Luke Marianez used to be an immortal vampire prince – until the witch he loved betrayed him and cursed him with the ability to die. Now he lives in the world of vampire blood bars, where the waitresses are the drinks, and dreams about killing the last of the witch’s line so he can live forever. But revenge doesn’t just mean breaking the curse. He wants to break the girl’s heart, too. Can Luke seduce Cicely without falling in love himself?
Cicely Watson doesn’t believe in werewolves or vampires. She’s not even sure she believes in true love. But she’s about to discover what every werewolf knows:
The boy is a mystery to me.
Zoe grins as she leans in to read over my shoulder. “Um, who are you writing about, Cicely?”
I swivel away from her on the wooden bleachers, covering my words with my hand. “Hello? Who said you could read my notebook?”
“Hello yourself,” says Zoe, “Friends don’t let friends keep secrets. So, spill. Who’s the mystery boy?”
“No one,” I say, “It’s fiction.” But I can’t keep myself from glancing at Ander. He is standing alone on the running track that circles the playing fields below us. As I watch, he stretches his long legs into a lunge, his eyes focused on the track ahead.
Zoe follows my gaze and laughs out loud. “Come on, you don’t mean Ander?” She shakes her head, her red-dyed pigtails bouncing. “Cicely, Ander does not qualify as a mystery man! For one thing, he is a total boy, completely what-you-see-is-what-you-get. For another, you two have been best buds for how long? Like, three years?”
“Four,” I say, “Since I was twelve.”
“And you can practically finish each other’s sentences. He’s like the goofy, jock-boy, other half of your brain. So where’s the mystery there?”
“Nowhere” I say, “No mystery at all. So can we drop it?”
Zoe’s eyes twinkle at me over the top of her cat-eye sunglasses. “I don’t know,” she says, “Can we?”
“Yes.” I shut my notebook. “We can.”
But I can’t. I know I can’t. There’s no use trying to explain it to Zoe—I can barely understand it myself. But the more I know about Ander, the more I have the sneaking suspicion that there’s something I don’t know.
I pull my eyes away from him and stuff my hands in the pockets of my jacket. It’s the third week of October in Monument, Minnesota, birthplace of cold, and evening is coming on fast. The woods that stretch out beyond the playing fields are flecked with the red and gold of sunset on bright fall leaves. It’s barely evening, but lately the days die young.
Most days around this time, Ander would be raiding our fridge, or salivating over a bacon double cheese-burger at Zoe’s dad’s café. But right now, for once, he isn’t thinking about food. His mind is completely focused on the run. I watch him crouch into position at the starting line. For a long second he stays coiled, tensed like an animal about to pounce. Then an imaginary starting gun sounds in his head, and he springs. Arms pumping, legs pressing, he tears down the track. This is the tenth time he’s run in the last half an hour, but you’d never know it to see him. He revels in his own speed, not the least bit tired of running.
And I’m not tired of watching. Frankly, I like what I see. But Ander and I are best friends—and he’s made it pretty clear that’s all we’re ever going to be: friends.
No matter how much I want to be more than that.
No matter how much it sometimes seems like Ander wants to be more than that, too.
Joking with Ander, play-fighting with Ander, splitting a sandwich with Ander—all that is allowed. But just watching Ander is a luxury I can’t usually afford. If he ever caught me watching him like this, if he knew I was crushing on him, he’d get the look—sad, serious, closed. I hate that look more than anything, so I keep my crushing in check.
But way up here in the bleachers, I let myself enjoy the view. Ander is tall, broad-shouldered, and muscled, built more like a football player than a runner. Off the track, you might expect him to be strong, but not fast, and certainly not graceful. And in everyday life, he’s not. I can’t count the number of times he has sloshed Mountain Dew on me, fumbled the dishes, capsized our canoe. But when he runs, everything changes. He’s wearing shorts and a t-shirt now, in spite of the cold, and with every stride I watch his muscles work. How does this overgrown puppy-boy, with his baseball mitt hands and his size zillion kicks, turn into a thing of beauty on the track? I don’t know. But somehow when he runs, the sloppy teenage boy is gone and something powerful and primal takes his place.
Is he running from something? Or to it?
I just wish he was running to me.
Well, maybe today will be different.
Ander rounds the final curve and flies into the straightaway. He presses a little harder once the finish line is in sight, putting on a completely unnecessary rush of speed that would leave anyone else in his wake. He bursts across the finish line and keeps going, full tilt, for a few more yards before finally, reluctantly, slowing to a jog. I don’t need a stop-watch to know his time was great. Ander’s the sort of athlete any coach would kill for—if he would only come to practice. Which he won’t.
Ander slows to a walk, grabs his thermos from the bottom bleacher, and takes a long swig.
“Gatorade.” Zoe shakes her head, “The guy is constantly sucking down the jock juice.”
“Only because he can’t get it intravenous.” Ander’s addiction to Gatorade is well known. He’s basically never without it. Sipping it is like a nervous habit with him, and he never, ever shares.
Ander’s slowly coming out of the zone. He looks up and notices us for the first time. I smile and give him a thumbs-up while Zoe golf claps. He breaks into a goofy grin and lopes in our direction.
The sleek, fast animal is gone. My usual doofus is back.
And you know? That’s fine with me. I tug my worn red hoodie a little tighter around me, shove my notebook in my bag, pick up my violin case, and make my way down the bleachers, my combat boots clonking on the wood. Zoe follows me, even more slowly, in her leopard-print platform clogs. “Zoe,” I say, “It’s like zero degrees. Why are you wearing those shoes?”
“Duh,” She says, “They go with my coat!”
This makes sense only in Zoe World, since the coat in question is lime green polyester, circa nineteen-seventy. It doesn’t go with her shoes, or with her cherry-red dress, or with her striped leggings, for that matter. But it does make my usual uniform—gray t-shirt, red hoodie, dark jeans, black boots—look boring as hell.
Luckily, Ander’s not the sort to care what anyone wears. The sweat pants he’s pulling on over his shorts are gray and worn at the knees. The sweatshirt is a size too small. It strains over his shoulders. He tugs it on, then reaches out a hand to help first me, then Zoe, down the last step.
“Hey.” He smiles. “Thanks for hanging around.”
Zoe shoots me a glance. “Cissa wouldn’t have it any other way.”
I give her the evil eye. “I stayed after to practice in the music room. Hence the violin.”
“That?” Ander scowls. “I thought that was an uzi.”
I pick up the violin case and pretend to shoot him with it.
He slaps a hand over his chest. “Bullseye. Right in the heart.”
Yeah. I know how that feels.
“And then,” says Zoe, “Cicely insisted we come hang out on the bleachers.”
“Well,” I smile, “You know what a sports fan I am.”
Ander laughs. “Who won the last World Series?”
“Not even close.”
I shrug. “All football teams look alike to me, what with the helmets and the grunting and the scoring goals.”
“Touchdowns,” he says, “And the World Series? Baseball, by the way. And they’re all American teams.”
“Totally false advertising then.”
Ander shakes his head.
“I know,” says Zoe, “The smartest girl I know, but sometimes…”
“Okay,” I say, “You got me. Not so much a sports fan. I just came down to see if you wanted to walk home together.”
Ander looks genuinely pleased. “Sure. Zoe, you coming?”
Zoe shakes her head. “I’ll let you two have some alone time. I need to go get ready for my shift. Besides, you know I don’t walk through the woods.”
I groan. “Are we back to the Monument Monster? Again?”
“Cicely, it’s real! People have seen it!”
“Drunk people,” I say, “People with big imaginations.”
“Ander!” She cries,” Back me up!”
Ander backs away instead. “I’m not getting in the middle of this one.”
Zoe crosses her arms over her chest. “Well I, for one, believe.”
“You believe in everything,” I remind her. “Reincarnation, aliens, Santa Claus—”
“And you believe in nothing! I just don’t get it! You read constantly. You’re a musician. Shouldn’t you be more, I don’t know…intuitive or something?”
I shrug. “I read, but I know fact from fiction. And music is really just math.”
Zoe groans and throws her hands up in frustration. “I give up. How are we best friends?”
“How do any of us put up with her?” Ander says. He’s stretching now, cooling down his muscles. He still looks exhilarated from the run. His pale blue eyes are glittery with adrenaline, his blond hair spiked with sweat. “But I should probably get home. I need to hit the showers.”
“Yeah,” I say, “I wasn’t going to say anything but you have…man musk.”
Ander laughs and spreads his arms wide to catch the crisp fall breeze. “Or I could just air dry.”
I fake a little choke. “Could you stand down wind? I’m fond of breathing.”
He gets a wicked glint in his eye. “Come here.”
“No!” I back up a step, “No way!” But I don’t actually try to get away. Instead I stand there protesting as Ander wraps his strong arms around me and nearly crushes me in one of his signature bear hugs. He does smell like sweat—but in a good way. He smells like shampoo, too, and that other smell I can never place—something sweet like cloves, but spicy. I try to breathe it in even while I’m pretending to gag. I squirm and struggle against his grip, which is futile because Ander is much taller than me and extremely strong. There’s no way I could get away from him, even if I wanted to.
And of course I don’t want to. What I want is for this to be a real hug. What I want is to stand up on my tip toes and kiss Ander’s smiling lips, to let him pull me even closer against his chest, run my nails through his sweaty hair.
But if I tried, Ander would run so fast, it would make his track time look like a stroll.
I know this from experience.
So I don’t even go there. “Zoe!” I yell, “Save me! It’s got me! The thing has got me!”
Zoe laughs and waves me away with her hand. “You’re on your own with this one.” She winks at me over Ander’s shoulder. “I think you’re getting exactly what you deserve.”
“Zoe!” I yell, “Wait!”
But she’s already turned towards the parking lot. “Toodaloo, kid,” she calls over her shoulder. “Stop by the café if you want your free birthday latte.”
Ander stops mid-tickle. “What? It’s your birthday?”
I smack him. “You forgot?”
He laughs. “Of course not. Sweet sixteen.”
And never been kissed, I finish mentally. “Yes. So you should be nice to me.”
“Sweet sixteen.” He seems to mull this over. “I should be nice to you.”
His arms are still around me. His face, still flushed with laughing, is suddenly serious. My breath is ragged from struggling. It comes in little pants that make my chest rise and fall against his. His voice is husky. “I should be nice.” His blue eyes meet mine for an instant. Then he glances away. “And so I’ll let you go.”
Laura Bradley Rede is the oldest of nine kids. She grew up in a small town in Maine and now lives in a little hippy-punk neighborhood of Minneapolis with her wonderful partner, their three amazing children, one great dane, one dachshund, and four city chickens. She is a winner of the Writers of the Future Award for fantasy and science fiction. For more information about her YA paranormal romance Darkride, visit www.darkridethenovel.com.