Authors: Maureen Lipinski
Tags: #young adult, #teen fiction, #fiction, #teen, #teen fiction, #teenager, #drama, #romance, #magic, #fantasy, #urban fantasy
“Glancaugh ring. Trapped there. She'll be forced to serve them until she dies. The CrÃ©atÃºir don't suffer pain without a reply,” I said quietly.
“You were so brave.” Rhea was beaming up at Slade as she snuggled against him.
“So was your sister,” Slade said, and nodded slightly
“Well, kick-ass-creature-warrior-woman, are you ready?” Brooke asked, putting her arm around my
“For what?” I flexed my hands, sore from gripping the sword in battle.
“Homecoming, what else?” Brooke said.
“You've got to be kidding. Like this?” I held out my calloused hands and gestured to my muddy, wet clothes.
Brooke released my shoulders and pointed to her patchy hair. “I think I win the hideous competition. C'mon, let's go. It'll be fun.”
I started to protest, but nodded as I realized that there was one person I really had to talk to.
One person I still needed to see.
As we left the siteâthe chaos of the CrÃ©atÃºir's resistance growingâI looked at the ring of hawthorn bushes.And even in the darkness, I could see leaf buds beginning to sprout again.
rooke and I walked into the school gym, which was dark save for a glinting disco ball reflecting light across my classmates' faces. Dressed in their Halloween costumes, they made it look like a demented supernatural reunion.
Brooke left my side to join Caroline, Lindsay, Kristen, and the others at the back of gym by the punch bowl. And I headed straight for a group of football players, who were standing around high-fiving and congratulating each other on the game.
“Can I talk to you?” I said as I tapped Alex on the shoulder. I gazed sadly at his gladiator costume, thinking how cute he looked in it.
He turned around and flashed a smile at me. “Sure.”
I gestured for him to follow me outside, away from the pulsing music and testosterone-filled grunts of his teammates.
“What's up?” he asked as we leaned against the metal railing outside the gym. “You look great, by the way.”
My heart hurt a little and I smiled at him softly. “Thanks. But â¦ ” I stopped as a tiny bit of remorse crept into my body.
He wasn't involved. You don't have to do this. You can still be together.
But my eyes were finally open to allâdawn and
I closed my eyes and whispered, “I think we should break up.”
“What?” he said, his voice rising an octave.
I slowly opened my eyes and looked at him. “I don't think this is going to work. We're too â¦ ” I searched for the right word. “Different,” I finished.
He leaned forward, his hands clasped together. The moonlight bounced across his blond curls, a halo of light surrounding Westerville's Golden Boy.
I looked back inside, at everyone laughing and dancing. Alex wanted me to be beautiful and perfect, but I couldn't do it. It should've been easy, but as I'd come to learn, I seemed to do everything the hard way.
“No. I think you're â¦ ” Alex began, but I shook
“No, Alex. We're different. Thank you so much for everything you've done for me. Introduced me to your friends. Been protective of me. Supported me. And I do love you for that. But, the truth is, I'm just too weird
Despite himself, Alex smiled. “No, Leah, youâ”
I put my hand up. “No, really. I think it's for the best,” I said gently.
“Let's find a way to make it work. We â¦ ”
He stopped as he saw me shaking my head slightly. His face fell and his famous blue eyes dimmed for a moment as he looked down at his hands. Then, not one to let anything or anyone get him down, he looked back at me, full-strength once more, and exhaled loudly. He flashed me his Quarterback Smile. “If that's what you want, I'm okay with it.”
I nodded and leaned forward to put my arms around him. “You're great. And I really, really hope you do awesome in your games. I'll definitely be rooting for you.”
“Thanks, that means a lot,” he said into my hair.
I released him, and we stood up and gave each other a long look.
“Coming back inside?” He took a step toward
I shook my head. “No. I'll see you later.” I expected to feel a sense of sadness or loss as he turned and walked away. But all I felt was relief. Relief because although Alex was a great guy, I didn't have to pretend anymore.
Not that I even could if I tried.
“Leah!” a voice called behind me. I turned and saw Ben walking across the soccer field, dressed in a werewolf costume.
“Hey!” I said to him as he jogged up the stairs. His lithe body took the steps two at a time and his hair bounced against his cheekbones.
“Are you leaving? Why are you all muddy?” he asked as he approached, looking me up and down. His eyes were bright, his brows pulled slightly together.
“I'm fine. It's a long story. And yeah, I was planning on it, but Alex and I just broke up, so â¦ yeah. I've had kind of a long night.”
“Wow,” he said, and took a step back. Despite the heavy werewolf makeup, I could see his eyes filling with disbelief. And something elseâpossibility.
As he looked at me, I saw myself reflected in his eyes. The air sparkled and fizzed between us and I felt dizzy. I swayed and lurched forward, putting my hand on his to steady myself. And that was all it took.
Before he could say another word, I leaned forward and kissed him. His lips tasted like peppermint ice cream. I felt his werewolf makeup rubbing off all over my face, but I didn't care, and I brought my hands to his hair. His fingers carefully intertwined themselves in the tangled mess of my hair until we became one creature, limbs and body parts twisted together.
And I didn't care who was watching. Because with that kiss, I knew.
“Whoa,” he said as I released him.
“No kidding.” I smiled, my lips tingling and tender.
“I didn't think you were that into me,” Ben said, suddenly shy as he pushed the hair off his forehead.
I reached up and grabbed two handfuls of fur on his costume and stood on my tiptoes. “Call me Spencer again,” I whispered to him.
He smiled and put his hands on either side of my face and drew me close. “Spencer.”
I kissed him again.
ust so you know, Slade has come back to hang out with me for a while,” Rhea said nonchalantly from the
kitchen table. “He might've started out wanting to stalk you, but I'm awesome enough that he wants to give us a second chance.”
It had been two weeks since the battle on Halloween, but apparently Slade hadn't forgotten about Rhea.
“Good for you,” I said, gazing out the window at the gold and red leaves blowing down the street. Winter was definitely coming on quickly.
She narrowed her eyes at me. “Hands. Off.”
I laughed. “No. Problem.” Despite everything, Slade was actually a decent guyâer, Shapeshifter CrÃ©atÃºir Manâafter all. To thank Brooke for helping with everything, he'd given her the information she needed about Gregg, and she finally got pictures of him cheating on her mom with one of his secretaries. The divorce proceedings were imminent, although I suspected that Gregg's comeuppance would be much worse; he and Alex's dad had virtual CrÃ©atÃºir targets on their backs. Although they didn't know it, they were essentially sentenced to lives of terror, frustration, and misfortuneâanother reminder of the simultaneously beautiful and dangerous nature of the Other Realm.
Rhea got a faraway look in her eyes. “Do you think he'll be King of the Dark things and I could be Queen someday?”
I met my other sisters' eyes and we all looked over at our mom before bursting into laughter.
“What? Why are you laughing?” Rhea looked at each of us. Then she rolled her eyes. “Whatever. You guys just wish you used to be an Egyptian queen.”
“So, are you done with the high school thing?” Morgana asked me, pulling a box of cereal out of the cabinet.
I shook my head. “No way. I can find evil anywhere. It just seems to be a little more magnified in high school.” I laughed. “But there's some good, too.”
“Like My Ben?” Gia asked.
I nodded. “Like him. And, finally, he actually is
My Ben.” I put my feet on the chair, tucking my legs to my chest.
“Hmm â¦ maybe I'll go to high school too,” Rhea mused.
I caught her eye and shook my head. “Westerville may have lots of things, like crazy football fans and parents who help summon demons, but it's definitely not ready for Rhea Spencer.”
And those crazy football fans would get their stadium after all. The night after the battle, the local news gave a lot of coverage to the damage at the construction site, and a few days later, a reporter received a package with copies of old articles about the problems at the site, new articles about the renewed issues, and photos of the hawthorn bushes along with some pictures of
Soon, while not admitting to any belief in mythology or folklore, the stadium developers quietly shifted the construction zone a wee bit west, leaving the
in which the hawthorn bushes were now in full bloom againâintact.
Nature and football, coexisting peacefully, as were humans and mystical beings.
As was I, with one foot firmly planted in each world.
I walked down the hallway and over to the O'Donough family crest. I ran my fingers across the elemental symbols for air, fire, earth, and water, one on each swoop. It hung on the wall like an oracle.
For protection, for guidance.
For my sisters.
About the Author
Maureen Lipinski is the author of women's fiction and young adult books. A graduate of Miami University (in Ohio, not Florida), she lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and two children.
For the record, she has no supernatural abilities â¦ that she knows of.