After hundreds of years, they still cling to the blood feud with the Renard family. No one remembers how it started in the first place-but foxes and swans just don't get along.
Vilas can only transform into their swan shape after they have fallen in love for the first time, but between balancing schoolwork, family obligations, and the escalating blood feud, Ana's got no time for love. The only thing keeping her sane is her best friend, Pierce Kent.
But when Pierce kisses Ana, everything changes.
Is what Pierce feels for her real, or a byproduct of her magic? Can she risk everything for her best friend? And when the family feud spirals out of control, Ana must stop the fight before it takes away everything she loves.
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Love Me, Love Me Not
By Alyxandra Harvey, Stacy Abrams, Lydia Sharp
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Alyxandra Harvey
All rights reserved.
On the night of the full moon, we danced.
And you'd think with seventeen of us, no one would miss me. You'd be wrong.
It's not that I don't like dancing — but every month, every full moon? I mean, I have homework to do.
Not all of us are home-schooled — much to my aunt Aisha's disgust. I was ducking under the grapevine arbor when she found me. Aisha's totem shape was the prettiest, and the meanest. Ever taken the tip of a swan wing to the head? It's not fun. And try explaining why you have a huge bruise on your forehead.
She flapped her wings again, just enough to pull at my long hair. We're not allowed to cut it. They say there's power in hair — and you have no idea. I tried once when I was six. I thought Aisha's head was going to explode. Dad was the one to take the scissors away and I didn't get them back until I was fifteen.
A feather floated down, brushing my shoulder briefly before it fell into the tall grass. I tucked it into my pocket. "Okay, okay," I muttered, turning around to take the trail to the hill. The aunts had their own gatherings, but the cousins went as deep as we could into the forest behind Cygnet House.
It was a perfect summer evening, warm enough that I didn't need the traditional blue Vila family cloak over my white dress. The hem floated and billowed around my knees. When we danced, it was like we were made of dandelion seeds. Who knows? Maybe we are. It's as good a theory as any. But the truth is our feet blister and our ankles creak and still we dance. Without it we wither, turning first to thorn then to nothing at all. That was why my aunt's reminders were so violent. Because I knew better. And I wanted my swan wings as much as the others. I just wanted to pass my last year of classes, too.
But, homework or no homework, we gathered every month and moon to sing the old songs and dance.
I crossed the lawn and across the garden of white roses climbing up trellises and down over benches perfect for kissing — or so my cousins kept telling me. I didn't know because Edward was annoyingly uncooperative, no matter how many times I awkwardly stared at him in school. He was sweet and serious, always wearing black and looking thoughtful. We'd had the same English classes all through high school, but I had yet to say anything remotely intelligent to him. Or anything at all, really. Mostly I just stared while trying not to stare. It was kind of pathetic.
We were supposed to be really good at flirting in my family. Clearly, I was defective. At this rate, I'd never get my feather cloak.
The cousins had started without me. The moon waits for no one. They all wore white dresses too, some short, some long, sleeveless or slinky or sweet. We were as pale as the moon, especially with our identical white-blond hair. Even Mei Lin, and Julia whose father moved here from Mexico; we all have the same light hair, no matter our heritage.
Story threw a bright smile my way. Her shoulders gleamed with sweat, exposed by her glittering white sari. Next to her, her sister Sonnet was fierce and sharp, like an icicle. I was really glad my mother named me something relatively innocuous like Anastasia. Ana is so much better than Story or Sonnet or poor Soliloquy. It wasn't at all obvious that Aunt Agrippina was obsessed with poetry.
I gave in to the moment, the hard slap of my feet on the ground, the wind sighing through the grass when we sang. It fed us, the wild and the wind. It made us who we were, connected us to the beetles and rabbits and the owls with blood on their beaks. I wasn't sure how long we'd been bounding and twirling, but it was long enough that the space under my ribs burned. I could have been flying instead of leaping.
Sasha stepped out of the chain and toward the cloak of white feathers on the boulder crowning the hill. She wore so many roses I could barely see her hair. This was her night. She was only fifteen, but she was giving up the blue cloak of childhood. She'd found her swan cloak. She'd fallen in love.
Which also meant she'd had to sew swan feathers onto her old blue cloak until it turned into something else, until it turned her into something else. We gathered those feathers as soon as we were old enough to know what they were. If you fell in love and you had nothing with which to turn your cloak, you were lost. I could see the bloody pinpricks on Sasha's fingertips, the gooseflesh on her bare arms. Our song crashed at her feet like the tide coming in, full of broken sailors and drowned hearts.
As she flung the cloak over her round shoulders, there was a flash of summer lightning, pink as cotton candy. I could taste it, electricity and sugar. Sasha's face was peaceful, perfect, until a twinge of panic, of pain, and then she was in the air. Her arms turned to shadow and light and feather. Her neck was long and slender. Story wept, desperate for her own cloak. Sonnet sneered. She'd end up in the woods with the feral aunts. I had no idea where I was going to end up if Edward didn't notice me soon.
Sasha flapped her powerful wings until tiny downy feathers wafted around us like snow. They clung to our hair, to the roses, to the milkweed pods not quite ready to burst. She flew away to join the aunts. There was a brief whirlwind, pressing us together, stirring the grassy fields like a cauldron. And then Sasha was gone.
But we weren't alone.
I almost didn't hear it. It was such a small squeak of surprise, lost in our excited laughter. The lightning forked, leaving its pink cloud. Another squeak. There at the bottom of the hill, lying in the grass.
Sonnet was the first to reach for her bow. The arrows were wrapped with our hair to cause forgetfulness. Sometimes they worked too well and boys forgot everything. And if they weren't Renard boys, there'd be a new family feud.
And if they were Renards, there would be blood. A lot of it.
Sonnet loosed her arrow, the bowstring singing its own song. I jostled her, breaking her aim. When the arrow thudded into the grass, she shot me a glare that may as well have been a hissing serpent tossed at my head. The others split around her like a river around a rock. The moon followed us, stabbing light between the trees as we ran. How had they found us? Where did they come from? What had they seen? Questions pounded through me in time with my thudding pulse.
If they'd seen Sasha's transformation, I wouldn't be able to help them. Even I'd have to shoot them with an arrow. No one knew our family secrets, and we worked hard to keep it that way. Sometimes, we did things I wasn't entirely proud of.
The boys were fast, fueled by panic and confusion and possibly beer, but one of them kept glancing back and stumbling to a stop. He'd seen enough to be half in love already, entranced and bewildered. Usually it was enough to protect us, even without the arrows. "Dude, don't stop!" His friend pulled him into a run again with a strangled, disbelieving laugh. The voice was familiar.
I tried to trip Sonnet and she punched me so hard I dropped to my knees. Someone else's arrow whistled by, nearly taking out her left eye. She snarled. Someone giggled, Rosalita maybe. She was the one who flirted like it was her life's calling. We had other weapons, after all. Some of the prettiest flowers are poisonous.
I got to my feet in time to see the guys stumble out into the fields. If they hadn't seen Sasha, we'd just be the story of the girls they saw dancing at midnight. We circled, barely noticeable among the birches. One of them thumped at his chest, gasping. "What the hell, Jackson?"
Jackson wiped the sweat off his face with his arm. "Did you see that?"
"Shit," I muttered. The voices were familiar because these were Pierce's younger brothers: Jackson and Eric. Pierce Kent was my best friend and he knew everything about me. His brothers most definitely didn't. When Pierce first found out about me, Aunt Aisha terrorized him into agreeing to complete silence. Otherwise, he'd have been shot with an arrow and forgotten all about me. I'd cried so hard at the thought that Aunt Aisha had actually relented. Well, she did what passed as relenting for her, anyway. It was enough. I had my best friend and no one would take him from me.
"Abort mission!" I hissed to my cousins. "Hold your fire!" An arrow flew past my head. "Just stop it!"
Rosalita stepped out first, mostly because she was too far away for me to tackle to the ground. Her blond hair curled into ringlets down to her hips. Jackson nearly swallowed his tongue. She spent most of the time luring swans to the lake behind the house. She'd raised a gosling once but it kept biting her.
"Y-You ..." Jackson stammered at Rosalita. "I saw —"
"Hello." She smiled. Sonnet lowered her bow, disgusted. She much preferred shooting boys with arrows to flirting. Rosalita's weapons were glossy hair and pouty lips, and as often as not, they worked just as well. That pissed Sonnet off even more.
Jackson blinked as though he'd looked into the sun for too long. "I'm Jackson Kent. This is my little brother Eric."
"Younger brother," Eric hastened to point out, scowling. "By like eleven months."
Rosalita reached out to trace the collar of Jackson's shirt. Even without the whole swan-first-love thing, Rosalita was a menace. I almost felt sorry for him.
"We're in a dance troupe," I explained, joining Rosalita before the others could move in. Jackson couldn't tear his gaze away from her, but I assumed he could still hear. "We were rehearsing."
Sometimes it worked, if they were too drunk or besotted to wonder about dance troupes who practiced in the middle of the night with the mosquitos. But we lived just outside of Stratford, where they put on Shakespearean plays and built faux Tudor houses for the tourists. Someone was always rehearsing something. And there were swans everywhere. Seriously, every spring, twenty-four swans were piped down to the river with great ceremony by men in kilts, and I was related to at least half of them. The swans, not the pipers. It became another one of our own personal family traditions.
"Ana, hi." Eric nodded once, finally noticing me. His Adam's apple twitched when he swallowed. His body was reacting to danger, even if Jackson was too befuddled to notice.
Then Pierce came through the trees, swearing. "Jesus, you two. What the hell do you think — Oh." He saw me and stopped. "Ana. Shit."
Rosalita sneered before vanishing into the undergrowth, Jackson moving to follow her. An arrow slammed next to his foot. "Don't," I advised him. The next one would go through his heart. It wouldn't actually kill him, but it might feel like it had.
"But she's so beautiful."
"And clearly not interested, asshat," Pierce said.
Jackson blinked at me. "You're kinda pretty too, Ana."
"Gee, thanks," I said drily. I sang a verse of an old song, just enough to have them blink at me, confused. Pierce and I exchanged a commiserating glance.
"Wait in the truck, idiots," he said. He watched their retreating backs and flailing limbs. "It's like watching ostriches run."
"You'd better make sure they don't come back tomorrow night," I said. "Or one of my cousins really will shoot him." He grinned at me. I frowned. "What?"
"I've never seen you in a dress. It's so ... girly."
I shoved him. "Shut up, Kent." He just laughed.
I grabbed the back of Jackson's jacket and propelled him toward the truck. Eric scrambled after him. "Both of you shut up and get in."
"Wait until Nana hears about this."
"Don't even think about it." I glared at him, mustering every ounce of older-brother-intimidation I had; memories of Nana hanging him upside down, throwing him into lakes, and forcing him to clean out the barn with a hangover. That would come in the morning. I'd make sure he had barn chores before the sun rose. "Leave it alone. You know how she is."
"Crazy." Eric snorted. I glanced at him through the rearview mirror. He shrugged. "Well, she is."
I didn't say anything, mostly because he wasn't wrong. I drove away with a lurch of spit gravel, searching the trees for a glimpse of a white dress all the way home.
The storm winds cleared up by the time we reached the cabin. Either the alcohol or the blood had finally gotten to Jackson, who lurched into the bushes to be sick. Eric just ducked his head down and hurried inside, the screen door slamming behind him. The blue light of the television flickered from the living room window onto the lawn. Nana would be asleep in her chair, beer on the table and rifle by the door. The iron wind chimes she made and hung in the trees clinked like dinner knives.
I texted Ana at three in the morning, because if I had to suffer, so did she.
Jackson is singing an 80s love ballad about Rosalita. Save me.
She replied instantly. Rock on, dude. Maybe he'll grow a mullet.
If he starts with the air guitar, I'm moving in with you.
You wouldn't like it. We mostly sing bloody sea shanties and ballads about dead lovers.
You're a ray of sunshine, Vila,as always.
Go to sleep.
But I knew I wouldn't sleep tonight. Instead, I sat on the wooden step and stared up at the stars for a long time, trying to forget the way Ana's soft simple song had tightened around me like a rope.
She had no idea what she did to me.CHAPTER 2
On the second night of the full moon, we danced.
There were no interruptions, because Pierce hid Jackson's bicycle.
At dawn I met Sonnet, Mei Lin, and Rosalita at the farm gates. It was our turn to feed the magic that kept us hidden from casual passersby and, more importantly, the Renards. The feud between our families was simmering on a relatively low heat. Twelve years ago was the last time there'd been an outright battle. My mom died before it ended. I was five years old. And even then I knew what it meant to be Vila: you took out the Renards before they took you out.
We still occasionally found swan wings nailed to the hydro posts in our neighborhood. They couldn't find Cygnet House, but they had tracking magic the way we had healing magic, and they'd long since figured out we were in this vicinity. Aunt Aisha wore a fox tail in her hair sometimes when she was feeing particularly feral.
Swans and foxes just didn't get along.
To say my family was not like other families was an understatement. It wasn't enough that we had magic in a world that didn't believe in it, and that we had to keep our magic hidden at all costs — we also had the joys of a magical family feud. Which, by the way, started so long ago that no one could actually remember what the hell we were fighting about anymore. It had become an inherited quality, like blue eyes or lactose intolerance, only we had inherited stupidity. And I was so over it. Problem was, no one else seemed particularly bothered.
So every sunrise some of us trampled through the dew to anoint the gates with Renard blood. It's as gross as it sounds. It was collected from the last battle and we used it to shield ourselves from them. We smear a little on our foreheads when we dance, too, to keep us hidden.
Magic is not particularly hygienic.
We also had a collection of stolen Renard pendulums in a glass cabinet in the house. They were made of fox teeth and their magic wouldn't respond to us no matter how we tried.
But in the mornings, we used their blood. We sang an old ballad as we worked, because it was tradition.
We wore our white moon dresses, because it was tradition.
The wind twisted through the long grass to listen to us sing a song no one remembered anymore. It was about a sly fox and the way he was caught. For Reynard, sly Reynard lay hid there that night; And we swore we would watch him until the daylight.
No wonder people thought we were weird.
Luckily they couldn't see Rosalita painting a smear of blood on the ground between the iron gates. She used a birch twig because, again, that was tradition. Magic tingled through us until the air shimmered and glowed just a little more than direct sunlight could explain.
Tally-ho, hark away, tally-ho, hark away; Tally-ho, hark away me boys away, hark away.
Excerpted from Love Me, Love Me Not by Alyxandra Harvey, Stacy Abrams, Lydia Sharp. Copyright © 2016 Alyxandra Harvey. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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