Kylie Galen stood on the porch outside the Shadow Falls office, panic stabbing at her sanity. A gust of late August wind, still chilled by her father's departing spirit, picked up her long strands of blond hair and scattered them across her face. She didn't brush them away. She didn't breathe. She just stood there, air trapped in her lungs, while she stared through the wisps of hair at the trees swaying in the breeze.
Why does my life have to be so damn hard? The question rolled around her head like a Ping-Pong ball gone wild. The answer spun back just as quick.
Because you're not all human. For the last few months, she'd struggled to identify the type of non-human blood that rushed through her veins. Now she knew.
According to her dear ol' dad, she was ... a chameleon. As in a lizard, just like the ones she'd seen sunning themselves in her backyard. Okay, so maybe not just like those, but close enough. And here she'd been worried about being a vampire or a werewolf because it would be a little hard to adjust to drinking blood or shape-shifting on full moons. But this ... this was ... unfathomable. Her father had to be wrong.
Her heart pounded against her chest as if seeking escape. She finally breathed. In, and then out. Her thoughts shot away from the lizard issue to the other bad stuff.
Yup. In the last five minutes she'd been slapped with not one, not two, not even three, but with four oh-crap eye-opening revelations.
Well, one thing-Derek's confession that he loved her-couldn't completely be called bad. But it sure as hell couldn't be called good. Not now. Not when she considered them history. Not when she'd spent the last few weeks trying to convince herself that they were just friends.
Her mind juggled all four disclosures. She didn't know which to focus on first. Or maybe her mind did know. I'm a freaking lizard!
"For real?" she spoke aloud. The Texas wind snatched away her words. She hoped it would take them all the way to her father-wherever the dead who hadn't completely passed over went to wait. "Seriously, Dad?"
Of course, Dad didn't answer. After two months of dealing with one spirit or another, the whole ghost-whispering gift and its limitations still managed to piss her off. "Damn!"
She took another step toward the main office's door to unload on Holiday Brandon, the camp leader, then stopped. Burnett James, the other camp leader and a cold to the touch but hot to look at vampire, was with Holiday. Since Kylie couldn't hear them arguing anymore, she figured that meant they might be doing something else-like sucking face, swapping spit, doing the tongue tango. All phrases her bad-attitude vampire roommate Della would use. Which probably meant Kylie was in a bad mood. But didn't she deserve a little attitude after everything that had happened?
Clenching her fists, she stared at the office's front door. She'd inadvertently interrupted their first kiss and she didn't want to do the same with their second. Especially when Burnett had threatened to resign from Shadow Falls. Surely Holiday could change his mind. Couldn't she?
Besides, maybe Kylie needed to calm down. To think things through before she ran to Holiday in bad-attitude hysterics. Her thoughts shifted to her latest ghost issue. How could a ghost of someone who was alive appear to Kylie? A trick, right? Had to be a trick.
She glanced around to make sure the ghost had really gone. The cold had vanished.
Turning, she shot down the porch steps and headed around to the back of the office. She started running, wanting to experience the sense of freedom she got when she ran, when she ran fast, ran non-human fast.
The wind picked up the black dress she'd worn to Ellie's funeral and sent the hem dancing against her thighs. Her feet moved in rhythm, barely missing the Reeboks she usually wore, but when she arrived at the edge of the woods, she came to an abrupt halt-so abrupt that the heels on her black dress shoes cut deep ruts into the earth.
She couldn't go into the woods. She didn't have a shadow-the mandatory person with her to help ward off the evil Mario and his rogue buddies if they decided to attack.
So far the old man's attempts at ending her life had proved futile, but two of those times had resulted in the death of someone else.
Guilt fluttered through her already tight chest. Fear followed it. Mario had proven how far he'd go to get to her, how evil he was when he'd taken his own grandson's life right in front of her. How could anyone be that wicked?
She stared at the trees and watched as their leaves danced in the breeze. It was a completely normal slice of scenery that should have put her at peace.
But she felt no peace. The woods, or rather something that hid within, dared her to enter. Taunted her to move into the thick line of trees. Confused by the strange feeling, she tried to push it away, but the feeling intensified.
She inhaled the green scent of the forest, and she knew.
Knew with clarity.
Knew with certainty.
Mario wouldn't give up. Sooner or later she would face him again. And it wouldn't be serene, tranquil, or peaceful. Only one of them would walk away.
You will not be alone. The words echoed deep within her as if to offer her peace. No peace came. The shadows between the trees danced on the ground. Calling her, beckoning her. To do what, she didn't know.
Trepidation took another lap around her chest. She dug the heels of her shoes deeper into the hard dirt. The heel of her right shoe cracked-an ominous little sound that seemed to punctuate the silence.
"Crap!" She stared down at her feet. The one word seemed yanked from the air, leaving nothing but a hum of eeriness.
And that's when she heard it.
Someone drew in a raspy breath. While the sound came only at a whisper, she knew that the owner of this breath stood behind her. Stood close. And since no chill of death surrounded her, she knew it wasn't from the spirit world.
The sound came again. Someone fed life-giving air into their lungs. Odd how she now feared the living more than she feared the dead.
Her heart thudded to a stop. Much like the grooves left in the earth by her three-inch heels, her growing dread left ruts in her courage.
She wasn't ready. If it was Mario, she wasn't ready. Whatever it was she needed to do, whatever plan or fate she was destined to follow, she needed more time.