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by Dina James
Description: It's said that when opportunity knocks on your door, you have only one chance to take it. No one said what you're supposed to do when it kicks it. All Rebecca MacDonnell wants to do is get through high school with grades good enough to win a prestigious scholarship so that she can finally leave her miserable life behind. One evening, after a particularly bad day, she finds out that people other than her aging grandmother need her help, and desperately so. Well, not "people," exactly. Vampires, werewolves, demons, ghosts, goblins, and other things thought only imaginary all need help sometime, and Rebecca was born with the unique ability to heal ethereal beings. She is about to turn seventeen, the age at which her talent will manifest in its entirety, and become a true Healer?if she lives through the event. A war between various ethereal factions is brewing, and Healers are a valuable commodity to any side. Those who wish to harness Rebecca's manifesting healing powers for their own purposes must get to her before her seventeenth birthday. Only two vampires and a rogue werewolf stand between Rebecca and those determined to make her serve them, and the fact that Rebecca has no clue what she's doing doesn't exactly help matters. Neither does being seriously attracted to more than one of those just trying to protect her. For a soon-to-be seventeen-year-old Healer-in-training, that's a lot to handle. Especially on top of her homework.
eBook Publisher: Mundania Press LLC/Mundania Press LLC, 2011 2011
eBookwise Release Date: October 2011
4 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [384 KB]
Reading time: 245-344 min.
* * * *
The only thing in the room that made any sort of noise was the clicking keys of the old computer keyboard, pushed--no, more like jabbed--by a very annoyed secretary.
Rebecca shivered and bit her bottom lip to keep it from giving her chill away. Was it always this cold in here, or did she just feel cold because she was sitting in the principal's office? She almost envied the black leather jacket of the smirking dark-haired boy sitting in the corner with his hands clasped behind his head. He caught her looking at him and leaned his plastic chair as far back as it would go against the wall.
Ryan Dugan. Of all the people to be in here when she was. Of course, when wasn't Ryan in the principal's office?
Rebecca dared a sideways glance at the girl with carefully styled-to-look-messy thick, blonde hair sitting beside her and risked a whisper. "Sorry."
The tapping of the computer keys stopped abruptly. Behind her metal desk the secretary leaned around the old yellowed computer monitor to glare at them with narrowed eyes. When she did the same to Ryan, the boy doubled over in a fit of totally fake--and very loud--coughing.
"Sorry," Ryan said after he sat back up. He slapped his chest a few times and cleared his throat as he smiled at the secretary. "Must be coming down with something."
Rebecca could tell the woman was convinced that Ryan's apology was about as sincere as his coughing had been.
"That's enough out of you, Mr. Dugan," the secretary said in a clipped, exasperated voice.
Ryan grinned at her and clasped his hands behind his head again as he kicked his chair backward to lean against the wall once more. He winked at Rebecca.
Rebecca hoped her cheeks weren't as red as they felt, and bit her top lip this time--hard--to keep from smiling. It had been pretty funny, the way the evil toad-faced woman had given Ryan a look that would have made Rebecca cringe, and Ryan just smiled back at her. Rebecca bowed her head, hiding her blue eyes--and her amusement--behind her straight, mouse-brown hair.
The principal's office door opening kept Rebecca from risking another illicit whisper to her friend.
"Miss MacDonnell? Miss Turnbull?"
The principal shook his head after gesturing to his doorway. "I have to say, girls--yours are two names I never thought I'd call until your commencement ceremony."
"Hey, I was here before they was!" Ryan spoke out as he got to his feet.
The scowl on his face made Rebecca wince. It was much darker than the one the annoyed secretary had given her.
"'Were'," the principal corrected as Rebecca and Robin got to their feet. "Which you'd know if you spend any kind of time in your English class, Mr. Dugan. And while you might have been here before these two ladies were, and you're likely to be here for most of the day, not to mention the day after that, as well as the following day, so I don't see any reason why I should make these nice girls wait out here any longer than they have to, especially with the likes of you. I'll deal with you later, so you just sit down and keep quiet. You're already in enough trouble as it is."
Ryan flopped back down in his chair, muttering curses only Rebecca was near enough to hear him say. She thought for a second he was going to start turning chairs over or ripping the bulletin boards off the wall, but he sat back down and assumed what seemed to be his careless pose, leaning back in his chair, his hands behind his neck, cradling his head. This time he closed his eyes and looked like he was going to sleep.
"Come on, girls," said Mr. Harris as he ushered them into his office. He looked almost sympathetic that they'd had to endure Ryan's company for as long as they had. In fact, he even apologized for it...before he sat them both down and gave them each a detention.
* * * *
"I'm so sorry, Ro, really," Rebecca apologized in a rush the moment she and Robin were out of the principal's office and on their way back to their respective classes.
"Rebecca, stop worrying so much," Robin replied, shaking her head. "So we got sent to the office. It could have been worse. One max detention? It could have been a week's worth, or mopping the cafeteria floor, or--Rebecca? Are you even listening to me?"
"What?" Rebecca asked, distracted. "Sorry I thought I..."
She could have sworn she'd seen some little brown dude in rags--like one of those goblin things from Labyrinth--peeking into the girl's bathroom. She'd been seeing a lot of weird stuff lately and was starting to wonder if she wasn't starting to lose her mind like her nana. As far as she knew, what Nana suffered from wasn't catching, but the doctors weren't even really certain what form of mental disorder Nana had, so maybe it was or ran in the family or something. It would explain a whole lot if it did.
Rebecca shook her head. "Never mind. It's nothing. I'm just tired. Algebra is getting to me."
"Obviously," Robin said, rolling her eyes. "You've got to find a way to get more sleep. Maybe you should call--"
"No!" Rebecca interrupted, almost shouting before she remembered to keep her voice down. "I mean...sorry. No. I'm not going to call anyone for anything. It's okay, really. Just...just a bad patch."
"But what if it isn't?" Robin asked. She put a hand on her friend's shoulder. "What if...what if this is what it's going to be like, from now on?"
"Well." Rebecca's voice cracked over the word. She swallowed hard. "Well, then I guess I'll be getting to know Ryan Dugan pretty well."
"Everything in the universe forbid," Robin muttered. "That's the last thing you need."
"Thanks for being there, Ro," Rebecca said, changing the subject. "You didn't have to stick up for me in Wilson's class this morning. If you'd treat me like everyone else has the sense to, you wouldn't have gotten into trouble with me. First grade was a long time ago."
"And I'll never stop being your friend, so forget about it." Robin gave Rebecca a big smile and a hug. "You were there for me when I needed you. I'm just glad I can return the favor...sort of. Dad's going to have a fit, and let's not even talk about Mom."
"Just blame me," Rebecca said as she gave a little shrug. "They'll pity me enough to hopefully spare you the lecture."
"As if." Robin sighed. "They'll probably be grateful they finally have something to actually lecture me about that they don't have to make up."
Rebecca laughed as she knew Robin wanted her to, said goodbye to her only sort-of friend, and went down the hall to her history class, already dreading the stares of her classmates as she interrupted the lecture she was seriously late for.
In addition to Rebecca's own detention, Mr. Harris had made her promise to apologize to Mrs. Wilson first thing tomorrow morning for mouthing off. Rebecca blushed again at the memory of snapping at her Spanish teacher. Maybe she really was crazy. Nana would have been mortified if she knew--
Rebecca stopped her thoughts cold. There was no way Nana was going to know about this. Ever, if Rebecca could help it. The one saving grace about Nana losing her mind was that she rarely noticed anything anymore, and didn't care about what she did.
Rebecca pushed the door open to her classroom, ignoring the stares of her classmates. She murmured an apology to Mrs. Iverson for her tardiness, handed the teacher her hall pass and took her seat, keeping her gaze focused on the floor as she tried hard not to hear the whispers around the room.
Mrs. Iverson called for everyone's attention. "Welcome back, Rebecca."
"Thank you, Mrs. Iverson," Rebecca replied without looking up from her desk.
"We're on page 212."
Rebecca took her history book out of her backpack and opened it.
"You're such a loser, Spot," a girl whispered behind her.
No need to look around or even guess who said that. Marla Thompson hadn't come up with a different insulting nickname for her since she thought of "Spot" back in fifth grade.
As usual, Rebecca ignored her and pretended to pay attention to the lecture she'd obviously interrupted as Mrs. Iverson continued.
* * * *
With a powdery crunch, the tip of the pencil lead snapped and slid out of the wood beneath her fingertips. It rolled across Rebecca's paper, leaving a gray smudge across the question she'd been attempting to answer.
She threw down her pencil in disgust.
"Now what?" Robin asked in a hushed whisper. She glanced around, looking for Mr. Nairhoft.
"My pencil is being stupid again. Besides that, I really don't think writing an essay about the Inquisition is going to help Nana remember where her bedroom is, or not to turn on the stove." Rebecca sighed, glaring at the offending question on her assignment. "I need to get home."
"Well, you should have thought of that before you went and mouthed off to Mrs. Wilson. At least make it look like you're working," Robin replied with another fast glance around for the detention room monitor.
"Is there a problem here, ladies?" Mr. Nairhoft said in a smooth, arrogant voice. "Rebecca MacDonnell?"
"Sorry, Mr. Nairhoft," Rebecca apologized with a sweet smile. She really, really hated it when people used her name as though she'd done something wrong--to single her out. She had enough singling-out by her classmates every day. She didn't need teachers doing it.
"This is the third time today my pencil's broken," she went on. "And I got frustrated with it. I'm sorry to have caused a disruption. May I go sharpen it again? That might help it, at least through the end of detention, anyway."
Rebecca gazed up at the tall, rail-thin Mr. Nairhoft, hoping her repentant smile would earn her his permission. She had to fight not to giggle as she noticed the toupee he wore was listing to the left, threatening to slide off. She was already in enough trouble as it was without being disrespectful to another teacher.
"Does anyone have an extra pencil Miss MacDonnell can borrow?" Mr. Nairhoft asked loudly, turning around to view the detention hall, which was really just the cafeteria with the tables moved around. He'd glanced around so fast that he couldn't have even bothered to see if anyone had an answer to his question. "No?"
Mr. Nairhoft turned back to Rebecca with that stupid fake smile he always had plastered on his face.
A surprising flicker of anger surged through Rebecca and she had the overwhelming desire to slap that smarmy grin right off the detention monitor's face and send his cheap hairpiece flying. The thought was quickly followed by a sharp stab of hot pain from her middle, gone almost as quickly as it had come.
"Well--" Nairhoft began.
"Here," said a voice from the far table in the corner.
Rebecca turned around to see who had spoken, as did Robin and Mr. Nairhoft. Actually, everyone in detention swiveled their heads to see who was denying Mr. Nairhoft the occasion to be his usual unpleasant self.
Alone at a table in the corner, a boy wearing a familiar black leather jacket, faded jeans that were more gray than black and a t-shirt in the same condition waved a yellow pencil in the air.
"She can use this one." He said it almost defiantly, like he was daring Mr. Nairhoft to come over and take it himself.
"Mr. Dugan, surely you haven't completed all of your long overdue assignments," Mr. Nairhoft said, folding his arms.
"I've completed all I'm going to," Ryan replied, matching Mr. Nairhoft's tone exactly. He looked at Rebecca. "Want this?"
Rebecca nodded and stood up, her frustration with her own pencil, assignment, Mr. Nairhoft and detention forgotten as all the attention shifted from her onto Ryan.
"Rebecca, no," Robin hissed.
The boy's eyes went back to Mr. Nairhoft's as he held the pencil out for Rebecca to take.
Ryan Dugan wasn't just a bad boy, he was the bad boy. Everyone knew it. Always in trouble, always getting sent to the principal's office, always in detention. There was even a rumor that last summer he wasn't in summer school like he usually was, but in Mariposa Juvenile Detention Center three towns over for all sorts of different crimes.
The school rumor mill might not be right about much, but it was about the fact that Ryan never, ever gave anyone anything without expecting something in return.
Rebecca wondered why she was doing this. Why Ryan was even offering to help her. Whatever the reason, it felt good doing something Mr. Nairhoft couldn't really complain about, even though she was technically breaking the "don't leave your seat without permission" rule. Really she just wanted to see the look on Mr. Nairhoft's face as she took the pencil from Ryan with a quiet "thank you."
"Don't worry about it," Ryan said with a big grin. He winked--actually winked--at Mr. Nairhoft as he held onto the pencil before letting Rebecca take it. "Wouldn't want you to get in any more trouble, now would we?"
Rebecca shook her head, stunned, and hurried back to her seat where she sat down and bent her head over her assignment. She wondered if he knew what had landed her in detention. He sounded like he knew. Like he knew, and approved.
Her hair hid her eyes enough that it kept Mr. Nairhoft from seeing that she was secretly glancing at Ryan while she pretended to work. She felt immensely better. Ryan hadn't really been winking at her in the principal's office. Not at her, not like that. It was just one of his...things he did. To mess with people. He'd just winked at Mr. Nairhoft. It didn't mean anything.
The last thing in the world she wanted was the rumor going around that she had anything to do with Ryan Dugan. She had enough to deal with.
Rebecca's eyes went to the clock on the wall. Twenty minutes of detention left, then she could get home to Nana.
Ryan sat back, clasping his hands behind his head as he leaned against the wall while Mr. Nairhoft berated the boy. The detention monitor railed until he was blue in the face, said something about "another week's worth of detention!" and stalked away to harass another student he didn't think looked busy enough.
Ryan just grinned and caught Rebecca looking at him. He winked at her again.
She blushed and bent her head back over her paper, trying not to think about how much time she had left to sit there.
Or that Nana might be setting the house on fire.
* * * *
Everyone else had someone to pick them up when detention was finally over. Even Robin, whose dad looked unhappy as she got in the car, even though he smiled at Rebecca.
Although Rebecca would have been perfectly happy taking the bus, Nana used to drive her to school and pick her up afterward, when Nana could still be trusted to drive. She hadn't driven in about three years. They'd taken away her license when Rebecca was thirteen. Not that Nana was old. There were plenty of drivers on the road older than her, but they could remember which house was theirs and which gear made the car reverse, and where they were going.
The doctors called it "early onset senile dementia," but everyone knew that was just a polite way of saying that Nana was really too young to have Alzheimer's, even though it was obvious she did.
The school busses only ran before detention, not after, so that meant someone had to pick you up, or you had to walk home. Rebecca offered Robin and Mr. Turnbull a little wave of apology--after all, Robin wouldn't have gotten into trouble if it hadn't been for her--then shouldered her backpack and turned away to begin the long walk home before Mr. Turnbull could offer her a ride. There was just no way she wanted to be in the car with that much tension, or face any questions Mr. Turnbull was sure to ask, and she really needed to clear her head before getting to her house. Who knew what disaster would be waiting for her today. Whatever it was, it could wait just another few minutes. She needed to think, to get her head on straight so she would have the brains and strength to deal with the evening ahead.
The last thing Rebecca wanted was for Nana to catch on that she'd been in detention, and if she saw Mr. Turnbull dropping her off, Nana would possibly notice how late Rebecca was getting home.
That is, if Nana even noticed.
Rebecca didn't see any smoke coming from the general vicinity of her--well, Nana's--house, or hear fire engines, so it seemed safe to take a little time to breathe on the way home. With any luck, Nana was sitting in front of the television, brushing that evil white furball she called a cat.
Rebecca lost herself in her thoughts as she walked, remembering all the little "funny" things she and her nana used to laugh about, like Nana putting her keys in the fridge, or putting toilet paper on the paper towel rack. Then things had started to get scarier, like Nana leaving the gas stove on, or forgetting to turn off the water she was running in the stoppered sink for the dishes and flooding the kitchen.
I don't suppose I should complain too much to Robin about how much I have to do for Nana, Rebecca thought as she pulled her jacket tighter around her. Because she could have given me up for adoption or something after mom and dad died, and she didn't. Rebecca took a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh. She looked after me all these years, so it's only fair I look after her now.
A gust of wind swirled brittle leaves around her ankles, and Rebecca picked up her pace. October was cold, and it wasn't even Halloween yet. It was getting dark earlier and earlier these days, and when it got dark, it got colder. It was getting close to dinnertime and Nana needed to eat, and if Nana got hungry when Rebecca wasn't there, she'd try to cook for herself. Rebecca really didn't want to spend another night in the emergency room explaining to the doctors how Nana burned herself again.
"First time, huh?"
Rebecca stopped in her tracks. She knew that voice. It was the same one she'd heard earlier, in the principal's office and detention. So much for not being noticed.
Ryan Dugan stepped out from behind a tree that bordered the sidewalk she was on. He leaned against the trunk, brought a little box out of the pocket of his leather jacket and flipped open a small, silver--
"Is that a lighter?" Rebecca asked, scowling.
"Yeah," Ryan said, bringing a cigarette to his lips. "You got a problem with smokers?"
"Way to add to the bad-boy stereotype there," she said, raising an eyebrow at his tone. "How did you get ahead of me anyway?"
"Back alley," Ryan said, lighting his cigarette. "You know...the stereotypical bad-boy escape route." He pointed back over her shoulder. "If you cut through the gym and across the football field you can hop the fence and skip most of the block." He exhaled a cloud of smoke.
Rebecca fanned the cloud away with her hand and wrinkled her nose.
"Where do you get the money for those anyway?" she asked.
"What is this, the Spanish Inquisition?" Ryan countered. He put a hand to his chest at her look of surprise that he'd mentioned precisely what had been on her detention assignment. "Wow, how about that? I actually do learn in school. Hair-off loves Spanish history and gives all the first-timers that assignment, so unless you want to learn more about the Conquistadors and the Inquisition, I'd keep out of trouble."
She wanted to laugh at his use of the name everyone called the toupee-wearing Mr. Nairhoft behind his back, but thought it would only encourage him.
"What are you doing here, anyway?" She shifted her backpack to try to cover up her nervousness.
"You have my lucky pencil." Ryan held out his hand.
"Right." She rolled her eyes as she slung her pack off her shoulder, pulled out the pencil in question and offered it to him. "Good to know you cut through the gym, across the football field and jumped the fence just to rescue your pencil."
"Hey, this is my lucky pencil!" he defended, though Rebecca knew he wasn't being serious. He reached for it, and smiled a little as she held onto it for just a moment as he'd done to her when he'd loaned it to her in detention. "For this, I would even have rifled Hair-off's office...which is where I got the cigs."
Rebecca looked horrified. "You didn't!"
Ryan grinned. "These things will kill you, you know. I did him a favor." He was quiet for a long moment, seeming to debate something with himself before he went on. "So what'd you do?"
"What?" Rebecca asked stupidly. He'd gotten what he came for. Why didn't he just leave now? Then she remembered how Ryan always got something in return for whatever he'd given, and figured this must be the price she had to pay. Besides, it wasn't like the whole school didn't know what she'd done, and she told him so.
"I know what the rumor is," he said, curling his lip in disgust. "I want to know what you really did."
"I just...lost it," she admitted. "It had been a crappy morning and Mrs. Wilson's snarky comment just hit me wrong."
"I hear you told her to shut the hell up and mind her own fuckin' business." He took a long drag off the cigarette, stabbed it out against the trunk of the tree and put the remaining half back in the box. He tucked the box away in his pocket along with his silver lighter. "You really cuss out a prof?"
Rebecca shrugged. "Yeah. I'm not proud of it. It was just...my last nerve, you know?"
He shook his head and laughed. "Well, you looked like you were in a hurry, so..." Ryan gestured down the block as if to excuse her. "Stay out of trouble, huh? You got more than a smart mouth on you and don't belong in detention with Hair-off and the rest of us delinquents."
"How do you know? Maybe I'm just starting out on delinquency," she said before she could stop herself. "I hear all the cool kids are doing it."
Ryan laughed. "Yeah, and you're just being cool, aren't you? I've seen you around school, in class. You're about as cool as a jalapeno. See you around, Hot Stuff," he said, and turned to go.
She blushed. Yeah, one of the "cool kids", she wasn't. She was surprised he even knew who she was.
"I'm really sorry that whole pencil thing cost you another week with Mr. Nair...I mean Hair-off," she blurted as she shouldered her bag again.
He waved a hand. "Don't worry about it," he said, walking away. "He won't make it stick. Besides, some things are worth putting up with a little punishment."
Funny, that sounds just like what I was just thinking about Nana.
Rebecca hesitated for a moment as she watched him go, and then turned back toward home, hurrying even more now. She thought about Ryan, and what he'd said. He'd seen her around? Sure, they had a couple of classes together, but she wasn't the kind of girl anyone noticed. Just the opposite, really. The only reason anyone noticed her was because of Robin. Robin was the pretty one. The popular one. Robin getting busted was the talk of the school, as was the fact that it had been Rebecca's fault. Robin had only been trying to help.
That might explain how Ryan had known about her, but how had he known which way she was headed home afterward? She could have gone in any direction...unless he knew where she lived.
Rebecca shook her head, laughing at herself. He'd just guessed lucky or something. He didn't know where she lived.
* * * *
Rebecca forgot about Ryan, Mr. Hair-off, detention and Robin the moment she walked through the front door of her house. It looked like Nana was having one of her "good days." Rebecca was utterly relieved that everything seemed normal. Nana was sitting in her favorite chair, listening to some boring wildlife program on television, with Mishka on her lap. Mishka was a grouchy old cat--a big white fluffy thing that needed lots of brushing. If Nana remembered nothing else, she remembered to brush Mishka.
Not that Mishka minded if she was brushed three or four times a day. That cat loved attention, and would happily sit all day in Nana's lap being groomed. Only Nana's lap. Mishka hated Rebecca and the feeling was mutual. Mishka was Nana's cat.
Rebecca stowed her backpack in the foyer, and made sure the doors were locked and the stove off and everything else was safe before greeting her grandmother.
"Hi, Nana!" Rebecca said as she entered the living room.
"Oh, Rebecca, you're home," Nana said, smiling even though Rebecca knew she was confused. "Did you have a good day at school?"
Rebecca nodded as she always did. Even though today had been a horrible day at school, she still told her nana that everything was fine.
"Do you have a lot of homework?" Nana asked, earning a glare from Mishka as she stood up, emptying her lap of the cat.
"No, I got most of it done at school," Rebecca answered honestly. You could get a lot done in two hours of detention. "And I'm really hungry. How about some dinner? It's my turn to cook tonight."
Nana's brow furrowed. "I thought you cooked last night." She didn't sound at all sure.
Rebecca really didn't want to lie, but Nana in the kitchen was dangerous. Rebecca cooked every night now, but let Nana think that she only cooked sometimes.
"I was really craving some spaghetti at school," Rebecca hedged, steering the conversation away from who was going to do the cooking. "I thought that would be good for dinner. It's easy to make--I know how. Your show isn't over either, and I know the ones about wolves are your favorite. You can finish it while I go start dinner. I can do it, I promise."
"All right," Nana said with an absent nod and sat back down. Mishka jumped back up in her lap and Nana went back to brushing her. The cat glowered at Rebecca as if to say "Well? Go on, then. You're not needed here." Rebecca stuck her tongue out at the evil cat and went into the kitchen to start supper.
* * * *
Half the dishes on the draining board had been wiped and put away when she heard an insistent pounding at the front door, like someone kicking it. Hard.
Rebecca scowled as she looked at the clock. It was nearly nine o'clock, and they never had visitors anymore. Nana's friends used to come by, when she could still remember who they were and what they'd been talking about. Rebecca never had friends over. Not that she had any besides Robin, but even if she did, she wouldn't have them over anyway. Other people just upset Nana now.
The noise came again, and Rebecca looked over her shoulder toward the bathroom door. Nana was in there getting ready for bed. Rebecca hoped she couldn't hear the racket.
Rebecca frowned and looked out the peep hole at the dark figure on the porch. She snapped on the porch light, and a blond head cringed away from the brightness with a grimace, but remained still. He kicked at the door again, and Rebecca could see why. The bloody, unconscious body of the dark-haired boy who had just that afternoon come to get his "lucky pencil" from her filled his arms.
* * * *