Read an Excerpt
The Fated Series
By Brenda Drake, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Brenda Drake
All rights reserved.
It looked like the house had swallowed an entire art store and thrown up the supplies all over the lower level. Aster Layne hugged her physics book and stepped off the final stair. Bent over colorful poster boards on the floor, her twin sisters were painting over-punctuated sentences.
"Um ... I guess I didn't get the memo." Aster tiptoed around the land mine of wet signs. "What are we protesting this week?"
Violet, one of the twins, glanced up. "It's not a protest. It's for our birthday party. Besides, you wouldn't protest anyway. You don't care about the environment."
"Now that's just hurtful." Aster pretended to look appalled. "I care. I recycle."
Violet harrumphed as she dunked her brush into a glob of pink paint on her palette.
"Hey, is that my pen by your knee?" Aster glared down at her.
"Yes," Violet said, busy at her task. "And why do you even care? You have like a million of them in your desk. It's crazy."
"It's not crazy. It's a collection," Aster said. "Just put it back when you're done." On the floor at Aster's toes was a neon-pink sign with large bubble letters spelling out Come Join Us For A Party On The Beach To Celebrate Violet's And Iris's Sweat 16 Birthday On April 8.
Sweat? she thought. Someone needs an education.
Her lips twitched into a devious smile. "'Sweet' is spelled wrong."
Iris leaned over to examine the poster. "Daisy did that one. I knew we shouldn't have let her help."
"What do you mean? Hers is better than all yours put together." Aster could feel the burning anger rising within her. The twins were always messing with Daisy, and her youngest sister was too sweet to fight back, so over the years Aster had become her protector. It was Aster and Daisy against the twins. Aster knelt down and grabbed a brush, dipping the tip into the green paint that matched the letters on the board. She looped an e over the a and darkened the other letters. "See, you can hardly tell."
"That's horrible," Iris said. "We'll put it at the pier. No one will care down there."
"You're inviting all of Ocean City?" Aster snickered. "That's just crazy."
"Don't be silly," Iris said as if the seven or so posters sprawled all over the living room weren't evidence of her calculated plan to outdo Marsha Simmons's recent party. "Mom said we could put one up in the shop, one at church, and some around the neighborhood. Whoever comes, comes."
Aster rolled her eyes. "Yeah, that'll be a small affair."
Iris glared up at her, the sarcasm in Aster's voice not going unnoticed. "You're such a snob."
"I just can't figure out how you come up with such great comebacks." Aster laughed and ducked into the kitchen, the smell of buttery goodness tickling her nose.
Fourteen months had passed since Aster had had her Sweet Sixteen. It had been a quiet occasion — dinner on the deck overlooking the ocean with paper lanterns, with just her family and her best friend in attendance. No pomp and circumstance like the twins' birthday was sure to be, much to her mom's disappointment. Her mom loved to throw parties to show off her elaborate flower arrangements.
But Aster was sick of everything floral. From her and her sisters' first names to the many vases around the house holding the season's best blooms, she was sick. It all felt overdone. But her mom made good money selling flower bouquets to overeager men wanting to show their affection to anticipating amours. Her ideal would be for a guy to give her one simple long-stem rose or something. Not red. Not pink. Just white. A sign of purity. Pure love. That would be special to her.
Aster shook her head at the thought. Pure love didn't exist. And every relationship she'd ever witnessed was evidence to that belief. Her grandparents' marriage was the exception. They'd met just out of high school and never spent a day apart from each other until Gramps had a heart attack on the deck steps leading down to the beach. He'd only been fifty-three.
Whenever a breeze came off the waves and whistled over the deck, she could smell Gramps in it — a mixture of salt and sand. He'd always taken a morning plunge in the waves, no matter the season. To get his heart pumping, he'd said. Gram would tease him that it was because he didn't want to take a conventional shower.
Aster swallowed the lump in her throat that always sprang up whenever she thought of him and focused on the woman he left behind. "Hey, Gram. Smells good in here," she said, shuffling across the tiled floor.
Gram's eyes traveled over her. "Those shorts are kind of short, wouldn't you say?"
"And that's why they call them shorts," she said, dropping her book on the table.
"You'll get cold."
"It's sixty-nine out."
"When it gets dark, it won't be," Gram countered.
Aster moaned, snatching her sweatshirt from the coat rack on the wall by the back door.
Gram grabbed a handful of flour and sprinkled it on the doughy mound she'd been kneading on the counter. "You know, dear, you shouldn't tease Iris as you do. She isn't the type for it."
"Yeah, but she's such an easy target."
Amusement lit Gram's eyes. "That she is, but nonetheless, go easy on her. Lord knows that boy of hers isn't so kind. She doesn't need her own family poking fun at her."
"I thought she broke up with him." Aster grabbed a roll off the cooling rack by the stove. "She's been hanging out with Wade a lot lately."
"She has. He's such a sweet boy, too. I'm thrilled she's finally realized that." She wiped a stray hair from her face. "But she's having a difficult time breaking up with that other one." Gram never mentioned his name, and she usually overlooked the error of people's ways. But Iris's boyfriend was such a douche bag, he tested Gram's ability to forgive him.
"All right, I'll try to be nicer to her," Aster said. "So where's Daisy? We were supposed to pick up Leah five minutes ago."
"She went with Aunt Roselyn to her doctor's appointment," Gram said, digging her fingers back into the dough. "She's having an ultrasound and might find out if the baby's a boy or girl. They should have been back by now, though." She glanced over at the clock on the oven before turning to Aster. "Now see, you're such a sweetie to Daisy. Taking her to the boardwalk when no one else will. Why can't you be like that to the others?"
"Because you don't see how they treat Daisy." Aster popped another piece of roll in her mouth. The flaky goodness melted on her tongue, buttery and sweet at the same time.
"I know and see all, but two wrongs don't make a right." Gram rubbed at her nose with the back of her flour-caked hand. "Don't throw the first stone, you hear?"
"Why do you always assume it was me who started it?"
Gram frowned, flipping over the mound of dough. "Just know, one day you'll realize how precious a gift it is to have sisters."
"Okay. But if we're all about speaking in proverbs here, the twins should do unto Daisy what they would like done unto them, or something like that." Aster tossed the last bit of the roll in her mouth. "And, if I knew the price of a roll was going to be a lecture, I'd have bought one at the bakery."
"Only it wouldn't be nearly as good," Gram said, thinning the dough with a rolling pin.
Gram was right. Her rolls were like crack. The ratio between Gram baking good batches versus bad ones was a million to one, and that happened only because the heating element in her old oven sometimes overheated.
"Have a peppermint, dear." Gram was always pushing those round mints that Daisy called candy cane babies.
Aster picked one from the bowl on the table, unwrapped it, and popped it into her mouth.
A car door slammed, and then another right after it.
"There they are," Gram announced as if she hadn't seen them in years.
Daisy entered the kitchen, struggling with several shopping bags, one of which had a stuffed giraffe's head sticking out of it. "I swear aliens have taken over Auntie Roselyn. She bought so much blue stuff, I may puke." She dropped the bags on the table.
Gram gasped, slapping her cheeks, a flour cloud puffing in front of her face. "Oh my, finally, a boy!"
"I know, isn't it exciting?" Aunt Roselyn squealed, waddling in with more bags. "I have to email Herman. He is going to be thrilled. I sure hope he gets his orders home in time for the big arrival."
"I'm going to put some shorts on," Daisy said and darted up the back stairs.
"Hurry, you've got five minutes or I'll leave your as —" Suddenly remembering Gram was in the room, Aster thought better of her last word. But clearly, Gram was still in the euphoric haze of finding out there would be a boy entering the long line of double-x chromosomes in the family.
"Great news, huh?" Aster raised a brow at Gram when the older woman didn't answer her. Knowing Daisy's five minutes would be fifteen, Aster sat at the table and flipped open her physics book. Ever since Daisy had turned fourteen, she was obsessed with her looks. Or rather looking older.
"What?" Gram finally muttered a response before the rolling pin slipped out of her hand and clunked onto the counter. "There's so much to do. We have to repaint the room ... oh and new bedding ... blue ... yes ... blue ..." She slowly ascended the back staircase.
Gram always amazed Aster. Instead of collecting stray cats, she collected stray humans, all taking residence in her six-bedroom beach house. She could have sold the place for a few million, but she never would. Aster suspected Gram felt Gramps's spirit in the place, too.
Aster and her mom, sisters, and aunt weren't the only ones living with Gram. There was an older woman (somewhat ancient, actually) named Tillie living in a small apartment attached to the garage. From the kitchen's French doors, Aster could see Tillie hunched over, supporting her weight on her cane as she watered the large planters flanking the entrance to her apartment. No one ever spoke to Tillie but Gram, and Tillie never spoke.
"Ready," Daisy announced. "You studying again? It's spring break. There's no homework during break."
Sighing, Aster stood. "The brain can never rest, especially when it comes to quantum entanglement."
Daisy blinked. "What's that?"
"Well, if you split two entangled particles, they remain connected. So, if you spin one, the other one will instantaneously spin in the opposite direction no matter how far away —"
"Okay, mind overload," Daisy stopped her. "You don't have to give me a full-on definition."
"Well, you asked." She shook her head. How she wished just one member of her family understood her fascination with science. Aster scooped up the Bug's keys from the counter and yanked open the door, then instantly jumped back. Leah was on the other side, her fist in midknock. "Crap! You scared the shit out of me," she said. "I thought I was driving?"
"Right." Leah didn't look at all happy, flipping a blond braid over her shoulder. "Just like you were going to pick me up a half hour ago?"
If Gram saw Leah's shorts, she'd be more stunned than finding out Roselyn was having a boy. The shorts barely covered Leah's butt cheeks.
Aster's best friend, Leah, had all the confidence in the world. She never let anything prevent her from achieving her goals, not even a missing eye, which could hardly be noticed when she wore her usual prosthetic. When Aster first met Leah, it was like bringing two opposite charges together — they stuck.
"Come on," Leah said. "I'll drive. There's hot boys to destroy."
"We're not destroying boys today," Aster said. "You promised. Girls only today. Besides, it's Wednesday. All the hot guys go on the weekend."
Leah talked the talk, but she didn't walk it. She fell in love too easily, and her heart broke even easier. She didn't have a destructive bone in her body. Besides, Aster had had her fill of guys lately. Having just recently broken up with her newest loser, she didn't want another opportunity to show her apparently poor judgment in boyfriend material.
Aster tossed the keys back on the counter and followed Daisy and Leah out the door. Iris's jerk of a boyfriend, Josh, squeezed by them on his way in. Blocking his way, Aster turned her most menacing glare on him.
He glared back at her. "Are your meds malfunctioning again?"
"Be nice to Iris, or else," Aster said. She would kill to see his smug face turn to agony after Iris broke it off and crushed him.
"Or else what? What are you going to do?" He pushed by her.
"You don't want to find out," Aster called after him before dashing down the sidewalk to Leah's Ford Focus, thoughts of sampling deep-fried food on the boardwalk dancing in her head.CHAPTER 2
The salty breeze rolling over the boardwalk reminded Reese Van Buren that he needed another drink. Possibly something with alcohol. But alas, he had forgotten he was in America where the drinking age was twenty-one, and not eighteen as it was back home in North Holland. And the last drinking establishment they'd visited had confiscated their fake identifications since the cards were undoubtedly suspect. He was almost tired of traveling and partying since leaving Europe with his travel mates.
Reese did, however, enjoy the openness of American girls. It was a refreshing change from the closed and overly scheduled young women of his village. With it being spring break, the American girls were ready to have a rollicking time. He'd had no problem convincing Henry, Jan, and Lars to go on this adventure with him. All he had to do was play a YouTube video of girls going wild on the beaches during spring break, and they eagerly packed their luggage.
"Explain to me again, why are we in Maryland?" Lars towered over the locals and tourists on the boardwalk, his athletic form weaving through the crowd. "We could be drinking with the masses on the Florida beaches."
"And romancing the girls," Henry added, glancing back with a scowl on his face. Henry was the only English one in the group. Reese had roomed with Henry at Le Rosey, an expensive boarding school in Switzerland. It wasn't as though Henry was utterly handsome. It was his confidence and his accent that attracted the opposite sex.
Jan, Reese's cousin, rubbed his pudgy belly. "All the amazing smells around here are making me hungry. Might we get a bite?"
"You didn't have enough to eat on the drive?" Henry smacked the back of Jan's head. "All our supplies are gone."
"I have to maintain all my sexy curves." Jan shimmied, running his hands over his sides.
Jan would eat anything, especially if it was slathered in barbecue sauce. He'd acquired a liking for the stuff after sampling it at a roadside diner. Reese didn't much like the taste. It was too spicy for him.
"You were all given an itinerary," Reese said, turning slightly to search the buildings flanking the boardwalk. "We'll arrive in Florida in a few days. Plenty of time to partake in the spring break festivities. At the moment, we must find that photo booth. The lady said it was in this vicinity."
"It feels as though we're on a race around the world," Lars said. "Why must we rush everywhere?"
It was very much like that. A race to see the places Reese would never get another chance to see. He was determined to distract himself from thinking about his future demise. He had only three months to live, and he planned to do it in a drunken stupor where no one knew who he was.
Just a quarter of a year.
The days were like sand in the hourglass of his life, slipping away from him. He never fully got over the sinking feeling he'd had when he first learned of his imminent demise. He contemplated suicide, but thought better of it. His parents would never forgive themselves. Nor would Jan.
Jan gave Reese a concerned look. Reese returned it with a brave smile. Jan was the only one who knew Reese's troubles. Even his parents hadn't learned that he had discovered the truth — that Reese had uncovered their secret.
"There it is," Jan shouted as though the others were across the boardwalk and not standing right next to him.
The four took turns getting head shots in the booth. They were to meet up with Jack, a scoundrel for certain, who could forge identification cards for them. Satisfied with the outcome of the photographs, Jan and Lars set out to locate Jack's bumper sticker stand at the end of the boardwalk. Jack had asked that only two of the friends meet him. He didn't need a group around him raising suspicion.
Excerpted from Touching Fate by Brenda Drake, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2015 Brenda Drake. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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