troy.”

“I’m Jazz… Jack.”

He smiled and stuck a finger under my chin. “Jack, huh? That’s adorable.” He started jogging down the hall toward the stairs. “See ya round, Jack.” He waved.

I returned it. Then faced the door and took a deep breath. “Here goes nothing.” Just the first great moment in my life as a normal teenager attending high school, I thought.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Twelve

&It turned& out Miss Riplinger was fun, just as Sydney said, but she was mostly flirty. She strutted around like a peacock on the prowl. The guys ate it up. The way she’d lean over them, her V-neck top exposing cleavage. The girls giggled like they thought it was funny, but I got the feeling it actually irritated them.

When I first went in, Miss Riplinger introduced me and had me take the only seat available, which was in the back. Then she continued with whatever she’d been saying before I interrupted and I spent the remainder of class playing catch up. Luckily the book they were discussing was Wuthering Heights. I’d read it more than once so I had that going for me.

She asked us to pair up with a partner and answer some questions on a worksheet she passed out. The girl in front of me turned. Her hair was a honey brown and cropped short so that it curled around her ears. She had dark hazel eyes and a friendly face. “Want to do this together?”

“Sure,” I replied, grateful.

“I’m Abby.” Abby wore a light blue t-shirt. On the front was a blue horse with a rainbow-colored mane and tail. It said VINTAGE RULES across the front.

“Jack,” I said. It was getting easier to remember my fake name.

“Your parents named you Jack?” She gave me a strange look.

“Well, no. It’s Jackie, but I like Jack.”

“Cool.” She grinned.

“Thanks.”

The teacher handed me a book. “You’ll need this for the final.”

I took it from her. It was a paper copy of Wuthering Heights.

“Have you read it before?”

“Actually, I have. A few times.”

She sniffed. “Good.”

When the teacher was at the front of the room, Abby turned back and laughed.

“She’s a real sweetie.”

“Yeah.”

“So you’ve read the book before?”

“At least ten times. Have you?”

That seemed to surprise her. “It’s only one of my favorite books ever.”

“Mine too,” I whispered excitedly.

We spent the next fifty minutes discussing why Heathcliff was the greatest character ever written, and when Miss. Riplinger called time and told us to face forward I felt like I’d actually made a real friend.

“Make sure your name is at the top of your page and pass your papers to the front of your row.”

I quickly wrote Jack Ryder at the top of my paper and handed it to Abby. When the bell rang everyone stood and filed out.

“What’s your next class?” Abby asked, coming up beside me.

“PE.”

“I have that next too.”

A deep sense of relief settled within my stomach. “It’s on the first floor. Come on or we’ll be late.”

We shuffled along the crowded hall, down lots of stairs, until we reached the main floor. While Abby and I walked, we talked. It was so different than the conversation with Sydney. With her I’d felt like I needed to be something I wasn’t. With Abby, I could just be myself.

“Did your family just move here?” Her face was inquisitive. A small dusting of freckles covered her nose. She wore no makeup but didn’t need any. Her skin was so smooth.

“Yeah,” I nodded, unwilling to go into more details. No sense trying to explain that my mom and dad were in a different realm known as Sharra and that my mom was the Vampire Queen. That would be awkward.

She turned to face me more fully. “Did you hear about the dead guy they found in the woods last night?”

“What? No.” I leaned away.

“Everybody’s talking about it.” She picked up her phone and then continued, “But I figured what with you being new maybe you hadn’t heard. I guess there was blood everywhere, like he’d been beaten to death.”

“That’s awful.” My mind was reeling. “Does this happen a lot?”

A guy with strawberry blond hair and the creamiest brown eyes I’d ever seen fell into step next to Abby. He seemed to know exactly what we were talking about. I was surprised Sydney hadn’t mentioned it. “They’re saying it’s the most brutal murder Salem has ever seen. At least that’s what I heard.” He reached across Abby and stuck out his hand. “The name’s Charlie.”

“Jackie.” I awkwardly took his hand and shook it. He flipped my hand over and looked at it. “Your hands are so soft. You must eat right.”

I choked on a snort. “Sure.” If eating right meant drinking blood.

“So why’d your family move here?”

My heart sped up. What was I supposed to say? I sighed like I was bummed I was there. “It’s my mom. She had family that lived here.”

“Oh,” Abby said. “What’s the name?”

“Uh,” I started, unsure what to say.

Luckily, we reached the gym. Charlie waved good-bye and we went inside the locker room.

There was a thick stench in the air, but that wasn’t what had me most worried. It was that all the girls were in various stages of undress.

“We have to change into different clothes?” I hugged the copy of Wuthering Heights Miss Riplinger had given me like it was life support.

“Yeah, silly. Your gym clothes. Didn’t you do that at your other school?”

“I was homeschooled,” I said, deciding to tell Abby the truth. Sort of.

“Oh. That explains a lot.” She glanced down at my super high heels that were actually starting to pinch my toes.

“It does.” I followed Abby over to her locker and sat on the bench while she changed.

“I couldn’t quite figure out the doe-eyed look you had going on. I wondered if it was a way to get attention.” She shrugged off her shirt and kicked off her shoes.

“Oh. No.” I glanced down at the floor while she took off her jeans and put her shorts on. “Nope this is just me being me.”

Abby sat on the bench and dropped her shoes in front of her. “I thought so.”

A whistle blew. “Let’s go, ladies.”

“That’s Mrs. Hadley. She’s our PE teacher. Come on.”

I followed Abby, thankful for the moment I didn’t have to get undressed. I was worried about what people would think if they saw my wing tattoos.

When we reached the door, a tough looking woman in polyester shorts, knee highs, tennis shoes, and a white shirt with a red collar blocked our exit.

“Who’s this, Ms. Jones?” The teacher looked from me to Abby and back to me.

“This is Jack. She’s new.”

A tiny smile lifted the teacher’s thin lips. “Nice. Now why isn’t she in her gym clothes?” Her small smile vanished and she glared.

“I-uh… didn’t know I’d be taking this class so I didn’t bring anything.”

She lifted her clipboard and wrote something. “Abby go into my office and find her something to wear.”

“Yes, Mrs. Hadley.”

“And hurry up.” She walked out of the locker room.

My heart sped up. Could I change in a room by myself? Ask Abby to turn around?

Mrs. Hadley’s office was cluttered. A volleyball sat on top of a bunch of papers. There were trophies all along the dusty shelves and a picture of Mrs. Hadley with some man hung on the wall behind her desk.

Next to the door was a big cardboard box. Inside was a bunch of clothes. Abby bent over and started digging through it. “I’m sure we’ll find you something that isn’t too horrible.” She pulled out a pair of black shorts. “How about these?”

I shrugged. “Sure.”

She handed them to me.

“Here’s a shirt.” It was also black.

“And what should I do about shoes and socks?” I asked taking the shirt.

She looked down at my shoes. “Are you kidding me with those stilts?”

I shook my head. “No.” I looked at them. “They’re pretty, right?”

Abby snorted. “Oh yeah, if you enjoy wearing shoes that tear down a woman’s spirit.”

“Huh?” I lifted a foot, trying to understand what she meant.

“It’s nothing.” She laughed. “I have a clean pair of socks in my locker. What size shoe are you?” She went back to her locker and opened it. Took out a pair of white socks and a pair of tennis shoes. “These are size seven. Let’s hope they fit.” She glanced at my shoes. “Even if they’re too small, I’m sure you won’t feel a thing after wearing those.”

I sat on the bench. My heart raced so fast I thought I might faint. What would Abby say when she saw my back. Maybe I could change without her seeing. I turned so that I was facing her. “Thanks for all your help.” I took off my shoes and looked around, wondering where I should put them.

“Just toss everything in my locker,” Abby said, understanding.

“Okay.” I set my shoes at the bottom next to her ankle boots and then turned so that I faced Abby, unzipped my skirt and put on the black shorts. So far so good. I stood slightly and unbuttoned my shirt, pulling it off. Abby didn’t look away like I had. She took in my curves and my bra.

“Cute.”

“Thanks.” I tried not to look embarrassed. I picked up the shirt and went to pull it over my head.

Someone gasped. “That’s a big freakin’ tattoo.”

My shoulders slumped. I should’ve known I wouldn’t get away with it.

Abby glanced in the direction of the voice. I’d spent enough time with Sydney already to know the voice belonged to her.

“What tattoo?” Abby stood.

I put my back against the lockers and quickly pulled the black shirt over my head.

Sydney came over. Abby gave me a strange look.

“Are you old enough to have a tattoo?” Sydney asked.

“I’m almost sixteen.”

“Where is it?” Abby asked, looking surprised.

“It’s on her back. A tattoo of wings.” Sydney spun me toward Abby. “Check it out. The new girl is baaaaaad.” As she spoke she lifted my shirt.

Abby gasped. “Wow, it almost looks real.” She lifted my shirt higher.

Blood rushed to my face. I was mortified.

“Can I touch it?” Abby asked. Her voice was a whispered awe.

My mortification gauge flew off the chart. “Sure.” I swallowed.

“Me too?”

I hung my head. “Yep.” No point saying no. I had a feeling if I didn’t let them check it out now, they’d bug me later and later there might be more people around.

“Whoa, the outline almost feels like real feathers.” Abby traced the outline with her fingers.

“It does.”

“What in tarnation is going on in here?”

The three of us jumped. Abby and Sydney helped pull my shirt down.

Mrs. Hadley had her hands on her hips. “Let’s go, ladies.”

I quickly put my shoes and socks on. Then went through the door Sydney and Abby had already followed the teacher through.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Thirteen

&Gym class was& easy after the show and tell with Abby and Sydney. Troy, the boy who’d smacked me in the forehead with the door, was also there.

“Small world,” he said, running past with another guy.

“Yeah.”

Mrs. Hadley blew her whistle. That meant we needed to gather around. I followed after Abby. At first I worried she or Sydney would treat me differently. If anything, my tattoo seemed to have upped my coolness factor.

When Mrs. Hadley called Sydney and Troy up to be the captains in a game of volleyball, Sydney picked me first.

Troy seemed disappointed. “I wanted you, Jack.”

I felt my cheek heat up. “No you don’t. Trust me. I don’t know how to play volleyball.”

“What?” Sydney gave me an evil glare. “You’d better stay out of the way then.”

Coolness factor back to zero, I thought.

Once teams were picked, we went to a net. The first set of people rotated in. That meant me. Troy was in the back serving. The ball went over the net and over my head and landed on the floor in front of another girl.

“That was yours, Jack!” Sydney shouted.

I thought maybe it should’ve been the other girl’s, but I didn’t know the rules to the game. “Sorry,” I said.

Our team rotated so that I was no longer in the middle but on the right. Troy served the ball again. This time it went right to Sydney. She put her hands together, bent her knees slightly and bumped the ball in the air. Then the girl standing in the middle tossed the ball in the air.

“Spike it,” she yelled in my direction.

The ball was coming down fast. “I don’t know what that means,” I said, but copied what Sydney had done and bumped it over the net.

The girl in the middle looked at Sydney. “Why’d you pick her?” She shook her head in disgust.

Sydney made a face. “Shut it, Bree.”

Coolness factor has now reached a negative ten.

I was glad the person on the other team didn’t knock the ball over, which meant a point for us, until the other team rotated. The girl had seen our team’s weakness, aka me, and she served the ball right at my face. I backed up a little and tossed it in the air the way I saw the other girl do it.

Bree glared disgustedly, jumped in the air, and slammed the ball over the net. “Spike it,” she yelled, walking over. She stood several inches taller than me, but I wasn’t intimidated. I’d contended with ogres. Bree would have to get a whole lot scarier before I showed any sort of emotion. Except amusement. I smiled.

But at least now I understood, to a degree. After that, I didn’t’ miss a ball and by the time class had ended, each team had won a game.

After class was over, I walked behind the others toward the locker room. Abby was talking to a friend, and I didn’t want to interrupt.

Troy jogged over. “You’re a fast learner, Jack. You spiked that ball almost better than me.” He gave me a fifty-megawatt smile.

“Thanks.”

“If you ever want tips, let me know. Volleyball is my favorite summertime sport.” His green eyes twinkled.

“I just might.” I wanted to ask why summer, but he smiled and took off toward some guys.

It seemed that guy was always running somewhere.

After PE, I had Homeroom. Abby helped me find the class. It was basically just a ninety minute block of time set aside to do homework, read, or do what most students did, which was talk or mess around on their cell phones.

I pretended to read Wuthering Heights and tried not to eavesdrop. But it was so easy with my vampire hearing. And listening to them talk was interesting. Really interesting. They were so… mature and immature at the same time. They talked like they lived their own lives. Then would talk in the next breath about curfews, allowances, and family trips. It was weird. And amazing. I couldn’t get enough.

When the class ended, it was time for lunch.

I tried to remember how to get to the cafeteria, and on more than one occasion I got lost. The school was huge.

It was frustrating. Irritating. I wanted to scream with rage.

“Hey, are you okay?”

In front of me was a cute couple holding hands. Somehow they looked familiar. They felt familiar. Even smelled familiar. I gave them a closer look. “Do I know you?”

The guy shrugged. “Don’t think so. We’re new. Just moved into town.”

“So did I.”

They gave each other a quiet look.

“I’m trying to find the cafeteria.”

“Yeah, I think it’s this way.” The girl smiled. She had short red hair, green eyes, and a friendly smile.

They moved down the hall. I followed, trying to push away the strange feeling the two of them brought.

The guy was tall and had dark hair. I hadn’t seen the color of his eyes, but he was handsome. Just as the girl was pretty. They looked like they belonged together. Which was strange. Why was I even thinking about them like that? I didn’t know them.

The guy pushed one of the swinging doors open. The girl walked by, kissing him on the cheek. “Thanks, Peter.”

He patted her cheek. “Anything for you, Zoe.”

Peter and Zoe. I didn’t know anyone in Sharra by those names. I hadn’t met anyone at school with those names either.

“Thank you, Peter.” I said as I went in. “I’m Jack.”

“Oh?” The look on Peter’s face suggested he didn’t believe me.

Zoe gave me a big smile. “Nice to meet you, Jack.”

“Let’s eat.” Peter walked toward the long line of students.

I hung back. “No thanks. I’m not hungry.” If I got any closer to the human food I’d puke.

A strange look, almost like approval appeared on Zoe’s face. “Okay, well see you around.” They walked away, hand in hand.

I stared after them, strangely unsure of the immediate connection I felt for them. I figured it was probably because they were new to the school, same as me. I knew they could relate to my apprehension. Except they didn’t seem all that worried. In fact they appeared to be right at home.

Sydney bounced over. “Hey, who are those two?”

“More new kids.” I glanced at Sydney. “Their names are Peter and Zoe.” I studied them.

“Oh. Cool.” She took me by the arm. “Come with me. I want to introduce you to everyone.”

“Wait.” I searched the noisy cafeteria for Abby or the guy I met earlier, Cam. I couldn’t find either of them in the sea of faces.

“What? Let’s go, Jack.” Sydney pulled me through the tables and throngs of students carrying trays of food until we reached double glass doors. “We like to sit outside. The smell isn’t so overwhelming.”

I took a deep breath. It was cool outside but smelled much better.

Sydney led me over to a table filled with people laughing, joking, and basically having fun.

“Hey guys. I want you to meet Jackie. She’s new to the school. I’ve had the chance to get to know her a little and she’s totally cool.”

Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned. It was weird suddenly having a dozen sets of eyes taking in my appearance, judging me.

I lifted a hand. “Hi.”

They all greeted me, some more friendly than others. Then they went back to their lunches and horsing around.

“Sit here,” Sydney said, grabbing an empty chair and patting it.

“Thanks.”

She sat in the chair next to me and started talking to a girl with curly brown hair. “Lynn, Jackie has the coolest set of wings tattooed on her back.”

“Oh, let’s see it.”

A couple of the others stopped talking and turned to focus their attention on me.

I shook my head, uncomfortable. “It’s…”

Sydney interrupted. “It’s huge. It takes up nearly her entire back.”

One of the guys pawed my shoulder. “A tattoo, huh? You must get a thrill out of pain.” His eyes raked over my body. “I can do things to you that’ll hurt so good.”

“Shut up, Drake.” Sydney glared. So did Lynn.

All I was thinking is I’d like to see him try.

“How do you know she has a tattoo? Been hittin’ that?” Drake asked.

“I take it you haven’t met your ass quota for the day?”

Lynn laughed at Sydney’s joke.

“Not yet.”

“Gosh, if you must know I saw it when we were getting ready for gym.”

“Oh.” Lynn forked a piece of fruit and popped it in her mouth.

“Well now we all want to see it,” Drake continued, squeezing my shoulder. “Take off your shirt. I dare you.”

I placed my hand over his and twisted. Pain and surprise swirled over Drake’s features. I let go and he rubbed his hand.

“What kind of freak are you?”

My face burned.

“Did you see what she did? No girl is that strong?”

Lynn threw a strawberry at Drake. It smacked him in the cheek and then landed on the table.

“Skank,” he said. Picking up a napkin, he wiped the juice off his face.

“Douche,” Lynn fired back.

I really didn’t want to show them, but decided I should. So I stood, pulled my shirt from my skirt and unbuttoned it.

The guys started whistling and laughing.

I held my head high and gritted my teeth. When all the buttons were undone I pulled my hair to one side and turned around as I lowered my shirt.

“Whoa.” Drake said, his hand immediately forgotten.

“That’s freaky.”

There was that word again. I wasn’t a freak. I wasn’t.

Abby and Sydney had asked to touch it, but as everyone gathered around me now I felt random hands.

“Isn’t it the freshest thing you’ve ever seen?” Sydney stood on her chair so she could look over the crowd. I kept my head down and didn’t say anything. As a princess and the only vampire with wings, I’d been the center of attention on many occasions. Over time my uniqueness wore off. I hoped the same would happen in the human world.

“I want one.” I thought that came from Lynn.

“There’s a fight in the cafeteria. Some guy is fighting Troy.”

“Why?” Troy seemed really nice to everyone. Who would want to fight him?

“Probably defending some girls honor,” one of the guys said sarcastically.

“Let’s go,” a girl added.

My wing tattoo was instantly forgotten as everyone rushed back inside. Relief washed over me. I quickly buttoned my shirt and tucked it in.

“Fame is fleeting.” Lynn still sat at the table eating her fruit.

I shrugged. “I’m glad.”

Lynn rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Your two seconds are up. Time to disappear.” She stood, grabbed her books, and walked away, not even bothering to throw away her food. Sydney had gone inside so I was alone. It was refreshing. I sat and looked out over the courtyard. Huge trees with long, wispy branches dotted the landscape. It reminded me of home. I could imagine pixilettes fluttering through the leaves, collecting seeds. It made me miss Sabrina. Maybe I should wish for her to come as a human. She could be like me—normal. But I shook away the thought as quickly as it came to mind. Sabrina liked who she was. She liked what she did. Probably because she was like the rest of her kind. Every other pixilette had wings.

There weren’t any vampires with wings. Except me.

“Hey, I’ve been looking for you.” Cam slid into the chair next to mine. “Didn’t you want to see the fight?”

I shook my head and tried to get rid of the melancholy weighing on my heart.

“Yeah, the first day of school can be a bit overwhelming.” He patted my hand.

His kindness and my mood caused tears to form on my lashes.

Cam leaned in. “No. No. You never let them see you cry.” He shook his finger at me. “That’s a sign of weakness and trust me the vultures will pounce.” By the look on his face I guessed he was talking from experience.

“Got it.” I tried to smile.

“Better.” He squeezed my hand. “What are your last two classes?”

“Pre-Calculus and history.”

“Who do you have for history? That’s my last class of the day as well.”

I pulled the paper schedule from the front pocket of my backpack. “Mr. Henry.”

“Awesome.” Cam clapped his hands. “We have the same class. The teacher is great too. He makes history seem less like a snooze-fest and more like a time that was actually interesting.”

“Hey pretty-boy, what are you doing at our table?”

I felt Cam freeze a second before he recovered. “See ya,” he whispered to me. He stood and turned. “Hey Drake. Still sleep with your Dora the Explorer night light?”

I turned just in time to see Drake’s eyes widen. “Shut your lying mouth before I shut it for you.” He rushed Cam. Cam held his ground.

But Drake was obviously thicker and taller than Cam. If Drake laid so much as a finger on Cam I’d break it.

I stood.

Drake gave me a once over. “What do you think you’re doing?”

I smiled, feigning innocence. “Cam is my friend. If he can’t sit at this table then I don’t want to sit here either.” I moved closer so that Cam and I were touching shoulders.

“Figures.”

Sydney came outside. “What’s going on?”

I stepped around Drake and walked past her. Cam followed. “Drake doesn’t want us sitting at his table.” I shrugged.

Sydney put her hands on her hips and stomped her foot. She didn’t say anything for a second. I could tell she was having an internal debate, weighing the pros and cons of standing up for the new girl. Finally she said, “I’ll see you around.” She flipped her hair and walked over to the table.

I heard Drake. “She’s a freak, just like pretty-boy. Stay away from her.”

I sighed.

Cam wrapped an arm around my shoulders. “Welcome to Salem High, home to witches, bitches, and ogres.”

My first inclination was to look around, but I knew Cam was only kidding. So I laughed. “Good one.”

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Fourteen

&Pre-Calculus was a joke.& I had no idea what the teacher was talking about. He might as well have been speaking borkanese. I was beyond glad when the class was over, even when the teacher had me stay after class so he could give me a syllabus and a book.

The layout of the school was beginning to make more sense and I found my history class on my own. If there was a dash and a number after the room number that was the floor the class was on. So history was 127-4. That meant it was on the fourth floor.

The bell rang as soon as I entered the class. Mr. Henry glanced up and did a double take. He stood and I realized I knew Mr. Henry. It was Professor Pops. I thought he was a professor at Harvard. What was he doing here?

I ducked my head and tried to find a seat.

“Jack. Jack. Over here.”

I glanced up enough to see Cam waving me over. I slid into my seat behind a very bulky guy that could’ve been related to an ogre. He had a similar stench as well.

“You found the class. Good job.”

I smiled, but didn’t have time to say anything before Mr. Henry started to speak. “Welcome. It appears we have three new students.”

Three? I searched the room for Peter and Zoe.

“Please stand, tell us your names and a little about yourself.” I hunched down further in my chair.

“My name is Zoe. I moved here from Virginia with my boyfriend and his parents.”

Mr. Henry gave her a strange look. “And your parents were okay with that?”

“My parents are dead. Peter’s parents agreed to be my guardians since I had no other family.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.” Mr. Henry had his glasses resting on his forehead. He lowered them and glanced at a paper on his desk. “Peter, why don’t you stand and tell us something about yourself.”

I peered around the giant guy in front of me. Peter stood and surveyed the room before speaking. “I love football.” He pumped his fist. Several guys in the room shouted in response, including the guy in front of me.

“Very good. Have a seat. There’s one more. Where is she?”

The students around me stared, waiting for me to stand.

I did so quickly. “I’m Jackie. I’m from Las Vegas. I like reading those trashy entertainment magazines.”

Several students laughed, including Cam. “I knew we were meant to be friends.”

Mr. Henry chuckled. “Excellent.” He rested his glasses on his forehead again and clapped his hands. “Who can tell me how the second World War started?”

Over the next ninety minutes he talked about the war. Why it started. Which countries were involved. How many were killed. And so on. When class was nearly over, Mr. Henry passed out a paper. “This is your study guide for the test we’ll be taking next week. Put it to good use people. I expect everyone to get an A, including you, Claude.”

The large guy in front of me snickered. “Will do, Mr. Henry.”

The bell rang.

“If the three new students could stay after class a few minutes, everyone else is excused.”

I watched as the rest of the students filed out. Zoe and Peter sat a couple of rows over. They kept looking at each other. My heart raced so fast I thought I might keel over. Would Mr. Henry recognize me?

When only Peter, Zoe and I remained, Professor Pops waved us up to his desk.

Forcing myself not to look nervous, I picked up my backpack and made my way forward. Zoe and Peter smiled.

If Mr. Henry knew who I was, he didn’t say anything. Instead he handed us each a few different papers. “As I said there will be a test next week. The rest of the students in this class have had weeks of in-class discussion and different assignments to help prepare them.” He paused, tucking his reading glasses into the pocket of his sweater. “You haven’t had the luxury. Hopefully in your previous school you studied the second World War?” He gave each of us a pointed look. Zoe and Peter nodded, so I did too.

“Good. Then there shouldn’t be a problem. If you feel you need a refresher, do the handouts in front of you. I’ll check them and give you extra credit.”

Zoe and Peter picked up their papers. I followed.

“One more thing.”

“Yes?” Peter asked.

“I don’t know if you’ve heard about the brutal death in the woods south of us?”

Peter and Zoe nodded. I did as well.

“Have they identified the body yet?” Peter asked.

“If they have, they aren’t sharing it.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “I’m only telling you so that you won’t go exploring there without proper supervision.” He glanced at me and said, “Better yet, just stay away from the forest altogether.”

“Thanks, Mr. Henry,” Zoe said. Peter waved.

“You’re welcome.”

They left the room.

“Yeah, thanks. I’m sure these will come in handy.” I started toward the door.

“Uh, Jackie.”

“Yes?” I turned around so that we were facing each other.

“Have we met somewhere before? You seem familiar.” His eyes twinkled with genuine interest.

I shook my head. “I don’t think so.” I shrugged my backpack further onto my shoulder. “Unless you’ve been to Las Vegas.”

Mr. Henry chuckled. “The last time I was there would’ve been way before you were born.” He took a stack of papers and straightened them by banging one edge on the desk. “Let me know if you need any help.”

“Thanks. I will.” As soon as I was outside the room, I took in a big gulp of air and immediately regretted it. The scent of blood pounded in my veins. That reminded me, I needed to ask Laeddin what he was thinking, giving me human blood. And on top of that, where had he gotten it?

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Fifteen

&Laeddin waited& for me exactly where he’d dropped me off several hours before. If I hadn’t watched him drive away I would’ve wondered if he’d ever left.

As I started down the stairs Sydney fell into step beside me. “Hey, Jack. Sorry about Drake. He’s such a jerk.”

“It’s okay. Thanks again for all your help. I couldn’t have made it without you.”

She waved a hand in front of her face. “Sure. Sure. So listen. A bunch of us are getting together tonight. Just a little party to start the week off right. Want to come?”

I glanced at Laeddin who was watching me.

“I’d love to.” I smiled. My first party.

“Cool. Here’s the instructions. Wear something warm.” She went down the rest of the stairs. “And Jack?”

“Yeah?” I clutched the paper she’d given me. “Is that your dad in the car over there?” She pointed at Laeddin.

“Gah, no. He isn’t my dad. He-he works for my mom and dad. He’s staying with me until they can join me.”

“Oh, lucky. Well tell your hot babysitter that you need a phone.” She laughed.

“I will.” I finished walking down the stairs and made my way over to the car.

“Jack?”

“Tell no one about tonight. K?”

“I won’t.” I said, tucking the note into my backpack.

“Cool.” She turned down the sidewalk and made her way to the parking lot. Drake was leaning against a tree and when she passed him, he pushed himself away from the trunk and fell into step with her.

“Everything set?”

“Yep. She’s coming. Tonight’s going to be fun.”

“What?” I whispered, a strange prickling feeling making hair on the back of my neck stand of edge.

“Jackie?” Laeddin looked at me impatiently.

“Hey Laeddin.” I climbed in the car and buckled up.

“I see you made a friend. That’s good.”

I turned to look at Laeddin. He was smiling happily.

“Yeah, I guess I did.” No point telling Laeddin that I was suddenly unsure if Sydney’s friendship was sincere or part of something more sinister. I hoped I was wrong, but I’d never been one to back away from a challenge. If a couple of high school students thought they could hurt me, they’d be sadly mistaken.

“What’s that look on your face?”

“What look?” I quickly smiled as Laeddin pulled into traffic.

“The I’m-ready-for-a-fight look.”

I laughed, trying my best to make it seem like he had no idea what he was talking about. “You don’t know me well enough to know my looks. It could’ve been my I-need-to-pee face.”

“You forget I’ve been watching you for years. Tell me what’s wrong.”

I was stunned. He was right. I hadn’t known he existed until just a few days ago, but he’d known about me for a lot longer. I didn’t want to talk to him about it though. So I changed the subject. “Why did you give me human blood this morning?”

He gave me a bright smile. “I wondered how long it would take for you to figure it out.”

“You’re an idiot. What if I’d bitten someone? Did you ever thing about that?” I huffed. “Human blood tastes amazing, better than unicorn blood even.”

He got serious. “I just wanted to make sure you could be satiated without blood from the seven magics.”

“Well, I appreciate the thought. But there is no magic in human blood. It’s kind of like those Pixy Stix you told me about the other night. You said they were like sugar crack, but that you couldn’t survive on them. Human blood is like that for me. The taste is highly desirable, but it won’t sustain me, at least not for long.”

“Well you can’t blame a genie for trying.” He turned on the radio and we rode home without talking. When we got inside, Laeddin sat down on a stool. “Do you have any homework?”

“Yeah, I do. And I’d better get to it. That girl you saw me talking to?”

“Okay.” He bit into an apple.

“She invited me to a party.”

“Tonight?” He chewed, swallowed and took another bite.

“Yes, tonight. I won’t be gone long, but I do want to check it out. My first party invitation. I can’t miss that.” I was so excited I practically bounced, my earlier trepidation forgotten.

Laeddin searched my face. “I guess.” He turned and picked up a newspaper and started flipping through it. “Have you heard about the dead guy?”

I was halfway up the stairs and I paused. “Yes.”

“Stay out of the woods. Deal?”

I continued up the stairs and walked down the hall to the room that used to be my mom’s. I let Laeddin sleep in my grandfather’s old room.

“Deal?” he said louder.

“Yes, it’s a deal.” I closed the door and fell back on my bed. Even after hours of meetings as the princess in Sharra, high school was still more challenging. I ran over the events of the day in my mind. It’d been very emotional but I’d survived, even made at least two new friends—Abby and Cam. I thought again about Sydney and what she’d said to Drake. What did they intend to do tonight? Some kind of initiation?

I opened the piece of paper. Sydney’s handwriting was neat but loopy. Some of her words were hard to decipher. She’d drawn a map though. I thought I could figure it out. It didn’t look that far from my house.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Sixteen

&I’d been walking& for ten minutes. I wasn’t winded and I could see fine in the dark, but I was tired of getting around on two legs. I wanted to fly. The thought shocked me. I’d always believed I’d be perfectly happy without my wings. Happier even.

I shrugged the thought away. I needed to give myself more time to get used to life without them. I could do that.

At the end of the road was the forest, the one I’d promised Laeddin I would stay out of. I supposed I shouldn’t have been surprised. Sometimes Sabrina and I would do things the grown-ups told us not to do. Nothing too serious. It was the way of children, I guess, to rebel against the wisdom of time.

I thought that if there were a party, I would’ve heard it by now. But the forest was so quiet. The night was still. There wasn’t even the sound of insects. In the distance I could hear cars rushing by and the flicker of a streetlight, its hum sounding as it went off and on.

If Sydney and her friends were waiting within, not even my vampire hearing could discern where they were. I focused on a different sense. Breathing in, I searched for the aroma, the scent of their blood.

There was none. Not even that of animals. How was that possible? Unless they’d changed their minds about the party. Was I early? I checked the note. It said nine o’clock. It was only ten minutes after.

I walked to the edge of the forest. There was a large boulder near what appeared to be a trail. I sat on the rock, cautious of the rough edges. It wouldn’t hurt to wait until ten. I could do that.

The sky was lit up with so many stars. I searched for the constellations I’d seen from the night sky in Sharra. The placement was different. Still beautiful though. The wind blew gently, rattling the leaves still hanging on to their branches. I watched them turn and sway.

Until a shadow appeared on the trail. I gasped, surprised. He stood with his feet apart. I looked closer. A red glimmering seemed to emanate from the area where his eyes should be.

“Hello?” I called.

The man took a step forward. “Come closer, little one. I can’t see your face.”

His voice was low and carried along like a ghost. I was almost surprised when I heard it. “Nah.” I climbed off the boulder. “I’m going to go home.”

Before I could move, he was there. Behind me. There was a blade at my neck. With him so near, I could smell his sweat, the stench of his breath, even the steel of the blade. I realized the reason I hadn’t recognized he was there was that his scent was off. Like there was oil in his veins instead of blood.

“You picked the perfect night to die.”

He pressed the sharp edge of the knife against my throat.

It pricked lightly, but it didn’t hurt. It just angered me. I put my hand over his. “I’m not the one doing the dying tonight.” I grabbed his fingers and twisted, pulling his fingers from the blade.

He let out a curse and tried to grab me with his other hand. I twisted from his grasp and shoved the edge of my palm upward into his chin. His head flipped back with a crack. I turned to get away but he was on me again.

“You can’t leave, little one. You’re too much fun to play with.”

I growled and head butted him, fighting back a grin of satisfaction as I felt the back of my head connect with his nose.

He screamed at the pain and then started to laugh. “You aren’t a human child.” It was a statement not a question.

I faced him. “What are you?”

“This body is human, but his soul is no longer of this world. I’ve taken it over. My name is Izu. I am a demura. And this forest is my hunting ground.”

I bent low, sliding into a fighting stance. I had no idea what a demura was, but he should know that I was not his prey. Opening my mouth, I released my fangs. The man’s blood smelled rotten. No way I would drink from him, but my fangs were razor sharp and made a great weapon.

“Izu, you picked the wrong girl to attack.” I lunged. As soon as I landed on his back, there was a high-pitched squeal and then dark energy emerged from the man’s body. I watched it curl and coil into a shape with horns before it wisped upward.

“You haven’t seen the last of me, vampire. Prepare yourself for suffering.” The demura disappeared into the thickness of the forest.

With the ghost-like creature gone, the empty corpse dropped like a rock in a pond, taking me with it. In seconds the body shriveled, the skin, muscle, and soft tissue disintegrated, leaving only the man’s bones.

Shuddering, I untangled myself. The dry bones clacked together like a musical instrument. “Creepy,” I whispered, standing up and brushing off my pants.

The sounds of the forest slowly returned. Crickets. Little animals rooting around in the dirt. An owl hooting in a tree near the edge of the forest. Whatever the demura was, it was gone for now.

And the poor dead man. I needed to tell someone. I ran back to the house, up the stairs, and threw open Laeddin’s bedroom door.

He sat up with a start. “What is it?” He blinked, bleary-eyed. “Was the party fun?”

“Well,” I began, my breathing coming rapidly. “If that’s how human parties really are, I don’t want to go to another.”

He pulled off the covers and sat on the edge of the bed. It was then that I noticed he wasn’t wearing a shirt and his pajama pants were white with navy stripes.

Moonlight shone through the windows. It seemed strange to me that the curtains were open instead of closed. I wondered how he slept with all the light. But the light made his body gleam. And his blood? Spicy sweetness with a tang of copper. My fangs were still out, which made the smell even more delicious. My mouth watered. It took every ounce of effort not to jump on him and sink my fangs into the pulse at his neck.

“What happened,” he asked, seemingly oblivious to my thirst. He patted the spot next to him on the bed.

I retracted my fangs and closed my mouth. Then sat. He rubbed his jaw and I heard the scratchiness from his unshaven beard.

“Jasmine?” Laeddin really looked at me. “What is it?” He scooted closer.

I tried to hold my breath but his scent had me drooling. I covered my nose and my mouth, but still smelled him. Standing, I ran to my room, and slammed the door. It was like I was five again and couldn’t control myself. I knew I couldn’t have his blood, but the fire burning in my throat didn’t care.

“Jasmine?” There was a knock on the door.

“It’s nothing. I’m fine.” I could smell his blood through the door.

“Can I come in?” His voice took on a softer tone.

“Nooooo.” I ran to my bed, grabbed one of my pillows, and flung myself on it.

Laeddin sighed but didn’t walk away. “I’m opening the door,” he said softly. He poked his head in. “Hey, tell me what’s wrong.”

“Everything.” I turned away.

The bed sank and I knew Laeddin had sat down. He put a hand on my shoulder but I shrugged it off.

“Jasmine?” There was exasperation laced within his concern.

“It’s your blood. How am I supposed to talk to you when all I want to do is sink my fangs into your neck and drink and drink and drink.” My voice was quiet and shaky.

“Ahhhh, now I understand.” He pulled me so that I was leaning against his chest.

“Are you trying to torture me?” I turned so that my lips nearly touched his jaw. It wouldn’t take much to overpower him, grab hold of his neck and drink his blood.

“No, Jasmine. I would never do that.” There was a hint of humor in his voice.

I wanted to show him he shouldn’t be teasing a vampire, especially one such as me. My fangs came out again and grazed his neck. Blood came to the surface. It smelled so good I was almost in a frenzy.

Laeddin pulled away. “Hey.” His face and tone were angry.

I stood, my breathing ragged. “Hey yourself, Laeddin.” I licked the blood on my tooth. My eyes rolled back at the sensation and flavor. It was infused with a different type of magic than I’d ever experienced. Having tasted all seven of the magics, I searched to find which one his tasted most like. It was as though all seven existed inside him at once. I wondered what the genie’s origins were, which reminded me of the demura called Iza.

Laeddin touched his neck at the place I’d grazed. Then looked at it. “How dare you?” He was angry, furious. His chest rose and fell heavily.

“I could say the same to you. You knew I wanted your blood. I just told you again how much it called to me.” I covered my mouth, took a deep breath, and removed my hand. “Yet, you kept pushing. I needed you to see that I could take it if I wanted.”

Laeddin swore. “Okay. You’re right. I’ll keep my distance… Unless you want to use your last two wishes?”

I swallowed and gave a quick shake of my head. I didn’t want him to leave. If anything, after tasting his blood, I wanted him to stay even more. Why couldn’t he just let me have a little? I was about to ask him, but he left the room before I had the chance.

“Whatever.” I slammed the door shut. Between the demura attack and Laeddin flipping out, I was done. Sydney had told me to dress warm. Had she set me up? Did she and Drake know what was in the woods? Or were they just hoping that whatever was out there would kill me? Living in the human world was confusing. I thought it would be so simple.

I snorted. Definitely not simple.

Tomorrow at school I would confront Sydney.

Tonight though I needed the air and the sky. I changed out of my jeans, sweater, and jacket and into a pair of black PJs with teal polka dots. I loved the feel of silky material against my skin. Then I washed my face and brushed my hair. Finally I went to the window, threw back the curtains, and opened it. Night sounds filled the silence and I relaxed for the first time all day.

From the window I could see the house next door. It was enormous. Lights illuminated the entire edge of the roof. I wondered what Mr. Henry was doing and if any of my uncles were still up.

I went to my closet to decide what I would wear tomorrow. I decided on a pair of skinny jeans, red heels, and a white and red ruffled tank with a small red sweater. I was kind of short so I really liked the heels. Plus they were patent leather and shiny.

I turned around and stifled a scream. A gray cat was perched at the foot of my bed. Its front paws were crossed and it was watching me.

“Where did you come from?” I glanced over at the window. “Did you get in through my window?”

It licked its nose.

“Well, you need to go.” I walked over and moved to pick the cat up. A rumble came from its chest. “Are you purring?” I kneeled in front of it. “Don’t do that.” My heart softened for the kitty. “Fine.” It moved closer. I reached out and scratched it between the ears. “If you’re going to stay, you need a name.” The cat rubbed its head against my hand. “Let’s see… How about Clifford?”

The cat yowled.

“Okay, no.” The cat rolled onto its back. I scratched its belly. It purred. “How about Isabel?”

It seemed to understand because he yowled again.

“Okay. Okay.” I laughed. It rolled further onto its back. “Ohhh, you’re a boy cat.” He rolled onto his stomach. “Fine no more girl names. How about Jasper?”

He shook his head.

“Weird. I swear you know what I’m saying.”

He blinked.

“Frank? Isaac? Bill?”

He settled down more firmly on the bed and covered his eyes with his paws. I leaned back, resting my heels on the backs of my legs. “How about I just call you Cat?”

“Gatsby. My name is Gatsby, child.”

The words left the cat’s mouth and I understood him perfectly. That wasn’t normal in the human world. “You spoke?” I backed away, afraid of what else he might be able to do.

“If I hadn’t said something you never would’ve guessed.” He licked his paw.

“Probably not,” I agreed. “Now that I know you can talk, why don’t you tell me why you’re in my room?” I climbed on the bed and under the covers. Whatever surprise I’d first felt quickly vanished.

“This was my room long before it was yours, vampire.” He blinked.

An O formed on my lips. “You were my mom’s cat. I remember now. But that was a long time ago. You must be…” I did the math in my head.

Before I could say the total, he interrupted. “I don’t age like normal cats.” He hopped off the bed and walked over to the window. “I know why you’re here and while I don’t agree with your choices, I understand them. I’ll be around.” He hopped onto the sill and jumped. I dashed to the window thinking that surely he couldn’t survive the fall, but Gatsby was gone.

Alone, I went to my desk, and flipped open the laptop Laeddin had provided as part of normal human experience. I turned it on and pulled up the internet. I typed in the word DEMURA. The only listing that came up was about a Japanese guy who was a karate master. That told me nothing. Neither did PARANORMAL MIST and DEMON MIST. The clock on the nightstand next to my bed said school started in four hours. I needed to get some sleep.

Yawning, I turned out the light and climbed under the covers.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Seventeen

&I rolled& over and opened my eyes. It was still dark outside. Wind blew the curtains like teal butterflies in the breeze. My vision became blurry and the bedroom disappeared.

“What’s happening?” I was spinning and falling through different colored rings of light.

Down.

Down.

Down.

My body hit bottom with a thud. A moan escaped my lips as I rolled onto my knees and then stood. “Hello?” I turned slowly trying to let my eyes adjust to the utter darkness. As a vampire my vision was exceptional, but wherever I was, it was of no use. “Hello?” I shouted.

From a distance I could hear something beating against the air. It seemed to be getting closer. Fear turned my stomach and made my throat dry.

“Where am I?”

The beating stopped. “Hello, Jasmine.”

“Who’s there?” I squinted, hoping that would help me to see better.

“I am your betrothed.” His voice sounded close.

I reached out to touch him, but only air passed through my fingers.

“No you aren’t. I am promised to no one. Tell me who or what you really are?”

“It pains me to realize you don’t recognize my voice. We’ve spoken together so many times.”

His voice did echo of familiarity, but I couldn’t place where I’d heard it before. “Show yourself.”

A deep laugh rumbled all around me. “Of course I could, but where would be the fun in that? Why don’t you take a guess?”

Fear laced with anger bubbled within my body. “Why don’t you come closer first?” If I can get my hands on him, I can overpower him, and drain him dry, I thought.

“Tsk-Tsk, vampire. Those thoughts aren’t very becoming.”

I froze. He could read my thoughts. Had I still possessed the magic of the seven I would’ve been able to block his tactics.

“Very true, but thanks to the genie, I can hear every thought that goes through your pretty little head.”

I growled in frustration and dove forward, hoping I could tackle him to the ground with the element of surprise. My arms grabbed air and I face planted.

“How very graceful. I’ll remember that move. Perhaps I can put it to good use.”

“You can’t do anything to me or with me or for me! I don’t know you and I don’t want to know you!” My chest heaved with furious frustration. “Now send me back to my bedroom.”

“Do you mean the one in Sharra? Or the one that used to be Snow White’s? Choose wisely, dear Jasmine.”

For the briefest moment I thought about returning home to my mom and dad, to Sabrina, and the land of Sharra. But I wasn’t ready to go back.

“I want to go back to my room in the human world.” I crossed my arms, forcing myself to take a deep breath.

“I see. You are the most extraordinary creature in the world yet instead of embracing what makes you special, you’ve chosen to bury it, wish it away, like it means nothing. You’ve chosen normal, or at least as normal as a vampire can be. I think you’ll find that normal is overrated.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” I turned away, unwilling to listen.

“You don’t have to believe. Soon enough you’ll come to the realization on your own. I just hope it isn’t too late.”

“Oh, it won’t be. I know what I’m doing.”

“Fine, but before you go back to the human world, and your pseudo life, let me leave you with something. Arms suddenly encircled my waist and I was pulled against a taut chest. A delectable aroma came from him, like apples baked in cinnamon and nutmeg. I pushed, trying to get away, but my body went slack. His lips came down on mine, soft but firm.

Let me go, I screamed in my mind.

His laugh filled every crevice until I thought I would die at the sound.

My body began to spin and just before I closed my eyes, two red orbs appeared directly in front of me…

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Eighteen

&A scream ripped& from my throat and I shot upright. There was a thump, thump outside my bedroom door. I clawed at the covers, pulling them up around my chin.

The door burst opened and Laeddin appeared.

“What’s going on?” His eyes frantically searched the room for danger.

“I—” The worry on his face was replaced by irritation. “Sorry. I had a bad dream.”

Laeddin looked like he wanted to say something. He opened his mouth, but instead of words, he snorted and left.

“Man, graze a genie one time and the world ends.” I lay back down and stared at the ceiling. Shadows slithered and danced. I thought about the demura and the way it’d left the body of that man like a shadow. Had it come into my room and given me that dream? I jumped out of bed and closed the window and pulled the curtains shut. My stomach twisted itself in knots. Strange sounds seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere. I flipped on the light and glanced around the room.

What had my mom done when she’d had a bad dream? Did she ever get them?

I walked over to the pictures of my mom, my dad and his brothers, and Cindy still hanging over the dresser. At first I’d wanted to take them down, but when I actually started, I wasn’t able to go through with it. I liked seeing my mom so carefree. A teenager. That younger version of her knew living as a normal teenager was what I needed.

Seeing all the smiling faces of my Uncles, Cindy, my mom and dad gave me the courage to turn off the light and go to bed. The dream was just that, a dream. Nothing more.

When my alarm went off, I got ready for school. With each task I worked to block out the dream. I put on the outfit I’d chosen last night and did my hair in a loose braid. I decided on thicker eyeliner and a sparkling red lip-gloss. When I was done, I left my room and walked past Laeddin’s. The door was closed. I thought about knocking, but decided against it. I didn’t understand why he was acting this way. I knew I could’ve commanded him to come out, but that wasn’t the kind of person I was. So I went downstairs and opened the fridge. There was a glass of blood just as the day before. I took it and chugged it down. I also checked for peppermint. I knew it had to be in there. I could smell it. I found it in the crisper. I took a bright green sprig, pulled my braid over my shoulder, and tucked it into the ponytail holder at the end.

School started in twenty minutes but I didn’t know how I was going to get there. I could run, but there was a possibility I might be seen moving at faster speeds than were possible for a human.

I thought about going upstairs, but paused on the bottom step.

Luckily, Laeddin came out of his room just at that moment. He wore jeans that hung low on his hips and a white shirt that still needed to be buttoned, leaving his very well-muscled chest exposed.

My hunger for him, his blood rose up like a wave.

“Hi.” I smiled, hoping his anger would be forgotten.

“Hello, Mistress.” He pushed past me at the bottom of the stairs. At the fridge he grabbed an apple, took his car keys from the counter, and held the door open. “If you want to get to school on time, you’d better hustle.”

My body sagged with sadness. If he was going to be mad at me the whole time we were here, my fun would be over before it began. “Wow, you hold a serious grudge. Did they teach you that in genie school?”

“Ha. Ha.” Laeddin started the car, put it into gear, and roared out of the driveway.

We drove in silence until he stopped in front of the school. “I’ll be here after school.”

I got out. “Great. And by the way, I need a cell phone. It’s part of the normal teenage experience and having one should be part of my wish.”

“Very well.” He snapped his fingers and an orange rectangular box appeared on the passenger seat.

“Any idea how to work it?” I asked, suddenly feeling incapable of using the technology.

“There are instructions. Turn it on. It’ll work. Everything is ready to go and a valid phone number is listed inside.”

I picked up the box and tucked it into my backpack. “Alright, thanks.” I smiled, but Laeddin wasn’t looking at me. His focus was straight ahead, the way it’d been since we left the house. “Ugh.” I stomped away up the stairs and through the double doors.

I needed to check my schedule for class numbers. There was a concrete bench off to the side so I dropped my backpack, opened it and grabbed the paper with my classes.

Today was an A day, which meant I had chemistry, Homeroom, accounting, lunch, English, and finally Spanish. By this school’s standards I was what they called a sophomore. Most of the tenth grade classes were on the upper floors so I started climbing the steps.

Students laughed, joked, and chatted while making their way up and down the stairs. All around me was normal, yet I couldn’t grab hold. It was as though I had the word “different” on a sign around my neck, or that I was looking at life through glass. A few times people bumped into my backpack, knocking it off my shoulder. They didn’t bother to stop or apologize. It made me wonder if they knew I was really there. The coppery sweet scent of their blood was strong and enticing, but I kept my braid over my shoulder so I could smell the peppermint first.

“Hey, Jack.” Cam fell into step beside me. Not an easy feat considering the amount of students around. “Did you hear they found a bunch of bones on one of the trails leading into the forest?”

“Oh?” I gripped my backpack strap like I needed to strangle it.

“Yeah, the police don’t know what to make of it.”

“Odd,” I said and swallowed. Sweat formed on my upper lip. I was nervous and I didn’t know why.

“It really is.” He smiled, and I realized he wanted to reassure me. Cam was a good guy. Between him and Abby I felt lucky to have met two such nice humans in a short amount of time.

Cam knew how to dress too. Today he wore purple jeans and a tight short-sleeved white t-shirt. It stood out against his dark skin, but matched his teeth perfectly. “You look really nice.”

“Thanks.” He pulled at his shirt and sniffed. “Fashion is what I live for.”

“Well, it shows.” I laughed, enjoying the easy camaraderie between us.

“You look dayum good yourself. Where do you shop?”

I blushed at the compliment. “I got this outfit at Bloomingdales. In New York?” Surely he’d heard of the store. I was from a whole other land and I’d heard of the store.

“Yes, Jack. I know where Bloomingdales is.” He patted my arm. “So what’s your first class?”

“Chemistry with Heiner.” I gave him a questioning glance, asking with my raised eyebrows if that was good or not.

He scrunched his nose and stuck out his tongue. I immediately understood it wasn’t.

“Great. Is it going to be awful?”

“At least you’re getting it out of the way first thing. Just hold your breath when he walks by. His stench is something kind of otherworldly.” He walked me to the door. “Have fun. I’ll see you at lunch.”

“See you.” I walked the classroom, peeking at the teacher as I went by. He was a bigger man with thinning brown hair. The bottom half of his round face was covered in a beard. He wore a brown jacket with stains in the armpits. And his stench? Cam was right. He smelled… strange. His blood didn’t have the same bouquet as the rest of the humans. What did that mean?

Mr. Heiner looked up from the book he held in his meaty fingers. I quickly walked past and down a row of desks. The room was large. Individual desks were lined up in rows near the front of the room. Behind them was almost a whole other room. It looked like a laboratory. I took a seat in an empty chair.

The bell rang. Mr. Heiner was about to close the door when Sydney and Drake walked in.

I sat up straighter, my eyes following their every move. When they sat in two seats next to each other, I kept watch.

Mr. Heiner started to talk, but I didn’t pay attention. I was too focused on burning a hole in Sydney and Drake’s backs.

Sydney had sent me into the forest in hopes that I’d what? Die? I mean how could she be such a jerk?

When the bell rang I moved a little more quickly than humans could, too upset to control myself. I was sitting on Sydney’s desk before she had a chance to stand. “Hey Sydney.”

Her blue eyes grew to the size of twin pools. “Jack?”

I crossed my legs and took on my most princess-like demeanor. “That’s right.”

“What are you doing?” Drake asked, grabbing my shoulder.

I took his hand and twisted, making him stand, and his upper body lean sideways. “Stop,” he shouted.

I turned so I could face him fully and glared. “Don’t ever touch me again.”

He nodded.

“Good.” I let go and turned my attention back to Sydney.

“So, great party last night.”

Her eyes got wide and she swallowed. I heard her heart begin to race, the blood pumping through her veins. Its aroma wasn’t as appealing as some of the others but it was most definitely human.

“I ran into—” I stopped midsentence. With everything that happened with Laeddin I’d forgotten to tell someone about the dead body. “Why did you send me out there alone?”

Her fear forgotten, she smirked. “Don’t be a baby, it was just a little prank. You weren’t hurt.” She stood, hooking her sparkly backpack on one shoulder. “No harm done.” She patted my arm.

A low growl rose up in my throat.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Nineteen

&When lunch& finally rolled around I was beyond ready. I also had a better idea how to find my way to the cafeteria today. Zoe and Peter were kissing at the bottom of one set of stairs as I made my way down. They stopped when I passed.

I waved, embarrassed. “Hey guys.”

They stopped and smiled. “Jackie. It’s nice to see you. How’s your second day been treating you?”

“Uh.” I pulled at the end of my braid, twisting it around a finger.

“What’s this?” Zoe asked, touching the wilted leaf.

“It’s peppermint.” I touched it lightly.

Zoe and Peter gave each other a strange look. I had the feeling they were communicating.

Peter patted my shoulder. “What a great idea.” He leaned in to smell it.

“Yes, it is,” Zoe said. “I think I’ll wear some in my hair tomorrow, if that’s okay.”

I nodded. “Sure.”

They each took one of my arms. We went down the remaining steps and into the cafeteria like that. As soon as we entered, the cafeteria got quiet and everyone looked over.

“What?” Peter asked, stepping in front of Zoe and me. “Do I have something in my teeth? Or, something up my nose?” He wiped the tip of his nose with a finger.

Everyone laughed and went back to whatever they’d been doing. Zoe turned. “If you ever need a friend, I hope you’ll consider me. Other than Peter I don’t know anyone.”

“I’d like that,” I said and meant it.

Cam appeared at my side. “Hey ladies. We eating together?”

Zoe and I looked at each other and then said, “Sure,” at the same time.

“Good.” He clapped his hands happily. “Let’s get in line. I’m starving.”

Zoe and Cam moved toward the food, but I stayed behind. Zoe turned back. “You coming?”

I shook my head. “Not hungry.”

Cam spun around too. “You don’t have issues with food, do you?”

“Of course not,” I said, defensively. “I’m just not hungry.” I hoped that was an acceptable answer because there was no way I was eating human food.

“You want to find us a table then?”

“Sure.”

While Zoe, Peter, and Cam stood in line, I searched the room. In one of the corners, there was a round table with a lone person sitting at it. Her nose was in a book, while an untouched sandwich and water bottle sat in front. I knew instantly it was Abby and hurried over.

“Hey Abby.”

“Jack,” she said, closing her book without marking it.

“Mind if me and a few friends sit with you?”

She immediately closed herself off. “Who are these friends?”

I pointed toward the line. “Cam. Zoe. And, Peter.”

She visibly relaxed. “I know Cam, of course, but who are the other two?”

I slid into one of the empty chairs. “Zoe and Peter are new to the school as well. I don’t know much about them, but they seem nice.”

She shrugged. “As long as it isn’t Sydney and her nasty friends, I’m good with it.”

“Great.” I set my backpack on the ground and unzipped it. I wanted to get a handle on my new cell phone.

“Aren’t you going to eat?” Abby asked, taking a bite of her food. It smelled like peanut butter.

“I’m not hungry. Probably nerves.” I set the orange box on the table in front of me.

Abby got out of her chair and came to sit next to me. “Is that the new O-Phone?

“I think so,” I said, her excitement fueling mine.

“Well, open it. Let’s have a look.”

I took the top off and placed it on the table. “Now what?” I asked, looking at her.

“Allow me.” She took out a thick, light orange booklet. “These are your instructions. Don’t lose this, you might need it.”

“Okay,” I said seriously.

Beneath that was a black screen. I guessed it was the actual phone. Abby took it out carefully. “Here it is. The best phone on the planet. It can do just about anything.”

“Really?” I took it from her outstretched hand. It was light. The sides and back were orange, the same color as the box, with an emblem etched into the metal. “It’s really pretty.”

“It’s more than pretty. It’s awesome. The processor is faster than most computers. If another person has an O-Phone, you can talk to each other as holograms. When you search for content, if you want you can ask it to read the information for you as it shows you holographic pictures.”

“Cool,” I said, pretending I understood what she was talking about.

“Mind if I turn it on?” Her face was animated.

“Go for it.”

She pressed a button on top and held it until an orange appeared on the screen. Then it flashed and a screen filled with different circles popped up.

Cam, Zoe, and Peter arrived at the table.

“An O-Phone. You’re so lucky.”

We spent the rest of lunch figuring out my phone. I noticed Abby, Cam, and Peter ate most of their food, but Zoe only picked at hers. She seemed almost as disgusted by the food as I was.

When the first bell rang, we all stood up.

“Want to hang out after school?” Abby asked.

“I’d love to.” I picked up my backpack and shouldered it.

“We could go over to my house and watch TV. I have all the seasons of The Vampire Diaries.”

“The what?” My heart began racing.

She dropped her backpack on the table. “Please tell me you’ve heard of The Vampire Diaries.”

I got the feeling that saying no would be social suicide. “I mean I’ve heard of it. Of course. But I’ve never watched it.”

That seemed to appease her. She wrapped her arm around mine. “Well, we are going to rectify that terrible tragedy starting this afternoon.”

“Okay.”

“I’m off to chemistry. Wanna meet at the front doors right after school?” She walked backward in the opposite direction of me.

“Sure.” As I walked to class I remembered Laeddin would be waiting. I didn’t want to make him even angrier.

Oh, what do I do?

During Spanish I noticed a couple of students raise their hand and ask to go to the bathroom. I thought that was strange, but it gave me an idea.

I raised my hand.

“Si, Ms. Ryder.” Mrs. Sanchez rolled the R in Ryder.

“May I go to the bathroom?”

“Si.” She held up a colorful hat.

I lifted my backpack and walked to her desk. “Muchas gracias,” I said taking the hat.

Out in the hall I searched for a bathroom. It was weird walking the halls without the crush of the other students, but eventually I found one down a ways and on the left. I pushed the door opened and walked in.

My first experience with a public bathroom? Not great! There were three sinks and four stalls, a toilet in each stall. I chose the furthest stall in hopes that it would give me the most privacy, made my way past the mirror with a curse word scrawled on it in what I guessed was lipstick, and closed the door.

“Laeddin,” I whispered. I had no idea if it would work but I hoped so. I needed to talk with him. After ten seconds he still hadn’t shown, so I whisper-yelled his name again. “Laeddin.”

He appeared within the stall, so close to me I could immediately smell his spicy sweet blood. “What is this place?” He crinkled his nose.

I took the end of my braid and brought it to my nose. “This is a bathroom at school.”

“It’s barbaric.” He leaned back. “And crowded.”

I took a deep breath through my nose. Peppermint. I only smell peppermint, I chanted internally. “I just wanted to tell you that I’m going to a friend’s house after school.”

Laeddin glared. “You brought me into this smelly bathroom to tell me that?”

My insides shot with pain. Why was he acting so mean? “It’s called consideration. I didn’t want you to drive all the way to the school so that I could tell you that I was going home with someone else.”

“I appreciate your thoughtfulness, Jasmine.” He gave me a look of complete disdain. “Just think, if you would’ve given me the same respect before biting me, our conversation might be less abrupt.”

“You’re a jerk. If you hadn’t flaunted your delicious blood, I wouldn’t have grazed.” I pushed my finger into his chest. “Grazed your neck.” I flipped the collar of his shirt in irritation. “And get a cell phone so that in the future I can call or text you.”

“Call? Text?”

“Yes, it’s all part of the human experience. Get yourself an O-phone and figure it out.”

The door to the bathroom opened.

“Go,” I mouthed.

His eyes flickered to the colorful hat I held in my other hand. He lifted a brow in question.

“It’s nothing.”

He vanished.

I flushed the toilet and opened the stall door. A girl was applying mascara. “Hey.” I turned on a sink and washed my hands.

She just smiled.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Twenty

&Abby was waiting& by the front door, just as we’d talked about. “Jack, you ready to go?”

I bounced up and down on the balls of my feet. “Yep.” I pushed open the front doors.

Drake rushed past us, knocking Abby over.

“Rude.” I smacked him in the chest. He flew back and smacked into a group of students, knocking them over too.

“Freak? Why’d you do that?” Drake’s face was a mixture of shock and anger. Blood leaked from his eyebrow. The salty and coppery aroma snuck up on me and pounced. My fangs fought to break free, the sharp tips grazing my bottom lip. I wanted him, his blood. I dove onto Drake and licked the blood.

“Dude?” Drake grabbed my arms and pushed me back. He looked scared and a little intrigued. “What kind of crazy are you?’ He smirked. “I can work with that.”

I scrambled to my feet. Abby gave me a strange stare. Did she think I was crazy too? Probably.

But she stuck out her hand. “Help me up.”

I pulled her to her feet. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Agreed.” She ran down the steps and I followed.

I had homework. So did Abby, but we ignored it. Instead we were lying on our stomachs. Side by side on Abby’s king-sized bed, we watched the fourth episode of The Vampire Diaries on her laptop.

Her room was decorated in pink, white, and black, and the wall across from the bed was wallpapered in cherry blossoms. A large window with a cushioned seat under it was on one side. On the other was a built-in desk with bookshelves along the sides and across the top. Her bedspread and carpet were white and decorative pillows in pink and black covered her bed. A walk-in closet was to the left of the door and a bathroom was on the right. Against the wall with the cherry blossom paper sat a dresser with a large screened TV hanging from the wall.

Between us was a bag of candy. It was long and red and had cartoonish pictures of cherries on the front. It smelled nothing like cherries.

“Want one?” Abby asked, holding one of the red ropes out.

I wrinkled my nose. “No. Thanks.”

“Okay, more for me.” She took a bite and returned her focus to the show.

It was weird, watching a TV show about vampires. The rules of the show were complicated and strange. In my world, there was magic, and vampires called the Originals, but that was where the similarity between truth and fiction ended. Probably the most distressing knowledge was that none of the vampires in the show had wings.

Maybe I really am a freak, I thought unhappily.

“You really like this?” I gave her a sideways glance. It was obvious she did. Her body tensed and she hung on every word.

“Don’t you?” She was incredulous. “It’s got everything. Hot guys. Unrequited love. Vampires.” She paused the show. “I mean vampires and kissing vampires and drama and angst and more drama. It’s like the best show ever.” She seemed serious. “Sometimes I close my eyes and pretend I’m Nina and Damon bites my neck and drinks from me.” Her eyes danced with joy. “It seems so sensual, like the bond would be so powerful.”

Who was I to disagree? “So far, it seems pretty good.”

Abby got off the bed.

“Where are you going?” I hoped she wasn’t upset that I didn’t have her passion for the show.

“I need a drink. You want one?” She walked to the door and paused, waiting for my answer.

I did want a drink. Of blood. Rich and thick and nourishing. I casually wondered what Abby would think if she found out I was a vampire, that like her favorite show, she had a friend who loved the dark and the taste of blood. Immediately I knew it would scare her. I also knew that if I turned down a drink, she’d start to get suspicious.

“Water, if you’ve got it.”

She nodded, visibly relaxing. I hadn’t realized how tense she’d been. “Sure. I’ll be right back.”

By agreeing to a human drink I’d relaxed her, but my stress began to build. I’d never had water, never tasted human food. In Sharra, my dad usually ate a blueberry bagel with strawberry cream cheese, his “go to” breakfast, although sometimes he’d switch it up and have pancakes or eggs and bacon. Whatever he ate, he was normally done before I ever came down for my breakfast. What if I took a drink of the water and it burned or tasted terrible or made me puke? Could I pretend to drink it? The answer worried me. I waited nervously, considering my options if something strange happened.

It seemed to be taking Abby a long time to return and I started to worry. Using my unique hearing, I listened. Outside I heard birds, the sounds of small animals rummaging, insects buzzing and burrowing, a spider spinning her web, and a large family of rabbits. I turned my focus inside. There was breathing, though it was erratic. Was she scared?

I quickly left the bedroom and went in search of Abby. Her home was large, but easily maneuverable. I made my way downstairs to the kitchen, figuring that was where she would’ve gone for a drink. She wasn’t there. But the refrigerator door hung open. That sent up a warning sign.

“Abby.” I closed the fridge, walked out of the kitchen and turned down a small hallway. There were three closed doors. One on the left, one straight ahead, and one on the right. I pulled the one on the left open first. The room contained a washer and dryer. There were cupboards, a counter, and a sink. An ironing board and other laundry things. But Abby wasn’t inside.

I opened the door straight ahead. It was a garage. It was dark, but I could see easily enough. She wasn’t there.

I went to open the door on the right, but it was locked.

“Abby,” I called again.

“I’m almost done, Jack. Sheesh, you scared me.”

My fears immediately calmed. “Sorry.” I paused. “Did you want me to grab the drinks?”

“That’d be great. I’ll be right there.”

“K, what do you want?”

“A soda. They’re in the fridge.”

That reminded me that the refrigerator door had been left open. “You sure you’re alright?”

She didn’t answer right away. That made me nervous. “Abby.”

A low growl. “Give me some privacy. Jeez,” she barked.

“Sorry,” I said again, feeling embarrassed. I went back to the kitchen, grabbed a soda and a bottle of water, and then walked back upstairs to her bedroom.

I decided to see what the water tasted like while Abby was out of the room. Opening the bottle, I brought the liquid to my lips and took a sip. It wasn’t bad, kind of refreshing. I took another. As the liquid went down my throat, it coated and sunk into my stomach. It wasn’t filling or satisfying, but at least it didn’t hurt.

That was good to know. I would start drinking water at lunch. Putting the lid back on the bottle I was about to place it on the bed to wait when I heard a loud thump.

“That’s it.”

I ran downstairs, past the living room and dining room, and into the kitchen. “Abby,” I called.

She turned the corner. Her body looked the same, but I knew immediately there was something different, an odd bend in her body. Worse though, was the smell. Abby’s blood, while it hadn’t been as appealing as some of the other humans, now smelled rotten.

A sick feeling consumed my body. It was the same smell as the body of the man in the forest.

“That’s right, Abby is gone.” A cruel smile lifted Abby’s lips. It looked wrong on her kind face.

My heart broke. “Abby was a good person.” An uncontrollable rage built and filled my body. I hadn’t known Abby long, but I considered her a friend. That this demura named Iza had killed her and taken her soul made my heart ache with fury and sadness.

“Whether she was good or not is of no value to me. I required her body so I took it.”

It seemed childish, but I asked anyway. “Why her? There are millions of humans in this world. Why choose her?” I wasn’t prepared for the depth of emotion permeating my being at losing Abby. It was made worse that I had to witness the demura using her appendages and speaking with her voice.

“I promised you pain. Over the centuries I’ve learned it’s far more effective to harm those that my victim cares for if I want them to suffer. It makes the game so much more enjoyable.”

“But what am I to you? I thought the forest was your hunting ground.”

“When you entered my forest you became my prey. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t still in the forest.” Abby’s body swayed back and forth as though moving to a rhythm I couldn’t hear.

“Tell me what you want.”

He crossed his arms and I nearly cried because he was doing it in Abby’s body.

“That’s easy. I want to continue doing what I’ve been doing for centuries. Making all creatures miserable, feeding on souls, destroying lives. Just the basics.” He leaned against the doorframe, crossing one leg over the other. “So you’re going to have to get out of my way.”

“I can’t do that.” My fangs came out. I couldn’t stand by and let any more people become corpses because of the demura. And although I didn’t know anything about the creature, there was no way I would let it walk around using Abby’s body. Just as with the man in the forest, I attacked it. This time it didn’t release her body, but used Abby’s body to attack back. He wrapped Abby’s arms around me and began to squeeze.

“You think you can’t be hurt, don’t you?”

I smirked. “That’s right. You can’t hurt me.”

In response he squeezed tighter. And shocker! I felt it. Like really felt it. The demura squeezed so tight that one of my ribs popped.

I screamed. Pain, worse than any I’d ever experienced, cut through my body. It hurt so badly.

The demura didn’t stop. Three more ribs broke. My body was shutting down, the pain beyond excruciating.

If the demura continued, my body would give up. The only way to recuperate was blood and a lot of it.

“See, you aren’t as invincible as you thought.” Spittle landed on my cheek. I forced myself not to look away. He didn’t deserve my fear.

The smell surrounding Abby’s body was putrid, but if I didn’t drink I would surely die. So I did the unthinkable. I sunk my teeth into her flesh. Blood immediately poured into my mouth and down my throat. My body responded immediately to the blood. My ribs snapped back into place. I continued to drink, sensing Abby’s body dying. It broke my heart, but there was no other way.

When her body was nearly dry, the demura let out a high-pitched squeal, and released itself from Abby, becoming mist once again. It floated upward and disappeared through the ceiling.

I disentangled myself from Abby and although I was devastated my friend was dead, I breathed a sigh of relief that that thing was no longer inside her. Sitting on the floor next to her, I placed her head in my lap. Her once warm eyes were lifeless and her body hung limp, like an empty balloon.

For the first time in my life I cried. Large tears rolled down my cheeks. They weren’t like normal tears, but red with blood.

“Laeddin! Laeddin!” I shrieked his name until my throat was raw.

He appeared with apparent disgust that I had bothered him again. Until he really looked at me and at my dead friend.

“I wish for you to bring her back to life. Please. I wish it. I wish it.” I rocked back and forth, my hands cupping her face. Red tears fell on her face and dripped down her cheeks so it looked like she cried too.

Laeddin’s contempt quickly turned to sympathy. “What’s happened?” he asked, kneeling next to me.

I told him everything. About my first meeting the demura, and what happened this time, and then finished up with how I drank Abby’s blood to save myself. “It’s so awful,” I cried, wishing I could take it back.

“I know, Jasmine. I’m so sorry.” His fingers stroked my hair. It felt good. I didn’t want to feel anything but awful so I pushed him away.

“Bring her back to life, please. She didn’t deserve this.”

He sighed. “I know. She most certainly didn’t. But I can’t bring her back. For one thing it’s against the rules an—”

“Break the rules, Laeddin! Please.” I hugged her close. “Please.”

He patted my shoulder. “What do you think she’d be if I brought her back? Everything that made Abby, Abby is no longer there.”

I knew he was right. With every ounce of myself I knew it. But I didn’t want to believe. I wasn’t ready to let her go.

A noise rumbled from the garage and I realized in horror that it was opening. Someone was home. The panic must’ve shown on my face. Laeddin gripped my arms. In the blink of an eye we were no longer in Abby’s kitchen, but ours.

“My backpack,” I cried. “It’s still in her room.”

“I’ll get it.” He vanished and reappeared carrying my backpack within seconds.

“Did…” I swallowed. Part of me didn’t want to know, but the biggest part of me needed to hear his answer. “Did someone find her?”

Laeddin rubbed a hand over his face. “Yes.” He spoke the word so quietly.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Twenty-One

&That night& I dreamed of the man claiming to be my betrothed again. He spoke of what it would be like to be married, how many children he wished to have, and where we would live. He spoke of Sharra, the creatures there, and about how I drank Abby’s blood. I’d been humiliated by his words, but he kept talking anyway, explaining that what I’d done had been a survival instinct. He continued that I should be grateful I possessed such a predisposition. Otherwise I would be dead. I didn’t want to agree, but a tiny part of my brain appreciated the support. Most strangely, he spoke of my wings and how exquisite they were. I hated to admit that while he talked the same part of my brain that appreciated his words also cherished them. And just like last time, right before I woke, he took me in his arms and kissed me.

When my alarm went off I wasn’t as afraid of the man in my nightmare as I’d been the first time. I quickly got ready for school and went down to breakfast. Even though I’d drunk Abby nearly dry the day before I was famished.

There was blood in a glass just as there had been the last two days. I drank it quickly, silently wishing it was any blood but human. Even troll would be better. It was what I deserved.

Laeddin hadn’t come down yet and I was grateful. Although he’d seemed less angry when he went to bed last night, he still wasn’t the same guy I’d first met in the cave.

It seemed like a lifetime ago that I’d made my wish to be normal. It hadn’t even been a week. It was only Wednesday.

“Are you ready to go?” Laeddin asked, coming into the kitchen. He took an orange from the fridge. His scent swirled past my nose like the tail of a kite.

I quickly took a sprig of peppermint and put it in behind my ear. That helped a little, but not nearly enough. I didn’t understand why his blood smelled so much better than any I’d ever encountered.

“Yes,” I said, swinging my backpack onto my shoulder.

Laeddin took my hand. “If you don’t want to go, it’s okay.”

I gave him a wary look.

“Everyone knows about Abby. I believe your friend Cam even texted you last night.”

“Oh!” I took my phone from my backpack. I’d forgotten about it, too wrapped up in my own sorrow.

He’d sent five different texts.

Did you hear about Abby? Call me.

Jack, I need to talk.

Abby is dead. Please text back.

They are saying her blood was drained from her body.

OMG. Jack, you aren’t dead too, are you?

“I’d better text back.”

I was new to the texting thing, but I typed my message out and sent it.

I’m so sorry, Cam. I didn’t know her long, but I considered her my friend. Are you going to be at school?

He quickly texted back.

Thank God you’re safe. I can’t go to school. I’m too sad. Want to come over? We can be sad together.

I read Cam’s text to Laeddin. “What do you think? Should I go over?”

Laeddin shrugged. He freaking shrugged. I’d never wanted to punch the genie so badly.

“Well, gee, thanks for your help.”

He leaned against the counter. “You don’t need my help. You already know what to do. You just want confirmation.”

I sank onto the stool. “No, I really don’t. Part of me wants to go over because he needs me, but I—“

Someone pounded on the door.

“Who’s that?” I asked.

Laeddin walked to the door. I followed. By the smell of blood, I knew they were human.

Two police officers stood on our porch.

“Hello, sir. Are you Jackie Ryder’s father?”

Laeddin opened the door all the way. “No, her parents are in Las Vegas, and they’ve asked me to keep an eye on her until they’ve finished their business and can join Jackie here in Salem.” He smiled casually.

Both police officers scrutinized him. They were about the same height, but one was more muscular than the other. They both looked like they were in their early twenties. One had dark brown hair. The other officer had strawberry blond. They seemed to take their job very seriously.

“I’m officer Gand,” the guy with strawberry blond hair said. Then he pointed to his partner. “This is officer Vick. Can we come in?”

“We have some questions for Jackie,” officer Vick added.

“Sure,” Laeddin said.

When they were inside, he directed them to the couch. “Have a seat.”

I came in. “I’m Jackie.” My heart raced and my lips were chapped. What did they want? Did they know I drank Jackie’s blood?

“A couple of students saw you and Abby walking away from the school together yesterday. Is that true?” Officer Vick had a pad of paper and a pencil out, ready to write down whatever I said.

“Yes, that’s true. I was there for a while. I’m not exactly sure how long, but we watched three plus a little of the fourth episode of a show called The Vampire Diaries.”

Officer Vick nodded. “When did you leave?”

“I don’t know the exact time. We were watching and then Abby said she was going to go get us a drink. It took her a while so I went down to the kitchen. Abby wasn’t there so I called out to her and she answered from the bathroom that she was sick and that she was going to be a while.” I shrugged and took a moment to take a deep breath. An image of Abby’s broken body fluttered past my mind. Tears filled my eyes. “I told her I’d see her at school tomorrow and left.”

Both officers nodded.

“You’re new to the school. Correct?” Officer Gand asked.

“Yes,” I responded, my voice a whisper. “Today would’ve been my third day. Abby and I had Creative Writing together. That’s where we met.” They hadn’t asked for any of that information but I gave it anyway.

“I see.” Officer Vick eyed me suspiciously. “Did anyone seem to dislike Abby?”

I shook my head. “Not that I saw.” I thought about Sydney and how she wasn’t friendly. “I mean there are kids at school who don’t hang out with each other, but that’s just life, isn’t it?”

Officer Gand and officer Vick gave each other a knowing look.

“Tell us the name of those students she didn’t’ get along with?”

I sat on the chair across from the officers and clasped my hands between my knees. “There’s a girl named Sydney and then a guy named Drake. I don’t know their last names.”

Officer Vick wrote something down. Then he gave me a direct look. “Did you kill Abby Carrington?”

A sob ripped from my throat. My body shook with grief and pain. Finally, I shook my head. “No, I didn’t.”

The officers stood. Officer Vick patted me awkwardly on the back. “We’ll find whoever hurt your friend.”

“You can be sure of that,” Officer Gand added.

They walked to the door. Laeddin followed them.

“If she thinks of anything else, please have her call us.” Officer Vick handed Laeddin a card.

“I will. Thank you.” He shut the door behind them.

I jumped out of the seat and ran over to Laeddin.

He put a finger to his lips.

Once we heard the police car drive away, he removed his finger.

“Are you okay?” He pulled me to his chest.

My body still shook uncontrollably. I was devastated, sick inside, definitely NOT okay. “What do you know about the demura?”

He rested his chin on my head. “I’ve never heard that word before today. But I may know of someone who does.” He pushed me back so he could see my face. “I’ll need to be gone a few hours. Maybe a day at the most. Will you be okay alone?”

In response my teeth started chattering. I really wanted to go home. But I couldn’t. Not yet. I needed to find a way to end the demura. It was the least I could do for Abby. “Yes.”

“That’s my girl.” Laeddin smiled sweetly.

My heart warmed, grateful that whatever anger he harbored over the scratch on his neck, was gone.

Right before my eyes, he vanished as well. I turned in a circle, unsure what to do next.

My phone beeped. I looked at it and realized I had a text.

From Cam. You coming over or not? Then another that said, Never mind I’ll come to you.

I responded, Okay. Do you know where I live?

Yep. Be there in a few.

Okay.

I put my phone in the back pocket of my jeans and went to sit on the couch when I heard scratching.

“What the…” I opened the door and there was Gatsby.

He sauntered in. “Close the door. I need to speak with you and there isn’t much time. Your friend Cameron will be here soon.”

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Twenty-Two

&I’d grown& up around unicorns, ogres, elves, and vampires. They all talked often, sometimes annoyingly so. But that was in Sharra. A talking cat in the human world was completely different, probably because humans were normal here, as were the animals. They weren’t supposed to talk. [_And a mist-creature wasn’t supposed to invade human bodies either. _]Sometimes sarcasm really helped.

Gatsby jumped on the couch.

I sat beside him, working to get a handle on myself. “What is it?”

Gatsby curled his tail around his paws. His yellow eyes studied me carefully. “I know what happened to Abby yesterday.”

I was stunned. “You do?” My hand found my way over my mouth.

“It’s okay, Jasmine. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

My bottom lip quivered. “I drank her blood.” My voice was barely above a whisper.

Gatsby placed a paw on my knee. “If you hadn’t, the demura would’ve killed you.”

I nodded. Tears dripped from my eyes.

“Don’t cry. You’re getting blood on your shirt.”

“Pixie dust!” I quickly wiped my eyes. Cam would arrive any minute and I didn’t want him to see my face or my shirt. I pulled off my shirt and tossed it in the corner, ran to the mirror and wiped any remnants of my blood tears. “Gatsby, do you know what the demura is? What it wants?”

“Of course I do.” He licked his paw. “But Cam is on his way. Comfort your friend, and I’ll tell you about the demura tonight.”

“But—”

There was a knock at the door.

I realized I hadn’t put on another shirt and was only in my black camisole tank, but it was fine. I opened the door and Gatsby ran out.

Cam looked awful. His eyes were puffy from crying.

He sniffled. “Hey.”

“Hi Cam. Come in.” I walked him into the kitchen. “Want a drink or something?”

“Got any liquor? I’d really like to get drunk and pass out.” He sat on a stool, his face buried in his hands.

I went over and rubbed his back. “I’m so sorry, Cam.” He would think I was apologizing was not having alcohol, but it was so much more. I was sorry for putting Abby in harm’s way. It was my fault she died. The demura said so. I was sorry I’d ever come to Salem. I should’ve stayed in Sharra and become the princess my mom and dad wanted me to be. I never should’ve wished to become something I wasn’t. The worst part was, if I’d come into the human world with all of my powers and my wings, I would’ve been able to stop the demura. I had no doubt about that.

Cam sniffled. “It isn’t your fault, Jack.” He glanced at me. “How are you holding up?”

I pushed away the tears threatening to drop. “I’m…” I swallowed. “I’m okay.”

“You two seemed to really hit it off. She told me you guys were going to hang out yesterday. Did you?”

I nodded. “Yes. We watched The Vampire Diaries for a while until she got sick.”

“Weird.” Cam pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his nose. “Abby never got sick.”

I told him how we ate licorice and then she went to get a drink. “Maybe the licorice made her sick?” My lips trembled and my shoulders shook. A sob caught in my throat. “She told me she’d see me in school tomorrow,” I whispered.

Cam hugged me and I hugged him back. It was a sweet moment, a normal one, me hugging my friend, but it was marred by the fact that my face was against his neck. His heart pumped his warm blood through his veins. I longed to sink my teeth in his neck and… “I feel so bad for her family. They must be devastated.”

“Yeah.” He wiped his eyes. “Abby was close with her little sister.”

I stopped listening at the mention of a sister. No one else had been home when we were there. I was sure of it. But a part of me worried maybe that wasn’t true. What if the little sister was home and had seen something? Like me drinking Abby’s blood.

“I didn’t know she had a sister.” I said, sniffling.

“She’s like eleven or twelve. I’m not sure. Did you see her there yesterday?”

“No, I didn’t. And the police didn’t mention her either.” I pulled away and walked over to the refrigerator.

“The police?”

“They were just here, asking questions.” I pulled out a peppermint leaf, took a big sniff, and then put it behind my ear.

“What did they ask?”

I took the teapot from the stove and went to the sink. I didn’t want any tea, but I needed something to do and I’d seen the cook in our kitchen brew it many times before. “Just whether I’d gone to her house. What we did. When I left.”

“Ah, well yeah, you’re probably the last person to see her alive.” He sat up straighter. “I wish you could’ve gotten to know her better. She was so smart and funny and a great friend.” A tear dripped onto his cheek.

I hurried over and hugged him. “You liked her?”

“Well, yeah. I did.” Cam looked at me. “I mean not liked, liked her, but she was the best friend a person could ever have. When we were in junior high, she got in several fights trying to protect me, even though I could’ve handled it. She once told me she was like a mamma bear with her cub when it came to how she felt about me.” He smiled at the memory. “I wouldn’t have survived without her.”

“She seems amazing. The little bit of time I spent with her proved that.” I took a bag of chamomile tea from a box and stuck it in a mug.

“Amazing is an understatement,” Cam said.

“How long were you two friends?” The teapot whistled. I took it from the stove and poured water in the mug.

“Her family moved to Salem when we were in the third grade. We were in the same reading group. She was shy and always had her nose in a book. Our teacher challenged us to read the Harry Potter books. We read those books twice by summer vacation. She was a total book nerd so we got along together perfectly. I used to say her parents moved to Salem for me because I needed her.” His eyes filled with tears.

“Cam, I’m so sorry.” I removed the teabag and handed the mug to him. “Here, drink this. It’ll calm your nerves.” At least that was what the box said.

He brought it to his nose and sniffed. “What is it?”

“Chamomile tea.”

“You made me tea?”

I shrugged. It was something to do. “Yeah.”

Cam squeezed my hand. “It’s perfect.” He took a sip. “Thank you, Jack. I’m so glad you moved to Salem. If I didn’t have you, I—” An odd look twisted his features. “What do you know about those new kids, Zoe and Peter?”

“Not much.” I dumped the remaining water in the sink, watching the steam rise. It warmed my face. “I’ve talked to them a couple of times and we ate lunch together, but that’s it.”

“Hmmmm,” he took another sip. “We should find out more about them.”

It wasn’t a bad idea. “Okay.”

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Twenty-Three

&Cam& and I hung out for several more hours. After he left, I went upstairs to change into my PJs.

Gatsby said we would talk later. He needed a way to get in so I opened the window. Before I had a chance to open a book, he’d jumped into my room.

“The boy seems to be doing better. You really are a good friend, Jasmine.” He hopped on my bed and curled into a ball.

“Um, thanks.” I fluffed some pillows and stuffed them behind my back. Gatsby appeared to have fallen asleep. I cleared my throat. “Are you going to tell me about the demura?”

His eyes blinked open. “I suppose I should.”

I crossed my legs and sat forward.

“I’m actually surprised your genie friend didn’t tell you anything about it.”

“Why’s that?” I suddenly felt a little sick. Had Laeddin brought the demura to Salem?

“Well, because a demura is the spirit of an evil genie.”

My heart beat in my throat. “How can a genie be evil? Aren’t they required to obey those who possess their lamp? Do they have a choice?”

Gatsby crossed his paws. “Let me start at the beginning.”

I crossed my arms and sank further into my pillows. For some reason I dreaded hearing the story. What if it put Laeddin in a bad light? As difficult as the past few days had been, I didn’t want him to be evil.

Gatsby began, “More than two thousand years ago, twelve brothers were born to the king and queen of Debania. The king, being a selfish man, realized that someday he would die and have to give up his throne. As the most powerful man in his kingdom he decided to find a way to live forever.

“The kingdom had a powerful sorceress named Maleficent. He went to her and asked that she grant him eternal life. The sorceress agreed, but only if he brought with him twelve golden lamps and his sons.

He promised he would. The very next day he sent his soldiers out in search of the lamps. Within the year he had all twelve. Some were encrusted with gems. Others were gilded with diamonds. All were extremely beautiful and fine. He presented them as well as his sons to the sorceress.

“She placed a lamp in front of each son and then cursed them all to an eternity of servitude. Once the sons were captive inside their lamps, she took the king’s sword and stabbed him through the heart. While he lay dying, he asked why she broke her vow. Maleficent gave him a smile. You will live forever through your sons. They will never die and for your selfishness, they will be required to serve others forever.” The effort of so much talking seemed to have tired Gatsby out. He rested his head on his paws and closed its eyes.

I closed my eyes, my thoughts wondering over the story. Did that mean Laeddin was over two thousand years old? That was kind of creepy. And while I now knew Laeddin had eleven brothers and that a sorceress by the name of Maleficent cursed them, I still didn’t know how the demura came to be.

I sat up. “Gatsby, what about the demura?”

The cat yawned, his pink tongue curling as he flashed his sharp teeth. They looked a lot like my own. “Right.” He climbed onto my lap and rubbed the top of his head against my hand.

“Fine.” I chuckled and scratched him.

He purred.

“After a thousand years, the oldest brother began his subjugation to a peculiar creature. It changed forms as often as it breathed. The oldest brother never got a sense of what it was, but according to the laws of the genie by which he was bound, he was forced to grant the creature three wishes.

The wishes were as unusual as the creature. The first wish demanded the brother give up his body and become dark smoke. The second wish was that the brother must enslave humans in order to survive. And the creature’s third wish was that the genie must destroy his bottle. The wishes didn’t go against the three rules, so the brother had no choice but to obey.

“The creature disappeared and the oldest brother became the first demura or demon mist.”

I stopped rubbing Gatsby’s back. “So there’s only one demura and it’s Laeddin’s oldest brother?”

Gatsby pawed my hand. I began petting him again. “Over the next several hundred years the same creature found and took possession of all the brothers, demanding the same three wishes from each of them. There are now eleven demura. Laeddin is the only genie left who hasn’t been turned by the creature.”

My heart began pounding so hard I thought it would come out of my chest. “He’s in danger?”

“Yes, he has been for several decades. That’s probably why he was hiding in Sharra.”

“What is the creature changing the genies?”

Gatsby closed his eyes. His purring grew louder. “I have my guesses but I don’t know for certain.”

“How do you know about the demura and the story of the genies?”

Gatsby chuckled. “I’ve been around a really, really long time. There isn’t much I don’t know.”

“Except you don’t know what’s after Laeddin?”

“Little vampire, I’ve told you more than anyone else ever could have. You should be grateful for what I’ve given you.” He rose and walked to the edge of my bed.

“Sorry, Gatsby. I am.”

The cat jumped off my bed.

“Don’t go. I need to know how to stop the demura. What can stop them?”

Gatsby turned and sat. “They no longer have their lamps, which is why they must enter the bodies of humans.”

I moved to the edge of the bed.

“So either we get rid of all seven billion humans…”

That wasn’t even a possibility. “Or?”

“I’ve thought a lot about this. I’m not one hundred percent sure, but I believe if they had their lamps back, they would return to their original form and no longer need humans to survive.”

I fell back on the bed. “But they’ve destroyed their lamps. That’s impossible.”

Gatsby jumped on my bed and then onto my stomach. He walked up so that he was looking directly into my eyes. “You’re speaking with a talking cat. All sorts of impossible things become possible every day. A hundred years ago no one believed there would be a phone you could carry in your pocket, allowing you to speak to anyone from anywhere around the world, yet the impossible has happened.”

I leaned on my elbows so we were almost cat nose to vampire nose.

“Seven thousand years ago Sharra had her twin sister Silindra killed. Once she was gone vampires with wings no longer walked the Earth and it was believed they never would again. Yet here you are.” Gatsby blinked. “Nothing is impossible.” He jumped off me, went to the window, and landed on the sill. His yellow eyes studied me. “There is one other thing… but it’s complicated and may not work.”

“Whatever it is, tell me.” I kneeled in front of him.

“Maleficent cursed the brothers. If she removed the curse, then everything would go back to the way it was. The brothers would no longer be genies, which means they would no longer be demura.”

I fell back on my butt. “Isn’t she dead? I mean, it’s been two thousand years.”

Gatsby shook his furry head and licked one of his paws. For a cat, he was adorable. “I’ve been around more than two thousand years.”

“No way.” I snorted, reaching out to scratch under his head.

He batted my hand away with his paw. “You were born of seven magics with the blood of Snow and Dorian. How can you question such things? I’m quite sure Maleficent is alive.”

“Okay, where do I find her?”

“I suggest you ask your genie. He should know.” Gatsby jumped out the window, into the darkness. I squealed, worried he would get hurt, but the cat was gone. Something told me Gatsby was less cat and more something else, but I didn’t know what.

I closed the window and went back to bed.

“Nothing is impossible.” I thought about all the different stories I’d learned about the creatures of Sharra over the years. I thought about the story of Envy, the unicorn who gave her life to save Silindra and my mother. I thought and thought until I fell asleep.

That night the shadow man visited my dreams again. This time he took me into the forest of Sharra. It was surprising that he knew of my favorite place. We seemed to walk for a long time. I let him do the talking. He spoke nonstop, but I couldn’t understand what he said. At first it was frustrating, but after a while, I relaxed, focusing on our surroundings.

When we arrived at a clearing, he suddenly had a large quilt. Then he unfolded it and placed it on the ground.

And suddenly I understood his words. “I took her into my arms, sank my teeth into her warm neck, and drank my fill.”

I turned to him, trying to see past the shadow. “You’re a vampire?” The question left my lips before I realized I’d spoken.

“Oh, Jasmine. If only you would allow yourself to see.” His arms were around my waist. I knew he would kiss me, just as before, and I didn’t fight it. Instead I sank into the kiss, allowed myself to enjoy it. Since this was a dream, and it was the only romantic action in my life, I kissed him back.

After a long while, he pulled back. “That was exquisite, Jasmine.

I sighed, unable to speak. The kiss had been amazing.

A sudden movement pulled my gaze from him.

There were several bound humans lying on the quilt. Their faces twisted with fear. Cameron was one of the prisoners. His dark eyes shone bright with betrayal. To him I was a monster. Shame burned my face.

“Drink from him first,” the shadow man commanded.

I screamed.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Twenty-Four

&Laeddin still hadn’t come back& when I woke the next morning. His bedroom door was open, his bed still made. I dressed in jeans and a teal t-shirt, put my hair in twin tails, and put on a pair of teal Converse. They were my mom’s favorite shoes. I’d seen her closet and the sixteen pairs she kept in there. She never wore them anymore, but she still loved them. I’d tried a pair on and immediately understood why. They were super comfortable.

When Laeddin took me shopping at Bloomingdales, I knew I had to have a pair.

For some reason wearing them made me feel closer to her.

When I got down to the kitchen I opened the fridge thinking there probably wouldn’t be any blood, but it was there—a full glass of the red stuff.

I drank it and then picked up my backpack. How was I going to get to school?

Finally I decided there was no helping it. I needed him.

“Laeddin,” I called.

He appeared immediately. “Jasmine,” he said. He sounded tired. He looked haggard.

Even though the scent of his blood immediately entered my nose and made my mouth water, I ignored it and put a hand on his back. He flinched, but didn’t push my hand away.

I decided to tell him what I knew. Between the two of us maybe we could figure out how to bring back his brothers’ lamps. “Laeddin, I know about your—”

“You’re going to be late for school.” He held the door open.

We walked to the car. I tried two more times to tell him what I knew, but he wouldn’t let me finish. “I have a lot on my mind, Jasmine. Can we talk after school?”

He pulled up to the front doors. I got out. “Sure. See ya, Laeddin.”

As I watched him drive away, for the first time I wasn’t thinking about myself, but him. I hoped he would be okay.

Cam stood by the front door. He looked a little better than yesterday. The whole school seemed quieter, more subdued. Everyone was also dressed in black. I kind of stood out. Then I remembered that humans wore black to mourn death. Ugh. Stupid. It was too late to do anything about it though. Luckily my jeans were dark.

I went up to Cam and put an arm around his shoulders. “You hanging in there, Cam?”

“I’m—I can’t go inside. Every inch of that school reminds me of Abby.” He worked hard to fight back tears. His lips twitched and he kept wiping his eyes. Cam wore all black today too. Black pants. Black shirt. Black shoes.

“You can,” I told him. “I’m here.”

Some random girl walked by. She whispered to her friend. “That’s the girl who was with Abby. My father said they sent Gant and Vick to question her.”

They walked through the door into the school, but I could still hear and see them. The girl’s friend looked back. “Do they think she did it?”

The girl shrugged. “They aren’t sure.”

“Well look at her, she isn’t even wearing black today. Totally cold.”

“You’re kind of squeezing too hard, Jack.” Cam tried to push my hand off his shoulder.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Just upset.”

“Don’t let them get to you. The truth is I came to school today for you. I have a feeling there’s going to be another witch hunt and you’re the witch.”

I gasped. But noticed that all of the students were looking our way. Cam was probably right.

“Great. Should I go home?”

He shook his head. “The best thing to do is stand up to them. Don’t let them know they’re getting to you.”

“Okay.” I grimaced.

Peter and Zoe came up the stairs.

“Hey Cam. We heard what happened. We’re so sorry.” Zoe wrapped an arm around me. Peter patted Cam on the shoulder.

“We heard you were the last to see her,” Zoe said to me in a whisper.

I nodded, twisting some of my hair around a finger nervously. Cam and I gave each other a look. We’d decided to get to know more about the two of them.

Cam rolled his shoulders and pulled the door open. “Thanks guys. We’ll see you at lunch?” He tried to give them a smile.

“Sure.” Peter took Zoe’s hand and they walked away together.

“They’re so in sync. It’s like one can’t breathe without the other.” I gave Cam a disgusted look.

He wasn’t watching me but staring after Peter and Zoe. “That’s when you know it’s true love. Those two will still be together fifty years from now.” He sniffled.

I stared after them. It was true. The love they felt for each other was like a living thing. Almost visible. Definitely tangible. Intense. It almost reminded me of…

No way. Impossible.

As I sat through Creative Writing, one thought kept creeping into my mind: The demura said it would go after those I cared about. It had known about Abby. Would it go after Cam next?

Being friends with anyone was probably a bad idea.

When class ended, I made my way to the locker room. I’d forgotten gym clothes again, but the ones Abby found for me were still in her locker. The inside smelled like her. I sat on the bench and tried not to cry.

Sydney came in. She glared. “Did you kill her?”

“Of course not.” I bit the inside of my cheek. Anger filled my veins with a desire for revenge. “Did you?”

Of course I knew she hadn’t killed Abby. The demura had. But something told me she knew more than she was letting on.

She threw her hands in the air. “Whatever.”

The other girls in the locker room were more focused on us than changing.

I went over to her. She turned away, but I forced her to face me. “You know something. I can see it in your eyes.”

A brief flicker of fear danced across her face. “No, I don’t. You’re a liar. Freak.”

Ugh. Name-calling. It was so juvenile, yet still seemed to work even in high school.

I quickly changed. There were several sets of eyes on my back, my tattooed wings, but I didn’t bother to give a crap. They could look all they wanted. I had too much to worry about.

Today the teacher just had us walk around the gym because she understood we were hurting.

I walked alone, which was fine. I had a lot I needed to think about. Gatsby had said anything was possible. Internally I made a list of questions.

How do I bring back the destroyed lamps?

How do I keep Laeddin from becoming a demura? Is stopping it even possible?

How did I make sure the demura stalking me didn’t go after Cam or Peter or Zoe?

The questions seemed hopeless. When the bell rang I was still no closer to finding any answers.

I took extra long in the locker room, which meant I would be late to my next class. But I didn’t care. Normal high school life wasn’t working out the way I thought it would.

“Jasmine, I need to talk to you.” Laeddin suddenly appeared in front of me.

I squealed and covered myself with my shirt. “What are you doing in here?” My cheeks burned hot.

Laeddin’s eyes perused my undressed body.

I glared.

He turned around and I quickly put my clothes on.

“What do you want?” I asked when I was dressed.

He turned and his eyes softened. “Come on.”

In the blink of an eye we were gone from the locker room and back in our living room.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Twenty-Five

&Laeddin pulled me into a hug.& “We need to talk.”

The scent of his blood lit my throat on fire. Not to mention the way his skin smelled and felt. And the way he looked in his jeans and button up shirt. He was beautiful in every way.

I pushed him back. “I tried to talk to you several times this morning, but you wouldn’t listen.” I crossed my arms.

“I know. But there is something about me, about my family you need to know.” He sighed. “It has to do with the demura.”

I twisted some hair between my fingers. “Go on.”

“You’d better sit down. It’s kind of a long story.” He led me over to the couch.

When we were sitting, he began, “Many years ago—”

“You mean two thousand years ago, don’t you?” I crossed my arms and leaned back against the cushions.

Laeddin’s face lit up with surprise. “How do you know that?”

“Well, old man, if you would’ve let me talk this morning, I would’ve told you that I know everything.”

“Everything?” He smirked.

“Well, smarty pants, I know about your eleven brothers. I know about your father and Maleficent, and the lamps, and the strange creature changing your brothers into the demura. And worst of all, I know you’re next.” My stomach fluttered like nervous pixilettes danced inside. I didn’t know much about Laeddin, but I wanted to. And I definitely didn’t want him to become a demura.

“Okay, you do know everything.” His face turned serious. “Do you happen to know how to stop them?”

Before I had a chance to answer, he continued, “As soon as I realized what was happening to my brothers I started searching for a way to change them back, but so far nothing’s worked.” He ran a hand through his hair.

“What about Maleficent?”

He gave me a strange look. “What about her?”

“Well, she’s the one who cursed you to become a genie, right?”

“Yes.” Laeddin leaned forward.

“What if you convinced her to remove the curse?” I clasped my hands between my knees, trying to remember all Gatsby had said.

He seemed to consider my words. “So your suggestion is find her…”

“It’s been two thousand years. She’s probably forgotten about her reasons for cursing you in the first place. I bet if you asked her to remove it from you and your brothers, she’d do it.” I cleared my throat. “And if your brothers are no longer genies they can’t be demura either.”

Laeddin stood. “That’s not a bad idea, but I don’t know…”

There was Gatsby’s other idea. “Can I wish your brothers’ lamps back? Undestroy them?”

Laeddin shook his head. “That sounds like a great idea, but it wouldn’t work.”

“Why not? All I’d have to do is say I wish—”

Laeddin placed a hand over my mouth. “Stop.”

I pulled his hand away.

“You have to be careful with your wishes. If you wished that, time could reverse, or volcanoes could erupt. The world could split. Everything could change.” His eyes were frightened. “Don’t ever make a wish unless you talk to me about it first. Okay.”

I sulked; irritated by the way he scolded me—like I was a silly child.

He huffed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude.”

“But why would all of those things happen? It’s just a simple wish.”

“No, actually. It isn’t. Destroying a genie’s lamp, it takes the greatest of power. I’m sure my brothers had to move Heaven and Earth to obey the command of that creature. And reversing it could kill more people than we would ever hope to save.”

“Okay. Okay. I get it. I’m sorry”

Laeddin came forward and took my hands. “I’m sorry. I appreciate the thought.” He shook them and then dropped them. His mind was obviously elsewhere, working on things he wasn’t sharing with me.

“So let’s go talk to Maleficent. The sooner she removes your curse the better.”

Laeddin began to pace. “Give me a second.” I tried to fathom what he was thinking, but I had no idea.

I picked up my phone and texted Cam. We were supposed to meet for lunch, but since I was no longer in school I didn’t want him to worry.

Hi Cam. I went home. Sorry. Didn’t mean to make you worry.

He texted back immediately: Don’t ever do that to me again!

[_Sorry, _]I texted back.

Will you be here tomorrow?

I thought about that. Who knew how long it would take us to find Maleficent and get her to remove the curse? And then once the curse was removed…

I slapped my forehead. If Laeddin were no longer a genie, how would I get home? And if he were no longer a genie, would I remain wingless and without the seven magics? When I first made my wish, becoming wingless had been what I wanted, but not forever. Just for a little while. Or, if Laeddin were no longer a genie, would my wish stop existing? Would I automatically return to the way I was? That would mean never seeing Cam again, or Peter and Zoe. I supposed I could live with that last part as long as they were safe.

[_ Jack??? Answer me._]

I don’t know, I quickly texted back.

Okay. Keep me posted.

[_Will do. _]I felt bad, but I would feel much worse if the demura took him over. So I didn’t say anything more. Instead I went back into the living room. Laeddin was no longer pacing, but seated on the coach. He looked miserable.

“What’s wrong?” I wasn’t nearly as excited as I’d been a few minutes ago.

“I still think your idea is great. It’s just…”

I sat beside him on the coach. “If you’re no longer a genie, will I stay as I am now or will I go back to the way I was before?”

He became more miserable.

Had he not thought about that?

“The only way for you to return to the way you were is to wish it.” He turned to face me. “Have you already tired of normal?”

I snorted. “Not much has been normal since I arrived here.”

“That’s true.” Laeddin smiled. “Perhaps you’ve gathered that normal is a relative term.”

“Yes, I suppose I have.” I leaned nearer to Laeddin, drawn to his scent.

“Well the easiest way to handle this would be to have you wish to return to the way you were and then once you’ve returned home, I can go to Maleficent and ask her to remove the curse.” He began pacing again.

“Actually that won’t work at all.” I grabbed his hand, a strong need to comfort him overwhelming me.

“Why not?” he stopped and gave a wry smile.

“Well because.” I pulled him down on the couch. “What if she tells you no? Then what? The demura will still feed on humans and you’ll most likely become one too.”

“But it isn’t your place to worry about humans. There are the chayot, an angelic—I” He shrugged. “And if you only use two wishes, I’ll continue to be bound to you. The only way the creature can change me is if it becomes my master.”

“I know what the chayot are. My uncle used to be the leader.” Of course I knew what the chayot were but I was surprised Laeddin knew of them. Did the chayot know about the demura? If not, it might be a good idea to tell them. “Should we tell them about the demura?”

“I’m sure they already know.” He took a deep breath. “But it might not be a bad idea.” Laeddin patted my hand. “Any ideas how to get a hold of them?”

I jumped to my feet and ran to the door. For the first time in days I felt a little like myself again. It surprised me that I actually missed being myself. “Yep. Come on.”

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Twenty-Six

&The night air was cold,& and the sky was so clear hundreds of thousands of stars were visible. “Isn’t it beautiful?” I asked, making conversation.

“Beyond comprehension.”

“Ri—” I glanced at him and realized he wasn’t looking at the stars but at me. “Oh.” My face burned with embarrassment. I was grateful for the darkness.

His hands were clasped behind his back. He nudged my shoulder.

I nudged him back.

“So where are we going?” Laeddin asked.

He was the most relaxed I’d seen him.

“If anyone knows how to find the chayot leader, it’s Professor Pops.” I pointed at the large house coming into view.

“Are you going to tell him who you really are? I thought you wanted to keep it a secret. Besides, are you sure he still lives here?” He pointed at the fancy sports cars and trucks with lift kits parked in the driveway.

“Positive.” We were halfway up the drive when I stopped. I hadn’t thought about the consequences of talking to Professor Pops about what was going on. Did I want him to know? Would he even believe me? “I don’t think I have a choice.”

“I guess not,” Laeddin said. I could swear I saw him smile.

I climbed the steps and knocked on the large door. The thump of music could be heard from inside. I was about to knock again when the door burst open.

“Oh, hey. You’re Jack, right?”

“Yep.” The guy at the door was Troy.

“How’s your head?” He leaned closer.

“It’s fine. Doesn’t hurt anymore.” I laughed nervously.

“Good.” He leaned against the frame. “Did you need something?”

“Um, yes. Can we speak to Mr. Henry?”

Troy gave first Laeddin and then me a once over. “If it’s about school, you really should wait until tomorrow. He’s kind of busy.”

“I know,” I said, pushing some of my stray hairs behind my ear, “but this isn’t about school, it’s about… something else.” I glanced at my Converse nervously.

“Wait here. I’ll go ask him.”

“Thanks. It’s kind of urgent.”

“Troy, who’s at the door?” Professor Pops came into view.

“Hi Mr. Henry.” I gave a nervous wave. “This is Laeddin. We were wondering if we could speak with you privately for a moment.”

He glanced at Laeddin and then smiled at us both. “Of course. Follow me.” He moved out of the way.

Laeddin and I entered the house.

“Troy, go finish your homework,” Professor Pops barked.

“Yes, sir.” He pushed past us and started up the stairs. “See ya, Jack.” He winked.

“Bye.”

Laeddin and I followed Mr. Henry down a hall and into his office. Once we were inside he closed the door. “Have a seat.” He indicated two leather chairs. I took the one closest to the window.

Professor Pops went around his desk, sat, and then steepled his fingers. “Now, how can I help you?”

I swallowed, suddenly nervous. Laeddin patted my hand, his way of encouraging me.

“Uh, where to begin…” I crossed my arms and my legs, feeling suddenly self-conscious.

“The beginning is always best.” He smiled, causing the wrinkles near his eyes to crinkle. It was strange, knowing Professor Pops was a vampire and seeing him in the human world, looking very old and very human. I wondered how he made himself look that way. Was it magic? I couldn’t ask him that though. Besides he didn’t know who I was, at least not yet, so that would be rude.

But I wasn’t sure how to start. Did I mention my mother? Tell him who I really was. Should I tell him about the genie? That seemed like the most logical beginning.

Professor Pops gave a grandfatherly smile. “Let’s see if I can help you out.” He scooted forward. “Your name is actually Jasmine and Snow White is your mother.”

It felt like my mouth dropped onto the shiny black desk. “Yes.”

He nodded. “Excellent.”

“How did you—? Does my mom—? Are you—?” I was astounded. I glanced at Laeddin who looked as surprised as I was.

Professor Pops patted my hand. “You know what I am. Your mother told you that I used to be a Hunter? I still have those tendencies and I can sense other vampires. And since you’re an Original Vampire, it’s easier still.”

“Ohhhh.” That made complete sense. I hadn’t even thought of that. “Sometimes I forget what you really are.” I shrunk down in my seat.

Laeddin seemed to feel me relax and he sat back in his chair.

Professor Pops chuckled. “What, you mean the wrinkles and gray hair don’t give you a sense of my immortality?”

I laughed too. It’d been a while since we’d spent time together. I missed him. “Well, right. You scream humanity. Is it a spell that makes you look old?”

His eyes twinkled with amusement. “It is. You see, I want to continue to live in the human world. I prefer it to life in Sharra.”

I could understand that. I’d made a wish to live in the human world as a human.

Professor Pops continued, “I want to live among them since I was born one, but if I were never to age, people would start to get suspicious. As it is, every fifty years or so I have to move just so people don’t begin to wonder how old I really am. If I didn’t, they would become afraid without realizing why, and I don’t want that.”

“That makes sense.”

“Good.” He shuffled some papers around on his desk and then gave me a serious look. “Now why don’t you tell me why you’re here in the human world?”

I crossed my legs under me, glanced at Laeddin, and told him. All of it. About the cave in Sharra. Meeting Laeddin. Wishing to live like a human and go to high school. I even showed him my wing tattoo. Laeddin interjected some, giving parts of his story.

I thought about mentioning Gatsby, but changed my mind at the last second. It didn’t seem like Professor Pops or Laeddin needed to know that my mom’s cat could talk if he wanted to.

Professor Pops listened intently, nodding at times, seemingly absorbed in my story. His kindness encouraged me to keep going. I rested my hands on his desk, leaning closer and told him about the demura, explaining what they were and what they wanted. I added that Laeddin and I thought it might be a good idea to tell the chayot.

I finished with, “I told Laeddin if anyone knew how to reach them it was you.”

“Well thank you, Jasmine. That’s very kind. They do need to know.” Professor Pops leaned back in his chair.

“You’ll tell them, then?” I moved to the edge of my chair.

“Of course, my dear.” Professor Pops swiveled in his seat and pulled a book from one of the shelves lining the bookcase behind him, setting it on the desk between us. Nodding toward the book he said, “Is this what you encountered?”

I pulled the book closer. When Laeddin leaned in to see as well I held my breath, fighting to ignore his beckoning blood.

The book had pictures of skulls with smoke coming off them, their eyes glowed red. Human bodies bent at strange angles. The pictures definitely resembled what I’d seen happen with the man in the forest and with Abby. Several different kinds of names were given, but demura wasn’t one of them. There also wasn’t any information on how they could be killed. “I think so.”

“I gather you have an idea about what to do to stop these demura?” Professor Pops asked.

“Maybe,” I said.

“Are you prepared for the consequences of what may happen to your brothers?” Professor Pops asked, giving Laeddin an inquisitive glance.

I sensed the quickening of Laeddin’s pulse. He swallowed. It must be so hard for him. Knowing it was his brothers doing so much damage. I felt certain that if at some point they were anything like Laeddin, they would’ve been kind, good men. I finally understood why he hadn’t wanted to show himself to me in the cave. Laeddin had been hiding, not from the world, but from the strange creatures changing his brothers into monsters.

I reached out a placed my hand over his. He put his other hand over mine. “We—Laeddin and I—are going to find Maleficent and ask her to remove the curse.” It made me sick to think about it. For some strange reason the idea felt wrong. Yet I couldn’t decipher why or think of a better option.

“By removing the curse, the demura will no longer have the power of a genie. It stands to reason they will simply disappear.” Laeddin’s words were quiet and I suddenly understood something else. Something big. Something I didn’t know if I was ready to deal with. If we got Maleficent to reverse the curse and Laeddin was no longer a genie, would he continue to live? As a man, he would’ve died long ago.

“Laeddin,” I whispered, feeling an ache in my heart.

He cleared his throat. “If the sorceress can remove the curse, whatever the consequences, it’ll be worth it.”

No, it wouldn’t be worth it, my mind screamed. I didn’t want to lose Laeddin. I didn’t want to be without him.

Professor Pops pulled the book back toward him. “I will tell the chayot what your plan is.” His features softened. “Maybe you should let me tell your mom and dad too? Let them help?”

I shook my head. “No. I—we can do this.” I gave Laeddin a quick look for verification that we could in fact do this. He nodded, so I continued. “I believe Maleficent will reverse the curse and then I can get back to normal.” My shoulders turned in and I bowed my head. My wish to be normal seemed stupid, but I couldn’t change how I felt. I wanted high school? Didn’t I? Or was I just being stubborn? And didn’t want to believe my mom and dad might have been right all along? I blew out my breath.

Professor Pops’ face was grave. I figured as soon as we left he’d tell them. I just hoped Laeddin and I could accomplish our goal before my mom and dad interfered.

“While the two of you are gone the chayot will make sure your friends are kept safe.” He stood and went to his office door. Opened it.

Laeddin and I went to the door. Professor Pops clamped a hand on Laeddin’s shoulder. “Take care of yourself.” He turned to me. “And my granddaughter. If anything were to happen to her…” he trailed off. My stoic grandfather was choked up.

Seeing his emotions so close to the surface brought mine up as well.

“I will.” Laeddin tried to smile.

“Please let me know when you’ve returned,” Professor Pops said, wrapping me in a hug. “I love you, you know.”

“Love you too, Pops.”

Until that moment I’d never seen him be anything but calm and collected. I could tell by the strength of his embrace that he didn’t want to let me go.

I hugged him tighter. Help from him and my parents probably wouldn’t be so bad, but something inside wouldn’t let me ask. I wanted to do this. I wanted to prove to them that I wasn’t a child. Still, I couldn’t help wondering how my mom would handle the situation is she were me.

“We will,” I said.

Laeddin and I followed Professor Pops to the front door. Someone watched us from upstairs. I glanced up and saw Troy. When he realized I’d caught him, he backed away.

“Thank you for stopping by.” Professor Pops opened the door and we walked into the chilled night.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Twenty-Seven

&We walked toward the house,& but I got the sense Laeddin didn’t intend to take us all the way back. “What’s the plan?” I asked. The selfish part of me wanted to put off the confrontation with Maleficent for as long as possible. I didn’t want to lose him just like I’d lost Abby.

If Maleficent even agrees, my mind whispered. And part of me didn’t want her to. I kept going back to my wishes. I had two left. Couldn’t I just wish the genies were no longer demura? What would happen if I did? Would all of them disappear? Did that include Laeddin? I wasn’t ready to have him be gone.

Before Laeddin could answer, a golden carpet landed at our feet, shimmering in the moonlight. Laeddin stepped on and held out a hand for me.

“Are you serious?” I asked, holding my ground. Riding on something was not the same as flying with wings.

Laeddin smiled sadly. “A magic carpet is one of my favorite ways to travel.”

I glanced around at the houses in our neighborhood. They weren’t close together. Trees, shrubs, flowers, and great expanses of land separated one house from the next. “Won’t we be seen?”

“No,” he whispered. “That’s part of the carpet’s magic.”

I hesitantly climbed on. Flying was my thing, but I hadn’t ever done it without my wings.

“It’s safe, don’t worry.” He wrapped his arms around my waist. As soon as I was on, the carpet took off. I couldn’t help it, I squealed. Laeddin chuckled. “Do you want to sit?”

We zoomed up and out over the trees. In the distance were the lights of the city of Boston. The higher we went in the sky, the bigger the moon and stars seemed to become. We were flying fast, and the wind should’ve whipped through my hair, but it was as calm as it’d been on the ground.

“This is crazy,” I said as we flew past a tall building.

He pulled me closer. “It is,” he agreed.

“So where are we going?” I leaned over the edge, watching people and cars go by.

“Back to the home of my youth. Maleficent is still there. I want to try to sneak up on her. It’s highly unlikely that’ll happen, but maybe she’ll be asleep.” Laeddin brushed a piece of my hair out of my face.

“Okay.” I gulped down a knot of pain. “If this is going to take a while, I may sit.” I kneeled down, pulling Laeddin down too. His aqua eyes held mine. There was so much I didn’t know about him; so much I still wanted to know. “What if I wished the world and everything but us just froze?”

Laeddin sat and crossed his legs. “What would be the purpose of that wish?” he asked, gently.

“We could have more time together,” I said simply.

“That’s not a bad wish. It’s very sweet actually.” He took my hands, weaving my fingertips with his. “But then what? We’d be together in a world held frozen in time until…”

“I know.” I sighed, understanding the wish was greedy and completely irrational.

“No, I’m serious. It’s probably obvious I have feelings for you. I’ve tried to keep them in check. When you grazed me with your teeth, it took every ounce of effort I possessed not to kiss you right then and there.”

I blinked. “I thought you were angry.”

“I was.” He gave a wry smile. “Jasmine, I’m an old, old man and I was pretending to be your parental guardian. It felt like if I gave in I’d be taking advantage of you, of your youth and your innocence.” As he spoke, his thumb caressed the inside of one of my hands. It was distracting.

“I’m not that young and innocent,” I said, trying not to sound too upset. I wasn’t a child for goodness sake.

“You are, Jasmine—”

I started to interrupt but he put a finger over my lips.

“The truth is, I wouldn’t mind spending several eternities with you.”

“Really?” I smiled. That was the sweetest thing I’d ever heard.

Then Laeddin did something so completely unexpected. He leaned in and kissed me.

I didn’t dare breathe, thinking he’d remember that it was me he kissed, or he’d change his mind, but he didn’t. His lips softened, caressing mine.

Flames of desire and need and hunger arose in me with abandon. I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him back with fervor.

His lips moved against mine, matching my need. Laeddin pulled me onto his lap and I wrapped my legs around him.

“Jasmine.” He said my name but I didn’t know how. His lips never left mine. They demanded more. His tongue pressed my lips apart, exploring, tangling with mine.

When our lips finally parted, we both were breathing heavily.

It was my first real kiss.

“That,” he began, taking my face in his hands, “was amazing.”

I nodded, unable to speak. I wanted to do it again. But I wanted to taste him even more. I wanted his blood in my mouth, on my tongue, in my body. I wanted him.

He seemed to recognize my need.

“After,” he said with a smile.

Immediately I knew he meant if we got out of this situation, if he didn’t turn to dust, and we were able to be together, he’d let me drink from him. That alone increased my determination to somehow make sure he wouldn’t die.

Suddenly the world around us shimmered and we shot through a hole in the sky. The darkness seemed to open up and swallow us and then spit us out again. I closed my eyes for the briefest moment, fighting dizziness. When I opened them again, we were in a totally new land.

“We’re here,” Laeddin breathed.

I untangled myself from him and stood. “Where’s here?” The landscape was different than the human realm and that of Sharra. The colors seemed more vibrant.

The carpet landed in a deep green meadow. Laeddin took my hand and we stepped off the carpet together.

“This is the home of my youth. Welcome to Debania.”

“It’s breathtaking,” I said, not sure where to look first.

Green ivy covered what I guessed had been a dwelling of some kind. It had crumbled with time and age. Colorful flowers bloomed everywhere on trees, bushes, and ground cover. The air seemed to cling to my skin, like the spray of perfume. It was heavy with spicy fragrance.

I walked over to a tree and plucked a fruit. The color was reminiscent of an orange. I peeled back the skin and sniffed. “What kind of fruit is this?”

“May I?”

I handed the fruit over. He finished peeling it, separated one of the sections and popped it in his mouth. After he swallowed he said, “It’s an orange palm.”

“What does it taste like?” I’d never tried human food and up until that moment hadn’t ever wanted to. But the smell was amazing. I thought that if I were ever to eat human food an orange palm would be what I would want.

Laeddin smiled. It was large and full of joy. “It tastes like an orange and a pomegranate combined.”

“Mmmmm,” I said even though I didn’t know what either tasted like.

Laeddin ate another piece as he walked forward. “That used to be the main house.” He pointed at the building covered in ivy. “This was our fruit grove.” He jogged past the building. I followed. “See there?”

“Yes.” Another crumbled building was covered in more ivy.

“That was the servants’ quarters. Behind that were the stables.” He continued on.

I kept after him, enjoying his boyish excitement, knowing he was putting off our unavoidable meeting between Maleficent. If she did reverse the curse, it would mean Laeddin would be gone and I would be alone again.

“If we were to keep going another mile or so, we’d find an incredible group of waterfalls.” He glanced at me and then in the direction of the falls. “Want to see them?”

I did. Terribly. It was wonderful seeing this side of him. “Are they close to where Maleficent lives?” I didn’t want to bring it up, but I couldn’t help myself. It was the reason we were here.

Some of the happiness left his face. “It is, actually.” Laeddin took my hand. “That’s why we’re walking. If I don’t use my magic, we will hopefully be able to sneak up on her, and maybe just maybe that surprise will be enough to convince her to reverse the curse.” He’d said the words, but they weren’t convincing. I guessed she probably already knew we were here. But he wasn’t ready to face her yet and neither was I.

After a short time, it became apparent we had an audience. The creatures had dark brown fur covering their bodies. Closer to the head, the color changed a golden color. Their faces were a robin’s egg blue in color. When the sunlight struck the blue color just right, their faces looked like skulls.

They lined the trees, covering the branches and scaring away the birds. Like soldiers standing at attention, waiting for orders.

“What are they?” I whispered.

“Skull monkeys,” Laeddin responded, squeezing my hand.

“I should’ve guessed.”

Laeddin chuckled. “They are the keepers of the land. As long as we don’t do anything they deem disrespectful, they won’t bother us.”

I wanted to ask him if he had a list of items they would consider disrespectful, but I was too nervous.

They didn’t seem to bother Laeddin at all. As we walked along some unseen path, he pointed out the different birds, insects, trees, and flowers indigenous to this part of the world. The most interesting was a black flower that was bigger than my hand. Seven large leaves made up the base and there were several smaller flowers inside, like a large black cotton ball. Its center was red as were the veins within the petals, making the flower appear to be dripping blood. “What is that one called?”

He smiled, plucked one of the flowers and put it behind my ear. The aroma was deep and luscious. “It’s a frevara au regalia.” He leaned in and sniffed the flower he’d placed in my hair. “One of our gardeners created it for the Queen. In our language, frevara au regalia literally translates to the Queen of Hearts.

“I like that.” I turned so that our faces were inches apart. His scent was everywhere. His eyes flickered to my lips. “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.”

Laeddin leaned down, his breath caressing my lips. “I have.” He cupped my face in his hands.

I shivered, and raised my face, the desire to kiss him again overwhelming. For the briefest moment I forgot everything except my need for his lips on mine.

Until the screaming began. I gasped, my heart pounding in my throat. “What’s that?”

Laeddin glanced to either side of us, stepping back. “The skull monkeys. Perhaps I shouldn’t have picked the flower?” He grinned mischievously.

I looked in the trees. They moved like they were alive. “What are they doing?” I moved closer to him. “Should we be worried?”

“If you weren’t a vampire and I wasn’t a genie, I would say yes.” He winked. “But I think we can take care of ourselves.”

Laeddin grabbed my hand and ran the rest of the way to the waterfalls. When we came to a stop, neither of us was breathing heavily, but his hair was windblown, which meant mine probably was too. I didn’t care though. The scenery was amazing.

“Wow.” There were at least a dozen waterfalls, two of which were incredibly large while the rest were smaller. “This place is magical,” I breathed.

“It is,” he agreed, pulling me forward.

We continued hand in hand until we arrived at the base of the closest waterfall. Mist coated my body and wet my hair so that it hung damp in my eyes.

“Take off your shoes.” As Laeddin spoke he removed his. They were loafers and just slid off. Mine were Converse and took a little more time.

When they were off I followed Laeddin to the edge of the pool surrounding the waterfall. The ground under my feet was squishy and mud seeped between my toes.

“Hurry,” he demanded, his eyes alight with joy.

I dipped one toe in and then another. It was tepid, like lukewarm bath water.

“Feels good, right?” He moved his hands along the surface of the water, splashing me.

“I can’t believe you just did that.”

He splashed me again. “Believe it, Jasmine.”

“You’re in so much trouble.” I dove in, going for his legs, determined to knock him off his feet, and soak him. But as soon as my hands touched his calves he lifted me out of the water.

“Heyyyy,” I whined, until I took a good look at his face. “What?”

He pulled me to him. “Do not say a word. No matter what. She isn’t to know what you are.”

“But—”

“No,” Laeddin barked quietly.

I nodded, acknowledging that I understood the worry behind his words.

He let go and moved so that he was in front of me. His hand rested on my hip, keeping me firmly in place. I slowly turned around. The “she” Laeddin mentioned was tall. Her skin was slightly tinted green and she was dressed from head to toe in black. In her right hand she held a long staff tipped with a deep purple orb, which gave off an eerie glow. I knew immediately she was Maleficent.

Seeing her made me realize I wasn’t scared, but suddenly very sad. If Laeddin convinced her to remove the curse, what would happen to him? What would happen to me? I hadn’t even made my second wish yet.

“Laeddin. How long has it been?” Her voice was at once loud and soft, melodic and grating.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Twenty-Eight

&Laeddin found& my hand under the water. He took it in his. “Two thousand years, Maleficent. You look well.” I felt his shoulders shrug. “You look the same.”

Her thin lips curled into a smile. “So do you, youngest son.” As she spoke hundreds of skull monkeys appeared behind her. They sounded like a cheering crowd. Maleficent raised her bony hand and they quieted. “Who is the girl you have with you?”

Laeddin’s hand tightened around mine. I knew he was telling me not to say a word, so I kept quiet.

“This is Jackie. She’s my newest mistress.”

“Ahhhhh, well step out from behind the genie, child. Let me have a look at you.” She waved her hand and Laeddin was forcefully pushed away.

I really didn’t want to look at her, so I pretended to be a shy human.

“There’s no need to fear me or the skull monkeys. We mean you no harm.” She glided along the ground as though she were floating.

I nodded.

Maleficent squinted shrewdly.

“Why have you come back to Debania, Laeddin?”

“Perhaps you can allow Jackie and me to climb out of the water and we can go someplace more comfortable.” His hand found mine under the water again.

“There’s no need, Laeddin.” Her voice became more grating. “Unless I like what you have to say, you’ll pay for coming back here.”

Anger simmered in my heart. The sorceress had better not harm him.

“We’ve come to ask that you remove the curse. It’s been two thousand years.” He raised the hand not holding mine out of the water in a pleading manner.

Maleficent began laughing, hard and sinister. Just as quickly as she began, she stopped. Snapped her fingers and the skull monkeys rushed us.

Laeddin turned and murmured to me. “They won’t hurt us. Hold very still and say nothing.”

I nodded just as one of the monkeys lifted me out of the water and carried me over its head. It seemed incredibly strong. I dropped my head so that I could look behind and see what was happening to Laeddin. A skull monkey had picked him up and was carrying him overhead as well.

Seeing that he was okay, I moved my head to see where the monkey was taking me. It walked a short distance and then stopped. I wanted to ask what was happening but I held my tongue.

Maleficent was unexpectedly in front of me. “For your insolence I’ve decided to let you spend the next decade within the Caves of Vipers. If, after ten years, you’ve survived, I’ll consider your request.

My skull monkey lifted me high above its head and I realized it was going to drop me. While Laeddin and I could easily last ten years down there, my friends didn’t have that luxury. And what would my parents think if I was gone that long? They would be frantic. What would happen if they tried to come after me?

“Wait,” I yelled.

The skull monkey froze. Maleficent stepped closer. “What is it, dear?”

“If you throw us into the cave, I can just wish us free and then Laeddin will just ask again. Isn’t there another way?”

Maleficent was standing directly above me. “You want something different than he does, don’t you?”

I swallowed.

She continued, “Oh, this is wonderful. You want him. The genie has become important to you.”

I lifted my chin defiantly. “So?” It was true. In my heart of hearts I wanted him to survive. That was the wish I held close. But it was so selfish.

“So, why don’t you ask me what you want? Maybe I’ll consider it.” Her dress swished as she moved.

“Is there a way to take the curse from Laeddin and his brothers without making Laeddin disappear or die?” As the words came out I felt like a silly child.

“Did you hear that, Laeddin? The child has feelings for you.” She touched my face and flinched. “You pulse with magic.” She gasped. “You are a vampire.” She turned me in the monkey’s hands so that my back faced her. I didn’t look at Laeddin. I couldn’t. His fear reached out and strangled me. I couldn’t see Maleficent’s expression when she lifted my shirt but I heard the sharp intake of breath. “You are an Original.” She placed me on my feet. “This changes everything.”

“It does,” I asked, hopeful.

“Of course.” She snapped her fingers and all of the monkeys vanished. The sounds of birds and insects returned.

Laeddin took hold of my hand. “Knowing what she is changes nothing, Maleficent.”

I snuck a look at him. His face was hard with resolve.

Oh, yeah. He was furious. I swallowed, ignoring the racing of my heart. He obviously had no idea how serious I was about keeping him in my life.

“Why does my being an Original Vampire change things, Maleficent?”

The slight grin she’d been wearing increased to a full-fledged smile. “There’s something I want and only you can give it to me.”

“Really?” I had no idea what that could be.

“Oh, yes. If you give me what I want, I will remove the curse from the brothers…”

I was about to interrupt her, but she held up a hand, knowing what I wanted to say. “And I’ll make sure Laeddin returns to your time exactly as he is now.” She peered down her straight nose. “I am a sorceress of my word.”

My heart lifted. I couldn’t help it. That would solve everything. My human friends would be safe from the demura and Laeddin would still be with me.

[_What if he’s tired of living, _]I asked myself. That was a possibility. But he had just kissed me and told me he’d be willing to spend eternities with me. His words meant something, didn’t they? I glanced at him. He wouldn’t meet my gaze, instead keeping his focus on some unseen thing.

“Do we have a deal?” Maleficent stood so close I could smell her, a mixture of decay and bitter herbs.

“What do you want?” For some reason I was suddenly nervous.

“I want you to give me your wings in exchange for all that I have promised.”

I gasped. “My wings?”

“Do not do it. We can find another way.” Laeddin faced me, desperation now clear on his face. He took my chin in his hand and made me look at him. “No.” His eyes softened. “Please. Don’t.”

I thought about what giving up my wings would truly mean. Never flying again. Never lifting into the air. Never feeling the breeze caress my body or whisper through my wings. A week ago I couldn’t get rid of them fast enough. I’d wanted nothing more than a normal life. One without wings, like my mom and dad, my uncles and Cindy.

Not forever though. A hole formed in the pit of my stomach. If I gave them up, Cam and the other humans would be safe. Was it a fair trade?

“You don’t know what’ll happen to you if they’re gone. Your wings are a part of who you are, Jasmine.” Laeddin begged with his eyes, asking me to listen.

But I didn’t. I pulled myself from Laeddin’s grasp and faced Maleficent. “My wings are yours, after I have proof that the demura are gone and the genies are no longer cursed.”

Her lip curled in what I guessed was supposed to be a grin. “You have a deal.”

Laeddin jumped forward, grabbing her arm. “She isn’t from our realm, Maleficent. You can’t make a deal with her. It’s against the rules of magic.”

Maleficent cackled, pushing him away from her as though he were made of paper. “I just did.” She struck the ground once with her staff. A circular light shot from the ground and radiated across the land.

Laeddin fell to his knees. I watched, waiting for the tattoos around his wrists to vanish.

“Watch,” Maleficent commanded. The scenery in front of me swirled like wet watercolors. And before my eyes was a new landscape. I watched a demura about to enter a body, but it suddenly stopped, glanced in my direction and then vanished. “That’s one.”

From behind I heard Laeddin gasp. One of his brothers had just been killed before his eyes. I wanted to go to him, hug him and tell him I was sorry. I wanted to take away his pain, but I couldn’t. Not while Maleficent was there. Not while I needed to make sure all the demura were gone.

A similar scene to the first happened ten more times. With every death, Laeddin’s pain seemed to grow. It became almost its own living thing, an object I could reach out and touch. Would he be able to forgive me?

The final demura was the one in Salem. “That is Iza. He is stalking the young man. Do you see?”

The young man she mentioned was Cam. He carried a backpack and walked nervously down a trail in the forest. The demura hovered above, trailing a little way behind, like the tail of a kite. “What are you doing in the woods?” I whispered.

He seemed to hear and turned. “Jack, is that you?”

I covered my mouth.

The demura floated in front of Cam. “Can you tell me where your friend is?”

Cam tried to run backward, away from the demura, but he tripped over a tree root and fell.

The demura drew closer. “Make it stop,” I shouted.

Iza changed direction and headed my way. It didn’t get far before it evaporated and disappeared just as the others had.”

I sighed with relief. Cam was safe.

The swirling scenery faded and I could no longer see Cam.

“There, you’ve witnessed the demura are gone.”

I was afraid to look at Laeddin, but I had to verify his tattoos had been removed. He’d told me they would vanish when we was no longer a genie. Sorrow etched his brow.

Laeddin, my mind cried, wanting nothing more than to wish his pain away.

Laeddin checked his wrists at the same time I did. The tattoos were still there.

“What about Laeddin? He still wears the mark of the genie.”

Maleficent laughed. “I said I would free the brothers from the curse, but I didn’t say which ones. You should be glad I reversed the curse on the eleven demura.”

“That isn’t what we agreed on.” I stepped forward. If I had to I would drain the sorceress dry. Take her blood for my own and show her she was messing with the wrong girl.

“Oh, but it is, Jasmine.” Her eyes glowed the color of the orb on her staff. “Give me my wings, vampire.” Her staff struck the ground and a dark light rippled out. As soon as it reached me, it crawled up my body. Pain radiated from my back. It was as though Maleficent had torn the wings from my back with her bare hands.

I screamed and screamed and screamed until my throat went raw. At some point I felt strong hands lift me and I wondered if it was the skull monkey preparing to throw me into the Cave of Vipers.

I didn’t care. The pain radiating from my back was so intense I wanted nothing more than to die. Death would’ve been preferable to the agonizing ripping and clawing.

My mind swirled with shadowy creatures. They whispered and chattered. I strained to hear, but I couldn’t understand.

Two shapeless creatures swirled around.

“She is close.”

Yes, her end is near.”

“This is better than we could’ve have planned.”

“It’s delicious. The vampire will easily take her now.”

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Twenty-Nine

&We were& no longer in Laeddin’s world. The scent around me had changed. I knew I’d been brought back to the human world, to the house that was my mother’s. I wanted to open my eyes, talk to Laeddin, but my body wouldn’t allow it.

Somehow I was still connected to Maleficent.

I watched her fly through the night, using my wings. She was no longer clad in black, but wore blood red pants and a shirt that contrasted sharply with my wings. She reminded me of someone, but as soon as I had the thought, it vanished.

I watched Maleficent attack a human. His eyes stared lifelessly into the night as she drained him dry. That caused my mind to reel with disbelief. Had my wings changed Maleficent into a vampire? When she finished drinking, she flew into Sharra and descended on Titan’s mountain.

Row after row of crypts lined the catacombs inside the mountain. I had no idea so many magical creatures had been imprisoned.

Maleficent roamed the crypts, until she found the one she wanted. Then she opened it.

A female vampire lay inside. Maleficent tore a gash in her wrist and placed the wound over the vampire’s mouth. After several moments, the vampire corpse grabbed on to Maleficent’s wrist.

“Drink, Velencia. We have much work to do.”

As Velencia drank another vampire entered the catacombs.

“What are you doing here? I know you’ve served under the new Queen.”

The vampire bowed low. “I’ve seen the error of my ways and have come to realize Snow White is not the ruler we need. It is you.”

Maleficent gave her an evil grin. “Well, Ciana, that you knew I was here tells me your loyalties are at least somewhat true. I may have use for you.”

“Thank you,” Ciana said, standing upright.

My already sickened heart sank deeper into despair. I’d believed Ciana to be my friend, almost like a second mother.

Maleficent suddenly seemed to realize I watched her. She hissed, allowing her fangs to show. Shocked, I tried to get away. Maleficent smiled and lifted a hand across my eyes.

My mind went numb. Life no longer glinted in a kaleidoscope of colors. There was only gray.

Loud voices erupted all around me. I wanted to make them to stop, but I was too tired.

“If we don’t take her back to Sharra, she’ll die.” That was a guy’s voice. It was strange, but it sounded like Peter. How would he know about Sharra? The question sparked me into action. I tried to open my eyes, but couldn’t.

“I can’t let you. She is bound to me and I cannot disobey her wish.” Laeddin sounded pained, like he ached to help, but my wish demanded I stay in the human world.

“You have to let us. You must. It’s been a week since you brought her back and nothing’s changed. She hasn’t moved.” It sounded like Zoe’s voice, but that was impossible. If Zoe and Peter were from Sharra I would’ve recognized them. I knew nearly every magical creature in my land, and certainly vampires. Unless… could it be? I went back over the past couple of weeks. The brief time we’d spent together. Each time though I was left with a sense of compassion. I was drawn to them. Looking over our interactions it was obvious. It shocked me I hadn’t realized who they really were before now.

Zoe and Peter were…

“She’s waking,” Laeddin whispered. “And I can’t let you take her back. Maleficent didn’t break the bond between Jasmine and me. She still has two wishes and I cannot be separated from her until I grant them.”

“You can come back too,” Zoe insisted.

“No, I can’t. Her first wish still holds. She must remain in the human world.” Laeddin’s voice echoed with finality.

“Ugh! Fine.”

“Don’t tell her what you know. We’ll find a way to help her on her terms.” That was Peter’s voice.

“Keep our secret, genie. If you care for her the way I believe you do, don’t say a word. Obviously her wish is important, even now. Perhaps if I would’ve been more understanding we wouldn’t be in this situation,” Zoe said.

“Nonsense,” Peter added.

My mind was whirling. How did they know? Why hadn’t they said anything?

And if they were in the human world, what was to become of Sharra?

THE END of Vampire Lies:

Continue Jasmine’s story by reading[* VAMPIRE SECRETS. *]Turn the page to read the first three chapters free.

_________

***

Or, if you’d rather read the next book in the BLOOD AND SNOW world, you can download book one in the BEASTLY series:[* A Beauty so Beastly*], which is Belle’s fairy tale.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Vampire Secrets

Be careful what you wish for…

I’d heard the saying before. Many times, in fact. Every creature from the fairies to the trolls had repeated the words at least twice throughout my fifteen years.

In a land like Sharra, where magic was everywhere, granting a wish was as simple as thinking about what I wanted. If I hungered I wished an apple would taste like blood and it would happen. If I needed a drink, I could wish raindrops into blood and drink until I was full.

Of course no one had possessed the power to grant my ultimate wish, the one I’d stayed up nights dreaming about—that I would no longer have wings and I could live the life of a normal teenaged girl.

That was until I met a genie named Laeddin and his creator, Maleficent.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. CHAPTER ONE

“Ms. Ryder? Are you listening?” Mr. Henry looked over the top of his reading glasses.

“Uh, sorry. What was the question?” As I spoke I scrunched down in my chair. Several students snickered. One—a guy named Drake—called me a freak. My blood boiled, but I pushed it down. A quick glance at the clock above the door confirmed history class would be over two minutes. Two horrendously long minutes.

“Was the Civil War necessary to abolish slavery?” Mr. Henry, or as his adoptive sons and their sons liked to call him: Professor Pops stood and came around his desk, removing his reading glasses and tucking them into the pocket of his tan sweater. I would never tell him this, but the students at school called him Mr. Rogers. The description fit. He always wore a sweater over a button down shirt and he always wore slacks with the same pair of loafers. Personally, I thought it was weird he’d mostly retired from teaching at Harvard and taken a job as a high school teacher. I had the feeling he didn’t need the money. Plus he said he liked it. Who was I to question his sanity? I knew he was really old, like more than a thousand. So it probably had something to do with him wanting to pass the time.

I hadn’t been in school for more than a month while my body healed and my mind worked through the loss of my wings. Professor Pops had taken some time off as well. Laeddin said he’d gone to help one of his sons, a boy by the name of Cole. I’d never met him, but apparently he’d gotten himself into some kind of trouble. I was thinking drugs, but didn’t know for sure.

Troy, one of Professor Pops’ grandsons had gone with him. He was back too, but wasn’t the same. His smile was gone. The girl he’d been making out with now gave him dirty looks in the hall when they passed.

“Ms. Ryder?” Mr. Henry said again.

I snapped out of it. “Abolishing slavery was necessary. Equal rights for all is an intrinsic part of every human life. As for the—”

The bell rang. Thank the gods of all realms.

Mr. Henry returned to his seat. We weren’t excused until he said so. But I felt the tension in the room. It was Friday and this was the last class of the day. Everyone had their books closed and in their arms, ready to bolt as soon as Mr. Henry gave the word.

“Your paper on the very question I just asked Ms. Ryder is due next Wednesday. If you haven’t started, you’d better take some time this weekend. I want you to give me your honest opinion and back it up.”

I heard several classmates groan. I think I was one of them. I hadn’t started my paper yet, though I had an idea about what I wanted to say.

Mr. Henry removed his glasses from his pocket again and slid them on his nose. “You are excused. Have a good weekend.”

I waited for a girl I didn’t know and her friend to pass by my desk. I went to stand, but heard a hiss in my ear. “Freak.” It was Drake.

“Yeah, you said that already,” I returned, not looking at him. My whole body shook with anger and some fear. When Maleficent ripped away my wings she took so much more, including my super abilities to hear and see better than humans. My strength was gone too. Everything that made me, me was missing.

I was just a shell of the creature I’d been before. I didn’t need to drink blood either. Couldn’t even smell it.

Drake laughed and slapped me on the back. I jerked like he’d just branded me with a fiery poker. The black tattoo on my back had turned red and scarred. “Freak.”

“Ms. Ryder, may I speak with you, please?” The classroom had nearly cleared and I had a straight shot of Professor Pops. He wasn’t focused on me, but on Drake.

Drake straightened, readjusted his book, and continued down the aisle. When he was at the door, he glanced back and made the motion that I should hang myself.

“Mr. Smythe, one more like that and you’ll have detention with me all week.”

Drake gasped, his eyes bugging out of his head. I understood why. Professor Pops wasn’t facing Drake but me. I wanted to laugh at the look on stupid Drake Symthe’s face, but I didn’t.

“What’s it going to be?” Professor Pops asked when Drake didn’t leave.

“But you don’t run detention,” Drake said.

Slowly Professor Pops faced him. “Mr. Smythe, I’ll make a special exception for you.”

Drake ran from the room.

“Did you want to come over for dinner tonight? I believe Troy is making his famous steak and potatoes.”

At the thought of steak my mouth watered. Troy was an excellent cook—at least when it came to his steak. It was really all he cooked.

“Hmmm, sounds good.”

“Actually Pops I won’t be home until late tonight. I’m going out with Peter and Zoe.” Troy walked in, his backpack over his shoulder. Peter and Zoe were right behind him.

My heart immediately lifted when I saw those two. I wasn’t sure why I responded to them the way I did, but I really liked them. They were friendly, kind-hearted, and fun.

Zoe had short red hair, a gazillion freckles and grass green eyes. Peter was tan with dark hair and eyes that almost looked black, except when the light hit them just right. Then they were like water in oil, their color shifting from one end of the rainbow to the other. They were cool and reminded me a little of my dad’s eyes. I’d said as much to him one night. Peter had laughed and said that was awesome.

When I became fully conscious after my deal with Maleficent, Peter and Zoe’s faces had been the first two I saw. Laeddin said the two of them somehow knew Professor Pops, that they understood about the supernatural, and that they wanted to help. I didn’t know what they were, if they were anything, and I didn’t care. Though, since Zoe constantly wore peppermint like I used to, I guessed she had to be a vampire.

They’d become permanent fixtures in my house as well as Professor Pops’ and I didn’t want it any other way. I adored them even if I knew nothing about them. In fact, even after a month of spending nearly every day with them, I still had no idea where they lived.

All I knew about them was that that they’d recently moved here from out of the country and that his dad and her mom were foreign diplomats. The government moved their families around together, which is why Peter and Zoe had become boyfriend and girlfriend. It seemed super lucky to me. I couldn’t imagine one without the other. They didn’t look anything alike but they fit. And the chemistry between them? It was so strong, so powerful. I didn’t need to have vampire powers to feel it.

“What are you guys doing?” I asked, trying not to sound sad that they hadn’t thought to invite me.

Peter and Zoe gave each other a look, one that said they were having a conversation without using their mouths. Troy coughed. “Well, we’re going to—”

“Why don’t you take Jasmine with you?” Professor Pops said.

Zoe gasped. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Professor Pops. She hasn’t completely healed yet.”

Peter and Troy nodded in agreement.

“It’s okay, Professor Pops. If they don’t want me to go with them, I don’t have to.” An ache twisted my heart. It hurt not to be included. Even if I did appreciate why they didn’t want me to go. I wasn’t healed, but without my wings I didn’t think I ever would be. I had to find a way to accept my new life.

Laeddin had suggested I tell my parents, see if there was a way they could help, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. They would be so disappointed with my decisions. They wouldn’t understand.

“I think it would be a great idea. Tonight is supposed to be a recon mission, right?”

They nodded as one. Zoe’s face seemed to be getting paler by the second. Even her freckles appeared lighter. Peter shrugged like he was okay with it and Troy? Well he just looked the way I felt, like an empty husk. I wanted to find out what was wrong, but there hadn’t been an opportunity yet.

Professor Pops cleared his throat. He began organizing and gathering the papers on his desk. “She needs to know what’s going on. You can’t keep if from her any longer.” He glared at Peter and Zoe. Peter shuffled his feet, uncomfortable. Zoe lifted her chin. Professor Pops turned his stony glare on me. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the many centuries I’ve been alive it’s that secrets don’t protect, they don’t save, or shield.” He shook his head. “When secrets come out, and trust me, they will, they serve only to hurt, hinder, and create bigger problems.” He put his briefcase on the desk, flipped the metal clasps, and opened it. An aroma of fresh wood immediately hit my nose. It was a good smell. Reminded me of Professor Pops.

I watched him tuck several stacks of papers inside and then the lid shut.

I swallowed down the lump in my throat knowing he was right. And the truth was I missed my parents terribly, but I wasn’t ready to face them yet. Better they didn’t know where I was. When they found out all hell would break loose.

I also missed Sabrina. So, so much. If I went back to Sharra and told my parents then I could see her, even if it would be briefly since I’d probably be grounded for life or worse, put on troll duty.

“Fine,” Zoe said. “You can come.”

I shook my head, fiddling with the frayed edges of my history book. “Really, I don’t want to put you guys out. Go do whatever it is you’re going to do without me. I was thinking I’d watch a movie with Laeddin tonight.

At the mention of Laeddin, Peter’s features became hard. “No. We’d love to have you hang with us.”

“Yes, we need a fourth,” Troy added.

“Excellent,” Professor Pops said, moving past us, and then standing at the door, indicating we should leave. Troy got there first. “I won’t be around this weekend.” His steely eyes found Troy’s. I watched as something I couldn’t understand passed between them. “I’ve got a few things to do, but I’ll be back on Monday.”

Troy’s shoulders slumped. “I understand.”

“Good.” He grasped Troy’s arm. “Can you stay behind a moment? I need to speak with you privately.”

Troy ran a hand through his hair. “Sure.”

“See you Monday, Zoe, Peter, Jasmine.” He winked at each of us as we walked out the door, then shut it behind us.

The three of us walked down the hall. The school was mostly empty. Debris littered the floor. White poster board covered in glitter and red, white, and black paint adorned the walls, announcing the coming Winter Formal. The theme was: A Sky Full of Enchanted Stars.

Peter kicked a piece of wadded up paper and caught it in his free hand.

“How was school today?” Peter asked, tossing the paper into the trash.

“Fine,” I said.

“You feeling any more like yourself?” Zoe asked.

I kept my eyes on the floor, blinking a few times so that I wouldn’t cry. It meant a lot that they cared. Cameron wasn’t around as much. Not since Abby died and I’d left school without telling him and then been out for a few weeks. I got it. I did. But I missed him.

As if on cue, he appeared on the stairs from the second floor.

“Hey, Cam,” I hollered.

He turned and smiled. Today he wore his curly black hair cropped super short, like he’d just gotten it cut. His brown eyes were sad against his handsome face, but his clothes were as fashion forward as ever. He wore pink jeans with a black button down shirt and black and pink suede shoes. “Hey, Jack.” The diamond studs he wore on his ears sparkled in the light from the window as he turned back around and kept walking. But his smile gave me hope.

“Can I catch up with you two at Pops’ house later?”

“Okay. We’re leaving at seven,” Zoe said, her lips pursed tightly.

“I’ll be there,” I responded and then ran after Cam. I needed to talk to him. No time like the present to make things right. “Cam,” I hollered when he reached the bottom step and kept walking. “Wait a sec.”

He didn’t stop and my heart sank. Cam hadn’t forgiven me. In fact, it seemed like he didn’t care at all. But I couldn’t stop trying.

“Cam,” I shouted again.

He seemed to walk faster. Two could play at that game. When he went out the front doors, I started running. I pushed open the door and paused, looking in both directions to see which way he went.

He was at the curb and getting into a suped-up red and black Camaro. Just before he slammed the door, his eyes met mine. They were angry but mostly sad.

“Ugh,” I shouted, as he drove away, pounding my fists against my thighs and stomping one booted foot.

“Hey, freak. What’d those jeans ever do to you?” Drake snickered as he and his friend walked over.

I tried to push past them down the steps, but Drake grabbed the edge of my American Eagle tee shirt and held on. My history book fell, spilling papers everywhere.

“Don’t walk away from me, freak. Didn’t your freak parents ever teach you that’s rude?”

I gulped down my fear. There was no one around, no one to help, and I no longer had my vampire strength. “What do you want?” I asked through clenched teeth, trying not to let the fact that I was scared show.

He sneered. “What do we want from the freak, Sam?”

The guy with him that I guessed was Sam ran his hands down the front of my shirt, grabbing the loops of my jeans. “I think the freak should keep us company. She may be weird but she’s got a kick ass body.”

Drake huffed. “Yeah, no. Why don’t you go get your car and pull it around to the front while I stay here with her?”

“Sure thing, man.” Sam went down the steps and took a left toward the student parking lot. When he was out of sight, Drake gave me a once over.

“I know what you are. You’re disgusting and shouldn’t be in this realm.” Spit from his mouth hit my cheek while he spoke.

I wiped it away. “What do you mean?” I asked, even though I somehow knew he knew what I was. Even though it was impossible.

He wrapped my tee shirt around his fist, pulling me closer. “I know you’re a vampire. I can smell it on you.”

That surprised me. “Like right now you can?”

“Yes, you reek.”

I don’t know why but knowing that he knew made me happy. “Really? So what are you, then?”

His face got close to mine and I could smell his breath. It was a gross mixture of Mountain Dew and something else. I wasn’t sure what. “I’m a chayot, Jack. Ever heard of us?”

I gasped. “Whoa. My uncle Gabe used to be the leader of the chayot.”

“You know Gabe?” He leaned back a little shocked.

I shrugged. “We aren’t close. He lives in a different realm now, but yeah, like I said, he’s my uncle.”

Drake snorted. “Your uncle is an idiot. Anyone who would give up leadership of the chayot and turn away from his calling deserves eternal…”

He was interrupted by the appearance of an elfin woman. I felt my heart lurch at seeing her. In the human realm.

Midnight blue smoke swirled around her momentarily and then dissipated. She had blue-gray skin, ebony eyes, and long straight navy blue hair. Her clothes were steel leather. Black leather straps crisscrossed between her breasts, supporting what I guessed was a double sword harness from the look of the two sword handles that poked out behind either side of her head.

“Where did you come from?” Drake yelped. Even I heard the fear in his voice.

“The elven realm,” she said, stepping forward so that she and Drake were toe to toe. She was as tall as he was, nearly six feet. Drake moved back, but she took hold of the front of his shirt, giving him a vicious glare. “You are chayot though not a good one. Evil flows through your veins.” She inhaled deeply through her nose, her eyes narrowed into two slits. “I can see it.”

Drake’s mouth gaped open like a broken breadbox. “I don’t—” His face began to turn red. It looked like she was suffocating him. Yeah, I wasn’t a fan of Drake, but I didn’t want him to die.

“Hey. Stop. You’re hurting him.” I grabbed her hand. But as soon as I touched it, a vision filled my mind. One where the world was covered in darkness and the only light came from one woman. She was a vampire. Beautiful. Cruel. Not at all like my mom, Snow White, the Vampire Queen. And worst of all, she had my wings. I screamed.

The elf turned momentarily my direction. “You. What a waste.” She gave me a once over and clicked her tongue in her mouth. “You’ll be taken care of soon enough.” She twisted my hand off hers and flung me away. I landed on the ground at the bottom of the stairs and the concrete dug into my already tender back.

Facing Drake she said, “The Mistress will enjoy feeding from your essence and turning you into one of her underlings.” Drake’s body went slack and crumpled like a puppet without strings.

“What have you done?” I stood on wobbly legs. My back felt wet, like it was bleeding. It was a sensation I wasn’t used to. Physical pain was still new to me.

She turned back and smiled. “Don’t worry, Jasmine. The Mistress has plans for you as well.”

Drake’s body seemed to disintegrate right before my eyes.

“He’s gone to the Mistress. You’ll see him again. Without question. And he’ll be better than ever.” She vanished the same way she’d come, with a whoosh.

I stumbled back, hitting the stair rail. Pain blasted through my body again but I barely felt it. Shock over watching Drake die and turn to nothingness overwhelmed all my senses. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to gather my strength. Ever since Maleficent took my wings I’d been so weak.

“Hey, Jasmine. You alright?”

Without seeing him I knew it was Laeddin. A slight wind blew his scent toward me. I didn’t crave his blood anymore, but he had a particular aroma—exotic spices and oranges—that was mouth-watering. I took another deep breath. “Yeah, I’m fine.” I opened my eyes, drinking him in.

Laeddin was gorgeousness personified. His dark, slightly too long hair and aquamarine eyes against tan skin and a muscled body were like a digital painting.

Each of his wrists was tattooed in black tribal cuffs. To the general population the tattoos didn’t say much, except maybe he’d gone through a rebellious phase. But to those who understood the supernatural world, the marks declared Laeddin was a genie.

Laeddin didn’t wear the normal attire for a genie. He had on a faded pair of jeans and red tee shirt, the kind that cost six hundred bucks a piece. Behind him was his white Mercedes convertible. The top was still down due to the unseasonably warm weather we were having.

It was nearly December, but no one was wearing coats. The temperature had been hovering in the seventies for weeks, like an unexplained phenomenon. No one knew why. It was warm everywhere.

As he’d said many times, I was his master. I’d saved him from the same fate as his brothers, becoming a demura and then disappearing into the ether. But I hadn’t freed him, and every time I saw his tattoos I was reminded of my failure. I’d meant to free him, but Maleficent had played me. Laeddin and I couldn’t be together while I was his master and he was my servant. At least that was what he’d said.

“You sure?” He came forward and picked up my book and scattered papers.

“Yeah.” I tried to stand, but fell back.

Laeddin dropped my books and ran over. “You are not fine, Princess.” He put an arm around my waist and I flinched. “What the jinn?” He glanced at my back. “Your shirt is soaked with blood.” He helped me stand.

“Thanks,” I whispered.

“Come on. Let’s get you home.” His breath brushed against my cheek. It was like a sultry night cruising through the sky on his magic carpet.

I leaned into him. “Sounds good.”

He picked up my book and papers and then helped me into his car. When I was buckled he started the engine and drove away.

I tried to get comfortable, but when my shirt caught against my back I cried out. Laeddin sped up, pushing the car to get home faster. I closed my eyes and imagined I was flying with Sabrina. We chased a flock of blackbirds, diving through clouds and spinning through trees. Leaves whipped against my cheek. I felt the sting and my eyes watered. As we cruised along the babbling stream I stuck my hand in, allowing the cool water to tickle my fingers.

“We’re here,” Laeddin said softly. He turned off the engine. I opened my eyes and sighed. In reality there was no Sabrina. No wings. No flying.

Ever.

Again.

A sob ripped from my throat.

Laeddin came around and helped me out of the car.

“Can’t I wish the pain away? Or wish my wings back?” I pleaded with my eyes and my heart.

His arm brushed against my back. “Not without serious consequences.”

I stamped my foot. “Well maybe I don’t care about the consequences.”

Laeddin let out a ragged breath. “I told you not to do it.” He shut the car door and walked up to the house.

I froze. It occurred to me what I’d said. When I traded my wings away, it’d been to protect Laeddin. I hadn’t wanted him to disappear like his brothers had. Sure, they were no longer demura, but they no longer existed either. Maleficent agreed to keep Laeddin just as he was if I agreed to give her my wings. “Crap,” I hissed, following him inside.

I found him at a cupboard in the kitchen. “I’m sorry, Laeddin. I didn’t mean it,” I said, falling onto a kitchen stool, letting my head smack against the counter.

“Yes, you did. And that’s okay. I’ve been alive a long time. Lived my life. You shouldn’t have agreed to Maleficent’s deal.” I heard him set something on the counter and looked up. It was a plastic tote full of bandages, ointment, creams, sprays, and other items I didn’t know how to use.

“What are you going to do?” I asked, eyeing the tote nervously. While I’d never seen him use any of that stuff, my body responded to it. Pain was in my future.

Laeddin set a can of something labeled antiseptic on the counter and went to the sink where he washed his hands with hand soap. Then he took a washcloth from a drawer next to the sink and turned the water all the way to hot. “We need to take care of your back before infection sets in.” After a few moments, steam rose upward into his face, making his dark hair curl at the ends. I watched, fascinated. Once he was happy with the temperature, he got the washcloth wet, turned off the water, and wrung out the cloth. “This is going to hurt, but I need to clean out your injury and take a look at it.”

I nodded, too scared to say anything.

“Take off your shirt,” he said when he stood behind me.

It was crazy, but my face got hot. To cover up my embarrassment, I quickly pulled off the shirt.

“Unhook your bra. I would, but my hands are clean and I want to keep them that way.”

My face burned and I reached back and unhooked it, letting it fall to the sides. I heard his breath suck in and had a thought. “Can’t you just, you know, make it better with your genie magic?”

“I could,” he began, “but if I healed your back with my magic without cleaning everything out first, I might seal in some kind of infection, or worse.”

“Sure, but if that happened couldn’t you just use your magic to fix that too.” I thought about my magic. Since I was created by magic, surely my mom could have healed me. I could have too, if I had my wings. Using my wish to make my wings disappear had taken my magic. Maleficent ripping my wings out of me had taken all my vampire abilities. So now I was just a regular human, wasn’t I?

“My magic isn’t like yours. It doesn’t come from the source. It came from Maleficent. So, while it’s powerful, it’s also deceptive, which was Maleficent’s intention, I’m sure. The power I possess takes a wish literally.”

That made sense. “Okay.” My body trembled, my nerve endings responding to the anticipation of the hurt I would feel. “I’m just not used to pain.”

“I know, Princess, and I’m sorry.” He pressed the washcloth gently against my back.

I let out a scream, my body intuitively trying to shrink away from the pain.

“Hang on,” he said, his voice soothing.

I gritted my teeth. My instincts raged, demanding I turn around and end the genie because doing so would end the pain. But I held still. After a moment he started to pat at the open wounds and a whole new set of pain seeped through my body. I started to pant. “Please. Stop,” I begged.

“Almost finished. Be strong,” Laeddin murmured.

I slammed my hands into fists, watching them turn white as the blood left the area. I focused on them until Laeddin removed the cloth.

“There, I think I got it all.” He tossed the bloody cloth into the sink’s stainless steel basin. Then he picked up the antiseptic.

I couldn’t take any more pain. I felt weak like I’d just run ten miles and hadn’t eaten or drank in years. “Please,” I said, my voice hoarse. “No more.”

He touched my shoulder and I flinched. “I’m going to spray this on your back and then I’ll feel comfortable using my magic to heal the rest. Okay?”

I clamped my teeth together more tightly as well as my fists. Nodded.

The spray was icy cold against my skin but it didn’t hurt. I felt muscles I hadn’t realized were flexed begin to relax. When he finished he set the can on the counter next to me.

“This next part shouldn’t hurt at all, Princess.”

“Good,” I responded, allowing my jaw to loosen, ignoring his obnoxious need to call me Princess. It was my birthright, but it wasn’t me.

I waited a few seconds, anticipating more pain. Instead warmth crept over my skin and my body responded like a flower opening for the morning sun. Relief swept over me. “That’s better,” I said, leaning my forehead against my fists.

“Good,” Laeddin replied. “Almost done.”

I relaxed further, feeling like I could fall asleep where I sat. Images of my childhood fluttered across my mind. Of the day my dad and I went fishing in Peony Lake. Then I remembered the time I saw the evil Hunter on a path I’d been walking in the forest. My mind drifted again… to nothing.

“What is going on?”

I sat up with a snap, knocking my head into something behind me.

There was a noise.

I turned toward the voice. It was Peter. He looked angry, like furious.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

Zoe’s eyes went to my shirt where it sat on the counter next to me and I remembered. Laeddin had been healing my back. I’d pulled my shirt off and my navy and hot pink polka-dot bra was dangling loosely in front of me, barely covering my breasts.

I quickly grabbed my shirt and tried to cover up. “Oh, it’s nothing. I can explain.” My face got so hot it felt like a furnace.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. CHAPTER TWO

“Really?” Peter said, putting his hands on his hips. “There’s a good reason you’re half naked in the kitchen with a man who’s way, way, way too old for you.”

Tears pricked my eyes at the cut in his words. I hopped off the stool, ran up the stairs and tossed myself across my bed. Yeah, not my finest moment.

I lay there with my arms tucked under my body, still clutching my bloody shirt, and forced myself not to cry. My tears would be red and they would stain the comforter…

Or maybe not.

Since Maleficent stole my wings, I’d become so close to human it was scary. Perhaps I was actually human. I knew I was no longer me—a vampire created from the seven magics and the blood of my parents—that was for sure. I was a shadow. A shell. A husk.

The worst part about those feelings was that I was now exactly what I’d believed I wanted. A normal teenaged girl. Yet, I hated it. I wanted to rip off my skin. Shake myself from the body that no longer felt like it belonged to me.

Tears pressed against my eyes and I let them come.

Screw it, I thought.

When the wetness fell against my comforter I was saddened to see they weren’t red. And that made me cry harder.

“Jasmine, we need to talk.” The voice belonged to the cat, Gatsby. He’d been my mom’s cat although she’d never mentioned he could talk. I don’t think he’d ever talked to her, but when he was around me he was quite chatty. Since I’d lost my wings though Gatsby hadn’t come around again. Until that moment I believed he’d found himself a new home, especially since I never fed him.

“About what?” I asked, sniffling.

“The impending darkness. The Akuma. The woman who robbed you of your wings. Shall I go on?” The gray short-haired cat jumped on the bed and sat on my pillow.

“You know about all of that?”

The cat snorted. “Of course I do. I told you I’ve been around a long time.” Gatsby started licking one of his paws.

“Okay, so tell me.” I wiped my face with the sleeve of my shirt.

“First of all…” he paused, his head tilting. “You’re about to have company. I’ll come back later.” He jumped off my bed and was out the window in seconds.

“Hey, Jack.” It was Zoe. I’d been upstairs at least fifteen minutes so I was surprised she hadn’t come up sooner. I also wondered what Laeddin told them about the elf and Drake, about how I watched another person die in front of me.

I whimpered. “Go away.”

“Okay, I will. But…” Her voice trailed off and I wondered if she’d left mid-sentence.

She hadn’t.

“May I touch your scars?” she asked, sitting on the edge of my bed.

That was a weird request, but I shouldn’t have been surprised. When my wing outline had looked like a large black tattoo, everyone had wanted to touch it. Why should ugly, red scars in the same shape be any different?

“I guess.”

There was the tiniest touch as Zoe traced a finger along the scars. “Laeddin told us what happened today. Well, the part he saw. About Drake. And the female.”

I pressed my face deeper into the comforter. I didn’t want to talk about it. None of it. I didn’t like Drake, but I felt bad for him and for those who loved him. He’d been a chayot. I realized I should probably tell Professor Pops about it. The chayot would want to know about the elf, too.

But as Zoe outlined my scars, I relaxed and forced myself not to worry. The scars should’ve disgusted her. That was how I felt. I tried not to look at them if I could help it. In fact I’d seen the winged scars all of twice in the last several weeks. But as Zoe’s finger skimmed across the thickened skin, I felt lighter. The dull pain that constantly plagued my back regardless of Laeddin’s magic lessened. And my energy came back in full. I felt better. Stronger. I knew it wouldn’t last, but for the briefest moment it felt like my wings had returned.

I glanced at Zoe, wanting to thank her. I didn’t know what she was doing with her finger but l liked it. I appreciated it. She looked so sad though.

“I’m sorry this happened to you,” she whispered. I wasn’t sure if she meant the thing with Drake or was talking about me losing my wings, but I chose to believe she meant the latter.

“It isn’t your fault. It’s mine.” I didn’t want her to stop, but I needed a shower before I went with her, Peter, and Troy to do whatever we were going to do tonight. Pressing my shirt more tightly against my chest, I climbed off the bed and walked to the bathroom. “Did you still want me to go with you guys?” I asked hesitantly.

“Of course.” She stood. “When you’ve finished showering, come down. We’ll wait downstairs. I texted Troy to meet here instead of his house.” At the door to my bedroom she paused and looked around. “I love what you’ve done with the space.”

Before I could respond she’d closed the door. “Thanks,” I whispered anyway.

I turned on the water and undressed while I waited for the water to warm. For reasons I couldn’t explain I turned my back toward the mirror, a sudden need to see the scarred whisper of the grandness that used to be my wings overwhelming my heart.

The scars were raw and red. They looked fresh, like the wound had just closed. Certain areas looked swollen and puffy. But most of the pain was gone. So there was that, at least.

I quickly showered.

When I was finished I rubbed the towel through my hair, especially at the roots, and then went to my dresser. I put on matching gray bra, undies, and socks. I opened my closet doors and froze. I had no idea what we were doing. Professor Pops mentioned recon, so I figured it wasn’t going to be anything fancy. It was warmer than usual outside during the day, but at night the temperature dropped a great deal. Making a quick decision, I chose a pair of rag & bone skinny jeans, a gray pullover shirt, and a navy tweed jacket. Opening a box, I took out my exclusive Eloise boots. They were dark brown and soft like a baby doe’s fur and had a cool golden emblem about mid-calf and a gold buckle at the ankle.

I decided against any jewelry, but still needed to work on my face and hair. I went into the bathroom, put some tinted lotion on my face followed by a quick brush of powder, and then lined my eyelids with black liner. I was about to apply some sparkling taupe gloss when I realized I hadn’t brushed my teeth since that morning. So I quickly did that, then applied the gloss and a thick coat of mascara to my lashes. Finished with my face, I put a large dollop of mousse in my long wet hair and rubbed it in. Then I turned on the blow dryer and scrunched my hair with my hand while putting warm heat on it. The effect was messy, wavy black curls. As a final touch I took a comb and worked out any pieces that were too tangled, and sprayed it with hair spray.

In the full-length mirror I turned back and forth, checking my reflection. I looked good, sexy without showing any skin.

Right before I left the bedroom I took my O-phone from the pocket of the jeans I’d wore to school that day. I opened the fake gold genie lamp sitting on my dresser and took a twenty from inside, sprayed some Tory Burch perfume on my neck and wrists and then opened my bedroom door.

As soon as I was in the hallway I heard arguing. It was low, as though they were trying to keep what they were saying from me. Laeddin also had the TV on, which he hardly ever did. Something serious was up.

I walked to the end of the hall, furious I didn’t have my vampire abilities, and strained to listen.

“You are way too old for her.” That was Peter. I guessed his words were aimed at Laeddin and that they were about me. It bugged me that he thought it was his place to decide who I should like, regardless of the age.

Laeddin responded, but I didn’t hear what he said.

Zoe’s soft voice said, “We just want what’s best for her.”

Laeddin mumbled something else. I nearly shouted with frustration. With every fiber of my being I wanted to know what he was saying. Since he’d brought me back from his realm, Laeddin and I hadn’t been on great terms. We were cordial to each other, almost overly so, but we weren’t intimate. Not like we’d been when he first took me to his realm. He’d kissed me for goodness sake. And it hadn’t been a sweet, chaste kiss either. It’d been deep, sensual, and passionate. A kiss to end all kisses.

I’d believed we’d moved to the next level. That maybe we might actually date, hold hands, something. But we hadn’t done any of it. We talked over breakfast. He drove me to school. Occasionally we turned on a movie we both wanted to watch, but there hadn’t been any romance. There’d been zilch. It was like we’d gone backward. Definitely not forward.

“Maybe she should come and live with us.”

“I don’t think so,” Laeddin hissed.

“You can’t control her, genie.” Peter again.

“Of course not,” Laeddin snapped.

I figured it was time to get down there and rescue Laeddin. Placing a large, fake smile on my face, I bounced down the stairs. “K, I’m ready,” I said in a high singsong voice that sounded nothing like me.

Peter and Zoe looked up. Peter put a hand on Zoe’s shoulder and squeezed. Their expressions were pinched.

Laeddin gave me a gloriously sincere smile. “You look beautiful, Princess.”

“Thank you, Laeddin.” I stood next to him, pulled on his shoulder so that he was forced to bend down and kissed him on the cheek. “And thank you for taking care of my back earlier. It feels much better.”

He smiled “You’re welcome.”

I turned to Peter and Zoe. “So what are we doing?” I wanted to change the subject. Get them to stop talking to Laeddin about me, about stuff that was none of their business.

Zoe gave me a tight grin.

Peter cleared his throat. “There’s been some bizarre… uh, activities happening around Salem since…” He pointed at me. I was surprised. It didn’t feel right to have him be so tongue-tied.

I rested a hand on the counter, a vine of fear winding through my stomach. “Just spit it out, Peter.” I said the words because I wanted to know, but I was also anxious about what he would say. Bizarre activities? What did that mean?

Zoe spoke up. “The first night you came back without your wings was when the first demonic creature appeared.”

“Demonic creature?” I asked, even though I heard her right.

“We’ve learned from the few we’ve caught and questioned that they are called Akuma,” Peter chimed in.

“A-coo-ma,” I said, wrapping my mouth around the odd word.

“That’s right. Professor Pops spoke with his friend Kenmei and found out the word is Japanese for demon,” Zoe said.

“We have no idea who they’re working for or what they want, but it seems they might be here because of you.” Peter’s voice wasn’t accusatory, but his words sure felt like it.

“Because of me?” I was shocked, but I couldn’t help remembering what the elf lady had said. “When Drake was… being a jerk, this woman appeared…”

“She was an elf,” Zoe interrupted.

“Yes,” I nodded.

“I couldn’t tell she was an elf from behind,” Laeddin said to Zoe and Peter.

“Go on,” Peter said to me.

“She said that Drake was a bad chayot and that—”

“Hold up, Drake was a chayot?” Peter asked. He looked stunned.

“Yeah, but the elf said evil flowed through his veins. She also said that she was sending Drake to ‘the Mistress’ and that he would return, better than ever.” As I spoke, the vine of dread that had begun infesting my stomach reached up through my ribs. It tangled between each bone, taking hold and squeezing.

“Did she say who the Mistress was?” Zoe moved closer, her eyes focused keenly on me.

I shrugged because I didn’t know. “No.”

“And she just appeared in the front of the school?” Zoe took my hand in hers. I felt the warmth. But more than that, I felt familiarity. For not the first time I questioned not only who she was but also what she was.

“Yes, she did.”

“What about her name? Did she tell you her name?” Peter interjected.

“No,” I said, wishing I could be more help and still feeling that hurt they thought the Akuna were in Salem because of me.

“She did say I would be taken care of soon enough.” On second thought maybe Peter was right. If he was that meant I needed to find out what the demonic creatures wanted. And, I needed to figure out who the Mistress was.

“Anything else?” Laeddin took my hand and twined it with his. I wanted to melt, to fall into his arms, lean my face upward and feel his lips on mine. I wanted… “Jasmine? Did the elf say anything else?” His words snapped me back to reality.

“Oh, gosh.” I stepped back, feeling my face flame up at the thoughts I’d just had. “No. That’s it.” I turned away, going into the living room, focusing on the TV. The news was on. There was a picture of the sky and then numbers. I tuned out Laeddin, Peter and Zoe, and focused on the newscaster.

“Let me preface this by saying that there is no need to panic. The President is scheduled to confirm this later tonight, and he has assured us there is nothing to fear.” The newscaster was almost too handsome, too perfect. He smiled into the camera. Perhaps to settle down the millions of people he’d just told not to panic. Even my heart was racing.

The newscaster continued, “Scientists are puzzled by the extraordinary phenomena that began occurring nearly five weeks ago.”

That was right after Maleficent took my wings.

He was still talking, “It has been confirmed that Earth is losing five extra minutes of light per day. Scientists predict that at this rate darkness will completely consume the planet in one hundred and eleven days.” He took a long pause, obviously for effect, to let it sink in. That was crazy. In less than four months Earth could be completely dark.

“They know it isn’t the moon or a planet blocking the sun’s light. Scientists have ruled out meteors, a dead star, or any other space singularities. Satellite data has also confirmed that the Earth, Sun, Moon, and surrounding planets are orbiting normally, that it’s business as usual. As far as they can tell nothing from space is causing the darkness.

“For now they’ve turned their efforts inward, focusing on Earth itself. So far testing hasn’t revealed anything unusual.

“At this time what they know for sure is that the sun is still putting off as much heat as ever. Usually with the dark comes cooler temperatures, but that hasn’t been the case. In fact Boston and surrounding areas have been having an unseasonably warm winter.”

I couldn’t believe it. Were the others hearing what he was saying?

“Sweet unicorn blood. Hey, are you guys listening to this?” I turned and saw that Laeddin, Peter, and Zoe were directly behind me, listening. “What does it mean?” I had a feeling I knew what it meant.

Zoe’s face turned white as a newly bleached sheet. “I have to get back.” She shimmered and vanished.

I gasped. “Where’d she go?”

“Back to Sharra,” Peter said, slumping onto the couch.

“Sharra?” I sat next to him and rested a hand on his shoulder. “What do you mean?” Even as I asked I knew. The reason Zoe’s touch had felt so familiar, the reason I had such a connection with Peter and Zoe was that somehow Peter and Zoe were actually my mom and dad. Snow and Dorian. “I can’t believe it.” I went to the door and pulled it open. They’d deceived me. My parents thought it was a good idea to turn themselves into teenaged kids again and meddle in my life. It was the most awful thing parents could ever do. It was weird enough to think they’d ever been teenagers, but the fact that they were doing it again…

“I need to go for a walk.”

Peter stood and looked ready to say something.

Laeddin had taken a step toward me too.

I put a hand up. “By myself. Alone.”

Laeddin nodded. “Be safe, Princess.”

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. CHAPTER THREE

When I reached the end of the drive I debated whether to go left or right. Right meant I would walk onto Professor Pops’ huge circular driveway. There wasn’t anyplace else to go after that.

Left meant I could walk around the neighborhood. That was what I needed. But I couldn’t make my legs move that way. My heart kept urging me to go right. I wanted to see Professor Pops. Maybe even Troy. They were good friends.

“Hey “.”

My heart jumped. The voice came from above. I looked up and saw Troy sitting on one of the larger tree branches quite high up, his legs dangling over the edge.

“Hey,” I returned, wondering what he was doing up there. Before I got the chance to ask, he jumped. I was momentarily frightened for him, until he landed with a thud. There was a huge smirk on his face.

“I’ll bet you ten bucks and a ride on my back that you need some time alone with me.” He straightened. I had to tilt my head to see his face.

I snorted. “A ride on your back, huh? Sounds lame.” I took a couple of steps down the sidewalk to the left. It took a lot of effort. I didn’t want to walk away. Honestly, I hoped he stopped me. Yeah, I was playing games. Total teenager thing to do.

“Jack, you have no idea.”

I stopped. “Like a piggy-back ride?” I asked, curious about why he would suggest a ride on his back.

He shrugged. “I guess that could be fun, but I was thinking more along the lines of a dragon-back ride.” He winked, his eyes sparkling in the moonlight. It was then that I realized no one had ever told me what Troy was. Too much had been going on. All of it revolving around me. Gah!

“You’re a dragon?” I asked, not bothering to hide my shock. Of all the creatures I’d imagined that wasn’t one of them.

“Correct.” He took several steps into the darkness near the tree trunk. “Wait here a moment,” he whispered.

I did, excited about the prospect of flying.

Flying.

Oh. My. Goodness. I was going to get to fly again. My heart rate sped up. I heard the jangling of a belt buckle. “Are you getting undressed?” I asked, without thinking.

“Yeah, did you want to watch, Jack?”

My whole body got hot. “No. No thank you.” I waited a few minutes, my arms crossed over my body in nervous anticipation.

“Come here,” Troy said.

“You decent?”

“Enough.”

I went into the shadow of the large tree and caught my first glance of Troy. I was surprised. Pleasantly surprised. “You’re awesome,” I said, carefully stepping closer. His wings beat the air, causing leaves that should’ve fallen long ago to swirl about us. Some landed in my hair and I brushed them out.

Troy shook his head too, sending a few stray leaves to their doom. A puff of smoke curled from his nose. “Thanks.”

“Can I touch you?” I reached out a hand curiously, wanting to know what his scales felt like, whether they were cold or warm, smooth or rough.

He responded with s quick snap of his sharp teeth. I screamed, pulling my hand back like he’d actually bitten me.

Troy laughed. “Sorry. Dragon humor. It won’t happen again.”

I smiled. “Funny.” In the dark it was impossible to tell what color his scales were. They looked black, as did his eyes and his wings. Troy lay down, curling his tail around his body. “Climb on.”

I stepped toward him and then stopped. “Um, how? I don’t want to hurt you.”

He chuckled. “Unless you’re a lot heavier than you look I’ll be fine.” He flicked his tail slightly. “You can use my tail as a stepstool.”

“Okay.” I carefully stepped up and then lifted my body on his back. His scales were smooth and warm, but not hot. Only a few degrees hotter than human body temperature. When I was all the way on, I situated my knees so that they were around his neck, out of the way of his wings. I looked for a place to hold on and placed my hands under two of his scales. “Aren’t you afraid that you’ll be spotted? Like on satellites and stuff?”

Troy stepped out from the trees’ shadow and then leapt into the air. I yelped at the sudden rush. Held on tight. I didn’t want to fall off.

“To answer your question, no, I don’t worry about satellites. Magic surrounds my dragon form and magic trumps human science any day.” He beat his wings in one giant motion, heading higher and higher. The air became thinner and colder. It was a sensation I wasn’t accustomed to. As a vampire I hadn’t experience extreme temperatures. I was feeling it now though. I clamped my mouth shut, not wanting Troy to hear my teeth chattering.

It looked like we were going to fly to the moon. Troy opened his wings wide and the light allowed me to see that Troy’s dragon scales were bronze, like the color of a new penny. His wings were light copper and the tips were silver. He’d been awesome in the dark, but in the moonlight? His tail meandered behind him like a giant snake and his wings, like those of a giant bat, beat against the night air. He was amazing.

A giggle snuck out of me. It was the happiest I’d felt in more than a month.

“Ready to have some fun?” Troy’s head whipped around so I could see one dark eye. He winked.

“Sure. If you think you can have fun,” I said in mock sarcasm.

“Psssssh. Hang on tight.” He tucked his wings close to his sides and then spun us in a tight spiral, like a rocket shooting from Earth.

The feeling was amazing and I laughed. “More.”

He pulled us out of the spiral and then popped his wings. Like a kite caught in a sudden wind burst, we shot upward and then just floated. Where a moment ago we’d been going fast as lighting now we coasted, a bronze cloud in the night sky. It was nice. Relaxing. I knew I’d missed flying but until that moment I didn’t realize how much.

Without thinking I rested my head against the top of his, closing my eyes, savoring the sensation. There was something like a humming deep within his body, almost like purring.

“This is nice,” Troy said, after we’d been floating a while.

“It is,” I agreed, taking a deep, cleansing breath. “Exactly what I needed.”

“Tough day?” he asked.

“That’s putting it mildly.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

“I wouldn’t know where to begin.” I let my hands droop on either side of his neck.

“Just spit it out.”

“Let’s see. Maleficent ripped the very essence of who I am away when she took my wings. Drake and his gross buddy tried to hurt me after school. Then an elf woman showed up and killed Drake, like right in front of me. The guy I thought I really cared about is sweet, but we kissed…” I paused, remembering. It’d been wonderful, better than I’d ever imagined my first kiss could be.

“You and Laeddin kissed? Isn’t he like a thousand years old or something?”

I smacked Troy on his scaly face. “Yeah, but it isn’t like that. It’s… Never mind,” I huffed.

“Anything else?”

“Yeah. The elf lady told me that the Mistress is out to get me and the people I thought were my friends are actually my parents.” At that, I shuddered. I still couldn’t wrap my mind about it. The whole idea that they had disguised themselves to stay close to me so they could keep tabs on me was creepy and way too over protective.

Troy growled. “I’m glad you finally know. It was weird that I couldn’t tell you.”

“You knew?” I asked, surprised.

“Yeah, I kind of found out when I overheard Grand Pops talking with them right after Laeddin brought you back. When I confronted them about it, they told me the truth. I wanted to tell you right away. It’s wrong when adults think they need to keep secrets. In fact it pisses me off.” He snarled and fire came out of his mouth.

“It sounds like you’ve had some personal experience. Want to tell me about it?”

He groaned.

“You don’t have to. It’s just I’ve noticed lately that you haven’t been yourself. Not since you and Professor Pops got back from wherever the two of you went.”

“We went to Utah to help a friend. While we were there, my brother Cole was…” Troy paused. I waited, feeling that he needed some time with his thoughts.

We coasted, heading toward the ocean. The air changed the closer we got. Troy took us along the shore and I listened to the waves, enjoying the salty water spray and the smell of the brine and sand.

After several long minutes Troy finally spoke. “Cole was sucked into another realm. I wanted to go after him, find a way to bring him home. But Grand Pops isn’t letting me, mainly because my father won’t let him let me.”

“Which of the seven brothers is your father?” I was curious why Snow hadn’t told me one of them was a dragon. Or maybe the dragon in Troy came from his mom’s side of the family?

Troy let out another trail of fire. “My father is a dragon by the name of Abernathy, not that he’s ever given a crap about me.”

Whoa. I’d heard of Abernathy. Of course. My mom had only good things to say about him. “Oh,” was all I said.

“Exactly. Without Grand Pops I would’ve been killed or worse. He has given me a home, a place to live, a family, and a purpose. But I was kind of lonely. Until Cole showed up. We clicked right away. And now that he’s gone I can’t sleep, I can barely eat, and I have zero tolerance for stupid high school drama, if you catch my meaning.”

I swallowed. Cole sounded like a brother as well as a friend to Troy. “I’m sorry, Troy.”

“Me too. It’s killing me not to do something to find him. The only thing that’s helped is going out Akuma hunting with Peter and Zoe. Without that I might have gone insane and eaten the local villagers.”

I chuckled bitterly.

“But enough about me. What about you? How can we solve your problems?”

I crossed my hands on Troy’s head and rested my chin on them. “No idea. And I think that’s what has me so irritated. I’m the one who made the wish to be like a normal teenager. I’m the one who wanted to come into the human world. Now that I am like a normal teenaged girl, I feel sick. I feel…”

“What?” Troy urged.

“Wrong.” Tears pricked my lashes, but I didn’t let them fall. Instead I cleared my throat and went on. “And as much as I disliked Drake, I didn’t want him to die. But he did, and there’s no way to bring him back. With the Mistress woman, I don’t know who she is or what she wants. Other than to kill me or some nonsense. The thing with Laeddin isn’t even worth discussing. I don’t know what that man wants. And my parents?” I snorted in frustration. “What can I say about that situation?”

Troy began flying us inland, back to Salem. I watched the houses and cars and people flit by almost as though we were in a dream. “Here’s what I’m thinking, if you want my two cents?”

“Yes, please.”

“Do you know where Maleficent is?”

“No. Laeddin has gone back to his realm several times. When he returns it’s always the same. No one has seen her. No one knows where she is. It’s like she disappeared. And trust me, if a woman with a creepy staff and my wings were flying around, his people would notice.”

“Agreed. So let’s put a talon in that. Finding her is a priority, but since we don’t know where to start, we’ll focus on something else.”

“I guess.”

Troy went on, “We know the Mistress is connected to the Akuma, so why don’t you come hang with us every night? Sooner or later one of them is going to know something.”

That reminded me of the one hundred and eleven days until total darkness. I told Troy my thoughts on the subject. “I think it’s possible the darkness is connected to the Akuma and the Mistress. We’ll have to hypothesize that it does because I don’t know what else we can do.”

I nodded. “Okay. What about Drake?”

“There’s nothing you can do about him either, right?”

“True,” I said. “Fine, smarty pants, what about my parents? What should I do about them?”

A deep rumbling shook Troy’s body. “They are good people and as Peter and Zoe you have the chance to truly get to know them. I think it would be cool. If I had any kind of chance of spending time with my parents, I would.”

I realized what a total jerk I was being about them. Troy was right. It was better to have them around than not at all.

I lifted my head. “You’re right,” I said softly, caressing his head. Telling him with my touch how sorry I was. The peculiar purring sound echoed through him again.

“Good. Then it’s settled. You, me, Peter, and Zoe—”

“You. Me. My mom and dad,” I corrected.

Troy snickered. “Let’s call them Peter and Zoe though since we’re going to school with them. Deal?”

“Fine.” I slammed by cheek against his head.

Troy kept laughing. “We’ll make our nightly rounds searching for Akuma, questioning the ones we find and capture. You’ll try to find a guy to date that’s around your age instead of one who’s old enough to be your great-great-great-great-great-great… well, you get the idea. The dude is old and you need one who’s closer to your age. And I’ll try to stay calm and trust Grand Pops knows what he’s doing when it comes to Cole. Maybe between the two of us we might be able to find some happiness.”

We’d arrived back in our neighborhood. Troy landed and walked back into the shadow of the tree.

“Are you with me?” he asked.

I climbed off his back, sad the flying was over, but so incredibly grateful he’d given me such a gift in the first place. “Yes,” I agreed, stepping off his tail.

Troy shook. “Cool. Now excuse me while I get naked again.”

“Oh.” I blushed as I quickly turned away. The ground shook slightly. A minute later I heard a jangling, and I knew he was putting his belt back on.

“You can turn around. I’m decent.”

I did and immediately saw that he was shirtless. The green shirt he’d been wearing hung in his hand. “Serious?” I asked. “Waiting for me to compliment you on your perfect abs?”

Troy smiled big. “You think my abs are perfect?”

I blushed again. Then tried to cover it up with a shrug. “They aren’t bad.”

He winked. “That’s good enough.” He pulled his shirt over his head.

I kept my eyes on the driveway until Troy stepped into my personal bubble and lifted my face with one of his fingers. His eyes were hazel. His lips were full and gorgeous, just like the rest of him. “Thanks for taking me flying. It was exactly what I needed.”

“Thank you, Jack,” he said, his voice hushed. He was so close I could smell his minty breath and the sandalwood scent of his skin.

“I didn’t do anything,” I shrugged.

“Oh, you did. I’ve needed to talk to someone for a long time, but there just wasn’t anyone who would understand. Until you.” He leaned down and I instantly realized that he was going to kiss me.

Did I want that?

I didn’t have a chance to debate it further because his lips were on mine. They were soft, light.

I thought I would be repulsed by a kiss from anyone but Laeddin, but as Troy’s lips moved against mine, the barrier I’d built around my heart slowly began to melt and I did something I never thought I would. I kissed him back.

Troy responded by grabbing the loops of my jeans, pulling me closer.

My heart raced and my body felt like it’d been shocked to life by an erotic electricity. I was buzzed, excited.

When Troy finally lifted his lips from mine, he smiled.

For some reason I thought of the girl he’d been making out with my first day of school. Their kissing hadn’t been like the one I’d just shared with Troy. Our kiss had been chaste compared to theirs. But I liked it.

“That was amazing, Jack. The whole night rocked. Thanks.” He kissed my cheek and took off toward his house. When he was nearly halfway there he turned back. “Totally rocked,” he yelled and waved good-bye.

A huge grin spread across my face. I waved back, enjoying the view as I watched him run the rest of the way home.

When I could no longer see him, I headed toward my house. It was time I had an honest talk with my mom and dad.

“Jasmine?”

“Who’s there?” I stopped, trying to see without my vampire abilities. It couldn’t be Troy.

“It’s me.” Christopher stepped into view, the vampire who’d bitten my mom all those years ago, the one who’d betrayed her. He’d been her Hunter and was now the seventh member of the council.

In Sharra he always wore the common dress, which was brown or black trousers made of soft, breathable material, boots that went to his knees, a long-sleeved linen shirt and a leather vest. Tonight he had on jeans and a tight white tee shirt, which said he was just another teenager. Even though I knew he was old. Totally gorgeous and old. If I hadn’t been nervous about him being at my house, I would’ve laughed.

“What do you want?”

“Something’s coming. It’s big. Last time,” he paused and glanced at the ground, “I chose Sharra because I wanted power and I thought she would win. This time,” he looked up, his features serious, urgent even, “I choose you. Since I met you on the road those many years ago, I’ve known we—”

“Jasmine?” Laeddin called from the front door. I hadn’t heard it open.

“We what?” I asked.

Christopher’s features looked pained, like he desperately wanted to say more. “Later,” he said and took off.

“Coming,” I hollered.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. CHAPTER FOUR

When I got inside, Laeddin was back in the living room with Peter. He had a look on his face that said we would discuss what he’d just witnessed later. The TV was still on and Peter was focused on it. I glanced around, then remembered my mom had left. The serious conversation I had planned couldn’t happen tonight after all.

I thought about her in Sharra, curious about whether she changed back and forth between herself and Zoe. If not, she would totally freak out Ciana, the vampire who’d helped raise me. I loved Ciana. She’d taken care of me. We’d played together during my mom’s long meetings.

But she’d betrayed me. My mom and dad. Everyone. Our whole world. She was on Sharra’s side. My mom needed to know what I’d seen. She needed to know about Sharra and Ciana.

“I need to speak with Mom,” I said, walking over to Peter.

“Okay.” He pulled me into a hug. I let him hold me for a long time. It felt good to have his arms around me. “I’m glad you’re here, Dad.”

Peter sucked in his breath. “You are?” He held me away so he could read my face.

I remembered what Troy said and took his sincere words to heart. “Yeah.”

A giant smile spread over his face. “I’m so glad. We didn’t follow you because we didn’t trust you. Our only thought was keeping you safe.” He shook his head. “We didn’t do a very good job.”

“Oh, Dad.” I hugged him. “It wasn’t your fault. It was mine. I thought I could do it on my own. I thought I knew better.” The words caught in my throat. “I’m sorry.”

He gave me a squeeze and then shook my shoulders lovingly. “It’s okay. We’re going to get through this. Together. Deal?”

I nodded. “What about Mom? Is she gone for good?”

“I’m going to head up to bed,” Laeddin said, interrupting. He had a smile plastered on his face, but it was sad, laced with unresolved issues. I wanted to say something but held my tongue. He and I still needed to talk, but not while Peter was around.

I touched Laeddin’s arm. “Goodnight.”

“Night.”

I watched him walk up the stairs. When he was out of sight, I turned back to my dad, the handsome boy who looked nothing like my father. And I wondered how he’d done it. How he and my mom made it happen. Was it her magic?

Touching his face, I asked, “How is this possible? Is it an illusion?” I patted his cheek. It was scratchy. He needed a shave.

“It isn’t an illusion. It’s your mother’s magic combined with one of your aunt Cindy’s potions.”

“Ohhh.” Aunt Cindy was the queen of a realm called Polonias. She was also a very powerful witch and my mom’s best friend. “How long does it last?”

“These are our bodies until we take a reversal potion while your mom works her vampire magic.” Peter patted his stomach.

“So it could be permanent?”

He shrugged. “I suppose, though I definitely don’t want this body to be mine for good. I like my original.”

I nodded. “Agreed.”

Peter leaned down and kissed my forehead. “I’m going to go speak with your mom. Find out what she’s learned. Hopefully I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“K. See ya.”

After I closed and locked the door, I went upstairs. At Laeddin’s door, I paused and closed a hand in a fist to knock. But if Laeddin opened the door what would I say?

I kept going until I reached my room.

I opened my eyes and immediately knew I was no longer in Salem, in my bed. All around me were the corpses of dead unicorns. There were dozens or hundreds. Too many to count. The land was dark, as though the realm were going through a lunar eclipse. Some light eked out. Enough to allow me to know I was flying above, seeing everything from the air.

My gaze swept the landscape. I took in the unusual forest of trees, several long valleys full of black flowers, and a large body of water.

I looked down and saw my reflection. The eyes staring back weren’t mine. They were those of Maleficent.

And as though she saw me, she smiled and started to laugh. “Young vampire, your end is near.”

Gasping, I jerked myself awake. But as soon as I realized I was in my bed, looking up at my ceiling, I began to relax and fall back asleep.

The next morning was Saturday so I threw my hair up in a messy ponytail, put on lip gloss and a little mascara. Then dressed in charcoal Zella fitness pants, a teal tank, a matching Zella jacket and matching gray running shoes. I absolutely loved the feel of the casual workout gear. The jacket had thumbholes at the cuff and the color matched the still slightly visible streak in my hair.

Laeddin was in the kitchen wearing loose-fitting jeans and a black tee that fit him like it’d been painted on his broad shoulders, muscled arms and chiseled abs.

“What you making?” I asked, going to the fridge and grabbing the orange juice and setting it on the counter.

“Fresh fruit and scrambled eggs with red peppers, onions, and cheese, and toast. You hungry?” Laeddin glanced over, turning slightly.

“Starved,” I said, grabbing two glasses from the cupboard and setting them next to the orange juice on the counter. He and I had created a morning routine, where he cooked, and I got everything ready. I took two plates down and set them on the counter next to the stove where Laeddin was cooking. Then I poured the juice, put the container away, grabbed the strawberry jam and the bowl of fresh fruit, and two napkins, and placed them all on the counter.

The toaster popped. Laeddin buttered two pieces of golden brown toast and put them on the plates. Then scraped the eggs onto one plate, leaving the other empty. That was because Laeddin didn’t eat any kind of meat, including eggs.

I sat on the stool and waited while he brought the plates over.

“Let’s eat.” Laeddin scooped some fruit on to his plate and smeared jam on his toast.

I took a bite of scrambled egg. It was seasoned to perfection. And I took another. “These are amazing,” I said after swallowing.

Laeddin nodded, chewing on a strawberry.

I put some jam on my toast but didn’t take a bite. “Are you alright?” It was a generic question but I needed to start somewhere.

He glanced over. “Worried. About you.” He took another piece of fruit and put it in his mouth.

I knew it was because of Christopher and said, “That was Christopher. He came to warn me that something big was coming.”

Laeddin swallowed. “And what exactly is that?” His tone said he was ticked, which made me mad.

“I don’t know. You interrupted before he got the chance to tell me.” I stabbed a piece of watermelon and put it in my mouth.

Laeddin glanced down at his food. “Think he’ll be back?”

“Probably.”

We ate in silence for a while. I was trying to find the courage to bring up what I’d so rudely blurted out yesterday. Finally, I said, “What I—”

Laeddin put up a hand. “Don’t start. What you said was one of the first honest sentences you’ve uttered since Maleficent took your wings.”

“But, it isn’t—”

“Stop it.” He was abruptly angry. “I’m going to say this once. One time.”

“Okay,” I said quietly. My food no longer tasted good and I set down my fork.

Laeddin set down his fork as well and turned his body to face mine. “I was there when Maleficent took your wings. I know you felt a lot of pain. I can’t even imagine how awful it must’ve been, must still be.” His eyes became glassy, brimming with tears. “But I had to watch.” He blinked several times.

I let his words sink in. Tried to think about what the situation must’ve been like for him. I hadn’t done that before.

“She reached into your back and tore them from your body, through your skin. They fought, as though they didn’t want to leave, but Maleficent was stronger. She was determined. And because you were willing to give them away, Maleficent finally won against them and pulled your glorious wings free. You passed out, which is understandable, but I had to listen to her talk about how weak you were, how disappointing it was that you had such an amazing gift and chose to throw them away so easily. I had to watch as she used her magic to force your wings onto her back.” Laeddin paused and wiped a hand over his face. He looked pale, and the memory seemed to shred him.

“I didn’t know,” I whispered, slowly beginning to understand. The terror hadn’t happened to him, but it did happen in front of him. I couldn’t imagine what that must’ve been like, witnessing such a scene. “I’m sorry.”

Laeddin’s face twisted back into anger. “You should be,” he said through gritted teeth. “Not for what I had to witness, but for what you gave up.”

Tears sprang to my eyes. He was right. So right. But it didn’t matter. The damage was done. My wings were gone. And Laeddin was safe. Alive. That was worth something, wasn’t it?

Laeddin leaned in and touched his lips to mine. It was a soft kiss, full of emotion. Too soon it was over and he leaned back. Then taking my face in his hands he wiped away my tears with his thumbs. “I’m really grateful you thought enough of me to do what you did.” He closed his eyes and I sensed he was holding back some emotion he didn’t want me to see. “But we’re going to find a way to get your wings back from Maleficent.” As he spoke he opened his eyes. “Now why don’t you finish—” Laeddin was interrupted by a knock at the front door. “You expecting anyone?”

I shook my head, still too emotional to speak.

“I’ll get rid of whoever it is.” He went to the door and pulled it open. “Morning,” he said to whoever it was.

“I’m officer Gand. This is officer Vick. We’re with the SCPD. We’d like to talk to Jackie Ryder. We have a few questions for her.”

I hopped off the stool and went to the door. They were the same officers I’d talked to after Abby died. Both were around the same height. They didn’t look that old, probably in their twenties. Officer Gand was the one with strawberry blond hair and officer Vick had dark brown hair. They were both dressed in navy uniforms.

When Officer Vick saw me, he smiled. Not a hey-how-ya-doin’ smile, but an a-ha-now-we’ve-got-you smile.

“May we come in?” Officer Gand asked as he took a step into the house.

“Of course.” Laeddin stood back so they could get by. “Have a seat.” He indicated the couch in the living room.

“Thank you,” Officer Gand said.

They sat on the couch, but only the edge. Officer Vick took out his pad of paper and a pencil. “Do you know a Drake Smythe? He’s a student at the school you attend.” As he asked he looked me directly in the eyes, his liquid brown ones staring deep into my violet ones.

“Yes, I know him,” I said, sitting in the chair next to the knick-knack shelf.

The officers glanced at each other.

“Did you speak with Drake yesterday, after school?”

That wasn’t how I’d put it. The jerk had manhandled me. “Yes,” I said finally. I realized why the officers had come. Drake had vanished into nothing in the front of the school. That meant he hadn’t gone home last night. He was missing. And I was the last one to see him alive.

Officer Vick cleared his throat. “A Mr. Cameron Anderson told us that he saw you and Drake talking. Care to elaborate on what was said.”

I clasped my hands together in my lap. Remembering what Drake planned to do to me yesterday made me sick, but I could only deal with one thing at a time. “If you’re asking what we talked about, it wasn’t anything good. Drake was kind of a bully. He threatened me.”

Officer Gand nodded. “I see. And what did you do?”

“Well, officer, there wasn’t much I could do. He’s a lot bigger than me and had my shirt wrapped around his fist and was in my face.”

“And after that?” Officer Vick urged.

I shrugged. “Nothing. Laeddin showed up and called me over. When Drake saw him, he let me go, and I went home.” While I spoke I looked at Laeddin. He seemed to approve of my story.

“Is this correct?” Officer Gand asked Laeddin.

“Yes. Normally when I pick her up I don’t get out of the car, but I saw what that boy was doing to her and I thought I might need to step in. But as Jasmine said, as soon as I called her over, Drake released her, and she ran to the car. After that we drove home.”

I watched officer Vick scratch notes on his pad with his pencil. Every once in a while he’d pause and look up. “It’s odd that the last time there was an issue with a student at Salem High, you were involved. Before you arrived the worst we had to deal with was some drunk and disorderly conduct.” He gave me a shrewd look. “But since you’ve arrived, there’s been a student killed and now one’s gone missing.”

“Care to comment on that, Miss Ryder?” Officer Gand asked.

I swallowed. In both cases it was my fault. I had no excuse. “What happened to Abby is awful,” I whispered. “I don’t know about Drake.” That was the truth. The elf had said he would be back, more evil than ever. But I certainly couldn’t tell them that.

“What about you, sir? Any comment?” Officer Vick said, tapping the eraser portion of the pencil against his pad of paper.

“If I hear anything, I’ll be sure to let the police know. But other than what Jackie and I have already told you we don’t know any more.”

Officer Gand stood.

Officer Vick followed. “Very well.”

They walked to the door and officer Gand opened it.

“If you hear of anything, please give us a call.” Officer Vick handed Laeddin a card.

“We will,” Laeddin replied.

“Don’t leave town,” Officer Gand added.

“We won’t,” I said.

“Have a nice day.” Officer Vick followed officer Gand out the door and down the walkway to their squad car.

Laeddin and I stood in the doorway and watched them drive away. When they were out of sight, Laeddin closed the door and turned to me. “We need to figure out who the Mistress is and what’s going on with these Akuma.”

“I know.”

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. CHAPTER FIVE

Laeddin and I debated where to begin. And after several heated discussions we decided to start with Maleficent. It wasn’t hard to believe she could be the Mistress the Akuma kept mentioning. And even though there was no proof that our dwindling light had anything to do with the Mistress, Laeddin and I knew it was very likely they were related.

Once we’d decided, Laeddin took me to his realm’s library. It was located in one of four circular towers that made up each corner of his family’s castle.

The air was dusty and smelled of old paper and worn leather. The books were on shelves that began at floor level and went all the way to the top in every direction, three-hundred-and-sixty degrees of books.

We each grabbed a book and started reading, pouring over the thick volumes that held the histories of his realm.

Maleficent was all over in the writings. Some historians called her the equivalent to a saint or a prophet, though little was known of her personal life. She’d married young. Given birth to a child. But nothing more. Nowhere did it mention her husband or child’s name. It said nothing about her abilities or how she came to possess them.

There were also stories of “the benevolent priestess” saving crops from pestilence, healing children with horrible flesh-eating diseases, and stopping wars before they began.

Other stories called her a wicked sorceress, full of guile and mischievousness. They said she’d gone mad, that her only joy came from bringing misery to others.

The story of the king and his twelve sons was in the histories as well, alongside a story where she killed every last villager in a town called Ashanda for no apparent reason.

There was nothing to explain why Maleficent would desire wings. No hint of anything close to the Akuma or anything that would explain why she would want to send the human world into permanent darkness.

I kept going back to that. Why the human realm? Of all the creatures in all the realms, humans seemed to be the least likely choice. They possessed no magic. But maybe that was it. If she ruled over humans with her magic, she would seem like a god. It felt like I was onto something, but I hadn’t quite reached it yet.

“What if the darkness isn’t happening in just the human realm, but all realms?” Laeddin looked up from the tan leather book in his lap.

That was where my mind had been trying to take me. “How can we find out?” I closed my book and walked over to stand beside him.

Laeddin closed his book, stood, and slid it back into place. “Come on.” He took hold of my hand and we were no longer in the library.

We were standing on a bridge made completely of stone. It was probably eight to ten feet wide and had a rock rail that went to my waist. The bridge began at one tower and arched over the tower directly across from it. We stood in the center of the bridge. I admired the courtyard below. I also noticed three more bridges just like the one we stood on connecting one power to the nest. It was quite beautiful.

Below was a lush courtyard covered in green grass, trees heavy with fruit and flowers in varied colors. A path wound in a circle toward the very center, where there was a large statue of a king, queen, and a child. The queen was looking down at the child she had in her arms. The king had his arm around the queen, his gaze also on the child.

“Who are they?” I asked, breathlessly.

“The king and queen are my grandparents and the child is my father.”

“It’s amazing.” I glanced over, and noticed he didn’t look happy. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” He let go of my hand and walked to the other side of the eight-foot wide bridge.

I followed, my gaze caught by a circular orb attached to the rail. On top was a dial similar to a sundial.

Laeddin placed all ten fingers in slight grooves along the edge of the dial and it began to move, making a whirring noise. After several seconds it stopped.

I waited for him to tell me what it did.

“The darkness isn’t affecting my realm.” He spoke with surprise in his voice. “I really thought we were onto something,” he continued, “but everything is normal.”

I placed a hand on his back. “I thought so too.”

He shrugged. “I’m going to send you back. I know Peter and Troy want you to go Akuna hunting with them tonight. I’m going to stay here and continue to search the histories.”

I wanted to tell him not to worry. I wanted to ask him to come with us. But the look on his face told me he would say no. His mind was made up. “Okay,” I agreed.

A soft wind brushed against my skin and I was no longer with Laeddin but in my room. I quickly checked my phone. Troy and Peter had both texted me, asking that I meet them at Professor Pops’ house.

I stuck my phone in the inner pocket of my yoga pants and went down the darkened stairs, past the living room and into the kitchen. From the refrigerator I grabbed a water bottle and chugged the whole thing down. It was crazy but I still felt thirsty. Not just thirsty. Parched.

“Still thirsty, aren’t you?” A male voice asked quietly. His eyes glowed red and I realized the man from my dream was Christopher.

“Maybe,” I answered, feeling nervous. Memories of him flooded my mind. And in my dream that obviously wasn’t a dream, he’d kissed me. “I know who you are and you need to leave.”

Christopher stepped into the light. His glowing red eyes were scary, but he didn’t appear menacing. As before, he looked sincere. “You need blood, Jasmine.”

“You’re wrong.” I shook my head, backing up. But as I said the words I wondered if he were right. I didn’t have my vampire abilities and I missed them.

“I’m exactly right, but not just any blood. You need mine.” He moved closer, lifting his wrist to his bared fangs.

My pulse quickened at the thought of blood. But before he had a chance to make a gash someone knocked on the front door. Christopher vanished.

Taking a deep breath, I ran over and checked the peephole. It was Troy. “I’m so glad to see you,” I gushed as he came in.

Troy was immediately on edge. “What’s wrong?”

I told Troy about the guy, about the glowing red eyes, but I didn’t tell him that the guy had been Christopher. While I spoke Troy skulked from room to room like a six-foot dragon ninja. He flipped on lights as he went. I figured it was for my benefit since his vision was probably excellent in the dark.

He checked my room last. When he noticed the window was open, he quickly closed it and gave me a disappointed stare. “That’s just asking for trouble. Keep it locked.”

A quick flash of Gatsby trying to get in came to mind, but I had a feeling if the cat really wanted to talk to me, he’d find a way. “Yeah, you’re right.” I sat on the edge of my bed and picked up a sparkly black pillow, hugging it to my chest. I was freaked.

Troy opened my closet doors, peeked inside. “No one in here,” he went on.

I could’ve told him that.

“Hey, this is cute. Why haven’t you worn this?” He pulled out a white peasant top that came with a black and maroon checkered vest.

I shrugged. “Haven’t had the chance yet.”

“Makes sense.” He pushed that aside and tugged on the shirt hanging next to it. “Nice,” he said. It was red with black hearts on it.

It felt like he was stalling or… something. “What are you doing?” I asked, feeling the tiniest bit frustrated. It was weird having him rifle through my clothes.

“Sorry, Jack.” He closed the closet and sat next to me on the bed. “You ready to go hunt down an Akuma?”

“Sure.” I had no idea what that entailed but I’d do just about anything to take my mind off things.

“Awesome, let’s go.” He took my hand and pulled me off the bed and I tossed the pillow as I followed Troy out.

We locked up and took his truck for the short drive back to his house. When we got inside, he walked me through the kitchen and down the stairs to the basement. I knew where he was taking me. To the Museum for the Supernatural.

Even though I knew, when we got downstairs and Troy flipped on the light, my breath still sucked in. It was nearly bare. Troy explained that there’d recently been some trouble and that Professor Pops was reassembling the magical creatures, but he didn’t give more detail than that.

We weren’t there for the purpose of studying the creatures anyway. Troy walked toward the back and unlocked the door to the weapons room.

“Pick your poison,” he said, flipping on the light. It buzzed and flickered the way old lights did.

I picked up the weapon closest to me. It was a brushed onyx bow. A quiver of arrows sat next to it, though the feathers on the ends weren’t feathers at all but made of thin strips of metal. I gently brushed the tips of my fingers along the stiff fibers. While still in Sharra, the bow had been a weapon I’d begun to practice using. But I wasn’t good enough at it to make it my weapon of choice.

“We’ve found only one way to kill the Akuma and that’s beheading. So keep that in mind.”

The idea of cutting off the head of a creature, even an evil one, filled me with dread. “Maybe this isn’t a good idea,” I said, placing the bow and the arrows back on the table.

Troy lifted a broadsword and pulled it from its scabbard. “What we’re doing is important, Jack. We need to find out who the Mistress is, what she wants, and why the Akuma are being created. Plus, the Akuma are already dead. They are soulless.”

“You’re sure?” I asked, selecting a katana. The sword had a black handle wrapped with silver thread.

“Yes. Whatever soul they had before the Mistress got a hold of them is gone. We find the Akuma mainly in graveyards because they feed on corpses.

I shuddered. “But how do you know their souls are gone?”

Troy set down his sword. Then he took the one I held and placed it on the counter next to his. “I’m half dragon, Jack.”

“I know,” I said, wondering where he was going with the comment.

Troy took my hands. It surprised me and my heart raced. “One of my dragon abilities is that I can sense the soul in a creature.” He shook my hands playfully. “Like yours,” he began looking deep into my eyes. “I know you’re feeling displaced without your wings, your magic, and your vampire abilities. I can’t imagine losing so much so quickly. But the part of you that has remained the same is your soul. Still vibrant. Still warm and kind and giving.”

“Thanks, Troy.” I looked away.

“But you’re also sad and that makes me sad. So we need to figure out what’s going on.”

I nodded.

Peter, aka my dad, walked into the room. His jaw was clenched and I realized he was upset that Troy was so close to me, that he was holding my hands. “You two ready to go?”

I pulled my hands from Troy’s and went to my dad. “Is Mom coming back?”

“Not tonight.” He took a sword from the table covered in all sorts of weapons, removed it from its sheath and buckled the sheath over one shoulder and across his chest. Then he slid the blade into the sheath along his back. “Load up. Let’s go.”

Troy buckled a thick leather belt around his hips and slid the sword into place.

“Can’t you just become the dragon and fight that way?” I asked as I watched.

“If it comes to that, I will, but it’s better if I don’t.” Troy picked up the katana I’d been holding. “You gonna use this?”

It was that or nothing. “Yeah. I buckled the leather sheath across my shoulders and around my back, casing my sword the way my dad had. Peter walked out of the weapons room first. I followed and Troy brought up the rear, turning off the light and closing the door behind us. As I walked past the Museum for the Supernatural I tried to remember the creatures that’d been there. The Hunter, the dragon, the werewolf, and the pixilette. All gone. I wondered what’d happened, but figured now wasn’t the time to ask.

We climbed into Troy’s truck. “What happens if we get pulled over by the cops?” I pushed his large sword out of the way and scooted into the seat next to him.

A smidge of the Troy I first met came back. He smirked. “We don’t.”

“Good.”

“What brought that up?” Peter asked.

I told them about the police officers showing up at the house and asking me questions.

Peter growled. “This is getting much too dangerous,” he said.

Troy agreed.

I was sorry I’d brought it up. Since my dad didn’t look like my dad, but a teenaged guy from high school, it was easy to forget who he was.

Troy started his truck and pulled around the circular driveway. When we passed my house I glanced over and couldn’t help an overwhelming feeling of sadness.

Since I met Laeddin and made that first wish my life had changed. A lot. Peter and Troy seemed to comprehend my melancholy at the same time. They each patted one of my thighs, realized what’d happened, scowled at each other and then looked away. It was humorous but I couldn’t bring myself to laugh.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“Harmony Grove Cemetery,” Troy said.

“I was thinking we’d hit St. Mary’s tonight. It’s been a few days since we were last there,” Peter said.

“Nah, I’m feeling Harmony Grove, man.” Troy gave Peter a quick look. “I mean, sir.”

“Fine.” Peter sat back.

Troy turned left onto Bridge Street. We drove a little and then he made a right on Friend Street and another onto to Harmony Grove Street. The cemetery was gated, with a large brick column on either side of the entrance and a wrought iron gate that was closed and locked.

“Uh, how are we getting in?” I glanced from Troy to Peter.

“Easy.” Troy threw the truck in Park and shut it off before he climbed out and helped me jump down.

Troy and I walked around the front. Peter was already at the entrance and climbing the iron gate. At the top, he grabbed the edges, pressed himself into a handstand and then flipped off onto the other side, landing on the asphalt with a light thud.

“Show off,” I said.

Peter smiled and for the briefest moment I saw my dad. “Come on. It’s easy. You can do it.”

“I don’t know.” I shook my head worriedly.

Troy walked past me, climbed the gate and jumped over.

“Your turn,” he said.

I pulled down my shirt and started up. Before I’d given away my wings I could’ve just flown over. I never realized how much I used my wings until they were gone. By the time I reached the top my thighs were shaking. “I can’t do this,” I said.

“Can. Can. Can,” Peter said.

Troy moved so that he was just below me. “Jump, Jack. I’ll catch you.”

“I don’t know,” I said, nervously.

“Definitely not. If anyone is going to catch her it’ll be me,” Peter said.

I could tell the guys were about to get into a fight when I heard a noise. It wasn’t a growl. More like a whinny-grunt. I followed the sound as a unicorn moved into view, stomping its hoof and shaking its mane.

“Dad?” Growing up, I’d met many unicorns. They’d been generous and sympathetic. My mom explained it had to do with their nature. A unicorn’s strongest magic was grounded in the power to heal. This unicorn must have missed that last part because it seemed determined on destroying instead. I was frozen as I watched it lower its head, pointing its sharp horn directly at my dad’s back. There was a malicious gleam in the unicorn’s black eyes.

Peter and Troy turned toward it. Keeping his eyes on the creature, Peter said, “Get my daughter off that fence. I’ll go after the Akuma.”

“Got it.”

The unicorn was Akuma? Great!

I watched my dad pull his sword from its scabbard, bend his knees and assume a fighting stance. He held the sword like a baseball bat. I figured it must be a good head-chopping position.

The thought made me sick.

“Jack, I want you off that fence and in my arms. Now,” Troy ordered.

I looked down into his handsome face, saw his strong chest, his muscled, outstretched arms and did the unthinkable. I jumped. Troy caught me easily and set me down.

“Thank you,” I said as he set me on my feet. I was relieved and at the same time worried. Because in order to get out I was going to have to do that again.

“Troy, get over here,” Peter shouted. His words were garbled between the sounds of clanging metal and huffing.

I searched the area where my dad had been standing a moment before but couldn’t see him. There was very little light, only what was coming from the moon. I missed my vampire vision. “Da—” I started and then thought better of it. “Peter. Where are you?”

Troy took off like he knew exactly where Peter was. I followed the best I could, my katana at the ready. Gravestones were everywhere. I carefully stepped around them, crossed a paved road and continued through the neatly clipped lawn past more gravestones.

Troy was long gone.

I tripped over a gravestone and fell to my knees. “Dammit,” I cried, falling onto my butt. I wanted to help. I didn’t want to disappoint my dad and Troy. Fighting noises were coming from deeper in the cemetery. I needed to get up. I needed to help.

“If you drink my blood, Jasmine, you’ll be able to do so much more than fight. You’ll be strong again.”

It was Christopher. The Hunter was relentless. “Go away,” I said, working my way back to standing. Then picked up my sword and held it out in the direction I thought his voice had come from. Without my vampire abilities I wasn’t sure where he was.

He came forward. The moonlight allowed me to see his shadow but the only feature I could make out was his eyes. They were red. “I can’t. Even if I wanted to, it’s in me to protect you.”

“That makes no sense!” And it didn’t. I’d barely said fifty words to him over the course of my entire life.

“Really? Consider this.” He moved closer. “You were created from your mother’s blood. She drank from me. So my blood created you too.”

I started to walk away. “You’re nuts, just like my mom said.”

Christopher glared. “Maybe. Maybe not. But I know what you need. I can sense it.”

His words caused me to stop.

“Lies,” I said.

“I’m not lying.” He moved like lightning and was unexpectedly standing in front of me—so close, too close. His scent was powerful, like apples baked in cinnamon and nutmeg.

I jumped back, nicking his neck with my blade. My eyes were mesmerized by steady trickle of red. I licked my lips.

“I told you normal was overrated,” he said, taking my chin in his hand.

I looked away, surprised by the intensity coming off him. It also bothered me to realize that he was no longer just a random man with the red eyes from my dreams. But Christopher. The Hunter.

He raised his other hand and I followed it with my gaze as he tore a gash in his wrist with one of his fangs. “You need my blood. I know you need it. So, before it’s too late, drink.” He forced his wrist against my mouth.

I resisted, squeezing my lips together, but he pressed harder and his blood got in. As soon as the tang touched my tongue, my heart raced. It beat so strong I thought it would rip through my chest. I swallowed. And swallowed some more. His blood tasted incredible. It didn’t take long to realize he’d been right. I’d been parched for weeks. Literally dying of thirst. Not for water or any other liquid a human required, but for blood. His blood.

I dropped my katana and took hold of his wrist with both hands, pressing it deeper into my mouth.

“That’s it,” he said.

My parents had refused to let me drink from him before. I thought it had to do with the fact my mom drank from him when she was younger. That maybe it was an awkward situation or something.

As his blood soothed my throat, basically brought me back to life, I decided that was crazy. His blood was like none I’d ever tasted, an exquisite combination of power and sensuality. With each pull, my body became stronger. I could’ve kept drinking until the vampire was dry, but I knew that wouldn’t do. I released his wrist and looked up. Christopher smiled. “You look better already,” he said, brushing some hair off my face.

What could I say to that? I knew he was right. I felt better. Not a hundred percent—I still didn’t have my wings—but I no longer felt like a shell of the person I used to be. “I don’t understand. No blood has ever affected me like yours. How? Do I have my powers back?”

Christopher winked. “I would think so.” He picked up my sword and held it out. “Go find out.”

I smiled, taking a deep breath. And knew. Immediately. I could smell … everything. His blood. The scent of the soap he’d used to shower, a light dusting of cologne, and so much more. I stretched my abilities further and realized I could smell Troy’s blood and my dad’s. I did a little dance.

Christopher laughed.

I probably should’ve been embarrassed, but I wasn’t. I couldn’t help it. I’d never been so happy.

I could see, even in the dark, the color of his eyes. They were no longer red, but a dark green.

“Hurry,” he said.

“Fine.” I turned away, heading toward Troy and Peter, and the battle that still raged.

Then I remembered I hadn’t thanked him. “Hey, tha—” But I stopped.

Christopher was gone.

I had no doubt I’d see him again. He still needed to explain why he thought we were betrothed. My mom and dad would never allow that. Ever. My dad would kill him before he’d allow Christopher and me to be married. If he ever found out I’d drunk the vampire’s blood, my dad might kill him anyway.

And my mom… I shuddered involuntarily at the thought. Christopher would probably wish for death after my mom finished with him.

I’d deal with that later. First I had to go help Troy and my dad.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. CHAPTER SIX

We didn’t capture any of the Akuma. Troy, Peter, and I decapitated them all. Once their heads were severed from their bodies, they fell apart, shriveled up and dissipated.

Emotionally, it was difficult to kill, but I got over it quickly.

Christopher’s blood pumped through my veins and the more I fought the stronger I became. If I‘d thought it was appropriate I would’ve cheered. My vampire abilities were back in force and I used them to their full potential, grateful I could actually help.

Troy and Peter noticed too.

After the last Akuma was beheaded, Troy came over. “Jack, you kicked ass.” He held up his hand for a high five. I didn’t leave him hanging.

“There’s my girl,” Peter said, pulling me into his chest for a hug.

“Thanks,” I said, enjoying the compliments. When I pulled back, Peter squinted, staring at my mouth. “You’ve got blood,” he pointed, “right there.”

“Oh?” I wiped it away with my shirt, knowing it wasn’t any of my own, or the Akuma’s. They didn’t bleed. That meant the blood was Christopher’s.

“Let’s go,” Troy said. “I need a shower.”

Peter nodded. “You two go ahead. I’m going back to Sharra. I should check on Snow.”

I squeezed Peter’s hand. “Tell Mom I love her, please?”

He squeezed back. “Of course.” Then he was gone. I had no idea how he did that. He wasn’t a vampire. He was no longer human. Again I questioned what sort of creature he’d become.

“Jack?” Troy called, interrupting my thoughts. He must’ve noticed the flush on my cheeks or the happiness radiating from my eyes. I could feel the difference at having Christopher’s blood beating through my veins. “You’re different. What—”

“Race you back?” I started running, my vision crystal clear in the darkness and my speed at full throttle. I didn’t want to lie to Troy but I didn’t want to tell him what I’d done either.

“Dude.” He was surprised.

“Hurry.” I laughed and kept running.

He was gaining so I stepped it up, hurtling and dodging tombstones. I was going to win. I knew it.

But a name engraved on a large gravestone seemed to jump out as I passed, and I slid to a stop.

Abby Jones.

I moved to stand in front of her grave. Thankfully the dirt and grass in front hadn’t been disturbed. The Akuma elf who had killed Drake said the Mistress sought out evil.

Abby hadn’t had an evil bone in her body.

Her honey brown hair, dark hazel eyes, and freckled face came to mind. I hadn’t known her long, but we’d become friends. She loved to read and had hooked me on The Vampire Diaries. I was beyond heartbroken that she was gone.

Troy stopped. “Jack, what are you …? Oh.” His hands rested on my shoulders. “I’m here, if you need someone.”

“Thanks, Troy.” I appreciated his nearness and leaned into him.

Troy dropped me off at home. He put his truck in Park, got out, and came around to open my door. “This is totally odd timing. School is crazy. The world is going to crap, but I had a question.” His face was dirty, his short hair rumpled, but his hazel eyes were hopeful.

“What?” I asked, hopping out of the truck.

Troy seemed nervous, but he took my hands. “You know how there’s the Winter Formal coming up at school in a couple of weeks?”

“Um, I’ve seen the posters.” I hadn’t thought about going. Laeddin wouldn’t go. And I hadn’t considered going with anyone but him. Plus, I figured no one else would ask. I was the school freak after all.

“Well,” he smiled. It was a goofy half-smile that sent my heartbeat into an unexpected rhythm. “I wondered if you’d go with me.”

“Really?” I was genuinely surprised.

“Yeah. I’ll dress up in a tux. You’ll wear a pretty pink princess…”

I snorted.

Troy winked. He was teasing. I didn’t wear pink. Over the past several weeks he’d come to know that. “You’ll wear a pretty dress. We’ll take a limo. Go to dinner. Then hit the dance. Maybe take Grand Pops’ yacht out and watch the sunrise from the ocean.” He shrugged nervously. “The whole thing. What do you think?”

It sounded really fun, especially the part about the sunrise on the ocean. That was a sight I’d like to see. “Yes. I’d love to.”

Troy let out a big breath. “I’m so glad you said yes. Plan B was going to be a whole lot less cool, but way more entertaining.”

“Oh, what was Plan B?”

He smirked. “I pull the dragon card and steal the pretty girl.”

I laughed out loud. Couldn’t help it. Troy was funny. “Well I guess I’m glad I said yes then too. I would’ve hated to pull the vampire card and been forced to kick your dragon ass.”

Troy’s eyes danced with joy. It was good to see him cheerful again. “After watching the way you fought tonight, it might be possible.”

“Yep.” I flicked him in the stomach.

He flinched, catching my hand in his. “I don’t know what happened, but I’m glad it did. You seem better.”

“Almost,” I said quietly.

“Wanna talk about it?” He gave me a serious look, one that said he cared.

“Yes. I do. But not right now. I need a shower.” I was covered in Akuma remnants and I wanted it off. I started toward the house.

“You really do.” He waved a hand in front of his nose.

I laughed again, noticing the smell of his blood. It was fragrant, like sandalwood and copper. My mouth watered.

“See ya, Troy.”

“Later, Jack.”

After I closed and locked the front door, I went upstairs and took a shower. While I towel-dried my hair I went back downstairs and turned on the news.

Big mistake. It looked like people had gone bonkers. I hadn’t seen any kind of crazy in Salem but then the town seemed pretty laid back.

But in the bigger cities, like Boston, people were rioting. Breaking into stores, stealing stuff, stealing cars, and stealing from each other. There had also been a serious surge of murder and random muggings and beatings, all kinds of crimes. It was awful and horrible to watch.

To make matters worse, the local station had a countdown button. It was in the upper left hand corner of the screen. A glaring reminder that in one hundred nine days, twenty-two hours, eight minutes, forty-two…

Forty-one.

Forty.

Seconds.

The Earth would go completely dark. That was serious. Weird. And lots of people were scared. Rightly so.

Maybe doing something as ordinary as going to a Winter Formal was a bad idea. A lot could happen in two weeks. The school might cancel the dance.

Last night, the President of the United States had addressed the nation. He’d stated that America as well as several other countries around the world had teams of people working tirelessly to get to the bottom of the problem, that they would find a solution, and all would be right with the world. He told people not to panic, which was a bad idea.

Apparently not a lot of people believed him.

How could they? I knew about the supernatural. I was a supernatural creature and even I couldn’t believe something so scary could be fixed.

Total darkness.

There was chaos now, at just the idea of eternal night, but if it really happened? The thought of what would become of every realm filled my soul with terror. I knew the consequences would be immeasurable.

“Church groups are calling all people to repentance, claiming God is punishing us for our sins…” the newscaster went on.

I couldn’t watch any more. Shutting off the TV, I went up to bed. Turning on my beside table lamp, I climbed under the covers. Pulled the comforter tight around my chin. I hated that I was in the house alone.

“Laeddin?” I whispered.

He didn’t appear. I knew it was because he was still in his realm and that I shouldn’t bother him. But I needed him.

I thought about using one of my wishes to make him appear, but I immediately discarded the idea. Who knew what the penalties would be? So I turned off my light, closed my eyes, and tried to sleep.

It was impossible.

I tossed and turned.

There was a tap on the windowpane.

I froze.

Could it be an Akuma?

“Jasmine. Open up. I need to speak with you.”

It was Gatsby’s voice. I let out a relieved sob, jumped out of bed and slid the pane open. I’d never been so happy to see an animal in my whole life. “Gatsby.”

“I thought we agreed to leave the window open, vampire.” Gatsby came in, darted off the sill, and walked arrogantly over to my bed. He jumped up and proceeded to curl himself into a ball on my pillow.

I shooed him off. “We did, but Troy said to keep it shut because of the Akuma and the Mistress.”

At the mention of Troy’s name, Gatsby’s ears perked.

I got under the covers and lay back down. “You know who Troy is, don’t you?”

The cat yowled. “Of course I do.” He climbed on my chest and lay down. I was about to tell him to get off but decided against it. Gatsby didn’t weigh much. And the way his eyes searched mine, I had a feeling he needed my comfort as much as I needed his. “How is the boy?” he asked.

I tucked my hands behind my head so I could see him better. “He’s good. He asked me to the Winter Formal, a dance at our school.”

“Oh? And what did you say?” It was apparent the cat had a special interest in Troy.

“I said yes.”

“Hmmmmm.” He rested his head on his paws. “Is that wise given the way you feel about the genie?”

I hadn’t thought about it. “I think so. It doesn’t really matter how I feel about Laeddin anyway. He’s made it clear nothing can happen between us while I still have wishes to make. Besides, I like being around Troy. He’s nice. We have fun together.”

“I see. Just know Troy has had a lot of sadness in his life, especially of late.” Gatsby closed his eyes and began to purr.

The cat’s need to protect Troy was surprising. “Did you need something?” I asked.

He opened one eye. “In the morning. Right now I want sleep.”

I watched him a while, enjoying my newly reacquired vampire vision, until my eyes got droopy.

“I’m glad your abilities are back. It’s nice to feel some joy coming off you, but be careful how often you drink from the Hunter.”

My lids flew open. “How did you know?”

“Easy,” he began. “There was no one else who could’ve restored your abilities.”

“Oh?” That had my attention. What did Gatsby know about Christopher’s blood?

“Besides I can smell his blood on your skin.”

“That’s creepy.” I tucked my arms under the covers.

“Creepy or not, it’s the truth. Your parents will be none too happy when they find out.”

“But why?” I slammed my hands against the mattress. Gatsby opened an eye and glared. “His blood brought back my powers,” I went on with less anger. “It’s because of him that I can see you without a light on. You’d think they’d want me to recover my abilities.”

“First of all, I thought you wanted to be a normal teenager?” His other eye popped open.

“I…”

“Second, the Hunter exists to mark the Chosen. That was why Sharra created him and Hunters in general. His blood is meant to seduce and please. It’s meant to deliver deception.”

I sat up. I’d tasted those very things, felt those exact emotions.

“Christopher is a vampire with the ability to walk in the sunlight. Only the Originals had the power. When they bred out their wings, that power vanished as well, unless the vampire queen bestowed it upon them. Until you. You have all of the Originals’ gifts and you look human. If an Original vampire were still alive, she would probably desire that above all else.”

It felt as though he were trying to tell me something. “Are you talking about Sharra?”

“I am, child.” Gatsby closed his eyes. “We’ll talk more in the morning. I need to rest.”

“Fine.” I closed my eyes, but sleep was a long ways off. I had too much to think about. Sharra. Christopher. The Akuma. The one they called Mistress. My mom and dad. Troy. Laeddin…

I was flying. As soon as I realized it, I giggled, glad to be in possession of my wings again. Spreading them wide I made a point to experience everything. The wind caressed my feathers. The air whipped against my face and through my hair.

“I wondered when you’d be back.”

Her voice. I recognized it even though I didn’t want to admit it.

“Who’s there?”

She laughed. “We’re connected, Jasmine. Your wings have created a bridge between us. You and I are a part of each other. It’s a side effect I hadn’t counted on, but I like it.”

My wings, I thought, feeling my heart beat faster.

“You’re Maleficent.”

“Yes, I suppose I am. But that’s not all.”

My elation at flying quickly disintegrated.

I studied my surroundings and realized I was home, in my land of Sharra, and flying toward Titan’s mountain.

At one time the mountain had been a secret hub filled with supernatural creatures studying ways to prevent disease and other, less helpful experiments. It’d been destroyed many years ago and had been transferred into Athwana Meyana, which was an old elfish term for Dark Soul’s Sleep. Most everyone called it The Cave of Lost Souls. It was easier to say.

I had no desire to go down there. The one time I’d been inside had given me an eerie feeling and I’d never wanted to return. But I realized I didn’t have a choice. I wasn’t in control of my body. Maleficent was.

Or am I somehow in her body?

I didn’t know.

We flew down into the cave. It was then I remembered the vision of her flying down here and opening a tomb. It’d been right after she took my wings. Row after row of crypts lined the catacombs inside the mountain. Maleficent seemed to be searching for something.

“A particular vampire,” she responded having read my mind.

“Who?”

“Don’t worry. You wouldn’t know him or his name. He was before your time.”

I still wanted to know. His name might give us a clue as to what she was doing. Maybe she’d know the name and it would give us a clue as to what she was doing. “Whatever.” I felt the tip of a wing as it accidentally brushed against one of the crypts, knocking her off balance. “You certainly aren’t very good at flying.”

Maleficent cackled. “Good one, Jasmine. But at least I have wings. You wished them away. They’re mine now.”

I growled.

Maleficent laughed louder. “Stupid vampire girl.” She stopped in front of a crypt and opened it. Inside was an extraordinarily handsome vampire. He had brown hair and a perfectly sculpted face. His clothes were old, like those from the crusades. The front of his blue tunic was embroidered with three gold crowns. He wore black pants and matching boots. A long sword was strapped around his hips.

Maleficent slit an incision in her wrist and placed the bleeding wound over his mouth.

“Drink, Arthur. We have much to do, you and I.”

Nothing happened for several long seconds.

Then there was a loud gasp and suckling as Arthur pulled against Maleficent’s wrist.

I watched his already handsome face fill with a healthy pink glow. He drank and drank and drank until I believed he would drain her. I even felt her body grow weak with blood loss. Finally she pushed him off.

He sat up, searching his surroundings. “Why have you wakened me?”

Maleficent got close. “Look into my eyes, dear one. It is I, Sharra, Queen of the Vampires, and soon-to-be almighty ruler of the entire world.

Arthur studied her a moment and then smiled. “It is you.” His eyes closed a moment and he bowed his head. “My queen.”

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. CHAPTER SEVEN

Sunday morning, I got up and immediately craved Christopher’s blood. Laeddin still wasn’t home and Gatsby was gone. I hoped he was okay. Last night he acted like he needed to talk about something important. But I guessed not. The cat walked to a beat of his own making.

After I dressed in jeans, black Converse, and a plain black tee shirt, I went to the window. Sunlight peeked through the clouds. A light wind blew. Leaves that should’ve turned brown and died weeks ago rustled in the breeze. I tapped the glass, trying to decide if I should listen to Gatsby and leave the window open or do as Troy suggested and close it.

Finally I decided to leave it open. For now. If the cat hadn’t returned by tonight I’d close it. Especially if Laeddin hadn’t come back.

Breakfast consisted of toast and orange juice. Well, I took a bite of toast and immediately realized that it tasted like ash. I was a vampire again. Christopher’s blood had changed me back. But just to make sure, I took a drink of juice. It was tasteless.

It was definite. I was on a blood only diet.

Yay!

I cleaned up and then decided to do something totally normal and start my homework. I checked my cell phone to make sure no one had called and was surprised to see a missed call from Cameron. And two texts from him as well. I smiled in excitement. Maybe he was coming around.

I clicked on the texts. The first said: You may have the police convinced ur innocent but I know the truth.

The second:[_ I know ur a murderer and a liar._] My face fell. My heart twisted in fresh pain. We hadn’t known each other long, but how could he say that? I’d saved his life. I’d given up so much to protect him. Not that he knew that. But still. It really hurt to realize he believed I was a freak like the rest of the school.

Am not, Cam. How can you say that? I texted, hurt.

Unlucky then. I want nothing to do with you or your kind. So stay away. Got it? Otherwise I’ll have my parents’ lawyers slap you with a harassment lawsuit.

My kind? What did that mean? I guessed I didn’t want to know.

Fine, I texted back and tossed the phone on the counter.

My phone beeped. I ignored it. The Civil War paper for Mr. Henry’s class wasn’t going to write itself.

Another flipping beep.

Then another.

“Grrrr.” I picked up the phone, expecting more rude texts from Cameron. But they weren’t.

They were from Troy.

The first: Any ideas on the color of your dress?

Second: You need to decide soon.

Third: Jack? You there?

I smiled as I texted: I was thinking black. It’s my favorite color.

Okay. What’s your second favorite color?

Teal.

Ooooh. Good color.

Why do you want to know? I texted, my homework completely forgotten.

Just planning stuff for the dance.

So it had to do with the dance? I was still shocked he’d asked me. Excited, too. I laughed. Come on. Spill the details. If I’m going to the dance with you that kind of makes it my business.

It has to do with flowers and my tie. You know, so we match.

[You’re such a girl! _]I texted with a snort[._]

Don’t make me come over there and show you just how un-girly I am.

Oooooh. Promises. Promises.

Once I hit send I realized that sounded kind of flirty. Did I want to be flirty? Talking with Troy was fun. But what about Laeddin? I just didn’t know anymore.

There was a knock at the door. I placed my phone on the counter and opened it.

Troy swooped in and caught me in his arms.

Then dipped me.

His green eyes danced with mischief. His body pressed against mine while his arms held on tightly. One of his hands gripped my neck under my ponytail and my skin immediately prickled at the sensation.

I was so surprised I gasped. “Troy.” I said his name breathlessly, which was totally embarrassing, but whatever.

He smirked, kicked the door shut with his foot and leaned so that we were nose to nose. When his lips touched mine, my world tilted. It wasn’t the sweet kiss of the other night but a slow burn. I felt it everywhere, especially in my lower belly and thighs. He moved his lips, gently caressing, slowly opening. When his tongue flicked inside my mouth I would’ve thought he’d set me on fire. I melted against him, my hands grabbing hold of his arms.

Our lips and bodies took control. He turned, pinned my back against the door. “Jack?” he panted.

His eyes searched mine.

“Yeah?” I asked between breaths, reaching out and kissing his chest through his shirt. I felt his heart beating strong.

“Not. Girly,” he said, trailing kisses from my ear, down my neck. I tilted my chin, allowing him access. His breath was warm against my throat. His hands went around my waist and under my shirt.

“No,” I agreed kissing along his shoulder until I’d reached his neck. As soon as my lips touched his warm skin, I paused. The vein there beat strong and he smelled so good. I doubted his blood would taste as incredible as Christopher’s had, but I wanted to find out. Dragon blood? What sorts of things would it do to my body?

That I desired blood directly from the body was out of place for me. I’d never tasted the blood of a creature straight from their vein before Christopher. My parents hadn’t allowed it. And up until that moment, I’d never had such a strong desire to.

Now though.

I wanted to.

Bad.

My fangs extended and I grazed his neck. Tasted his skin with my tongue. Troy’s body shook. “Jasmine?” He lifted his face, his eyes meeting mine. His were filled with urgency, need. “You got your fangs back?”

I tried to cover up the obvious as I nodded.

“You are so sexy.”

I swallowed, trying to focus on something other than my desire for his blood in my mouth. “So are you,” I admitted nervously.

He smirked. “Are you ever going to say I’m girly again, Jack?”

“Well, I—”

He kissed each of my fangs. It was the sweetest thing anyone had ever done. With that one small act, I believed being a vampire was good enough. Better than good. And I realized that perhaps what I wanted wasn’t normalcy but something completely abnormal. Something extraordinary. The love and attention of one I loved and admired.

“No. Never,” I said softly.

He touched one of my fangs. “You want me, don’t you?” His smirk didn’t deter the truth.

“Yes, I do.”

His eyes got dark. Hungry. “My blood might taste gross, you know. Being half dragon.”

“Doubt it. You smell delicious.” My mouth watered. I dragged the tip of my nose against his skin as I inhaled. “So good.”

Troy chuckled darkly. “Go on, then.” He tilted his head out of the way.

My fangs grew longer. I grabbed hold of his arms with my hands, needing to hold onto something. My breathing sped up in anticipation.

Gatsby meowed at the door. Loudly.

We both stopped.

And then laughed.

“I’d better go. I was in the middle of chores when I took off.” Troy opened the front door. Gatsby ran in.

“Kay. See you tomorrow.” I covered my mouth with my hand, waiting for my fangs to go away. I waved as he ran across the lawn and onto Professor Pops’ property.

When I closed the door, Gatsby climbed up on the counter and appeared to be reading my homework assignment.

“What do you think?” I asked, sitting in one of the barstools.

“It’s a total snooze fest, vampire. Why don’t you put some blood and guts and dragon fire in it?”

I huffed. “Seriously. That’s rude.” Surprised, I added, “And why dragon fire?”

“Why not?” He arched his back. “And what’s rude is that you almost drank from Troy. What if you’d hurt him or worse killed him?” Gatsby sat on my paper and started licking the fur on his front legs.

“How do you know about that?” I yanked my paper from under his butt. “And why do you care?” I tried to work out the wrinkles by rubbing it back and forth against the edge of the counter. “Plus, I wouldn’t hurt Troy. I like him.”

Gatsby made a sound like a sneeze. “You like him?”

“Yes. I do.”

“Until Laeddin decides to give you his attention. Then what? You’ll discard him like smelly shoes?” Gatsby moved over to my opened history book and lay on it.

“Gatsby. Get off,” I said, irritated. “And no. He’s my friend. I don’t just dump friends and then forget them.”

“Really? What about Sabrina? It’s been six weeks and you haven’t said a word to her. You didn’t even say good-bye and she was supposed to be your best friend.” He closed his eyes and started purring.

“You—” I didn’t have a comeback. Gatsby had a point. “You’re right. I should speak with her.”

“Yes, you should. And soon. But first we need to discuss the Mistress.”

I felt my eyes get wide. “What do you know?” I crossed my arms and rested my elbows on the counter.

Gatsby yawned. “Only everything.” He licked his paws and wiped his whiskers.

“Well, then spill it, cat,” I said, my homework forgotten.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. CHAPTER EIGHT

After Gatsby left, I texted Troy: We need to talk. Are my mom and dad back?

No. What about Laeddin? Troy replied.

No. And I’m starting to worry. I can’t go back to his realm without him, either.

Peter and Zoe just showed up. They need to speak with you too. We’re coming over.

K.

Dress for Akuma hunting. We’re going again tonight.

Got it.

I ran upstairs. Since I was already wearing jeans and a tee shirt, I left those on, but changed out of my Converse and into a pair of black Dr. Marten boots. Then I grabbed a black Metal Melisha hoodie. The back had a teal skull sporting a pink bow. I thought it quite appropriate for what we would be doing. I swiped some gloss over my lips and fixed my ponytail, then went back downstairs to wait.

Not too many minutes later, someone knocked on the door. I opened it, expecting my mom, dad, and Troy, but it wasn’t them. It was a woman with long red hair, striking blue eyes—exactly like my mom’s—and the creamiest skin I’d ever seen. It was almost transparent. She wasn’t very tall and she was thin.

The woman smiled. “Hi Jasmine.”

“Uh, hi.” A nervous flutter jolted my insides even though I thought I knew who she was.

“I’m Ariel, dear. Your grandmother.” Her beautiful smile got bigger.

“It is you.” I’d never seen her, but my mom had talked about her a lot. “I thought you were still in Mizu.”

“I was.” She stepped forward. “Do you mind if I come in?”

“Oh my gosh. I’m sorry. Yes, please come in.” I held the door open and then directed her to the couch after I closed it.

After she sat she said, “I thought I might find your mother here. Do you know where she is?”

I sat next to her. “She’s on her way over. Is everything all right?”

Ariel leaned back, pulled her legs up and crossed them underneath her. “Not really. That’s why I need to speak with Snow.”

“What’s wrong?” I turned to face her more fully.

“It’s Mizu. Our city is dying and I need to find a safe place for the people to go.”

“That’s terrible. But how is such a thing possible?”

“The magic that created Mizu was designed to keep us from the second Vampire Queen. Sharra.”

“I remember the story,” I interjected.

Ariel nodded. “Mizu was supposed to disappear as soon as Sharra was no longer in power, but it’s held up the last fifteen years. Really well, in fact. And my people didn’t want to leave. But over the last six weeks Mizu has slowly begun to die. I figure it has another three months, four at the most, until it will no longer sustain life.”

“I think I know why.” My heart beat rapidly. The consequences for my actions were farther reaching than I ever would’ve guessed.

“You do?” Ariel questioned.

“Yes,” I said, and was about to tell her everything Gatsby had said when Troy came in followed by Peter and Zoe.

“Hey,” I said, standing.

Ariel stood too.

When Zoe saw her, she ran over. Ariel put up her hands in a position of defense. Zoe slid to a stop. Shocked.

I was too, until it dawned on me what was wrong. “Mom, you don’t look anything like yourself, remember?”

Relief washed over Zoe’s face. “You’re right!” She laughed. “Sorry about that. But, Mom, it’s me. Snow White.”

Ariel squinted her eyes. “Why do you look like that?”

While my parents explained what they’d done and why they were now Peter and Zoe, I went over to Troy. “Hi,” I whispered, feeling shy.

His arms were crossed. “That’s Snow’s real mom?”

“Yes, she’s been in Mizu for a long time. This is my first time meeting her too.”

“What do we know about her?”

I shrugged. “Not much. Just what my mom told me over the years when I was growing up.”

“Can we trust her?”

“Yes, Troy. Jeez, paranoid much?” Zoe shouted from across the room. Then she hugged her mom.

“Fine. Just checking. I want Jack safe. That’s all.”

“Who’s Jack?” Ariel asked.

“I am.” I shrugged. “The name I go by in the human realm.”

Ariel shook her head. “You’re all so complicated. Different names. Different faces. How the H-E-double crab sticks am I supposed to keep up? I’m old.”

I laughed. We all laughed. “Agreed.”

“Now, why don’t you explain why you think Mizu is dying?” She sat and patted the spot next to her on the couch.

Zoe took the seat beside her, and Peter beside her. I remained next to Troy, who was leaning against one of the bar chairs in the kitchen.

“I believe Mizu is dying for the same reason Earth is going dark. It has to do with the Mistress. I know what she’s doing and why. I also know who she is.” While I spoke everyone leaned forward.

“Well, go on, Jack. Don’t keep us in suspense.” Troy said the words, but it was obvious everyone was thinking the same thing.

“Okay,” I began and then stopped, nervous. Because we’d all sort of guessed that what was happening had to do with me giving my wings to Maleficent, but they really had no idea. Once my mom and dad found out, they’d probably be so upset. Disappointed.

But there was no getting around the truth. The sooner everyone knew, the better. “The Mistress is Maleficent,” I said, moving over to the chair near the glass shelves and sitting down. I needed some space.

“We kind of figured that,” Peter said.

“Right, but what you haven’t figured it that Maleficent isn’t Maleficent anymore.” I paused, dreading what I had to reveal, knowing I didn’t have a choice. “She’s Sharra.”

Everyone spoke at once. Peter and Zoe were saying something to each other. Troy said something, but I didn’t catch what it was. And Ariel swore.

“What makes you think such a thing?” Peter asked. He seemed to be the calmest of the group.

I didn’t want to explain about Gatsby talking. I didn’t feel like that was my place. So I told them about the dreams. About Maleficent flying into the Cave of Lost Souls, and waking a vampire named Arthur. When I spoke his name, Zoe’s face went pale as the driven snow.

“Who is he?”

Zoe shook her head. “Later. Keep going. Tell us everything.”

I explained that she told Arthur she was Sharra, even though she looked like Maleficent. I told them how she said she intended to be the “almighty ruler of the entire world” and then I told my mom about Ciana too. It felt like the appropriate time.

“No,” Zoe said and I thought I saw tears in her eyes. “I wondered where she went. No one has seen her in weeks.” Her features got angry. “Jasmine is right. Maleficent is Sharra.”

“But then what happened to Maleficent?” Troy asked.

I shrugged. “It’s like she’s there too. That they somehow combined or became one.”

Peter nodded. “And the Akuma?”

“They are her minions. Sharra is taking those who have evil tendencies and changing them so that they’re loyal to her. I don’t know if those she changes still know who they are afterward or if they’re just empty underlings doing her bidding.”

“So that’s it?” Troy sat in the chair he’d been leaning on.

“How do we stop her?” Ariel asked.

Zoe shook her head. “I don’t know. I thought I’d destroyed Sharra when I took over as queen. Apparently not.” She turned away. Peter put his arms around her and said something only she could hear.

Zoe shook her head.

Peter rubbed Zoe’s back. “It’ll be okay. We’ll figure it out.”

She faced my direction. Worry flickered across Zoe’s face. “Did you see Christopher? Has he joined Sharra as well?”

I felt my face get hot. Now probably wasn’t the best time to tell her that I’d seen Christopher and drank from him. “No. He isn’t with her.” That wasn’t a lie and I took a little comfort in that.

“That’s a relief.” Zoe leaned into Peter. “I got the feeling he’d changed his ways over the years, but with him…” Her voice trailed off.

I’d heard the story of the way he betrayed my mom, but everything worked out in the end. She was with my dad and that had been their destiny. But the knowledge didn’t change the fact that Christopher hurt my mom.

“If you see him, you let us know,” Peter growled.

I swallowed, nodding. Yeah, now definitely wasn’t the time. They would freak when I told them Christopher believed he was my betrothed.

“First things first. How do we stop the darkness? How is she creating the gloom? And why?” Troy asked.

“She believes that if she turns the world dark and then becomes the only light, everyone will accept her rule more easily,” I said.

“If she succeeds, that’s exactly what’ll happen. Those in the land of Sharra are fidgety. They’re scared and angry.” She clutched Peter’s hand. “They had no idea the other realms existed. No idea they could go home, so to speak. That is until the darkness started to fall. It was the pixilettes who noticed first. Before the reporter shared that the darkness was falling over the entire world, I was inclined to think the darkness in Sharra was nothing to worry about.”

“I understand what you mean,” Ariel said.

Zoe smiled. “I held a council meeting last night and shared what I’d learned. About the darkness and about the realms. Sharra has kept us in the dark so to speak about a lot of things for a long time.” She shook her head sadly. “There are those on the council who don’t believe I didn’t know. They think I’ve been keeping secrets too.”

“Then they don’t know you at all,” I said savagely. Knowing my mom would never keep such an important secret.

“Now that they know their own realms exist,” Zoe continued, “they want to leave Sharra and be with their own kind. As the queen I’m inclined to let them go, but I’m worried for them too. Worried about what that evil vampire will do to them.” Zoe shrugged. “To all of us, really.”

“I guess we go Akuma hunting and hope one of them will talk,” Troy said, frustrated.

Laeddin appeared in the middle of the room.

“Laeddin,” I said, relieved.

Zoe let out a squeal.

Ariel jumped up, ready to fight.

Peter and Troy barely moved. They were used to the way Laeddin popped in and out on a regular basis.

“I think I’ve figured out how to stop her,” Laeddin blurted, just as surprised as the rest of us.

“Really,” Ariel said, sitting again.

“Who’s this?” Laeddin asked, giving her a peculiar look.

“She’s my mom,” Zoe said.

He raised an eyebrow. “Hello. I’m Laeddin. A genie and Jasmine’s servant.”

Ariel gave me a secret smile. It made me blush. “Well Laeddin, it’s lovely to meet you,” she said.

Laeddin turned to me, his aqua eyes sparkling with an emotion I hadn’t seen in him in weeks. Hope. “And I think I found a way to get Jasmine her wings back.”

“How?” Troy asked. I wasn’t sure if he was upset it was Laeddin who found a way to help or that the genie was back.

“It isn’t going to be easy, but if we all work together, we can do it.” He gave Ariel a pointed look. “Including you.”

“Whatever you need,” Ariel said.

“Then I think we might have a chance at beating her.”

For the next several hours we discussed a plan to defeat Maleficent.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. CHAPTER NINE

The first step was to capture an Akuma.

That meant hunting without killing, which I doubted was possible.

We were back at the Harmony Grove Cemetery. Since there had been so many Akuma there the previous night, we decided to try again. This time we got there early, before the sun fully set. We wanted to find out where or how the Akuma were getting into the cemetery so we could try to catch them by surprise. Ariel took the northwest corner. Peter had the northeast. Zoe kept eyes on the southeast. Troy had the southwest. And Laeddin and I had the center.

“What’s going on with you and Troy?” Laeddin asked. We were standing near a fancy monument complete with concrete stairs leading up to it. To the right was a gothic style church built in nineteen hundred and five.

The church had a tall pointed spire that rose from the center, along with four smaller spires, one at each corner. The carvings were intricate. Some might call it gaudy but I thought it was amazing.

I turned away from Laeddin, not sure how to talk to him about Troy. “What do you mean?” I finally asked.

“Something’s different.” He ran a hand through his dark hair and I caught a flash of his tribal tattoo. That was part of the plan too. I would use my second wish, but at the right time. A time Laeddin specified. It once again had to do with consequences.

“He asked me to go with him to a dance at school.” I kicked at a tall chunk of grass.

“That’s nice,” Laeddin said quietly.

I glanced over. His face was impassive. I couldn’t read what was going on in his mind. “It should be fun. I’ve never been to a school dance.”

“Yeah, it definitely fits into your plan for a normal teenaged life, right?” His words were light, but tinged with sarcasm.

I lifted my chin defiantly. Wasn’t it okay to try to enjoy whatever I could? “Exactly,” I snapped. He was the one who said we couldn’t be any more than friends while I still had wishes. It made sense, I guess. But he knew I wanted more, yet we barely talked, except when he had to over the past six weeks.

Laeddin sighed. “Jasmine, I’m sorry.”

I gritted my teeth. Sorry meant nothing if he didn’t have the actions to back it up.

“Look at me.” He tilted my chin so I had no choice. “I—” He stopped. “You have your vampire abilities back?”

“How can you tell?” Was he mad? He seemed… I wasn’t sure.

“I can see it. On your skin. In your eyes. I can even smell the difference. You aren’t the same as before though. Something’s different.” He dropped his hand and stepped back. “You drank blood. Whose was it?”

I closed my eyes. “It isn’t a bad thing, is it?” I crossed my arms, sad and feeling sorry for myself. I couldn’t seem to do anything right.

“It depends. Your mom had you drink from the different magics to fortify the magic within that blood. Elf blood enhances your eternal sight. Troll blood improves your strength and so on. That’s why human blood, while satisfying, doesn’t enhance your magics.” Laeddin stopped talking and I opened my eyes. He was afraid. “Whose blood did you drink, Jasmine?”

“I—”

The sun had gone down and we were in total darkness. I hadn’t noticed because of my vampire abilities. A person walked out of the old church. “Laeddin. Behind you.”

Warily, he turned around.

“Is it one of them?” I asked.

“Yep.” Laeddin move closer.

I took my phone from my back pocket and sent a group text. It was one word: Akuma.

Then I pocketed my phone and lowered my center. Facing the Akuma tonight would be different. This time I had my fangs.

Laeddin took some rope from his pocket. I had some too and pulled it from my hoodie. Peter, Zoe, and Troy had the same kind of rope as well.

Before heading to the cemetery, Zoe had placed a binding spell on each of the ropes. It was supposed to allow the rope to seize and hold any lower magical creature. Since we weren’t sure what magic had been used to create the Akuma we didn’t know if the vampire queen’s magic would work. But it was the place to start.

“I’ll go left. You take the right side,” Laeddin said.

“Got it.” I moved, keeping my focus on demon creature. He didn’t smell human. I realized that first thing. He smelled like a corpse covered in perfume or dried potpourri. That was it. He smelled like vanilla potpourri. It was so strong I wondered how I hadn’t smelled it on the elf even without my vampire senses.

“Hey man,” I said when I was close enough that I was sure he could hear.

“Hello,” he sneered. “You’re just the vampire I was looking for. The Mistress would like to speak with you.”

I took the rope from my hoodie pocket. “Really? What does she want?” The others were coming. I could hear them and knew they were getting closer. The idea was that we would all go after one Akuma at the same time. Six against one put the odds in our favor.

The Akuma tilted his head as though listening, and I wondered if he could hear the others moving as well. He smiled. “You’re predictable,” he sneered. “She said you would do this.” He closed his eyes, lifted his arms and tilted back his head. Then just stood there. As though he knew what we intended and was waiting, accepting his fate.

I glanced at Laeddin. He seemed as confused as I felt.

Troy, Zoe, and Peter showed up.

“What’s going on?” Troy asked. He glanced from the Akuma to Laeddin and then my way.

“It seems the Akuma wants to be captured.”

“Excellent,” Troy said, wrapping the rope around his neck. I took his waist. Zoe and Peter wrapped their ropes around each arm. Laeddin nodded.

“I should make my wish now?”

“Yes.”

That seemed to wake the Akuma up. He opened his eyes. I saw his body shimmer and knew immediately he was getting ready to do whatever new power he possessed to vanish—just the way the elf had.

“I wish—” I began, but a whirring sound cruised past my ears and then the Akuma’s head was unexpectedly gone. A small sword fell to the ground beside his body. The Akuma dissipated.

Zoe gasped.

“Who did that?” That was Troy.

I turned, trying to find the offender. They’d spoiled our plans and that pissed me off.

“What happened?” Peter asked.

I pointed at the sword. “Someone severed its head.”

“Dammit,” Troy hollered.

“It’s okay,” Laeddin began. “I’m sure there will be another.”

But there wasn’t.

We spent several hours waiting for more, but none came.

Finally I went inside the church, looking for the spot where the Akuma came from. My mom couldn’t sense any magic within either.

Finally, at two in the morning, we called it a night.

Over the next two weeks we went Akuma hunting every evening after school. But they were gone. As quickly as the Akuma appeared they’d vanished. We found empty graves, so we knew the Mistress was still creating Akuma, but we saw none of the demon creatures.

Sharra was planning something. Something big, but we didn’t know what.

My mom and dad were frustrated. Laeddin returned to his realm, certain he would find an answer if he kept searching his people’s histories. As much as I wanted him to stay I couldn’t force him. He was trying to help and if that meant he had to be away for a time, then so be it. Ariel left too. She went back to Mizu to give her people an update.

My mom and dad were still around. I saw them in school and each night when we hunted, but they spent a lot of time in Sharra as well. A lot was happening there and they needed to keep tabs on their people. My mom explained she’d searched the Cave of Lost Souls and discovered dozens of vampires had been awakened.

And Troy? Well he was my sanity. We spent nearly every moment after school together. He helped with my homework, watched The Vampire Diaries with me, and even slept on the couch downstairs so I wouldn’t be alone.

The President of the United States had declared martial law until either the darkness took over or the problem was fixed. That meant Salem and every city in America had an influx of military keeping watch over the streets. A nationwide curfew of ten o’clock had gone into effect. Every store was guarded. Water and food were dispersed according to government specifications.

Despite all this Christopher continued to show up secretly every couple of days so I could feed from him. It wasn’t anything sexual, though I had to admit I was developing feelings for him. Not in the same way I felt for Troy or even Laeddin, but I cared for him. I trusted him. Most importantly, I needed him. His blood.

No one knew I drank from Christopher though now that it was a regular occurrence I began to notice slight changes. Like my hair growing again. It’d stopped when I turned twelve. And my fingernails and toenails were growing again too. There were other changes as well.

Like my cleavage.

At fourteen my body had fully developed and I’d come to terms with my A cup bra size. But in the last two weeks “my girls” had grown to where I was filling out a B. My waist had tapered and my face lost its babyish appearance. It was harder, sharper. My features seemed to be etched more deliberately into my face.

The biggest change though was my dreams. They weren’t the same as my visions—the ones where I saw Maleficent flying around with my wings.

These were different. Almost sexual in nature, if I were honest with myself.

They left me feeling unsettled.

If anyone detected the changes, no one said anything. And I didn’t know how to bring it up. My mom and dad hadn’t questioned the return of my powers. Either they knew it was because of Christopher and didn’t want to discuss it or they were just too involved in all that was going on to notice.

At school everyone seemed uptight and on edge, including the teachers. Mr. Henry especially seemed affected by the situation. We talked often about what should happen next, but never came up with anything definitive.

The one bright light was that the school was still holding the Winter Ball. Troy and I were still going.

And I was looking forward to it.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. CHAPTER TEN

Since Martial Law had been put into effect I hadn’t been able to go shopping. It would have been nice to buy a new dress and wear it to the dance, but I would be fine. At least we were having the dance.

I checked the time.

Troy would be by in two hours.

We were going to dinner first—at his house. Professor Pops had hired someone to cook for us. After that we would take a limo to the dance. Peter and Zoe planned meet us there. When the dance was over, we’d been given special permission to take Professor Pops’ boat out but not far and only until sunrise. Then we would be escorted off the water.

Overall it sounded like a blast and I was really looking forward to it.

“If I only had a dress,” I said to my reflection in the bathroom mirror.

“I might be able to help with that.”

I jumped, grabbing hold of the sink. “Sabrina,” I gasped.

“Hey traitor.” Her arms were crossed and her lip was out. Pouting.

“Sabrina,” I stuck out my hand so that she could land on it. Her long violet hair that so perfectly matched my eyes had been put up in a bun.

“How could you?” Sabrina’s wings fluttered almost violently.

“I’m so sorry.” I shook my head. “I was only thinking of myself when I made my wish.” I walked into my bedroom. “But I did think of you since then. This would’ve been so much better if you’d been around.” I faced her.

“You mean it?”

“Of course I do. You’re my best friend.”

She uncrossed her arms and flung herself at me, putting her tiny arms around my neck. I carefully hugged her back. Tears rolled down my face. I really had missed her. Terribly. And I was so glad she was here.

“How did you find me?” I asked.

Sabrina flew backward so she could see my face. “Your mom gave me the coordinates. She’s letting anyone who wants to go to his or her own realm. As long as they stay out of the human one. But she made an exception and said I could come and see you.”

“Well I’m glad she did.”

“So am I.” She studied my face. “You seem different.”

I threw myself onto my bed. “I am different. No wings. No magic. Up until two weeks ago I was without my vampire abilities too.”

“That totally sucks.”

“Yeah, it does. But it could be worse. Tonight I’m going to a dance with Troy.”

Sabrina studied my fact, seeming to detect the changes in my body, but she didn’t say more about it. “Who is this Troy?” She hovered above my head.

I sat up, excited to talk about him. “He’s got blondish hair. Gorgeous eyes. And, he’s half dragon.”

“A dragon?” She sat on my bedside table, crossing one leg over the other.

“His dragon form is so freaking cool. And he’s really nice, too.”

“Can’t wait to meet him,” she said.

I smiled. Couldn’t help it. Thinking about Troy put a smile on my face. You’d think after spending so much time together we’d get sick of each other. But that hadn’t happened. Instead I looked forward to seeing him. I talked to him about anything and everything. “You’re gonna like him.”

“Probably.” She flicked a piece of lint off the table. “Talk to me about your dress. What do you want?”

I shrugged. “There hasn’t been a lot of time to think about it. The dance’s theme is A Sky Full of Enchanted Stars. And it’s a winter formal.”

Sabrina thought about it. “Hmmmm, okay.” She flew over and touched my nose. A violet dress appeared. It had spaghetti straps with see through sleeves that were reminiscent of butterfly wings. I stood and went to the mirror so I could see my full reflection. “It’s so pretty, but I’d rather have it in black.”

She harrumphed. “You should wear it just to appease me, you know. After all I’ve been through because of you. I was worried sick. And then when I knew you were okay, I was sad. Then I got mad. You owe me.”

“That’s true,” I said with a sigh. “And I am really, really sorry.”

She groaned. “Ugh, fine.” She touched my nose again and the most perfect dress appeared.

“Sabrina! This is amazing and so… me.” I turned back and forth in the mirror. The bodice was black, strapless and looked like butterfly lace. The skirt was teal, hit the middle of my calves and was made of tulle and cotton. It laced up the back with long black silk ties. On my feet were teal heels. Crystals covered the five inch heels and along the sides.

When Sabrina noticed I was checking them out, she smiled. “Those are diamonds not crystals, in case you’re wondering.”

“I love it,” I breathed.

She smiled. “I’m so glad.”

I went back over to the bed and took the heels off. “What should I do with my hair?”

“Easy.” She touched my hair and I felt it lift and shift.

I walked into the bathroom. It’d been swept up into a loose bun. Sabrina had darkened the teal streak in my hair too.

“I went ahead and did your makeup as well.” She clasped her hands together, admiring.

“Zenny would be proud.”

“Hey, I take care of the seedlings around the castle. I know what beauty looks like.”

“Of course you do.” I laughed and went back to my bedroom and over to the window. It would be dark soon.

Troy showed up in a large black limousine. He got out and came to the door, carrying something in his hand.

“Hi Troy.”

His mouth opened slightly. He seemed to realize it and snapped his lips shut. “You look amazing, Jack.”

“Thanks,” I said, stepping onto the porch.

“I brought you a flower bracelet.” He opened the container. A lovely aroma wafted upward. They were real flowers in teal, white, black, and a yellow. There were hydrangeas, daisies, roses, and forget-me-nots. He slid it on my wrist. “Hope you like it.”

I brought it to my nose. “It’s beautiful, Troy. Thank you.”

He stuck out his elbow. I took it. “Let’s go.” We walked to the limo. Troy opened the door. I stepped inside. Troy came in.

“You look really handsome,” I said, getting comfortable.

Just before Troy closed the door, Sabrina whooshed in. “Jasmine, I can’t believe you.” She was angry again and I couldn’t blame her.

“Sorry. Sorry.” I covered my eyes. “I was distracted.”

Troy smirked. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

Sabrina looked at Troy for the first time. “Holy buckets of hot sauce. He is gorgeous.”

I’d blushed at Troy’s compliment. At Sabrina’s words though, I felt hot as a raging fire.

“Oh, you like me, Jack, you really like me.” He clapped his hands and rested his head on my shoulder.

“Yeah, I do,” I laughed.

“So are you going to introduce us?” Sabrina asked. She rocked back and forth in the air.

“Sure. Troy, this is Sabrina, my dearest friend in Sharra. Sabrina, meet Troy, the coolest guy in the human realm.”

Troy stuck out his hand. “It’s great to meet you.”

“You too,” Sabrina said in a sing-songy voice. She landed on his hand and curtsied.

“Did you want to come to dinner with us? I know the cook made plenty.” He winked.

“Yeah, since Jasmine won’t eat anything. She likes blood.” Sabrina covered her face in her hands. “Sorry Jasmine.”

“It’s okay. He knows.” I gave Troy a sideways look.

“I know she wants to taste my blood.” He took my hand and squeezed it. “Tonight I might let her try it.”

“Troy.” I slapped him on the thigh. “I can’t believe you said that.”

He snorted. “Me either.” It looked like he was turning red.

Sabrina flew out of the limo, then poked her head back inside. “I’ll be here when you get back, Jasmine.”

“Kay. See ya. And thanks for the amazing dress, Sabrina.” I blew her a kiss. She plucked it out of the air and pressed it to her cheek, then flew off.

When she was gone, Troy closed the door. “I think I embarrassed her.”

“You embarrassed me,” I said softly.

My thoughts were on his blood. I drank from Christopher a couple of days ago and was in need of more. Still, the hunger wasn’t bad. So I pressed it down, forcing myself to concentrate on his handsome face instead. He always looked good, but there was something incredibly sexy about a guy in a tux. Especially one that fit as well as his fit him. Wow.

Troy tapped on the privacy glass. “We’re ready.”

The glass slid down and a man said, “Very good, sir.” The glass slid back into place.

“You look really nice,” I said, straightening the knot on his teal tie.

He clasped my hand between his. “So do you.” He leaned in, pressing a kiss to my neck.

I shivered. Tingles rode on waves over every inch of my body. When he leaned back, I noticed his eyes were hooded, filled with desire.

Troy.

Gorgeous, incredibly sweet Troy, wanted… what? Us to kiss? Definitely. I could sense it. And I wanted him to.

I scooted close, my eyes never leaving his, and tilted my head up, waiting for him.

“Jack.” His thumb brushed across my lower lip. He tenderly kissed the spot he’d just touched.

The limo moved and we drove less than a minute before the limo stopped in front of Troy’s house. The driver got out and held the door open for us. I didn’t want to get out.

Troy took my hand and got out first. Then he held on, his eyes taking in my dress.

“We’ll be ready to go to the dance in forty-five minutes,” Troy said to the driver.

“I’ll be waiting.”

Troy held my hand as we went up the stairs and through the door into the entryway.

I wasn’t cold, but as soon as we got inside, goose bumps prickled my skin.

“You’re cold,” he said.

“A little,” I replied, unable to come up with a better excuse.

He pulled me down the hall and into the small library. It was cozy. Books lined the cherry wood shelves covering every inch of the walls not occupied by the fireplace, a door or a window. On the floor was a thick Persian rug. A few weeks ago Troy had shared that the carpet was a replica of a prayer rug. It was deep red with diamond shaped designs, and what looked like four cups in the very center. There were muted golds, greens, and natural colors as well as black.

On the far wall was a fireplace with a wooden mantle over the top. Next to it was a cast iron box full of chopped wood. And beside that were the fireplace tools. On the mantle were books, framed pictures, and a box of matches.

There were two high-back chairs in front of the fireplace. An end table placed next to each chair and an ottoman in front of the chairs. They were the perfect chairs to sit in and read.

Usually they were the only furniture. Tonight though, a small table with two chairs had been placed in front of the window. A black tablecloth covered it. A centerpiece of flowers just like my wrist corsage decorated the center. One place setting of white china with black and gold trim had been set. A linen napkin wrapped one set of silverware. There were two wine glasses.

Interesting. What did he have planned? I thought.

“This is beautiful. Did you do this? Or did you have someone else?” I asked, walking over so I could touch the flowers.

“Thank you. And no, I set this up myself.”

I smirked as a thought about his being such a girl crossed my mind.

He seemed to read my expression because his eyes got dark again.

I swear my heart skipped several beats.

“I’m going to tell the cook we’re ready.”

“Do you want me to come?”

“Nah. Have a seat. I’ll be right back.” He pulled a lush upholstered chair out from under the table. I sat.

“You really didn’t need to go to all this trouble.” I pulled him down so that his ear was next to my mouth. “You know I don’t eat…” The vein in his neck beat rapidly. I was mesmerized.

Troy kissed my cheek. “I know what you need, Jack.”

He left the room. I glanced out the window. The light in the room was low. That along with my vampire vision made it possible to see into Professor Pops’ back yard, past the still green grass to the tennis courts, and past them to…

Something moved, at the tree line that separated my yard from Troy’s. I squinted, trying to make out exactly what it was. It could’ve been a deer. We saw a lot of those.

But whatever moved was on two legs instead of four. Instinct took over. I needed to find out who it was. I opened the window and climbed out, pushing myself off the edge so that I wouldn’t ruin my dress. Landing quietly, I kept to the shadows and made my way around the edge toward whoever it was. The closer I got, the easier it was to see. The person was squatted down between two butterfly bushes. He faced my house. I’d left my light on. He was staring at it.

Disgusting perv.

I grabbed him by the shoulders and whipped him around.

He gasped in surprise and then smiled.

It was Drake.

He’d come back.

Even in the low light I could see his eyes had changed. They were dark like the elf woman’s had been. And he didn’t smell human any longer. Instead the scent of vanilla potpourri surrounded him.

“Drake,” I said, shocked.

“Yep. I came back for you, Jack.”

“What do you want?” I stepped back at the realization that coming out here alone was a bad idea.

“I want what the Mistress wants. And she wants you.” He reached out to grab me, but I sidestepped him.

I could’ve killed him, but the plan Zoe, Peter, Troy, Laeddin, Ariel and I had come up with demanded that we capture an Akuma. We wanted to talk to it.

Drake was the first one any of us had seen in two weeks. I didn’t know when I’d get the chance to see another and time was running out. If I could capture him and talk to him, maybe I could figure out how to stop the darkness. When the six of us had come up with the plan to capture the Akuma two weeks ago, it involved me making a wish.

“What does she want?” I asked, trying to stay calm. I needed to get the whole wish out before he disappeared. That had been what the enchanted ropes were for but I didn’t have mine.

Drake’s crazy smile fell slightly. “She wants to capture you. If she has you, the—”

I heard the whistle of a soaring blade too late. Drake’s head was severed from his body.

“No!” Drake disintegrated before my eyes. “Whoever is out there, you better show yourself. Right. This. Minute.” I was ticked. My one chance.

I heard footsteps in the crisp grass, but couldn’t see anyone, even with my vampire sight. Who or whatever it was kept coming.

“Show yourself,” I whispered, hoping I wasn’t losing my mind.

Christopher appeared.

“How the—”

He bowed. “I’ve come to feed you.” He spoke softly, almost reverently.

“I-I don’t— I can’t— Right now isn’t a good time.” The truth was I really wanted to feed. His blood rejuvenated my body like no other.

“You can. Here.” He lifted his wrist to his mouth.

“No,” I said. “Tomorrow.”

He bowed again and then disappeared.

“Jack! Jack.” Troy stuck his head out the window.

“I’m here,” I called, walking back to the house.

“What are you doing?” He jumped out the window and ran toward me.

“I saw someone watching my house. It was Drake,” I said.

“Did you capture him?” Troy looked hopeful.

I sighed heavily. “No. Someone severed his head before I had the chance to make my wish.”

“Dammit.”

“That’s exactly what I said.”

“Where did it happen?”

I took him over and showed him. He touched the ground where Drake had been standing. Picked up some dirt and sniffed it. Then he reached into the bushes and pulled out the blade. It was short and gleamed in the moonlight.

“If we don’t catch a break soon…” He let the words hang in the air. I knew what he meant. Time was running out.

“Let’s take this inside. Maybe Grand Pops can tell us something about the sword.”

I followed him around to the front.

When we walked in, Professor Pops was heading upstairs. “Where’d you two come from?”

Troy showed him the knife.

Professor Pops took it, studied it. “I’ll check my books tonight, but you two don’t need to be here for that. Go to your dance.”

Troy nodded. “Thanks, Pops.” They clapped each other on the back. He moved away from the stairs and headed for his office. “Oh, and Jasmine, you’ve got something on your face.” He touched his cheek.

“Oh, thank you, Mr. Henry.” Since he was my history teacher I’d grown accustomed to calling him that.

“Sure thing, my dear.” He went into the kitchen.

“Mind if I use your bathroom?”

“Nah, come on.” Troy waved as he took the stairs two at a time.

“Thanks,” I said when he turned on the bathroom light. “I can freshen up while you eat. I don’t want you to be hungry at the dance.”

He sidled up to me, wrapped his arms around my waist. His face was directly above mine. So close, I could smell his cologne and the minty freshness of his breath. “What about your hunger?” His voice was low and sexy.

“I’ll be fine,” I said, staring at his lips.

His head came down, his lips brushed against mine. Freshening up was forgotten. The dance, the Akuma… everything but his lips on mine left my mind. I ran my hands up his arms and into his hair. I loved his short hair, loved the feel of it between my fingers.

He pulled off his jacket and hung it on the bathroom doorknob before his lips were back on mine again. I had the briefest thought that his lips belonged there before he groaned, lifting me. I wrapped my legs around his waist. His lips pushed mine opened and he explored my mouth as he carried me across the hall and over to his bed. When he sat, the bed squeaked, and we looked at each other. I didn’t want to stop.

“I love kissing you,” he said and I knew he didn’t want to stop either. He lay back, pulling me on top of him.

I yanked at his tie and undid his shirt, longing to feel his skin next to mine, to taste his him on my lips. His blood in my mouth…

“Troy. Jasmine.”

Professor Pops stood in the doorway, his features contorted in irritation. “I have information about the knife.”

Troy swore. “Sorry,” he said the words against my ear.

My cheeks got hot. What followed were ten of the longest, most awkward seconds of my life as I untangled myself from Troy and readjusted my dress where it’d twisted. I quickly fixed it as he pulled on his jacket.

“I’ll meet you in my office,” Mr. Henry said and left.

Troy turned. “That was fun,” he said with a smile.

I blushed hotter. “Yeah, up until Professor Pops caught us.”

He chuckled. “Let’s go see what Pops found out.”

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. CHAPTER ELEVEN

We walked in and Professor Pops looked up from where he’d been studying the knife.

“Have a seat.”

Troy took the one closest to the window and I took the one closest to the door.

“What’d you find?” Troy asked, leaning forward, picking up the knife.

“It’s old. Dated back to the Crusades.”

Troy handed over the knife.

“The craftsmanship is exquisite. Not many had the skill to make something like this.”

“Was this someone you knew?” Troy took the knife back, running his fingers along the sides of the blades.

“There is one who could have made it, but he’s long gone. Sharra put him to rest.”

I started at the sound of her name. “What’s his name?” I asked.

“Arthur Pendragon.” Professor Pops took the knife from Troy and placed it in the top drawer of his desk.

My body began to shake.

“What’s wrong?” Troy asked.

Professor Pops clasped his hands together. “Jasmine?”

“I saw Maleficent, who’s actually Sharra, awaken him from his crypt in the Cave of Lost Souls.”

“I see. It sounds like I need to get caught up.”

Between the two of us, we told him everything. When we finished, Professor Pops sat back. “I don’t know what Sharra is up to, but from experience I can tell you it will be worse than what you think you can imagine.”

“Great,” I said, feeling terrible.

“I’m sorry, but it isn’t. She regretted giving up her wings. She regretted making her people give them up. But by the time she realized the error of her ways it was too late. Not a single vampire existed with wings. Silindra, her sister, was the last and Sharra had her killed. I think it’s why she went mad.” While he spoke he kept his gaze fixed on me.

I shrank back, knowing I already regretted giving up my wings.

Professor Pops went on. “Only now there is you.”

I gritted my teeth, sick inside about what his words meant. To me. To Sharra. And to the whole world.

“I think she’s been planning this for quite some time. You gave her exactly what she wanted, Jasmine. And now that she has them back, she’ll do anything in her power to keep them.”

I wanted to lash out. Tell him he was wrong. Explain that even though he hadn’t said everything was my fault, I knew it was true. And I wanted to fix it. Somehow. If I could.

“Grand Pops,” Troy said when the tension in the room had grown thick enough to bite, “I don’t think there’s anything more we can do about this tonight. We are going to the dance. Don’t wait up.” He stood and pulled me up with him.

The professor nodded.

I followed Troy down the hall. Lost in my thoughts. Nearly drowning in guilt. If only I’d listened to Laeddin.

Sure I’d saved him, but at what cost? Now the whole world, and all of the other realms were in danger.

Troy helped me into the limo.

He sat down, keeping my hand in his. We didn’t speak and I was grateful. I needed time to collect my thoughts and figure out what I was going to do.

The Winter Formal was a grand affair for the Salem high students. It was held at the Ritz in Boston, a thirty-minute drive from our houses.

I stared out the window, keeping my focus on the dark water and the twinkling lights. It was beautiful. Quiet. Even peaceful.

Once we reached the Boston city limits, we were met by a National Guard security unit. Our limo driver rolled down his window and handed the uniformed man some papers.

“Open the back,” the soldier demanded.

Our driver got out and did as he was told.

The man in uniform stuck his head inside and gave us a smug glare. “You kids been drinking tonight?”

“No,” Troy answered. I could hear his pulse racing, his heart pumping wildly. I knew he wasn’t happy about being stopped.

“What about you?” the uniform asked.

“No,” I said, pulling my hand from Troy’s and glancing away.

“Should we do a breathalyzer? You seem a little unsure.” The guy looked like he wanted to climb into the limo with us to check.

“I haven’t been drinking.” I looked directly in his eyes this time, not wanting to be the cause of more trouble for Troy.

The uniformed guy searched the vehicle, probably looking for alcohol or drugs. “They’re clean. Let ‘em through.”

The driver shifted the limo into gear and began driving again. I should’ve been excited. I tried, but I kept seeing Maleficent flying around with my wings, kept hearing her laugh. She was ruining my night.

Troy took my hand back. Squeezed. But said nothing. That was one of the main reasons I liked him so much. He knew what I needed, usually before I did.

At the hotel entrance, the driver let us out.

“We’ll be done at midnight,” Troy said.

“Yes, sir.” The driver gave us a nod as he drove away.

Hand in hand we walked into the dance.

As soon as we walked in to the dance, my spirits lifted. Techno dance music was easily heard as soon as we opened the doors. The ballroom ceiling had snowflakes and icicles hanging from it. To one side was a winter wonderland, complete with fake snow, a large red sleigh, and a photographer.

Several dozen couples were on the dance floor, including Cameron and a girl I’d never seen before. That surprised me. I thought he was gay. He and the girl seemed to be close though. They had their heads together and were talking about something.

There was a DJ and lights and a buffet table filled with all sorts of yummy-looking treats.

“Let’s dance, Jack.” Troy walked us onto the floor. The song playing was from the 80’s. “Open Arms” by Journey, if my memory served. I put my arms around his neck and he put his arms around my waist. “The rest of the night is going to be about you and me and fun. Deal?”

I gave him a sweet smile. “I’d like that.” I rested my head against his chest as we swayed back and forth. When the song ended, another started. It was also a slow song, so we kept dancing.

After that one ended, we checked out the buffet table. Troy got himself a drink. He’d missed dinner and I knew he was hungry because he kept shoving cubes of cheese in his mouth.

“Sorry I made you miss dinner. What did the cook prepare?”

He chewed quickly and then swallowed. “It was Beef Provencal with twice baked potatoes topped with sautéed mushrooms. For dessert the chef made chocolate mousse with sugared raspberries and fresh whipped cream.”

I could practically see his mouth watering. “That sounds yummy,” I said even though it all tasted like ash to me now that I had my vampire powers back.

Troy laughed. “You’re a terrible liar.” He nuzzled my ear. “I know what you crave.”

I got weak in the knees and my stomach fluttered.

“I’d be careful with her if I were you.” It was Cameron. He stood beside Troy and picked up an olive.

“What do you mean?” Troy asked, facing Cameron. I felt the tension rolling off him. It melted my heart that he wanted to defend me. Not that I needed his help, but it was still sweet.

Cameron chewed on an olive. Swallowed. “Being friends with her equals if not death then disaster. Just watch it.” He walked away.

Troy started to go after him, but I held him back. “Don’t bother. I get why he’s scared. I would be too.”

He shook his head. “That doesn’t give him the right to be disrespectful.”

I put my hands on his face and smiled. “Wanna dance?”

“I would love to.”

We danced to slow songs and fast songs until a light sheen covered his forehead. Troy knew everybody and many of them interrupted us while we were dancing to say hi and just to chat. He introduced me to all of them. Some were really nice. Others weren’t. I tried not to focus on it since worrying wouldn’t do any good.

Even Zoe and Peter showed up for a little while and it was fun seeing my mom and dad so happy, so carefree. But it was short-lived. They ended up leaving probably an hour after they got there.

“Enjoy yourself,” my mom said right before she left.

I hugged her. “I will.”

Troy and I danced some more. We had our picture taken on the sleigh and then one where we stood under the mistletoe. They turned out really good. Troy really was movie star hot and the dress Sabrina created was amazing. We looked good together, he and I.

At exactly midnight my first official school dance ended.

I hugged Troy. “Thank you so much for asking me to go with you. It was as amazing as I hoped.”

He pulled my body close and I breathed him in.

“Thank you,” Troy said. “I’ve been to a few of these but I’ve never had more fun than tonight. Probably because you didn’t leave to go check your hair with your friends every five minutes.”

“Oh no. I totally forgot about that. How does my hair look?” I giggled at the look on his face.

He smiled. “Gorgeous, like the rest of you.”

“Thanks.”

He took my hand and we walked outside. Some of the couples were standing at the elevator. Apparently they had rooms. I didn’t want to contemplate what that meant. Troy was older, but I’d just experienced kissing and my first dance. No way was I near ready for what getting a room at a hotel implied.

Outside our limo driver waited his turn and then pulled up in front of us. He got out and held open the door.

“You still intend to go to the yacht?” the driver asked Troy.

Troy looked over. “You still want to watch the sun rise from the water?”

“Most definitely.”

“You heard the lady. Definitely.”

“Excellent, sir.”

He drove us to the pier where another National Guard unit checked us in and then waved us through.

At the edge of a long dock, the driver stopped. The yacht was white and lit up like a Christmas tree. Fog had rolled in making the lights on the yacht glow like dozens of phantoms. We got out. Troy thanked the driver and gave him a large tip.

The air was thick and salty. Waves lapped against the boat. Without my vampire vision I doubted I would’ve been able to see the ocean.

Troy and I walked down to where the captain and several crewmembers welcomed us as we came aboard.

“There’s shrimp cocktail in the dining area,” the captain, whose name was Nick Bordeaux, said.

“Thank you, Nick.” Troy took my hand.

The gesture put a smile on my lips. It seemed to be a thing with him, his need to be close. I didn’t mind. The truth was I liked it.

We walked along the deck, came to a long set of stairs and climbed. The dining area was luxurious, complete with a chandelier and at least a dozen tables surrounded by four times as many chairs.

My eyes were drawn to the gleaming bar. The back wall was covered in mirrors. Alcohol and various types of glasses lined glass shelves. Black leather barstools were tucked under a U-shaped counter. On either side of the counter were double swinging doors with round windows in each. I guessed the kitchen was back there.

Troy dashed over to the shrimp cocktail. “I’m starving,” he said, dunking an extra-large shrimp in cocktail sauce and tossing it in his mouth.

I smiled, watching him chew. The boy could eat.

The floor was a gleaming white and black leather sofas lined the windowed walls. A baby grand piano stood in one corner.

Troy ate more than half the shrimp before sighing, and patting his stomach. “Much better.”

“You full?”

“Yes.” He took a bottle of water chilling in an ice bucket, opened it and chugged it down. After tossing it in the trash, he took my hand. “Come on.”

We walked out of the dining area, down the stairs, and then along the side of the boat until we came to another set of stairs. This time they went down.

“Where we going?” I asked.

He opened a door and flipped on a light. It was a bedroom complete with a bed and four walls. “You wanna change?”

“Into what?”

“I have sweats. Those will be comfy.” He pulled open a drawer I hadn’t noticed because it was flush with the wall.

“Cool.”

He smiled, taking out a heather gray pair of sweatpants and a matching sweatshirt.

“You want me to look like a dirty cotton ball?” I asked, wrinkling my nose.

He burst out laughing. “As a matter of fact, yes. Yes, I do.”

“Mmmm-kay.” I grabbed them from his hands.

“You can change in the bathroom, right over there.” I went inside and closed the door.

“Don’t come out until I say. I’m going to change too.”

“Fine.” I took off my shoes and untied my dress. A quilted white hanger hung on the door and I used it to hang up my dress.

The bathroom was beautiful, like the rest of the incredible yacht. The bathroom floor consisted of peacock-colored tiles that also went halfway up the walls. The top half was painted white. The countertops were a sand color and had crushed seashells embedded in them as well as the double sinks. Next to them was a stand up shower with frosted glass doors. Another door led to the toilet.

I put on the sweats, worried they would be too big, but was surprised to realize they fit. And they were comfy.

Leaning against the counter, I took the pins from my hair, letting the curls fall down around my shoulders.

“I’m done if you are,” Troy hollered from the bedroom.

I opened the door.

“Wow. I think you might be sexier in sweats.” His eyes roamed over my body.

“You’re joking,” I snorted.

He tilted my chin. “Am not. You’re gorgeous.” He touched the place between my breasts. “Inside and out.”

My stomach quivered. “You’re just saying that,” I said trying to be funny but his features were serious.

“No. I mean it. Jack, I… care about you. A lot.” He brushed some hair off my face. “My best friend Cole is missing. I don’t know where he is. My father and Professor Pops are trying to find him, but not helping him was killing me. Until you. Getting to know you. Spending time with you.” He leaned down and kissed my forehead. “It’s meant a great deal.”

I swallowed, nervous about the intensity of his words. “I care about you too.”

He nodded. “Want to have a Vampire Diaries marathon until sunrise?”

“Heck yes.”

“Cool. I need snacks. Be right back.”

We were watching in his bedroom? I searched the room. “Where’s the TV?”

He picked up a remote sitting on the bed and pressed a button. The wall across from his bed slid back revealing a large flat screen. “Make yourself cozy.” He ran up the stairs.

I climbed on his queen-sized bed and fluffed the pillows so I could lean against them while I watched TV. I kept one out and held it against my stomach. It smelled like Troy and I brought it to my nose.

He came down just as I was inhaling. “Oh, you got it bad, don’t you?”

I hid behind the pillow, mortified. “No.”

He tossed a bag of licorice on the bed and then jumped on me, yanking the pillow from my hands. “Yes, you do.” His nose touched my neck just below my ear. “You forget I’m part dragon. I can smell it on you.” He slowly licked my neck. “Taste it.” He let out a purring noise that caused my thighs to tremble. “Feel it,” he said with a groan.

We were face to face. His eyes searched mine. I wondered what he was thinking. His body was on fire. Mine responded. All I could think about was that I wanted him.

“Isn’t this a surprise? I thought you had a thing for the genie, vampire? I know he cares deeply about you.” I recognized her voice. It was Maleficent.

Troy jumped to his feet and turned to face her. I sat up, my heart racing. “What are you doing here?” I asked, trying to cover up my trembling voice.

Maleficent took a step toward us, but stopped, her gaze on Troy. “You aren’t human.” Her scrutiny turned maniacal.

“I’m half-human,” Troy growled. I noticed his skin ripple, the dragon under his skin itching to get out.

Maleficent roared, angry. “I’ll be back.” She vanished.

“Weird,” I said, taking a deep breath, trying to calm the fear that had risen in me.

“Who was that?” Troy turned.

“Maleficent. The Mistress. Sharra.” I shrugged as I said her names. “She wasn’t happy to see you.”

Troy sat and I scooted next to him. “If I’d been alone she would’ve taken and killed me.”

“I won’t let that happen.” He was in shock. She’d appeared and disappeared in less than twenty seconds.

“I know,” I whispered. Grabbing his shoulders I lay back, pulling him down

His eyes searched mine. Silently I begged him to kiss me.

His lips crushed mine, the adrenaline of the moment firing our desires.

My kisses were no longer just kisses. They were tokens of gratitude. Promises. And hunger. I wanted him. All of him. I pushed his sweatshirt off, revealing his tanned, rippled muscles. My hands roamed his chest, down his stomach, and around his back.

His hips pressed against mine and I gasped. Ravenous. For his blood and his body. “Take it,” he said gruffly, tilting his neck.

I didn’t hesitate. My fangs extended.

“Princess.” Laeddin popped into the room.

Troy swore and sat up. I sat with him, readjusting my sweatshirt. It had risen up to my chest.

“Laeddin. Get out!”

He didn’t have to be told twice. He bolted up the stairs.

I stood to go after him.

“Jack?” The way Troy said my name nearly broke my heart.

I went back over to the bed and took his face between my hands. “I’m not choosing him over you. But the way he popped in, it’s obvious he has something important to say.” I kissed him firmly on the mouth. He pulled me onto his lap. I didn’t want to leave, but urgency forced me to stand. “Meet you up there?”

Troy examined my face, probably checking for the truthfulness of my words. I knew what he would find. My heart, where it’d once rested with Laeddin was firmly planted. It knew where I belonged. And that was with Troy.

“I’ll be right behind you.”

I nodded and ran barefoot up the steps.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. CHAPTER TWELVE

I found Laeddin on the upper deck, staring out at the dark water. “Sorry about that,” I said, coming to stand next to him. It wasn’t that I was sorry about kissing Troy. Only sorry Laeddin had been put in an uncomfortable situation.

He shrugged, running a hand through his hair. “It isn’t your fault. I didn’t think; I just came.”

Laeddin was wearing the same clothes he’d left in more than a week ago. He looked haggard, his face scruffy, and his dark hair mussed.

I touched his arm. “What did you want?”

Urgency returned to his face. “There’s an artifact, a crown. It’s made of fairy magic and the branches of their sacred komoni tree.”

“Ko-mon-e?

“Right. It’s a tree that grows in their realm.” He didn’t look at me but stared out at the ocean.

“What’s so special about it?”

“It’s special because there’s only one and the fairy folk consider it their deity. They believe all fairy life comes from it and when a fairy dies it is returned to the tree. Its roots are said to connect everything within the realm. Without the tree their realm would die as would all the fairy folk.”

“Okay, so what does this crown do?”

“It’s said to possess the same power as the tree.”

“So it… creates life? I don’t understand.” I rested my hands on the rail.

“And takes life.”

“Okay.”

Laeddin went on, “The story goes that five thousand years ago, the seven kings of the fairy realm started a war against each other. The reason was that each believed their kingdom should have guards protecting the komoni tree. Before and during the war only the high king’s guards protected the tree and the other six heard rumors that the high king was secretly using the power of the tree for his personal gain. They thought the high king was the richest and most powerful because he took the power of the tree and harnessed it for his own selfish desires.”

“Was he?” I asked.

“I don’t know. The story didn’t say. But after decades of fighting, the high king finally agreed to share protection of the tree. By then the other kingdoms weren’t satisfied with that though. They each wanted to be allowed to take possession of the tree for a period of fifty years.

“After several more years of discussion the high king came up with a plan. They would have the most powerful sorceress from each of the kingdoms come together to create a crown. Each king would be allowed to wear the crown for fifty years and during that time that king would be in charge of the tree’s protection and privy to whatever power he could harness.”

“I think I know where this is going.” I sighed. It seemed power was at the root of all war. A person or a country believed they should have all of it and that everyone should be subjected to it.

“Maybe not.” Laeddin shook his head. “The crown was created. The high king was given the right to it for the first fifty years and then he passed it on to the next king, and the king after that, until finally the seventh king received the crown.

“He’d had three hundred years to debate what he would do when given the crown. He spoke with his sorceress, tortured those he captured from the other kingdoms until he gained a full understanding of the power of the crown. And as soon as the crown was placed on his head, he began creating. But it wasn’t treasures like gold or silver or gems. He formed more fairies. They all swore allegiance to him because if they didn’t then he used the crown to destroy them. When his fifty years were up, he had an army of three million fairy warriors.

“Instead of returning the crown to the high king, he sent his three million warriors into the high king’s land and had everyone in the kingdom killed. Then he took possession of the dead king’s land for himself.

“When the other kings heard what he’d done they realized the crown was too much power for any one person. After much discussion they sent five assassins after the crown and the king. The plan was to kill the king and destroy the crown by giving it back to the tree. They slew the king and took the crown to the tree. But the tree rejected it. Instead the tree ripped the crown into five pieces.

The assassins didn’t want to take the fragments back to their kings so they each decided to take their piece and hide it, agreeing they wouldn’t tell the others where they were going or where their piece was hidden. They also agreed to tell the kings the crown had been destroyed.

“Over the centuries stories of the crown’s existence began to surface. Folktales popped up saying that even just having part of the crown gave the owner great power. I checked human histories too.” He snapped his fingers and a hologram of a crown appeared directly in front of us.

“Impressive,” I said, gripping the railing more tightly.

He smiled. “This is what the fairies believe the crown looks like.”

It was white with bright red berry-looking things randomly placed around it. Simple. Unassuming. It certainly didn’t look like it possessed any kind of power.

But I was confused. “It’s in pieces, right?”

“Yes. And, look.” A picture of Octavian Augustus, the first roman emperor appeared. Laeddin pointed to something on his robe. “It’s a piece of the crown.

I peered closer. “It’s possible.”

Another person appeared. Laeddin pointed to what looked like a piece of the crown. “Look.”

Another appeared. And another. And another. He showed more than twenty photos of men and women with what looked like the same piece of crown attached somewhere on their person.

I had to agree the thing he’d pointed out, whatever it was, did look the same in every picture.

“So a piece was hidden in the human realm? Or not so hidden since it seems lots of people have taken possession of it over the years.”

“Right.” He sent the hologram back into the ether where it came from.

“Okay, but…” I shook my head. “Even if we find all the pieces, how can the crown stop Maleficent?”

He flinched, perhaps taken aback that I didn’t understand. “The wearer of the crown can create and destroy life. If you wore the crown, you would have the same power.”

“I’ll use it to destroy Maleficent.” I nodded my agreement.

He took my hands. “You were created by the power of all seven magics. And even though you don’t have your wings, your DNA holds that magic. Plus you are an Original Vampire. If you possessed the crown, you wouldn’t just use it to destroy, but to create more vampires. Just. Like. You.”

The gravity of what he said pressed heavily against my chest. More vampires, with wings and powers, like I’d had. I wouldn’t be alone. There would be others. I pressed my hands against my head. The prospect was terrifying and exciting.

He took hold of my shoulders. “Alone you may be no match for Maleficent, but think if there were dozens or hundreds like you she wouldn’t stand a chance. Her power is strong, but not that strong. Not even close.”

I nodded, feeling a little sick inside. “How do we find the pieces?”

“Are you out of your freaking mind?” Troy stood at the top of the stairs. I didn’t know how much of the story he’d heard but I guessed by the furiousness on his face, that it was most if not all of it.

“What? It seems like a good plan,” I said moving over to him. “I can use the crown to destroy Maleficent and create more vampires like me.

“Got any better ideas?” Laeddin growled out.

“It isn’t giving Jack a crown so that she can create more Original Vampires. That’s nuts!” Troy was breathing heavily.

I stared, not sure I’d heard him correctly. Not sure I understood what he was saying. Because I thought he liked me for who and what I was.

“Why? What are you saying, Troy?” I tried to keep calm, but my body was reacting to the thoughts running through my mind.

He thinks you’re a freak too.

He thinks you’re a freak too.

He thinks you’re a freak too.

“You think I’m a freak.” The statement was like a knife jabbed inside my heart.

“No. No. That’s not it at all,” he said, backpedaling. “It’s just… you remember the stories of Silindra and Sharra. Life wasn’t great for humans when the Originals ruled the Earth.”

The knife twisted, cutting and slicing my heart into bright red ribbons.

“I—You…” I clamped my mouth shut and turned to Laeddin. “Can you get me out of here?”

“With pleasure.” Laeddin took hold of my arms.

When Laeddin let go we were back at my house. Upstairs in my room. Sabrina was asleep on my bed; her tiny body curled up, her hands tucked under her face.

My phone beeped. A swift glance informed it was a text from Troy. I didn’t even read the words before I sent back my reply.

Just leave me alone, Troy. I don’t want to talk to you right now. There was nothing he could say or do that would make up for his hurtful words.

Sorry, he texted back.

Laeddin immediately began to pace.

“What is it?” I asked, trying not to think about Troy and my broken heart.

“I know where to find the first piece.”

“You do?” I stood in front of him, making him stop.

“It’s in Connecticut.” His eyes seemed far away.

“That’s an odd place to hide a fairy relic.”

He shrugged. “True. But there’s a rock house in Guilford, Connecticut that was built in 1639 by Henry Whitfield—”

“I’ve heard about the house.” My aunt Cindy mentioned it during our conversations about how witches came to the human realm.

“Did you know that there are tunnels beneath the house? And within one of the tunnels a piece of the crown is buried.”

“How did you find out?”

He glared and I took a step back. “What do you think I’ve been doing the past two weeks?”

“I—”

“While you’ve been playing house with Troy I’ve been trying to figure out a way to save you, to save everyone.” Laeddin pushed past and sat on the window seat. He seemed exhausted. “If I say it’s there, by Allah, it’s there.”

“Fine,” I said through gritted teeth. “Shall I wish us there?”

“No. He shook his head. “We have to find five pieces. And we have to hope we can still capture one of the Akuma. The only way to do that is with a wish. You need to save them.”

“When do you want to leave?” I carefully sat on my bed.

“First thing tomorrow morning.” Laeddin walked out of my room.

Moments after he left, Christopher showed up. “Busy night,” he said.

“Hey Chris.” I rested my chin in my hands. Spending time with the Hunter was easy.

He sat, putting an arm around my shoulders. “You’re hungry.”

“Yeah, I am. Starving, actually.”

Today he wore a green long sleeved button down shirt and a tan pair of slacks and his blond hair was longer than I’d ever seen it. He kept flipping it out of his eyes. They weren’t red at the moment. They were hooded and… “Are you hungry?” I asked casually, not really thinking about it.

Christopher scooted closer. “Are you offering, Jasmine?” His fangs grew, scraping his bottom lip.

Was I? “Sure,” I said. What would it hurt?

“Oh, Jasmine.” He came forward, his focus on my neck.

I tilted my head to the side, moving my hair out of the way with my hand. His hands tenderly gripped my arms and he sank his fangs into my neck. I immediately gasped as a bolt of sexual desire shot through my body. I fell back on the bed, taking Chris with me. He adjusted himself so that he wasn’t squishing my body. My hands roamed his chest and I unbuttoned his shirt, pushing it off. Christopher helped, without moving his fangs from my throat.

After several minutes, he removed his mouth from my neck. His eyes roamed my face. A drop of my blood stained one side of his mouth. “Feel better?” I whispered.

“I feel amazing, Jasmine.”

I blushed, wondering if he knew he was the first to drink my blood. I had a feeling he did.

“Your turn.” Christopher rolled on his side, tilting his head so I had easy access to the vein on his neck. In the past I’d only drank from his wrist. Tonight would be different. I positioned myself above him. My fangs grew. I gave him a curious look, wondering if he minded. “Please, Jasmine.”

I sank my fangs into his throbbing throat and sucked. I tasted my blood mingled with his. It was amazing. Incredible. Delicious. It was all I could focus on. And I wanted more.

Chris wrapped his arms around my waist, pulling our bodies close. In that moment, with his body and blood mingling with mine, there was no one and no place else I wanted. Ever.

Everything made sense…

I was a monster. A vampire. And most important of all, I was Christopher’s and he was mine.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. CHAPTER THIRTEEN

I was flying again and I carefully settled into the dream. Vision. Whatever it was. This time I knew I was inside Maleficent’s mind so I kept quiet, hoping she wouldn’t notice I was there.

“It’s easy to tell when you’re with me, vampire.” She clucked her tongue. “Now I just need to get a hold of your body.” She laughed into the cool night air. “The dragon you were with was a surprise. I’d believed Abernathy was the last of his kind.”

I ignored her, scanning our surroundings through Maleficent’s eyes. I needed to know where we were. The terrain was familiar. Not Sharra but Salem.

She circled Professor Pops’ yacht.

Troy leaned against the railing, staring out at the dark water.

I wondered what he was thinking.

He seemed to sense Maleficent even if he couldn’t see her. “Get out of here.” His features were confident as though he believed he could physically remove her if it came to that.

“Hello, son.” Professor Pops climbed the steps and walked over to Troy.

“What’s this?” Maleficent asked. “One of my Hunters.”

She flew us in closer. But Pops sensed us. He looked directly at us, and his eyes seemed to pierce through the air.

Maleficent shuddered. I remember you, her mind hissed.

“I have news and needed to share it right away,” Professor Pops said when Troy turned.

“What is it?”

“Cole.” Professor Pops clapped Troy on the shoulder. “I know where he is.”

That perked Troy up. He seemed to immediately forget what he’d been brooding over, his attention totally on Professor Pops and Cole. “You do? Where? Let’s go get him.”

“That’s why I came. Your father has agreed to let you come, but we must leave immediately. With the darkness spreading, I want Cole home sooner rather than later. And the realm he’s in?” Professor Pops shook his head. “I’m worried about him.”

“I’m ready now.” Troy walked toward the stairs.

“Did you want to say good-bye to Jasmine?” Professor Pops asked.

Troy’s face softened. “I hurt her. I didn’t mean to, but I…” He shook his head. “It’s better if I give her some space. She’ll understand. Let’s go.”

Troy, my heart whispered over and over.

“All right, son. Let’s go get your brother back.” He followed Troy down the stairs.

“That boy is truly amazing. If only he were the tiniest bit malevolent,” Maleficent said, flying us away from the yacht and moving inland.

I didn’t respond, pondering what Maleficent said. Guilt filled my heart. Sorrow too. I’d jumped to the poorest possible conclusion with Troy. And it made the whole thing worse that it took someone as evil as Maleficent to display the error of my ways.

Maleficent landed on one of the lower spires of the gothic church inside the Harmony Grove Cemetery. She turned in a circle, searching.

“Ah, there they are.” She focused on a group sitting on the ground in a circle. They were kids from school. Each had a lit candle sitting in front of them. They were holding hands.

“It’s so much fun to watch the wicked work. Especially when they have no idea what they’re doing.”

Fear spread like a thick blanket over my insides. “What are you going to do?”

“Watch, dear Jasmine. See what your wings, your magic, and my vision can do.”

She landed in the center of the circle, a big smile on her face. “Hello, my pets.”

“Jesus. Mary. And Joseph.” One of the girls said, crossing herself.

I realized it was the girl who’d gone to the Winter Formal with Cameron.

“Witch,” another said, standing. It was Cameron.

I wanted to shout at him to run.

“Oh, you know this one,” Maleficent said aloud even though she was speaking to me. She lifted Cameron off the ground by his neck.

“Who are you?” Cameron choked out.

“I am she whom you called while performing your ritual.” She flicked her finger and made the flame on the candles flare up. “I am your Mistress.”

There were seven who’d been sitting in the circle. Two stood and tried to run.

“Bup. Bup. Bup. Stay. Enjoy the fruits of your labors.” Without touching them, the boy and girl turned back around and sat in the circle. They seemed to be fighting the movements, but Maleficent’s magic was stronger than their fear.

“How can we serve you?” Another girl asked. Her clear brown eyes were terrified.

Maleficent cackled. “Oh, you humans are much too easy.” She took a deep breath and blew yellow smoke into Cameron’s face. His eyes rolled back in his head and his body went limp. Then she twirled in a slow circle, blowing the smoke at each of the remaining six.

They crumpled to the ground.

“Are they dead?” I was horrified, praying they weren’t dead.

“That depends on your idea of death.”

Their bodies disintegrated.

Maleficent pulled a silky red pouch from beneath her robes. The rope that held the bag shut looked like pixilette hair. She pulled the top of the bag open and took a pinch of deep red powder and sprinkled it over the soil where the bodies had been. As she scattered the powder she spoke in a language I’d never heard before.

At first nothing happened. After several minutes I wondered if Maleficent had lost her mind. The ground was covered with red powder and her red pouch was totally empty.

“Maleficent?” I asked, trying to gauge the soundness of her faculties.

“Patience,” she answered.

She stood back.

The bodies of the kids from school began to reappear.

“What’s happening?”

Maleficent cackled and began to dance. The waltz, I think. Watching the bodies resurrect was like watching a flower grow in fast forward. The skeletons emerged first, the bones growing and connecting. Next came the muscles, veins, and skin. Then their insides seemed to fill up. With what, I didn’t know.

Cameron’s eyes opened first. They were black. And he smelled like vanilla potpourri.

“Oh Cameron.”

“Don’t worry, unwanted vampire. You’ll see him again really soon.”

“Jasmine.”

A tiny voice broke through the darkness and woke me.

My eyes blinked opened.

Sabrina was flying directly above my face.

“Hey,” I said rolling onto my side.

“Laeddin is up already and he’s downstairs wearing a path in the living room floor.”

Last night came back in a rush.

Sabrina made an amazing dress.

Dancing with Troy.

Kissing Troy.

Going to the yacht.

Kissing Troy some more.

Laeddin appearing.

Hearing the story of the sacred crown.

Troy’s words.

Coming home.

Letting Christopher drink from me, and I him… those thoughts sent my stomach fluttering. The experience had been amazing.

And then there was the vision and what I’d experienced with Maleficent.

“Cameron!”

I threw off the covers, sending Sabrina tumbling backward. “Sorry.”

“Don’t worry.” She shook her head and flew back over.

I held out a hand and she landed on it. I leaned in and kissed the top of her head. “I’m so happy you’re here.”

“Me too,” she said, flying over to the window.

I went into the bathroom. Sabrina followed. “I need a shower. Be out in a few, Kay?”

“Oh, fine. I’m going outside. I need some fresh air.” Sabrina flew out the window.

I closed the door and took a hurried shower then dressed in jeans, a red tee shirt, and red Country Outfitter ankle boots. My hair was still wet and since I wanted to hurry, I did a low, side braid and tied it off with a red bow. Then I put on some lip-gloss and went downstairs.

Laeddin was in the kitchen eating an apple.

“Hi.” I sat on a barstool. He looked better. Showered and shaved. He’d changed too. He wore clean jeans and a black button up shirt, the long sleeves rolled past the elbows. His hair was still slightly wet. He didn’t say anything when I came in. Just kept chewing. “What time did you want to leave? Are we flying by magic carpet?” I wouldn’t mind that. Flying with him when we’d gone to his realm had been amazing.

Before he could answer, someone knocked on the door. I pulled it open and hid a groan. It was Officers Gand and Vick.

“Should I start setting places for you at the table?”

Officer Gand ignored my question. “Mind if we come in? We have a few questions.”

I pushed the door wide. “Not at all.” As I closed the door I noticed a military truck parked out front.

“Laeddin?” I pointed toward the driveway. He glanced out the window over the kitchen sink. I knew he’d seen the truck by the way his jaw clamped tight, but he didn’t say anything. Just nodded.

I faced the officers. “Did you bring back-up?”

Officer Gand smiled. “They were there when we arrived.”

He and officer Vick went over to the couch. Officer Vick pulled out his notepad and paper.

“Tell us about Cameron Anderson.”

I sat in the oversized high back next to the glass cabinets. “He’s a good guy. I met him my first day of school. He showed me around. Helped me find my way.”

Officer Gand gave officer Vick a look. It sent my heart into my stomach. I knew they were asking about him because he was missing. As were six others.

“Right. And what about his date last night, a Gemi Felix?”

“I saw Cameron with her at the dance, but I didn’t know her.”

Officer Vick gritted his teeth. “What about Ashley Hood?”

“I don’t know who that is.” I felt bad. I wished there was a way to tell them what’d happened. But I knew without a doubt that if they didn’t think I was a crazed teenager making stuff up they would think I’d killed them.

“David West. Steven Pollock. Hannah Coolridge. Trisha Zamora.”

Each name felt like a knife in my heart. Their parents. Their families would be devastated. “No. Sorry. I’m new to the school and don’t know a lot of people.”

“When’s the last time you saw Cameron?” Officer Vick asked.

“At the dance. Last night.” I clasped my hands together.

“What time was that?” Officer Gand continued.

“The dance ended right at midnight. I saw him and a girl get into a limo. I’m guessing that was Gemi, but I don’t know for sure. Then they drove away.” I swallowed, not thinking too much about the lie I had to tell. Looking directly in Officer Gand’s eyes I continued, “I haven’t seen them since.” I leaned forward. “Are they okay?”

“We don’t know. They’re missing.” His eyes pierced through me.

“They are teenagers and they went to a dance. Jasmine saw them at midnight. It’s barely eight in the morning. What makes you think they’re missing and not just holed up in a hotel room sleeping off last night’s fun?” Laeddin asked, coming to stand next to my chair.

I appreciated his support.

“You have a point. And normally we wouldn’t be worried. Except a groundskeeper found three purses with IDs inside and seven candles at the Harmony Grove Cemetery early this morning.” Officer Vick’s mouth formed a hard line.

“After calling the kids’ parents and checking nearby hotels, we’ve verified they are in fact missing.

“That’s terrible,” I whispered.

“Yes, Jasmine. It is,” Officer Vick agreed.

“Any idea where they might’ve gone.”

I shook my head. I honestly didn’t know. “No. I don’t.”

Officer Vick sighed heavily. “For some reason I don’t believe you.”

“Are you accusing her of something?” Laeddin growled out.

“No sir. Of course not,” Officer Gand said.

“But we will find out what happened and when we do, if it’s discovered you had anything to do with it,” Officer Vick pointed his pen, “we’ll be sure to punish you to the full extent of the law.”

Laeddin walked over to the door and yanked it open. “I’m going to have to ask you gentlemen to kindly… Get. Out.”

The policemen went to the door. Officer Vick stomped down the stairs and to his car.

Officer Gand hesitated. “We just want to know what’s going on and for some reason your name keeps coming up.” He gave Laeddin a pointed look. “Sorry for any inconvenience.”

“Fine,” Laeddin said curtly.

We watched the officers drive away.

“Why do you think the National Guard is sitting in our front yard?”

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Laeddin went out to speak with the uniformed men sitting in the truck. They didn’t say much except there was some “suspicious activity” in the area and advising us to “stay inside unless leaving was absolutely necessary”. That was all the information they gave us.

I told Laeddin the truth about seeing the kids in the Harmony Grove Cemetery and I explained about Maleficent. “What are we going to do?” I asked when he didn’t say anything.

“You said she spoke and sprinkled red powder over the spots where they’d been?” Laeddin finally asked.

“Yes.” I thought about what I’d seen and remembered another bit of information. “Also, before they disappeared, she blew yellow smoke in their faces.”

“That sounds like something Maleficent would do. She’s always had a thing for the dramatic.” He pulled a water bottle from the refrigerator and drank. When he finished, he said, “I think you’re right about Sharra and Maleficent being combined somehow.” Laeddin walked upstairs. I didn’t know where he was going but I followed.

When we reached his bedroom Laeddin opened the door and went inside. “When you talk to her, who do you hear? Maleficent or Sharra?”

“I hear Sharra,” I said, unable to stop myself from checking out his room. It was neat as a pin and had been changed recently. It looked like his genie bottle after he’d revealed it. That felt like a lifetime ago.

“Interesting.” He picked up an old book from off a bedside table. “We need to start searching for the pieces of the crown, but first I’m going to make a trip back to my realm. I’m pretty sure I know exactly where to look for the spell she’s placed on those kids.”

“What good will that do?” I asked, upset he was leaving. Again.

“Usually the book will explain how to cast the spell, what it does, and how to reverse it.”

“You think we can reverse the spell on Cameron and the others?” I forced myself not to hope.

“Perhaps. I’m going to check the histories. Find out. Okay?” He touched my shoulder kindly. “I’ll be back soon and then we’ll go by carpet to Connecticut.” He smiled sweetly.

“I guess.” I sighed. “Please hurry.”

“I will.”

With the snap of his fingers, Laeddin was gone.

I spun in a quick circle, knowing I should leave his room. His bed was made, the white comforter thick and billowy. The four-poster bed had mosquito netting draped across it, like a circus tent. Only the netting was white and easy to see through.

Without really thinking about what I was doing, I pushed back one of the curtains and climbed on his bed. His pillows smelled like him—oranges and exotic spices. I lay back, staring up at the ceiling.

My mind drifted. I went over what Laeddin had said. About the crown and how it could create life. I thought about what that meant. Generating new life from my DNA. Designing vampires like me. They would possess all seven magics and have wings. I wouldn’t be alone. No longer a freak. No longer different.

I remembered the look on Troy’s face when he heard. He’d been horrified. Terrified. Was I really that scary? Would dozens of Original Vampires really be that bad? I tried to look at it from his point of view.

They would possess a great deal of power, be nearly impossible to contain or kill or control.

And what if they chose evil? If Maleficent got a hold of a vampire like I was and used it to do her bidding…

The skin on my arms prickled and my senses heightened. I wasn’t alone any more. I opened my eyes, thinking Laeddin had returned. “Hey, sorr—”

It wasn’t Laeddin and there wasn’t just one person either. There were seven. The same seven Maleficent had turned into Akuma last night.

“Cameron?” I sat up, scooting close to him, hoping I could reason with him. I was strong. I had my vampire abilities once again. And if I had to tear his head from his body to free him from whatever Maleficent had done to him, I would, but I didn’t want to.

His dark eyes gleamed. “All alone?”

“How perfect,” Gemi said.

“She was right,” Another of the boys said.

“The Mistress will see you now,” Cameron added.

“Please, Cam. Don’t do this. Please.”

Laeddin was trying to find a way to fix him, to get rid of the evil demon part of them and keep what was left… if there was anything. I hoped there was.

“Take her,” Gemi screamed.

The seven Akuma came at me at once.

I fought, kicking at Gemi, sending her flying backward so she smashed against the dresser. A guy and girl grabbed my feet, pulling me toward them. I grabbed the guy by the hair and twisted off his head. His body fell back. I tossed his head. It caught in the netting and rolled on the bed. His surprised features frozen in place, until he disintegrated.

The girl screamed as though she were in pain. She grabbed hold of one of my arms. With my other I yanked her long ponytail and wound it around her neck, choking her. Then used my feet to push her body away. Her head came off with a pop.

I threw the head over the edge of the bed.

Someone ripped the netting and used it to bind my arms. I growled, rolling onto my back so that I could tear off its head with my legs.

But it was Cameron. “Cam,” I whispered. “Please.”

That few seconds I was distracted was all they needed to bind my hands and feet. They were stronger than normal humans. And the five of them held me fast.

Whatever magic they used infiltrated my system. It felt vaguely familiar and I realized Maleficent had used some of the magic connected to my wings to create these monsters.

I choked on a sob, slashing at the netting over my head with my fangs. I tore a hole in it, but the five Akuma wouldn’t be deterred. “Laeddin,” I shouted, trying to think of a wish. One that wouldn’t have consequences. One where I could get out of this mess and not hurt anyone else. It was so frustrating.

By the time I had a wish formulated I was no longer in Laeddin’s room. I was somewhere else altogether.

It was dark and hot and smelled of brimstone.

Had they taken me to Hell?

“Not Hell, Jasmine.” It was Maleficent. “Welcome to my home. It isn’t much, but after your mother nearly killed me, this was where I was sent. What do you think?”

I shuddered. “I wish—”

Invisible hands stronger than steel clamped over my mouth and held my tongue. “No. No. No wishing for you, pretend vampire. Laeddin will come, but it must be of his own choice and not because you wished him here.”

I glared. There was still another way. I could wish with my mind. Maybe? Couldn’t I?” It wouldn’t hurt to try. I closed my eyes. I wish

But my mind inexplicably softened, like butter melting in the hot sun. I couldn’t remember what I’d been about to wish for. I opened my eyes.

Maleficent stood in front of me her dark eyes gleaming with evil mischief. Her lips red as blood. Her skin white as snow.

“No thinking for you either.” She was so beautiful it almost hurt to look at her for too long.

Maleficent stepped back and I noticed what she was wearing. It was made of velvet. The collar was high in the back and low in the front, exposing an immense amount of cleavage. The bodice was black and laced down to her waist. The sleeves were long as was the skirt. It was black and violet. Her black hair had been piled high on her head.

And my wings? My beautiful black wings cascaded down her back like inky waterfalls.

Tears stung my eyes. “Why are you doing this?” My head lolled to one side and I took in the room.

There wasn’t much to it.

Large.

Black.

But it sparkled like diamonds.

What really caught my attention were the hundreds of Akuma packed inside. There were humans, elves, trolls, fairies, unicorns, and so many more.

“What do you intend to do with them all?” The words slurred out of my mouth.

“Whatever I want,” she said slyly. “Why don’t you sleep, false vampire?” She opened her mouth and blew. Yellow smoke drifted into my face. I tried to hold my breath, but it still went up my nose and penetrated my mouth. I felt it in my pores too. It smelled like sulfur and vanilla, not a good combination. “When you wake, you’ll be all mine.”

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. CHAPTER FIFTEEN

I woke to the sounds of hooting and hollering and stomping feet and whistling. It was like a stadium full of spectators at a football game. I kept my eyes closed, trying to figure out what was happening without giving away the fact that I was aware.

“Laeddin, so nice of you to come.”

My heart raced and my mouth went dry. Laeddin was here. Maleficent said he would come and he had.

“Release Jasmine now, Maleficent,” Laeddin said.

“Of course, genie. I will. Just as soon as you give me what I want.”

“And what is that?”

“Your power, of course,” Maleficent said matter-of-factly.

The room went wild again.

“Why would you want it? You have more power than I already. I can feel it.” Laeddin whispered.

“Awwww, did you hear that?” Maleficent glanced around the room.

The Akuma clapped and cheered. “While that may be true, I don’t have enough. With your powers I’ll be unstoppable.”

Laeddin had incredible power. I knew that. And so much more. As quickly as it’d come, the fuzziness in my brain cleared up. My mind sharpened and I was myself once more. I would’ve sighed in relief, but it was too soon. I needed to figure out a way to save Laeddin and get us out of there.

“Fine,” Laeddin said.

The cheers in the room became louder than ever.

“He accepts,” Maleficent said. The ovations grew.

I chanced a peek in the direction of the talking. Laeddin had no emotion on his face. He was being led to an altar made of sparkling black stone by two Akuma.

I watched as several more Akuma forced him onto his back on the altar where black ropes appeared and bound his arms, legs, and head.

“He’s ready,” an Akuma said. It hurt to realize it was Cameron. He’d been right to stay away from me, but it hadn’t done him any good. Even after all I sacrificed to save him, he’d still become a demon.

Maleficent stood beside Laeddin. “I first realized you hid in that cave in Sharra around the same time Jasmine was born. It didn’t take long to recognize the opportunity that had been laid in my path. Having the two of you together was fate. My destiny. At that moment I knew you would die and give me your power. And that you would do so willingly, in order to save her.” Maleficent glanced over. Our eyes locked. Hers were filled with surprise. Mine I’m sure were full of fear.

I quickly closed my eyes. Too late.

“It seems Jasmine has wakened. Just in time. Bring her over.”

Cameron and Gemi pushed the iron prison that looked like a lion’s cage over next to Laeddin. Maleficent smiled. It almost looked genuine.

“You will witness what it means to sacrifice for the one you love. Then I’ll make you an Akuma and you’ll be my daughter, like you should’ve been. Together we will rule the world. What do you think?”

I opened my eyes, pretending my brain was still mush and forced myself to have an empty expression. One totally opposite of the way I was feeling.

“Oh, silly me. You can’t think.” She laughed. The Akuma joined in. Then her features became deadly serious. “Let’s begin.” A silver dagger with red markings appeared in Maleficent’s hand. She focused her attention on Laeddin, raising the dagger high above her head.

As she began to speak words in the language I didn’t understand the dagger started to glow red, vibrating and shaking almost like it wanted to be free of her grasp.

Maleficent’s words grew louder.

The red radiance on the blade got bigger so that it consumed her hands and arms up to her elbows.

I glanced at Laeddin. He was focused on my face, his features still empty of emotion.

The cheering and clapping of the Akuma found a rhythm, like a bass drum keeping time to a beat only they could hear. The room shook. Black sparkles rained down from the ceiling.

The end was coming. The very air crackled with its imminence.

I wanted to give Laeddin some comfort, tell him everything was going to be okay, but I couldn’t because it would’ve been a lie.

Maleficent’s words rose over the roaring crowd. Her entire body was surrounded by the red light.

“Jasmine.” Laeddin said my name so quietly I was surprised I heard it. But I did, like he’d spoken it in my ear.

I gave him my full attention. Tears leaked onto my cheeks. I knew they would be red again, but I didn’t care.

“I love you,” he said. The words penetrated through the noise and deep into my soul.

A sob ripped from my throat. He wasn’t saying the words out of fear or because he was sad. He meant them. I could see it. Feel it in my heart and soul.

“Laeddin.”

He smiled. It was small, secret. Meant just for me. “It’s okay. Everything will be fine.”

I smiled back, appreciating the lies he spoke. Wishing we could’ve had more time together.

And an idea came into my mind.

There was an easy solution.

Make a wish, my mind whispered.

It was supposed to be saved and used for capturing an Akuma. That was what Peter, Zoe, Troy, Ariel, Laeddin and I had planned. But the plan wouldn’t matter if Maleficent killed Laeddin.

Oh my gosh.

The idea of no longer having him in my life struck deep.

It was as though I was being asked to give up my wings for him again. A new opportunity. If I had the chance to do it again, would I make a different decision? Would I give up Laeddin and keep my wings?

The answer was a resounding no. I would make the same choice over and over.

Tonight I would save him.

I didn’t have time to debate what I should wish for. Nor did I have the option to ask Laeddin for help on wording my wish. The knife in Maleficent’s hands was on its descent. If I didn’t act now, it would be too late.

“I wish Maleficent would use the dagger on herself instead of Laeddin.” I spoke the words clearly.

Laeddin blinked, startled.

Immediately the knife changed course. It no longer headed downward, but went straight into Maleficent’s chest.

The room went silent, an eerie hush falling over the crowd.

The sound, like a blade forced into a honeydew melon, rang through the room.

Maleficent gasped, shock permeating her features. “What—” She swallowed, looking down at the blade. It was buried deep in her chest. Her eyes filled with pain. “—have you done?”

The bands on Laeddin’s wrists, ankles and neck loosened. He jumped off the altar.

The red light glimmering around Maleficent got bigger. I didn’t know what I’d done exactly and I didn’t want to find out.

I held out my hands, waiting for Laeddin to take them.

He clutched them tightly.

And we were no longer in Maleficent’s peculiar room.

We were home.

THE END of Vampire Secrets.

Continue Jasmine’s story by reading:

VAMPIRE NIGHTS.

_______

Or, if you’d rather read the next book in the BLOOD AND SNOW world, you can download[* Asha’s Kisses, *]the first book in the ASHA EVER AFTER series.

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h1=. Afterword

Thank you for reading the first two books in the Vampire Wishes series. Set in the Blood and Snow world, this is Jasmine’s story. She’s comparable to the Original Vampires in that she has wings, but she doesn’t like being different.

Over the course of these stories she’ll come to realize that what makes her different is the attribute that will save those she loves.

I hope you enjoyed Vampire Lies and Vampire Secrets and will continue the story with Vampire Nights.

And if you would be so kind as to leave a review, I would really appreciate it.

Thank you!

Sincerely,

RaShelle Workman

About the Author

RaShelle Workman is an international bestselling author. Several of her books have been translated into Turkish and the books in her BLOOD AND SNOW world has sold over a million copies worldwide. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys baking, creating new taco recipes, and watching Supernatural.

RaShelle lives in Utah with her husband, three children and their three dogs. Find her online by visiting her website at: www.rashelleworkman.org.

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h1=. Connect with RaShelle

Website

Twitter

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Be sure to sign up for RaShelle’s exclusive Newsletter. She does a giveaway each month and all you have to do is sign up.

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h1=. Across the Ages

Ghosts are real. So is time travel.

***

Eighteen-year-old Lucy Channing discovers this reality after her dead grandmother gives her a beautiful locket. As soon as her fingers brush the cold copper, Lucy is swept out of the nineteenth century and into the twenty-first.

***

The first person she encounters is none other than twenty-year-old William Godwin. He’s uber-rich, arrogant, exciting, and oh so handsome. 

***

William agrees to help the strange girl find her way home. Or into the nearest mental institution.

***

But what the two uncover reveals more than ghosts and time travel. Lucy and William discover a love greater than time itself.

***

A love so strong it reaches… Across the Ages.

***

DOWNLOAD TODAY! It’s free.


Vampire Wishes Books 1-2: Vampire Lies & Vampire Secrets

This boxed set contains the first two books in the Vampire Wishes series, an Aladdin reimagining featuring Jasmine. *** This series is part of the Blood and Snow world. *** "This book was so good I couldn't put it down. It's loosely based off of Aladdin, but it focuses more on Jasmine, which I really liked." ~ Amazon Review "Keeping true to her magical worlds and characters, Miss Workman has once again given us a beautiful and magical story." ~ Amazon Review VAMPIRE LIES: Once upon a time there lived a vampire with wings and the genie who loved her... My name is Jasmine and I'm an original vampire. Created by the world's magics, I must drink the blood of the seven in order to sustain myself. On top of that I have wings. Large, black wings that make everything from dressing to sleeping more difficult. My parents tell me I'm special and that I should embrace my uniqueness, but all I want is to be normal. Attend a regular high school and have friends in the human realm, just like they did. So when I meet Laeddin and he agrees to grant me three wishes, I make the ultimate choice. But will it lead to my happily ever after or the destruction of the world? Only time will tell and there isn't much left. VAMPIRE SECRETS: A dream is a wish your heart makes... At least that's what I've always read. My name is Jasmine and I'm an original vampire. It's been a month since I agreed to the wish that would keep Laeddin safe. By all accounts I should be excited by the way things are. I'm attending high school, hanging out with friends, and spending time with Laeddin. But I'm not. Ever since the sorceress, Maleficent ripped away a part of me, I haven't felt like myself. To make matters worse, the man with red eyes that haunted my dreams is appearing in real life and demonic creatures keep showing up in Salem. The question on both counts is why? I must figure out who the man with red eyes is and what the creatures want. Thankfully I'm not alone. Laeddin, Peter, Zoe, and some friends from the mansion next door are here to help. I also need to deal with Maleficent. She’s using what she took from me to inflict havoc on the human realm as well as other realms. __________________ VAMPIRE WISHES Books Include: Vampire Lies Vampire Secrets Vampire Nights Vampire Prey Vampire Magics ________________ THE BLOOD AND SNOW WORLD ORDER ~ These stories do not have to be read in order, but you can. It does make the experience more fun. ~ BLOOD AND SNOW (Snow White) blood and snow 1 masquerade's moon 2 love bleeds 3 _________ SHORT STORIES INCLUDED IN BOOK 3 cindy witch the hunter's tale Gabriel after the kiss blood's rose THE CINDY CHRONICLES (Cinderella) witch magic 1.1 witch land 1.2 witch time 1.3 witch kiss 1.4 witch love 1.5 witch end 1.6 VAMPIRE WISHES (Jasmine) vampire lies 1 vampire secrets 2 vampire nights 3 vampire prey 4 vampire magics 5 _______ SHORT STORY INCLUDED IN BOOK 5 the professor's origin 0.1 BEASTLY (Belle) a beauty so beastly 1 a beauty so deadly 2 (coming soon) a beauty so completely 3 (coming soon) ASHA EVER AFTER (Aurora) asha's kisses 1 asha's curse 2 (coming soon) asha's ever after 3 (coming soon) DEMONLAND (Alice) alice in demonland 1 alice fights demonland 2 (coming soon) alice takes demonland 3 (coming soon) THE FORGOTTEN MERMAID (Ariel) ~ Exclusively part of Once Upon a Happy Ending anthology. ~

  • ISBN: 9781370192779
  • Author: RaShelle Workman
  • Published: 2017-09-03 06:20:39
  • Words: 84924
Vampire Wishes Books 1-2: Vampire Lies & Vampire Secrets Vampire Wishes Books 1-2: Vampire Lies & Vampire Secrets