Published by Grace White
First eBook Edition
Copyright © Grace White 2016
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.
No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any manner without the written permission of the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages for review purposes only.
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I couldn’t even look at her.
But my sister didn’t care.
She never did.
Three towns in the last four years, and I was just supposed to put on a smile and fake excitement at arriving in yet another new place.
“You could at least get out of the car.”
I folded my arms over my chest and pushed further back into the leather of our sister’s Jeep, refusing to meet her glare.
“Daiya, you’re acting like a child.”
It was more than she deserved. Besides, maybe if I ignored her for long enough, she would disappear.
A girl could hope.
“Demi, will you deal with this? I want to unpack and check out the local scene. See where all the hot guys hang out.”
My head whipped around to meet Devlin’s smirk, and she laughed. She actually laughed.
“Are you serious right now? We’ve been here five minutes, and you’re already talking about guys? What the hell is wrong with you?”
The smirk morphed into a snarl, and a low growl formed in her throat. “Tread very carefully, little sister. You wouldn’t want to ruin your first day tomorrow, would you?” Her eyes glowered at me, and I unbuckled my belt and hopped out of the Jeep just as Demi’s voice warned, “Devlin.”
“What?” Her sickly sweet tone caused chills to run down my spine. “I’m only messing with her. Besides, I wouldn’t want to break a nail.”
I brushed past Demi, ignoring the look of pity on her face, and headed inside the house. The place was empty—but I hadn’t expected anything less. Demi always picked somewhere low-key. Our sparse belongings packed in the back of the Jeep wouldn’t even make a dent in the modest house, but by the end of the week, the rooms would be furnished with everything we needed. I didn’t ask for details; I just knew that Demi would take care of it. She always did.
“Are you okay?” My sister’s voice filtered in the room, and I glanced over my shoulder, nodding curtly.
I wasn’t, not really. Not since I turned eighteen three weeks ago, but Demi already knew that.
“She’s just being Devlin. She doesn’t know how to deal any other way.”
“It’ll be different this time, Day.”
“How can you say that? After Richmond, she promised and then look what happened in Baltimore. She’s out of control, Demi. We need to—”
A slender arm slid over my shoulders, and Demi rounded me, drawing me to her. “Shh, you don’t want to say those words, Day. Never say those words. This time will be different; it has to be. Why don’t you go check out your room, and I’ll order pizza?”
I hugged her tighter, the way I had as a child. “Okay.” The word was muffled by my reluctance to leave the comfort of her sweater. When I finally pulled away, Demi was staring at me, concern shining in her dark eyes.
“Are you going to be okay tomorrow?”
“What’s another high school, right?”
“Daiya.” She reached for me, brushing a stray hair away from my face. “It’s senior year. It’s important. She’d want …” Her voice trailed off the way it did whenever she mentioned our mother, so I saved her the pain.
“I’m fine. It’s all fine. One more year.”
And then I was getting the hell out of here.
Wherever here was.
Turned out, here was a small town on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Of course, I’d known the name of the place when Demi had made the last-minute arrangements for us to leave Baltimore, but I hadn’t wanted to know any details. I was too pissed at Devlin for screwing up again. This time would be different, though.
And definitely no guys.
Not that the last one was ever an issue for me.
I retrieved my few belongings from the Jeep and went in search of my room. I chose the smallest of the three bedrooms—I always did. It wasn’t as if I needed the space. Besides, something about feeling the walls closed in around me made me feel safer somehow. Or maybe Devlin was right, and in the confines of a small space, it was easier to pretend. To ignore what was staring me in the face every time I looked in the mirror.
The room was a perfect rectangle with high ceilings and a bay window complete with window seat. I smiled to myself as I imagined sitting there wrapped in my favorite blanket, the one Mom had knitted for me as a child, and writing in my journal or escaping between the pages of a good book. When your life was as unbalanced as mine was, you had to take comfort in the little things. Hands planted on my hips, I turned slowly, taking in the rest of the room. It wasn’t much, but it was mine, and for now, that would be enough.
It had to be.
“Day, pizza’s here.” My sister’s voice carried upstairs.
Unpacking could wait; three bags and one box wouldn’t take long to organize.
I found Demi and Devlin sitting in the middle of the living room on scattered cushions with two pizza boxes between them.
“God, I’m starving.” Devlin groaned, and Demi and I shared a look before training our frowns on our sister. Helping herself to a slice of pizza, she paused and said, “What? I am. It’s been forever since we ate pizza.”
At the reminder, my stomach growled, and we all laughed. Demi lit some candles and started into the pizza.
A new town.
A new house.
Tomorrow, a new school.
But right here, right now, was all I needed.
Even if I wanted to strangle the living daylights out of Devlin sometimes—okay, most of the time—she was still my sister.
And that meant something to me.
Because in the end, it was all I had.
As I entered the kitchen, Devlin shoved a protein bar at me. “It’s the best I could do,” she grumbled. I was surprised she even spoke, seeing as it was before nine and we had no coffee in the house yet.
Unwrapping the bar, I leaned against the counter and took a bite. My whole body ached from sleeping on the floor in just a sleeping bag placed on top of a thin mat, but when you had to up and leave town in a hurry, there wasn’t much time to order furniture.
Demi breezed into the room, looking more awake than the two of us put together. “Morning,” she mouthed with her cell phone to her ear.
I smiled while still chewing the protein bar, and Devlin waved her hand limply while helping herself to a cup of water before hopping onto the counter. Even in her tired state, she still looked every bit the runway model. Long legs, covered today in skintight pants, and wearing a blouse that revealed more than it should, she had a figure that most girls would die for; Devlin was devastatingly beautiful.
My friends—if you could call them that—back in Baltimore had asked me more than once how I lived with two older sisters who could give the likes of Cara Delevingne and Adriana Lima a run for their money, but it didn’t bother me anymore. It wasn’t as if I was ugly. I had a good figure, and although I was shorter than my sisters were, I still stood around five-foot-six. But where Devlin and Demi exuded sexual confidence with their dark, mysterious looks, I was more girl next door, preferring jeans and a tee. Much to Devlin’s disappointment.
“Okay,” Demi’s perky voice snapped me from my thoughts. “We should have the bare minimum by the end of the day. Couch, beds, kitchen essentials. The rest we can buy as we go.”
“No fucking way. I need cable, Demi. You promised.”
Demi swung around to face Devlin, who had jumped down from her position on the counter, and sighed. “I told you. No luxuries until we’re settled.”
Devlin stepped up to her, squaring her shoulders. Demi had an inch on Devlin, but what Devlin lacked in height, she made up for in venom.
“And I told you, it’s handled. I’ve got it under control.”
Demi’s eyes shuttered, and I could see her fighting the urge to pull rank. It didn’t happen often—she preferred the mantle of peacekeeper to leader—but if Devlin stepped too far out of line, Demi wouldn’t hesitate to do whatever was necessary.
“Do you? Because you said that in Baltimore.”
“That was different, Demi, and you know it.”
Demi’s eyes softened a fraction, and she reached for Devlin, laying a hand on her shoulder. “I know. But we need to make it work here. It’s Daiya’s senior year. It’s important she has roots.”
Given my life over the last few years, the idea seemed ridiculous, not to mention pointless.
Devlin’s gaze flickered over to me, and I blanched, feeling her rage. She wanted to argue—to point out that not everything was about me and that there were three of us to consider. But to my surprise, she dropped her shoulders in defeat and said, “Okay. No luxuries until we’re settled, but can I at least request coffee?”
“As if I’d ever forget.” Demi smiled revealing a mouth of pearly white teeth. “Are you okay finding your own way there today? Late registration is tomorrow, but I need to take care of some things in town.”
Demi nodded before turning to me. “And you?”
“I’m pretty sure I can find my way there.”
“Okay. Straight back here after school’s out and we’ll all go into town and explore tonight.”
It wasn’t a question. This was the protector in Demi. We both nodded. We knew the drill by now.
“Please say we can hit a bar? She’s eighteen now.”
“It’s fine,” I said, picking my bag off the counter. “We can go explore and hit a bar or two. I might as well at least try to get to know the place.”
A strange expression flashed over Demi’s face, unlike Devlin who grinned wider than the Cheshire cat. Bounding over to me, she slung an arm around my neck. “See, little sis, I knew there was a party girl in there somewhere. I have the perfect bar-cherry-popping outfit you can borrow.”
I let Devlin drag me out of the house, chatting excitedly about all the possibilities the night held.
I didn’t reply.
I didn’t protest.
Because it was easier that way.
Because one way or another, Devlin would get her way.
All I had to do was go along for the ride … and survive.
Decker County High looked like every other high school I’d attended. I guess after a while, they all blurred together.
Last year, I’d attended school with Devlin, but now, she was a freshman about to start Temple University. The jury was still out on whether going stag was a good or bad thing. Although back then, I would have preferred to have Demi looking out for me, it had still been nice to know at least one person every time I started a new school.
“Oops, sorry,” a voice said as I was shoved hard against the row of lockers, but they didn’t stop to ask if I was okay. I sighed, rubbing a hand over my elbow.
The bell rang and the crowded hallways emptied until I was the only person left. At least now, I could navigate the halls without the risk of being mowed down.
Eventually, I found the office and handed my transcripts to the receptionist. Glasses balanced on the end of her nose, she glanced them over and smiled. “Welcome, Daiya Cattiva. Oh my, how exotic. Is that Greek?”
“How wonderful, dear. Well, take a seat, and Principal Juniper will be with you shortly.”
Five minutes later, I discovered that Principal Juniper was a middle-aged, auburn-haired woman who was as wide as she was tall. She extended a clammy hand and smiled. “And you must be our new transfer. How wonderful. Come through, dear.”
Wiping my hands down my jeans, I followed her into the office and took a seat.
“Now, you transferred from Woodlands High School, Baltimore, am I correct?”
“Yes, we just arrived in town.”
Sliding thick-rimmed glasses over her eyes, she glanced down at the paper in her hand. “I see you have a love of literature. Excellent. We have a good program here at Decker County. And college? Have you thought about your options?”
“With a GPA this high, schools will be lining up for you.”
“I’ll speak to the guidance counselor.”
There had been a time when college was all I’d thought about. I wanted to study literature and spend my days lost in the words of some of history’s most famous writers. But over the last couple of years, that dream seemed to move further and further out of reach. Now, I wondered what the point in making plans was when everything was going to change this year? I was eighteen now. It was only a matter of time before I’d start to become the thing I’d spent my whole life hating.
Because I was a Cattiva.
And my destiny was already decided.
“Okay, I have your schedule here, and here’s your lunch card. You’re in math first period. We’re already four weeks into the semester, but I’m sure Mr. Polman will make you feel right at home.” Mrs. Juniper handed me a sheet of paper and the card and smiled expectantly.
“I’m sure you’ll fit right in, Daiya.”
If only she knew.
When I arrived outside math, the room was quiet. Gripping the door handle, I inhaled deeply before slipping inside. So much for a stealthy entrance. Every single head whipped up in my direction, and shrinking under the spotlight, I stuttered, “Umm, hi.”
Low snickers filled the silence until the teacher’s voice said, “Ahhh, you must be the transfer?”
“Guess so,” I replied trying to sound more enthusiastic than I felt.
Refusing to let the twenty-plus sets of eyes intimidate me, my gaze wandered over my new classmates. Most looked away. Some narrowed their eyes, filled with judgment. Until my eyes landed on a dark-haired guy and, unlike everyone else, he smiled in my direction. It caught me off guard, and I immediately dropped my eyes, ignoring the way my stomach flip-flopped. Just for a second.
I didn’t need any further complications this year.
Groaning silently, I stared at my feet. Maybe school wasn’t such a good idea—not this year, not with everything. But Demi wouldn’t hear of it. She insisted that we’d handle my transition together, as a family. Insisted that I deserved to graduate. She believed I could do it, so I needed to as well.
“Miss Cattiva, please find a seat. Here’s the textbook we are working from.” He handed me a thick book and motioned over my shoulder. And just like that, I was dismissed, thankful he didn’t make me do the whole I’m-the-new-girl speech like my last school did.
Scanning the room quickly, I headed for the nearest empty seat immediately realizing my error. The seat beside it was occupied by none other than Cute Guy. It was too late to change course, so I dragged out the seat and dropped into it, angling myself away from him. He had other ideas. Shuffling to the edge of his desk, he handed me his open textbook, whispering, “Here, I’ll take yours.”
I’d met guys like this before. They usually fell in one of two categories: genuine, kind good guy or the knight-in-shining-get-in-your-panties bad boy.
I had absolutely no interest in either.
“I’m Kai.” He flashed me a quick smile before facing the front again where the teacher was explaining the problem.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed he hadn’t moved his chair back. His arm rested on his desk, elbow hanging over the edge almost touching me. I discreetly scooted to the far side of my chair, feeling uncomfortable with his proximity.
I didn’t know when it would happen, but being too close to a guy as good looking as Kai probably wasn’t the best idea.
Sweeping my hair over my shoulder, I created a curtain of blond between us and concentrated on the teacher’s voice.
Maybe tomorrow, I could request a seat change.
Second period went smoother. There was no Kai to worry about, and I’d ended up seated next to a round-faced girl wearing zebra print glasses and a matching white bow in her untamed hair. I’d liked her instantly. Poppy clearly marched to the beat of her own drum, and I admired that. Envied her, even.
She spent most of the class giving me the lowdown on Decker County, and by the time the bell rang, I knew to avoid the meatloaf in the cafeteria and never cross Mrs. Jenkins, our teacher, on a Thursday. If things were different, Poppy would have been my kind of people, but when she’d invited me to sit with her group at lunch, that tiny voice in my head made up my mind. I wasn’t putting down roots, which meant making friends was a bad idea.
So I ate lunch on my own, finding a quiet spot outside. People watched me with a mix of intrigue and pity as the new girl with no friends. But that was okay. After moving from town to town, school to school, I was used to it. I hadn’t had a real friend, the kind you could tell all of your deepest, darkest secrets to, since I was twelve, and we still lived in the town I’d grown up in. For the last five years, it’d had just been Demi, Devlin, and myself. Anyone else and things got too complicated.
People started heading back inside, and I stuffed my apple core into my empty packet of chips and went in search of a trashcan.
“Oh, hey there,” a deep voice said.
“Hey.” I went for indifference, unsure if I’d pulled it off.
“I didn’t catch your name before in class?” Kai watched me curiously, his head tipped to one side slightly, coaxing an answer from me.
“Cool name, what class are you headed to?”
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the schedule. “Hmm, English with Lomax.”
“Awesome, follow me.”
“Hmm, I’m good. I can find my own way.”
Kai stalled and swung back around with a frown etched on his face. “Seriously? You’re blowing me off to walk to class alone? Is it my breath? I had the tuna for lunch.” He smiled before swiping his tongue across his teeth, and I annoyingly found myself smiling back, just a little bit.
“No, your breath is good. I just don’t want to cramp your style. I’m sure you have friends waiting.”
He glanced around him and held up his hands. “I don’t see anyone, do you? Listen, Daiya, I was the new guy once, so I know how much it blows. I’m just trying to do the right thing here. How about you help a guy out and let me walk you to class?”
Hitching my bag back over my shoulder, I sensed I wasn’t going to win this battle, so I flicked my head. “Lead the way.”
As we walked through the hallway, Kai chatted effortlessly, pointing out things he thought I needed to know. I nodded at the appropriate times, smiled now and again, but I didn’t look at him. I couldn’t. Not with the way my stomach was flipping in a quick rhythm. Clearly, my traitorous piece-of-shit body hadn’t received the memo that guys were off-limits.
Well, until it became absolutely necessary. And even then, I planned on as little interaction as possible.
I almost said a silent prayer when we reached the classroom and, ready to thank Kai for showing me the way, my jaw fell open when he opened the door and stepped inside.
“What are you doing?” I hissed in a low voice wanting to avoid a scene.
Confusion clouded his eyes. “I’m in this class with you. What did you think I was doing?”
I shook my head and barged past him. The teacher waved me over, and I went willingly. Anything to get away from Kai and his strange and unwanted effect on me.
“Miss Cattiva, I presume?” the balding man said from behind his desk, and I nodded. “Good, take a seat. The back row is empty.”
Nothing had ever sounded more perfect.
Until I reached the back row and found Kai grinning up at me.
“You don’t sit here.”
“I do now.” Kai leaned back flexing his arms behind his head. “Yo, Mr. Lomax, is it okay if I relocate? Keep the new girl company?”
My eyes followed just as Mr. Lomax glanced up and waved his hand dismissively. I turned my attention back to Kai. A smirk had replaced his grin, and I clenched my jaw before choosing a seat, putting an empty desk between us.
“Ouch,” he whispered since Mr. Lomax had already started the class.
I flashed him my own smirk before focusing on the front of the room.
I managed to ignore Kai for most of the lesson. Mr. Lomax spent forty-five minutes setting the semester’s project, and a bead of excitement started to form as he named the novels we’d be comparing. Since I could remember, I’d loved books. My fondest memory of my mom was her reading with me every night before bed. Maybe I still loved it because it was my way of holding onto her.
I silenced Kai with a sideways glare, but it did little to deter him.
“What class do you have next?”
With one eye still trained on Mr. Lomax, I turned slightly and mouthed, “Shut up.” Kai held his hands up at the edge of the table in surrender, but as soon as the bell rang and I was out of my seat, he was on my tail. “Daiya, wait up.”
I filed out of the room, trying to shake him.
“Seriously, is it the tuna breath? Because you’re starting to dent my self-esteem.”
“Kai, stop.” I turned and held up my hand. He stopped within inches of me, his eyes locked on my palm. “I appreciate the special treatment. It’s nice, but I’m more into going solo than being social. I just want to keep my head down and survive the year.”
Kai’s eyes found mine and softened, and the butterflies ramped up a notch.
Damn his stupid eyes.
“That’s an interesting choice of words. Survive?” He cocked his head to the side, studying me. “It’s senior year, Daiya, not the apocalypse.”
The spell was broken, and I clenched my jaw again trying to figure out how to make him understand. Unfortunately, the only thing that came to mind was Devlin’s motto.
“Look, I’m flattered. But I’m not interested, okay.”
As his smile slipped, guilt sliced through me. He’d been nothing but kind to me, and I was shooting him down before I even gave him a chance. I turned away, unable to look him in the eye any longer, and dragged myself in the direction of biology. Maybe I’d get to dissect something. Take my frustrations out on a poor, defenseless—very dead—creature.
But as I wound through the thinning crowd, I heard his voice loud and clear. “I don’t give up that easily, Daiya Cattiva. I’ll see you around.”
Unfortunately, for the both of us—he was right.
I spent the next two days ducking and dodging Kai. If I saw him coming, I hid behind a cluster of students or slipped into an empty room. It was ridiculous, but I couldn’t deal with him and his easy-going yet very irritating persistence.
Besides, if he knew me—the real me—he wouldn’t give me a second glance.
Really, it was better this way.
As I departed my usual spot for lunch, I almost felt like I could make it work here. People left me alone, picking up on my loner vibes. Poppy was cool and in a couple of my other classes—but she didn’t push me to hang out, and my respect for her only multiplied.
Things were good.
As good as they were going to get, since I’d shown no signs, for now. But the universe had other ideas as I rounded the hallway and walked straight into Kai. “Crap,” I mumbled, fighting the urge to wipe the smirk right off his face.
“If you wanted to sweep me off my feet, you only had to ask.”
“Goodbye, Kai,” I said, maneuvering around him to put an end to the attention we were already attracting.
“Hold up, Daiya. I meant to ask you. How do you feel about hockey?”
I slowed down and swung around with a groan. “Hate it.”
“Really?” Kai faked shock. “Because I kind of had you down as a fan.”
“Wrong girl, sorry.” My eyes widened, glaring at him, trying to convey just how wrong.
“Nah, I think under all that cool exterior and hostility is a puck bunny just waiting to break free.”
“You did not just call me a puck bunny.”
“Too much, too soon?” He grinned waggling his eyebrows, and I pursed my lips with a slight shake of my head. “I’m going. This is me leaving. Goodbye, Kai.”
“See you around, Daiya Cattiva.”
Okay, so maybe making it work in Decker was going to be harder than I thought.
“Psst.” Poppy ducked her head toward me, and I mouthed, “What?” at her. “I heard a rumor about you today.”
“What?” I hissed, but it came out louder than I’d intended, and the teacher cleared her throat. We both froze waiting for her to call us out, but she didn’t, and after a couple of seconds, Poppy continued. “About you and a certain hockey player.” Excitement danced in her eyes, doing little to ease the panic spreading through me.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, come on, Daiya, people have seen the two of you together. Word on and off the ice is that Kai Stanton has eyes for the new girl. That’s you, by the way. Just so we’re clear.”
I rolled my eyes dramatically, adding, “Keep your voice down.”
Poppy stuck her tongue out at me and stifled a giggle. Shaking my head, I kept my eyes on the front of the class. This was not good, not good at all.
Kai was becoming a serious pain in the ass.
“New girl,” Poppy whispered, although it felt like the whole damn class could hear her. “Just thought you should know Kai Stanton isn’t used to being told no.”
Rolling my eyes again, I shooed her away with my hand. I didn’t need her to tell me what I already knew.
I ignored Poppy for the rest of class. She tried to engage me again, laughing and whispering, but as soon as the bell rang, I rushed out of my seat and into the hallway. Eyes seemed to follow me as I wound my way through the crowd, but I blamed my paranoia on Poppy’s revelations. It had only been three days. How much could people really talk in seventy-two hours?
Who was I kidding? I was doomed.
To my relief, Demi was outside waiting in the Jeep. I lifted my hand in a small wave, making my way toward her.
“How was your day?” she asked as I opened the door and hopped inside.
“The usual.” I buckled my belt, deciding it was probably better to keep Kai out of the conversation for now. “I made a friend, I think.”
“That’s great, sweetie.”
A small smile tugged at my lips at how much she sounded like Mom. It was no surprise, since, over the years, Demi had been more of a mother to me than a sister, carrying the burden of our family for longer than any child should have to.
“How was your day?”
“Good. I got my schedule.”
“I can definitely pick up some hours around classes. I filled out a couple of job applications downtown.”
“That’s great, Demi.”
We had money. Mom had left us a trust fund with more than enough to cover most things, but Demi didn’t like to rely on it.
She liked to have a plan B.
“Where’s Devlin?” I asked.
I didn’t need an explanation. Dropping my head back against the leather, I closed my eyes, but Demi reached over and placed her hand on my leg. “Hey, she’s got it under control.”
“Does she? Because she almost kill—”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to … It’s just she really scared me back in Baltimore.”
“I know, but she isn’t like me, Day. She’s impulsive and reckless, and sometimes, she lets it rule her.”
Opening my eyes, I met Demi’s sideways gaze. “I just don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
Devlin … or anyone else.
Demi shuffled, gripping the wheel tighter. “I’m keeping a close eye on her. She’s doing better. I promise.”
I nodded and turned my head to watch the town roll by. We hadn’t ventured out to explore as we’d planned. In truth, I was scared. I was eighteen now, and it could happen at any moment. There was no timeline for The Awakening. But Demi assured me that I’d know when it happened. The signs would be there, like small pieces of a much larger puzzle.
All I had to do was wait.
If it meant it never happened, I’d wait for a lifetime.
But it was out of my hands.
“What are you thinking, Daiya?” Demi’s voice perforated my thoughts, and I whispered, “You don’t want to know.”
By the end of the week, I’d mastered the art of evasion. But Poppy had been right—people were talking. I heard girls snicker when I walked past them, analyzing what I could possibly have that they didn’t to make Decker County Devils star player take notice. When Poppy had revealed that little fact to me, I’d almost slammed my head against the desk repeatedly. Of course, I knew there was something about Kai, but he was pretty much high school royalty. I wanted to set them straight, to point out nothing was going on, but it would only stoke the fire. So I kept walking and ignored them. It wasn’t like there was room for high school gossip in my life, not when I was teetering on the edge of something much bigger.
“There you are,” Poppy said from her position lingering in the door to home economics.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Nothing.” She shrugged flashing me a toothy smile. “Just waiting for you.”
“Well, thanks, I guess.”
Looping her arm through mine, she pulled me into the room. “You’re not much of a people person, are you, Daiya Cattiva?”
“I guess you could say that.”
“Well, lucky for you, I’m not easily offended. If you ever need a time-out, just say the word, and I’ll leave you be.”
We took our seats and emptied our books onto the table.
“It’s all good,” I replied forcing a smile. Poppy was an ally, and one day, I might need her. It didn’t mean I wanted to be BFFs and hang out after school, but I didn’t want to brush her off totally, either.
“So …” She leaned over, lowering her voice. “Have you seen you-know-who?”
Shaking my head, I grimaced. “No, I’m trying to avoid him.”
Poppy laughed. “Good luck with that. Stanton is determined and then some. He didn’t take the Devils to the championships last year because of his good looks, although have you seen the boy? Dream-y.”
I was uninterested, not blind. Kai was as good looking as they came.
“He could be Ian Somerhalder, and I still wouldn’t be interested,” I murmured under my breath, and Poppy whistled through her teeth. “You’re a paradox, new girl, that’s for sure.”
“Huh?” My brows knitted together.
“Oh, come on. I’ve seen the way you go all goo-goo eyed whenever I mention him.”
“No, smartass, Kai.”
“Poppy!” My voice rose a little too loud, and a girl in the row in front glanced over her shoulder and narrowed her eyes in annoyance. I slouched further down my seat, shooting Poppy a warning glare. But it rolled off her. I had a feeling everything did.
“You know it’s true. No use trying to act unaffected around me. I see everything.”
My stomach dropped. I didn’t want to put her claims to the test. Some things were better left unseen.
“I hate to disappoint you, but nothing has or ever is going to happen between Kai and me.”
Poppy shuffled in her chair before placing the tip of her pen between her teeth and twirling it. She flashed me a smirk and mouthed, “We’ll see.”
“It’s bitchin’, right?”
I looked down at myself and then back to the girl standing in the mirror. Thick waves framed her face, hanging loosely over her bare shoulders. Smoky eyes stood out against porcelain skin, giving way to blood red lips. The knee-length black dress hugged her figure; creating curves in places she didn’t know she had them. She looked nothing like me. I looked … I looked like a blonde carbon copy of Devlin.
“No way,” I shrieked wrapping my arms around my midriff.
“Daiya, you look hot. Guys will be …”
“Do not finish that sentence. DEMI!”
“That’s right, shout for the sensible sister. You agreed to let me help you get ready.” Devlin folded her arms over her chest and scowled.
“I said I wanted to fit in, not that I wanted to look like a cheap hooker.”
“Hey, that’s one of my favorite outfits.”
“Exactly,” I shot back.
“What the hell is going … Oh. Oh, my.” Demi entered the room, her eyes taking me in. “Daiya, you look …”
“Don’t say it, Demi. I’m changing right now. Help me get it off.”
Demi came to stand in front of me, blocking my view of the stranger in the mirror. She reached out, pinching a curl between her fingers. “Daiya, you look beautiful.”
“W- what? You’re kidding, right?” I motioned my hands down my body. “I look … I look like …”
“Me, right? That’s what you were going to say.”
“Daiya,” Demi’s soothing voice coaxed me back to her. “Devlin did an amazing job. You look so different, in a good way.”
“Really?” I looked down myself again. I didn’t see it. But then, I’d been so shocked by my reflection, by the amount of skin on show, that I couldn’t see past that. Demi’s words sank in and a veil lifted. I guess the girl staring back didn’t look so bad. Still, she looked like everything I wanted to avoid ever looking like.
“Day, it’ll be fine.” Demi’s hand slipped around mine. “You haven’t shown any signs yet, right?”
“So we’re safe for now. You’ll know when it happens. It doesn’t come on all at once. Just like we talked about, remember?”
I nodded, a ball of dread forming in my stomach. I didn’t like to think about it—about what was to come.
“I’m sorry, Devlin.” I met my sister’s irritated stare in the mirror and half-smiled. She smiled back, but I could tell I’d hurt her feelings. Devlin gave off tough girl vibes, but we were all she had too.
“Okay, all ready?” Demi glanced back and forth between the two of us, and I nodded. I had to go out into the big wide world one day.
I only hoped it didn’t end up a complete disaster.
When we arrived at the bar, the nervous energy flowing through me had me a little lightheaded. But Devlin made easy work of getting us past security. They hadn’t even asked to see my (fake) ID. It was a college bar on the outskirts of campus, filled with students all looking to let loose. I felt a little overdressed compared to the rest of the girls; most dressed in skinny jeans and blouses or tight-fitting tank tops. Of course, Devlin bared even more skin than I did, so there was that.
“Let’s get a drink and then hit the dance floor.” Devlin clasped my hand and started dragging me through the crowd. We were almost home free when a hand smacked my butt, and I froze. Feeling me tense, Devlin turned around, and her face exploded with rage.
“Touch my fucking sister again and you’ll regret it.” She stepped in front of me, shielding me from the guy. His face broke into a smug grin as he nudged his buddy. “We’ve got a live one,” he joked.
It was lost on Devlin.
She stepped forward closing the distance. I couldn’t see her face now, but I sensed her anger. It rolled off her in waves. Demi stood beside me, sliding her hand into mine to reassure me as Devlin leaned into the guy, whispering something to him. His smile dropped, replaced with a look of sheer terror.
I squeezed Demi’s hand and looked at her in question. “Come on,” she mouthed, tugging me in the direction of the bar. I couldn’t take my eyes off Devlin, though, as she continued to speak to the guy. But then they were gone, swallowed by the crowd.
“Is she okay? What the hell was that?”
“Devlin can take care of herself. What do you want to drink? Soda or a beer?”
“How can you say that?” I asked, ignoring her question.
Devlin taking care of herself usually ended badly—it was precisely the reason we were in Decker in the first place.
“Daiya, trust me. Everything will be fine.”
Demi talked with the confidence of someone who had witnessed Devlin do this kind of thing before, and suddenly, I felt very out of the loop. I’d never wanted this life, and after Mom, I switched off to everything. Demi and Devlin tried to talk to me, to prepare me, but I’d let most bounce off the walls I’d built around myself.
“So what’ll it be?”
“Huh?” I gawked back at her, still trying to process.
“Beer or soda?”
“A beer? I’m not …”
Demi laughed softly. “You are tonight, Daiya. Let’s get the drinks and find a table. Devlin will find us.”
Three beers in hand, we found a booth at the back of the room. It was a little quieter but still gave us a perfect view of the dance floor. Bodies moved and popped to the music, and I blushed as I watched a couple making out, oblivious to everyone around them.
“Don’t look so shocked; you’ve seen people make out before.”
“I know, but they look like they’re doing more than making out.” The guy’s hand slid under the girl’s shirt, and she arched into him. I dropped my eyes at that point, feeling my cheeks heat with embarrassment.
“It’s a bar, Daiya. That’s nothing. Wait until Devlin drags you to a party on campus.”
My frown answered for me. I wasn’t a prude. That was impossible when you had a sister like Devlin. But I’d avoided places like this for a reason. Back in my other high schools, I rarely partied or hung out, preferring to hide in the shadows … or my bedroom.
“Beer, awesome.” Devlin slid in the booth next to me and helped herself to a bottle of Corona. She took a long swig and smiled at me. “So what do you think?”
“She’s a little overwhelmed.” Demi answered for me.
“Am not. It’s just so … loud and in your face.”
Devlin slung her arm over my shoulder and squeezed. “You have so much to learn, oh young one. First lesson, dancing. Let’s go.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Devlin. I’m not sure I can …”
“There’s no use in arguing, Daiya.” Demi flashed me an encouraging smile and flicked her long dark waves off her shoulder. Dressed in a modest pants and blouse combo, Demi didn’t need to show skin to radiate sex appeal. She was easily one of the most attractive girls in the room. She nudged me out of the booth while Devlin pulled me by the hand, and before I could protest, they had directed me to the middle of the dance floor.
They started to move in time to the beat, their bodies swaying and rolling seductively all while I stood there like a statue.
“Move, Daiya,” Devlin shouted over the music. “Just like this.” She demonstrated another move, and I made an effort to sidestep.
“You’re going to need to do a little better than that,” she yelled, taking my hands in hers and raising them up above our heads. Dipping her hips, side to side, she counted the beat for me to follow. Taking a deep breath, I started to move. At first, my movements were stilted and awkward, but Devlin held on, guiding me, and soon, we were moving as one. Demi ducked underneath our hands and began to move in rhythm with us, until we were a tangle of limbs, laughing and dancing, and everything else melted away.
After a few songs, I needed water. And air. Not to mention, my feet felt like they needed an ice bath. “Drink,” I mouthed to my sisters before moving away from the dance floor, not giving them a chance to follow. It was just a bar, and after a beer and my first dance lesson, I felt a surprising sense of confidence. I could manage to get a drink without them babysitting me.
When I reached the bar, I hopped onto a stool and enjoyed the instant relief from being off my feet.
“What can I get you?” the bartender asked.
“Three beers, please.”
“Coming right up.”
“Three? Are you trying to get drunk or were you a sailor in a former life?”
“Seriously?” I turned to Kai and arched my eyebrow. “How are you here?
“Don’t you think I should be asking you that question? After all, you’re the new girl in town.”
I shrugged and reached into my purse to pay for the drinks, but Kai beat me to it, throwing a twenty down onto the bar.
“I didn’t …” I sighed heavily. “You didn’t need to do that.”
“Oh, but I wanted to. It’s my life’s mission to get underage girls inebriated.” He flashed me the smile I’d spent all week trying to forget.
“Inebriated? My, you use such big words.”
“You know what they say.” He leaned in close enough that I could smell his cologne. “Big words, big …”
I pressed my hands into his chest, either to put some distance between us or to steady myself. I couldn’t be sure. He smelled so good that for a split second, I imagined running my nose along his neck.
What the hell?
Needing to get away, I rushed out, “Okay, okay, I get the picture. Thanks for the beers. I’ll see you around.” I gathered the bottles into my hands and hopped off the stool.
“Like you said, Kai,” I said over my shoulder, “see you around.”
Slipping into the crowd, I didn’t spare him another glance. Adrenaline pumped through me, propelling me forward. Thankfully, by the time I reached my sisters, my heart had slowed to its normal rate again, and I hoped I didn’t look as flustered as I felt. I didn’t know what had come over me, but Kai brought something out in me. I wasn’t usually so … so bold, and I didn’t know how to feel about it.
Any of it.
Devlin snatched a beer out of my hand and continued to dance. Demi took hers and leaned in. “I’m going to pee. Don’t leave her side, okay?”
As if I would.
Now that I knew Kai was here, I didn’t intend to go anywhere. I danced beside Devlin who moved in a trance—one with the music. She looked so hot; it was hardly any surprise that half the guys in the room were staring at her. I even caught a few of the girls watching her in awe. Feeling more than a little exposed—and insignificant—I started to back away slowly until I collided with something solid.
Strong hands steadied me, but I broke free. Spinning around, I said, “Oh, shit, sorry, I was …” Kai grinned down at me, and my apology died on my lips. “Oh, it’s you.”
“Hello, to you too.”
“Are you following me?”
“And what if I am?”
My eyes shuttered, and I shook my head. “Okay, you’ve made your point. You don’t like to give in easily.”
Taking me by surprise, Kai brushed my hair off my shoulder, ducked his head down to my ear, and whispered, “Bingo.”
When my body exploded in a series of shivers, I wanted to blame the heat and the alcohol and the number of people crammed into the small space. I wanted to blame anything other than the fact that Kai was touching me and that his breath was lingering on my already warm skin.
This had to end.
Feeling determination wash over me, I pulled back to look him right in the eyes. “What will it take for you to leave me alone?”
“What if I don’t want to leave you alone?”
“Kai,” I warned.
“Fine, fine. After a week of trying to break through your tough exterior, I can take a hint.” He scrubbed a hand over his face, and I could sense his mind working overtime. “One dance. Right here, right now, and then it’ll be like you don’t even exist to me.”
Why did that thought hurt?
It wasn’t supposed to hurt.
I wasn’t supposed to like him.
I couldn’t like him.
It wasn’t possible.
Shutting down the crazy thoughts, I said, “One dance, and then you’ll leave me alone? No more Mr. Nice Guy routine?”
Kai held up two fingers and pouted. “Scout’s honor.”
“Okay, one dance, but no touching.”
He laughed, but the intro of a new song drowned it out. “What kind of dance will it be if there isn’t touching?”
Suddenly remembering where we were, and that my sister was standing less than ten feet away, I glanced over my shoulder. Devlin was still dancing; only, she was now grinding on some guy who looked like he’d hit the jackpot.
Rolling my eyes, I turned my attention back to Kai. “One dance but don’t get any ideas.”
I began to move, awkwardly—far more awkwardly than I had earlier when I’d actually felt like I knew what the hell I was doing. But Kai had other ideas. Looping an arm around my waist, he drew me to him until our bodies pressed against one another, and I was aware of every plane of his solid chest. My hands came up to steady myself, landing on his collarbone.
“Is this okay?” he asked.
All I could do was nod.
I wanted to break out of his hold and tell him that it was absolutely not okay, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t do a damn thing because for the second time this week, my traitorous body wanted this. It wanted to be wrapped in his arms as he swayed us to the music. I was just thankful that he stood a whole head taller than I was. At least, I didn’t have to look into his eyes—that would be a recipe for catastrophe.
But, of course, in typically annoying Kai fashion, he moved a finger underneath my jaw and tilted my head up, forcing me to look at him. “This isn’t so bad, is it?”
I shrugged, still unable to speak. Unable to do anything but be here in his arms. My eyes drank in everything about him. Broad shoulders and a strong jaw covered in light scruff gave him an edge, but his smile was what made my knees weak.
God, that smile.
Full lips that curved up slightly higher on one side. It was playful and mischievous and just begging to be kissed.
Heat exploded in my stomach, rushing through my body like wildfire. Setting me alight. My eyes fluttered shut as I sank deeper into Kai’s embrace.
“Daiya?” he rasped.
Did he feel it too?
The magnetism between us.
My eyes peeked open, and my lips parted. Kai was looking at me like a guy starved of air, and I was his last breath of oxygen.
Leaning down, his mouth was now only a hair’s breadth away from mine. My heart pounded against my chest, over and over, and I was completely overwhelmed. My senses, the heat, those lips … Taking on a life of their own, my hands slid up and over his shoulders, clasping the back of his neck and cementing him to me. Our lips brushed lightly, but I instantly knew it wasn’t enough.
I needed more.
My mouth opened, urging Kai to follow. His fingers dug gently into my waist as his lips moved against mine. Hot and wet and demanding, our tongues slid together, dancing their own rhythm. But still, it wasn’t enough.
I needed more.
Pressing further into him, our bodies aligned, slotting together like two pieces of a whole, until I didn’t know where he ended and I began.
“Daiya,” he murmured into my mouth. I think.
I couldn’t focus.
My body burned, the fire still coursing through my veins, and I held on tighter, certain that had I been able to, I would have climbed inside him just to be closer.
“Okay, you two, time-out,” a familiar voice teetered on the edge of the flames surrounding me. But I couldn’t let go.
I didn’t want to ever let go.
“Daiya,” Demi’s soothing voice forced through the wall of heat, infiltrating my consciousness, and I blinked rapidly, pulling away ever so slightly. Kai blinked back, confusion shining in his eyes. “Wha- what was … Daiya?”
“Okay, big guy, take a hike.” I watched in a daze as Devlin wrapped an arm around Kai and led him away from me.
The flames began to subside to a gentle flicker, replaced with something else as I watched my sister touch him.
“Daiya, are you okay? Daiya, come back to us.”
“Demi?” I turned slowly to find my eldest sister watching me with concern. “What’s happening to me?”
“Come on, let’s get you home.”
“But …” I wanted to ask about Kai. About what had happened. But deep down, I already knew.
And I hated myself for it.
To continue Daiya and Kai’s story you can purchase Awaken from Amazon or read for free in KindleUnlimited.