Authors: Airicka Phoenix
©2013 by Airicka Phoenix
All rights reserved.
This book or parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without prior written permission of the copyright owner and/or the publisher of this book, except as provided by United States of America copyright law.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Editor & Formatter: Kris Atkinson
Beta Readers: Kimberly Schaaf, Julia Hendrix & Jaime Radalyac
Cover Designer: Airicka’s Mystical Creations
Interior Design: Airicka Phoenix
Published by Airicka Phoenix
Also available in eBook and paperback publication
Touching Smoke (Touch Series, Book #1)
Touching Eternity (Touch Series, Book #1.5)
Sons of Judgment Series
Octavian’s Undoing (Sons of Judgment, Book #1)
The Lost Girl Series
Finding Kia (The Lost Girl Series, Book #1)
Games of Fire
Whispered Beginnings: A Clever Fiction Anthology
Midnight Surrender Anthology
Snowed In Anthology (
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life
Normally this is where I thank all the people who have made yet another book possible. I thank my family, my beautiful (and disturbingly patient) editor, Kris, my loving and tireless PA, Kim, my amazing Street Team girls and my incredible readers. And yes, of course, I thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart for being there for me, for standing by me and supporting me through every adventure. Only this time, I would like to do something different because this series is different.
I was bullied growing up. I was raised in a strict, religious household and wasn’t allowed to have boyfriends or be with people who weren’t “approved” by my mom. I was teased at school for my clothes, my hair, my weird stuttering that I still do sometimes when I’m nervous. It wasn’t easy. Most days it was impossible. I skipped whole weeks of school because I couldn’t stand the thought of going back and facing it again. I shut myself away from people because I never felt good enough, or confident enough and even now I’m still uncomfortable around big crowds or people I don’t know. I always feel like I’m being judged and will come out lacking somehow. So people who tell you that the pain stops once you graduate high school have clearly never been on the receiving end of that level of torture. It doesn’t stop. It doesn’t magically disappear once you have that diploma in your hands. I haven’t been in high school in years and I still remember it like it was yesterday. But I will tell you this:
The minute you are out of that building and that road is open to you,
to the world, you will realize one thing, you made it. You faced the worst and stood against it and now they are nothing but memories. You are strong. Their words never have and never will make you. They don’t define you. You are the captain of your existence and, in the famous words of
no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Go out there and be the person you were always meant to be. And always remember, you are not alone.
Love you always,
I sold my soul to the devil in exchange for a cupcake. But I had no idea being a girl was so torturous. Had I, I probably would have gone with a different gender, one that didn’t require slapping packets of vomit onto my face and calling it fun.
Possessing some wicked Jedi powers, Vanessa Chaves managed to hiss the two words without even moving her lips. Now
was talent. I would have clapped if I hadn’t been afraid I’d lose control and hit her like I wanted to. “You’ll make cracks in the mask.”
had wanted was a freaking cupcake. Had I known that would involve me getting stripped naked in a room full of strangers, plucked hairless in places that should
see hot wax, scrubbed down with salts and then left to marinate in a vat of mud like some chicken dinner, I probably would have saved everyone the trouble by throwing myself into a wood chipper. Apparently some women considered the ritual soothing. I considered it a one-way trip through the nine gates of hell. Also, I had yet to see the cupcake I was promised, so it was doubly bullshit.
I squinted in the direction of the alarm clock someone had helpfully placed on the table across from me, another torture method no doubt; to watch my life slowly tick away as twigs and leaves
crept up into places that made me want to blush and demand them buy me a drink first.
Fifteen minutes, the woman had told us. Fifteen minutes of calm and relaxation in their mud room while she got our next activity set up. I was neither calm nor relaxed, nor was I looking forward to any
I wanted my cupcake and a shower … in that order.
Nessie had no problems lounging in the sunken tub as though it were nothing more than a poolside patio chair. She had cucumber slices over her
blue eyes and a disgusting mask in puke green slapped over her face. In desperation and fear that they were starving me, I’d eaten my cucumbers the minute the woman had left us alone. The stupid little salt-free crackers and mint leaves they’d given us five hours ago had long since been digested and I wanted food. I was ready to gnaw on my own arm, and would have if it hadn’t been covered in mud.
“You’re not relaxing,” Nessie said in an irritating sing-song tone that sounded especially buoyant when hummed through her closed lips.
I had to resist the urge to slap mud in her face and into the snazzy little up-do she’d twisted her glossy mane of ebony locks into. The white band she’d pushed into place was still white and was doing its job perfectly, keeping bits of hair off her face and neck. Mine was stained and slipping down my forehead, which kept making me nudge it back with dirty fingers. Bits of hair had slipped free of the erratic ponytail I’d shoved my hair into and plastered to my neck and temples, crusted with mud and sweat. I was itchy, hungry and grumpy, and there was still five minutes on the clock.
“Why are you making me do this again?” I demanded, breaking the
something-something cream seal they’d lathered on my lips for moisture. “I thought we were friends.”
“We are friends,” she mumbled.
“Friends don’t let friends stew in mud pits.”
Without options, I slumped back. It would have been more dynamic and showy had it not been like lounging in a tub of syrup. My progression was slow and not nearly dramatic enough. It only added to my dismay.
Caroline, our hostess, sashayed into the mud room
one whole second before the five minutes were up. Her Stepford Wife smile was perfectly in place as she beamed down at us.
The woman was several layers of creepy with her mane of teased blonde hair and redder than red lipstick that looked even redder against her paper-white complexion.
Even her eyes were a calm gray. It probably didn’t help that she wore an equally pale dress and stockings. Seven-inch pumps were strapped to her feet, matching her lipstick. All the women at the Tranquility Glen were dressed the same, reminding me of robots.
“Are you ladies ready for your massages?”
Her heels clacked as she hurried to fetch us towels from the heating rack in the corner.
I was on my feet before she even
had a chance to turn around. “Ready!”
She giggled. “Someone’s excited.”
I snorted, accepting the towel she offered me. “Someone’s ready to shower.”
Caroline clicked her tongue. “Someone disturbed the healing cream on their lips.” Seriously, the tone she used was one a mother would use
on a petulant child.
“Someone doesn’t need a healing cream,” I retorted, daring her with my eyes to argue.
She didn’t. She turned to Nessie instead. “I have Pablo waiting for you, as per your request.” She shook out and held the towel open as Nessie plucked the cucumbers off her eyelids and rose as gracefully as a swan. “You’re very lucky. He’s our most requested masseuse and can very seldom accept.”
Nessie slipped out of the tub, barely making a splash
or getting a speckle of dirt anywhere. I tumbled out, emptying half the tub with me. It poured off me in thick, heavy splats that oozed over the lip and across the once gleaming floors. My grappling to hop over left clumsy handprints against the white marble ledge where I’d steadied myself. There was nothing graceful about my exit and Caroline looked barely in control of her pretty smile. It wobbled.
“I’m sorry,” I said, trying not to wince. “I’ll clean
A muscle spasmed
in her right cheek. “It’s all right,” she said, her lips stiff, her teeth clenched. “I’ll have someone take care of it. Why don’t I walk you to the showers?”
I won’t lie,
my massage with
amón (emphasis on the
) was amazing. The man had ten fingers made of pure heaven and he played every tense muscle on my body like a maestro. I would have happily died right then and there if our twenty minutes hadn’t chimed, bringing to end our
girls’ day out.
I couldn’t say I was overly disappointed, as awesome as
amón may have been. It felt good donning clothes and walking out the doors at last.
“Tell me you didn’t love that,” Nessie said, adjusting the strap on her purse.
amón was brilliant,” I said, rolling the R as he had specified to do so.
“And the rest?” Nessie pressed.
“The rest — especially the waxing — I could have lived without ever having experienced.”
laughed, turning her eyes towards the canopy of white clouds overhead. Glittering snowflakes fluttered down and landed on her dark lashes and clung to her rosy cheeks. She looked refreshed and radiant. Then again, Nessie never looked anything less than beautiful with her golden complexion and exotic features. She reminded me of some Spanish rose that belonged on the glossy pages of magazines, not holed away in some forgotten town in the middle of nowhere. Next to her graceful beauty, I couldn’t help feeling drab and awkward.
“Well, how about lunch to make up for the torture I placed upon you?” she decided
, starting towards the road and the bus stop.
“Now you’re talking my language,” I said, stepping into place at her side.
“I’ve been starving for hours. Plus, you owe me a cupcake.”
Nessie laughed again, shaking her head and sending dark tendrils bouncing around her shoulders.
“I had to say something to get you to come.”
I glowered at her. “So you used my weakness
against me. That’s low.”
She said nothing for a moment as the bus rolled to a stop in front of us and we piled in. We took a seat at the back.
“Actually,” she said, dragging the strap of her purse down her shoulder. She set her purse into her lap and folded her hands on top. “I wanted to ask you for a favor.”
I could feel my eyebrow lift in curious amusement. “So you torture me for eight hours to soften me up first?”
Nessie shouldered me good-naturedly. “No! But I knew that if I just asked, you’d find some lame excuse to turn me down and you really needed a pick-me-up. You’ve been so down the last few days and I don’t like it.”
Something tightened in my chest, but
I narrowed my eyes playfully. “I don’t think I like that you know me so well.”
She frowned at me.
I gave in with a dramatic huff. “All right, fine! What is it?”
“Promise not to say no?”
I scoffed. “No!”
Nessie groaned deep in her throat.
“You don’t even know what it is!”
ell me then,” I said, laughing.
in a deep breath and then exhaled, before plunging in a rapid fire of words I barely caught. “ComewithmetomycabinforChristmas.”
I blinked a few times as my brain tried to filter the jumble of words. I was sure I heard Christmas and something about a cabin…
Breathing hard, Nessie sucked in more air, but said more slowly, “Come with me to my parent’s cabin for Christmas.”
I heard her that time, but I still didn’t quite understand what she was trying to say.
Nessie pursed her lips and glowered. “You heard me!”
“But I don’t understand,” I said.
She rolled her eyes. “Every year my parents drag Adam and me to our cabin up in Whistler to celebrate Christmas. It’s basically the only time we get to see them and it’s a whole lot of arguing and reminding me how I’m the worst mistake they ever made. I usually want to jump in front of a bus by the time we leave, but it might not be so bad if you come. Please say you will.”
week in the mountains with Adam. A whole week of seeing him, being close to him and remembering every moment of being in his arms, but not being allowed to touch him. Already it hurt and he wasn’t even there. It had been a week since I walked away from him, yet I felt the sharp stab in my chest as though it had been only yesterday. I bit my lip hard, stifling the prickle of tears.
Damn it! I had been so sure I was past that.
“Say something,” Nessie prodded.
I swallowed back my emotions, refusing to let them show. “
Nessie moaned. “I knew you were going to say that!”
“Why?” she demanded.
I shook my head, keeping my gaze fastened on my knotted fingers in my lap. “I just can’t.”
“It’s just one holiday,” she protested.
“Please, you don’t understand. It’s like the worst week of my life and I could really use a friendly face.”
The friend in me demanded I say yes, that I
should go and be there for her even if she was probably being overdramatic the way only Nessie knew how. But the dull ache in my chest was too new. The wound was still too fresh. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it a day with Adam being so close. I wasn’t that strong.
is a family thing,” I lied. “Mom’ll want me home.”
“But it’s only one Christmas!” she exclaimed a bit too loud
ly, drawing attention from the other passengers. We ignored them. “Please? Can’t you tell them my sanity is on the line? That I will seriously go homicidal if I have to sit through one more game of
How Adam Is Better
?” She grabbed me, digging her fuchsia tipped fingers into the sleeve of my coat. Her blue eyes were enormous and shiny with desperation. “You have no idea what it’s like … please, Kia? Please? I swear I will never make you go to another spa again. I’ll buy you all the cupcakes you can eat. I’ll—”
I pried her off me. “Will you stop? It can’t be that bad.”
Her shoulders sagged. “It’s worse.”
I’d yet to meet Mr. and Mrs. Chaves. After my showdown with Claudia in the school halls and my near confession to Adam, I had fought tooth and nail to avoid going over
to Nessie’s house again. But it had nothing to do with her parents possibly being insane. It had to do with facing Adam again and seeing the truth of my deceit in his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I told her. “I can’t.
pursed her lips, folded her arms and stared stubbornly out the window. “We’ll see about that.”
I should have taken her threat seriously
, but maybe a small, pathetic part of me had actually wanted to see Adam again. Maybe somewhere inside me, the loneliness had finally won. Whatever the reason, I didn’t argue or push harder to change Nessie’s mind. I stared out the window and thought how beautiful his smile was when he was being mischievous and how it differed from his amused smile and the smile he gave others. Then there was the smile he would give me and only me. The smile that made my stomach hurt and my legs shake. I loved that smile best. Just thinking about it made me want to find him and touch his lips, to trace them, kiss them and watch as they winged up in that special grin.
I sighed, my chest aching.
“Okay, what gives?” Nessie gave me a shove, jostling me from my coiling misery.