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“You have to stop it, Kylie. You have to. Or this will happen to someone you love.”
The spirit’s ominous words flowed from behind Kylie Galen and mingled with the crackle and pop of the huge bonfire about fifty feet to her right. The frigid pocket of air announced the spirit’s presence loud and clear, even if the words were only for Kylie’s ears and not for the thirty other Shadow Falls campers standing in the ceremonial circle.
Miranda stood by Kylie in the people chain, completely unaware of the ghost, and gripped Kylie’s hand tighter. “This is so cool,” Miranda muttered, and looked across the circle at Della.
Miranda and Della were not only Kylie’s closest friends, but also her cabin mates.
“We give thanks for this offering.” Chris, or Christopher as he referred to himself tonight, stood in the middle of the circle and raised the sacred goblet up to the dark sky as he blessed its contents.
“You have to stop it,” the spirit whispered over Kylie’s shoulder again, hindering her concentration on the ritual.
Closing her eyes, Kylie envisioned the spirit the way she had appeared to her several times now—mid-thirties, long dark hair and wearing a white gown—a gown covered in blood.
Frustration bounced around Kylie’s already tightened gut. How many times had she pleaded with this spirit to explain, to tell her who, what, when, where, and why? Only to have the dead woman repeat the same warning.
Long story short, ghosts just coming out of the closet sucked at communication. Probably as bad as beginner ghost whisperers sucked at getting them to communicate. Kylie’s only option was to wait until the ghost could somehow explain her warning. Now, however, wasn’t the optimal time.
I’m kind of busy right now. So unless you can explain in detail, can we chat later? The words formed in Kylie’s mind, hoping the ghost could read her thoughts. Thankfully, the chill running down Kylie’s spine evaporated and the night’s heat returned—Texas heat, muggy, thick, and hot, even without the bonfire.
Thank you. Kylie tried to relax, but the tension in her shoulders remained knotted. And for a good reason. Tonight’s ceremonial event, sort of a show-and-tell, was another first in her life.
A life that was so much simpler before she knew she wasn’t all human. Of course, it would help if she could identify her non-human side. Unfortunately the only person who knew the answer was Daniel Brighten, her real dad. She hadn’t known he existed until he’d paid a visit to her a little over a month ago. And he’d obviously decided to let Kylie deal with her identity crisis all on her own.
He seldom visited anymore, bringing a whole new meaning to the term deadbeat dad. Yup, Daniel was dead—died before she was born. Kylie wasn’t sure if they offered parenting classes in the hereafter, but she was tempted to suggest he find out. Because now, when he did drop by, she would catch him watching her and just when she started to ask him a question, he’d fade away, leaving only a cold chill and her unanswered questions.
“Okay,” Chris said. “Release your hands, clear your mind, but whatever you do, do not break the circle.”
Kylie, along with the crowd, followed his directions. Yet as she released her hands, Kylie’s mind refused to clear. A whisper of wind picked up a few strands of her long, blond hair and scattered it across her face. She brushed it behind her ear.
Was her deadbeat dad afraid she was going to ask for sex advice or something? That always had her mom disappearing from a room—running around in search of another give-this-to-your-teen pamphlet. Not that Kylie had actually asked her mom for sex advice. Honestly, she was the last person Kylie would go to for that kind of advice.
Why, the mere mention of her being interested in a boy sent her mom into a panic as the letters S-E-X practically flashed in her mom’s eyes. Thankfully, since Kylie had been shipped off to Shadow Falls Camp, the supply of sex-related pamphlets had declined.
Who knew what she’d missed this last month? There might have been a few STDs discovered that she didn’t know about. No doubt her mom was stockpiling them for when Kylie went home for a visit in three weeks. A visit she wasn’t looking forward to, either. Sure, she and her mom had sort of mended their not-so-good relationship since her mom had confessed about Daniel being her real dad. But the new mother-daughter bond felt so fragile.
Kylie couldn’t help but wonder if their relationship wasn’t too delicate to actually spend more than a few hours together. What if she went home and found things really hadn’t changed? What if the distance between her and her mom still existed? And what about things with Tom Galen, the man Kylie had perceived to be her real dad all her life, the man who had walked out on her mom and her for a girl only a few years older than Kylie? Kylie had been mortified at seeing him sucking face with his way-too-young assistant. So much so, she hadn’t even told him.
A late-night breeze brought the smoke from the roaring bonfire into her face. She blinked the sting from her eyes, but didn’t dare step out of the circle. As Della had explained, to do that would have shown a lack of respect to the vampire culture.
“Clear your mind,” Chris repeated, and handed the goblet to a camper on the other side of the circle.
Closing her eyes, Kylie tried again to follow Chris’s directions, but then heard the sound of falling water. Jerking her eyes open, she looked toward the woods. Was the waterfall that close? Ever since Kylie had learned about the legend of the death angels at the falls, she felt driven to go there. Not that she longed to come face-to-face with any death angels. She had her hands full dealing with ghosts. But she couldn’t kick the feeling that the falls called her.
“Are you ready?” Miranda leaned in and whispered, “It’s getting closer.”
Ready for what? was Kylie’s first thought. Then she remembered.
Was Miranda freaking kidding?
Kylie stared at the communal goblet being passed around the circle. Her breath caught when she realized it was only ten people away from being placed in her hand. Drawing in a deep smoke-scented gulp of air, she tried not to look disgusted.
Tried. But the thought of taking a sip from a container after everyone had smacked their lips on the rim landed somewhere between gross and nauseating in her mind, but for sure the biggest yuck factor was the blood.
Watching Della consume her daily nutrition had gotten easier this last month. Heck, Kylie had even donated a pint to the cause—supernaturals did that sort of thing for their vampire friends. But having to taste the life-sustaining substance was a different matter altogether.
“I know it’s sickening. Just pretend it’s tomato juice,” Miranda whispered to their friend Helen standing on the other side of her. Not that whispering helped in this crowd.
Kylie looked across the circle of supernatural campers, their faces cast in firelit shadows from the bonfire. She spotted Della, frowning in their direction and her eyes glowing a pissed-off gold color. Her acute hearing was only one of her gifts. No doubt Della would call Miranda on her “sickening” remark later. Which basically meant Kylie would have to convince the two of them not to murder each other. How two people could be friends and fight so much was beyond her. Playing peacemaker between the two was a full-time job.
She watched another camper raise the goblet to her lips. Knowing how much this meant to Della, Kylie mentally prepared herself to accept the glass and take a sip of blood without barfing. Not that it stopped Kylie’s stomach from wanting to rebel.
Gotta do this. Gotta do this. For Della’s sake.
Maybe you’ll even like how blood tastes, Della had said earlier. Wouldn’t it be cool if you turned out to be vampire?
Not, Kylie had thought, but wouldn’t dare say it. She supposed being vampire wouldn’t be any worse than being werewolf or shape-shifter. Then again, she remembered Della practically crying when she talked about her ex-boyfriend’s repulsion to her cold body temperature. Kylie preferred to stay at her own temperature, thank you very much. And the thought of existing on a diet that mainly consisted of blood…? Well, Kylie seldom even ate red meat, and when she did … cook that cow, please.
While Holiday, the camp leader and Kylie’s mentor, had said it was unlikely for Kylie to start exhibiting any huge metaphysical changes, Holiday had also said anything was possible. Truth was, Holiday—who was full fairy—couldn’t tell Kylie what her future held, because Kylie was an anomaly.
And Kylie hated being an anomaly.
She’d never fit in the human world, and damn it if she wasn’t a misfit here, as well. Not that the other campers didn’t accept her. Nope, she felt closer to these supernaturals than she did human teens. Well, she did as soon as she learned that no one here was dying to have her for lunch. Why, Della and Miranda were now her two major best friends—there wasn’t anything she couldn’t or wouldn’t share with them. The blood donation pretty much proved that fact.
Okay, there was one thing Kylie couldn’t share with her two best friends. Ghosts. Most supernaturals had a thing about ghosts. Not that Kylie herself didn’t have a thing about them. But it didn’t stop the pesky phantoms from regularly popping in for visits.
Nevertheless, whatever type of supernatural she was, being a ghost magnet was her gift. Or … one of them. Holiday believed that ghost whispering was probably one of many of Kylie’s gifts and that others would manifest over time. Kylie just hoped any future gifts were easier to deal with than the indecisive and communication-challenged dead people.
“It’s coming,” Miranda said.
Kylie watched someone pass the glass to Helen. Kylie’s throat tightened again. Her gaze shifted to Derek, the brown-haired half fairy, standing three campers past Helen. Kylie had missed him drinking the blood. Not that she was sorry. The next time they kissed, she didn’t want to think about him drinking blood.
He smiled tenderly and Kylie knew Derek could sense her emotional turmoil. As crazy as it seemed, his ability to read her emotions was both what attracted her to him and kept her from getting closer. Well, it wasn’t so much his ability to read her that kept her from allowing their relationship to deepen, it was his ability to control those emotions. Being half Fae, Derek not only could read her emotions, but with a simple touch, he could alter her emotions, turn fear into fascination, anger into calm. Was it at all surprising that she stayed in awe of the sexy-as-sin boy?
Call her paranoid, but after seeing how her dad—make that her stepdad—had cheated on her mom and then how Trey, her ex-boyfriend, had dropped her in the grease when she’d been hesitant to go all the way, trusting the male gender was difficult. Trusting one who had the power to manipulate her emotions was even harder.
Not that it stopped her from liking Derek or from wishing she could throw caution to the wind. Even now—her stomach clenched as she thought of drinking blood, surrounded by the entire camp—she felt herself being lured to him. Felt herself wanting to lean up against his chest, to get close enough to see the gold flecks in his pupils melt and mesh into the vivid green of his eyes. She wanted to feel his lips on hers again. To taste his kiss. She learned these last few weeks how good he could kiss.
A clearing of Miranda’s throat brought Kylie back to the moment. When she saw Derek’s caught-you smile, she knew he’d read her turned-on emotions, and her cheeks warmed and she shifted her gaze away from Derek to Miranda.
Oh crap. Miranda held out the glass for Kylie to take. It was showtime.
She took the goblet. It felt warm against her palm, almost as if the liquid inside had just been drained from its life source. Her stomach knotted and her throat followed course. She didn’t know if the blood was animal or human.
Don’t think about it.
She inhaled and the coppery smell, like old pennies, filled her nose, and before the glass touched her lips, her gag reflex prepared to bounce.
Just do it. Show Della that you respect her culture.
She swallowed hard, tilted the glass up a notch higher, and hoped like hell Della appreciated this. Telling herself she only had to taste, not drink, she waited for the moisture to dampen her mouth.
The second the warm liquid wet her lips, she went to pull the glass back, but somehow the thick red blood snuck through her tightened lips. Her gag reflex jumped but then the taste exploded on the tip of her tongue. Almost like black cherries but better, sort of like ripe strawberries but tangier and sweeter, the exotic flavor had her mouth opening and greedily swallowing. As the liquid slid down her throat, the smell of old pennies vanished, replaced with a spicy fruity scent.
She had almost downed the whole glass when she remembered what she was drinking. She yanked the glass from her lips, but couldn’t stop her tongue from dipping out the corner of her mouth to catch a drop that tried to escape.
Immediately, the intensity of everyone’s gaze on her pressed against her awareness and a deeper reality sank in. Murmurs filled her ears …
At least now we know what she is.
How come she’s not cold?
Looks as if we’re going to up our blood drive.
Della’s victory yelp followed.
Kylie’s hands started to shake. The smoke from the bonfire filled her nose and throat and made it hard to breathe.
Crap! Crap! Crap! What did this mean? Was she … a vampire?
She scanned the wide-eyed faces to find Holiday, wanting to see her reassuring smile that said it was okay, that said this … this meant nothing. But when she found the camp leader, her expression mirrored that of the others—shock.
Blinking, hoping to wash away the start of tears, she shoved the almost empty glass into the hands of the person beside her. No longer caring about showing respect, she took off at a dead run.
* * *
Five minutes later Kylie was still running. Running faster than she knew she could move. But was it vampire fast? The hot, muggy summer air filled her lungs and came out in gasps. Even with the night temperature clinging to the high eighties, a chill ran down her spine. Was she at this moment morphing into a vampire? Was she growing cold? Hadn’t Della said it was painful? More like excruciatingly painful.
Was she in pain? Emotionally yes. But physically? Not yet.
She kept moving. The sound of her feet hitting the ground filled her ears, and the sound of the thorny vines snagging her jeans and then ripping away seemed too loud. Her consciousness throbbed right along with the beating of her heart. Thump. Thump. Thump.
How many times had she told Della she wasn’t a monster? And yet the mere idea that Kylie might be a vampire seemed … too much.
The smell of the bonfire smoke clung to her clothes and filled her nose. Yet the taste of the sweet blood lingered on her tongue. She ran harder. Faster. Did her speed mean she was a vampire?
She didn’t want to think about that.
Didn’t want to accept it.
Her lungs finally gave out, declined the air she tried to force down. The muscles in her legs cramped and her knees shook. She stopped, her legs refusing to support her weight, and collapsed in the middle of a thorn-infested field. Pulling her legs to her chest, she hugged her shins and dropped her head on her knees.
She drew hot air into her lungs that now begged for oxygen. One breath, then two. Physically exhausted, she went still as the realization finally stuck. If she were a vampire, would she not have Della’s stamina? Maybe that came with the change of body temperature. The dampness on her cheeks told her she’d been crying.
The air suddenly chilled. Turned cold.
Not vampire cold.
She wasn’t alone—another spirit had joined her. But who was it this time? Holiday had explained that in time, her abilities would increase and she would have to deal with more than one ghost at a time. But right now, there was only one ghost she wanted to see. Only one thing she wanted.
She wanted answers. “Daniel?” she called her father’s name. And then louder. “Daniel Brighten. What am I?”
When he didn’t appear, she screamed his name again and again. Her throat became sore, but she didn’t stop. “You come here now. You give me answers or I swear to you, I’ll never, NEVER acknowledge your presence again. I will shut you off, eradicate you from my mind, and refuse to see, talk, or even think of you again.”
As the threat fell from her lips, she didn’t even know if she had the ability to do it, but something inside her said she could. She dropped her head against her knees and tried to breathe.
Suddenly the cold grew nearer. She felt it surround her. Felt it wrap around her in a tight embrace. It wasn’t just any cold, it was Daniel’s cold.
She raised her face and saw his spirit kneel beside her. His blue eyes, the same light color as her own, met hers. His eyes, and most everything else about his facial features, from the oval-shaped face to the slightly turned-up nose, were so much like hers that it was a bit disturbing. When his arm curled around her shoulders, the knot in her throat doubled.
“Don’t cry.” He brushed a tear from her cheek. “My little girl should never cry.” The icy touch shouldn’t have been comforting, but it was.
“I drank blood and it was good.” She spit out the words like a confession.
“And you see this as wrong?” he asked.
“I … It scares me.”
“I know,” he said. “I remember feeling much the same the way.”
“Did you drink blood? Are we … vampires?” The word almost wouldn’t come.
“I never tried blood.” His expression filled with empathy. “But, Kylie, you didn’t do anything wrong.” His voice came out soft, his words soothing. The cold, his cold, lessened her fear of the unknown and she felt … loved.
Right then, she knew love had no boundaries, not even death. Love had no temperature. Maybe being cold wasn’t altogether a bad thing. She leaned into him and drew comfort from his nearness.
Minutes passed. She blinked away her tears and sat up. He shifted from his kneeling position and sat beside her. Wiping her face, she stared at the father she’d never known in life. Yet, even separated by death, she felt the bond. “Tell me. Please tell me what I am.”
The smile in his eyes faded. “I wish I could give you what you want, but I don’t have the answers. I was older than you when I realized I was different from everyone else. But it wasn’t until I was eighteen and away at college that things started happening.”
“What kind of things?” she asked, and then somehow she knew. “You saw ghosts?”
He nodded and cupped his hands together. “I thought I had lost my mind. Then one day I met an old man fishing. He told me he was fairy.”
“Did he tell you what you were?” she asked.
“No, just that I wasn’t human and, of course, I thought he was crazy. It took me months before I believed him. When I went back to find him again, he was gone.”
“But what about your parents?” Kylie asked. “Didn’t they tell you?”
“No. And when my ability to recognize other supernaturals made sense to me, I realized they were both human. At that time, I didn’t know that I couldn’t have been their child. Since my death, I learned I was adopted. Not that it made them any less my parents. They loved me. And they would love you, too.”
“They never told you that you were adopted? How could they lie to you like that?”
“Back then it was considered best to keep adoption a secret, even from the child. I have yet to find out who or what my real parents are. So you see, the answers you seek were the same answers I sought right before my death. Maybe you can discover them for us both.”
“But what?” he asked.
“I thought ghosts were all-seeing. They are in the movies, anyway. Isn’t there someone on the other side who could tell you?”
He smiled. “You would think so. But no, even here, they want you to find your own answers.”
“That freaking sucks,” Kylie said. “Being dead should have some benefits.”
He laughed. The sound echoed with familiarity. It was another thing she had gotten from him—the tenor of her laugh. Her thoughts went to her stepdad, the man whom she had loved so much and yet who had turned his back on her and her mom. She still didn’t know if she could forgive him. If she wanted to forgive him. And then the strangest thought hit: she had loved the wrong father.
Her throat felt tight again. “I missed you all my life,” Kylie said. “I didn’t know I missed you, but I know it now. You were supposed to be there.”
He placed a hand on her cheek. “I was there. I saw you take your first step. The day you fell off your bike and broke your arm I tried to catch you. You went right though my arms. And remember the day you flunked that algebra test and you got so upset that you ran off and smoked a cigarette?”
She frowned. “I hate algebra. But I hated the cigarette, too.”
“Me, too,” he chuckled. “I’ve been here, Kylie, but I can’t stay here much longer.”
His words bounced around her head and hit her heart with a thump. “That’s not fair. I just got to know you.”
“My time in this realm is limited. I’ve used much of it watching you grow to be the woman you are.”
“Then ask for more time.” Her throat tightened. She had lost one father already; she didn’t want to lose another one. Not now. Not before she even got to know him.
“I’ll try, but it may not happen. I don’t regret spending my time with you then.” The corners of his eyes crinkled into another smile. “I see in you the best of your mother and the best of me. And while I know you don’t want to hear this right now, I see the best of Tom Galen. He is not all bad, Kylie.”
She wanted to tell Daniel he was wrong, to insist she wasn’t like Tom Galen, but her thoughts were interrupted by the whisk of wind. It came on so fast, as if something had shot past, something so fast that her human eye hadn’t detected it. Something not human.
The dark silence that followed told Kylie she was right. “I’ll bet that’s Della.” Kylie looked around. “Looking for me.” But even as Kylie finished the sentence, she felt the cold of her father’s presence fade. “No, please don’t … go.” Her last word rang out in the warm yet eerie and lonely silence.
Gone. He was gone.
Her chest tightened, then she came to the realization that even though he’d come to her, he didn’t have the answers she wanted. Her surefire plan of solving her identity crisis had been squashed.
Biting her lip, she pushed away her thoughts of her father and prepared herself to face Della. Could she explain to her friend her reservations about being vampire without hurting her? Would Della be totally furious that she’d broken the circle and disrespected the vampire culture? Knowing Della, the answer would be a hell yes.
Della had a lot of unresolved anger and it didn’t take much to infuriate her. Some of her angst could be blamed on being vampire—vampires weren’t known for their loving dispositions, but most of Della’s issues were from her family. Apparently, her super-strict father had noted the changes in his daughter since she’d been turned, and he didn’t like them. Not being able to tell her dad about being vampire, Della had remained silent, which made her dad accuse Della of everything from drugs to just being lazy. The sad part was, Della loved her father so much that disappointing him was breaking her heart.
Kylie waited for Della to return, to come to a whizzing stop. She didn’t. Had her ghost-fearing friend sensed her father’s presence and kept going? The lack of sound suddenly seemed menacing.
“Della?” Kylie called out.
No answer came. Not unless you considered the dead silence an answer. Kylie recalled Della’s cousin, Chan, and the uninvited visit he’d paid to Della and her after she’d only been here a few days. His presence had brought on this kind of dead silence as well.
The memory of that night filled Kylie’s head. Della had assured Kylie that he’d only been joking about her being a snack, but after Kylie’s little run-in with the Blood Brothers gang of rogue vampires, when she’d nearly become a snack for real, trusting an unknown vampire took a little effort.
When the night’s stillness continued, Kylie forced herself to speak. “I know someone is here.” She stood up, hoping her false bravado would become real. The whisk of speeding wind passed again. “If that’s you, Della, this isn’t funny.”
No one answered. Kylie stood there, trying to think of what to do next. Then she heard it. Very slight, but still the definite rustle of some bushes—someone was behind her. Breath held, she swung around to face the music.
Copyright © 2011 by Christie Craig