Cold darkness swathed me, choking, oppressive, and gritty. My extremities wriggled, finally liberating my body. Dull cracking echoed and writhing things slipped over my skin. My hands broke free then my face, spilling moonlight across my blurry eyes.
I crawled out of the earth.
Why was I in the ground?
Dirt caked my unnaturally pale, icy skin. It rimmed my fingernails that looked more like claws than I remembered.
A noise echoed in the distance.
I cocked my head to the side, listening. Footsteps. The wind blew, stirring the unfamiliar forest, creating a cacophony of creaking limbs and rustling leaves. A pungent scent carried through the breeze, slamming into my senses like river rapids.
What is that smell!
Hot, briny, buttery, irresistible.
A gasp echoed and a slight figure emerged from the shadows. “Are you okay?” Concern filled her soft, lilting voice.
My focus zeroed in on her neck throbbing with vibrant life so strong it pulsed in the air. My mouth watered, throat burned, and acid filled every vein in my body.
Want. Need. Mine.
I was off the ground and grabbing her in a blur, sinking my fangs forcefully into her flesh. Her salty life force spilled into my mouth, gushing down my throat to cool the scorching thirst.
Her scream was nothing more than a buzzing in my ears.
Ah. So tasty.
She fell to the cold dirt with a thud, lifeless and no longer any good.
I licked my lips.
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I popped up in my bed, gasping. Cold sweat beaded my skin and my unruly long brown hair clung to my face. My pulse quaked frantically like I was running a marathon as I stared through the darkness of my room.
What the hell was that!
Is that what I’m going to feel like when I’m a full vampire? Painful thirst and a one track mind focused on feeding.
I stumbled out of bed and shuffled to my bathroom. I slowly eased the dimmer barely on and splashed water on my face. No. It won’t be like that. None of the others are like that. Mac wouldn’t let me hurt anyone. It was only a nightmare. That’s all.
Plus the only fear I had concerning my impending change was whether I was good enough to be not just a vampire, but a ruler.
I dried my face with a towel and took in my reflection. My black brown hair was a mess, trailing down my mid back in tangled waves. Dark lashes lined my gold eyes that were currently hazy and a lone dimple set on the right of my bigger than normal lips. My one dimple used to annoy me to no end—until McCollum Davenport told me it was cute.
Oh man. I’m such a girl.
But in my defense Mac is so sexy hot if he said the sky was red 99 percent of the female population would agree.
I sighed, shut off the light, and fell back into bed. I grabbed Mr. Bananas, the stuffed monkey Mac won for me at the Salem Fair, and turned on my side. I wish Mac was right next to me now. He’d tell me it was only a bad dream. He’d sooth my fears. He’d make me remember why I wanted to be a vampire.
I am going to be a vampire—just as soon as our parents quit freaking out about it.
The beach was littered with teenagers even though it was barely spring. In all fairness it was a nice 76 degrees in Shelby, Florida. Not exactly bikini weather, but that wasn’t stopping some of the girls. They greased themselves and splayed out on chairs, welcoming the sun.
I don’t know why. Their fake tans already gave them a nice, orangey glow.
The saner teens were sticking to activities allowing more clothing than two thin strips of spandex. A few were building sandcastles, some were surfing, others were playing bocce ball or football, and some were hooking up a volleyball net.
A breeze ruffled my hair, stirring the briny scent of the sea that was much more pungent than I remember. I wasn’t cold, but I pulled the sleeves of my Lone Star Burger Shack hoodie further down my arms. I readjusted the dark sunglasses to dim the extreme brightness of the sun. My gaze lingered on the water while I dug my feet into the sand. Waves crashed against the shore, demonstrating the ocean’s magnificent power. If it wanted to, one wave could demolish this entire beach. Instead it gradually washes it away, bit by bit like a slow arrow piercing the heart.
I shivered and resisted the urge to touch my star shaped scar.
You’d think after months had passed I’d forgive my parents for lying. Nope. Hasn’t happened.
Maybe I wasn’t mad at them so much for lying to me for eleven years. Maybe I was just pissed they separated Mac and me.
Okay, that might be a little harsh. Whitmore deserved some of my anger too, but I was certain Mac was dishing enough to fill his quota.
My toes absentmindedly dug deeper into the sand as if willing it to change. They wanted to be on crunchy dead leaves.
After Whitmore filled my parents in on everything that happened at Highland Academy, including me nearing a change, they all agreed it would be best to separate Mac and me for a while. I was shipped back to Florida while Mac stayed behind in Salem.
Suck fest and not the naughty kind.
They knew my change was inevitable, but they wanted to delay it at least until we weren’t teenagers. Whitmore claimed in vampire history any rulers who looked so young were easily overthrown. It was hard to take someone who looked sixteen seriously, even if they were much older than they appeared.
We’re teenagers, but we can exhibit some self-control. We can make out without sharing blood. But noooo. They split us up anyways without considering our feelings. I haven’t seen Mac since Christmas break. It’s the middle of March!
They have no idea how awful this separation is. It feels like my heart will implode from lack of beating. A lump is constantly choking my throat, threatening tears, and my skin feels lifeless without that electric zip Mac’s presence brings.
There are other things I haven’t told my parents for fear they’d keep us apart even longer. My skin and eyes are sensitive to the Florida sun. I can feel it against my flesh like I’m a piece of meatloaf under a warming lamp in the cafeteria. My mouth not only waters in the vicinity of grilling steak, but fresh blood also has the ability to make me drool.
I’m not changing back and I never will. My body craves blood and until I get it I’m stuck with being sensitive to certain things.
What’s going to happen when the temperatures rise—in like two weeks—and my friends expect me to don a bikini? How am I going to explain my sudden aversion to the sun?
“Rubi, why are you sitting here all by yourself?” My best friend Jill stared down at me with a puzzled expression. She grabbed her blonde waves that blew in her face and tucked them behind her ear. “We’re roasting hotdogs! I know you want one or five,” she said in a sing song voice.
“Duh. I was waiting for the fire to get good and hot.” I flashed a fake smile. “You know if I came over too soon I’d be too impatient and start eating them cold.”
She made a face. “Yuk. I don’t know how you do that!”
I laughed and let her help me up, brushing damp sand off my jeans. “I can’t help myself.” I readjusted my sunglasses again as we headed toward the fire where Eric and some other kids from school were.
Jill pointed a long, delicate finger at my face. “You are like obsessed with sunglasses these days. You never leave the house without a pair.”
“It’s my new thing,” I lied. “All the kids in Salem are doing it.” My smile didn’t reach my eyes.
She shook her head. “I guess you had to bring a little piece of that creepy place back with you.”
I silently nodded afraid my voice would crack.
School was released early because we raised the most money for the Save the Rainforest campaign. I was only here because my parents were pretty much the cause behind our success. Not only did they donate a ton of money, but my mother headed the whole thing. This afternoon when I got home she practically kicked me out the house to join the impromptu celebration the kids threw together on the public beach.
I sighed enviously as I watched the dreamy smile spread across Jill’s face when she saw Eric. They started dating while I was at Highland. We’ve been best friend since the womb and all the sudden they got all googly eyed over each other. Now I’m the awkward third wheel.
“Got you two ready to go.” Eric handed me two sticks with a hotdog on each end.
As soon as his hands were free he wrapped them around Jill and nuzzled her nose.
Oh man. They were so cute I could throw up.
“Cold babe?” Eric asked, zipping her hoodie closed.
She grinned and snuggled into his arms. “Not now.”
I tried not to grimace while they flirted. I had to admit they looked good together. Eric was tall and lanky with sandy brown hair constantly falling in his round, hazel eyes. He always had a toothy grin a mile wide. Jill was tall and thin like a ballerina. Her head fit perfectly under Eric’s chin like they were two puzzle pieces.
A pang resonated in my chest and my fingers itched toward the phone in my pocket. The urge to call Mac to hear his deep, hypnotic voice was stifling. But he was nonexistent to them. I couldn’t bring myself to talk about our relationship. I was afraid I’d break down in tears and they’d want to know why. I couldn’t tell them the truth.
Instead I watched my weenies roast until a nice burnt coating formed. I stuck one stick in the sand while I gave one hotdog a nice bun blanket and slathering of ketchup. I practically drooled until I shoved half of it into my mouth.
I thanked my lucky stars my taste buds returned to normal. I’d be devastated if they were still muted because I wanted blood.
Jason Ford, captain of the water polo team, jogged up from his game of football down the beach. Sweat glistened on his tanned body, making his sleeveless shirt stick to his nicely ripped torso.
I might have had a crush on him in the past. Might—in my pre-Mac days.
“Oh man I’m starving.” He shook his golden blonde hair with natural bleach highlights from his aqua eyes. “Awe, let me get that cooked dog over there.” He was pointing to my second perfectly cooked hotdog hanging on its stick, waiting to be devoured.
Laughter resonated out of Eric. “Dude, you just asked the wrong girl for food.”
Confusion spread over Jason’s handsome face. “Oh come on. You can make another one.” He pointed at my mouth as I chewed. “You’ve already got one.”
I twisted my crazy mane that decided to be more black than brown today out my face as the wind blew. “No way.” I shoved another bite in my mouth. “Make your own. What do I look like, a Stepford wife?” My voice was muffled by food.
Jason flashed a set of perfectly straight pearly whites chased by matching dimples. “Come on Rubi. Just this once. I’m really hungry.”
I snickered. “Don’t even try to charm your way to my food pretty boy. It won’t work.” P-lease. I’m used to being around hot vampires who don’t even have the ability to compel me. Like a shallow jock is going to be able to do it. Plus my boyfriend is the sexiest male alive. Jason’s smile had absolutely no effect on me. Not anymore.
He pouted and tried to reach for my stick.
I blocked his hand with my quick reflexes and stood in front. “Back off pretty boy or I’ll shove this stick in you and roast you over an open flame.”
Shocked, he held his hands up in surrender. “Okay, okay. Gees.”
“I would back away very slowly Jason,” Jill said trying to suppress her laughter. She pointed to the cooler. “The raw ones are in there.”
Jason grabbed a hotdog and shoved it on a free stick. He gingerly stepped beside me and held the stick in the fire, eyeing me precariously. “I’ve never seen a girl so protective of a hotdog.”
“Now you have.” I squirted ketchup on my second weenie.
“Usually they’re all about dainty salads and froyyos.”
Eric snickered. “Please. Rubi’s idea of a salad is mixing different types of sausage in a bowl with a barbeque sauce dressing.”
My brow arched. “Hey, that sounds good.”