Heart To Heart: First Chapter
The light of the full moon disappeared as he closed the front door. Darkness enveloped us, and soon his arms encircled me in an arc of coolness.
“Angel Brown.” He whispered my name fervently, like a prayer…and I wanted him more than almost anything: more than sunlight, more than even music.
But despite the intensity of my love for him, there was still one thing I wanted more than Sawyer Creed.
“Getting thirsty again,” I whispered, trying not to breathe in his mouth-watering fragrance.
He picked me up and cradled me in his arms. “Let’s take care of that.” I relished the haven created by his lean, muscular chest as his long legs moved a few strides to the Grand Room, named for, and host of, the two grand pianos we’d played endlessly over the past six months.
He touched me as if I were the most fragile thing on earth, as if I’d break from the slightest movement of air. But I was Shimshana—a newborn immortal blood drinker from the ancient race that had sired vampires. And he was mortal—a novice wizard and medium just coming to grips with his magical abilities after a lifetime of being kept in the dark about who and what he was.
We’d just said good-bye to the last of our session guests after spending the past ten hours recording tracks. Included in the crowd were the other members of my girl group Kat Trio—Julietta and LaLa; guest musicians and rappers; our group’s manager, Nina; and various people from our Boston record label, House Quake.
“I’m glad we finished recording all of our songs with you today,” I said while stroking his five-o’clock shadow. “But I thought they’d never leave.”
“Been wanting to do this all day.” His raspy voice was next to my ear. “Get you alone.”
Shimshana is what we are and what we have—an unraveling intestinal tube that extends up through the throat and out of the mouth to draw blood from people or animals. It shivered in my stomach as he gently set me down on the piano bench.
Unlike my heart, which banged against my ribs, his heartbeat was as steady as it always was. But the glint in his emerald-green eyes gave away his excitement.
At six foot four, he was a full foot taller than me, but was able to pick me up only when I lightened my body weight. I could easily overpower and crush him with the smallest amount of applied pressure. And right now the sound and smell of the blood coursing through his body almost drowned the sounds of my own heavy breathing.
We were in dangerous territory for two reasons. First: I was capable of losing control and draining him dry. And second: my once-mortal, now-immortal blood donor, Justin McCarthy, was capable of sensing my hunger from wherever he was and could immediately materialize to feed me.
Since we became girlfriend and boyfriend, Sawyer made sure there was no need for Justin. The latter boy hadn’t been in my life since the two of them had a heated exchange, which ended with Justin cockily reminding me that my time with Sawyer was limited due to his mortality.
I never drank a drop of Sawyer’s blood and vowed it would stay that way; there was no guarantee I had enough self-control to stop myself before killing him.
“Wait,” he said gently. “Play our song until I get back.” He ran to the kitchen.
Swallowing my quickly growing need to devour, I placed my fingers on the keyboard and began to play the song that we heard in our heads every time we kissed. The notes progressed like a soothing stream for my soul as the tune’s structure ebbed and flowed through the piano’s keys. It was a ballad that came to us in small segments like a mystical gift or a musical puzzle chopped into pieces and shuffled around.
Sometimes, as our lips moved together, we’d hear eight bars of this mystical, musical puzzle; sometimes we heard part of the chorus. I played all we’d heard so far, rearranging the pieces, stopping when it didn’t sound right, and starting again at the place where it went wrong.
While playing, I watched the musical notes—brightly colored and dancing before my eyes, the same way music had appeared to me all my mortal life and since I experienced The Change that transformed me into a Shimshana six months ago. It’s second nature to remember the musical arrangement of every song I hear, and the challenge of “solving” the puzzle kept me occupied enough to forget my waxing hunger.
My mind wandered to how life had changed since Sawyer became my producer and boyfriend. When not in school or doing boring tenth-grade homework, I spent most of my time at his brownstone, in the new studio, which encompassed the entire ground floor of the three-level home and had French doors opening onto a garden full of wildflowers. Sometimes I’d pull studio all-nighters alongside Sawyer and go to school the next day; sometimes I’d crash at home. On weekends, I’d just stay at Sawyer’s. He had spare bedrooms, and there was never pressure to sleep with him (he was a virgin, too). We’d insulated ourselves in a world of music, melody, note and rhythm, even as a steady stream of people came in and out.
Life had also changed in the wake of our first hit song. The Sawyer-produced “No. 8,” featuring Little Wolf, went viral and hit number one in download sales a couple of months ago. As a result, all our Kat Trio dreams were starting to come true; we’d even been invited to perform on the USA Music Awards, one of the most important music awards shows in the business.
Continuing to play, I shook my head slightly, still not completely over the awe of landing that gig. It was a huge deal to me, but not to my anti-awards-show boyfriend. Although a song he’d produced for another artist was nominated, the only reason he planned to attend was to be my date. Despite Sawyer’s lack of desire for accolades, Nina and House Quake wanted the Kat Trio/Sawyer partnership to continue because Sawyer, dubbed by Billboard.com as “Pop’s Teen Genius,” was one of the most prolific young producers in the industry, and Kat Trio had officially become “a group to watch.”
But there were other reasons why our partnership was good…
He returned carrying two gallon-size jugs of stored donor blood.
“Thanks.” I took one from his hands—not stopping to read the name label on the jug to see who the blood was from—and proceeded to down the contents rapidly, rabidly, and without shame.
I stopped chugging once to savor the taste and envision the source in my mind’s eye: she was older, AB-negative, with white-blonde hair and a long neck. She, too, was a singer. I ignored the rest of the information my core was extracting about my donor and put the jug back to my mouth to down the rest.
“My pleasure,” he said, producing a second jug and watching me as if he wondered what was going through my mind.
In support of my mission to glut myself in order to quell all impulses to drain the guy I loved, the second gallon was soon finished down to the last drop. Feeding this way didn’t require or stimulate my shimshana, but it got the job done. Remembering Mom’s endless lectures on manners, I swallowed the need to burp.
“Heard from your parents?” I asked, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. He nodded.
His mortal mom and stepdad had visited a couple of times to check the new house (he paid for it with cash, but they’d helped with the legal stuff) and they’d voiced concern that he was growing up too fast, seeing as he was already a homeowner and a millionaire at the age of eighteen, but still not in control of the errant magical powers that frightened them.
Since they found Sawyer frightening, it was a good thing they didn’t know everything about me. He took the empty jug from my hands, placed it on the hardwood floor next to the first jug and sidled up to me on the bench.
“If my parents knew you were a blood-drinking immortal, they’d thank you for satisfying your thirst so completely.”
“If your parents knew I’m a blood-drinking immortal, they’d drag you back to Georgia.” My lips stretched into a mischievous grin, but his small frown deepened slightly. He usually frowned with the concentration it took to regulate his heartbeat—his mechanism for keeping me safe.
He’d practiced regulating his heartbeat for a couple of years under the tutelage of his grandmother, an immortal witch and the matriarch of his family, with whom he’d lived for the past two summers. Her guidance helped ensure that the strong emotions—fear, anger, love—that caused an accelerated heartbeat wouldn’t cause what he called “witchy incidents.”
In the past, these incidents took many forms—from shoelaces of girls he had a crush on tying themselves (hmph!), to murder (his mom’s second abusive husband dropped dead), to the permanent disappearance into thin air of his alcoholic dad as he tried to strangle Sawyer’s mom. Sawyer still didn’t know how to control the witchy incidents, but he’d become a master of controlling his emotions.
“Speaking of Georgia,” I continued, “are you feeling better about your summer plans?”
With back-to-back projects, he was booked to the end of the year. It’d be the first summer in two years that he wouldn’t live with Nana or receive her guidance in getting the witchy incidents under control.
“I’m good as long as I can do this,” he said, kissing one cheek, then the other, before his lips hovered close to my mouth so that his cool breath fanned my parted lips.
Opening my eyes, I reached for his hand, intertwined his long fingers with mine and reveled in the contrast of our bodies; his pale skin was just starting to tan as June set in; my milk-chocolate skin was flushed with a red undertone that gave away my current mood. His shoulder-length, dirty-blond hair mixed with my brownish-black hair, which flowed over my shoulders in fluffy waves as he took it down from the messy bun I’d hurriedly pinned it into this morning.
“You’re so beautiful,” he murmured in a way that caused the room’s temperature to rise and the air to turn a shade of red.
The rising temperature and red-tinged air was a direct result of my excitement—typical Shimshana passion reaction.
I wrapped my arms carefully around his shoulders and pulled myself closer to him until our bodies curved into one another and my heart threatened to jump out of my throat. Still his heartbeat remained even.
“I want you.” The words fell out of my mouth before my lips gently covered his.
I’d never been so close to a boy. A few months ago, right after I’d matured into a newborn Shimshana, Mom had the “talk” with me and clued me in to the way we show love. With our entire beings, she’d said. Now it was clear what she meant. I wanted him on every level—wanted to feel every angle of his body pressed to mine and lose myself completely.
He sighed as my lips pressed against his Adam’s apple and my hands gently tugged his silky locks. My eyes were half-closed when I saw one of the empty blood jugs floating behind him…
“Good thing I’m from the South,” he said. “It’s crazy hot in here.”
Oh, no. I had to bring the intensity down, or my mortal boyfriend would burn. I pulled away from him and sucked in a couple of huge breaths to bring down the heat my body was generating.
“Come back here,” he growled, clasping his hands on my hips and pulling me so that my behind slid along the smooth surface of the wooden piano bench. “I can take your heat.”
“No, Sawyer, you can’t.”
“Like hell,” he said before kissing me again, this time urgently. As if there was a band in the room with us, the ballad started to play in our heads—a bittersweet cascade of notes that sounded like it would work well as part of the chorus.
Suddenly, the temperature dropped several degrees. I immediately suspected Sawyer even though his heartbeat remained steady.
I pulled away to question him about it, but the words remained unformed on my lips; Cici was calling me.
It wasn’t the way most big sisters call, like on a phone, for example. She was locked to me. After The Change, and the development of the abilities that came with it, the family demanded a blood ritual, a spell called a mind lock. Linking Cici’s mind to my mind, the lock’s purpose was to keep me on damage control twenty-four/seven just in case I went berserk with bloodthirst, killed someone with the sound of my voice or accidentally stopped time again.
Thankfully the latter hadn’t happened since my Mahá, the ancient, ritual-laden coming-out party for immortals. It was there that the immortal world saw I wasn’t too dangerous for Mom and the other Council members to allow me to live. Since then, Cici’s unwavering calm had been the perfect foil for my anxiety-ridden fumbling with my developing abilities.
She was tugging again. This time it was uncomfortable…
My hands automatically stopped wandering over Sawyer’s back as I clearly heard her voice in my head. Cici knew what was going on with me at all times and, under normal circumstances, would never butt in on a moment like this. Her delivery was still characteristically soothing but with an unusual undertone of urgency.
I was standing before consciously making the decision to do so. Something was wrong. Even though Cici didn’t say where, I knew she was at home. For the first time in months, anxiety set in, and my feet lifted off the floor.
Sawyer stood, too, his green eyes level with mine. “What’s wrong?”
Before I could answer, Cici continued. Angel, it’s Mom.
My breath caught in my throat. Mom! I had to get to her. But my anxiety had me floating just below the ceiling.
Control. My feet couldn’t move forward to Mom any other way. Closing my eyes, I took several calming breaths until my toes touched the floor and my feet set down firmly. I opened my eyes and returned Sawyer’s worried gaze, craning my neck to look up at him.
“Something’s wrong with Mom.” The color drained from his face. As my boyfriend, and mate, he was considered a family member, and my parents treated him like a son.
“Right behind you,” he said as I pivoted and headed for home.
Heart To Heart: First Chapter
Release date: November 3