by Jennifer Dean
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
When fate leads Emma Morgan back to her small hometown of Washington, she learns that the life she knew three years ago has changed once she meets the charmingly, mysterious Liam Alexander. But when her brother Sean, voices his disapproval, Emma finds her loyalty in the way of her newfound curiosity of the youngest Alexander. Only the more she tries to avoid Liam the more she finds him in her constant company.
A risk that leads down a dangerous path once Emma begins to discover a secret about the Alexanders that no human should ever know.
I had woken early Saturday morning with a panic plaguing my mind. I must have checked the Daily Washington News five times, front to back. I even watched two early morning news editions before my dad had even gotten out of bed. It felt excessive and I realized it must have looked that way too as the corner of my eye caught sight of my mother’s many worried glances. But I was almost certain I would find one of the horrid reports that had haunted my dreams most of the night before. Teenage Boy Found Dead or Local Boy Presumed Missing. But nothing stood out among the articles of birth announcements, city budget cuts, and girls’ basketball playoffs. Not even in the obituaries. It was the same on Sunday too.
By Monday I felt nauseous from the tightened nerves of my stomach. My mind was utterly useless in my first five periods. Luckily, for my sanity, as I entered the cafeteria for lunch I caught sight of both Ross and Nick almost instantly at a corner table. The tension in my shoulders dropped. Even though I knew I would never see them the same, it was comforting to know they would live another day. At least this way they would have a chance at redemption.
Wait, I thought. My eyes shifted back to notice something strange about the two boys. They weren’t in their usual seats, which was always on either side of Sean at the left corner table, in the back of the cafeteria. In fact, they weren’t even near his table at all. They sat in the front left corner of the room as if they had been shunned from popularity.
What was worse was catching Ross’s remorseful gaze as I walked toward the lunch line. I couldn’t stand the uncomfortable melancholy that his slumped body held. Nick, on the other hand, couldn’t even find enough courage to look up from his thumbs. Had they shunned themselves from guilt?
I forced my eyes away so that I could grab some tea. My stomach was settling but still against the idea of food. I pursed my lips at the cause of my loss of appetite. The sight of them only brought back memories I hoped to soon forget, and hopefully that would be sooner rather than later.
But if I had felt the nerves at lunch, it was nothing compared to the way the anxiety of walking into English made them jump around. Once I had spotted Liam in his assigned seat I felt a dizzy spin from my stomach. I sat looking at my books, suddenly dissatisfied with the placement of my seat. Why did I have to be next to him?
I looked up at the overhead slides and back at my paper with determination when class began. It was a blessing that today’s notes gave my hands and mind something to do.
I was so anxious to leave when the bell sounded that I elbowed my pens right off my desk with annoyance. Just as my body swiveled, I found myself face to face with Liam. My eyes froze on his as I inhaled with the awareness of the increased pace of my heart. I felt the slight gulp from my throat as a shiver traveled down my arms and into my fingers. Just like the memories of Ross and Nick, seeing Liam had flashed the images of what he had done to them. When I woke this morning I knew how foolish I was to dismiss, or deny, it all, especially after the weekend had left me with nothing but time to relive the night. But maybe it was easier that way. At least until I saw his face to remind me that I was merely lying to myself.
“What are you?”
I was still, watching as he leaned his neck closer. I wasn’t sure where my courage had come from to ask. I certainly had none Friday night.
“A high school student,” he said.
I narrowed my eyes, forgetting that I was even slightly terrified of him. As if I hadn’t been plagued with nightmares over the weekend. As if the slightest unfamiliar sound didn’t make me jump, leaving a trail of goosebumps behind as proof. As if I hadn’t asked Sean, like a child, to come over Saturday and Sunday night. No, right now I was only led by my curiosity.
“I wasn’t under the impression that most high-schoolers could move things with their minds.”
“I didn’t,” he said.
My eyes squinted as I leaned in closer with my whisper. “I saw him floating. It was like magic or something.”
“Did you actually see me doing that?” Liam asked.
“Yes. Well….” I scrunched my lips as I took a minute to remember. He was right. I had never actually seen him lift Nick because I was too shocked to look away.
Liam’s lips were straight as he stood. I followed his movement. “Okay, no I didn’t see you doing it.” He nodded, making it clear that was his point. “But you did move me away from getting hit by the truck. I know that.”
He opened his mouth, ready to speak, but said nothing. In his eyes, I thought I could see, the conflict, the same I had seen before. I didn’t like to see him that way. Finally, he closed his mouth and gathered his books before turning his back to me.
“Thank you,” I said.
It was impulsive but needed.
“For what?” Liam said. His back was still facing me but his neck had turned at my words.
The shock of being so frightened by Liam had overshadowed my gratefulness for his presence Friday night. I watched as he turned back to face me.
“I realized that I never thanked you for what you did. I don’t know what would have happened if you had not been there.”
I looked down with the lie, or maybe it was a realization. It was pretty clear what would have happened if he hadn’t been there. The shame of what felt like stupidity led my eyes to rest on the ground because of this. When I finally let myself look back up at him, I noticed he had moved back to stand at his desk. It was good to know a few students were occupying Mrs. Anderson, keeping her from awkwardly watching our encounter.
Liam leaned in with the gaze of his bright eyes. “If fate were to rewind us to the same moment, I wouldn’t hesitate to be there again.”
My eyes bounced back with his, like a tennis match. Suddenly the fright of what he was had begun to melt. In its place was a warmth of safety. Uh-oh.
I grinned involuntarily. “Can I ask you something?” He nodded with an approved patience.
“I know what I saw can’t be normal. I mean, I’ve never heard of such a thing in a human.”
“I don’t believe that sentence was a question.”
I tried to resist the roll of my eyes as I walked past the desks, parallel with him. He seemed to keep more with my pace than I did with his as we exited the classroom.
“All right, what are you?” I asked again. He gazed at me like I was an intruder inside a security vault. “I’m not going to tell anyone. I didn’t even tell my brother about what happened, and I tell him everything.”
Really it was more oddly like I couldn’t tell Sean. Part of me was protective of what I had seen. I still didn’t understand that. All I knew was every time I tried, I remained silent. When we stopped at my locker, I watched as Liam’s chin lifted with surprise. He leaned his lips a few inches away from my ear. “I wish that I could say.”
“Can’t you?” I asked.
He leaned back to see my lifted brow. “I wish for so many things.”
I squinted with confusion, watching him shake his head once before turning to walk down the hall. I was almost certain there was a small grin on his lips. I didn’t know what person would be able to resist the need to solve the mystery of it. He had just silently confessed that what I saw Friday night was true. How was I supposed to ignore that?
I was smiling almost too much, when Sean walked around the corner. He had a narrowed gaze that wasn’t happy but not quite upset either.
“I know,” he said.
My eyebrows lifted with guilt. Had he watched secretly as Liam once again walked me to my locker? I looked toward the ground.
“Why didn’t you tell me about what they did?”
They did? Suddenly my eyes flashed up to meet his gaze. He wasn’t talking about just now, how I had technically broken my own promise to stay away from Liam—a task I thought would be so easy. No, that wasn’t it.
My mouth felt dry as my eyes darted away from him. The image of Ross over me had filtered through my mind again. I was sure that Sean could see my small grimace.
“Tell you what?” I said innocently.
“Emma, please, I can see it written in your eyes as much as I could that night.” It wasn’t an easy thing to relive, and now more than ever I was grateful for Liam. “Em?”
I finally moved my eyes back to meet the patient gaze of his own. I gulped. “How did you even know?”
“They confessed to me this morning.” I cocked my head back in surprise.
He narrowed his eyes to question my inquiry.
I shook my head in defense. “I just mean I didn’t think that would be something to confess to you of all people.”
“I wouldn’t say they were exactly willing,” he said. “It was almost like they were overcome by some pint up guilt.”
“Then what made them?”
So he did know about Liam, or at least that he had been there. “Really?”
“Well not physically. All he did was walk by us before Nick sudden spit out…”
Sean exhaled with anger with the small shake of his head. It seemed as if he couldn’t even finish the thought of what had happened. I waited for more anxiously but nothing. So it appeared that Sean didn’t know everything about Friday night, just that Liam had been there to rescue me. He knew nothing of how he rescued me.
“So, that’s why they weren’t sitting with you at lunch?”
It all made sense now. They hadn’t shunned themselves because of the guilt. They had been shunned. I was actually grateful I wasn’t around when they told Sean. They were lucky they were still able to be in the cafeteria at all.
“They won’t ever be sitting at any table that I’m at again.”
I felt guilty about him losing the friendship that had been ongoing for fifteen years. Because of me it had abruptly and permanently ended. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m not.” Though his voice was stern, I could see in his now angered eyes that he was lying. Ross and Nick had grown up with him, and now that bond was broken with betrayal. It would be like Lauren or Erika hatching a plan to kidnap and kill Sean. Though I held a bond with my friends, their act would naturally sever any care I previously held for them. I didn’t want to think about it. “I’m just sorry that I wasn’t there to protect you,” Sean said.
“And that Liam was.” I paused, unsure whether I was saying this as a serious or sarcastic thing. Sean’s gaze had previously been halfway between me and the space in front of him, but I had his full attention now.
“I can’t say that I’m ungrateful, but it doesn’t change how I feel about him. I question why he was even there.”
“Does it matter?” I said.
Sean only glared to my question. His golden honey eyes almost brightening, with each new second that passed.
“Has your promise changed?”
I sighed. “No.” I wasn’t sure how much I meant that.
On the way home, I was terribly grateful that Sean hadn’t asked for details, details like why, if Liam had saved me, did I come home willing to stay away from him.
Funny how I asked myself the same question as I hopped into bed that night. A question I was made to contemplate once my head hit the pillow and my eyes shut.
Instantly, I found myself surrounded by a forest of trees in a cloud of darkness, but I could see that I wasn’t alone. Liam Alexander stood beside me, looking toward the space directly in front of us.
There I caught sight of Ross and Nick, charging at me with an angered vengeance. It wasn’t lust but anger in their eyes. I was to blame for their ending friendship and they were going to make me pay for that. I instinctively readied my arms to swing, when both of Liam’s hands rose forward, flinging both boys backward and out of sight, without a single touch. The swift control of their speed was like a stunt man being pulled back on a harness.
“Thanks,” I said.
He nodded before looking behind me. I followed the gaze over my right shoulder to find Sean. He was furious and running right at us like an enraged bull. But as he got closer I could tell it wasn’t me he targeted, it was Liam. I tried to stand in between, but Liam gently pushed me behind him protectively. Sean had his fist out, ready to swipe at Liam as he ran with hatred in his eyes.
“Stop!” I yelled.
But my voice was drowned out with Sean’s continued charge. No amount of sound that came from me would catch his attention. I was left to watch helplessly as Liam’s hand instinctively moved in front of him to force Sean’s body to fly back and out of sight, just as he had minutes before with the other two boys. I turned back to see Liam’s eyes glowing with a bright emerald green of unnatural beauty.
Suddenly my eyes flashed open and my torso flung upward. I looked around my dark room, laying my hand across my chest, feeling the increased beating of my heart. I only had one thought that crossed my mind now that I was awake.
Just what the hell was Liam Alexander?
I was never that child you found in the corner reading. In fact, I loathed the idea of picking up a book. The activity seemed more of a chore than a past time.
All that changed when my brother began talking to me about the newest novel he was reading.Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix. Before I knew it, my curiosity got the better of me, luring me to try the series. It didn't take long for my mindset of reading to turn on its head.
But even with my new hobby discovered it wasn't until my junior year of college that I developed a hidden desire for writing stories. And when I found myself writing scenes instead of paying attention to my professors, I knew becoming a writer was the career path I was meant to follow.
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