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By A. J. Menden
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2009 Amy Mendenhal
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSixteen years later
"If I ever decide to get married, I'm not having a traditional wedding with the white dress and the bridesmaids and all that garbage," I said. "Vegas is looking better and better."
"What's your problem with weddings?" my teammate and best friend Toby Latimer asked.
"Nothing like one to remind you what a loser you are," I grumbled.
"The wedding was months ago, remember? It was that ceremony we attended before kiddo here was born." Toby motioned to the infant I was bouncing on my lap. "This is the reception-slash-Wesley's birthday party celebration giving you a case of the sour grapes."
"It's not really," I said, nodding to the happy couple, two of our EHJ team members, as they greeted guests, friends, and global dignitaries with equal enthusiasm. Well, they received enthusiasm from Lainey and thinly disguised boredom from Wesley. "I'm happy for them. Honestly. If anyone deserves to be happy, it's Lainey."
"Wesley not so much?"
"He rode my case the whole time I trained with him," I grumbled.
Before any of us in the current squad became full members of the Elite Hands of Justice, we underwent two years of training with the Reincarnist, an immortal magician who didn't die but instead wasreincarnated into a new man of twenty each time, usually retaining only partial memories of his past lives. It had been Robert Elliot, a reclusive and rigid forty-something, who had broken me in. How Lainey had ever fallen in love with him was beyond me, and though their relationship had been strained by his death in combat and subsequent rebirth as Wesley Charles, he was now her husband and the father of the squirming kid on my lap. She truly put the phenomenal in Phenomenal Girl five, which was her alias.
"Lainey's the sweetest person I know," I remarked. "If being with him makes her happy, I'm all for it. It's just seeing her so genuinely happy with him that ..."
"Makes you remember how desperately alone you are?"
"Hey, I was referring to myself there, too. It's been over a year since I've had a serious relationship, and at least three months since I've even had a date. The pickings, they be slim." He shook his head.
"Tell me about it."
"Don't even!" he growled. "You could have your pick of men, if only you'd get your head out of your butt and notice someone other than Luke."
I shot him a nasty look. "I date on occasion."
Toby snorted. "Yeah, guys who bear a striking resemblance to Luke."
"So I have a type, so what? You date skinny stringbean guys. You don't see me dissing you about it." I pointed out a waiter who kept walking past. "Speaking of, since that guy's too busy leering at you to do any work, you might as well ask him to dance."
"I'm not dating a waiter," Toby said.
"Now who's being picky?"
"I'm holding out for Mr. Right."
"Well, so am I."
"No, you're holding out for Mr. Harmon."
I thought about smacking Toby, but knew it wouldn't do any good. His powers made him super strong and fast-and more resistant to damage than the average human. He could take a shotgun blast at point-blank range and come away with a mere scratch. My girly punch would feel like a tickle.
Jealousy reared its ugly head, and not just at my friend Lainey's blissful happiness. I had no powers. I was a child prodigy who'd gotten her crazy intelligence boosted by aliens. I could do things with technology now that not even the smartest members of NASA could; in fact, they had gotten a lot of their patents off me when I was sixteen. But I wasn't superhuman.
Luke Harmon was more like me, a "normal" human fighting the good fight. He had an athlete's body and a photographic memory, something that came in handy while studying with many martial arts experts. That body was one of the most delicious and powerful things I'd ever seen.
"Make a deal with you," Toby was saying, interrupting my daydream.
"I'll go ask the waiter to dance if you'll ask Luke."
"Can't," I said too quickly. "I'm on babysitting duty, remember?" Emily let out a happy gurgle and grinned as if in assist.
"Lainey will definitely not mind taking her kid back for one dance so you can make progress with Luke."
"He's probably already back in his room training or something," I said, giving a glance around.
"No, he's over there talking to one of the government agency heads." Toby stood up and pointed, causing Luke to look over at us.
"Quit it!" I said, yanking his arm down. "Be more obvious."
Toby shrugged and waved Lainey over.
"Hey, guys, how's my monster behaving?" Lainey asked, looking radiant in her ivory and gold cocktail dress. I'd helped her pick it out. I know with my magenta-streaked hair and black clothes I project a very punk image, but I have it in me to be the classy girl my parents wanted. I just fight it.
Emily acted as if God himself had walked over, the way her eyes lit up and she squealed, reaching for her mother and practically climbing over me to get to her. I sighed. I never thought I'd ever want a child until my friend had one. Now I was starting to see the appeal of a toothless baby grin.
Turning, I frowned. A couple of paparazzi had managed to work their way into our headquarters, where Lainey and Wesley had chosen to have their event. This wedding reception would make a hot news item. The photographers snapped off a couple of quick pictures and disappeared again, probably before the Reincarnist could magically transport them to some dark realm full of demons or other nasties. He was very protective of his daughter.
"Mindy's going to ask Luke to dance," Toby announced. Lainey settled Emily on her hip and stared at me.
"Not really. Toby's trying to get out of asking this waiter to dance by using me as an excuse. I'm babysitting Em," I said, reaching for the baby again. She immediately shrieked. Oh yeah, I'd be a stellar mom.
"She wants to see Mommy and Daddy for a while," Lainey said. "And I think Wes has used up his allotment of social grace for the day with all of these people. Some things never change." She grinned at me. "So go have fun."
"Guys, maybe I'm over Luke," I suggested-and didn't like the incredulous looks they gave me in return. "Seriously, I'm pushing thirty, and that's way too old to be harboring a crush I had when I was twelve. For God's sake, Lainey, you're only a bit younger than me and you're married with a kid! And Wesley ... he's only twenty-one!"
"Wesley so doesn't count in this scenario. He's physically twenty-one but actually older than civilization," Lainey said with a laugh.
"You know what I mean. It's time for me to grow up," I resolved, motioning to my hair. "I mean, seriously, what am I rebelling against? I'm not a teenager anymore. Luke and I are friends, and that's all we're ever going to be. I need to have the maturity to accept that."
Lainey shot a worried glance at Toby. "We're not saying you're acting immature, Mindy, we just want you to take a chance and acknowledge your feelings. There's a chance Luke might feel the same."
I knew they meant well, but seeing Lainey in a mature, healthy relationship had only served as a reminder of how immature I was acting, regardless of what they said. I wasn't getting any younger, and if I ever wanted what she had-a husband and kids, as well as my career fighting crime and evil-I was going to have to grow up. And soon. But Lainey and Toby were right about one thing: I did need to acknowledge my feelings. So I could move on.
"Fine," I said, standing up and smoothing down my black dress. "I'll go ask my friend Luke to dance."
Squaring my shoulders, I walked forward to put this crush behind me once and for all.
Excerpted from Tekgrrl by A. J. Menden Copyright © 2009 by Amy Mendenhal. Excerpted by permission.
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