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The Cambion Chronicles




FADING AMBER: THE CAMBION CHRONICLES, BOOK#3

After falling for a Cambion and then turning into one herself, Samara never thought her senior year could get more complicated. The gaps in her memory, the mysterious deaths, and the constant danger that threaten her once quiet town have a common thread: Tobias, a demon with a lot of enemies. He's also Samara's other soul mate and he's suddenly disappeared.

Samara knows the key to finding Tobias lies with her inner demon, who has her own agenda and threatens to take over completely. But Samara isn't the only one who wants to find Tobias. His enemies are getting closer, and their plans for retribution could mean deadly consequences for Samara and her true soul mate, Caleb....






FADING AMBER EXCERPT

CHAPTER SIX (continued)

…I left the two downstairs and followed the sound of banging to my room. It was the first time I’d entered the room since the attack, and though the place was a wreck, I was relieved to find no blood or chalk outlines on my floor. In the middle of a pile of shredded cardboard, Caleb stood, wielding a box cutter in his hand. 

“What’s up?” I called out.

“Boarding up your window,” he mumbled and ripped off a strip of duct tape with his teeth. “It’s all I could find, but it should keep the cold out until you can get a replacement.”

“That’s fine. I don’t think I’ll be sleeping here for a while.” I leaned against the wall and watched him work.
He seemed completely engrossed in his task to the point of obsession, but his emotions were too jumbled to read. Our link was growing stronger with each passing day, becoming more physical. I could feel his excitement, his pain, his fear, which were all turned on full blast right now.

Maybe he would finally take the threat of our meansome threesome more seriously. Tobias wasn’t playing around when he said he had unfinished business. He was a demon, and by profession human life meant little to him, and Caleb’s meant even less. This feud wouldn’t end until one of them stopped breathing and the winner claimed me as the prized trophy piece. 

I drew deeper into the room, searching Caleb’s face for answers, but he kept his back to me. “You okay?” I asked.

“Sure. Why wouldn’t I be okay?” He placed the final sheet of cardboard over the window frame. “I should be used to dead people popping up and being helpless to stop it.”

“Helpless? Why?”

It took a long beat for Caleb to answer. He was too busy taking his anger out on the board that kept slipping from his hand. He bit off another strip of tape and slapped it over the border, almost pounding the adhesive through the wall. “I try to protect you, but it never works out, does it? No matter what I do, you always get hurt; you’re always left to fend for yourself.”

I just stared at him and struggled to piece together his scattered logic. “So… you’re mad because you weren’t around to rush in and save the day? I’m sorry, what century are we in?”

He stopped moving and braced himself against the wall. “I can’t afford to have something happen to you. If he hurt you…”

“He didn’t. Tobias won’t hurt me. I’m too valuable to him.”

“You’re valuable to me!” His sudden outburst made me jump. “I couldn’t help my mom, or my dad. I couldn’t save Nadine. I’ve lost too many people in my life and I…I can’t lose any more. When I heard you on the phone and felt your fear; I lost it. I’ve had too many close calls with you already. I-I can’t…”

I touched his shoulder, then drew my hand away when he flinched at the contact. “Hey, I’m all right. I’m not going anywhere. Whatever game Tobias is playing, we won’t let him win. You. Are. Not. Weak.”

Caleb didn’t seem to hear me, but stared at the wall ahead of him. I recognized the blank expression, the deadened look in his eyes. It was his coping device, an escape hatch for when emotions got too big to handle. Bad things always followed that detachment, and this would give Capone the perfect opportunity to take over. 

“No. Don’t do that. Hey, stop. Don’t shut down on me, not now. I need you with me. Come back, please?” I hugged his waist and rested my head against his back, which felt as solid as a brick wall from all the tension. “It takes strength to cope with loss. I envy you, because I haven’t dealt with my grief at all, and I’m due for a psychotic break any minute now. I saw how you fought Tobias on Thanksgiving night and it was all kinds of awesome. I could never do that. I’m too small.”

“That was Capone. He fought Tobias, not me.” He took a deep breath and spun around to look at me. “And you’re not that small, Sam, and from what I hear, size doesn’t matter. But I wouldn’t know anything about that, though.”

That made me snort, and we broke into a hearty laugh that we both needed. This was a good thing. Caleb’s ego demanded some inflating, and I needed to remember what it was like to laugh until my eyes watered. 
We locked eyes for a long moment as the humor began to die and something wicked in the air came to life. There came the heaviness again, gravity pulling us together, a force that had become second nature. He leaned into me and brushed away the tear from my cheek with his thumb. His finger moved lower and traced the outline of my bottom lip. 

“Anyway, I’m saying it’s not a crime to be scared.”

“I’m not scared of Tobias or anyone else. I’m afraid of what I’d do if anyone tried to take you from me. There’d be no stopping me.” His expression darkened, his eyes taking me in with a fierce heat that could burn right through my skin. “I will keep you safe.”

Under different circumstances, I could’ve walked out of the room and gone to sleep without any problems. But the night’s excitement had lowered my guard, heightened my senses, making me painfully aware of his scent, his warmth, his presence… 

In stores Dec 24 2012






BURNING EMERALD: THE CAMBION CHRONICLES, BOOK #2

Dating the most popular guy in school is every girl's fantasy. But to Samara Marshall, he's a dangerous force come to rekindle their tangled past. Only it's not her past... Samara faces a challenging senior year. Controlling her inner demon is a struggle, even with help from her Cambion boyfriend, Caleb. But her life takes a turn for the worse when the hottest jock in school begins pursuing her-especially since Malik's anything but what he seems. They share a connection from a forgotten past-a secret that could destroy her and Caleb.

As the attraction becomes harder to resist, Samara is now at the mercy of the demon within her. To break free, Sam must fight a battle where she is the enemy and the prize...and victory will come at a deadly price
.





BURNING EMERALD EXCERPT

CHAPTER TWO

In light of everything else in my life, things stayed the same at Buncha Books, much like how cartoon characters never aged or changed clothes. I found it refreshing.

Fusion jazz pumped through the speakers. A group of girls giggled and read steamy paperbacks from the erotica section. Young entrepreneurs hovered over their laptops, abusing the free Wi-Fi the store provided. Old men who mistook the bookstore for a rest home hogged all the sofas while reading the newspaper. Yep, business as usual at Buncha Books, set under a thick aroma of fresh cookies and hot espresso.

Alicia Holloway was on duty with me at the café, perky and animated as ever, which put a damper on my afternoon. Her elfin face, hopeful brown eyes, and twisty braids always reminded me of a black woodland sprite who couldn’t find her way home. She stood by the barista machine, watching a tin of hot milk bubble with foam. 

“I’m not judging or anything, but it’s just weird,” she began, concerning the unlikely attraction between Caleb and me. “Isn’t there, like, a rule somewhere about not dating your co-workers?” 

“Isn’t there, like, a rule about minding your own business?” I mocked while toweling off my wet hands, taking extra care to dry the gold bracelet on my wrist. I rotated the chain so the nameplate stood face-up, and Lilith hummed on recognizing her name engraved in elegant script.

Alicia let out a shrill meow and set a row of fixed drinks on the coffee bar. “Somebody forgot to bring their charm to work. I’m just saying—you should be more low-key. People talk, you know.”

I watched her rush to the register to ring up the next customer. “Yeah, like people are talking in school about your tragic romance with Garret Davenport.”

 “What!” she squeaked, dropping the customer’s change. She quickly apologized then turned to me with alarm. “What did you hear?”

Shifting my lips left and right, I crooned, “Oh, stuff. Like you and him secretly dating before he died and now all three Courtneys want your head on a platter, that’s all. You’re making enemies in high places. Be careful. Girls in our school are vicious.” 

Lifting her chin high, she poured coffee mix and ice in the blender. “I’m not scared of them.” 

 My gaze wandered to the book floor and I smiled. “Oh, so if say, Courtney B. rolled up right now, you wouldn’t be scared?”

“Not at all.”

“Good to know, because she’s heading to the counter right now.”

By the time I turned around, Alicia was a ghost with the blender still running. Only the swinging door of the back kitchen told me where she disappeared. After finishing the drink order for her, I took my time going to the register, and prayed for patience while in contact with the redheaded diva. 

The three Courtneys were renowned in my school for their reign of tyranny, and Courtney B. ruled as the bloodsucking queen of the dammed. The recent death of Garret Davenport shot the trio to stardom, and they milked the sympathy vote by wearing all black the first week of school. Telling from Courtney B’s ensemble, the period of mourning was over.

 Decked out in designer labels from head to toe, she approached the counter with a strut only suitable for the runway. All that was missing was the wind machine and the slow motion camera. Aside from being painfully vapid, Courtney owned the unmatched talent of squeezing insults into every conversation. Succeeding in working my last nerve could very well be considered an achievement, but for fear of getting fired, I decided to limit my responses to two words or less.

Her handbag thumped on the counter while she scanned around for the prey that vanished from sight. Disappointed, she narrowed her icy gray eyes at me. “Hi. You’re in my Spanish class. Sam, right?”

“Sí,” I said, deadpan. I couldn’t believe this chick. We’ve shared at least two classes since sixth grade and she still didn’t know my name? 

“Is that, like, short for Samantha?”

“No.” I pointed to my name tag.

“Oh. My bad. Anyway, you know that hot guy that works here, Caleb something?” She looked around the store.

Tapping my finger to my lips, I contemplated. “Six-foot-two, brown hair, purple-blue eyes, always smells like cake? Yeah, that would be my boyfriend.” I stressed the last word.

“Oh!” She looked surprised for a moment, appalled even, then swept a cursory glance up my frame. “Well, maybe you can help. I was wondering if you could talk him into deejaying my party on Halloween. He did such a great job at Robby Ford’s birthday party; I’d love to have him, um, spin for me.” She twirled a lock of hair around her manicured finger.

I should be used to women drooling all over my man, but that required more patience than I could afford. 

“I’ll be sure to run it by him, but it would be more business-like coming from you. You can find him in the music section. That way.” I pointed to the other end of the store using my middle finger, a gesture too blatant to overlook.  

 Applying loud suction, Courtney slid her tongue over her teeth, perhaps to see if her fangs elongated. 
“Thanks. Doesn’t seem to be your kind of thing, but I’ll see if I can add you to the guest list too.” With a neck-spraining flip of the hair, she flounced away.

Resting my weight against the counter, I exhaled slowly, absorbing the sting of her verbal attack. This was an interesting turn of events. Courtney’s Halloween bashes were the talk of school, but unlike Robbie Ford, her parties were for A-list only. Mia would be so jealous if I got an invite before she did. The only down side was subjecting Caleb to that harpy’s whims.

This was a good opportunity for him. Soon he would leave his position here to ‘scratch’ with full force, but his budding deejay career already left us juggling schedules to see each other. Music was the mistress in our union, the only love I didn’t mind sharing with him. 

“Is she gone?” A timid voice came from the back kitchen. 

When I confirmed, Alicia crept out, a wash of relief ran across her face. I shook my head, knowing this doe-eyed sophomore needed more life experience and pessimism to survive high school. The mother hen in me wanted to keep her innocence intact, so my watchful eyes were never far from her.

Seeing her trepidation, I said, “If it gets too bad, you have my number, okay?”

“Thanks.” She gave me a weak smile and went back to the register.

Though I only worked a few five-hour shifts during the weekdays, time seemed to run at a snail’s pace. Alicia tried her best to entertain me with the latest gossip, but it didn’t seem the same with Nadine gone. Nothing was the same with her gone.

I found myself comparing Alicia to Nadine, noting how she took forever to wrap the food when we closed, where it would only take Nadine ten minutes. Alicia chatted and laughed with the customers, where one was considered lucky if they got service, let alone a smile, from Nadine. Alicia was an old friend and I would flip out if something happened to her, but the injustice prevailed. 

That fact prevented me from finding closure, and I kept picking that scab until it bled. Time might patch it up, but the open wounds remained untreated and at risk of infection. Even if I knew all that would happen, would it make a difference? If Nadine hadn’t died in my arms, Lilith wouldn’t have needed to abandoned ship and move into my crib. Maybe Lilith was her farewell gift, a secret she entrusted me to keep.

After shutdown, I clocked out at customer service then ambled to the break room in an almost dream-like state. Our monthly book meeting was tonight, which was reason enough to wallow in sorrow, but seeing where Nadine once sat deepened my depression another notch.

A part of me expected to see Nadine pass through the door, her blond hair bobbing behind her head in a haphazard bun. The staff’s seating arrangement was an unspoken rule, so I wasn’t the only one who paused at the empty folding chair by the soda machine. Even Linda, the store manager, shifted her eyes to the chair, as if an unholy curse awaited anyone who sat there.

I felt the gentle grip of a hand around my wrist, and that one touch caused my body to relax.  Instantly, the doom and gloom atmosphere melted away, and in its place laid an intimate cocoon. I knew that impression by heart, and the senses that came with it: the warm sweetness of baked goods and a ton of nerve. Never mind butterflies: a colony of bats flapped inside my stomach, a rush of elation tightened my sternum.

Caleb smiled down at me as he guided me to the seats. He used his free hand to push back his hair only to have it tumble down and cover his face again. I watched the light brown strands fall in a slight curl by his jaw. A blazing amethyst hue filtered through the curtain of locks, a color that projected his mood and his spirit’s needs. 

“It’s just a chair, Sam. It’s not haunted,” Caleb said and sat next to me. 

“Not the chair, just us,” I mumbled as my mind drifted again to my belated friend. 

Nadine’s life energy—the ones that came with Lilith— eventually dissolved, but the memories were kept on file for safekeeping, every birthday party, every bedtime story, every wild adventure, save one. It was strange how every facet of her life opened at the ready to me, all but that tiny blank spot of her history, a scene spliced during post-production. 

To say Nadine was a jaded woman would be a blatant understatement, but even she loved deeply at some point, a memory that was hard to penetrate. This feeling I detected was far more dangerous than the ones she had for her family, a love that those with good sense shouldn’t have for a faceless man. So it shocked me that someone with a fairly decent, albeit morbid, head on her shoulders would entertain such mush. And not tell me about it! We used to tell each other everything.

The mystery entertained me through the meeting to the point where Caleb shook me to attention when it was over. I completely lost track of time, not to mention I didn’t get to share my book. While the crew filed out of the door, Alicia tossed me a parting glance, grinning in triumph.

Caleb extended his hand then helped me to my feet. His smile produced broad dimples, two parentheses buried deep in his cheeks.

 “What did I miss?” I asked.

 “Alicia got her wish. Specter: Part III got voted book of the month. She went through a ten-minute dissertation of the intricacies of having a ‘totally hot’ ghost boyfriend.” Caleb mimicked Alicia’s squeaky voice perfectly. “You know there’s a movie coming out about it?”

“I heard.” I collected my bag then followed him out. 

After wishing everyone good night, I stepped into the cool night with Caleb practically stuck to my back. His arm wrapped around my waist and squeezed, lifting me off the ground. I squealed, which caused the crew to leer at us from the parking lot as he carried me to his jeep.

A honking horn came from a blue SUV driving by. “Get a room!” Alicia yelled from the passenger side window as her dad drove her away.

“That’s not such a bad idea,” Caleb whispered in my ear before kissing the back of my neck.

I wiggled against his hold. “That’s it. You are unfit to be in my company, sir.”  

 “Aw come on! Don’t be that way.”

“Unhand me, contemptible cur! ’Else purged such lechery from thine purpose, you nave!”

Snorting a laugh, he set me down. “All right, Lady Macbeth, have it your way.” 

I pressed against his car door and frowned.

“What’s wrong?”

I rubbed my eyes with the back of my hand. “Nothing. I’ve got a lot on my mind.

“Oh yeah? Does it have to do with your eye?” He grazed the fading bruise with his thumb. 

On contact, the day’s events resurfaced as did the slight throb from my injury. “Okay, this is gonna sound weird, but I think I saw something today.” I told him about Malik, the Picture Day light show, and the ominous feeling that came with it. Caleb stayed quiet until I finished, but wore an incredulous look on his face.

“Sam, Cambions don’t turn transparent in harsh light, and as far as I know there are no others like us in town. We’re kinda spread out for a reason. And you said you’ve known this guy for years and no warning bells have ever gone off, no strange color eyes, no girls being rushed to the hospital, so I think you’re good on that front. But if it happens again, let me know, okay?” When I nodded, he asked, “Did you feed at all today? That might’ve been the cause of you seeing weird stuff.” 

“I did afterward during lunch, but I hate feeding off of guys I know. I have to see them every day, and it’s awkward enough as it is. When I take in their energy, their memories come with it and they’re hard to get over. Most of them I block out while others are too juicy to ignore. Don’t get me wrong, it has its privileges, but it gets real crowded up here, you know.” I tapped my temple then rubbed my face. “Sorry. I wasn’t trying to vent. My brain is all over the place. And I didn’t get to share my book.”

He leaned into me, getting good and comfortable; not in the slightest rush to leave. “Share it with me. What’s it called?”

I put a finger to my lips. “Shh.”

He looked around the parking lot. “What?”

“No, that’s the title, ‘Shh,’” I explained. “It’s about angels and the battle between Heaven and Hell. According to Hebrew myth, an angel enters the womb of every unborn child and places a finger over the lips. They silence the baby from revealing the secrets of Heaven, including God’s true name. The proof of that secret is that small dent in your top lip.” My finger danced over the outline of his mouth, making him shiver. I could tell he felt the gravitation, a pull rooting from the chest, joining our two magnets together.
Dropping my hand, I continued. “Anyway, this autistic boy doesn’t have that dimple. He’s a mute, but he’s been leaking secrets all through his writing and artwork. A group of angels come to Earth to kill the kid, because once heard out loud, humanity will remember the secrets told to them and all of Hell will break lose, literally. It’s a race against time because the kid starts mumbling in class out of nowhere.” 

“Sounds good! Let me borrow that when you’re done.” His lids grew heavy as he inched closer.  

I tried to push off his jeep, but his nearness made it impossible. He was stalling, squeezing a few more minutes alone with me, but our time was running out. 

“Did you want to come over to my place for a bit? I made a new playlist that you haven’t heard—” He stopped mid-sentence when I flashed my bracelet in his face. 

The gold chain shimmered under the parking lot lights, creating a sufficient force field against his libido.
Caleb’s shoulders slumped under the weight of defeat. “I thought that was only activated for emergencies.”
“So did I, but Mom’s got it hot wired to her laptop to track where I am. Cambion or not, my curfew still applies until I’m eighteen and out the house. It’s just a safety measure. Can’t be too careful these days.” I presented a gentle smile.

“Fine. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He pulled back and allowed me to pass.

My new ride, a metallic gray Nissan Juke, parked in the next row—new being a relative term. It was new to me, and love allowed me to overlook the high mileage and stench of fried bologna that an entire bottle of Fabreeze couldn’t remove. It was mine and I earned it, and that was enough for me.

I didn’t make it two feet when his hand caught my wrist and pulled me back into his arms.

“Caleb,” I whined, but felt just as needy. “I have to go.”

“Well, am I at least allowed to kiss you? I’ve waited all day to do so. Indulge me.” He lowered his head for a kiss that never came.

The sound only had a second to register in my ears—soft at first then louder as it drew closer—ending in an explosion not even a foot from where we stood. Natural instinct took effect and I ducked from the whoosh of air and sailing fragments of glass.

I hit the ground hard—scraping my knee on the pavement—and covered my face and eyes from the blast. Tiny shards rained on my head, over my shoulder, and tinkled against the concrete. Caleb’s body fell over mine; his weight crushed me as he withstood the brunt of the attack. It’s funny how situations can change. One minute, I held my boyfriend, the next I was on the ground, curled into a ball.

In stores Now







LIVING VIOLET: THE CAMBION CHRONICLES, book #1 


Samara (Sam) Marshall is determined to make the summer before her senior year the best ever. Her plan: enjoy downtime with friends and work to save up cash for her dream car. Summer romance is not on her to-do list, but uncovering the truth about her flirtatious co-worker, Caleb Baker, is. From the peculiar glow to his eyes to the Unfortunate events that befall the girls who pine after him, Samara is the only one to sense danger behind his smile.

But Caleb’s secrets are drawing Samara into a world where the laws of attraction are a means of survival. And as a sinister power closes in on those she loves, Samara must take a risk that will change her life forever … or consume it.







LIVING VIOLET EXCERPT

CHAPTER ONE

Love indulged the masochist.

Truer words have never been spoken, if I do say so myself. It’s a philosophy that has kept me sane for as long as I can remember and helped me survive the weirdest summer of my life. On the flip side, it’s very entertaining what love will make people do. It’s a great way to spend your lunch break.

Sitting on my car hood, sucking down a Big Gulp, I watched the pinnacle of love unfold before my eyes. My best friend, Mia, and her on-again off-again boyfriend, Dougie, squared-off like prize fighters in the middle of the outlet center parking lot.

This week’s drama included props. Dougie pivoted along the concrete, ducking and avoiding death by the finest designer handbag money could buy. Through the litany of screams, cusses, and purse swinging, I figured Mia had caught Dougie hanging out with another girl. Mia could be a little high-strung sometimes, but when it came to her man, she advanced to straight head case.

That jealous insanity went both ways, depending on the day, and much amusement awaited all who watched.

“God, you’re such a liar! How could you do this to me?” she raved.

“Chill, baby! She was my cousin!” Dougie escaped the oncoming blow from Mia’s handbag by an inch.

“You lying piece of crap! I’ve met all of your relatives, Douglas. She never came to your house before.”

Dougie ran in circles around her, the blood rush turning his face beet red. “She just came into town! I swear, baby.”

“Why didn’t you introduce me, huh?” Mia wiped her sweaty brown hair from her forehead. “What, are you ashamed of me?”

He paused, clearly hurt at the suggestion. “No! Why would you say that?”

“Liar!” Her purse swung at his head, but missed. Dougie grabbed one of the straps, and the two began a full tug-of-war in the middle of the parking lot. Weekend shoppers watched in horror, covering the ears of their children from the curses flying in the air. At any moment, someone would definitely call security, so I decided to leave the lovebirds to their own devices.

“Hey, guys,” I yelled behind me. “I gotta get back to work, but I’ll see y’all later, okay?”

“Okay, I’ll call ya!” Mia yelled back before shoving Dougie in the chest.

I dumped my cup in the trash, then entered the side door of Buncha Books. The air-conditioning slapped me in the face and pushed the June heat back outside. Mellow jazz rang through the speakers in a chronic loop from the satellite radio. Tourists and townies overran the floor in a slow, indecisive dance around the bookshelves.

I strolled through the main aisles, past the kiosk of new releases and bestsellers toward the customer service desk in the center of the store. Working at Buncha Books since sophomore year taught me a few tricks of the trade, namely to never get caught on the actual book floor. I also discovered that if I didn’t make eye contact with the customers, they wouldn’t talk to me. That policy remained tucked in my back pocket until my shift started.

Casting a wary glance over my shoulder, I singled out an empty computer and clocked back in. Stealth infiltration and quick reflexes allowed me to reach the other end of the store without incident. When I breezed by the magazine aisle, I caught something odd in my peripheral, a scene disturbing enough to break my stride. I stopped, blinked a few times, and then backtracked to the Home & Garden section to confirm what I just saw.

Caleb Baker, the assistant manager in the music department, held some redhead in a devastating lip-lock. She didn’t seem to have a problem with the public tonsillectomy, but this wasn’t the type of customer service the managers urged us to practice. Just as I turned to leave, his gaze met mine.

Caleb’s looks would never stop traffic, but he was worth a second glance with his deep dimples, and the most intense violet eyes I had ever seen. Despite his claim of authenticity, eyes that color shouldn’t exist in nature— eyes that now reflected every purple tone of the color wheel.

Light brown strands draped over his face as the two continued to slob each other down. If they didn’t come up for air soon, Caleb would no doubt suck the life out of her. From what I hear, cheap hotel rooms existed for such an occasion, and there were plenty in the area to choose from.

Of the year and a half I worked here, that kid weirded me out in one way or another. Not to mention the number of women who chased after him on a regular basis. This fact went unnoticed and unaddressed by everyone in the store, including the managers, which disgusted me even more. Having seen enough, I walked away toward my station before my lunch came back up.

Cuppa-Joe was a coffee shop in the back of the bookstore, the place where people kicked back and talked trash about everyone; the cesspool of company gossip and customer-bashing. I closed tonight with my weekend partner in crime, Nadine Petrovsky, a Polish exchange student at The College of William & Mary, and one of the most cynical people I ever had the pleasure of meeting. Guys came to the café just to hear her exotic accent and watch her work.

One glimpse of her explained why.

Model scouts would salivate over her European beauty: her long wheat-colored hair that reached her butt, and her freaky green cat eyes. Too bad none of the attention interested her. Having no time for the BS left the girl cutthroat and caustic. She was just too focused to let a guy or anyone else slow her down.

Nadine stood in front of the barista machine, rinsing the steam wand, when she caught me in the corner of her eye.

“You’re late,” she noted without looking up.

“Sorry. Mia and Dougie were having it out in the parking lot again.” I tied my hair into a bun and grabbed my apron from the back kitchen.

“Oh yeah?” She craned her neck, straining to see the front of the store. “Their fights are good. They need their own sitcom.”

“I told them that.”

Worry lines etched her forehead as she shook her head in disapproval. “Their relationship isn’t healthy, Sam.”

“What relationship is?” I tightened my apron, then went to the sink to wash my hands.

“The sane kind.”

“Well, as soon as I see one of those, I’ll let you know what I think.”

While drying my hands, the second reason why I hated customers approached the counter. A kid dressed in all black with a dog collar leered at me.

Nadine kept herself conveniently busy, so I made my way to the register. “Can I help you?”

“I’d like an iced chai latté,” the boy said, deadpan. It was hard to tell if the kid was high or half-asleep, or whether he was, in fact, a boy. His parachute jeans dragged the floor like a prom gown, the cuffs frayed and dirty, hiding the clown boots underneath.

I rang up his order and shot Nadine a look, which she mirrored perfectly. After he left, I leaned against the counter and laughed. Nadine didn’t smile, no matter how hilarious the joke, which I’m sure made her a real delight during the weekdays when she babysat preschoolers in daycare. Instead, she wiped down the work area with aggravated swipes.

“I hate those Elmo goth kids,” she griped. “What self-respecting sociopath drinks chai anyway? What do they know about real torment? Let them survive a concentration camp and then they can complain.”

“It’s called ‘emo,’ ” I corrected her. “And your great grandparents didn’t even get to the camp before the U.S. troops came in.”
Nadine moved to the back counter and checked the timers on the coffeepots. “It’s still torment. And if you say ‘emo,’ I say ‘Elmo’ because they are equally childish.”

Shaking my head, I watched her in amusement. “You don’t know what his home life is like.”

“Everyone knows what his home life is like. He doesn’t get along with his parents. He stays in his room and whines and writes bad poems about being a vampire.”

Laughing, I stepped to the espresso machine and stole a shot.

“Hey, it’s your turn to wipe the tables.” Nadine tossed me a rag. “And don’t forget to put back those magazines.”

Groaning, I dragged my feet to the sitting area and gathered the discarded cups and straw wrappers. Seeing no one else in line, I took a moment to return the magazines to the racks. When I had finished, I turned around and met Caleb, still as idle and unproductive as when I last saw him.

He sat on a reading bench by the window, holding his head in his hands. Afternoon light showered his back and crowned his dark hair in a golden halo. Normally, I would’ve ignored him were it not for the slight tremors that rocked his body. Was he crying? Did he and his new arm candy have a falling-out? It was just off-putting to see a guy cry, but no tears fell and none were wiped away by his hand. His body teetered back and forth, and I half expected him to start begging for spare change. How long was his break anyway?

I went over to him and tapped his shoulder. “Hey, Caleb. You okay?”

“Yeah,” he mumbled from under his hands. Thankfully, I didn’t smell any alcohol on him, but he definitely wore the hungover look. Then again, he always looked like that.

One hand reached for the sunglasses hooked on his collar, while the other shielded his eyes—whether from shame or the glaring lights, I wasn’t sure. I also wasn’t sure about the source of the purple rays leaking between his fingers.

For a split second, a cast of purple flooded his eyes, swelling in a florescent glow. Caleb quickly turned his head, leaving a streak of color dragging through the air in a residual haze. That was an interesting trick for someone who supposedly didn’t wear contacts.

He rose from his seat and paused at the shocked look on my face. He shifted his feet and messed with his hair, trying to play it off as if he’d been caught with his fly open. However, the only things I caught were vision problems and a bad vibe.

I took a step back. “You sure you’re okay? Are you sick?”

My question made him laugh, but it sounded dry and full of bitterness. “You have no idea,” he said before marching back to his end of the store.

My mom taught me not to judge people, but damn, that kid was out there. I didn’t know much about him, but that only made the fact that much more tangible.

Something told me that ignorance was bliss when it came to Caleb Baker, so I went back to work, hoping for a distraction. But the damage was done. My curiosity had been piqued, and that hungry creature wouldn’t let me rest until I fed it.

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