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Authors: Autumn Reed,Julia Clarke

Phoenix: Book One of The Stardust Series

BOOK: Phoenix: Book One of The Stardust Series
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Phoenix

Book One of The Stardust Series

 

By Autumn Reed and Julia Clarke

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by Autumn Reed and Julia
Clarke. 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 authors, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical
reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products
of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

www.autumnandjulia.squarespace.com

 

Chasing Answers

 

I
can’t live like this anymore
. I
repeated the mantra in my head over and over as my feet pounded against the
earth.

On a typical day,
running was the ideal way to clear my mind and body of stress. But today, the
result was quite the opposite. Somehow the chaos in my head fueled my body, and
I felt powerful rather than relaxed. I continued down the familiar path and
almost laughed at my unexpected burst of energy. Although I ran almost every
day when the weather permitted, I didn’t think I had ever felt this alive
during a run.

The beat of the music
playing on my iPod changed, and the scenery started passing by more quickly.
Without meaning to, my steps began to keep time with the music as I got lost in
my thoughts.

For months, I had been
anticipating and dreading this day in equal measure. But now that it had
arrived, I was ready to meet it head on. Today I would—finally—stop waiting for
answers and start chasing them instead. Oh yeah, and it was also my eighteenth
birthday.

My dad, as much as I
loved him, had been keeping secrets for most of my life. I knew that my mom was
killed in a car accident when I was six. I knew that after her death, my dad
moved us to a secluded home hidden in the mountains. And I knew that he
believed it wasn’t safe for us to venture out beyond our little corner of the
world.

Dad refused to tell me
anything else about our past despite my persistent inquiries. Eventually, he
agreed to answer all of my questions after I turned eighteen. I somehow managed
to stay completely silent on the issue for years now, waiting patiently to
reach that all important birthday.

While I was sure he
didn’t anticipate that I would actually confront him today, I had no intention
of letting it go for even one more day. Whatever happened twelve years ago to
drive us into hiding had affected my entire existence. Dad’s obsession with
keeping me safe had kept me sheltered and socially isolated for too long.

Despite my dad’s fierce
overprotection, I wanted to believe he did his best under the circumstances,
whatever they may be. I just couldn’t help but wonder if he had taken things
too far. Part of me almost hoped that there was some dramatic explanation for
our lifestyle, something that would justify all these years of solitude.

Sweat dripped down my
forehead, distracting me from my dad’s many secrets. Since I was reaching the
cool down stage of my run, I slowed to a jog and took in the familiar
California landscape. I inhaled the crisp mountain air and basked in the
comforting scent of sagebrush intermingled with pine.

Seclusion did have one
thing going for it: the view. Our house was located in a valley in the eastern
Sierra Nevada mountain range, almost to the Nevada border. The terrain varied
from flat to hilly to mountainous. The vegetation was sparse in areas, somehow
enhancing the beauty of the surrounding mountains.

Our stretch of the
valley was fairly remote and very peaceful. I was more likely to see deer than
another human anytime I went outdoors. The closest house was almost a half-mile
down a barely two-lane dirt road. Jessica, my one and only friend, lived there
with her mom until she went off to college in Las Vegas last year.

After finishing what
turned out to be a very satisfying run, I headed to the bathroom for a relaxing
shower. I took my time washing and then drying my long, wavy hair. Dad always
said that I had his hazel eyes and my mom’s auburn hair; like hers, my hair was
mostly brown with a glimmer of red in certain light.

Even though I didn’t
normally wear much make up, I added a light layer of mascara and pink lip gloss
and called it good. Before leaving the bathroom, I stared at my eyes in the
mirror, hoping to somehow discover new wisdom and experience shining from their
depths. Instead, I found the same old Haley peering back at me. I didn’t know
why I expected to notice a change in my appearance. It was not as if I was
going to magically transform from an innocent seventeen-year-old girl into a
sophisticated woman overnight. Today may mark my first day of adulthood, but I
knew that I was no more worldly than I was yesterday.

I walked down the
hallway Dad insisted on using as our personal art gallery to showcase my
paintings and sketches. Arriving at my bedroom, I examined the contents of my
closet for a few moments. Because of my reclusive lifestyle, I didn’t have much
of a reason to buy dressy clothes. Most of the time, I stuck to shorts or jeans
and casual tops. Thankfully, Jessica sent me a new dress for my birthday, and I
knew it was the perfect choice for tonight.

After I finished
zipping up the dress, I considered my reflection in the full-length mirror once
again. The style of the dress was simple but flattering. It had wide straps, a
scoop neckline, and was fitted through the waist, punctuated by a black bow
before subtly flaring out. The hem rested a few inches above my knees, showing
off my calves, toned from running. It was the type of dress that almost made me
want to spin around and around just to watch it twirl.

While the fit of the
dress was
exquisite,
it was the color
that made me really love it. The material was the perfect shade of sapphire
blue, my favorite color. Peering at myself, I realized that I might not have
totally transformed overnight, but I did feel like something was different
today. For the first time since I could remember, I felt myself buzzing with
excitement and maybe even a little hope.

 

*  *  *

 

Late afternoon, I was
finishing the last page of my book when my dad returned from work. He was home
earlier than normal but still covered in a layer of sweat and dirt. He set down
his heavy gear with a thunk. I heard a note of happy surprise in his voice.
“Happy birthday, Haley. You look beautiful.”

I felt my cheeks tint
slightly and smiled. “Thanks. Jessica sent me this dress for my birthday.”

He laughed. “I can
always count on her to buy you something girly. Good thing too, since we’re
going somewhere special for dinner this evening.” His delighted expression gave
away that he had something up his sleeve.

“We really don’t have
to do anything special. You know I’m happy to eat at the café.” Although my dad
made enough to take care of us, we didn’t live extravagantly, and I hated the
thought of him spending much money on me. Usually we went to a cute café a few
towns over for special occasions, and I had expected the same tonight.

Dad gave me a stern
look. “Haley, you only turn eighteen once. I’ve had this planned for months, so
just accept it. We’re going to stop by the library and then go out to a nice
dinner, and you’re going to enjoy yourself.” When I didn’t respond at first, he
urged, “Okay?”

I sighed. “Okay.”

His smile returned.
“Good. Give me a few minutes. I need to take a quick shower and change
clothes.”

While he showered, I
rifled through the mail. It was mostly a superficial chore since nothing ever
came other than bills or junk mail. “Ready, Haley?” he called from the other
room.

I answered, “Yes,” as I
grabbed my stack of library books and purse.

Our gravel driveway
crunched underfoot, and I stole a sideways glance at my dad as we neared the
truck. Used to his daily uniform of jeans and plaid button-down shirts, it was
nice to see him dressed up. His dark brown hair was clean and cropped short,
and he had shaved, removing his usual scruff. After a summer outside, his
normally tan skin had turned an even deeper shade of golden-bronze, and his
hazel eyes danced with anticipation.

Once we were on the
road, Dad had me laughing as he told me about a tourist who fell in the lake.
He never shared anything about his career before moving to the mountains, but I
had no doubt that he wasn’t always a fishing and snowmobiling guide. Even
though he never complained about his job, I knew that it must fail to stimulate
him intellectually. Nevertheless, he always had an anecdote ready at the end of
each day.

The rest of the drive
was spent in companionable silence as we drove to Minden, Nevada, a small town
of about three thousand people. Although our address claimed the even smaller
Coleville as home, we never stopped in the actual town—not that there was much
of a town to speak of. It basically consisted of a couple of restaurants, a few
small businesses, and a high school.

Dad insisted that it
was almost impossible to stay invisible in a small town, but he had managed to
keep my existence a secret for the last twelve years. He kept a low profile
himself and developed a reputation as a reclusive bachelor who valued his
privacy. The few times someone spotted me and questioned him, he said that his
sister and niece were visiting. Amazingly, the lie had worked thus far, so
apparently it wasn’t completely impossible.

Since visiting
Coleville wasn’t an option, we usually traveled over the state line into Nevada
for all of our shopping and dining. When we pulled up next to the curb at the
library, he stopped and looked over at me. “I’ll be back in thirty minutes. You
have your phone in case you need me. Keep to yourself and I’ll see you soon.”
He winked and I nodded my head. Knowing that I didn’t have much time, I hopped
out of the truck with my overflowing book tote and hurried inside.

Entering the library,
the familiar scents of musty old books and hand sanitizer greeted me as my eyes
adjusted to the dim light. Not surprisingly, the building was mostly empty.
Apart from the faint clicks of typing and the occasional rustle of pages or
shuffling of feet, it was quiet.

Even if my activities
weren’t so restricted, I thought that the library would still be one of my
favorite places. The library’s exterior wasn’t anything special; it just looked
like a generic city building. But as soon as I walked in the doors, the
possibilities were endless. I could travel around the world or back in time to
ancient civilizations. I could solve a mystery or fall in love. These
adventures may have only happened in the books I read, but I would have been
lost without them.

Traversing the library,
my skirt swished lightly as I made my way to the shelves of books. I quickly
immersed myself in finding those on my list and searching for new treasures to
explore. The librarians always teased me for maxing out the number of library books
I could check out. This visit was unlikely to be an exception.

About twenty minutes
later, I was finally satisfied with my selections. Right before I headed back
to the front to check out, I remembered to grab
Roman Holiday
and
Charade
on DVD. Although I had already seen both, I was making my way back through
all of the Audrey Hepburn movies available at the library, and these were the
last two on my list.

Since my thirty minutes
were almost up, I hastily turned back toward the circulation desk and abruptly
collided with something solid. My books soared into the air as I teetered on my
feet, struggling to maintain my balance. Helpless to stop the chain of events,
I cringed when the books crashed to the floor, shattering the silence. I could
feel the heat rising to my face as I turned a deep shade of red.

Crouching quickly to
collect the books, my attention was caught by two pale blue eyes. My blush
deepened, and I focused intently on the books, murmuring, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t
paying attention to where I was going.”

The boy with the blue
eyes quietly responded, “It was all my fault. Let me help you.”

We gathered the books
in awkward silence, the smell of cedar tickling my nose at his nearness. When
he gingerly handed me the rest of my books, I could see the strong muscles of
his forearms flex. There was a whisper of touch between our hands, and the
contact made my heart flutter.

His smile was friendly
with a dimple, and I smiled sheepishly in return. “You’re interested in codes?”
he whispered. I detected an undercurrent of enthusiasm as he indicated the book
on top of the stack titled,
The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of
Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet.
I nodded; my tongue
felt sluggish, and I wasn’t sure what else to say.

“You must like reading.
You have quite a few books.” He was silent for a moment, and I was struck by
his smooth jaw line. His shoulders were noticeably muscular beneath the fabric
of his blue and gray raglan t-shirt. I should have been intimidated by his obvious
strength and height, but I found something about him reassuring.

I realized he was
awaiting some kind of response from me. “I’m homeschooled.” It was the best I
could manage before regretting telling him too much.

His short golden blond
hair glimmered under the fluorescent lights as he gently shook his head. “Wow,
homeschooled. I would have missed my friends and the swim team if I was
homeschooled.” He must have been about my age, but he looked slightly older. I
felt his crystal blue eyes patiently watching me.

“I guess you can’t
really miss something you’ve never had.” I smiled nervously as I shrugged my
shoulders.

He chuckled softly and
shifted his weight while shoving a hand in the pocket of his jeans. I felt like
he could read my thoughts, and I was afraid he would figure out how nervous I
was.

BOOK: Phoenix: Book One of The Stardust Series
3.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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