Fans of Vampire Diaries and Twilight will be thirsting for this latest vampire addiction…
My aunt has been kidnapped by vampires, and it’s up to me to save her. Only…I had no idea vampires existed. None. Nada. I’m more of a reader than a fighter, and even though I’d been wishing to escape my boring existence in the middle of nowhere, I’d give anything to have it back now if it meant my aunt was safe.
Then there’s the vampire Sebastian, who seems slightly nicer than most of the bloodsuckers I’ve run into so far. Yes, he’s the hottest being I’ve ever come across, but there’s no way I can trust him. He swears he’s helping me get answers, but there’s more to his story. Now I’m a key pawn in a raging vampire war, and I need to pick the right ally.
But my chances of surviving this war are slim at best, when the side I choose might be the one that wants me dead the most.
About the Author
Growing up, Cole Gibsen couldn’t decide what she loved moredogs or books. Rather than choose, she decided to devote her life to both! Dog trainer (wrangler) by day and author by night, she’s the author of more than ten books with more on the way. www.colegibsen.com
Read an Excerpt
The big baby of a dog is freaking out again.
Jax tilts his head to the side, big ears twitching. He lifts his nose in the air, his body going rigid. After several deep sniffs, he turns to me and whimpers.
Sighing, I trudge up to him. "I swear you worry more than Aunt Rachel. Whatever you're smelling — it's probably just a deer." I stop beside the German Shepherd and search the trees for whatever has him upset. The dirt path we've been hiking is worn from deer, raccoons, and even my own nature walks, so it's far too narrow to make out much. A branch claws my leg — almost as if it's trying to pull me off the path and deeper into the woods. I consider letting it. As reclusive as Aunt Rachel is, living in a cave would feel like a vacation.
Whining, Jax whips his head around and stares at something over his shoulder.
"I thought German Shepherds were supposed to be brave," I tell him. "If Aunt Rachel bribed you with extra cookies to end our walk early, I'm going to be pissed." He blinks.
Squinting, I follow his line of sight. I'm not surprised when nothing moves. Still, it is strange how quiet the woods are this early in the evening. There are no cicadas humming. No rodents scurrying. And no nocturnal birds flapping through the trees. The phrase deathly silent swirls in my head.
I can't fight the tremor of unease that pulses through me as I stand still, waiting for the slightest rustle of leaves or snap of a branch.
"Ugh." I give myself a mental shake. "Look at me, freaking out for no reason. You and Aunt Rachel really are rubbing off on me."
Jax nudges my hand, his eyes trained on something ahead. The cold of his nose seeps through my skin, chilling me. A low growl emits from deep inside his chest.
In the three years since I found Jax, when he was a softball-sized ball of fur in a cardboard box outside a gas station bathroom, I've never heard him growl. I didn't think he knew how. I place my hand on his back, weaving my fingers through the coarse fur to touch his skin, just so I can feel the vibration to be sure the noise is really coming from him.
The heat from his body does nothing to warm me. "Dork," I mutter. "When we get back, you're getting a drop of Aunt Rachel's lavender oil to calm your furry butt down. You're acting ridiculous." I clench the opening of my knitted cardigan closed. The mustard yellow sweater was last year's handmade Christmas present from Aunt Rachel. It's about a size too large, and drapes over my small frame, making it one of my most comfortable — and favorite — pieces of clothing. Wisps of cold breeze wind through the gaps of yarn and rake across my arms. I shudder. "Let's go." I tug gently on Jax's faded blue collar.
He doesn't budge. Instead, his lip ripples, revealing his long, white clenched teeth.
"Maybe it's time to get your ears checked." I give a nervous chuckle.
Jax's eyes are fixated on something I can't make out. There are no bears in these woods. But there are hikers. Maybe someone wandered away from a trail. "Hello?" I call out. "Anyone there?"
The silence, growing heavier by the second, is the only thing that answers.
I let out a long breath to relieve the pressure of my tightening chest. A chill ripples across my skin. I grab Jax's collar and tug hard in the opposite direction. "This is dumb," I tell him. "We're not going to stay out here and play Panic Attack in the Woods. Nobody wins that game." I tug his collar, forcing him to trudge along with me.
He snorts his frustration, casting several glances over his shoulder as we resume the path home.
As we get closer to the cabin, I touch the prepaid smartphone tucked in my pocket to make sure it's lying flat so my aunt won't spot it. A fight between Jax and a woodland creature would be the end to my solo "nature hikes" aka "internet time." Without some connection to the outside world, I'd likely join a pyramid scheme, just so I could socialize with people my own age. Lipstick and leggings, anyone?
We emerge from the path into a small clearing. Our faded, one-bedroom cabin sits beside what was once a gravel road, but is now mostly dirt with a few scattered rocks. Aunt Rachel gave me the bedroom when we moved in ten years ago. She sleeps on the lumpy futon in the corner. A bedroom would have been wasted on her, anyway, as she barely sleeps. Each morning she's up making her soaps and lotions before the sun rises, and every night she's tucked into a corner of the futon reading by candlelight when I can fight sleep no longer.
Jax's gaze is still locked on some faraway point through the trees when I drag him inside. Once I shut the door, the dog digs his nose into the crack between the door and frame and chuffs.
Our cabin is three rooms: a bedroom, a bathroom, and an open area that is a divided kitchen and living room. Aunt Rachel has tried her best to make it homey with her vases of wildflowers, homemade curtains, and hand-crocheted rugs. But even with these touches, I can't help but feel that I'm entering a different planet when I walk through the door — one the real world can't penetrate. And it's the real world — not this handmade, organic, granola isolation chamber I live in — that I want to be a part of.
"Hey sweetie." Aunt Rachel smiles, relief visible in her eyes, before she turns her attention to the pots on the stove. The beads knotted in her blond dreadlocks click together as she moves. It's the hairstyle she's worn for as long as I can remember, tied back with the same faded blue handkerchief, while she listens to the same Phish album on the same CD player.
The sameness wraps around me like a hot wool blanket — itchy and suffocating. I dig my nails into my palms in an attempt to keep from screaming. This cannot be my life.
The smell of Aunt Rachel's latest batch of soap wafts over to me. Ugh. Eau de outdoor music festival. I wrinkle my nose. "God, I hate patchouli."
She shrugs. "I love it. And since mosquitos hate it, it's a win-win in my book."
I flop onto the kitchen chair. Its crooked legs wobble beneath me. I give an inward sigh. The wobbly chair legs, sun-faded curtains, the smells of vanilla and patchouli permeating the air, and the Texas-shaped hole in the linoleum floor — these things are all part of the unchanging, untouchable loop that is my life. And while these things are all I know, the internet has proven there is so much more — shopping malls, amusement parks, museums, and zoos. Those are only a couple of things I want to see.
I touch the phone tucked inside my pocket. Just knowing it's there — my key to the outside — loosens the ever-tightening knots inside my chest.
Stirring the soap, Aunt Rachel asks, "How was your walk?"
"It was okay, I guess." I pick up one of the soap molds strewn across the table — a star — and trace my fingers along the edges. Even the shapes she makes her soap never change.
Aunt Rachel stops stirring long enough to frown at me. She turns the stove burner on low and sets the spoon across the lip of the pot. After wiping her fingers on her apron, she walks over to me, long skirt tangling between her legs as she moves. Her eyes narrow. "Okay, what's eating you? If it's that time of the month, I have an oil that can help with the PMS."
"Oh God." I make a face. "I'm not on my period, okay? I'm just — bored. I walk the same path every day. I know all the trees by heart." I pause. "Maybe I could take the truck to one of the public hiking trails? Just for a change of scenery."
"No." There's no hesitation in her answer. "Public or not, hiking alone is incredibly dangerous. That's why I only want you using the trails surrounding the cabin. If you're so bored, I've invited you to my knitting circle a hundred times. Marnie's daughter is there and she's your age."
"The girl who pretends her knitting needles are making out? Uh, no thanks. Jax is better company."
At the sound of his name, Jax looks away from the door, only to ram his nose back in the crack a second later.
Aunt Rachel rolls her eyes. "She's a very sweet girl." When I don't respond, she slices a hand through the air. "You're still not allowed to walk the public trails. If something were to happen —"
"Nothing ever happens," I cut in. "And if you're so worried about it, I could get a cell phone."
She jerks back as if I had suggested using a puppy as a soccer ball. "Absolutely not. Cell phones are trackable. I've explained this to you a thousand times."
"You've explained it, but it doesn't make sense." Frustration builds inside me, forcing me to my feet. I stand so suddenly, the stupid wobbly chair falls over. It doesn't break, and for some reason, this makes me sad. I need one dumb thing to change, even if it's a chair. "It's not like we're criminals, or that we're hiding from anyone. I say, let them track me."
Aunt Rachel presses her lips together. She grabs one of the many beaded bracelets on her wrists and twists it around and around. "You have no idea what you're talking about."
I inhale sharply and let it out in a long, slow whoosh. From the moment I began researching colleges on the computer at the library, I knew this was a conversation I needed to have. But the words jumble into knots. "I'll be eighteen in a couple months."
My aunt opens her mouth, as if she might argue about my age, too. Finally, her shoulders sag and she looks up at the ceiling. "Shit," she mumbles. I wonder if she's been expecting this moment as well. "I know you're not a child anymore, Charlie, but there are things you don't understand. It's just — "
"I can't stay here forever," I cut her off. "I want to go to college."
She's quiet for several heartbeats before sucking in a deep breath. "Okay. We can talk about this rationally." She picks up the fallen chair and slowly lowers herself onto it. Swallowing hard, she smooths her skirt across her legs. "There's a great community college thirty miles away. You can commute."
What she really means is, You can stay here with me, in these woods, making smelly soaps and lotions until we both die, alone, in this stupid cabin with the ugly curtains.
As much as I love her, I can't do it. This forest and this cabin are a puzzle of which I'm a piece that doesn't fit. There's something unseen, something more pulling me, like rope tied around my heart. I need to see where it will lead.
Clearing my throat, I lick my lips. If I don't do this now, I know I'll lose my nerve. "I've applied to several universities."
Her face pales. "But there are no universities nearby."
"I know." I pick at my thumbnail. "That's — that's kind of the point."
"Oh." Her face crumples, and for one terrifying moment I'm sure she's going to cry. Her fingers twist into the folds of her skirt, knuckles white, like she's desperate for something to hold on to.
I hold my breath, watching as the tears well in her eyes. I don't know what I expected. Maybe anger, maybe a fight, but not this. This is infinitely worse. "I'm sorry," I say automatically. But I'm not sure what I'm sorry for. Wanting more? Is that such a bad thing?
Aunt Rachel slumps against the chair like a deflating balloon. "Sweet girl." She holds out a hand.
I take it without hesitation. For the first time since my walk, when the cold seeped into my veins, I feel a flicker of warmth.
She squeezes my fingers with one hand. With the other, she dabs at her eyes with the corner of her apron. "You have nothing to be sorry for. I'm the one who should be sorry."
I can only blink. Of all the possible outcomes to happen, this is the strangest.
Aunt Rachel traces a finger along the woven bracelet on my wrist. It's identical to the bracelet on her own arm. We made them together when I was fourteen. "I know you feel trapped, Charlie. I never wanted that for you. I never wanted this." She lets go of my arm and motions around the cabin. She swallows several times before she releases me.
"What are you talking about?" I ask.
"Did you know I used to travel?" I shake my head.
She smiles, and her eyes get the faraway look of someone falling into their memories. "I've been to Germany, Italy, France, Spain, and Ireland. I'd planned to visit every country on the globe. But then —"
I don't need her to finish. Guilt winds an angry fist into my gut. I'm the reason she stopped traveling. I'm the reason for this. "My parents died in the car accident," I finish for her.
She jerks her head back, eyes wide. "Don't say it like that, Charlie. I wanted to protect you." She tugs on the edge of my cardigan, pulling me toward her. "I love you. You're the most important thing in my life, do you understand?"
There's a desperation in her eyes that tightens my throat. Swallowing hard, I nod.
She lets go of me with a sigh. "Maybe I took it too far." She sweeps her dreadlocks over her shoulder and twists them tightly. "All I've ever wanted was to keep you safe."
Safe. The word spirals, cold and slippery, down my spine. "What are you so afraid of?"
She opens her mouth only to shut it again.
We turn as he claws at the door.
"The only thing there is to be afraid of," she whispers. "The monsters."
"Monsters?" A laugh bubbles up my throat.
Aunt Rachel opens her mouth when Jax lets out a growl that reverberates throughout the cabin. With his nose still in the crack of the front door, the German Shepherd's lips curl back, revealing his tightly clenched teeth.
Aunt Rachel pales. "Jax?"
He keeps his nose pressed to the door.
"Don't worry about him." I wave dismissively. "He picked up the scent of an animal in the woods, and he's been acting weird ever since."
Aunt Rachel whips her head around, beads clacking like rainfall. "What kind of animal?"
"I don't know." I shrug. "I didn't see anything."
She reaches for me, gripping my shoulders so tightly it borders on pain. A small cry escapes my throat.
"The birds." She gives me a small shake. "What were the birds doing?"
"The birds?" Fear twists through my ribs before pulling tight with a sharp snap. "What are you talking about?"
"Please, Charlie, think." She gives my shoulders another jerk. "Were the birds chirping at all? What were they doing?"
I try to pull free from her grip, but her fingers hold me like a vice. "Nothing. They were quiet. The entire forest was quiet."
Aunt Rachel's lips part and she releases me. "Shit."
"Aunt Rachel?" I rub my sore shoulders. This is another time I wish we had the internet so I could look up the symptoms of a stroke.
"After all these years — they found me."
"Who found you?"
"The monsters." She spins a small circle, her eyes taking in every inch of the cabin, like she's expecting a creature to jump out at any moment. "We don't have much time."
What the hell is going on? Could she have accidentally poisoned herself with one of her soap ingredients? Maybe she drank some bad wine? My knees wobble as I stand. "Are you feeling okay? You're kind of scaring me."
Jax's growls deepen.
Aunt Rachel licks her lips, her chest heaving from her shallow breaths. "You're my niece. You need to remember that."
My heart pounds against my chest, rattling my ribs. "Of course, I'm your niece."
"As long as they think that, they'll leave you alone. It's me they want." Her eyes are wild, the pupils nothing more than black pinpricks.
"What does that mean, as long as they think that?"
She ignores the question and instead whirls around, pulls open a kitchen drawer, and rummages through it with shaking fingers. "Shit. Shit. Shit," she utters over and over. "I was so stupid to think we could stay hidden. We stayed in one spot for too long. This is all my fault."
I take a step toward her only to stop. I'm afraid to touch her. The wildness rolls off of her in waves so thick they prickle against my skin. Is she losing her mind? Am I?
"Here we go." She withdraws a small blue glass bottle like the ones that hold our essential oils. Unlike the oils, this one is not labeled.
I inch away. "What is that?"
"My own special blend." She unscrews the lid and dips a dropper into the bottle. "Dogwood, the cursed tree, and Palo Santo, the blessed tree. Here, put it on your pulse points." She snatches my wrist and squeezes three drops onto my skin. "Rub it in good. It doesn't take much."
The mixture burns, but I do as I'm told. "What's this for?"
Ignoring me, she drops oil onto her own wrists, rubbing them together, along with the back of her neck.
Excerpted from "Risen"
Copyright © 2018 Cole Gibsen.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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.