Read an Excerpt
By Julie Kenner
Copyright © 2001
All right reserved.
Zoe Smith stared at the chocolate bar, wondering if it was
going to attack. She'd confiscated it an hour ago from one of
the students, who knew better than to bring food into the
library, and she'd been contemplating the dastardly thing ever
since. It looked innocent enough-sitting there on her desk
surrounded by children's book catalogs, order forms, and
Zoe knew better.
That smooth, creamy milk chocolate mixed with chewy caramel
had it in for her.
One bite, and Riverdance would begin tap-tapping away inside
her mouth. Two bites, and her head would start spinning while
smoke came out of her ears. Three bites, and those urban
legends about spontaneous human combustion wouldn't be legend
anymore. Her whole life, Zoe'd had to watch what she ate. Too
spicy, too tangy, too anything and she'd be jumping up and
down, trying to put out a fire on her tongue or otherwise calm
her taste buds.
And she'd thought that was inconvenient....
That was nothing compared to what her ridiculous senses had
been doing recently. These days her senses had been shoved
into the touch, smell, sight, taste, and sound version of The
Twilight Zone. Sometimes perfectly calm, perfectly stable.
Other times more unstable than a psychopath on a bad day. In
other words,totally whacked-out.
At least her X-ray vision could be blocked by simple glasses.
So far at least, Zoe hadn't discovered any easy way to wrest
back some control of the rest of her senses.
Her brother Hale had said she just needed to get used to
it-that after a while she'd become more acclimated.
Zoe was pretty sure that Hale's ability to understand
animal-speak and turn invisible didn't hold a candle to what
she went through if she tried to eat spicy Mexican food. Or
the noise when a hundred or so conversations popped into her
head unannounced. The unexpected drone of voices was bad
enough; trying to sort them out and hear just one conversation
Besides, since Hale was a full-fledged Protector, he'd never
had to deal with this sudden increase in powers. Instead of
sporadically peaking like an adolescent boy's voice, his
powers had developed calmly and slowly as he'd grown up. So
Zoe doubted he had any idea just how overwhelming her megawatt
senses really were.
As far as Zoe was concerned, at the moment her life was in a
state of total chaos. Her senses were whacked- out, she
still couldn't levitate worth a darn, she could barely steer
her propulsion cloak, and in just a few days she had to tell
her mother that she was a halfling and about to join the
Venerate Council. You see, Mom, I just never got around to
telling you that I'm a superhero.
Oh, yeah. That's gonna go over.
She tapped her fingers on the desk, considering the candy bar.
Maybe Hale did have a point. She needed to start somewhere,
and she'd certainly never get used to this new hyperaware
state if she lived on rice cakes and oatmeal. Maybe she should
put a little effort into acclimation.
Squinting, she leaned forward until she was nose-to- wrapper
with the devious confection. "Okay, Mr. Goodbar. It's you or
me." Slowly, ceremoniously, she peeled the wrapper away,
waiting for her nose to start twitching as the decadent smell
of chocolate surrounded her.
A good sign, maybe?
Experimentally, she touched the tip of her tongue against the
candy. It was chocolate, all right. Yummy, delicious,
fattening chocolate. But-so far, anyway-not in the least bit
Well, in for a penny and all that.
Before she had time to think about it, she opened her mouth,
shoved the candy bar in, and bit down.
Heaven. Pure heaven in a bite-size package.
She closed her eyes, letting the chocolate melt on her tongue,
the sweet sensation of caramel mixing with the pure, rich
decadence. Delicious and wonderful, but not overwhelming. Just
your average, everyday choco-
Uh-oh. Big-time, major uh The world tilted on its axis,
spinning faster and faster as the superfragilistic taste of
chocolate grabbed hold of her taste buds and refused to let
Colors. She was tasting colors. Pinks and purples and yellows
exploded in her mouth, forming and re-forming into
kaleidoscopes of sensory delight, seeping into her blood and
making her entire body flush. She tried to look around, tried
to tell whether anyone could see her, but the rainbow blocked
She thought the library was empty, but what if someone came
in? What if someone saw her losing her mind because of a
What if someone thought she'd spiked a brownie?
Frantic, she dropped to the floor and scooted under her desk,
pressing her hands against the solid wood as vibrant
sensations ricocheted through her body. Deep breaths. That was
what she needed. Lots and lots of deep breaths and no more
The worst of it passed, and she dug in her pocket for a tissue
and tried to wipe any remaining chocolate off her tongue. The
procedure left little bits of paper in her mouth, but since
paper was a heck of a lot blander than chocolate, she couldn't
Finally feeling normal again-well, normal for her,
anyway-she leaned her head against the desk, closed her eyes,
and let the sounds of the empty library surround her. At first
she heard only a cacophony. She squinted, urging her ears to
filter the auditory mess into something she could get her mind
Then, slowly, something happened. Sounds emerged. Sounds she
knew. The whirr of the ancient air conditioner, the patter of
footsteps in the hallway, the irritating buzz of the clock
overthe door. The gentle rasp of breathing.
She stiffened. It was very low, not audible to normal ears,
butthere it was. Well, wasn't that just great? Probably
Principal Dorsey, come to approve this week's library book
Zoe exhaled. Not Mr. Dorsey. A kid. Probably one of the sixth
"Ms. Smith?" he repeated, but this time a head popped around
the side of the desk, and big eyes behind Coke- bottle glasses
peered at her. "Oh. There you are. Do you want to buy some PTA
candy?" he asked, as if it were perfectly normal to find the
school librarian hiding under her desk.
With as much dignity as she could gather, Zoe climbed out from
her hiding place and brushed off her skirt. She gave the kid a
stern look and tried to look authoritative. "Do you have a
"Uh, yeah." He dug deep into the pocket of his oversize jeans,
then pulled out a mangled piece of paper. "I'm using my study
period to sell the candy." Once again he waved a box of
chocolate bars toward her. "Want one? They're only a buck."
Not in a million years. Aloud, she said, "No, thanks."
"Oh. You're sure? It's for playground equipment."
Then again ... there was that whole acclimation thing. Maybe it
was best just to jump in with both feet. She cocked her head
as the kid stood in front of her, doing a good job of looking
like Oliver holding out a porridge bowl. She sighed. "How many
come in a box?"
For just a second, the kid looked confused. Then his salesman
instincts kicked back in. "Uh, twenty-four. But I've already
"I'll take the rest of them." She reached into her purse and
started rummaging for her wallet. "A buck apiece, right?" At
the kid's nod, she pressed a twenty into his hand. "Keep the
Alone with her nemesis, Zoe placed the carton of chocolate on
her desk, turning it this way and that until she'd angled it
just so. She didn't intend to eat one. Not now. Not after the
little fiasco just moments before. This chocolate thing was
going to require some serious pondering and planning.
What was that saying? Keep your friends close, but your
At the moment, Zoe wasn't sure whether the chocolate was
friend or foe. But either way, she wasn't letting it out of
George Bailey Taylor steered Francis Capra into the parking
lot of South Hollywood Elementary and tried to ignore the
enormous ball of lead that seemed to have settled in his
stomach. It was just a job, after all. No matter how
distasteful. And right now he needed all the damn jobs he
The simple fact was, he was in trouble. The kind of trouble
that had pesky credit card agents calling during dinnertime.
The kind of trouble that kept him up at night. The kind of
trouble that left a big, smoldering lump in his stomach.
And that, in a nutshell, was why he'd taken such a stinker of
a case. Taylor needed to keep reminding himself of that.
Harold Parker or starvation. Parker or a long, slow death from
hunger with big, black buzzards circling him from above.
Okay ... so maybe it wasn't that bad. After all, peanut butter
and macaroni were cheap. But without this job he sure as hell
wasn't going to make his rent. And he'd be damned if he'd bum
a couch off somebody or go crawling back to the department and
trade the bullet in his leg in for a nice, fat disability
check. No way, no how.
Time to get down to it. He parked the car in a visitor space,
pitched his sunglasses onto the dash next to the box of
flowers, then started digging through the pile of papers on
the passenger seat until he found his notes. Emily Parker.
Forty-three. Elementary school head librarian. Unlucky enough
to be married to Harold Parker, who now wanted a divorce,
along with a chunk of Emily's family money.
Which meant that the man wanted Taylor to track down a
scandal-any scandal-so he could force a hefty settlement. So
far Taylor had come up with zip, which was particularly
unfortunate since Taylor had a sinking suspicion that, unless
he brought Parker some juicy gossip, the man was going to stiff
him for fees.
So much for the glamorous life of a Hollywood private
When he'd hung out his shingle six months ago, he'd fantasized
about a Remington Steele lifestyle. Or at least Magnum, P.I.
Instead he'd gotten Mike Hammer on a bad day. Hell, he was
thirty-four years old, supposedly in the prime of his life.
Buthere he was, working two- bit cases and struggling to pay
He should've paid more attention when he was a kid and the
social worker had told him that bit about life not being fair.
With a groan, he angled himself out of the Mustang, reached
back inside for the flowers, then headed for the front doors.
With any luck, the library would be empty and Taylor could take
a quick peek at the inside of Emily Parker's desk.
And if luck wasn't with him ... well, there was always the fire
"But Miss Smith," came the high, nasally voice, "I really,
really, really need A Wrinkle In Time."
Sighing, Zoe kept a hand on the stack of books she was
reshelving and looked down from the ladder into the face of
little Patricia Something-or-other. "Patty, I told you
yesterday. Both copies are checked out."
"But it's my turn." The little girl placed her hands on her
hips. Her wiry red pigtails smelled of Johnson's baby shampoo
and sprang out from the sides of her head like bent pipe
cleaners. With that unruly red hair and an attitude
that wouldn't quit, Zoe couldn't help but like the kid.
"How about I make you a deal?" she asked, and Patty squinted
at her warily. "I'll bring my own copy tomorrow, and if the
school's copies aren't turned in, you can borrow mine. Okay?"
Suddenly the girl was all smiles. "You're the best, Miss
"I bet you say that to all the librarians."
Patty frowned. "Huh?"
"Never mind," Zoe said.
She shoved her glasses back up her nose, intending to go back
to her reshelving, but as Patty swung her Powerpuff Girls
backpack onto her shoulder, the girl managed to bang it
against the ladder. The stack of books on it teetered, and
Patty's eyes went wide as the volumes tumbled toward her perky
In that very same instant, Zoe aimed her full concentration at
the books, not thinking, just reacting. Time seemed to slow as
she gripped them in her mind, testing their weight, their
shape. And then-still not quite believing she was actually
doing it-she gave the books a teensy little mental
nudge ... and sent them crashing harmlessly to the ground at
Hopping Hades! She'd done it. She'd actually done it.
Below her, Patty tugged on her skirt, pulling Zoe back to the
present. "Miss Smith? Did you see that?"
"See what?" Zoe asked.
"The books. They moved."
Zoe sucked in a deep breath, hoping she sounded calm. "Yes,
they did. They fell. It's called gravity. You'll learn all
about it in sixth grade, I think." She kept her words
measured. "And that's why you should never, ever stand under
Zoe stepped down, then led Patty toward the door. She could
barely keep the smile off her face. As Patty would say, she
really, really, really wanted the library to herself.
"No, Miss Smith. I mean they moved ... sideways."
She pulled open the library door and aimed the girl into the
hallway. "You're going to be late for third period, young
lady. Come back tomorrow and I'll give you A Wrinkle In Time
and a book on optical illusions. Okay?"
Patty didn't look convinced, but what could she say? There was
no instant replay feature at South Hollywood Elementary.
As soon as the little girl was in the hall, Zoe shut the door
and leaned against it. She'd really done it!
True, it had just been an itty-bitty bit of mind-over-matter-nothing
like what some Protectors could do. Her dad and
Hale, for example. They could do the most amazing things
simply by focusing a blast of mental energy. But this was a
start-and a good one.
And it called for a celebration. A definite champagne-and-roses moment.
Except ... her nose wrinkled as she thought
about the effect sparkling wine and fragrant flowers would
have on her sometimes supercharged senses. Better to go with a
rice cake and bottled water. But she needed something to mark
A very auspicious moment it was. Every year she'd been tested
with her cousin Mordichai, and he'd always, always beaten her.
Her whole life, she'd been the halfling who couldn't do
anything right, who didn't really fit in. And now, when she'd
least expected it, she'd finally managed to levitate
something! That meant she could amend her council application
to check the "yes" box for telekinetic skills, and that put
her one step closer to acceptance.
Of course, she still had to get her senses under control.
Plus, she had to submit her Affidavit of Mortal Disclosure.
Which meant telling her mom everything. Which was terrifying.
For as long as she could remember, she'd wanted to join the
council and go on missions. She wanted to rescue people from
avalanches and kittens from trees. She wanted friends who
understood her and didn't think she was weird.
The problem was that she wanted her mother, too. And
twenty-five years ago her mother, a pregnant Tessa Smith, had
walked away from her one true love about two seconds after
she'd found out his secret. Her mother never even knew that
her father had started visiting Zoe when she was still a
toddler, and Tessa certainly didn't know that Zoe had
inherited quite a few traits from him.
Overall, it wasn't exactly a typical childhood, though by Los
Angeles standards, she supposed it wasn't too out of the
She blinked, trying to force herself back to the issue at
hand-her newfound telekinetic powers. The question of the
hour was, could she do it again? Or was she going to have to
endanger a child everytime she wanted to levitate something?
Clearly that would not do.
Well, no time like the present to find out. She tipped her
head down, then peeked over the frames of her glasses and
through the rows of shelving to make sure the coast was clear.
Then-satisfied that no kids were sitting behind the
bookshelves and no Application Committee members were hovering
around to see if a mere halfling was breaking the
carved-in-stone rule against power exploitation-she aimed her
concentration at the canister on her desk filled with yellow
number two pencils.
Steady, steady ...
Her faced tightened, muscles straining as she focused,
visualizing it rising in the air. There, in her mind, it
hovered a good foot off the desk.
Unfortunately, it was hovering only in her mind. In reality,
the stupid can was still planted firmly on the wooden desktop.
Just relax, Zoe. Remember what Hale said. Her half brother had
this levitation thing down pat. True, things came a lot easier
for him, but he was also her very best teacher. Just do what
he said and let it flow.
Excerpted from Aphrodite's Kiss
by Julie Kenner
Copyright © 2001 by Julie Kenner.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.