Authors: Shannon Duffy
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General, #Romance
Copyright © 2012 Shannon Duffy
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I’m so thankful to be even writing this acknowledgement right now that it’s hard to express in words the gratitude I feel for these people…and for a writer, that’s pretty crazy.
First of all, I’d like to say that having Rachel Harris, Trisha Wolfe, and Brenda Drake as the awesome critique partners they are is a blessing straight from heaven. And to Rachel and Trish who have a cameo in this story, thanks for rocking it out and allowing me to use your names. Having all of your amazing support, encouragement, and friendship has meant the world to me…more than you know. You are the yin to my yang, and like crème brûlée in Paris—simply the best. Love you all.
To my fantabulous agent, Lauren Hammond, for her belief in me and my stories, and for her contagious effervescent personality, thank you. You rock. Big time. I’m holding you to coming to visit me this summer, too. ;)
To Tribute Books for loving my story and taking it under your wings, a huge thanks.
To Jade, thank you for being the first teen to read this book. Your excitement over this story made me smile so big. You are amazing.
To my sister, Elizabeth Snow and my niece, Taylor Snow who fill some fun space in this book, thanks for the inspiration. (And Elizabeth—you really
a good mom. LOL)
To my mother, Dorothy, for never saying no to the many, many books I asked for as a child, and nurturing my love of reading from the very beginning. You are my best friend. And to my father, Eric, who so proudly read my high school writing assignments to anyone who’d listen. I’m forever daddy’s girl. Both of your love and pride in me means the world and I love you both, always.
To my dearly departed grandmother, “Nanny Chapman,” who I know watches over me, I still miss you every day.
To my husband, Alan, for your endless love and encouragement, and for all those brainstorming moments where you helped me plot things out. Without you, this book would’ve never been written. “SPECTRAL,” is for you, babe. I love you.
To my son, Gabriel, my dream come true, my angel, my heart, my everything. I love you.
Living in the witness protection program didn’t make me feel so much protected as it made me feel cursed. We’d been on the road for three days and as our destination got closer, I thought about the latest new school I’d be attending, Sunny Shades Heights. It seriously sounded more like a nursing home than a high school. Twenty-six schools so far since kindergarten, two for each freaking school year. Oh, but this year, my junior year, my parents decided on a third move. To make it even worse, it was six weeks before summer break and one month before my seventeenth birthday.
“You ready for your birthday, Jewel…a
one?” Dad asked me over his shoulder with a grin. It’s a running joke in our family. I was born during a total lunar eclipse, which happened to occur at the same time as the full moon during the summer solstice. That exact event hasn’t happened again since…until this year, on my birthday. This—according to Dad—would make me about to turn one. Yeah, I didn’t find it funny, either.
“Yep,” I answered, staring downward. I shifted toward my little brother Jayden who sat beside me obliviously happy, playing on his DS Lite, his intense green eyes focused on the screen. I ruffled his shaggy toffee-colored hair and my stomach twisted. Soon I’d have to remember another new name for him.
What’s it this time? Harrison
? At eight years old, Jayden thought it was still a game, an adventure. A new city and a new name allowed him to pretend he was a character like in one of his video games or something.
As my family drove along the highway, the wind blew in from my open window and the oncoming cars became a blur of mesmerizing color. I imagined being part of that kaleidoscope, drawn into it until it wrapped me in its warm hues. Scents from the lush green mountains and spring flowers floated through the air. Compared to our last apartment in an industrial area in Middlesbrough, England, that constantly smelled of wet concrete, this was intoxicating.
Poking my upper body out the window like a dog longing to be free, I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply over and over until it made me dizzy.
“Jewel!” Mom yelled from the front passenger seat. I jerked my head back and clasped my hand over the birthmark on my shoulder. “Be careful, honey,” she warned.
“Sorry, Mom,” I muttered, thankful she seemed to only have been worried about me being decapitated, and not the birthmark slip-up. I tucked my long black waves of hair behind my ears with a sigh.
It would probably be the last time, at least for a while, that I’d hear my mother call me by my real name. She seemed to relish in helping us choose names and she had a flair for the unusual. There’d be no Sara or Emily for me. Nope. This time, in Pomona Park, Florida, I’d be True Remington. Truth be told, I’d long since given up on caring. Whatever my parents chose to call me for six months, I knew who I was.
I must have had a worried expression on my face because my father began clucking his tongue. I lifted my eyes to meet his deep green ones staring back at me in the rearview mirror, obviously trying to get my attention.
“You okay, Peanut?” he asked softly.
I wanted to scream and tell him that of course I wasn’t okay. That because of whatever he did when I was a baby, I had no life because we’ve had to move around like a pack of traveling gypsies. I was always the ‘new girl.’ Zero friends and never allowed to get
close to anybody. I wanted to tell him all of that made me less than okay—it made me miserable. To make it even worse, there were no explanations, no answers as to what he did that caused our mess of a life. Sometimes I hated Dad for that. But seeing the permanent frown line etched between his brows reminded me that he had a world of worries on his mind, too, and my stomach churned with guilt for even thinking I could hate him.
He winked and focused back on the road. We exited the highway and headed into the small, southern town. I couldn’t deny it was beautiful. The trees loomed above us, mature and full. The grass, too, was so green it could’ve been on a golf course. As we slowed for a red light, a passerby stared over at us.
“Take a picture, it lasts longer,” I grumbled under my breath. Guess they probably didn’t see many new faces around here. I rolled my window up, as though it would protect me from any curious glares. It was like I was like an endangered animal on exhibit at the zoo.
A group of people that looked about my age stood in front of an ice cream store devouring their cones. One of the boys placed his ice cream cone on the tip of a cute blond girl’s nose and she giggled as he licked it off. The rest of the group laughed with each other—stereotypical in their golden-skinned, teen-model, magazine sort of look—but I couldn’t help but be drawn to one of the boys in particular. Tall, blond haired, so relaxed, and so, well, beautiful. The sun glistening against his skin accentuated the lean muscles in his arms. An obvious athlete. He leaned against the lamppost inhaling his ice cream, his free hand in his jean pocket.
Behind us, a man lightly beeped his horn. “Move along, Sonny,” he called out his car window with a laugh, notifying my father the light was green.
Yeah, definitely small town USA.
The blond haired boy looked up and totally busted me staring. I ripped my eyes away and cast them to the floor, my cheeks burning as Dad drove away.
After a few minutes, we made it to our new home. It was simple enough. The two story yellow house had a big front yard and a wraparound porch. Even a double swing rested on the veranda.
Yawning, I stretched my arms above my head, then turned to get out. Jayden tugged my arm.
“What is it, Bud?”
He pointed at my shoulder, rolled his eyes, and nodded toward the parental units.
My breath hitched and I glanced down. The bright red, crescent moon shaped birthmark glared back.
“Right. How could I forget?” I leaned over and gave him a kiss on his forehead, thankful for the reminder. Without it, I would’ve gotten serious lip from my parents.
Grabbing my spring jacket beside me, I pulled it on, hiding the birthmark. It was too big of an identifying mark, my parents said repeatedly.
Show it and you will die
. Their terrifying words replayed in my mind. Ever since I’d learned to talk, my parents drilled it into my head that outside of our family, it could never be shown.
This was my life.
Jewel Rose—marked, cursed.
One large suitcase was sad for a teenage girl
I sighed, and lugged it up the stairs to my new room. My only other luggage was the now empty pet carrier for my precious white Persian, Willow. She pranced up the stairs alongside me, purring as we reached the top of the stairs, and twirling around my legs.
I made an inventory of the upper level. There were three bedrooms and a bathroom. The master bedroom beamed in a bright sunflower-yellow color paint, there was a royal blue one that was sure to be Jayden’s, and then I saw the one facing the back yard—bubblegum pink.
, Mom?” I moaned. “
? You’re killin’ me here.”
“Don’t worry, Jewel. Your father will get that painted for you ASAP.”
ASAP was code for, ‘We’ll be moving soon anyway, so why bother?’
I set my suitcase down and plunked myself on the bed. Puffs of dust floated around me, making me cough.
What could I expect on such short notice? Furnished houses were hard to come by, and this last move was the fastest yet. I stared trance-like at my bubblegum pink walls. Suddenly it was three days ago again and I was watching Keisha James blowing bubbles with her gum in class.
The teacher droned on with the History lesson when suddenly Dad came bolting into class, his face ashen. Covered in sweat that pooled in his creased forehead, he grabbed me by the arm, pulled me out of class, down the hall and out the school door. He shoved me into the car. My mother handed me some weird-looking red concoction, forcing me to drink it as my father bee-lined for the highway.
After that, things became a blur. Jayden sat beside me in the back seat passed out. I felt sleepy myself, my head flopping around like a rag doll as my father weaved in and out of traffic wildly.
“What did you give me, Mom?” I groaned.
“Just something to help you relax, honey.” Her eyes darted out the back window over my shoulder, enlarging to saucers. I managed to turn to look behind me and in my foggy state, I was sure I saw a man brandishing a gun out of the window of the car behind us. I screamed and looked back at my mother wide-eyed. Oddly, her fingers were pressed against her temples, her eyes closed. The car lurched sharply, and then I fell asleep. A loud bang reverberated against my ears and I opened my eyes. It wasn’t three days ago anymore. I was safe again, back in the bubblegum room.
My mother dragged luggage across the landing. I lay back on my bed and pulled Willow close, kissing her pink nose. I thought of the one girl who I managed to make sorta friends with at my last school. My last image of that classroom was of her face when I turned to look at her apologetically as my father dragged me off. I mean, I’d told her I may have to move one day soon, but even
didn’t think it would be
soon. Two months was all I spent in that school. She held up her hands to an imaginary computer keyboard and typed into the air. I shrugged. Asking me to send her an email was like asking a dog to recite the alphabet. I mean it would be kinda cool and all, but it just wasn’t possible. I wasn’t allowed to use the computer without supervision and then only for homework.
I surveyed my room. The pink was darker in spots as though pictures had been removed. The hardwood floor, the pale pink lace curtains, the wooden dresser with a large mirror, and an old desk all cried out for a good cleaning. I really wished it could be any color but pink. Jade green with black would really rock. I guess it was too much to ask to be like a regular girl and choose my own colors for once.
I sauntered to my window that overlooked the backyard, feeling tears well up.
“Jewels?” I heard Jayden call behind me.
I pinched my eyes tightly a moment and cleared my burning throat. “Hey there, Jay—I mean Harrison,” I joked, as I turned and hugged him tightly. “How ya liking your new room?”
“Better than yours,” he teased. “But mine’s pretty dusty too.” He ran his finger along my dresser and held up his now dust-covered pointer finger.
“No worries, little bro. We can do it together.” He chased me down the stairs as I gathered the cleaning stuff and threw him a roll of paper towels.
“When we’re done, will you play PlayStation with me?” he asked in his most innocent voice.
“Sure, but only if you’re
helpful.” I winked. Having Jayden around was a great distraction. We cleaned our rooms together and played his favorite PlayStation games but soon it was time for bed. I retreated to my room that now smelled of Windex.
I took a long shower and scoured at my skin harder than I should have. I knew the harder I scrubbed, the more layers I’d uncover. Underneath all the layers I was hoping to find an ordinary girl, with a normal life and a regular family. Not one on the run from the mob or whatever. I mean, it
to be the mob, right? Who else would want to kill us? And why? I wished my parents would answer my questions. They assured me
they would answer, but
Now I had new worries surfacing; Sunny Shades Heights only had like two hundred students.
Small crowds, small cliques,
I supposed. I wished it were New York City. I often pleaded with my parents to take us there. I figured a new family in New York would go more unnoticed. Somehow, my parents thought differently and preferred to hide out in small towns.
I cried myself to sleep that night, Willow meowing at the window as if joining my sad song.
At breakfast, Jayden bounced around, happily reciting his new name. “Harrison Remington, Harrison Remington. I sound like a businessman,” he said with a laugh before gulping down some orange juice.
“Jewel?” Mom turned from the stove to face me as I ate some toast.
“I know, Mom.”
“Humor us then,” Dad said in a serious voice from the other side of the table. “What’s your new name?”
I rolled my eyes. “True Remington. Got it.”
names?” Mom asked as she turned back to the stove.
“Oh, I know, I know!” exclaimed Jayden.
“Right. Cute wouldn’t you say?” Mom asked with a grin.
Bile rose in my throat and I put down my fork. Maybe it was her way of making a bad situation seem like it was fun, but I was so over it.
“And, True?” Mom turned and flipped a pancake onto Jayden’s plate and then cocked an eyebrow at me. “What’s your father’s name?”
“The Godfather?” I said, rolling my eyes, and then felt bad when I saw Dad’s pained expression. “Kingsley. Actually, that’s a good one, Dad. I like it,” I said and meant it. “But I like Viktor, better,” I added quickly, referring to his real name. Dad beamed.
“And we’re from Ontario, Canada,” Mom coaxed.
?” I elbowed Jayden and he laughed. Having played hockey with some kids from Canada before, he caught on.
After breakfast, Dad headed to the car telling us to hurry. I ran and brushed my teeth, put on mascara and lip-gloss, and tied my hair back in a ponytail. “Less is best,” I murmured as I looked in the mirror. The faded jeans and black fitted tee was hardly a first day at a new school outfit, but it would do. Hearing the car horn, I took the stairs two at a time.
Mom hugged me tightly as though she may never see me again. “Good luck.”
“I really wish you’d tell me what’s going on,” I whispered in her ear and then stood back, desperately searching her eyes for some truth behind them.
“See you after school, True.” She kissed my cheek, and released me, ending the conversation.
” The screen door banged shut behind me as I left.
Dad dropped Jayden off at school first, and then we headed to Sunny Shades. Dad patted my shoulder when he dropped me off, and I took a deep breath and got out. Clusters of kids hung around the school chatting and laughing.
Just when I thought the coast was clear and I would go unnoticed, I heard a car horn blare—but not just
car horn. Accompanied by Dad’s voice.
I looked up to see a couple groups of people staring at me and in that brief moment, I saw him—the blond haired boy I’d seen eating the ice cream. And now he stared at me, his head cocked to one side.
“Kill me now,” I murmured to myself as I turned and scurried back to my dad’s car.
“Your backpack.” Dad reached across and handed it to me through the open window. I took it and managed a “thank you” before turning back and heading through the crowd into school.
In the musty office, an old gray haired lady sat fixing her bright red lipstick in her compact. I cleared my throat as notice of my arrival. She clicked her compact closed.
“Well, well. You must be the new girl. True Remington, is it?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” I said with a weak smile.
“Don’t be frightened now.” She reached across her cluttered desk and placed her hand on mine, which until now I hadn’t realized was trembling. She gave it a little pat. “Arrangements have been made for you to have a buddy today.”
“Yes.” She must have seen the look of shock on my face, because she added, “Don’t worry now.” She clicked a switch for the intercom and spoke loudly into it. “Taylor Snow, please come to the office.” My mouth gaped.
“Mrs. Reid. I d-don’t think it’s necessary…”
But she just nodded and handed me a class schedule and soon, a bubbly blond came bouncing into the office. She looked nice enough. Straight blond hair sat squarely at her shoulders and she smiled broadly at me.
“Hey there. True, right?”
“Right.” I managed a smile.
“I’m Taylor. C’mon, let’s go. We’ll be late for Calculus.”
Yeah, we wouldn’t wanna miss a moment of that.
When we got to class, it was already full and I shimmied into the seat next to Taylor’s near the front.
“Watch out for flying spit,” Taylor said with a laugh as she pointed to the overweight teacher. I caught on when he started talking in a lisp and occasionally ducked from saliva spraying out.
Being in the front was uncomfortable for more reasons than Mr. Rothschild and his mouth fountain. I swear I could feel the other student’s eyes burning a hole in the back of my head.
Every once in a while, Taylor would smile at me. It seemed like she was making an effort.
At lunch, we sat outside on a bench, chatting. Boys shot hoops close by.
“Who’s that?” I asked, pointing at the blond haired boy who I saw when we first drove into town. Now shirtless, he dribbled the basketball toward the net. He was totally ripped and seemed like he knew his way around a basketball court.
Taylor chuckled as her eyes darted to the boy and then back to me. “Oh, you must mean Chase Quinn. Quite the hottie, huh?” She waggled her eyebrows.
“Yeah, he’s all right,” I said and then joined in laughing with her.
“Something you wanna tell us about?” Chase called out.
My face felt hot and I looked away.
“We were just saying how you slackers need an ass whoopin’,” Taylor said with a laugh and stood, walking over.
“Anytime, sunshine.” Chase threw her the ball. “What about your friend?”
“C’mon, True—ya wanna play?” she coaxed.
I pulled my lip between my teeth. “I’m good.” I wished I had the nerve to play. I wasn’t used to people being so nice to me. It seemed different here.
“C’mon,” another boy called.
“That’s Jack.” Taylor pointed to the tall, red haired boy. She turned her back to the boys and faced me. She pointed at her chest and mouthed the word, “Mine,” with a wink.
I chuckled. “Maybe next time, guys.” I’d have to work my nerve up for that one.
When they resumed playing, I thought maybe this school wouldn’t be so bad—maybe I could fit in here, in this town. Maybe
time we could stay awhile.
Fully entrenched in my thoughts, I suddenly felt like someone was watching me—no
at me. I looked around and found the source. A few feet away, a boy who looked about my age, leaned against a tree. I hadn’t spotted him earlier and he was the kind of boy you’d definitely notice. His dark straight hair wisped down over one of his eyes and his lips were lusciously full. He had a guitar case slung over one shoulder and as he turned his lip up in a half smile, my pulse began to race.
My throat suddenly felt tight. I cast a nervous glance to my feet. The cheers and laughter of my classmates playing basketball gave me the courage to look up again. But the mysterious, striking boy was gone.