by Jennifer Dean Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
When fate leads Emma Morgan back to her small hometown of Washington, she learns that the life she knew three years ago has changed once she meets the charmingly, mysterious Liam Alexander. But when her brother Sean, voices his disapproval, Emma finds her loyalty in the way of her newfound curiosity of the youngest Alexander. Only the more she tries to avoid Liam the more she finds him in her constant company.
A risk that leads down a dangerous path once Emma begins to discover a secret about the Alexanders that no human should ever know.
I could feel the worry slithering up my veins like a serpent as Sean sauntered forward. Liam immediately straightened with a few steps away from me. I couldn’t blame him. It was like getting out of the way of a raging bull. He refused to take his eyes off my brother.
I sighed with pursed lips and squinted eyes. I had become confused and curious in the same moment. I had never seen Sean like this, even in the heat of argument with my dad. It was almost like he had blinded me with the fury that radiated off of him. When he was only feet away, I could feel the scramble of nerves in my stomach that left a chill through my body. Something I had never known around Sean.
“Where do you want to go for your birthday tonight?” he asked. My eyes widened with surprise. It was his tone. What I had expected to be enraged sounded slightly saddened with the randomness of his question, like he had just gotten bad news. But what did I expect? I didn’t know. Maybe some form of anger to lash out through yelling.
“Um . . .” I paused to smile at an idea. “Well, how about Burger King?” I said. I found humor in the joke, but I could tell he didn’t. By the way he shifted his gaze to the ground I didn’t know if he even heard me.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Liam said.
When he spoke, I turned my head back to follow his lead. I smiled, but the feeling never traveled to my eyes. They were cautiously aware of Sean behind me.
“Yeah,” I said. “See ya tomorrow.”
I turned back to Sean who still hadn’t answered. His gaze was still on the ground. In fact he hadn’t moved at all.
“Oh, Emma,” Liam said.
When I turned back to my name, I realized Liam hadn’t left like I had thought. Well, he had moved so that he was farther away, but he still stood waiting for my attention.
I smiled without my control. I just couldn’t resist how warm it made me feel to hear him say that. It was like a voice I had known my whole life.
“Thanks,” I said.
He nodded before looking over my shoulder toward Sean. “Emma!”
I turned back to the annoyed tone, feeling the grasp of Sean’s hands on each of my shoulders. I could see from the corner of my eye that Liam had moved out to my left side. He fidgeted slightly as if he wanted to intervene, but knew he shouldn’t. I was somewhat grateful when I watched him finally turn and leave. I didn’t need some embarrassing fight to cause a scene in the hallway.
“What?” I asked. I held an annoyance in my voice now. It wasn’t like Sean to be so aggressive with me. He had even alarmed a passing freshman. It wasn’t an abusive way, but it was still out of character. Of course despite the shocking tactic, it worked. He held my attention again. But when he dropped my shoulder, he shifted his gaze to the floor across the hall. Suddenly I was in need of his attention.
“Sean?” I said. My eyes widened in a waiting response until my impatience pushed through. “Hello!” I raised my voice while I shoved his shoulder. Even though my push carried a more than playful touch, he still didn’t budge. I didn’t affect him at all. His focus almost looked like he was listening to some radio, a radio that had just turned off. It was just plain luck that he looked up at me now.
“Well, it’s nice to finally have your attention,” I said.
“Sorry,” he said.
His apology carried a variety of layers. “What’s wrong with you?” His golden honey eyes dropped away from me as if he was trying to avoid my eye contact, like there was something he didn’t want me to see or focus on. “I’m just in a bad mood, Emma.”
I pursed my lips.
“I noticed,” I said. I watched as he bent down to grab my backpack, which I had dropped in my worry. “Thanks.”
As we began walking, I continued to watch him. He started to regain some of the charm that I had always known.
“So are you going to tell me or what?”
“Well, how about Frank’s? Italian was always a favorite of yours.” I narrowed my eyes in time to watch him grin. He knew very well that he had jumped conversations. But I had actually been thinking of Frank’s, so I couldn’t resist the offer.
“All right,” I said, although even as I said the word I didn’t agree with it. Sean was anything but all right.
The ride home was worse than the lockers. I had kept the radio off in case Sean decided to spill anything. But instead the ride was just filled with silence, a silence that carried an awkward filter in the air of my Jetta. As I contemplated whether I should drive on or pull off onto my uncle’s street, I saw his head turn out of the corner of my eye.
“Can you just drop me off at Uncle Greg’s?” he requested.
“Sure,” I said. I looked back tilting my lips inward and letting out a small sigh as I turned onto my uncle’s street. My mind felt like a war zone with all the negative thoughts hitting me. When he said drop off, I knew those were usually exclusive with solitude. As in, not including me.
When I pulled into the drive, I focused on the green Jeep Wrangler parked to the left of the garage. It was my uncle’s old Jeep that he had passed down to Sean after he bought his new F-150 truck. And now it was the only thing I could manage to stare at to avoid looking back at Sean.
“I’ll pick you up around seven,” he said.
My head turned to look at him with raised eyebrows. “Are we still going?” I asked.
“Of course,” he said.
He grinned, making half of my worry melt. I had begun to assume the atmosphere change had dissolved the chances of going to dinner. Maybe I was just anticipating him cancelling because of his mood. But in fact he waited for me to acknowledge that he had meant his words before he swiftly opened and shut the car door behind him. It seemed like he had barely shut the door when I heard the distinct slam.
I waited for him to walk inside before I pulled out of the drive. As I drove toward my house, I was still carrying the other half of worry that had yet to dissolve. And funny enough, the feeling grew as I looked in my rearview mirror toward the new scrapbook in my backseat.
I showered two hours early because I needed to relax the new tension in my shoulders. I wasted time choosing a new red blouse and playing with the new kindle that my uncle had bought me for my birthday.
With now nearly five minutes before seven, I placed my copy of The Scarlet Letter on the nightstand. I knew there wouldn’t be enough time to start the fourth chapter even though I contemplated using the time. Instead I grabbed my shoes in the corner before placing my jacket on my arms and swinging my purse over my shoulder, dropping my new camera inside as I hit the lights.
As I began walking down the hall thinking, I wish he was already here, I heard a mild honk from outside. It was like he almost knew. I caught a glimpse from my dad who had narrowed his eyes with slight annoyance to the sound. As if somehow it inconvenienced him and the football game he was watching with an abnormally loud volume.
“’Night, Dad,” I said.
He grinned as he took the time to decide whether he would approve or deny my outfit. Luckily, I had gone with some dark washed jeans and a blouse that covered enough skin. I didn’t consider it too revealing. But you never know with fathers.
“Be careful,” he said.
It was a habit he had gotten used to saying once I started leaving the house on my own.
“I’ll have Sean with me,” I said.
He straightened his lips inward with the half roll of his eyes as he nodded with the silent words I stand by what I said. I hated that look because it was that of a father who didn’t trust my judgment. It was as if I was heading out on a date with a boy covered in tattoos and facial piercings who drove a motorcycle. I turned my neck to the left toward the kitchen.
“’Night, Mom,” I said.
She popped her head around with a genuine smile. At least until she saw the absence of Sean.
“Oh, I asked him to just honk when he got here. Sorry,” I said. Yes, it was a lie, but the drooped cheeks and disappointment that carried in her eyes made me want to keep her from any more worry. If Sean wanted to keep his worries a secret from me, then I was going to still do what I could to keep them from anyone else.
“Oh, okay. Well you two have fun,” she said. She nodded with a smile that tried to come across as understanding, though I could see the small disappointment lingered in her eyes.
When I shut the front door behind me, I could only see the head beams of the Jeep. Not being able to see Sean and whatever mood he held caused my feet to dawdle. When I eventually opened the door, my eyes were looking down at the floorboards. It wasn’t until I had shut the door with my legs inside that I finally looked over to Sean.
But there he was with the large grin I knew, the one that was always present with my Sean. That’s how I thought of it now. Furious Sean and my Sean. The one who I had grown up with.
“Ready?” he asked.
I nodded. “Feeling better?” I was trying to test the waters.
“Yeah, sorry about that,” he said.
“I almost thought you weren’t going to show,” I said.
Sure my Sean would never do that, but who knew if furious Sean would bail on plans.
“I’m sorry, Em. I didn’t mean to ruin your birthday by being moody.”
I gazed into the brightness of his golden eyes before shrugging with a small grin. He hadn’t exactly ruined my birthday, but he hadn’t made the last few hours very pleasant either. “I guess even heroes have their days,” I said.
“Yeah, we’re bound to slip now and then,” he said.
How strange it was to look over and find all his teeth clenched as his nose wrinkled. Oddly enough, he still pulled off a charming expression.
His emotions were already wearing me out. I watched as he pushed different pre-selected stations before stopping on a song to his liking. It was a George Strait song.
My eyes shifted from his lifted finger to his absentminded gaze on the road ahead. Really? His eyes gazed to the side as if he had heard my thought. But it wasn’t enough to call his attention. Instead I could hear the barely audible sound of lyrics that came from his lips. The silence forced my impatience to slowly surface. Well, maybe a little faster than I thought.
“Well, what was the problem?”
Luckily my tone was still easy with my intention of not meaning to be rude. It was obviously something bad enough for him to show his temper, so I didn’t want to be too pushy. Sean usually had a good way of keeping calm, making the big things seem small. It was when he couldn’t that I knew it was a problem.
He looked at me as if he thought the subject was already over and done. I had not noticed we were already in the parking lot of Frank’s, but I had never taken my eyes from his face. As I was still questioning how we had reached the parking lot so fast, he was already turning the engine off and opening his door.
I was waiting, now getting a little more impatient for his response, as I met him near the hood of the Jeep. In his eyes, there seemed to be hesitation, but he sensed my building irritation. That was when I remembered the rumor Becca had told me at lunch.
“Does this have to do with Lillian Edwards becoming top of your class?” I asked before following him toward the front door. I placed my hands into my pockets to gain some warmth back into my fingers.
Sean looked back to me with his eyebrows raised in surprise and his lips curved with expectancy of the guess I had just made.
“My Advanced Physics teacher may ruin my chances of passing her,” he said. “I’m sorry I took that out on you.”
So he did know his chances of being valedictorian were in trouble. Now that I knew Becca’s information was real, it all made sense. I always knew Sean was very intense about his grades. He worked hard and always kept a flawless 4.0, and even though my GPA was very high, it seemed mediocre compared to his perfection. I loved to tease him when I got the chance, but tonight did not seem appropriate to take that opportunity. His wounds still seemed open, and I would only be pouring the salt.
“Don’t worry about it. I understand,” I said as we approached the hostess. “I’d probably be a little irritated if someone new came in and took my top class spot too.”
I could see Sean’s crooked smirk as he looked up to the mid-thirties host.
“Welcome, just the two?” she asked.
I hated that look we got when people thought we were a couple. I wish she’d quit starting at us like that. Sean seemed to notice the distress in my face. He put his arm around my shoulder and smiled at the hostess.
“I’m taking my little sister out for her birthday.” She smiled to me as she grabbed two menus beside her. Sean looked down at me with a grin and a wink. It was the lesser of two evils. I hated people I didn’t know to make a deal of my birthday.
Sean let out a chuckle, as if he had just thought of something funny, while the hostess led us to our seat.
“Is this okay?” She was smiling politely and gesturing to a circular table near the middle of the restaurant.
“This is fine. Thank you,” Sean said.
Sean gave an identical smile, and it felt like his past behavior was all in my head. As the hostess and Sean exchanged pleasantries, I debated asking Sean about lunch.
“Would you mind taking a photo of us?”
Sean’s question to the hostess pulled me from my thoughts.
“Sure,” she said.
I pulled my camera out from my purse before handing it to her waiting hand. I leaned into the middle of the table like Sean, holding a smile just seconds before the flash went off.
“Thank you,” Sean said. I took the camera from her and placed it back into my purse.
“Happy birthday.” She added a wink as she walked away. I hope they don’t sing. It was awkwardly painful when waiters sang to me, mostly, because I never knew where to stare during the song. Was it at the unknown singers? The cake? Some empty space to the left?
“So how was your first day?” I was glad Sean’s question had interrupted my silly thoughts. “I’m sorry I was in such a mood this afternoon to ask.” He waited for my forgiving smile.
“Good,” I said as our waiter now approached the table.
“Hello, guys, I’m Kevin. I’ll be your waiter tonight. What can I get you to drink?”
He was a middle-aged man with dark brown hair. His nose was a little crooked from where he seemed to have broken it when he was younger, I guessed. I did the polite thing by looking at his eyes as I spoke.
“I’ll have an ice tea please,” I said.
“Water please,” Sean said.
I gave him a mocking smile.
“Any appetizers to start out with?”
I looked toward Sean because I knew I was not going to eat anything extra.
“No, thank you.”
The waiter nodded at Sean’s words and turned away.
“I saw you sat with your old friends today.” He was stating a fact, while expressing relief. He was just as glad that I did not have to sit alone at lunch. Of course, like he had said before school, he would have invited me to sit with him in that case, but I’m sure it was nice to know your sister wasn’t a loser. And with the opportunity of talking about lunch, I decided to take my chance while it was there.
“I have a question for you about lunch.”
His body seemed to tense, but his face remained calm. It was like he already knew what I would ask.
“And that would be?”
“What was up with you and Grace Alexander?” I went with a different word choice than I was originally thinking.
“What was up,” Sean repeated with a grin as he brought his hand to the table. He was putting up his guard to avoid vulnerability.
“Yeah, why was that interaction so weird?” I immediately regretted my words as I watched his eyebrows and lips lift, as if by a string, to reveal his perfect teeth. I rolled my eyes at an expression of clear explanation of a point he was making, as if he was pointing out how odd she was. But he missed what I meant. “I mean it wasn’t just her. It was you too.”
I pulled back to study his face, expecting to bust him, but his façade never faltered. His lips merely brought themselves back to straighten. “We’re assigned partners for a Spanish project.”
So Liam had been right when he said they had Spanish together.
“And you’re annoyed by that?” I asked.
“Well, it’s not a partnership by choice,” he said. Sean was always huge on getting a jump-start into assignments. I had the habit of procrastination unless I was trying to use school as a distraction. But part of me thought the oddness of the two was something more than school related.
“So it’s not just sexual tension?”
He grimaced to me. “Definitely not.”
I narrowed my eyes as I watched his own. His eyes shifted away from me as if they were forbidden to see.
“What’s wrong with her? She’s beautiful, and seems so beyond her age. I figured you would like that.”
Sean suddenly chuckled.
“What?” My observational curiosity had caused his smile to lose all humor.
“She is just strange,” he said.
“What kind of strange? Like her parents are weird? She likes to sit in her own group at lunch? She only drinks Coke?”
“You couldn’t tell by talking to her that she was different?” Sean asked.
I guess I could admit that she wasn’t exactly a personality I had known. She was a little intimidating. And I had only been around her for a few minutes. Maybe there was something I just didn’t know about her that Sean did.
“I have a question for you now,” Sean said.
I looked up to notice his eyes were not as soft as before. He had switched the conversation like he did so well.
“Yes?” I asked hesitantly. I knew what was coming. I had been waiting and expecting this. In fact it was probably how he knew his subject change would be so successful.
“I noticed you were talking with Liam Alexander.”
I tried for my wall of defense now, but I wasn’t as good as Sean was. He knew that. “That’s not a question, you know.” I tried to smile but I was so nervous from his stern features that I bit my lip instead. His brow was furrowed, and his eyes, although gleaming, became unrelenting with their stare. “Yes, he was nice enough to walk me to my locker after English.” I shifted my eyes to the table and back with the first memory. “Well, he was nice enough to help me out earlier when I couldn’t get it open too.”
I was thankful to see the waiter approaching with our drinks. I sighed with some relief.
“Here you are,” the waiter said.
He handed me my tea while placing Sean’s water next to his right arm. Sean had not looked away from me until he decided to swiftly sip his water.
“What can I get you?”
I pointed my finger to the menu. “I’ll have the chicken parmesan.” I glanced up at Sean who slowly shifted his eyes toward the waiter.
His head moved an inch away from my direction.
“And for you, sir?”
“I’ll have the lasagna. Thank you.” Sean’s voice was polite but stern.
“Okay,” the waiter said.
He noticed the tension between us as he collected our menus. As he walked away, I caught his pitied glance in my direction.
“Do you not like Liam or something? Is he strange too?” I was grinning with a tease as my eyes moved from the table up to Sean. But Sean was frustrated with my use of Liam’s name.
“You shouldn’t hang around him, Emma.”
His face held no humor in its serious demeanor. Is there something wrong with him? I honestly didn’t know what to think because Sean never showed aversion to anyone before. There was always a sense of protection, like any brother, but never a firm warning to keep my distance from anyone.
“Why?” I never usually question Sean’s judgment, but I found myself irritated that he didn’t approve of Liam Alexander. If there was something wrong, why wouldn’t I have already discovered it?
“Just trust me, Emma. He’s not a good match for you.”
I was worried with the furious expression that had returned into Sean’s face.
“Can’t you give me more than not a good match?”
I was trying to joke as I put the air quotes around my words. He was not biting as he almost glared at me.
“I’m serious, Emma. He’s just . . . weird. I’ve heard rumors.” His eyes shifted with a small grimace of his lips.
“Since when have you believed rumors?”
“Since the rumor began having interest in my sister.”
I knew Sean was being protective and trying his best to scare me away from whatever reason he held an aversion toward Liam.
Nevertheless, his effort had made an opposite effect. There is just something in the girl DNA that makes the words stay away more inviting. I was now curious to what was so weird about Liam. He seemed sweet, polite, and charmingly beautiful this afternoon. Maybe he had some weird past before he moved to Washington.
I found myself in an awkward silence as I began drinking my tea. Sean sat back and gazed to his left at a colorful canvas painting of what looked like Venice. It was as if the painting carried a familiarity to him.
I couldn’t help myself as I spoke the words just as they came. “Well, what kind of rumors?” Sean turned his gaze back on me with his usual grin. As if the painting had elevated his mood. He was going to give me a headache with these emotional 180s. I caught sight of the waiter approaching with a tray that had me grateful because I was starving. But I was also annoyed since I wanted an answer.
“Here’s your chicken parmesan. And you’re lasagna.” He looked up to me after reaching back to grab his cheese grater. “Parmesan cheese?”
“Yes, please.” I gestured with my hand, stopping him after a few seconds.
“No cheese for me, thank you.” Sean had spoken firmly before the waiter had time to move. He left once again, eager to be away from the tension.
“Everything looks good,” Sean said. His eyebrows rose as he dove into his lasagna. As we ate the rest of our meal in silence, I could not get the Alexanders out of my mind. Nothing alarmed me to conclude they were what Sean was making them out to be.
When Sean finally asked, “Ready to go,” I found that I was still curious.
“Sure, but you never answered my question.”
I smiled up at the waiter who seemed concerned about my dinner companion as he took the check back. “No change,” Sean said before pushing his seat back and catching my impatient gaze. I seemed to have a lot of those tonight.
“Didn’t you even notice the strange things about him on your first day?” he asked while leading me through the restaurant.
“Like what?” I said walking out the door he held open for me. Maybe I had noticed some things, but my mind wasn’t letting me recall anything that sent a red flag.
“How about the fact that he never comes to lunch?” Sean said with narrowed eyes.
Yes that was strange, and I had never gotten the reason. Okay, so one point for Sean. But I hated that he had that smiling gloat on his lips as he drove out of the parking lot.
“That’s only one thing and for all we know it’s for a good reason,” I said.
“How about how he doesn’t even look like a junior? He looks like he should be going to the university by now, and yet he’s still here,” Sean said.
I sighed as it was something I had myself been thinking about. For both him and his older sister. “That could just be his genetics.”
“That’s enough,” I said annoyingly, cutting him off this time. As we turned onto my street, I knew Sean would see my clenched jaw and slow exhale. I wasn’t in the mood to hear him list off reasons why Liam was weird.
“I’ll drive tomorrow,” he said.
I looked back to him with widened eyes. “Aren’t you coming in?”
“I think I just need some sleep. I’m exhausted.” You’re exhausted? What about me?
“Well, should we take one last photo of my birthday? Or are you too tired for that?”
“Oh no, for that, I think I have time to spare.”
I grabbed my camera from inside my purse, and then Sean grabbed it from my hand, knowing that his arms extended further than mine did for a better picture range.
“Say cheese,” he said. He snapped the picture with ease before giving me back the camera. I turned it over to get a quick look at the picture. We had identical grins, but our eyes were nowhere close to the same. I had been right from the moment I had seen him. His were an incredible bright golden honey drip of hazel that had mine looking utterly plain. Maybe mine had just dulled over the past three years though. Finally, I faced the inevitable by placing it back in my purse and opening my door.
“Thanks for dinner,” I said. I leaned back to give him a kiss on the cheek before jumping out with the disappointment.
“Did Sean leave?” My mom asked from the moment I had walked in the door.
“Yeah, he was really tired.”
I wasn’t sure whose disappointment was bigger between the two of us. Once I entered my room, I wasted time I thought I would be spending with Sean by slowly changing into my purple pajama bottoms and pink tank top before beginning to read The Scarlet Letter. I had barely started the fourth chapter when my thoughts focused on Liam Alexander. I was apprehensive to find the reason why Sean was so disapproving of the Alexanders. Maybe it was because he was so adamant to keep a distance between me and the youngest one. But why Liam?
When I realized I was reading the same sentence repeatedly, I laid the book on my nightstand. The day’s exhaustion had finally surfaced. I reached for my lamp and laid my head down onto my pillow. Upon closing my eyes, I found myself in the school cafeteria.
There I saw Grace Alexander, with the same electric sapphire eyes, waving to me invitingly from her table like a pageant queen. To her right, Liam stood near her shoulder with a stunning and seductive smile. His hand extended forward as he welcomed me to come join him and his beautifully alluring sister. I began to walk toward them with a thrill I couldn’t resist when a force from behind suddenly grabbed my arm. My head turned and my smile vanished when I found the same furious gaze in Sean’s eyes that he held this afternoon.
I was never that child you found in the corner reading. In fact, I loathed the idea of picking up a book. The activity seemed more of a chore than a past time.
All that changed when my brother began talking to me about the newest novel he was reading.Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix. Before I knew it, my curiosity got the better of me, luring me to try the series. It didn't take long for my mindset of reading to turn on its head.
But even with my new hobby discovered it wasn't until my junior year of college that I developed a hidden desire for writing stories. And when I found myself writing scenes instead of paying attention to my professors, I knew becoming a writer was the career path I was meant to follow.