Heir of Secrets Chapter One

Chapter One

I tracked the little bastard to the far side of the barn. I knew the evasive runt had been watching me for a while, but I hadn’t been able to get away until now.
As stealthily as I could, I slipped a butterfly knife from the pocket of my denim, cut-off shorts and flipped the blade open. The knife wasn’t exactly made from heavenly steel, but it had been blessed by a priest, so I knew it would get the job done.
If only I could get the job done.
I lost it in the shadows of the dark corner. No surprise there, since it was made of the same material as the Darkness it cowered in. But I was so frustrated!
The Shadow had been bothering me all morning, buzzing around my head like a pesky fly and landing on me whenever I stopped paying attention so I could actually do my job. Brian, Tristan’s dad and my summer employer, had been giving me concerned looks all day.
I kicked the hay-covered ground and pressed deeper into the corner. It was around here somewhere…
I just… had to…
I threw myself across the floor and stabbed my knife into the slatted floor. This was the oldest barn on Tristan’s property, the original Shield’s barn. The walls swayed back and forth wildly when there was any hint of a breeze and the roof sagged on every side. My knife sunk into the weathered wood but caught the Shadow by the tail.
He sizzled beneath the tip of my blade but it wasn’t enough to end him. I’d have to remove my weapon and stab him closer to the middle of his slimy, slender body. He would definitely run though.
I would have to be fast.
I lit up just a little bit so that I could be as capable and ready as possible. The dark corner of this barn glowed in the soft light of my inner Star, and the hay around me shriveled and turned black with the heat.
On the count of three. One… Two…
“Is this like your come-hither position?” Jude’s voice cut through my thoughts and made me jump out of my skin.
I accidentally pulled my knife back and the wounded Shadow tried to slink away. I pushed up on my free hand and launched my body in a belly flop, but I got the damn thing! Putrid, black slime splashed in my face as the tiny demon burst like a water balloon.
I let out some sound that was half-triumphant scream, half-frustrated growl. I couldn’t decide whether to be satisfied with my kill or irritated that I’d gotten slimed in the face.
I rolled onto my back and looked up at Jude. He stood over me with a shit-eating grin on his face. His hair had been recently shaved on the sides, but the top was longish and wild. Sometime over the summer, I’d started to believe he shopped in the children’s department because his shirts were tight and formed to his body but he was so super skinny. He was nothing but long, lanky limbs and sculpted muscle.
Jude Michaels, the dark angel that stalked me, bothered me and all around annoyed the ever-loving hell out of me. He had been assigned to watch over me until I turned eighteen. Basically, Team Evil sent him over to keep the contract they had with my Counterpart, Seth, in working order.
If something happened to me, Seth got a free shot at hacking Aliah’s head off. If something happened to Jude, Aliah got to take the sword to Seth’s head. Jude was the third party in the third-party-soul contract Seth had signed with Aliah to keep me safe until my eighteenth birthday. And I was an innocent victim in all of this.
Okay… innocent wasn’t exactly the right adjective to use.
But I hated every part of this stupid contract. I preferred Seth by my side with his soul fully intact. And if I could never set eyes on Jude again, I would be one happy girl.
“That wasn’t very nice,” Jude pouted. “He was a friend of mine.”
I snorted. “Did you want to join him? I could make that happen.”
Jude scowled and pulled a cigarette from behind his ear. He lit up and watched me climb to my feet. I gave him by back and used the bottom of my t-shirt to wipe my face clean. I smelled like sulfur and hell. There was no hiding this. I needed to leave early or “accidentally” fall in the lake. Again.
Tristan’s dad probably thought I was the biggest idiot he’d ever hired. Even though I’d worked on his farm for the past two summers, I had never acted like this much of an airhead before.
But in the past, I had never had to contend with Shadows that bothered me so aggressively, or a Darkness so intent on driving me crazy. Always before, they had left me alone because they didn’t know who I was.
Not so anymore.
“You’re grumpy today,” he took a step closer. “Is it because you smell bad?”
“Are you really smoking in here?” I gestured at all the hay at our feet. “Do you want to burn this place to ground?”
His smile returned. “Now that sounds like loads of fun.”
“I will murder you, Jude. Do not take out all your evil impulses on this family. Brian was nice enough to give you a job. You! He gave you a job. Obviously, there were some charity-driven motives involved. Do not piss on their innocently bleeding hearts!”
He got right up in my face. The scent of burning tobacco filled my nostrils and sizzled in my lungs. “That’s two death threats in less than two minutes. You’re clearly projecting. Seth’s gone and doesn’t want you anymore. Your human crush has moved on. Even Aliah doesn’t want anything to do with you these days. I’m saddened to see you take out all that pent up hostility on innocent Shadows. It’s kind of pathetic, Stel. Do you need to talk to someone?”
“Can it be you?” I forced out in a voice dripping with acid. “Can I talk to you about it?”
He shook his head, looking completely disgusted. “No, are you crazy? Don’t be weird.”
You don’t be weird.” I made another swipe at my face, not bothering to turn around this time. “What are you doing back here anyway? Following me?”
He rolled his eyes. “Just making sure you don’t injure yourself. Wouldn’t want you to accidentally stab yourself with your itty-bitty butter knife.”
“This is not a butter knife! And it did the job!”
“Come on, that thing doesn’t even come with a child warning label. You’re making a mockery of the fine art of killing.”
“No I’m not.”
“I bet that Shadow didn’t even take you seriously.”
“He’s dead. I’m alive. It doesn’t matter if he took me seriously or not because I still won.”
He grew uncharacteristically thoughtful and scolded me, “Just take this seriously, Stella. We don’t have time for you screw this up.”
“We?”
“Yeah, me and my soul. You forget I’m part of this contract, too.”
That didn’t sound right. I got the distinct impression that Jude was hiding something. I didn’t know what triggered my instinct, but I couldn’t deny the fact that Jude looked… suspicious. More suspicious than usual. But then he sucked in a long drag of cigarette and blew it out directly in my face. I forgot about being suspicious and decided to try out my itty-bitty butter knife on his jugular.
I threw my hands up, completely exasperated with this boy-demon. “Look at what I’m wearing! What exactly do you expect me to be carrying?”
He pulled a sizable dagger from his cargo pocket and waggled his eyebrows at me. I stopped myself from laughing. When he showed up to work this morning, I had thought his choice of cargo capris was a little ridiculous for work on the farm; but then again this was Jude, and nothing he did made any sense. He probably didn’t know any better than to assume everyone dressed European Chic in the middle of Nebraska. Now his big pockets made sense.
“I don’t even want to know why you have that thing with you,” I bit out. “Like you said, nobody’s making any attempts on my life these days.”
“You’re not the only one with enemies, Starling. Get over yourself.” He slid the dagger back into his pockets and his tattooed collarbone blinked at me in the dim light of the barn.
I opened my mouth to deliver another witty line when a voice called from the front of the barn, “Jude?”
“Back here,” he answered without turning away from me. To me, he said, “You finished fighting crime? I need this space now.”
Was he kidding? “Are you kidding?”
His lips twisted into a lascivious smirk. “Just testing out as many country clich├ęs as I can before this gig ends.”
“I’m not even going to ask what that means.” I tried to shove by him but he caught me by the arm.
He told me anyway. “Roll in the hay. Obviously.”
“You’re so gross.”
“So are you,” he shot back. “And you have a little bit of goo…” He fingered a few strands of my hair. “You should do something about that.”
Before I could reply, Bree Henry bounced into our corner. “There you are!” she exclaimed and then noticed me. “Oh, Stella.”
“Don’t worry,” I quickly assured her. “I’m just leaving. This lovely place is all yours.”
Jude grinned stupidly at me. “See you later, Stel.”
“Not later enough.” I finally got by him only to brush by Bree.
“Oh, Stella! What is that smell!”
I ignored her and stomped through the barn. I could hear them talking about me, but the driving need to get out of whatever was happening with them overrode the desire to stand up for myself.
Bree and Jude? Gross.
Worst couple ever.
Despite my attempts to flee, I still heard Bree ask, “What was she doing back here?”
And then to my utter horror, Jude replied, “Come here, I’ll show you.”
Bree giggled uncontrollably and I knew for certain that was not what I was doing back there. But it was so nice of Jude to plant the seed. I’m sure those rumors would be all over town before supper tonight.
“Gross, Jude! She smelled so bad!”
I stepped out into the light of the afternoon and breathed in the fresh freedom. I should have let the Shadow live.
Nothing was worth going through that.
I decided I would avoid all dark corners or empty barns for the rest of the summer. And maybe I should figure out a way to warn Bree away from Jude. As much as I couldn’t stand her, she didn’t deserve to have her heart torn out by someone that evil.
I jogged over to the Malibu that had officially become mine over the summer. My mom upgraded to a new model, and so the keys were passed to me so I could have the means to get around this summer.
Not that I needed a car to get around… but it was for all those human moments when flying didn’t come in handy.
I popped the trunk and glanced around the gravel drive, looking to make sure nobody was over here. I pulled a fresh shirt out and as fast as I could, exchanged the gooey, smelly one for a clean, red Mead High basketball tee. I balled up the old one and stuffed it into a plastic sack. After too many days of this same routine, I’d learned to stay prepared. I grabbed some fresh facial wipes next and attended to my neck, face and the ends of my ponytail. Finally, I redid my hair into a high messy-bun and called it good.
I had more work to do before the end of the day, so I hurried as quickly as I could to get back to the main part of the farm.
Tristan’s dad was one of the many commercial farmers around here. And during the peak seasons, he always hired high school students to fill his slave labor quota. During the first part of the summer, we got our hands dirty with serious manual labor. While he never let us have the fun jobs, like driving the combines, he did make us work for every bit of our minimum wage paychecks.
The second half of the summer was usually more fun though. The Shield’s had a stand they kept in Omaha, the closest big city, that sold all kinds of produce. Although produce wasn’t a mainstream source of income for them, they kept enough product on hand to sell during the summer for extra cash. Tristan, Piper and I got to be in charge of the stand in town and that made the second half of the summer infinitely better than the first half.
We were preparing the stand now, but it didn’t start for another two days.
I found Piper and Tristan loading up the individual wooden pieces that we would have to assemble on site into the back of Tristan’s truck. This building part took the longest, but after everything was together, Piper worked on her tan, Tristan picked up every girl our age that walked into the little kiosk and I read my latest book.
This was how summers went by for the last three years and I hoped this one would be no different. I needed some stability in my life. I needed for something to be relaxed and normal.
“There she is,” Piper drawled. “Did you have a nice break?”
“I didn’t… Yes,” I sighed. “Lovely.”
Tristan chuckled and dropped down on the open bed of his truck. He was shirtless and sweaty. His dark hair glistened in the afternoon sun and droplets of sweat ran down his forehead and muscled chest. Honestly, at any other time in my life, I could have easily spent hours ogling this boy.
But those days were over.
Actually, seeing him like this and not feeling any stirring of butterflies, created an ache in my chest so strong I thought it would split me in two.
Looking at Tristan like this, when other, normal girl would drool and pant but feel nothing but the hollowness of loss and loneliness, made my eyes sting and my nose run.
Gosh, I missed Seth.
Missed him so much my fingers trembled and my throat started hurting. I hadn’t seen him since school got out. Not even a glimpse.
And the last time we had been face to face wasn’t exactly under the best circumstances.
Unless you considered trying to kill each other the best circumstances.
My mood switched so completely that my body rocked with the force of my depression. I felt more alone than ever these days. I had always felt the difference between Piper, Tristan and me. But now that distinction had grown into a distance that spanned worlds.
My solitude had grown into a living thing that separated me from the world I was supposed to protect and the boy that was supposed to protect it with me. I stood in the middle of the ocean, an island by myself.
And that kind of silence had started to affect me… change me… poison me.
In an effort to feel more like myself, I shared some gossip with my friends. “You will never guess who I saw meeting Jude in the barn.”
“Which barn?” Tristan asked logistically.
I gave them a suggestive eyebrow raise. “The old barn.”
Piper gasped, “Who?”
“Bree!” I whisper-shouted.
“No way!” Piper punched me in the arm.
I grabbed my bicep and rubbed it soothingly while adding the appropriate amount of drama to my tone. “Yes way!”
Tristan grunted but didn’t add anything to the conversation.
Piper rolled her eyes at him and asked, “I thought Bree and you had a thing?”
“We’ve never had a thing.” He ran his hands over his shaved, sweat-soaked head. “We just, I don’t know… She wanted to have whatever we had with Jude.”
“Are you jealous?” Piper asked immediately. I tried to ignore the triumphant smile on her face, but it was kind of hard not to. She was definitely gloating.
Tristan barked out genuine laughter. “No, I’m not jealous.”
“But shouldn’t you warn her?” I demanded. I couldn’t, Bree would never listen to me. But she might believe Tristan. “Jude is a super bad guy. You should tell her not to get involved with him.”
He looked between Piper and me as if he were waiting for one of us to sprout a second head. “I can’t do that. Bree can date whoever she wants. Imagine how that would look to her if I stepped in and said something like that to her.”
“Like you care about her. Like you’re her friend.” I argued his point, but I knew he was right. The thing was, I didn’t care that he was right. I didn’t particularly like Bree, but I didn’t want her mixed up with the Duke of Darkness. Jude was nothing but bad news for her.
“Stel, she gave me a breakup speech, a completely unnecessary breakup speech.  If I tell her to stay away from Jude because I don’t think he’s good for her, then Piper’s right. I look jealous. And I am not, in any way, jealous.”
Piper and I shared a look.
“He’s right, Stella,” Piper grimaced. “He will look jealous. And so will we if we say anything. Besides, how bad can Jude be?”
“Bad,” I promised her. “Really bad. Like the embodiment of evil bad.”
“Yeesh, I know you guys don’t get along, but that’s kind of harsh.” Piper hopped up next to Tristan and wiped her brow with the back of her hand.
Summers in Nebraska were hot. The temperature today was close to a hundred and the humidity settled over me with choking intensity. The sun burned high in the sky and showed no signs of cloud cover.
I loved this weather. My skin glowed under the thick warmth, and my blood tingled as it absorbed the sunlight and heat. Of course… I was made from this stuff, so it only made sense. My human friends were dying out here.
“You don’t know him like I do, Pi” I insisted. “He’s just… he can’t… he’s going to… destroy her.”
“Who’s destroying who?” Jude popped up on the other side of the truck grinning at me.
I shot him a pointed glare and then glanced around for Bree. She was nowhere to be found. I didn’t think that was a good sign.
“That was fast,” I challenged him.
“You just automatically think the worst of me, don’t you?” Jude walked around to where we were loitering and gave Tristan and Piper a helpless shrug.
Oh, sure, make me the bad guy.
Tristan wasn’t sold for a second but Piper frowned uncertainly.
“Only because you are the worst!”
“Here we go again.” He reached for another cigarette but there wasn’t one behind his ear. He pursed his lips and started patting his pockets. To Tristan he said, “She’s lonely. Aren’t you supposed to take care of that so the rest of us don’t have to suffer?”
I saw red, but Tristan just laughed it off. “We’re all suffering, man.”
I felt my Light glow brighter as it flushed my skin with outraged heat. Tristan! He was supposed to be on my side. Jude smiled at Tristan like he’d just made a new ally. The two of them could have each other.
Tristan’s farm sprawled out to the horizon in every direction. We were in the heaviest populated area, but beyond the multiple barns and sheds, farmland greened the ground and boasted of rich earth and careful consideration.
Brian was a really good farmer. He could make anything grow, or that’s what I’d heard his wife say on multiple occasions. I could appreciate how well off Tristan’s family was, but I appreciated the scenery more.
Cornstalks taller than me, soy bean fields that rolled over acres, hay stacked into huge bales that dotted the east side of the fields; everything was in its row, and flourishing with life. I loved it out here, especially in the summer.
My dad kept a small farm that provided enough for us to live by, but nothing like this. Lincoln’s dad had the biggest farm that I knew, but Tristan’s family wasn’t far behind him. As children, we used to spend our time walking the length of the fields, or playing hide and go seek in the tall corn stalks. We would jump from bale to bale or swing from the rope that hung in the middle of one of the newer barns. We would climb up to the loft with rope in hand, secure our foot in the small loop in the bottom and then jump. We were airborne for long, gravity-less moments and then the momentum would catch us and we would swing in wild circles. The hay that pillowed beneath us would catch us if we fell or slipped. Barn kitties would skitter around the floor while we played and laughed.
This farm represented so much of my childhood, just like Tristan did. It was hard to let this go, or begin to let it go. This was not my life anymore. Even while I was a whole year away from the fullness of my powers and just as far from taking over the Protectorship, still, I could already feel myself pulling away. I could feel my soul turn to other things, and my interests become more serious in nature.
As much as Tristan’s dig cut at my very fiber, at a belief system I’d held since childhood, I knew this was how it had to be. I loved Tristan, but not like I loved Seth.
Not anymore.
“Where’s Bree?” I asked abruptly.
Jude shrugged. “How should I know?” He finally found a cigarette in his back pocket. He pulled it out and put it to his lips even though it was a little bent in the middle. He turned his head and cupped his hand around the end. From my angle, I watched him light it with the tip of his finger, although he hid it well from Tristan and Piper.
“Just making sure she’s still… alive.”
“Geez, Stella! He’s not a serial killer.” Piper jumped off the back of the truck and fanned out her shirt. “How are you not sweating?” she demanded from me. “I’m melting!”
“I am sweaty!” I lied. “I had to change my shirt because I was so disgusting.”
Piper eyed me carefully but seemed to accept this answer.
Jude snorted out a puff of smoke but didn’t press my half-truth. “You kids busy tomorrow night?”
“Yes,” I answered immediately, although it was also true.
“No,” Piper smiled at him which grated against every one of my nerves.
I just finished telling her that Jude was the embodiment of evil and she was ready to set up plans with him? How did that make sense? Tristan stayed suspiciously silent, too. I expected him to come up with any excuse not to spend a second longer around Jude, but he just sat there… waiting to hear Jude’s suggestion.
“Well, if the rest of you are down, my parents are out of town this weekend. Bree is helping me throw together a little shindig.” He threw what was left of his cigarette on the ground and stomped it out. “You’re invited.”
Piper looked at me with pleading eyes. “Sounds fun, doesn’t it?”
“I can’t go.” And I couldn’t. Even if I wanted to go, I couldn’t.
“Don’t be boring, Stella,” Jude goaded. “It’s just a party.”
“And I just have plans. Seriously, I would go if I could. But I have this… family thing tomorrow night. I’m going out of town.”
“Oh yeah,” Piper sighed. “I forgot about that.”
Tristan narrowed his eyes. “Where are you going again?”
I dropped my head back and blinked up at the blinding sun. “Far away.”
“Well, Piper and I will go,” Tristan answered for her.
I heard the complete shock in her voice before she asked, “What? Like together?”
“Yeah, like together. Not like a date, but we can go to things together Piper. The world won’t end.” I almost laughed at Tristan’s challenge. This seemed like a horrible idea. I wondered why Tristan was now trying at their friendship. Before, when it actually mattered what I thought, he had never tried this hard.
“The world might actually end tomorrow,” Jude interjected. “Is that why you’re leaving, Stella? Is it because the world is going to end?”
I chuckled at all the double meaning to his questions. “No, the world will be just fine tomorrow. I’m just doing this weekend thing with my parents. It’s no big deal.”
It was actually a huge deal and I had been freaking out about it for months. Tomorrow, for the first time in my life, I had been invited to the Council Summit in the Lower Realms. I would actually travel off planet and hold court with the Elders.
I experienced a mild panic attack just thinking about it.
I didn’t really know what the Elders wanted with me, which only made me more nervous. But I also knew they were planning to name the traitor that had been such an issue over the last year. The traitor was responsible for countless deaths, including the Star that had been in charge of the planet before me.
“Then I’ll see you guys tomorrow night?” Jude asked expectantly.
“We’ll be there,” Tristan confirmed.
“Very cool. I’ll see you guys later. Right now, Stella’s going to walk me to my car.”
“I am?”
He smirked at me. “Maybe not. But I thought for sure I was about to get another death threat. At the very least, a lecture on the destructive nature of teenagers.”
I perked up. “You’re right. I was going to walk you to your car.” I waved at my friends. “Call me later,” I told them both.
They waved me off. The day was almost over. Tomorrow we would take the kiosk pieces into town and set it up.
Jude and I walked in silence until we were out of ear shot of anyone else. The employees parked in a wide, gravel space designated for us. It wasn’t exactly an employee lot, but something along those lines. During the winter months, Brian pushed all the snow to this area, making it prime snow-fort-building territory.
“Your parents are out of town?” I shoved him in the back.
He stumbled a little and shot me a devilish smirk over his shoulder. “Oh and where are you and the fam taking off to? A bed and breakfast? The Ozarks? Give me a break. You’re going off planet.”
I sucked in a breath. He wasn’t supposed to know that. More proof there was a traitor feeding information to Aliah’s camp.
“Is that what your party is about? You think that with me gone you can do whatever the hell you want?” And I meant that quite literally.
“Yeah, Stella. With you out of the picture, I can throw the high school kegger I’ve always dreamed of. Aliah promised to give me a promotion, just as soon as I get a bunch of country high school kids drunk.”
Well, when he said it like that, it made less sense that he was throwing a party and inviting my friends.
“Then what’s this about Jude? Why the sudden need to make friends and influence people?”
He reached my Malibu and leaned against it. “Someone’s been catching up on their summer reading.”
“I’m being serious. If you hurt my friends in anyway, I will kill you.” I took a step closer to him, hoping to come across as intimidating. “That is not one of my flippant threats, by the way. That’s the real deal. If something happens to Piper or Tristan, you’re finished. I don’t give a damn about what that means to the contract. I will end you.”
“God, you’re cranky.” He rubbed his hands over his face. “It’s almost unbearable.”
“Shut up,” I growled. “I have a lot going on right now! And you’re not helping.”
He smirked at me. “Am I supposed to be helping you?”
I ignored him. “No shenanigans tomorrow night. I’m going to have someone watch your house. I’m serious.”
“The replacement Stella? Do you think she’s more fun?”
I pushed him again. “There’s about thirty replacement-Stella’s. I’m sure all of them will be as over you as I am.”
I pulled open my door and double checked that my keys were still in the ignition and my purse on the floor. This was the country; every car out here had keys in the ignition.
Jude stopped me with a hand on my door. “Seth says hi by the way.”
“Yeah?” I didn’t even bother taking him seriously. “Did you have the weekly Darkside meeting last night?”
He chuckled. “Something like that. But I’m just kidding. He didn’t say hi.”
“You’re such an ass.”
He smiled at me and it almost seemed genuine. “Be careful tomorrow. I’ve heard multiple things about this traitor of yours. You wouldn’t want to cross paths with him. Or her. Or it. Or me.”
“I’m pretty sure you don’t want me to cross paths with him, or her, or it… or you. What happens to the contract if I something happens to me off planet? Are you still the responsible party?”
“Don’t let something happen to you, Stella. I’m not messing around.” And he really wasn’t. He was incredibly serious.
“I’m almost hoping something does.” I smiled at him and dropped to the driver’s seat. He glared at me while I turned the car on and pulled out. He was right about one thing, I was cranky.
But I felt much better now that I knew he was, too.



Rachel

Phasellus facilisis convallis metus, ut imperdiet augue auctor nec. Duis at velit id augue lobortis porta. Sed varius, enim accumsan aliquam tincidunt, tortor urna vulputate quam, eget finibus urna est in augue.

8 comments:

  1. I am so looking forward to this book!

    ReplyDelete
  2. When is it released. Can't wait

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's this Thursday. She posted it on Facebook.

      Delete
  3. Can't wait! Reading the first two again.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ok, does anyone know of any sight that will let me purchase this book for my nook??? I have tried to purchase thru barns and noble but they do not have it for purchase. I so want to read book three of this series..........

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She hasnt finished it yet :(

      Delete