Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Cambion Chronicles: Book 4 Chapter Two





Click HERE to read Chapter One!  
Leave a comment below for feedback and predictions!


CHAPTER TWO

In the demon-hybrid world, several rules must be obeyed if you enjoyed the luxury of breathing. Never kill a Cambion’s mate. Respect and submit to the Cambion authorities. Stay away from olive oil at all costs. Notify the local chapter of the Cambion Murder-Death-Kill Squad if you suspect someone converting into a full incubi or succubae. Only your mate and immediate family can know what you are. Don’t bring attention to your abilities, but by all means, reap the many benefits that come with manipulating people.
It’s pretty cut-and-dry, and yet I managed to break every rule in the span of eight months. How I wasn’t burned at the stake had involved a mix of luck and powerful allies. Though not of the supernatural variety, my worst transgression to date happened Monday morning: Avoid over-sharing, especially with best friends.
“You’re having a what?” Mia erupted, her whiskey brown eyes bugging out of her head.
I froze mid-step and did a sweep of our surroundings. The upper commons was packed with kids and teachers milling about before first bell. To my horror, Jason Lao had just exited the boys’ bathroom, and the last thing we needed was my Cambion status posted on his gossip blog.
“You wanna talk a little louder, Mia? I don’t think the surfers in Malibu heard you,” I hissed.
 “Oh! Sorry.” She tossed a glance over her shoulder then leaned closer. “But what’s a Cambion debut? Is it like a QuinceaƱera? Will there be an open bar? Or maybe it’s like a sorority-gang initiation?  Is there a ritual with robes and chanting? It might be a bit late for the virgin sacrifice.” She sniggered and poked her tongue out between her teeth.
“Whatever. It’s not like that. It’s just a ritzy party where I’m paraded around like a prized thoroughbred.” I headed in the direction of my locker with my eyes glued to the scratch lotto ticket in my hand.
I’d bought five of them on the way to school this morning as a birthday rite of passage. I’d gone through two of them since Mia and I met up in the parking lot and I hadn’t won jack. But it kept me busy until I could think of a proper response to her long list of questions. Yes, a list.
Mia and I had a serious rough patch, and she only agreed to reconcile if I answered everything she asked. It was against the Cambion rules, but she’d earned a seat at the grown-ups table after surviving a showdown with an incubus who hijacked her boyfriend’s body. Few females could say the same.
Mia seemed satisfied with my answer; though I could tell the meter was still running in her brain. “Is Caleb going?” she asked as we stopped in front of my locker.
“Yep. Called him last night and he said he’ll be back in time for the party. He has to come. He’s my mate and we have to announce our union publicly.” With a binder tucked under my arm, I dumped my back pack inside then slammed the door.  Leaning against my locker, I used one of Caleb’s “love quarters” to work on lotto ticket number three.
Unfazed by my new gambling habit, Mia moved out of range of the foil crumbs flying in the air. “That’s some birthday gift.”
“Yeah, one that I didn’t ask for,” I mumbled and took a mental account of my morning so far.
As was tradition, Mom busted through my bedroom door armed with pancakes, well-wishes and a retelling of her seventeen hours of childbirth. But Caleb had her beat with a 1AM video chat and a creepy rendition of Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy birthday, Mr. President.” It took me an hour to fall asleep after that disturbing serenade. Dad and the twins called me before school, and Dad practically double-dared me to request a birthday gift. I wasn’t stupid enough to press my luck. He already copped two cars for me last year, so I was content with a free dinner and a hug.
As hyped as I was about turning eighteen, the events of the past eight months seemed to mellow me out. All I really wanted was a stress-free year and for Mia to pick a new topic of discussion. The novelty of having a supernatural bestie hadn’t worn off for her yet and it was all we seemed to talk about anymore. Hopefully, these Q&A sessions will speed up the process so we could go back to just being Mia and Sam. I missed those two crazy gals something terrible.
 “I still don’t understand that bond mate thing,” she began while finger combing the dark beach waves on her shoulder. “I mean, you can actually feel each other, like some weird twin connection?” When I nodded, she asked, “What’s Caleb doing right now?”
I closed my eyes and entertained her curiosity, and admittedly my own. I’d spoken to Caleb last night, but I felt this maternal, and dare I say, needy impulse to check in on him. Our bond had amped the clinginess level to a billion percent, and the current separation intensified my loneliness and paranoia.
 With only the sense of touch as my guide, temperature, texture, body position, heartbeat and breathing told a story. When the pieces lined up, it formed a picture and an educated guess. I was a fast learner and with Caleb’s practice drills, my abilities would soon equal his.
 In a matter of seconds, a sudden urge to curl over made my body rocked back and forth. Slowly, my arms lifted and crossed over my chest. Air rushed into my lungs and my stomach muscles burned.
My eyes flew open and the rocking motion had stopped, but the stomach burn remained. Blinking away the trance, I looked up at the wall clock. Caleb’s habits, his sitting position and the two hour time difference added up to one conclusion.
“He’s working out. He has a weird morning routine where he does crunches and pushups before he runs. There’s something soft under him, like a mat. The air around him is cool, but no breeze, so he’s indoors. I think his hotel has a gym,” I reported then continued scratching. “Hey look! I won a dollar!” I showed her my winnings with glee.
Mia made a face at me and cocked a sculpted brow, clearly unimpressed. “But if Caleb works out, does it mean you’ll get that six-pack like he has?” she asked.
“I wish.” My laugh ended on a bitter whimper as I pushed off my locker. “Nope. I just get to feel the muscles cramping when he works too hard. I get tired when he does, I get angry when he does, I feel pain when he does, but I don’t have any lasting physical effects.”
“Well, that sucks.”  Mia continued her inquisition on our way to government class. She’d compiled a list of questions on her phone, but today she was just winging it. “What about bathroom stuff?”
I leaned away from her in horror. “Mia!”
“Inquiring minds want to know. If you two can feel everything, does that mean everything? Does he get cramps? What if he needs to pee real bad? Would you have to go too? Ooh, better yet—what about that little problem guys have when they wake up in the morning.”
My skin was too dark to visibly blush, but I felt my cheeks burn. I lowered my head, hiding a wicked smirk.
“Ohmigod!” Mia covered her eyes as if that would block the picture I painted in her head. “I can’t even…Ugh! So gross!”
“Shut up, Mia.” I bumped her arm. “You set the theme of this interrogation, not me.”
“Not just that—I mean the whole thing. You guys have different parts. How does that even work? You’re basically a guy in a girl’s body, Sam,” she exclaimed.
I was about to respond when the hall intercom chimed with a loud BING. “Samara Marshall, please come to the main office. Samara Marshall, please come to the main office.”
Hands on narrow hips, Mia pursed her glossy lips together and glared at me. “What did you do now?”
“Nothing. I just got here!” I shoulder through the crowd toward the main office with Mia fast behind me.
I pushed through the glass door and was bombarded with the sound of ringing phones and shuffling papers. Much like the halls, the office was riddled with green streamers and four leaf clovers on the walls. I marched passed kids standing in the attendance line until I reached the front desk. “Hi. Did you call for me?”
“Are you Samara Marshall?” A deep voice spoke to my right.
I turned and saw a man in a tan delivery uniform holding a giant bundle of balloons. “I’m Samara,” I answered with caution.
The man handed me an electric tablet and stylus. “I need you to sign this.”
A quick scribble and a “thank you” later, a carnival’s worth of balloons were placed in my hands.
Mia let out a whistle. “Wow. Somebody went all out for you. Is there a card?”
I dipped my finger through the web of ribbons and plucked out the white card. I knew who they came from before I saw the name of the sender, but I smiled all the same. “Caleb.”
 “Oh, that’s so sweet. You’ve got an admirer, Sophia.” The voice of Cortney B. drifted from the attendance line like a foul stench.
Mia and I turned at the same time to the cranky redhead smirking at us with pinched lips.  After getting rejected by Caleb at her own party, you’d think Courtney would’ve found her chill by now. But instead she expressed her butt-hurt with daily taunts and butchering my name. “Too bad Valentine’s Day was last month. But better late than never, right, Sangria?” she said.
Having no time to throw shade all morning, I delivered a parting jab. “Yes, and I don’t recall you getting gifts then either, none that you didn’t buy yourself.” With a flip of the head and flying curls, I walked away, leaving onlookers murmuring, “Ooh! Burn!” in my wake.
Unfortunately, it was hard to conduct a proper storm-off while pushing a parade float of balloons through the door. Once I managed to squeeze into the hallway, Mia offered to lighten the load. Caleb had bought eighteen balloons in my honor, but I had to do away with at least half of them to navigate the halls. When I turned to pass Mia her share, I was standing alone.
 Girlish squeals and giggles led me to the bottom of the handicap ramp where Dougie stood with crutches under his arms. Some said he was caught in a rap battle that turned violent; others said he was jumped by gang members. Both stories proved unlikely since Williamsburg was the preppiest town ever and Dougie’s lyrical bars were on the level with Vanilla Ice than Eminem. Only Mia, Caleb and I knew the truth behind Dougie’s injuries, and the rumors seemed to up his street cred. He had been talking to a tall boy who was holding his books when Mia leapt into his arms.
 “Hey, babe.” Dougie reached out to her with a free hand.
“Hey sweetie,” Mia said between kisses and ruined Dougie’s gel-spiked hairdo with her fingers.  After all that had happened, the wannabe thug and his Filipino princess were still going strong. There was no soul tie or supernatural bond holding them together. It was pure and organic with years of growth under their belt. A part of me missed that dynamic with Caleb, where he was just my boyfriend. My main squeeze.
While the two swapped tonsils, I sized up the tall boy who backed away from the scene upon my approach. I’d seen him around in the hallway a few times. He had a strong build, broad shoulders and a deep honey brown complexion. But much like now, I never got a good look at his face. He was either facing the other way or had a cap or hoodie on his head that covered his eyes. Yet, he seemed familiar somehow.
“Uh, sup, Samara,” Dougie said, his hazel eyes looking in every direction but mine.
Samara. Not SNM. Not Sam. That was cold. Even colder was the shifty, eyes-to-the-floor routine. Caleb’s brother, Michael had the same habit, but he did so to protect women from his Cambion allure. Dougie did it now out of fear of my Cambion allure, and I hated it.
When I first told Mia and Dougie what I was, I’d expected some pushback, particularly from Dougie. Being possessed by an incubus and having Caleb beat the ever-living crap out of him gave Dougie a crash course in demonology that he hadn’t signed up for. The recent removal of his upper body cast showed signs of a fast recovery, but only the physical kind. I could only guess what was going on in that head of his, because he barely spoke to me when Mia wasn’t around. But I could tell he was trying. We all were.
Again, my eyes wandered to the dark-haired boy who stood in the cut, trying hard to go unnoticed. It might’ve worked if he’d stop pacing in front of the drinking fountain. He was obviously waiting for Dougie, so why didn’t he come over and talk with us? Was he shy?
“Who is that guy? He looks new.” I tipped my head toward the stranger’s back.
 “Brand new and fresh out the box. He just transferred here a couple weeks ago,” Mia supplied. “Haven’t had a chance to talk to him. I heard he’s from up north, Boston or New York.”
“New York?” Something was definitely off.  And who the hell transferred schools close to the end of the year? And he appeared entirely too old and too ripped to be in high school. Maybe one on TV, but not around here.
“Yeah, X was talking about joining the wrestling team. He seems cool,” Dougie said.
“X? As in Professor X? Like the X chromosome?” I asked.
“As in Xander with an X,” Dougie explained.
Xander with an X? Oh, please. He was just asking to be a super villain. I studied the boy under my floating cloud of nylon and ribbons, trying to get a good look at his face. It was like a faceless man in a dream and no matter how hard you tried you couldn’t get him to turn around. I’d dealt with enough mystery men to last a lifetime. And there was something about him that was sending my spidey senses on high alert.
I must have spaced out for a second, because Mia waved a hand in front of my face then asked, “You okay, Sam? What’s wrong?”
After a blink, I found both Mia and Dougie giving me the side-eye. “What? Nothing.”
 “Don’t even try it. You got that ‘up to no good’ look. Does it have anything to do with that thing?” Dougie asked, no doubt referring to all things Cambion related.
“No. But while we’re on the topic of ‘that thing’,” I began with air quotes. “I can’t stress enough how you can’t talk to anyone about it. Especially your new buddy.”
Dougie looked at me like I was crazy. “You must be on that stuff. There’s no way I could tell anyone about what happened to us. Not everyone’s a bad guy, Sam.”
“Well, we both know looks can be deceiving,” I replied, which shut him up. Sure, I could be overreacting, but I’d learned from experience that anyone new in town was declared evil until proven decent. “Look, you guys need to be careful what you say and who you say it around. I’m going against the rules for just telling you what I am.”
 Even if what you are almost killed us,” Dougie fired back, and that shut me up. Yep, he was still raw about the whole demon possession thing, but it wasn’t like it was my fault. Well, it was, but indirectly.
“No snitching, no binging, no olive oil. What’s with all these rules anyway, Sam. It’s like you’re a Mogwai or something. Are you allowed to eat after midnight?” Mia teased.
“Please. I would’ve turned into one of those ugly gremlins on my first day,” I joked, but my heart wasn’t in it. I knew Mia meant no harm, but the comparison struck a nerve. On the outside, I was a brown, big-eyed munchkin that people found cute and wanted to cuddle. On the inside lurked an erratic demon spirit who required diet restrictions, or else wreak havoc on my town.
As self-awareness hit me with full force, the bell rang. Kids scattered around us as the power couple locked lips again and held up traffic with their drawn-out farewell.
Dougie was first to come up for air with pink lipstick covering his tan face. “I’m good, baby. I promise. Catch you later.” He limped away on his crutches toward the faceless boy. Mr. X sidled beside him, poised to catch Dougie in case he stumbled.
 “Happy Birthday, Gizmo!” I heard Dougie call out as the two vanished into the crowd.
 But I was too distracted by what I just saw: a strong jaw, a straight nose, and a semi-profile of a man I saw more times than I wanted to. If I’d blinked, I would’ve missed it, but that sneak peek was all that was needed to get my blood boiling.
The hand that landed on my shoulder startled me.
“Stop being so paranoid, Sam. He’s just a new kid trying to make friends. Relax and enjoy your big day,” Mia assured as we walked to our first period class.
I wanted to take her advice. I wanted to bask in my leap into adulthood, but the damage was done. When I caught a split-second glimpse of Xander with an X, my day was officially ruined. There was family resemblance, and then there was copy and paste, which was a common trait among Cambions within the same bloodline.  All three of Caleb’s brothers shared the doppelganger gene and it was hard to tell them apart when they were together.
 So, if the Santiagos wanted to spy on me, it would’ve been smart not to send an exact replica of my mom’s boyfriend. It was just sloppy. That family and their stupid rules had been the reason for Caleb and I completing our bond so quickly. Unless Caleb and I moved cross-country, we would forever be under the Santiagos’ thumb, jumping at their command, and attending a party that no one asked them to throw. And now Ruiz’s teenage clone has come to town to insure we abided by their stupid rules. Wonderful.
But then, why wasn’t Xander shadowing me? I was the black sheep of the Cambion world, the reprobate in need of twenty-four hour surveillance. They only sent spies like Ruiz to those who posed a threat or sparked their interest. For reasons that terrified me, Dougie had somehow gotten the Santiagos’ attention. And from what I knew about that family, that was never a good thing.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Cambion Chronicles ( Book 4)



Hey guys!

Have you ever had a story in your head that you just had to get out? The characters you created are so lively and outgoing that you want their adventures to keep going? Well, I’ve had book 4 of The Cambion Chronicles in my head for YEARS and I’ve finally decided to do something about it. The goal is to post a chapter each week, like a summer mini-series. The feedback you give in the comment section will help steer the path of the story and the fate of the characters. So the more comments I get, the faster the next chapter will be up. Let’s spread the word and see where Sam and Caleb go from here.

Below is the first chapter of the allusive BOOK 4 (no title). It takes place a month after the 3rd book ended with a brief recap of what’s happened thus far, so those who haven’t read the first three books won’t be completely lost.

Enjoy!

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THE CAMBION CHRONICLES

 Book IV

By 

Jaime Reed




CHAPTER ONE

I sat on the floor in my room with my legs crossed and my eyes covered with a bandanna.  Approximately fourteen hundred miles away in a small hotel room, Caleb sat in the same fashion facing the other direction. How did I know this? I just did. It’s what played inside my mental picture show: two scenes running at the same time and divided by a split screen. The images lined up so that we sat back to back like two noble gentlemen preparing to duel.
Proximity didn’t factor into this exercise, and Caleb could’ve been on the other side of the world and still be in the room with me. Distance actually proved beneficial for the point we wanted to make, that the laws of science didn’t exist when it came to ‘soul mates’. I hated sappy expressions like that. So did Caleb, but that was our situation now in the most literal of terms. It was a new frontier we needed to explore.
“Your go,” I told him.
I could hear the rattle and clatter through the phone and I envisioned his fingers sifting through his box of supplies.
“Ready,” he said when he found what he wanted.
The low, throaty bass of his voice brought to mind satin sheets, candlelight and chocolate. It didn’t seem to match the lanky twenty-year-old on the other end of the line, but rather a voice over-dub by a man twice his age who promised a good time. Being robbed of sight only amplified the sensual illusion and I feared that I might be charged ninety-nine cents a minute for this call.
Shaking off the yummy sound, I centered my concentration to other parts of him, specifically what rested in his hand. I opened my own hand on my lap and felt the weight of something sitting on the palm. The item was round, firm with lumpy ridges running along both sides of it. My fingers closed around the phantom shape and tried to squeeze, but all I caught was air. The object was tossed from the left hand then back to the right as Caleb’s fingers traced the curves, reading its texture.
“A baseball!” I called out, giddy as a game show contestant.
“Good. Your turn.”
I reached forward and fingered the articles inside my box of shapes. My hands stopped over a small flat object and before I picked it up, Caleb said, “A book.”
I lifted the side of my blindfold and looked down at the small dictionary in my hand. I reached for another object.
“A pencil. A CD. An apple. A sponge.  A bottle.” He called each item out before I could hold them completely in my hand.
I patted the floor for my phone, snatched it up then yelled into the mouth piece, “Could you wait a second?”
“Not my fault you’re too slow. This shouldn’t be this hard, Sam. All you have to do is concentrate on me and let the shapes guide you.”
“Thanks so much, Yoda.” I rolled my eyes, knowing this speech by heart.
As a mated Cambion pair, we could feel each other emotionally and physically if we thought real hard about the other person. We weren’t telepathic, not even close, but if we could fine-tune our extrasensory abilities, we didn’t need to be.
I’d mastered a few of these exercises—mostly body temperature—and I could always tell whether he was in the shower or when he was outdoors. Caleb wanted to take it to another level by applying deduction skills, but like everything else between us, this had turned into an all-out battle of wits.
“My turn. Let’s try texture,” he announced and I could hear him pull another box closer to him. I had a similar box by my foot and I dragged it to me. A moment later, I felt something cool and grainy on my fingertips.
“Sand,” I whispered, rubbing my forefinger and thumb together.
“Correct,” he said followed by the feeling of something warm and gooey on my fingers.
“Mud?” I guessed.
“Nope. Peanut butter,” he answered with his mouth full. “Can you taste it?”
I closed my eyes — redundant because of the blindfold — but I concentrated better that way. I felt fingers pushed between my lips and a creamy dollop settle on my tongue. A warm thickness stuck to the roof of my mouth, but I couldn’t truly capture the flavor. All I had to go on was Caleb’s reaction to it.
They say that smell and taste were one of the more powerful senses to trigger memories. Testing that theory, I allowed my own memories to fuse with this new experience and fill in the blanks. All the PB&Js and random spoonfuls I’d eaten over the years gave the image substance. I licked my lips and enjoyed Caleb’s response to the butter, noting every nuance of this sensation.
Suddenly, I felt his body lay back onto the carpet, and instinct compelled my own body to follow suit. Totally concentrated on him, I allowed my mind to create a fully detailed picture of Caleb Baker. From his lean six-foot-two frame, his light brown hair, his small pouty lips, to his brilliant violet eyes that never failed to distract me. Or any other female.
Suddenly, a light trace of hands slid across my arms, my shoulder and up the side of my neck. His fingers danced around his ear where he was the most ticklish, and as a result, made me squirm. This was another reason my skills were rusty. We always got sidetracked with flirty shenanigans, which sucked because we were in two separate states. This was senseless torture and he knew it.
“This is not part of the training,” I whined in a weak, shaky voice.
“Sure it is,” he replied with a hint of amusement. “We’re both wearing blindfolds. We rely on touch to guess what the other is doing. Well, guess what I’m doing? Come on, guess.” His hands slid lower, dancing over the ribs, the belly, until his fingers skimmed over the inner thigh.
As much as I wanted him to continue, I had to be the brains in this outfit and call foul. I sat up and pulled off the bandanna. The enchantment had been broken and I was once again in the disaster area of my room. Blinking rapidly, I took a sweep of the crime scene counterclockwise, starting with the window to my left.
The door straight ahead was locked for privacy. The dresser appeared next, crammed to bursting with balled-up clothes, because folding laundry was against my religion. A full size mirror was glued to the closet door, along with a bumper sticker quote from Dante’s Inferno, “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.”  Books, old food, and several college applications covered my desk. A row of movie posters lined the walls, followed by another window and an overstocked bookshelf. Cheap jewelry and nail polish cluttered the wooden nightstand. The journey ended at my bed, which stood long-ways against the wall and served as a sturdy back rest as I sat on the floor.
I drank it all in with determined focus, reacquainting myself with the layout as proof that I hadn’t actually left the room. Being inside Caleb’s head like that always made me see double and it took a minute to regain my equilibrium. Clinging to the familiar was essential.
With a grunt, Caleb leapt to his feet — too quickly judging from the sudden head rush that made me sway. “You really are a sore loser, you know that?” he said.
“I didn’t lose. You cheated,” I huffed and rubbed my eyes.
“Um actually, you’ve gotten eight out of twenty where I’ve gotten a perfect score.”
I stopped rubbing. “You were keeping score?”
“Like you weren’t.”
I cut my eyes to the yellow notepad by my leg and the column of tally marks under each of our names. I couldn’t keep a thing from this guy, but that didn’t mean I had to admit anything.
“This isn’t all fun and games, Sam. This power we have can help us. What if we were in a hostage situation or one of us were kidnapped? I could feel out the location. I could tell of you were bound and gagged, tell whether you were tied to a chair or hanging on a hook inside a meat locker—”
“Okay, no more horror movies for you,” I joked to lighten the mood, which had gone from sizzle to fizzle in record time.
“I’m serious. This is a safety precaution that we can use.” Caleb insisted.
“What are the odds of something like that happening to us?”
The silence that followed was answer enough to a really dumb question. Near-death experiences were common occurrences in our town and last year was the weirdest and most dangerous time in our lives. Becoming a Cambion, having friends die, and being terrorized by a demon would make anyone paranoid. I wanted to get past that, but Caleb wasn’t so quick to let things go.
I sighed, then said, “Okay, fine. I promise I’ll work harder if you promise not to worry so much.”
I got more dead air as a reply, along with a tight knot cramping my stomach. I knew it was from him—the anxiety and dread hovered around us in a gloomy overcast. Or maybe he was just hungry.
“We need to take proper measures in case something happens,” he began. “Our lives aren’t our own anymore and we need to keep each other safe.”
Since this discussion was going nowhere fast, I decided to change the subject. “I like it better when you’re all wicked and pervy.”
“So do I, but we need to cool off before I fly back home and abduct you,” he replied.
“Why don’t you? I’m sure Mom won’t mind. I may be grounded, but she granted you visitation rights.”
“I don’t wanna press my luck with your mom, and what I have in mind shouldn’t take place under her roof.” He didn’t elaborate and he didn’t need to. “I miss you,” he said just above a whisper, but the desperation behind the words wasn’t lost to me.
“You saw me before your flight.”
“You know it’s not the same. We need to feed and I don’t want to consume anyone’s energy here if I don’t have to. I kinda need to keep a low profile.”
“Yeah, your sister wouldn’t appreciate you feeding on one of her bridesmaids.”
“Not at all. I wish I’d smuggled you on the plane with me. I’m sure you’re small enough to fit in the overhead compartment.”
I didn’t bother to suppress my laughter. “Good luck with that plan. Knowing my mom, you never would’ve made it out of the driveway.”
As if the woman could hear through walls, Mom yelled from the bottom floor, “Samara, come down here and take out this trash!”
“I gotta go. My breaks over and the warden’s calling me,” I grumbled.
“Back to the chain gang?” he teased.
“Yep. I’ll call you before I go to bed.”
After we said our goodbyes, I ended the call and trotted downstairs. Mom had disappeared into the kitchen, but three black jumbo trash bags waited for me by the front door. I gathered the bags and stepped outside. My pupils shrank from the attack of sunlight as the warm breeze caressed my cheeks.
Stubborn bits of gray snow hid in little crevices on the curb and tree trunks. Colonials and ranchers stood in wide gaps across the street. Neighbors washed the ashy snow residue off their cars and trimmed their hedges. Spring had definitely poked its head in, and everyone, including the birds chirping on my roof hoped that the balmy weather would stay.
I found two buckets of white paint, a few roller brushes and a drop cloth on the porch where I was to complete my assignment for the day. Cursing under my breath, I dragged the bags down the pebbled driveway to the plastic trash bin by the curb.
I flipped back the lid, shoved the bags inside then marched back to the house, unconcerned if the neighbors thought I was an escaped convict. And they had a good reason to assume that—not every day does one see a person in an orange jumpsuit and tattoos in the suburbs. I felt if I was going to be treated like a criminal, I might as well dress like one.
Mom’s disciplinary tactics were a step up from a labor camp, but not by much. She had me cleaning the house from top to bottom, which made me suspicious because she only worried about cleaning when someone was coming to visit.
I didn’t complain though — not out loud. Mom had been through a lot coping with a Cambion daughter and the quirky side effects of being the host of a demon spirit. The constant fear of killing someone I fed from, the random demon psychopath that happened to be in the area, or the odds of Lilith—my sentient being—taking complete control over my body would make anyone have a psychotic break. That part she could handle. Missing my appointed curfew; however, was enough to incite her almighty wrath.
My sentence:  thirty days of solitary confinement and the denial of driving privileges outside of school and work. You would think I tried to build a meth lab in the backyard for all the heavy-handedness, but Julie Marshall was not one to trifle with.
I began smoothing down the porch railing with sandpaper and thought about Caleb’s trip. His sister was having a shotgun wedding and she called him at the last minute to walk her down the aisle. With both of their parents dead, someone had to represent the bride’s side of the church. After years of radio silence, the request both thrilled and angered Caleb, because he was the only one of his three brothers she had bothered to contact. I had a feeling he wanted to use the opportunity to reconnect with the non-Cambion side of his family.
I never met the woman, but a part of me hated her for breaking Caleb’s heart and taking him from me on the same week as my birthday. It’s not like I missed him — he’d just left last night and we called each other constantly — but there was a heaviness that stuck to my ribs.
Our last conversation replayed in my mind and I zoomed in on the part about our lives not being our own anymore. The implications were more terrifying than losing our individual privacy.
The gut-clencher was that his 10:30 flight to Houston could’ve crashed and I would be dead before my prom. I wasn’t a big prayer person, but I made up for lost time last night, and I would do it again upon his return.
Caleb warned me of the consequences of mating before we took the plunge, but it was just now hitting home for me. I could die without him. One accident, one drunk driver on the road; one bad diagnosis would take us both down, which was why he nagged about safety and handled me like glass.
As mortality breathed down my neck, happier thoughts transported me back to early New Year’s Day and our first time together. I could still smell his skin on me and hear his word spoken in short gasps in my ear. The question of “was it worth it” kept looping in my head, demanding an answer. The “yes” that always followed didn’t seem to come as quickly as it used to. The whole thing was complicated, an ongoing theme that summed up our relationship.
I was a good hour into my task when a black luxury sedan cruised to a halt by the curb. I didn’t need to see through the tinted windows to know who it was. Detective David Ruiz climbed out of the driver’s side then made his way across the lawn with slow, powerful strides like he owned the block. His six foot height, his wide shoulders and dominating presence made you stop and take notice. It pained me to admit, but Ruiz was a good-looking guy.  His wardrobe was always on point and he spoke with decorum. Much like that Brooklyn accent that he tried so hard to mask, he had a rough and dangerous side that only came out when things got stressed.
He dressed casual in charcoal slacks and a white buttoned shirt, so I knew this wasn’t a business trip. He had been sent here before by the head Cambion family of the region to keep an eye on me and Caleb, but it was obvious that he was here for personal matters. And that “personal matter” was currently humming in the kitchen as she prepared Sunday dinner.
I squatted on the deck and slapped and uneven coat of paint on the baluster under the railing as Ruiz reached the porch. I wasn’t enthused about this punishment before, but having the “Cuban Necktie” make a cameo just made it cruel and unusual.
He propped his foot on the bottom step and rested his elbow on his bent knee. He removed his shades; his cold black eyes scanned my inmate gear from head to toe. “I see community service is treating you well,” he mused. “Do they sell those jumpsuits retail?”
“No. It’s Mom’s old paint coveralls that I dyed orange.”
Nodding, he said, “I assume the tattoos are fake as well.”
Balling my hands into fists, I looked down at the graffiti style lettering I drew on the back of my fingers. The letters on the left hand spelled out L.O.V.E and the ones on the right spelled out C.A.K.E., but Ruiz was more concerned with the ink on my face.
“You know, a tear drop on the cheek means you killed someone,” he said.
I looked up at him slowly. “Your point?”
He didn’t seem to have one, so he moved to the door. “Is your mom inside?”
Before I could answer, Mom rushed to the door and squealed on sight of the detective. “David! Oh my goodness! What are you doing here? I wasn’t expecting you for another week. The house is a mess.”
“Well, I have two weeks’ leave and I thought of no better way to spend my vacation than to look at those baby blues.” He pulled mom in to his arms for a kiss. Mom returned the kiss with a moan and sank her fingers into his short black hair. Ruiz held her by the waist and dipped her in a back-breaking bow. Her swoon was interrupted by the sound of my gagging.
“Oh, don’t mind me. I’m just painting and inhaling noxious fumes while y’all slob each other down.”
“For heaven sake, Samara, take off that ridiculous outfit and wash that mess off your face. You look like a common thug.” Mom glanced around the neighborhood for witnesses and found plenty who did yard work and tried not to watch us outright. She pulled me to my feet and dragged me into the house. “Please excuse her, David. She has the only child syndrome.”
In an act of maternal duty, she wet her thumb with her tongue then wiped the tattoo off my cheek. I stood there in stark disgust as this woman shellacked ‘mom spit’ on my face. “Mom, stop please. I’m not a baby,” I whined.
“You are for the next eight hours, so hush.” Mom continued to scrub the top layer of skin off my cheekbone.
“Speaking of your special day, I’m helping with the arrangements for the ceremony,” Ruiz prompted.
“What ceremony?” My stare bounced between the two of them. Mom and Ruiz stopped and looked to each other, which confirmed that I was out of the loop. Whatever it was, it was big.
“Your debut is this weekend,” Ruiz spoke first.
The word “debut” was throwing me off. I was pretty sure Ruiz wasn’t talking about a new artist on a record label, so I looked to Mom for further insight.
“Honey, Evangeline and I wanted it to be a surprise; at least until the guest list was verified,” she said.
I lifted my hand to stop her. “Guest list? Whoa, back up. What’s going on?”
Instead of an answer, Ruiz reached inside his back pocket and pulled out a light green envelope with decorative designs on the torn flap. He handed it to me as if this would explain everything. I admired the quality of the stationary, and the letter-pressed calligraphy suggested that this was no casual affair.

EVANGELINE OLESIA PETROVSKY
REQUESTS THE PLEASURE OF YOUR COMPANY
TO THE DEBUT CELEBRATION IN HONOR OF HER ELDEST AND NEWEST HEIR
SAMARA NICOLE MARSHALL
SATURDAY, MARCH 20TH AT SEVEN O’CLOCK IN THE EVENING
3004 CYPRESS GROVE | ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA


I read the invitation three times to make sure I had all my fact straight before I flipped out. Angie, my Cambion guardian, was throwing a party in my honor without my knowledge or consent. Ever since her daughter’s death and Lilith’s sudden change of address, Angie had called dibbs on me. Although not my biological mother, she ran a close race with my mom in the smothering parent competition. She spoiled me rotten, denying me nothing except a thorough explanation of what I was. This at least explained why she hadn’t returned my calls in over a week.
“What exactly is this debut?” I asked after handing the envelope back to Ruiz.
“It’s a formal get-together that introduces you to the Cambion community. Most families of note throw them for their children. I had one when I was your age and it was terrible, but at least I had family around me to keep me company.”
“So Angie is throwing me a Cambion cotillion?” I guessed.
He considered his answer for a moment. “More like a bat mitzvah, debutant ball, for lack of a better description.”
I turned to Mom. “And you knew about this?”
“Of course I did. I helped Evangeline plan. I regret not being able to attend, but only Cambions are invited.”
I looked to Ruiz. “Then why are you going?” I didn’t mean for it to come out harsh. I was sure that was a sore subject, but I was just now introduced to this crisis without a warm-up.
Ruiz was once a Cambion, but a tragic accident caused him to lose his demon spirit. He was still technically a Santiago, the most powerful Cambion family on the east coast, but in name only. Even that was a stretch since he never used his surname publicly.
“My family is hosting the event, so naturally I would be invited. They recently bought an estate and some land in northern Virginia and it would be the perfect meeting place for the guests. The estate is in a remote area so not to draw unwanted attention. The only issue now is the guest list and security.”
The two went on about place settings and the menu selection until I cut in. “Why do I need a party? Can’t you guys send out a bulk email or put out a Cambion newsletter or however you guys communicate?”
“This is the event of the century, Samara,” Ruiz began. “Cambions from all around the world are buzzing about the first self-made Cambion in two hundred and thirty years. You weren’t born with the succubi spirit like other Cambion females, but adopted with the option to start your own lineage.”
Adopted was one way of putting it. Having a life-sucking, sex-crazed demon make a home inside my body was another.
“People want to know your story and see if your reputation precedes you,” he continued. “Social events like these are rare. Putting all of the key players in the same room at one time would be a networking goldmine. No Cambion worth his name would miss this opportunity.”
“So, I’m a tourist attraction and an excuse to hobnob. Yaaay.” The cheer was as flat and uninspired as my mood. “How many families are coming to this thing?”
Mom looked to Ruiz as if wanting to know that answer for herself. Since he was in charge of security, he would have to know who was coming and going. Given the prestige that the Petrovsky name held and the fact that security was deemed necessary, I knew some high rollers would be in attendance. Being around a bunch of uppity strangers didn’t improve my feelings, and Ruiz’s answer only made it worse.
His lips pulled into a wide, toothy smile that at any other time would’ve been charming, but now appeared almost cruel as he said, “All of them.”




On My Emo Days...

On My Emo Days...
Some days are blacker than others