Paranormal Vampire Romance, 367 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud
It’s not normal to feel close to your watcher. No, it’s not normal to have a watcher. So, why is Tess Young comforted by her watcher’s presence? Why do his eyes fill her dreams? More importantly, will he become her greatest protector…or her greatest threat?
Moments after she’s passed through my mind, my best friend spills from the darkness to my right. The scarlet light finds her chocolate-brown eyes and gleams warmly against them; it casts ruby-tinted highlights on her black, satiny hair and frustratingly-perfect cheekbones. My eyes skim over her plum-colored dress, which flatters her figure like it was custom cut; then they fall back to my own, plain black one. It manages to hide what few curves I have.
A little sigh escapes me. Whenever Anna’s next to me, I might as well be invisible; it’s the way things are and I’m okay with it. Well, I’m used to it.
Anna just has time to hug me and exclaim, “Happy nineteenth, Tess!” before we’re half tackled by another friend, Janie, whose teal-tinted hair has been altered to a strange shade of violet under the club’s red lights. Neither color is sufficiently alarming to compete with Janie’s personality, I decide. She’s got the dainty looks of a pixie and the demeanor of a fire station alarm.
“Tess!” she shrieks into my ear, before squeezing both my shoulders and shaking me back and forth a few times. “You’re nineteen now! We should be dancing!”
My response is to break into a string of rough coughs; Anna’s is to give me a deep frown and Janie a little shove backward. “You’re still sick,” Anna mutters and starts digging around in her purse. “I thought you were getting better.”
I shrug, but thank her when she produces a couple of cough drops and presses them into my hand. Our other friends, Maria and Celia, arrive in the meantime and receive full-contact greetings of their own. By the time Janie’s through with them, Maria is frowning and tossing her dark hair in anger and Celia is nervously twirling a periwinkle-tinged curl around and around and around her finger. Each gives me a birthday hug and, moments later, we’re all dragged onto the dance floor in a Janie-led mob.
I’m fine for a while, thanks to Anna’s cough drops and some ibuprofen I took earlier, but deep down, I know it can’t last. I’m dancing on borrowed time.
My illness revives with a vengeance and my medications toss up white flags of surrender. My chest suddenly feels constricted and raw; my temples throb in time with the beats shuddering through the room. Bowing out of the action, I grab a soda and a seat, hoping the sugar will bolster my immune system, not to mention my wilting strength.
Janie spots me moments later. If I wasn’t sure before, it’s now glaringly obvious my evening’s a doomed one.
Making a phony, deep pout, Janie insists, “You can’t sit down! It’s your birthday and a guy over there—Jason—wants to dance with you!”
With wide eyes, I follow the direction of her outstretched, perfectly-manicured finger. Two guys stand still among the movement; both are turned in our direction. The taller of the two, a blond, is keeping Janie in his sights, but his auburn-haired friend seems to be watching me.
I quickly scan the features of this second one and, returning to his intense, brown-eyed stare, feel my face slip into a frown. “No thanks. I’m sick.”
“Come on,” she shouts, grabbing my arm and pulling me from my seat, “they’re playing your favorite song!”
She’s wrong. It’s her favorite song, but I couldn’t care less: an acute wave of nausea is on the rise, making me stop, mid step, and cover my mouth with both hands. Janie, feeling me hesitate, smiles back blindly and yanks harder.
Realizing it’s easier to submit than struggle against this petite, aqua-haired maniac, I pull myself together and trail along. At some point, I realize we’ve veered off our path. Panic sets in and I search for a familiar face among the crowd, while earth-quaking chills overtake my body.
This is when things take yet another turn for the worse. Janie tows me between a pair of dancing figures when the beat picks up and the guy next to me—clearly a football player in Goth disguise—sends a flailing elbow full force into my chest.
If I wore false teeth, they would have gone flying. As it is, every available ounce of air evacuates my lungs at the speed of light, leaving me gasping, clutching at my chest in agony.
“Watch it, you big dope!” Anna screams out, suddenly beside me. Her face turns to mine with a look nearly equaling my pain. “Are you okay?”