Authors: Aimee Laine
Little White Lies
J. Taylor Publishing
LITTLE WHITE LIES
Published by J. Taylor Publishing
Copyright © 2011 Aimee Laine
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, events, locations, or any other element is entirely coincidental.
ISBN 978-0-9834058-7-0 (Paperback)
ISBN 978-0-9834058-8-7 (EPUB)
First Printing: July 2011
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For my Husband.
There, I said it.
The in-dash display of Charley Randall’s burgundy roadster read eleven fifty. She needed every minute until midnight to reach her destination. Pedal to floor, the car hugged the curves with nothing more than a slight adjustment left or right. Headlights burned through the dark, illuminating the double, center lines.
Charley blew past warning signs for fallen rock, deer and the oncoming dead end at double the posted speed. She relied on her knowledge of her mountain’s terrain to get her home in one piece.
Another check of time revealed only eight minutes remained.
Her teeth ground together, knuckles paled. “You’ll make it, Char.” She blew out the breath she held and pounded the leather wheel with her palm. If she hadn’t stayed late for a celebratory drink, she’d have been on time.
The clock blinked eleven fifty-five.
She pressed the accelerator, as if to will the car faster, but slowed as the most dangerous of turns approached.
The rapid blink of a vehicle’s emergency lights jumped into view as she rounded the curve. A single gasp accompanied the swerve. The steering wheel shook under her palms as the tires objected to the force of her turn and squealed into the dark of night. A cloud of dust rose around her as the car slid to the edge of the road and came to rest in a shallow ditch.
The engine stalled; the blink of the other car’s lights continued as voices called out in cries of worry.
Charley pounded the wheel with her fist. She grabbed a tendril of hair. The ends reflected her natural onyx while the rest shimmered with the gold she’d chosen for her last assignment. “I have ’til twelve!”
A double beep signaled the hour.
She stole a glance in the review mirror. Her eyes, once a bright green, swirled with a mix of hues. She cringed as pain radiated from the tip of her nose, shooting through to her toes.
“Hello?” a young male voice broke through. “You okay in there?”
The ultra-dark windows kept her hidden as hands cupped against the glass and a face peered between them. A flashlight beam attempted to penetrate the tinting.
Charley struggled against her own body’s need to shift from blonde to black hair, five-four to five-seven, size two to size eight, and thirty-five to eighteen years old again for the two hundred and fourth time. She grasped for her phone but caught only air until her fingers met a solid form. She yanked it from the passenger seat and speed-dialed.
He answered on the first ring. “Where are you?” His tone reflected concern as well as urgency.
Lips pursed, Charley pressed her feet against the floorboard, gripping the steering wheel tight. Her head snapped back and forth. Curls stuck where heat dampened her skin. “Up—almost—” Her lungs fought her as she spoke. “Car accident—”
“On our mountain?”
“I’ll find you; just don’t let anyone see you.” He clicked off.
With a groan, she laid her head back and let her nature take over. Power rose upward from her toes, burning within her arms and legs. It radiated through her core seconds later.
The door handle jiggled. “I can’t open the door.” The boy’s voice returned. “Think it’s stuck. We’re calling for help.”
Charley shivered at his voice, pushed herself to complete her transformation. She resisted the urge to scream; to do so would waste precious energy and alert the good Samaritans to her plight. A ventured glance in the rearview mirror gave her a visual on her status. In mid-phase, every part of her body mixed with the one she would become.
Her legs stretched, her fingernails shortened and her torso tightened. Ragged breath slowed as she resumed her body’s mandatory, once-a-year shape: her natural, human, female form. Curls fell back to her shoulders in soft ringlets to match the midnight sky; her skin toasted a light rouge. The telltale sign of her kind firmed her pupil into a hard, vertical line around which irises of lavender glistened.
Raps on the window abated.
Eyes closed, Charley’s agony retreated. She fumbled for the door handle but stopped herself. If she left the confines of the car, she’d stagger like a drunken teenager and risk exposure.
She took a few steadying breaths. Eyes not yet focused, she could make out only the shadow at the trunk of one car while a second remained at the side of hers. Their voices pitched back and forth to each other, called out ‘Stuart’ as the other said, ‘Wyatt.’
Charley reached for the handle and pushed at the door as lights from another car burned their way down the mountain.
• • •
She struggled to a stand and leaned against the side of her car as James’s truck skidded to a stop at her back bumper. Pebbles dinged into her car as exhaust, mixed with the cool temperatures of the night, enveloped her.
Her legs wobbled, vision wavered. The heavy beams of the lights lit the area as well as a dozen flood lamps. The boys, the cars and James came into focus. He rushed to her side, Wyatt and his friend in his wake.
“Get back in the car, Charley.” James’s tone mixed anger with worry as she clung to his arms and dropped her head to his shoulder.
The look in his eyes suggested he understood what Charley already recognized.
One of the boys spoke before she could respond. “I’m sorry. I thought … well, the door was stuck.” His voice, so clear and deep, graced her ears like an old lover whispering his thoughts.
Charley let the sounds fill her. James turned; she leaned into his back.
“Thanks for the help, boys.” He’d changed his tone to one of kindness.
Charley caught movement around his broad shoulders; she could see just over him if she reached up on tiptoe. Dark hair hung in a mess, accenting the boy’s strong jaw line.
He shifted to the side, disappearing from Charley’s view. “Is she hurt? I mean, we didn’t see the car hit us or anything.”
Charley smiled behind James, gripped his shirt, and breathed in the headiness of male that did not belong to James. She let it linger, encompassing her senses.
“No—” James’s tone turned serious.
“James.” Charley whispered against his back.
He cocked an ear in her direction, though only she’d see he’d done it.
“It’s alright,” she said in hushed tones.
The boy moved to the side. “Are you okay? We didn’t think we were in the road—” He reached for her but pulled back.
Charley kept one hand on James’s arm, the other on the car. Her gaze pointed to the ground. “I’m fine. What’s your name?” She adjusted her tone to match her visible age, letting the lie flow from her lips.
“Uh … Wyatt.” He stepped back, out of their private space. “That’s Stuart.”
James whirled, a movement anyone but Charley would think no more than a simple turn. He kept his voice indiscernible to anyone but her. “You need to be careful.” The muscle in his jaw clenched and released as his dark brown eyes drove his message into her.
She smiled, ran a palm from James’s shoulder to his crossed arms and imagined the same movement against Wyatt. She leaned into James’s back and squeezed his bicep. “I know. I already feel it. Proceed with caution.”
“You can’t let him see your eyes.” He said it with intensity but softness and at a volume only Charley would hear.
She smiled. “I know, James. I’ve been at this fifty years longer than you, remember?”
“Hey … uh … are you sure you’re okay?” Wyatt’s tone brimmed with concern.
Did he think James anything more than her bodyguard? Charley shoved at James as a teenage girl might a sibling. “Don’t mind my brother.”
“James.” She glanced up at him. “I got it. Seriously.”
He dropped his arms.
She drew in a deep breath, wrapping herself in Wyatt’s scent.
James dropped the set of his shoulders and stepped to Charley’s side but kept one hand around her upper arm. She stepped forward, stumbling at the curb, only to have James pull her tight against him.
He guided her to the hood of the car where she dropped like an anvil on the edge. Charley ventured a half-glance up and found Wyatt clad in jeans and tennis shoes. By the time she reached the hem of a blue T-shirt, James’s growl stopped her.
“Hey, thanks for trying to help.” Charley massaged her forehead to prevent eye contact.
“Your car didn’t hit anything did it? I mean, we didn’t realize we were in the lane so much.” Concern laced Wyatt’s tone.
Charley shook her head, curls dancing around her. “You need help with your car?”
The rumble in James’s chest grew as Charley skimmed farther upward. Wyatt’s biceps strained his shirt sleeves. His chest did the same to the front label for some rock band she didn’t recognize.
“Uh … no, I think he’s got it.” Wyatt thumbed over his shoulder.
The car shook as James kicked the wheel. “We should be going, Charley.”
Her body vibrated with a need only one of her kind could experience. She banked a shiver that ran from top to toe, reaching into her fingertips and leaving a tingle as if they’d fallen asleep.
She leaned back against the trunk, straightened her shoulders and met Wyatt’s gaze with a smile.
“I’m Charley.” She extended a hand despite the dramatic exhale from James.
Wyatt slid his against it. “You have really pretty green eyes.”
As do you.
Charley’s body spasmed.
James broke their contact, pushed himself between them. Her head shook as he grabbed her cheeks with his hands.
“Not today, Charley.” He seethed through the near-silent command.
She tried to answer, but her nature betrayed her. Wyatt moved back, his hands in the air as if in surrender. She let the shimmer engulf her as it had in the car; her head lolled even with the hands which held her in place.
One final change. For Wyatt.
• • •
“Whoa, man, is she having a seizure?” Wyatt’s voice penetrated her fog.
“Yeah—a seizure. Open that door, please.” James gruff command would not be ignored.
She hung from his arms like a rag doll as he lifted her into them. The screech of a car door followed, but Charley kept her eyes shut, letting Wyatt’s voice and his image pass through her mind as she returned her focus inward. She envisioned faces, youth, features, likes and dislikes, to create in herself the perfect teenage girl—the ideal solution for Wyatt.
“Dammit, Charley! Stop. Now.” James’s whispered command broke through her veil of consciousness as his grip on her shoulder took her attention.
Soft leather slid under her hands and vibrated with the engine’s roar. The truck bucked and spun. Her head, at rest in James’s lap, lolled with the tight turn. Charley refocused on Wyatt’s form and face.
Her body shifted against James as the car sped through the curves she herself would have taken had Wyatt not interrupted her drive.
Preparation kept Charley’s smile hidden. James already saw through too much of her plan. Her desire to become the girl of Wyatt’s dreams won against her need to remain herself. She no longer wanted separation by age or kind. The change would be easy—and her last.
“Charley!” James’s gruff call of her name jarred her body, breaking her focus again.
The car jerked as he tugged at her instead of navigating the vehicle.
She shook her head, remaining silent. Each jiggle interrupted her process, preventing her from completing her body’s adjustments.
The screech of tires accompanied a sharp turn and a steep climb. The flip of his cell phone followed until the wheels ground to a halt, and she bounced against him.
“Get out here, now,” James said.
The night air rushed in with the storm of feet. The truck’s seat bounced as James exited and Charley fell flat to its surface. Hot air rushed over her face a moment later.
“What happened?” Cael’s voice cut through her mind.
James brought reinforcements.
Charley pushed her body to move faster.
“She made eye contact with him.”
“Dammit, Charley. He’s not ready for you.”
Yes, he is!
She turned her head back and forth as she struggled with her own decision. The burn in her toes reached upward to her shins, and the tingle in her fingers made it to her forearms.
Cael’s fingers pressed into her collarbones. “You know the rules.”
She grit her teeth, pulling permanence into her thighs and up farther into her chest.
Rules be damned!
The pressure at her neck bore down.
We’re meant to be together!
His fingers moved out to her shoulders, pressed her into the truck’s seat. “I’m not going to let you pull it through, Charley. You’ll suffer for the next twenty-four hours if you have to. And you know I can hold you here the whole time.”
She wanted to scream and fight, but her body betrayed her as she impressed upon herself the final details that would entice Wyatt for the rest of his life. Her years of practice in silent shape-shifting backfired; she remained mute through her efforts.
“He’s too young.” Cael interrupted her again.
Her mind moved in and out between his words and her desire.
“He has to make the choice himself.”
But, I want him.
“You won’t get what you need out of this, Charley. It won’t happen.”
I still want him.
“He’s human, Charley.”
Undone, she let the shimmer fade. The force above her remained, but like an artist with a broken muse, she stopped the change. Her muscles burned with heat confined to her extremities. She blinked, opened to Cael’s upside down face, and closed her eyes once again.
“Is she back?” James’s voice carried to her.
“Yes. Lavender irises and vertical pupils. I’m going to let go, Charley.”
Released from the hold, she curled into herself. One day a year she had to deal with life as her natural self. She almost lost everything thanks to teenage desire which overruled over two hundred years of experience.
A hand massaged her shoulders, kneading muscles worn both from her original transformation and the second attempt.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.